************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 7:8 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on August 17, 2003

1 Corinthians 7
1 Corinthians 7:8
"Singles Serve the Lord"

(1Cor 7:8) Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.

(1Cor 7:1) Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.
"You got to be kidding, Paul!" That was the response of a Bible Study group in one of the previous churches I served to what Paul says here. Is Paul being serious here? Does what he say apply to us?

Some thoughtful objections have been raised to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7.
Some say that the teaching of 1 Corinthians 7 applies only to people who, like Paul, are involved in special work such as missions or English language teaching in China. But Paul isn't talking only to potential missionaries; rather, Paul specifies that his advice is for the entire church at Corinth (cf 7:1a).
Others say that Paul is only "giving advice" in this passage and is not speaking with the authority of God because he twice says he is not giving "a command of the Lord" (vs 12,25). By "command of the Lord" Paul is referring to Jesus' teaching while on earth. Thus, in verse 10, Paul can speak of the "command of the Lord" about divorce, a teaching that the Lord gave while on earth, a teaching that we can read in both Matthew 5 (vs 31ff) and Matthew 19 (vs 1-12). However, about the single life there is no "command of the Lord" that goes back to the time when the Lord Jesus was on earth. This, however, does not mean that Paul is speaking without the authority of God for, as Paul makes clear in verse 25, he has received mercy to remain faithful and true to God in giving advice.
Still others say Paul's preference for the single life in 1 Corinthians 7 doesn't seem to fit in with his high view of marriage in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3. But Ephesians 5 does not contradict 1 Corinthians 7; it only spells out what a good Christian marriage should be like.
Some say Paul advised against marriage because he expected Jesus to return at any time. "The time is short," says Paul in verse 29. The implication seems to be that a big project such as marriage isn't wise if Christ's return is expected at any moment. Paul, obviously, was wrong about the time of Christ's return for we have had 20 centuries of marriage and giving in marriage since 1 Corinthians has been written therefore his reason for being unmarried is not valid. Yet, as the Lord Himself says, He will come like a thief in the night at a time when least expected (cf Matt 24:36ff).
Finally, some argue that 1 Corinthians 7 is intended only for the Corinthian church which, according to verse 26, was facing some "crisis" or another. Actually, the crisis is not unique to the Corinthian church; it is a crisis that all the church experiences: namely, that we live in the time between Christ's two comings when we have only some but not all of the new life.

We can say what we want but what it comes down to is that the words of our text still do apply to us today:
(1Cor 7:8) Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.

(1Cor 7:1) Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.

I Choose Unmarried State if have Self-Control
A Paul's advice from the Lord is not for everyone. As he makes clear in verses 7-9, his advice is only for those with the gift of "self-control." By "self-control" he means the gift of celibacy, of chastity, that is, the ability to abstain completely from sexual activity. But if you don't have this gift, he says it is better to marry.
(1Cor 7:9) But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Jesus speaks about self-control and abstinence in Matthew 19:
(Mt 19:12) For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.
However the gift of self-control is come by, Paul's advice for those who have it is not to marry. It is "good" for those who have this gift to remain single, like Paul. "I wish that all men were as I am," says Paul.

B It is good, even "better," for singles, widows, widowers, and the childless divorced with self-control to stay unmarried. At the same time Paul carefully insists that if those who have this gift do marry, they have not committed a sin (vs 28). Remember, marriage is one of God's created "goods." The LORD God said,
(Gen 2:18) "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
So God created us male and female and,
(Gen 2:24) a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Some Roman Catholic teaching suggests that those who have the gift of self-control and remain single have a "higher" status in life than those who marry, that somehow they are better than others and closer to the Lord. The unmarried state is good but so is the married state. It might be better to be unmarried but those with the gift are not themselves better. Paul cautions the person who has received a gift "not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think" (Rom 12:3).

II Unmarried Can Give Undivided Attention to the Lord
A Why does Paul prefer the single state for those who have the gift of self-control? Why does he say, "It is good for them to stay unmarried"? Paul gives us his reasons in verses 32-35 where he compares the married to the unmarried.

The Apostle's main reason for recommending the single life (if you have the gift of self-control) is so you are "free from concern" (vs 32). On the opposite side stand the married who are not "free from concern." As the apostle puts it,
(1Cor 7:33-34) But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world--how he can please his wife-- (34) and his interests are divided ...
A married man has family responsibilities. He must provide for the needs of his family. He needs to ensure there is adequate food, clothing, and shelter. He needs to set up a house. He needs an occupation or business. He must please his wife, spending time with her to keep her happy and fulfilled. Further draining his time and energy is that he must also be an example and father to his children.

Because of all these worthwhile pursuits the married man lacks the energy, the time, and the resources to give all or even most of his attention to the Lord, the things of the Lord, and the kingdom. As Scripture puts it, "his interests are divided" (vs 34). He is torn between heaven and earth. He has responsibilities in both spheres. But, of necessity, his earthly responsibilities, for the sake of his wife and children, must not be neglected. This does not mean it is impossible for the married man to serve the Lord. Rather, his being married means he can do less for the kingdom of God than can the single. His earthly duties distract him in the area of kingdom work.

The same is true for the married woman. According to Paul,
(1Cor 7:34c) a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world--how she can please her husband.
A married woman also has responsibilities which drag her away from kingdom work. In today's world she often has to work outside of the home in order for the family to pay the bills; in fact, if the wife and mother did not work Christian education would be beyond the reach of many of our families. Of course, she also has to please her husband. And, in today's world, it is she who looks after the children, prepares meals, and does the bulk of the housework.

The married woman, like the married man, lacks the time, the energy, and the resources to give all or even most of her attention to the Lord. She also has divided loyalties. She can still do church and kingdom work, but marriage prevents her from doing as much as the single. Her earthly duties prevent her from giving undivided devotion to the Lord.

B In contrast to this is the unmarried man or woman. According to Paul,
(1Cor 7:32,34) An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs--how he can please the Lord ... An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.
The Christian man and woman with the gift of self-control who choose not to get married or remarried have fewer earthly preoccupations than the married. They don't have a family to be concerned about and to look after; they have only themselves. Their life is less complicated and more free from concern. They have more time, energy, and resources to do the work of the Lord. Because of fewer distractions they can more wholeheartedly be concerned about the Lord and the things of the Lord. In Paul's words, the unmarried can give "undivided devotion to the Lord" (vs 35). This is why "it is good for them to stay unmarried."

The single person, the widow, the widower, and the childless divorced with the gift of self-control all have a very important place in the church and kingdom. And, they have a very high calling. Of all Christians they are best situated to do the work of the Lord. Too often we put them on the side-lines, not considering them for church office, the school board, or committee assignments. Instead, they ought to be at the forefront of the battle.

C Paul, then, urges believers with self-control to pursue the single life so that they can better serve the Lord. Do you realize the great difference between believers and unbelievers here? In today's world so many of our secular neighbors choose the single life so they can better pursue a life of pleasure and leisure or of work and money. So many men choose the single life so they can indulge in women, wine, and song. So many women choose the single life so they can pursue an education and career. What a selfish, self-centered reason to be single or to become single. That's not Scripture's reason for being single. The Christian with self-control chooses the single life in order to better serve the Lord.

D Listen again to what Paul says in our text about the single life:
(1Cor 7:8) Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.

(1Cor 7:1) Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.

There are some implications of this that need to be stated. First, I want to tell every one of our teens, widows, widowers, and childless divorced that they ought not to feel pressured into marriage or remarriage; marriage is not a requirement in the church. What I want to get through to you is that it is good to be single, to choose not to be married or remarried. It is not a disgrace or a disaster to go through life without a marriage partner. Remember, people with the gift of self-control can better serve Christ and His church if they do not marry.

Second, the church has to avoid being oriented only to married couples especially married couples with young children. It is far too easy for the teaching and social life of the church to ignore the single or to treat them as an afterthought. More than one widow has told me that married friends especially the men within the church ignore or forget them when it comes to visits, parties, weddings, and anniversaries. When a person with the gift of self-control decides to follow the single life they deserve the full support and love of the church. Christian singles should be able to find in the church the love and fellowship and sense of belonging that every person needs. As the family of God we should take the place of family in their lives. Our homes should be open to them. Our love should go out to them. That way they can find in God's family what they need for personal fulfillment. That way they can better put up with the stress and loneliness that Christian singleness often brings. That way they can continue in their "undivided devotion to the Lord" (vs35).

III All Believers are to Live for Christ
A Of course, it isn't just the unmarried who are to live for the Lord. All of us, whether married or unmarried, whether we have few or many distractions, are to live for the Lord. None of us are to be so completely wrapped up in this life, in marriage, in family or worldly concerns that we no longer have any time for the Lord.

Listen to what the Apostle says to us in verses 29-31 of our Bible passage:
(1Cor 7:29-31) What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; (30) those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; (31) those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
Notice, the Apostle wants us all to live as if we are single: without husband or wife, without distractions or concerns, with undivided devotion to the Lord.

Again some might say, "You got to be kidding, Paul!" Is Paul being serious here? Does what he say apply to us? What wife, for instance, will let her husband live as if he were single? And, what husband will encourage his wife to ignore him?

The Apostle is reminding us here of the big difference between the values of this age and the values of the age to come. The Christian should, as far as possible, live in this age as if the age to come were already here. We are to live by the values of the kingdom and not the values of this earth.

B The Apostle raises the image of soldiers in military service. Think of our soldiers, men and women, in Iraq or Afghanistan or Liberia. I ask you, in the heat of battle do our soldiers think of marriage and spouses and children? Do they have time for mourning or partying? Do they concern themselves with buying and selling? Are they all wrapped up in their possessions? Of course not! They don't have time for such things. They know their lives are on the line and they are engaged in a desperate struggle. All those things which seem so important to us are not at all important to them. When you are fighting for life itself, when you could lose your life at any moment, marriage and possessions just are not all that important anymore.

Paul wants all of us to be just like soldiers on the battlefield, unencumbered by the worries and concerns of this world.

C Paul also reminds us that "this world in its present form is passing away." Marriage seems important in this life but in the life to come, says Jesus,
(Mt 22:30) people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
Wealth and possessions may seem important in this world but someday they too will pass away.

The Apostle is telling us, then, that nothing in this life is as important as the life to come: neither marriage nor possessions nor career nor family nor anything else. The most important thing in life is to serve the Lord. Jesus says,
(Mt 10:37-39) "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; (38) and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (39) Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

All of us, married or single, are to have one goal in life: the service of the Lord. I want to challenge our singles, widows, widowers, and childless divorced with self-control who choose not to get married to live up to their calling: serve the Lord; serve Him with undivided devotion. And those who are married or looking to get married, I want to challenge you too: do not get so wrapped up in responsibilities and concerns that you have no time to serve the Lord.
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