Now about virgins, I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy.
I. ADVICE TO THE UNMARRIED OF BOTH SEXES. In the previous sections the apostle has argued against the disrupting of social ties, even when these are of so unpleasant a character as being bound to a heathen spouse or subject to the yoke of slavery. Here he gives similar counsel, advising against a change of condition. This applies to married persons, who are not to seek a dissolution of the bond; but especially to the unmarried, whom he advises to remain as they are. This advice does not proceed from a disparagement of marriage in itself or from an absolute preference of celibacy (comp. homily on vers. 1-9, above), but is based upon special reasons which are afterwards mentioned.
1. The present distress. (Ver. 26.) This may refer to persecution already commenced, as that under Nero (A.D. 64), or to the troubles which were to usher in the second advent (comp. Matthew 24.). In view of this impending crisis, it is better not to marry. The apostolic advice will hold in all similar cases; as when a soldier is called to dangerous military duty, or a man is approaching death, or during the prevalence of famine and pestilence.
2. Tribulation in the flesh. (Ver. 28.) This arises out of the external distress, which bears more hardly upon the married than the single. It is to spare them this affliction that Paul advises the unmarried to remain as they are.
3. The shortness of the time. (Ver. 29.) Here again the apostle has in view the advent, which seemed to be drawing near. Marriage belongs to a transitory condition of things - the passing fashion of this world. Life is short, just that our affections may not be set on earthly things. They that have wives must soon leave them, and the remembrance of this should render marriage or celibacy a matter of comparatively little moment.
4. The cares incident to the married slate. (Ver. 32.) The husband is bound to protect and provide for his family, and in troubled times this causes much anxiety. Husband and wife, moreover, have to consult each other's wishes, considering how they may please each other. From these cares the unmarried are free, and can therefore consider "the things of the Lord" with less division of heart. This does not mean that marriage is less favourable to holiness than celibacy: experience warrants no such statement. The apostle compares the two conditions only in respect of their freedom from worldly care, and in this the unmarried have the advantage. It does not lie in his way to indicate counterbalancing benefits belonging to the married state. His aim is to deliver us from distraction in attending upon the Lord (ver. 35). We are not to be like Martha, "cumbered about much serving," "anxious and troubled about many things;" but like Mary, sitting with undivided heart at the Lord's feet (Luke 10:38-42).
II. ADVICE TO FATHERS REGARDING THEIR UNMARRIED DAUGHTERS. In the East, marriages are arranged by parents much more exclusively than with us, and hence the obligation here laid on the father of judging when it is becoming for his daughter to marry. Very much depends upon the Christian wisdom of parents in this matter. How often are the highest interests sacrificed for the sake of a union that offers worldly attractions! Faithful and prudent parental guidance may prevent an unholy alliance and lead to a happy union "in the Lord." The point before the apostle now is the direction of fathers as to when they may grant, and when withhold, permission for their daughters to marry.
1. When permission to marry should be granted. (Ver. 36.) Generally, when the refusal would lead to anything unseemly. In particular, if the daughter has come to full marriageable age, if she and her lover are bent upon the union; in that case, for the father to enforce celibacy would be to put temptation in his daughter's way. The general advice not to marry because of present distress, is overborne by stronger considerations (see ver. 2); and in view of these the father will do well to put no barrier in the way.
2. When permission may be withheld. The father is required to look at all the circumstances of the case, and judge accordingly. The elements determining his judgment will be such as these:
(1) The presence or absence of such considerations as have been mentioned in the previous case;
(2) the temperament or inclination of the daughter in reference to marriage;
(3) her fitness for the service of the Lord in the single state;
(4) her general well being, both temporal and spiritual. If in view of these elements he judges it best for his daughter not to marry, he may properly resist the solicitations of suitors who desire to have her to wife. That is, he is at liberty to give effect to the apostolic preference of celibacy in respect of the necessities of the time.
III. ADVICE TO WIDOWS. This proceeds on the same lines as the advice to unmarried persons. The wife whose husband has "fallen asleep" (κοιμηθῆ, ver. 39; comp. 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14, and our cemetery) is no longer bound (comp. Romans 7:1-3), but is free to remarry if she chooses. The only restriction is that she marry "in the Lord," i.e. that she marry a Christian, and that her whole conduct in the matter be in keeping with her profession. Yet here also the apostle advises against a second marriage, on grounds already adduced in the case of virgins. A widow may marry again, but she will be more free from care and trouble if she remain as she is.
1. The application of abiding principles is modified by changing circumstances. This must be remembered in considering how far the advice given here is generally applicable. What is prudent in a Christian country, with a settled government, and at peace, may be imprudent where the conditions are the reverse. There is a wide sphere for the exercise of true wisdom in the practical conduct of such matters.
2. Christians should marry "only in the Lord." On its lower side, marriage is the same to all men, irrespective of creed and character; but the Christian is called to consider the interests of his higher life. He is to enter upon this relationship as a follower of Christ, and seeking therein the glory of God. - B.
Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord.
I. THE UNMARRIED OF BOTH SEXES. As he has argued against the disruption of the ties between slave and master, Christian and heathen, so Paul now advises the unmarried to remain as they are. Not that he disparages marriage, but special circumstances make it inadvisable.
1. The present distress (ver. 26). This may refer to the Neronian persecution already commenced ( A.D. 64), or to the troubles which were to usher in the second advent (cf. Matthew 24.). The injunction will hold in all similar cases; as when the soldier is called to dangerous duty, or when a man is approaching death, or during the prevalence of famine or pestilence.
2. Tribulation in the flesh (ver. 28), i.e., distress which bears more hardly on the married than on the single.
3. The shortness of time (ver. 29).
4. The cares incident to the married state (ver. 32).
II. FATHERS REGARDING UNMARRIED DAUGHTERS. In the East marriages are arranged by parents much more than with us: but how much even with us depends on the Christian wisdom of parents, who may sacrifice the highest interests for the sake of a union that offers worldly attractions. Faithful parental guidance may prevent an unholy alliance and lead to a happy union "in the Lord." The point before the apostle is —
1. When permission to marry may be granted (ver. 36).(1) Generally, when the refusal would lead to anything unseemly.(2) In particular, if the girl is of marriageable age, and if she and her lover are bent on union, to enforce celibacy would be to put temptation in her way. The general advice not to marry because of present distress is overborne by stronger considerations (ver. 2); and in view of these the father will do well to put no barriers in the way.
2. When permission may be withheld. The elements determining judgment will be —(1) The presence or absence of the considerations mentioned in the previous case.(2) The temperament or inclination of the daughter in reference to marriage.(3) Her fitness for Christ's service in the single state.(4) Her general well-being temporal and spiritual. If in view of these he judges it best for his daughter not to marry he may resist the solicitations of her suitors.
III. WIDOWS. This proceeds on the same lines as the advice to the unmarried. She is free, but she must only marry "in the Lord." Yet the apostle advises against a second marriage, on grounds already adduced in the case of virgins. A widow will be more free from care if she remain as she is. Conclusion:
1. The application of abiding principles is modified by changing circumstances. What is prudent in a Christian country may be imprudent elsewhere.
2. Christians should only marry "in the Lord."
(H. Bremner, B. D.)
1. That God requires in His creatures, not perfect conformity with moral law, but only sincerity of endeavour.
2. That the actions supposed to be counselled but not commanded are moral, and not merely indifferent. But both assumptions destroy the essential nature of moral law, which must, in its very idea, be obligatory; and whatever is not obligatory is no part of morality, but belongs to the class of indifferent things. It follows that if the apostle imposes no command but simply gives advice in reference to abstention from marriage such abstention is not to be reckoned a work of supererogation. This distinction, however, between obligatory and supererogatory moral obedience must not be confounded with the distinction between precepts and counsels of perfection — the latter so called from the vulgate rendering of γνώμη in this verse.Counsels of perfection differ from works of supererogation in two points —
1. They have always reference, not to actions in themselves moral, but to actions in themselves indifferent.
2. They are to be sought not in the words of Christ, but in the words of His apostles. Whatever Christ says in reference to practice is a command which men disobey at their peril. But the apostles, though they may often have authority to command, may be unable on occasion to arrive at a decision and, therefore rest content with the expression of an opinion, which Christians may, if they so judge, lay aside. The present passage is an instance of this. We need not discard the name "counsels of perfection." There are undoubted cases in which celibacy is helpful to spiritual progress, and other cases in which marriage is essential to it. The apostle says, "I give my advice, not frivolously nor as a wise man of this world, but with all the faithfulness and sincerity of one that has had the grace of salvation and apostleship." The advice is given with manifest reluctance. He is careful to prepare their minds for it by telling them that it is simply his own opinion, not the Lord's command, and that, on the other hand, he has formed his judgment under a sense of responsibility attaching to his office.
(Principal Edwards.)I. MODESTLY (ver. 25).
1. Not dogmatically as if we had a right to command.
2. Yet faithfully.
3. In dependence upon the mercy of God.
1. With delicacy and discrimination (vers. 26-28).
2. With a due knowledge of times, circumstances, &c.
III. IN THE FEAR AND LOVE OF GOD (vers. 32-34).
1. Even in ordinary life earthly ends are not to be the rule of action.
2. The glory of God must be the supreme aim.
IV. KINDLY (vers. 35-40).
1. Not assuming anything to ourselves.
2. But respecting the liberty of our neighbour.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)I. MODESTLY — not with an assumption of authority.
II. HUMBLY — as a matter of judgment, which must be tested by the Word of God.
III. IN A CHRISTIAN SPIRIT — as those who have been forgiven.
IV. FAITHFULLY — as the servants of God.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
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