1 Corinthians 7:25-40
Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment…
Paul now passes to another question referred to him, viz. the marriage of virgins and widows. This has been briefly touched upon already (ver. 8), and is now dealt with more in detail. Here also the apostle has no express commandment of the Lord to adduce, and he therefore proceeds to give his own inspired judgment on the matter, "as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful." This judgment is not in the form of explicit injunction, but of an advice given in view of existing circumstances.
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.