1Co 7:36-40 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.”
It is obvious in this chapter that the question of whether or not to marry was an important issue for the Corinthians at the time of Paul’s writing. Paul’s use of the phrase “the present distress (1Co 7:26)” and his observation that “the time is short (1Co 7:29)” leaves us with the impression he was addressing something very particular to that time frame. He had already addressed an instance of great fornication and chided the brethren for their lack of concern over that situation (1Co 5:1-2). Historically, we know that there was a lot of pagan worship in the region that including sexual immorality.
Our present distress today may not be of exactly the same nature that Paul was facing, but it is similar enough that we should realize there is contemporary value in the word of God. While Paul has dealt with some questions for which he readily admits he has no commandment (nor does he make his views a commandment), he affirms that he does feel he has the leadership of the Spirit of God in his counsel. If we can see similar issues around us today, and if the Spirit of God in us bears testimony to the truth of Paul’s writing, then we have met the criteria of the word being established by two or three witnesses.
In these verses, Paul appears to address something that was common in his day, but not so much in our personal experience. It was often the father’s responsibility in that day to arrange for the marriage of his daughter and to guard and prove her virginity. There would have to be a great deal of closeness and honesty between the father and daughter in this circumstance to be able to discuss and reason together whether or not a celibate state was reasonable to expect. If sufficient desire was there to “require” it, then Paul says by all means give her in marriage: there is no sin in this.
At the same time, if a man’s virgin daughter express that she has the gift to abstain from marriage that she might better serve the Lord, then her father was not under any obligation to present her for marriage. He could continue to support her and guard her honor as they both served the Lord unencumbered. The father was free from worrying about whether or not he was treating his daughter unfairly, and the daughter was safe from unwanted advances. Both were then free in heart and mind to serve the Lord without any further encumbrance.
Once the daughter was given in marriage, she was no longer under the authority of her father. She was bound by marriage to her husband that they might be one flesh and serve the Lord together. If her husband died, as a widow she was free to marry again, but in absence of the authority of her natural father, she was to put her trust in her Heavenly Father for the making of such a decision. As he had from the beginning of this discussion, Paul again makes his case for it being easier to give our time to the Lord in an unmarried state.
We may be tempted to read these scriptures and think they don’t really have much application in our lives today. If so, we need to read more closely. Beyond the apparent moral instruction, we are given deep spiritual instruction here. Just because we may have the ability to take on another project or seek a more affluent status in life does not mean that we should. Anything that we are going to “marry” ourselves to needs to be weighed against whether or not it is going to negatively affect our ability and desire to seek God first.
May we heed the counsel of the Spirit of God in all our choices in life!