Over the summer, I wrote a blog post analyzing a certain book that dealt with being single, and I wrote that while an interesting read, the book essentially gave people permission to remain single as opposed to encouraging those who are single to marry.
What followed for much of the day was a multitude of people screaming through their keyboards that I needed to read 1 Corinthians 7.
I mention this because many congregations heard a portion of 1 Corinthians 7 read as one of the assigned texts for Epiphany 3. The portion read, verses 29-31, probably sounded strange, to say nothing of the option to extend the reading to verse 35.
I wonder how many pastors preached this particular text. If they did, I admire them; for my own reasons I did not preach it; the text is an intimidating one in terms of how exactly does one preach this text.
The reason so many screamed ‘1 Corinthians 7!’ at my blog post, is probably quite apparent. The entire chapter repeats a refrain that it is better to remain single than to marry.
But does that mean that Paul is discouraging believers from ever marrying? What does this mean?
The key in all of this is context.
Why would Paul encourage someone not to marry, as he does in verses 25-28 and 32-35?
The answer is verses 29-31. The world is growing worse, in fact Paul sees thing getting much worse, very quickly. In the immediate context, there was a widespread famine in the Greek states, which led to a rationing of grain. Knowing the Gospels, Paul would recall Jesus words in St. Luke 21:11 and 23 where famine is listed as a sign of the end times.
Paul’s suggestion to remain single is quite practical then, as a single person would have an easier time providing for himself during hard times as opposed to having to provide for a family, which would include a wife and children.
We actually see this today in our modern society: the marriage rate goes up when the economy is doing well, and goes down when the economy is down.
So what is the modern day application of this text? Is it better to remain single or is it better to marry?
For that, the beginning of chapter 7 may provide insight. Verses 7-9, Paul says that it is better to marry than to burn with passion. And indeed, if one cannot keep the Sixth Commandment in thought, word and deed as a single person, than one ought to marry so that they might have an outlet for that sexual desire.
But what about those who are chaste?
It is interesting that for those who are chaste, Paul says that he wishes that they should live as he does.
But how does Paul live?
Paul lives his entire life from his conversion on the Damascus road until the day of his death preaching the Gospel to people and places far and wide. Paul suffers much for the sake of the Gospel.
In other words, Paul does not stay home every night eating Cheetos and watching Seinfeld reruns.
If you want to live a 1 Corinthians 7 single life, than you had better be out loving and serving your neighbor every minute you are awake; you had better challenge Paul himself for the number of people you convert to the Gospel.
Why? Because that is what the text says (verses 32-34). The married are consumed with things of the family, while the single has no such distractions. To be clear, the married are not condemned by their married status; but nor are the single held to the same evangelism workload as the married.
If you want to tell me that 1 Corinthians 7 declares that it is ok, even godly, for you to be single, than you had better be on the cover of the next Lutheran Witness with all the people you just converted to Christianity.
How should we read this text?
Being single is hard. Being married is hard. Neither the single nor the married will fare well when the persecution comes. Place your faith in Christ Jesus who redeems both the single and the married from sin, death and the devil. In the meantime, if you want to remain single, or if you want to marry, do it. Just leave 1 Corinthians 7 out of it.