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Advice for Singles and Spouses

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 7

The Bible teaches that both marriage and singleness are good gifts from God. Our decisions relating to either must be governed by God’s Word. Thankfully, 1 Corinthians chapter 7 gives us divine instruction on marriage and various issues related to it.


When it comes to the subjects of love and marriage, I am afraid many Christians today look to the unbelieving world for advice—and it shows! It shows up in the conflicts, the separations, the abuse, the divorce rates, and the bitter custody battles that can last for years.

If you want to know what God says about marriage, 1 Corinthians 7 is one of the most extensive passages on the subject. Paul begins by making this interesting statement in verse 1: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote.”

Evidently the church had written questions to Paul regarding marriage. We do not have the list of questions; we only have Paul’s answers. His first answer seems to indicate that people in the church were wondering if it was okay to remain single and celibate.

Paul writes in verse 1, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” In other words, there is nothing ungodly about remaining single. A single adult can be just as God-honoring as a married adult. And that is a good thing for church leaders to remember. I can recall a pastor greatly discouraging a single woman by telling her she was not spiritually complete unless she got married, and she should be trying harder to find a husband. Well, I suppose that would mean Jesus was not spiritually complete, and neither was the apostle Paul, since he was a single man.

Let us not make single adults feel like second-class citizens in the church. Let us include them and appreciate what they bring to the family of God.

Now because of the rampant immorality here in Corinth, marriage can provide a wonderful safeguard for those whom the Lord has led together. Here is what Paul writes in verse 2:

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

Paul goes on to say that sexual relations within marriage is a gift and a responsibility to each spouse. It should not be withheld except for a time of focused prayer or ministry obligation.

The apostle indicates in verse 7 that he is completely satisfied with being single. It is actually a benefit for him because of his traveling ministry. But he clearly acknowledges that both singleness and marriage are good—both are gifts from God. Neither status is morally superior. A religious system that demands marriage is wrong. And a religion that requires its leaders to be single is also a tragic misapplication of the Bible.

Then in verse 10, Paul begins to give some instruction to the married.[1] Simply put, Paul says that Christians who are married should remain together, and he notes that this is something the Lord actually said during His ministry. The spouse who separates without biblical justification is to remain unmarried; but the abandoned spouse is free to remarry.

Then in verse 12, the apostle speaks about marriages in which one spouse is a believer and the other is not. While a Christian should not marry an unbeliever, as Paul says later in verse 39, many believers have ignored this command to not be unequally yoked. And what about marriages in which one spouse comes to faith in Christ and the other does not?

Evidently there were people in the church in Corinth who wondered if they were to divorce their unbelieving spouses and marry a Christian. Paul answers in verse 13, “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.” God still recognizes them as a married couple.

Paul gives an excellent reason for this instruction in verse 14:

For the unbelieving husband is made holy [set apart] because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

In other words, the believing spouse brings into that home the blessings of a godly influence that sets apart their home as uniquely blessed. However, Paul continues, “If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so” (verse 15). So, if the unbeliever does not want to be a faithful and loving partner in marriage, the believer, Paul writes, is “not enslaved,” or you could translate it “no longer bound.” The Christian is not bound to maintain that relationship, and divorce is biblically justified.

Now in verses 17-24, Paul gives a broad principle to follow, and he basically says this: Find contentment in the place God has for you today. Whether you are married or unmarried, trust the Lord’s will in this chapter of your life. He is the author, and He may have some new chapters for you in the future; but in the meantime, do not try to turn the pages too quickly, and do not write your own version of what you think should be happening.

The remainder of chapter 7 provides some instruction for the unmarried. Paul begins in verse 25 with the “betrothed.” The Greek word (parthenos) means “virgin.” Paul is evidently responding to the question of whether virgins should marry. Why this question was asked is not clear, but Paul offers three reasons why it might be better to remain single.

First, he says in verse 26 that intense persecution might make it advisable to stay single. Second, he writes in verse 29, “The appointed time has grown very short.” Paul is frankly convinced that Jesus is returning at any moment, and in his opinion, there is not time for a honeymoon, so to speak.

Third, Paul lays out here in verses 32-35 that it would be perfectly fine if someone remained single in order to focus on some difficult or even dangerous ministry assignment.

Paul is not against combining marriage and ministry. Being married can be a huge advantage to serving the Lord, and I personally cannot imagine my ministry over the years without the help of my bride. Paul is simply being honest enough to remind single adults that with marriage comes added responsibility. And they cannot ignore responsibilities to their family just because they are involved in ministry. I know of men who seemed to succeed in the ministry but failed as husbands and fathers.

Next, Paul writes in verses 36-38 to parents—and in particular to fathers of young adults who are of marriageable age. The cultural practice was that marriages were arranged between fathers. The question Paul must have been asked was this: Should Christian parents arrange for their daughters to be married? Basically, the same principles apply here. Paul thinks remaining single is better at the moment, given the growing persecution of the church; but he makes it clear that neither marriage nor singleness is superior. Either choice can be good and in the will of God.

Finally, Paul writes to widows in verse 39:

A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

Widows in Corinth must have wondered if they could be married more than once. And Paul makes it clear that they are free to marry again.  

There is a lot of information in this chapter, but let me summarize it in three simple principles.

First, both marriage and singleness are good in God’s sight. Just be realistic in your choices as well as in your timing, as you wait on God for wisdom.

Second, marriage should be permanent except in the context of verses 14-15 where the unbelieving spouse no longer desires to be married or or live in a committed relationship. In those cases, divorce and remarriage are permitted by the Lord.

Third, our goal in life should not be to get married or to remain single, but to walk with Christ and let Him use us to advance the gospel and bring glory to Him, whether married or single.

[1] See Wisdom Journey WJ444 on Luke 16:14-18, where these same verses in 1 Corinthians are discussed.

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