Marriage Series: 7) Singleness and Marriage

Marriage and Singleness

Text: 1 Cor 7:1-16,25-40

 

Last week we looked at the reality of our marriages, the fact that as broken sinful people our marriages are far from perfect. But there’s another reality that we haven’t yet explored in this series, a reality that is relevant for many of you this morning, what if you’re not married. Many people here this morning have never been married, or you have been married but your spouse has passed away, or for one reason or another, your marriage is over and you’re either divorced or you’re separated. Some of you are living in de facto relationships, and you may be wondering where you fit in. This morning I want to take a look at what the Bible says about singleness and marriage. The question that faces all singles, whether you’ve been married before or not, is, to misquote Shakespeare, ‘to Marry, or not to Marry?’ Or in the case of previously married people ‘to remarry, or not to remarry?’ It’s interesting that in our culture it’s almost taken for granted that you will look for a relationship and get married, or in the case of widowed or divorced people, remarried. Even in many churches singleness is seen as plan B. But despite Paul’s lofty view of marriage in Ephesians 5 singleness is a biblical option. This morning we’re going to look at those two options, to marry or not to marry, and help you think through them biblically.

 

1) Not to Marry

Let’s start with the option not to marry. After all I’ve said about marriage over the last 5 weeks is that even an option? Yes it is, and a good one.

a) Being single is good

In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul straight out tells people not to get married. He says ‘1 …It is good for a man not to marry. (1 Cor 7:1b)’ And ‘8 …to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. (1 Cor 7:8)’ Paul counsels people to remain single because being single is good. In fact, despite the cultural expectation in the first century to get married, neither Jesus nor Paul ever married. And Paul encourages people to remain single. Historians believe that Christianity was probably the first religion that actually encouraged people not to marry. So why, after everything that Paul says about marriage in Ephesians 5, does Paul counsel people to not get married in 1 Corinthians 7? He gives three reasons.

i) Because you will face many troubles

Firstly, because as married people you will face many troubles. Paul says in verse 28, ‘28 …those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. (1 Cor 7:28b)’ Now he’s not suggesting that you will face troubles because you’re married. He’s not telling women, ‘Don’t marry because husbands are nothing but trouble!’ He’s not suggesting to men that after the wedding ring comes the suffering. Rather as Christians we will face trouble. Because of our commitment to Jesus we will face persecution. And it’s the trouble we will face as followers of Christ that Paul wants to spare husbands and wives. Paul is well aware of the stress that persecution would put on a marriage. It’s difficult enough to be a Christian in this world, let alone a Christian with a spouse and family. Being single is good because as Christians we will face many troubles.

ii) Because the time is short

Secondly, Paul is aware that the time is short. Verse 29 continues, ‘29 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. (1 Cor 7:29a)’ Now Paul isn’t suggesting that Jesus was going to return any day, rather he’s suggesting that Jesus could return any day. Paul lives in constant expectation of Christ’s return. During the last 2000 years we’ve lost a lot of this anticipation that Jesus is coming back, but the New Testament is full of eschatological expectation. Paul writes, ‘29 …From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (1 Cor 7:29b-31)’ Paul isn’t saying that we shouldn’t care about our spouses, or our emotions, or our material possessions, rather we need to keep them in the proper perspective, they are passing away, they are temporal things, and Christ’s return and eternal life are just around the corner. Marriage is great, but it belongs to this life, not to eternal life. Jesus reminds the Pharisees that, ‘30 At the resurrection people will neither marry not be given in marriage, they will be like the angels in heaven. (Mt 22:30)’ Being single is good because the time is short, Jesus is coming back.

iii) So you can be Devoted to the Lord

And because the time is short Paul encourages us to devote ourselves to the Lord. The problem with being married, according to Paul, is that a married person’s ‘34 …interests are divided. (1 Cor 7:34a)’ According to Paul ‘33 …a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife… 34 …[and] a married woman is concerned about …how she can please her husband. (1 Cor 7:33a,34b)’ Singleness is so good in Paul’s eyes because ‘32 …An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 34 [and] an unmarried woman’s… aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. (1 Cor 7:32b,34a)’ Now Paul isn’t saying that marriage is a bad idea here. In fact he says, ‘35 I am saying this… not to restrict you… (1 Cor 7:35b)’ Paul is completely okay if you want to marry. Rather for Paul being single is good ‘35 …that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Cor 7:35)’ Paul’s ultimate concern is that we live in undivided devotion to Jesus. Singleness is so good because it means that you can give all your attention, all your time, all your effort to Jesus. Paul’s point is that if you have a choice, in light of the many troubles you will face as a Christian, in light of the fact that Jesus may return at any moment, and because you want to give undivided devotion to him, choose singleness, it’s a good option.

b) The Gift of Singleness

And for Paul that’s what the gift of singleness is all about. In verse 7 Paul actually refers to his singleness as a, ‘7 …gift from God… (1 Cor 7:7b)’ Now when Paul calls singleness a gift he isn’t suggesting that you won’t have any struggles with being single, or that you have a complete lack of interest in getting married. Rather for Paul, the gift of being single is about the freedom it gave him to concentrate on ministry in ways that if he was married he wouldn’t be able to. Having the gift of singleness doesn’t mean you don’t want to get married, or that you don’t struggle with not being married, rather it’s the ability to effectively serve God and do ministry in that situation. The gift of singleness is about using your circumstance to serve the Lord, to give Jesus your undivided attention. In fact, Paul would probably argue that’s the only benefit of singleness. Some people are single today because of circumstances, but many people in our society are single because they’re selfish. They are single because they live for themselves. But Paul says the gift of singleness is all about living for Jesus, and using your singleness to more effectively serve him and others.

c) De-idolizing Marriage

What Paul is actually doing is de-idolizing marriage. In Ephesians we saw how marriage reflected Christ’s love for his church, which reflects an extremely high view of marriage. But it also means something else, it means marriage isn’t the most important thing. The most important thing is Christ’s love for the Church, for us. Marriage isn’t the ultimate relationship in the life of a Christian, our relationship with Jesus is. Marriage is penultimate, next to ultimate. Paul puts marriage in its proper place, the most important relationship in our life, after our relationship with Jesus. For Paul, the most important question isn’t ‘to marry or not to marry,’ but do you have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Did Jesus die for your sins? If he didn’t than marriage won’t save you. You need to put your faith in Jesus.

So this morning if you haven’t married yet, or if you are widowed or divorced, like Paul I would encourage you to think long and hard about remaining unmarried, not so you can live your life for yourself, but so you can live your life for Jesus, so you can give Jesus your undivided attention. Not to marry is a good decision to make, because it means you can concern yourself with the Lord’s affairs. For those of you who are married you too need to be living for Jesus, but you do so in the context of your marriage. For those of you who aren’t married you are in the unique position of being completely selfish in your desire to serve Jesus and others, you don’t have to worry about anyone else, just Jesus.

 

2) To Marry

But what about if you want to get married, or in the case of widowed or divorced people, remarried? Should you get married? Is it okay to get married or remarried? The truth is that often those questions are extremely complex, and you pretty much have to take it on a case by case basis. But here are six things that every person needs to think through before they get married, or remarried.

a) Marriage is good

Firstly, marriage is good. I hope over the last 6 weeks I’ve made that very clear. Marriage is a reflection of Christ’s love for the church, for us. Marriage is based on covenantal love, a total commitment between a man and a woman, that reflects God’s commitment and covenantal love with us in Christ. Marriage is for the purpose of making us more like Jesus. Marriage reflects the gospel, the sacrificial service and the humble submission of Jesus played out in the responsibilities of husband and wife. Marriage is designed by God for our good and it is good. In fact, the closer marriage gets to God’s original intention the better it gets. But in our text Paul adds two further reasons why marriage is good.

i) A defence against immorality

Firstly, marriage is a defence against immorality. Paul writes, ‘2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. (1 Cor 7:2)’ Later Paul writes, ‘9 …if [you] cannot control yourself, you should marry. (1 Cor 7:9b)’ Paul is making these comments in the context of a promiscuous society, much like our culture today. His point is rather than following the immorality of the world, it is better to follow God’s plan and get married.

ii) The proper context for sexual passion

Marriage is a defence against immorality because it is the proper context for sexual passion. Rather than being a miser Paul tells us that ‘4 The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. (1 Cor 7:4)’ And later he adds, ‘9 …it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Cor 7:9b)’ Paul’s point is not that passion is wrong, but that it belongs in the context of marriage. God not only designed marriage, he designed sex, and in the context of marriage sex is good. For Paul marriage is good because it both fulfils our need for physical intimacy while protecting us from immorality.

b) There are seasons for seeking marriage

But even though marriage is good there are seasons for seeking marriage. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a life-long partner, there are times when it is wiser to wait, especially in times of transition or trauma. Often in the midst of traumatic situations our judgment gets cloudy. It’s important to be discerning about why you’re looking for a marriage partner. Is it to find a life-long companion, or to meet a present emotional need? And in the middle of trauma it’s very difficult to tell the difference. For example, some people get married, not because they truly love someone, but just because they’re lonely. Sometimes people get into relationships on the rebound. Sometimes people look for a new relationship when they are still dealing with intense feelings of loss. In Ecclesiastes it says there is a time for everything, and I believe there is a time for healing, for repentance, and pursuing God, rather than pursuing marriage. If you are going through some difficult experience it’s not the best time to be developing a new relationship.

c) Don’t become unevenly yoked

Thirdly, don’t become unevenly yoked. The Bible assumes that Christians should marry other Christians. Paul writes, ‘39 …[a woman] is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. (1 Cor 7:39b)’ And in his next letter Paul is even more blunt, ‘14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. (2 Cor 6:14a)’ The reality is that if your spouse doesn’t share your faith, then they will never truly understand you. If your spouse doesn’t share your love for Jesus they will never understand the very thing that motivates your life. If you do marry someone who doesn’t share your faith two things tend to happen. Either you slowly become less transparent with your spouse or you move Jesus out of the centre of your life. As we saw a few weeks back, the purpose of marriage is two people encouraging each other to become more like Jesus. While many people hope that their future spouse will become a believer, Paul says, ‘16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Cor 7:16)’ The truth is that it’s easier to pull someone down then it is to lift them up. Make ‘personal faith in Jesus’ the top of your list of things you are looking for in a future spouse.

d) Feel ‘attraction’ comprehensively

Fourthly, feel attraction comprehensively. Our society is absolutely obsessed with outward appearances. Most relationships begin with the question, ‘do I find this person physically attractive.’ Now there’s nothing wrong with being physically attracted to someone, but whatever you do don’t marry someone who you only feel physical attraction. You also need to be attracted to their character, their values, and their faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t choose a marriage partner on the basis of their looks, or their social status, rather than more lasting qualities. According to Peter true beauty is ‘4 …a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Pet 3:4b)’ A Christ-like character is the thing we should find most attractive in a potential marriage partner.

e) Submit to community input

Fifthly, submit to community input. I know that in our society we make our own choices and decisions, and parents don’t have much of a say, but when it comes to choosing the person that you will be spending the rest of your life with I think it’s worth getting the advice of people who know you both well. The decision is too important, and our perspective is often too biased, to make without the input of others. Often we see our potential partners through rose-coloured glasses, while others see more clearly. Get the input and the blessing of your family, both your biological family and your spiritual family.

f) Deal with your baggage

Finally, deal with your baggage. Everyone comes into a new relationship with some sort of baggage, after all, as we saw last week, we’re all broken to some extent. If you’re going to marry someone it’s important that you’re open with them about your personal struggles. That’s true for everyone, but it’s particularly true for people who have been divorced. It’s essential that you understand what went wrong, and that you’ve addressed those issues, before you look at getting remarried. If you are the victim of adultery or wilful desertion you will probably need to deal with feelings of anger or mistrust. If both of you have failed the other in some way you need to repent of the part that you played in the breakdown of your marriage. And if you broke your marriage vows in some way, you need to seriously evaluate your heart and repent of your sins before pursuing another relationship. In fact, Paul says that if you have broken your marriage vows ‘11 …[you] must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to [your spouse]… (1 Cor 7:11a)’ I don’t believe divorce is the unforgiveable sin, but I think you need to go through a process before you even consider remarrying. After the failure of my first marriage I did a number of things.

1. Focus on Reconciliation

Firstly, I tried everything I could to bring about reconciliation. Divorce isn’t an option, so don’t even consider it. Do everything you can to heal your marriage

2. Focus on Repentance

Secondly, after those attempts failed I made the decision to go on a four day silent retreat. I spent those four days studying the Pastoral Epistles, praying and repenting of the sin that contributed to the breakdown of my marriage. And I can’t stress the importance of repentance enough. Without repentance there is no forgiveness. Without repentance getting remarried is adultery. Only by the grace of God can we receive a second chance. If we move on without God, we do so without his blessing, in fact we compound our sin.

3. Focus on your Relationship with Jesus

The third thing I did was focus on my relationship with Jesus. I felt I had to come to a place where I was happy being single. I wasn’t even looking for a relationship when someone suggested I ask Alice out on a date. So often we begin relationships from a place of brokenness, we look for a relationship to fulfil our needs. But ultimately our greatest needs are met not in another person but in Jesus Christ. So I want to encourage you to deal with your past, confess your sins, and enter into marriage with God’s purposes in mind.

If you are single then to get married is a good option. If you are widowed to get remarried is also a good option. Paul actually encourages younger widows to get remarried in 1 Timothy 5. If you are living in a de facto relationship getting married is a good option. God wants your relationship to reflect his covenantal love and commitment to us in Christ. If you’re currently separated I encourage you to keep at it, don’t give up, do everything you can to bring about reconciliation. And if you’re divorced, don’t consider remarriage until you’ve dealt with your sin and gone through a process of personal repentance. And for all of you, focus on your relationship with Jesus, because that relationship matters more than any other.

 

Whether you’re single and you’ve never been married, or whether you’re a widow or widower, or if you’re separated or divorced, you have those two choices, to marry, or not to marry. And often those choices aren’t easy to make. But this morning I want to encourage you to see singleness as a potential gift by which you can serve the Lord and minister to others. Don’t just live for yourself, but like Paul said, ‘34 …be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. 35 …live in undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Cor 7:34c,35b)’ But if you decide to get married make sure you are in the right place emotionally, not in the midst of some traumatic experience. Make sure you’re in the right place mentally, and not wearing rose-coloured glasses, get the advice of others. Make sure you’re in the right place spiritually, repent of your past sin. And make sure that you are looking in the right place, for the right person, for the right reasons. As Paul said, ‘38 …he who marries does right, but he who does not marry does even better. (1 Cor 7:38)’ May you know God’s grace to walk the journey that he has laid out before you, whether that means remaining single, getting married, or getting remarried. And remember that in his grace God uses broken people, he gives second chances. Amen.

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