Sitting with a preacher last week, he asked, “Why is it strange when a person has no interest in marriage? The apostle Paul said that remaining unmarried can be the better choice—even the happier one—so why is it the weird choice?”
This preacher has a habit of asking such questions: they make me think he’s crazy at first, but he always ends up making a valid point. Truth be told, I had failed to read the entire chapter in question. We preach often on the verse which says, “let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). We also preach “whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing,” (Proverbs 18:22).
Yet in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, Paul tells us, “I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.”
At the end of the same chapter, Paul includes women in this. He adds: “So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better…” For some, he says, “But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment…” (1 Corinthians 7:38,40a).
It can be better? She can be happier? Why had I never noticed this before, and why do we avoid preaching it? Remaining unmarried is not best for everyone, but why do we not offer it as a valid option? Paul made some plain statements, yet in our churches it remains the unspoken (and often rejected) belief of an apostle.
Marriage Is Good
As I wrote in a prior post (Marriage: It’s Not What You May Think), God designed marriage for only one divine purpose: to picture Christ and the Church. This is good, it is godly, it is beautiful.
Most men will find a woman with whom God joins his heart, and they will marry. Yet we should not lift up one truth to the exclusion of another truth in the Bible. While marriage is good (Proverbs 18:22), remaining unmarried is also good (1 Corinthians 7:8). To rejoice in one and disparage the other is ungodly and dishonest.
Marriage has a divine purpose: to picture Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:23-32). Remaining faithfully unmarried also serves a divine purpose: to wholly devote one’s life to the things of the Lord without the cares of a family (1 Corinthians 7:32). Paul states clearly that marriage and remaining faithfully unmarried are both gifts from God: “every man has his proper gift, one after this manner, and another after that.” It is a proud and arrogant man who uses his own gift to look down upon others with a different gift. They are both good and godly.
Take care not to reject or disdain God’s divine purpose for the married or the unmarried.
Many Christians today have created an idol of marriage. We have taught that, apart from salvation, a spouse is the second greatest decision of one’s life. For those who should get married, this may be true, but as a blanket statement for everyone, this idea is dangerous for several reasons:
- It is not in the Bible
- It makes marriage your life’s goal
- It disregards the truth that some are to remain unmarried
- It places our demand for marriage above God’s will for those who are to remain unmarried
Marriage is honorable in all (Hebrews 13:4), but it is not for all. An excessive attachment to and veneration of marriage becomes idolatry. A healthy respect for the beauty of marriage is good; it is a holy thing. But when our respect for marriage surpasses our desire for the will of God for each person, it has become an idol.
A Beautiful Portrait
Paul’s life is not framed around singleness, nor is it depreciated to chastity—he was gifted with a strength to remain faithfully unmarried for a purpose, wholly dedicated to God. He even wished that all men could remain as he was because of the blessings he enjoyed. Nevertheless, Paul was not proud, but thankful—even believing it to be better than marriage for his life.
The early American preacher John Wesley shared this perspective, saying:
To those able to “receive this saying,” I say: Know the advantages you enjoy — many of which are pointed out by the apostle above.
You may be without care. You are under no necessity of “caring for the things of the world.” You have only to “care for the things of the Lord, how you may please the Lord.” One care alone lies upon you, how you “may be holy both in body and spirit.”
You enjoy a blessed liberty from the “trouble in the flesh,” which must more or less attend a married state, from a thousand nameless domestic trials which are found, sooner or later, in every family.
Above all, you are at liberty from the greatest of all entanglements: the loving of one creature above all others. It is possible to do this without any impeachment of our love to God, but how inconceivably difficult it is to give one’s whole heart to God while another has so large a share of it!
Whereas those who are married are necessarily taken up with the things of the world, you may give your time to God without interruption, and need ask leave of none but yourself so to do.
You may give all your worldly substance to God — nothing need hinder. You have no increasing family to provide for, which might occasion a thousand doubts whether you had done either too much or too little for them. You may lay out all your talents of every kind entirely for the glory of God, as you have none else to please, none to regard, but Him that lived and died for you.
What beauty, and what liberty! Do not rob this liberty from those to whom it is given. You may have your gift of marriage; it is good and honorable. Let now each man have his own gift from God, including those who are to remain faithfully unmarried.