The Gift of Singleness: Part IV
- Wednesday, March 08, 2006
There are advantages in being single in certain situations just as there are advantages in being married in other situations. One who is engaged may have questions in light of that which has been said, particularly if that individual finds himself/herself in circumstances that might fall under the heading "present distress."
God also has a word for the engaged in times of distress; those who are engaged, despite the advantage of being single, should follow through with their commitment to marry. Moreover, God has a word for the released from marriage in times of distress; those who are released for whatever the reason, should take advantage of that release.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul asks and answers two questions. "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife." We take Paul to be referring to a man betrothed to be married for at least four reasons.
First, the immediate context suggests that Paul is still speaking to virgin men (v. 25-26). Second, unless he was predisposed to being an ascetic, one would hardly imagine a married man being a virgin, though, this practice became popular in the Christian church in the second and third centuries, possibly as a misinterpretation and/or misapplication of this text. Third, Paul has already addressed issues concerning commitment to marriage vs. divorce and/or separation. Fourth, the historical context suggests such an interpretation. Marriages were frequently arranged with long betrothal periods, that is, men were bound to women by way of arrangement for some time in many cases. In light of Paul's comments in vv. 17-24, no doubt some in the church had questions regarding their betrothal status. Paul's advice here is extremely practical; don't seek to change your status. If you are betrothed, then do not seek to break your commitment. If you are not betrothed, do not seek to be such. In times of distress, application may be made to those who are engaged or even courting.
The second thing we can say in regard to singleness being advantageous is that singles will be spared from troubles related to marriage. In v. 28, Paul reveals his personal preference that persons remain single if they are able. At the same time, he does not condemn marriage. God has ordained that happy estate as holy. Thus, Paul says, "but if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet, such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you." Paul is simply concerned with the difficulties that arise in marriage that may prove to be extremely difficult in view of the present distress. Moreover, he desires to spare the Corinthians from unnecessary heartache. If part of the distress to which Paul refers happens to be persecution, one's worry and trouble are only compounded if a loved one is the object of that persecution. To see a spouse hurt or killed is indeed an issue of deep distress. One would be better off to remain single. But, if he chooses to marry, he has not sinned.
The third thing we can say in regard to singleness being advantageous is that singles are disconnected from the cares of this world. In vv. 29-31, Paul gives a general admonition as to how believers should view their circumstances and the world in which they live. His point in these three verses is singular: Christians should not cling too tightly to this world. He says, "but this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away." Three parts of Paul's thought may be highlighted here.
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