While I was home on holidays a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing my pastor preach on 1 Corinthians 7 – that seemingly enigmatic passage about singleness and marriage.
He prefaced his sermon with the fact that he was working through first Corinthians expositorily, and this is a passage frequently covered topically. He also said that he might have “glossed over” (read: not fully explored) some of the more detailed issues because of time constraints.
So, despite the fact that I was only hearing one sermon from a series, I found the teaching very helpful and, in a lot of ways, different to teachings I had previously heard on 1 Corinthians 7.
The basic thrust of the message was that Paul is telling us, as Christians, to be content with the stage of life we are now in; to not long for some other situation that may seem “holier”. Apparently, this was the Corinthians’ problem: they kept thinking that singleness meant that a person was more holy. Naturally this was creating problems in the church.
I think a nice summary of Paul’s point is found in the following verses:
17Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. 23You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.
1 Corinthians 7:17-23
What a freeing message – nothing we do (not circumcision, not uncircumcision, not slavery, not freedom) affects our salvation and holiness. Holiness is something that we get through Christ.
I think I always struggled with this chapter because it has often been used to preach “the gift of singleness” idea. That is, the notion that by merely being single, you are gifted and somehow better off than married or dating people.
Now, I realise that Paul says single people can focus on pleasing God better than married people can. I don’t dispute that. I do, however, think it requires a correct attitude in the heart of the single person.
They have to want to live to please God. Your life is not automatically more pleasing to him merely by being single. You have to want it and you have to pursue it.
This is something that I struggle with a lot. I heard, in a great talk the other day, that in God’s eyes, you are either single or married. There is no dating, courtship, engagement. There’s single and there’s married, and there’s ways we’re supposed to behave in either situation.
Often I find myself thinking that certain problems would just go away if I was married to Blake. Common thoughts include “We wouldn’t struggle sexually if we were married” and “If I knew we were going to be married, I could be more committed to solving arguments.”
But Paul advocates something different. He says to be content with where we are. To not wish we were somewhere else.
However, I think there is a difference between contentment and passivity.
The content person actively seeks God and how they can please him, no matter what the situation.
The passive person lives in fear that their life is not pleasing to God and, therefore, doesn’t actually achieve much.
I guess this is still an idea I’m wrestling with. I just know I used to think that desiring marriage and even pursuing it would be considered wrong as if it was somehow an indication of discontent. I’m seeing that contentment doesn’t mean standing still and living in fear. It means making choices and trusting God to guide you. It means knowing that your future is secure in Christ and feeling free to live life to the full.