1 Corinthians 7:1, 2, 7-9, 25-35
Now concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.…
The Corinthian Christians had written to the apostle for direction respecting the relative desirability and recumbency of single and wedded life. Probably some of them regarded marriage as obligatory, and others perhaps looked upon it as an evil. Amongst Gentiles there was at this period strong tendency towards celibacy. The reputation of Corinth was, moreover, an unenviable for wantonness and uncleanness. There was therefore great need for full and explicit statement, supplemented by apostolic authority.
I. THE APOSTLE DECLARES EACH STATE TO BE LAWFUL. This is apparent from the two opening verses of the chapter. In itself it is no sin to marry; it is no sin to remain unmarried. Perhaps specially to those regarding marriage as obligatory, the apostle says "It is good [expedient, profitable] for a man not to touch a woman;" and to those all for celibacy - speaking generally, "Let every man have his own wife." Both conditions are honourable. We are left to choose between the two. But rules are laid down for guidance.
II. CHOICE BETWEEN THE TWO SHOULD BE LARGELY DETERMINED BY CONDITION AND CIRCUMSTANCE. From vers. 1, 7, 8, 38, it has been too hastily concluded by some that Paul decidedly favours celibacy per se. But ver. 7 is ambiguous, and is thought by not a few to refer to the gift of continence, which qualifies a man for single or wedded life, as circumstances may determine; and the ether verses, together with this verse, must not be dissevered from ver. 26, which qualifies the whole chapter. Paul has vividly before his mind the surroundings of the Christian Church in his own age. What was expedient in the "present distress" might not be desirable under other conditions. And similarly, the "better" might cease to be so under changed circumstances. We read elsewhere (Hebrews 13:4) that "marriage is honourable in all." And it is the Apostle Paul himself who elevates marriage to the loftiest position by employing it as a type of the union between Christ and believers (Ephesians 5:25-32). It is also the same apostle who pronounces, the prohibition of marriage to be one of the signs of the great apostacy (1 Timothy 4:3). "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18). On Paul's communication to the Corinthians it has been aptly said, "The truth is that the apostle writes to the Corinthians as he would do to an army about to enter on a most unequal conflict in an enemy's country and for a protracted period. He tells them, 'This is no time for you to think of marriage. You have a right to marry. And in general it is best that all men should marry. But in your circumstances marriage can only lead to embarrassment and suffering.'" This is putting the matter bluntly. Perhaps it goes a little beyond the apostle's expressed counsel, yet it shows the drift of his advice. It would seem that choice is to be determined by:
1. Condition or qualification. Celibacy is not commended to any except those who have the gift of continence. To many it would prove a snare - an occasion of the most serious evil. It is not at all "good" for the generality, since most men do not possess the necessary qualification. Thus the almost universal injunction in the second verse follows and qualifies the commendation in the first. Even under adverse temporal circumstances it may thus be better for some to marry. The apostle is most cautious upon this point, and is in great contrast to Romanists, who relegate to celibacy the entire priesthood.
2. Circumstances. The "present distress," because of the sorrows, perplexities, and sufferings which it occasioned in so large a degree to those having upon them the responsibilities of married life, inclined the apostle to commend celibacy to those qualified to practise it. We have here valuable suggestions. Marriage is not to be rashly entered upon. Temporal surroundings and prospects are to be taken into account. Prudence is to be observed in affairs matrimonial. What woeful results have followed imprudent unions! Many who fall into love seem to fall out of their senses at the same time. Not a few regard marriage as a goal to be reached at all hazards. They display infinitely more anxiety to get to it than they do to get to heaven. Evidently they regard it as a most perfect paradise, but when they reach it by the road of folly they generally find that there is a serpent in that garden as in the one of old.
III. THE APOSTLE DIRECTS OUR THOUGHTS TO THE RELATIVE ADVANTAGES OF THE TWO STATES.
1. Celibacy has less care attaching to it, especially in troublous times. The unmarried have more leisure to attend to the things of the Lord. The married must concern themselves more about things temporal, and this may prove a distraction injurious to higher duties. A loving wife tends to occupy her mind very largely about her husband, and a loving husband about his wife. There is danger here lest the claims of One who should be far more to us than husband or wife be neglected. This is especially so in days of persecution and of violent and sudden change. The beloved object may be threatened with suffering; the price of escape may be unfaithfulness to God. Here is the pinch; felt terribly in days of darkness. It is easier for many to suffer themselves than to see their dear ones suffer. And we are apt to excuse conduct which has for its object the welfare of another - when we should be bound to condemn it if we only were concerned. Shall I see my wife and children exposed to nameless insult and hideous cruelty, or forswear the faith? This was the dread alternative set before many a married man in the days of Paul. As we have seen, a celibate may devote himself entirely to the Lord and his service. I do not understand the apostle to say that this is impossible in one who is married, but that human claims may come into conflict with Divine. In happy peaceful times the conflict might never arise; in days of persecution it might be severe. Note: There is here no commendation of monastic or isolated celibacy. The apostle would doubtless expect the celibate to exhibit his devotion to God very largely by works of usefulness amongst his fellow men (as in the ease of Paul himself). Observe: The single state is not to be sneered at. It has special opportunities, Those who adopt it from right motives are worthy of all esteem. And those who are compelled to it by circumstances, if they use its advantages, are to be held in honour. Frequently, however, they are considered the fittest objects for ridicule. Yet "old maids" are sometimes the best of maids. And men unfettered by wedded responsibilities have frequently been patterns of excellence and usefulness.
2. Marriage is the safer condition morally. (Ver. 2.) It is freer from temptation. It is the condition appropriate for a large number. And let us not forget that God has so made us that the generality find their true place in the domestic circle (ver. 7). "It is not good that the man should be alone" has very extensive application. Marriage is needful for the replenishing of the earth. There are some who under any external circumstances will find it easier to serve God in the married state. Marriage is a great support and source of strength to many. The home influence is felt wherever a man journeys, and often upholds him in good resolution, and animates him when despondent. It expands his sympathies. It draws him out of himself. Celibacy presents many perils even for those who are naturally qualified for it. Tendencies towards narrowness, selfishness, lack of sympathy, have to be carefully guarded against. Domestic life of the right kind supplies an antidote. And in the home and in its duties we may truly serve God. When we rightly "care" for those near and dear to us we are offering acceptable service to the Most High. The home may and should be a true sanctuary. It will be seen that this applies chiefly to quiet times. In times of disturbance and insecurity, "home" exists often only as a name, and the advantages of married life are turned into serious disadvantages. Its powers for good assume then the form of perils. Finally, whichever state we choose, we must ever remember the "shortness of the time" (ver. 29), and must not settle down in this world as though it were our abiding place. Eternity has opened upon our view. For that we are chiefly to live. With an eye to that we must determine our conduct and choices. Time, in which we marry and are given in marriage, is but a flash (though it is the flash of preparation); eternity is our life. - H.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.