Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 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. 35 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.

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Last week’s verses introduced Paul’s dissertation on one’s marital state, in which he said there was no need to be either single or married in order to serve the Lord.

He continues in that vein here, responding to questions on the subject from the Christians in Corinth.

Those who had been Jewish believed that marriage and family fulfilled God’s plan for mankind. On the other hand, the Gentiles, influenced by Greek philosophy, thought that remaining single would allow one to devote one’s life entirely to the Lord.

Above all, Paul does not want there to be anxiety about the world’s cares conflicting with serving the Lord (verse 32). To that end, he says that an unmarried man has fewer external cares and more ability to please the Lord.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

Note, It is the wisdom of a Christian so to order his outward affairs, and choose such a condition in life, as to be without distracting cares, that he may attend upon the Lord with a mind at leisure and disengaged. This is the general maxim by which the apostle would have Christians govern themselves. In the application of it Christian prudence must direct. That condition of life is best for every man which is best for his soul, and keeps him most clear of the cares and snares of the world. By this maxim the apostle solves the case put to him by the Corinthians, whether it were advisable to marry? To this he says, That, by reason of the present distress, and it may be in general, at that time, when Christians were married to infidels, and perhaps under a necessity of being so, if married at all: I say, in these circumstances, to continue unmarried would be the way to free themselves from any cares and incumbrances, and allow them more vacation for the service of God. Ordinarily, the less care we have about the world the more freedom we have for the service of God.

Paul goes on to say that a husband is concerned about pleasing his wife and, therefore, has divided interests (verses 33, 34).

John MacArthur cites an example, Luke 14:20:

I think about Luke 14, verse 20, where Jesus was calling people to follow him. And he says to this one guy, “Come and follow Me.”

And the guy says, “I have married a wife, and therefore, I cannot come.”

I wonder how many times that has happened around the world in the history of the Church, that there have been ministries and opportunities open, but somebody married a wife and couldn’t go?

You say, “Well, was it wrong for them to marry?”

No, it wasn’t wrong, but maybe it would have been better, if they had the gift of singleness, to have stayed single. And then they wouldn’t have had that problem.

Similarly, with women, a single woman thinks more about serving the Lord than a wife, who is equally concerned about pleasing her husband (verse 34). Therefore, the wife, like the husband, has conflicting interests.

MacArthur explains:

what he’s saying is that the one who is not married can be separated unto God physically and spiritually. And there are no physical attachments, humanly speaking. There is no need to satisfy the physical. There are no spiritual encumbrances. There is a certain liberty and consecration, and that’s what he’s talking about.

However, celibacy is a gift. Some people are perfectly happy being single and celibate. Others hope to marry and, in most cases, have children.

Paul had always been single. He had that gift. It allowed him to go wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit directed. Paul planted churches. He travelled throughout Asia Minor and Greece, returning now and then to Jerusalem, from whence he sailed (Caesarea) to preach in Rome, eventually was imprisoned there and died a martyr.

Peter, on the other hand, was married. He and his wife eventually ended up in Rome. They were both imprisoned and, according to early Christian history, died as martyrs.

Peter and Paul met in Rome.

From their life choices, it is apparent that one can serve the Lord whether one is celibate or married.

Paul ends by saying that very thing, not in order to promote one choice over the other but to leave it up to the individual in ordering his life and his ability to serve God.

MacArthur interprets Paul’s words as follows:

It isn’t that you have to stay single. Even if you have the gift for it, it is not a command, it is not that you must do this or else, it is that you have the option; you have the liberty; you have the freedom. And I’m only telling you for your own good, if you have the gift, you’d be better off to use it.

Also:

And he’s saying simply this: if you have the gift of singleness, think about it, because if you ever choose to marry, that’s a final choice. And you can’t go back unless there is a death.

Henry offers this conclusion:

That condition of life should be chosen by the Christian in which it is most likely he will have the best helps, and the fewest hindrances, in the service of God and the affairs of his own salvation.

Paul has more to say about marriage, to be continued next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:36-40