In his letters to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul dealt with many difficult issues. In Chapter 7 of I Corinthians, Paul addressed the matter of marriage and singlehood. It was likely that the Corinthians had serious problems, and were divided on these subjects.
As with many other issues addressed by the apostle, the marital troubles of the Corinthian believers “reflected the pagan and morally corrupt society in which they lived and from which they had not fully separated” (New Testament Commentary on I Corinthians – John MacArthur Jr). It was probable that some in the church disparaged marriage on the grounds that it was unspiritual and should be forsaken.
Among the questions posed was probably: “Are we to marry or remain single?” The apostle advised that the single state is more profitable than the marital state because of: 1) difficulties in marriage – “the present distress” (v 26) and “trouble in the flesh” caused by living at close quarters as both partners are but sinners saved by grace; 2) the responsibilities of marriage. It is easier for the unmarried to attend to the things of the Lord because “he that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife” (vv 32-33). Married believers are more likely to be cumbered with worldly cares for the sake of their spouses. Thus, their attention is divided and they tend to have less time for the things of God.
However, Paul was quick to point out that it is not sinful to marry. Though singlehood is good, Paul advocated marriage in order to avoid falling into the sin of fornication. He realised that sexual passions, if unfulfilled, can be very strong, and are specially difficult to contain in an immoral society like Corinth where sexual immorality and temptations were prevalent. He therefore offered the counsel to “let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (v 2).
In verse 17, Paul made it clear that God has given everyone a specific call. Interestingly, the word, “call” (“kaleo”) occurs nine times in verses 17-24. The apostle’s command was for everyone to abide in God’s calling: “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” (v 20). When God calls us to a particular vocation, He will grant us the gifts necessary for us to fulfil our call – whether it be marriage or singlehood: “Every man has his proper gift of God” (v 7). Those who do not have the gift of singlehood should marry or else they may not be able to contain their sexual passions. The apostle’s advice in such a case was that “it is better to marry than to burn” (v 9). In other words, singlehood is good and proper as long as a person keeps himself pure.
What is important is for every believer to seek the Lord’s will for his or her life. With that “proper gift of God” (v 7), “let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God” (v 24). May the Lord guide us to know His calling and to do His will.