March 3, 2024 | Doug Sauder
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“If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.”—1 Corinthians 7:36–40 (NIV)
Engagement and marriage is a heavily discussed topic in Christian culture today. The Bible has a lot to say about it as well! In this section of the letter to the Church of Corinth, Paul is responding to a question he was asked about those who are engaged. This question can assumedly come from his teaching on the value of singleness and how it can provide a life of undivided opportunities to serve Christ. So, the question is, “Should couples engaged to be married go through with it?”
Paul makes it clear that his personal view is that a life unmarried is ideal because it allows you to live a life wholly focused on living for Christ. On the other hand, marriage comes with many responsibilities and priority shifts that a single person wouldn’t have to consider. To be clear, this is Paul’s personal view. It’s not a command or judgment to anyone in the Church. So, in this passage, he’s clarifying it’s not a sin to marry and, in many circumstances, it’s the more honorable thing to do, as being married doesn’t make you any less devoted to living for Christ. It will just play out differently.
So, is marriage being encouraged? Couples who are already engaged to be married should feel free to honor their commitments to each other, especially if they desire marriage. It’s also encouraged if the couple is struggling to wait for marriage to have sex. Paul is pro-eloping.
There are very few cases in which Paul would actively say marriage for a particular couple is wrong. Mostly, it’s less about God’s rules of engagement and marriage and more about pointing out the value of a single life. For example, a widow is encouraged to remain single after her husband dies because while marriage is good, it can be difficult. He personally believes a widow would remain happier if she were to stay single.
The ending of verse 40, in which Paul claims that “he too has the Spirit of God,” can be confusing and seemingly coming out of left field. An assumption can be made that he was responding to someone in Corinth questioning his authority, or the person asking the question may have claimed to have some sort of spiritual authority in their own opinions on sex and marriage. There’s no way to know for sure what exactly he means there, but what he is making clear is that marriage is in no way a sin, and those who have the desire to engage in it should feel free to do so without guilt or shame.
Pause: Are you married? If so, consider Paul’s thoughts here–what does living a life fully devoted to God look like for you and your spouse? If you’re single, consider Paul’s thoughts here. Do you resonate with them?
Practice: Consider today how you can live a life fully devoted to serving God, whether you’re married or single. What does that look like practically for you?
Pray: Lord, thank You for Your mercies every day. I pray today that You will teach me how to live a life fully committed to You. Show me ways in which I can devote myself to You in a new way. Amen.
Kristen Hollis has served in the Communications Team of Calvary since 2020 as a Senior Copywriter and Editor. She contributes and edits content for Calvary’s digital and promotional initiatives. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Communications from Palm Beach Atlantic University. Kristen and her husband Zachary enjoy all things musical theatre, vinyl hunting, and having the opportunity to serve Calvary on staff while utilizing their talents.