God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 7:25-28 The good work of marriage
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, February 9, 2023
25 Now concerning virgins, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who is trustworthy, by the mercy of the Lord. 26 I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from marriage? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I want to spare you that.
Just as he did earlier in the chapter (7:12), Paul speaks on a subject that Jesus did not directly address. This time it is the marriage of the unmarried. Should virgins seek marriage during the present crisis? This is probably another question that the Corinthians had asked, and so Paul gives to them his sanctified judgment.
A question we would like answered is, what is “the present distress” Paul describes in verse 26? The Greek term for “present” can also mean “coming” or “approaching,” but there is no hint as to what this might be. We should listen carefully to Professor Toppe here: “Perhaps it was a famine, perhaps the Christians in Corinth were beginning to experience persecution. At any rate, trying times were upon them” (People’s Bible p. 70). To these two possibilities, we would add “plague” to the usual list of calamities (Jeremiah 14:12; Revelation 6:8).
In general, Paul follows his earlier recommendation: Keep your status today. If you are married, stay that way. But if you are not married, maybe this isn’t the best time, what with “worldly troubles” upon us here in Greece or there in Corinth in particular. This is Paul’s opinion or judgment, but it is by no means a command. He thinks it’s a good idea, but there might be a man thinking of getting married and thinking that he and his fiancé would do better in the “present troubles” if they were married.
We have no more to say about this crisis. Paul knew about it, and the Corinthians were aware of it, but we don’t know if it was going to endure for a long time (years?) or just a short while (months?). Therefore we should consider that marriage is in the realm of good works. To conform with God’s will is good, or as Professor Gerhard puts it: “Just as sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), so a good work is lawfulness, conformity of action with God’s law, which is the norm and standard of good works” (Commonplace XX, On Good Works §16). The goal or end of good works is to give God glory, as the Psalm says: “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name be glory” (Psalm 115:1). And Jesus says: “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). And there are many other passages like these (1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 1:11, 2:4; 1 Peter 2:9,12, 4:11; Titus 3:14; 1 John 4:21).
With regard to marriage, we see that marriage has been instituted by God, and to avoid marriage when one would otherwise burn with passion is not “better” than to marry (1 Corinthians 7:9). In fact, to avoid marriage for a variety of reasons, many of which are espoused by people in our own culture, are downright sinful.
He sins who says:
1, “Marriage is an out-of-date institution.” But God created marriage; it stands while the world stands (Genesis 2:24).
2, “Marriage is inconvenient.” But marriage is God’s will; God’s desire comes before man’s desire.
3, “We will try out living together to see if it works for us first.” This is not only contrary to God’s will, but it invites sexual sins and other temptations, and proclaims a false message to everyone who is aware of the arrangement. These are the words of someone who does not trust in God. To fail to trust in God is no different than unbelief.
4, “I have taken a vow of celibacy, therefore I cannot get married even though I burn with passion.” This hideous problem is the result of a misguided vow. Luther writes volumes about this. Articles XXIII (The Marriage of Priests) and XXVII (Monastic Vows) are two of the longest sections in the Augsburg Confession. In this case, the vow itself (a vow not to get married) is sinful, and therefore should be rescinded.
5, “My financial advisor says it would be better to stay single.” Your financial advisor is not going to stand at your side before God’s throne and defend you as you fall into the pit of everlasting torture and punishment. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
6, “My children don’t want me to get remarried because they’re afraid it will endanger their inheritance and I’ll give everything to my second wife.” This is also a case for Acts 5:29. Your child is not your Paraclete. Old Testament believers were commanded and directed by God to look after the needs of their family, and you, as the beneficiary of the Fourth Commandment, are to look after the needs of your own children as well as your (new) wife. Do your good work for them as you see fit, but to be married is God’s will, not your family’s choice.
7, “My medical insurance or other benefits are better if I remain single.” But the Bible assures us: We will be persecuted because of our faith: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12; also Matthew 5:10). If the government tells you to sin, you are being handed a cross to bear. You are being punished for being a faithful Christian. That may be a cross you need to bear, but God’s will is that you would be married rather than live outside of marriage. And Jesus also says: “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another” (Matthew 10:23).
8, “I don’t want to get hurt again.” This puts your fear above God’s will. Don’t pursue a sexual relationship if you won’t get married. But it is a sin to be involved with someone and refuse to marry.
9, “Is this even a sin?” Too many people don’t even recognize that this is a sin. A great many churches have simply left God’s word behind and no longer teach doctrine as Jesus and the Apostles have taught us. This was prophesied by Jeremiah: “The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD?’ The experts in the law did not know me. The leaders rebelled against me” (Jeremiah 2:8). They should know better, but they are leading their people to hell because they refuse to believe that there is a hell even though they are choked by the increasing stench of sulfur, fire, and brimstone all around them as their churches crumble into ruins. God warns: “Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners will come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land. The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, nothing growing on it” (Deuteronomy 29:22-23).
But what about those who say:
10, “We’re both widows (or older unmarried folks), and neither one of us wants to move away from our homes, so we won’t marry.” This is the talk of friends, or pals; not companions who would benefit from marriage. If an older man and woman have no sexual desire for one another but have a friendship, such a friendly relationship might be understandable, but they should be truthful about their feelings and not put the Lord to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16; Matthew 4:7).
Or, as Paul seems to be saying here:
11, “Were living in a dangerous (?) time; we won’t marry just now.” If this is the case, and to remain unmarried is truly helpful to the couple, then this may stand for a while. But if the troubles come to an end, or lessen in some way, then marriage should be considered once again, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:9).
But whether sword, famine, or plague as a danger, the companionship of marriage is usually better than facing trouble on one’s own. “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). And “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). When you consider the things you do, whether getting married, taking care of a baby, walking your dog, doing your work, making a meal, or whatever else you do, even though it means bearing up under a private cross, do it to the glory of God. Be rich in your good works, be dear to God, be useful to your neighbor. What God ordains is always good.
Pastor Timothy Smith