Online Bible Commentary
Instructions to Single Christians
1 Corinthians 7:32 But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord--how he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares about the things of the world--how he may please his wife. 34 There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world--how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction. 36 But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry. 37 Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well. 38 So then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better. 39 A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment--and I think I also have the Spirit of God. (NKJV)
In this passage Paul concludes, for now, the Lord’s commandments on relationships, both in marriage and with God. Here, he continues to address single Christians, which he began in the previous passage.
Paul begins by stating that he wants single Christians to “be without care” (v. 32a). He goes on to explain what he means by this statement.
The Christian who is not married has more time to focus on the Lord (v. 32b). The fewer cares, responsibilities, someone has, the more time that person has to focus on the Lord, through prayer Bible study and ministry, in theory.
The unmarried man has more time to focus on the Lord because he is not busy with the responsibilities of being a husband and pleasing his wife (v. 33). By the same token, the unmarried woman also has more time to focus on the Lord if she is not busy with the responsibilities of being a wife and pleasing her husband (v. 34a). She can be “holy”, set apart, for the Lord “both in body and in spirit” (v. 34b). This would also apply to the unmarried man.
However, this does not happen for single Christians if they spend all of their time looking for a wife or a husband. Unfortunately, this happens all too often.
Next, Paul gives the reason for this commandment. It, like all of God’s commandments, is for our own good, our “own profit” (v, 35a). It is not meant to take away our freedom, to “put a leash” on us. Instead, it is meant to free us to “serve the Lord without distraction” (v. 35b).
There are multiple schools of thought as to whom verses 36-38 are directed. The two most prominent are that Paul is writing of an unmarried man and his fiancé or a father and his unmarried daughter.
This writer believes that the better interpretation would be that Paul is addressing the unmarried man and his fiancé. The reason for this interpretation is that it is more in keeping with the context of this passage and the previous passage, specifically instructions to Christian singles.
In verse 36, Paul gives us an exception to his commandment to not marry. It is that of a man who “wishes” to marry his fiancé. He, not his fiancé, “is past the flower of youth”, meaning he has come to full manhood. The literal Greek translates the pronoun here as “he”, not “she” as expressed in the NKJV.
This being the case, still in verse 36, if the man “thinks he is behaving improperly toward” his fiancé he should “marry” her. This would not be a sin. This interpretation would align with verse 9 which states that if a man cannot remain celibate he should marry, rather than have sex outside of marriage which would be a sin.
However, if this same man remains strong “in his heart, has no (sexual) necessity” to marry, “has power over his own will”, self-control, “and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin” a virgin, he “does well” (v. 37). In summary, if he marries her, he “does well” but if he can refrain from marrying her, he “does better” (v. 37).
In the final two verses of this passage Paul continues to address single Christians, but now he addresses widows. If her husband dies, a widow is free to marry “whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (v. 39). The phrase “only in the Lord” refers to the Christian man that the Lord brings to her. He must be the one the Lord has for her. She must bathe her decision in prayer.
In keeping with the teaching in this passage, Paul adds that “she is happier if she remains” unmarried because she will be better able to focus on the Lord (v. 40a). Again, verse 9 regarding one’s ability to remain celibate will come into play here. Paul adds that this instruction is by his own “judgment” and also that of God the Holy Spirit (v. 40b).
In conclusion, it is better for single Christians to remain single, like Paul, and invest their time in devotion to the Lord. However, the Lord realizes that some Christian singles desire the benefits of marriage, so marriage is permitted in those cases. Either way we should always make time for the Lord and put Him first in our lives.