The Gift of Singleness: Part III
- Wednesday, March 01, 2006
First, Paul gives loving and practical advice to five groups of people: virgin men betrothed to women (25-28a); virgin women betrothed to men (28b); Christians in general including those who are married, those who are unmarried, and those who have never been married, i.e., virgins, (29-35); fathers who have virgin daughters (36-38); and wives (39-40).
Second, Paul is seeking to combat false teaching by certain members of the church mentioned earlier. False teachers had to be confronted whether they were ascetics, libertines, or legalists.
Third, Paul's advice must be seen as just that, solid Christian counsel. Paul does not lay down rules in regard to what all Christians should do in all cases. He lays down principles to guide Christians in difficult decision making processes.
Fourth, while Paul himself prefers that individuals remain single if they are able, he attempts to affirm that position without giving the ascetics approval. God has ordained marriage as good and has called many Christians to be married. No one is more or less spiritual because they are or are not married. The church has been plagued with those who have taken both positions. There will always be those who say that one cannot be fully devoted to Christ and his work unless he/she is single. At the same time, there will always be those who view singles with great suspicion, particularly as they get older. Both views are in error and sinful. In this text, Paul desires to affirm both singleness and marriage as right and good, while at the same time affirming that in some ways for some people singleness is the better course.
Again, Paul is answering questions the Corinthians had put to him by way of letter. He comes now to the issue of virgins; "Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy." Several points may be made here. First, in this verse, Paul refers to virgins in general, that is, those who have never been married. This group of persons is to be seen in contrast to those who are unmarried (divorced) and widowed. A point of interest concerning Paul's status may be pointed out. Paul places himself in the category of the unmarried in v. 8, and of course, throughout the text, makes a distinction, as noted, between those who are unmarried and those who are virgins, particularly in v. 34.
Second, Paul again says that he has no command from the Lord. His point is that the Lord Jesus, in His earthly ministry, did not address this issue specifically. A question had been raised and Paul was answering with spiritual wisdom and apostolic authority. Even Peter referred to that which Paul wrote as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). Paul's words here are now the inspired word of God.
Third, while it must be pointed out that Paul wrote with apostolic authority by virtue of his being an apostle, he did not seek to exercise his authority in answering the question posed by the Corinthians. He appeals to the mercy that the Lord had granted him and the trustworthiness that accompanied that mercy. Paul's comments are trustworthy. They are reliable. God has granted him mercy in that regard. He is, by God's grace, an apostle who receives and dispenses revelation from the Lord.
But, he does make a point here. Singleness is advantageous.
Now, the first thing we can say in regard to singleness being advantageous is that singles have it easier it times of great distress. God has a word for the singles in times of distress: it is good to remain single in view of the present distress.
In v. 26, Paul says, "I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is." A question is raised at this point; "what does Paul mean when he refers to the present distress?" Some would say that Paul anticipated the persecution that was about to befall the church. Some would say that Paul refers to the distress that befalls the church in all places in all ages. He is simply laying down a general principle. While it is difficult to be dogmatic with such a statement, we take Paul to refer to the distress that had befallen the Corinthian church, or, perhaps the church in general. His use of the word "present" would indicate a distress that was relevant to the Corinthian situation specifically or the circumstantial context of the church in general at that time. To what type of distress Paul referred can only be a matter of speculation. Suffice it to say that Paul was concerned for the believers at Corinth.
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