“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” (ESV, 1 Corinthians 7:32–35).
Context — Present Distress
Paul alluded to a “present distress” earlier in 1 Corinthians 7. Disaster loomed. Turmoil was about to hit the church.
It is not hard to imagine what he spoke of. In Acts, prophets foretold of famine, so perhaps massive economic hardship lurked. More likely, however, the church experienced painful persecution during that era. Paul may have been alluding to coming persecution.
Whatever it was, the Corinthian church knew about it. Disaster was the backdrop.
With that backdrop, Paul spoke about marriage and singleness. He made it clear throughout: they were free to marry. No turbulence or persecution could take that right from them. He would not command them. He made it clear: marriage, even in distressful times, is not a sin.
His heart on this is made abundantly clear when he writes, “I will not lay any restraint upon you” (1 Corinthians 7:35).
However, he held out to them the option of singleness. Some of them would choose this option, perhaps for the difficult season they were in. Within the context of the “present distress,” Paul tried to open their eyes to an alternative.
It wouldn’t be for everyone. Paul knew that. But it would be for some.
Singleness is beneficial for certain times, seasons, and ministries.
This raises an interesting possibility for the modern Christian. Paul posited the idea that in some eras it is hard to be a Christian, but even harder to be a married Christian.
Is this true today? Are there times Christian effectiveness is benefited from singleness?
Think, for instance, of various missions opportunities. I’ve known married men who have gone into harm’s way, willingly, to preach the gospel. The most difficult avenues for the gospel were theirs. They boldly went. No opportunity was prohibited from them.
Still, there might be times arduous missions work is less complicated for single men or women. Without the obligations to a spouse, they are freer to rush towards danger.
But is that all? Is there not further application? Is this only about the expansion of the kingdom? Or are there other seasons when singleness may be beneficial, though not required? Perhaps.
Think, for instance, of the college years. There is no leash from Paul, no restriction, but college years might be best spent in study and preparation for the future.
Additionally, consider times of significant financial indebtedness. Singleness might be good for that season, enabling a person to climb out of debt while their expenses are low. There may be other seasons as well. Mourning, sickness, or times of persecution might be good seasons to consider singleness. Again, Paul makes no restriction, but he holds out the option.
I do believe it is good for a single person, especially those who are young, to get a job, a Bible, and a ministry. Get moving in your life, especially your spiritual life. If it is a season, use it.
Anxieties are part of married life.
It is fascinating to read Paul’s description of the married life. He writes that the married man is anxious about "how to please his wife." The married woman is anxious about "how to please her husband."
The unmarried man or woman, Paul writes, is "anxious about the things of the Lord." Their devotion is completely towards God and His kingdom.
The married man has life concerns that go beyond anything he’s experienced in his single years. Disposable income is gone. Hobbies are rare. One glorious day, he buys a minivan. These are things he may have never dreamed he would think about.
When I married Christina, I began to learn things. There is a difference between Restoration Hardware and Orchard Supply Hardware. Old Navy, Gap, and Banana Republic are one big company with three distinct stores, like the Trinity (not really, chill). Anthropologie is different from city to city, and that’s why you visit them when in a new town.
My concerns are different from in my single years. I build princess bicycles. I have a tradition every October of going to a pumpkin patch. When I fly alone, I carry on. When I fly with my family, I pay the extra baggage fees. It’s just a totally different life. Obviously, I love it, but it is different. I carry earthly cares with me.
But the married woman makes incredible adjustments of her own. Christina has discovered I “need” sports. My musical preferences aren’t always palatable to her. I snore, like war movies, and have man-humor. She lives with someone who takes 4 minutes to get ready for the day.
The married woman carries a concern in her heart about how to please her husband. She wants to be pleasing in his sight. She longs for a closeness and friendship. She wants him to pursue her. She thinks often about him. She can grow discouraged when he doesn’t pursue her.
So Paul makes it clear. Marriage carries a new set of anxieties.
Anxieties to consider.
Relational anxieties — Married couples must constantly monitor the health of their relationship.
Parental anxieties — Married couples must often deal with massive pressures caused by their children. Besides normal concerns, there might be additional weights (health problems, abuse, sinful decisions, abandonment of the faith, friendship drama, developmental issues, etc.).
Financial anxieties — Married couples must face mounting financial pressures as they seek to build a life together.
Physical anxieties — Married couples must face pressures of physical appearance for their spouse, but also face health problems together.
Spiritual anxieties — Married couples must deal with spiritual growth together. Sometimes one spouse will lag in their walk with Jesus, making this difficult.
Friendship anxieties — Married couples often have difficulty maintaining friendships. When single, the question was simple: “Do I get along with them?” Once married, the question moves more to: “Do we get along with them?”
Life decision anxieties — Married couples have additional complexities when considering life shifts like moving elsewhere, changing careers, or joining a new church.
This isn’t to say marriage is bad. No, God created it. He encourages it. Paul is simply holding out an alternative, especially in a time of “present distress.”
Obviously, singleness was a season for me. During that season, I enjoyed running with singleness of heart towards all Jesus had for me. I was anxious, as Paul said, about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.
I am grateful for that time of my life. I was able to really discover myself, finding the foundational elements that make me who I am. The Lord was good to me during that season.
If this is your season, run in it. Rejoice in the opportunity. Perhaps the word single is not meant to describe your marital status, but your focus. You have a chance to be singly focused on the things of the Lord.