“Words of wisdom” may be the best way to describe Paul’s counsel concerning singleness in 1 Corinthians 7:25–40. Instead of comprehensive or absolute rules about marriage and singleness, he offers five portraits of marriage for singles and married couples to consider. In these portraits the Spirit-filled man or woman (see 1 Corinthian 2:14–16) can discern how to apply God’s Word to his or her life.
While others (see below) have been more comprehensive in treating the subject of singleness, my sermon sought to follow Paul’s train of thought and apply his words to singles, especially those contemplating marriage. In all, there are lots of technical question in 1 Corinthians 7, but the singular message is clear: Whether married or single, do all things to the glory of God, leveraging your position in life to know Christ and make him known. This is what it means to walk in wisdom, whatever your vocation.
You can listen to the audio from Sunday’s message or read the sermon notes here. For those who want to go deeper, there are discussion questions below and links to a few other resources (articles, sermons, books) on 1 Corinthians 7 and the topic of singleness.
1 Corinthians 7:25–40
25 Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. 29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; 33 but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.
36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancée, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. 37 But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancée, he will do well. 38 So then, he who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.
39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 But in my judgment she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
These questions are keyed to Sunday’s sermon and are written to help facilitate discussion about how 1 Corinthians 7:25–40 points to the gospel and applies to our daily lives.
- What is the genre or tone of 1 Corinthians 7:25–40 (e.g., promise. command, wisdom)? Why does this matter? What can we learn from Paul’s approach?
- What do the various translations of 1 Corinthians 7:36–38 (compare ESV and NASB) teach us about the doctrine of perspicuity (i.e., the clarity of Scripture)? What do you do when you come to unclear passages of Scripture? Do you agree that Paul is addressing young men? Why or why not?
- How can we see the outline of the four portraits of marriage? What is Paul’s aim in 7:25–40? What’s the big idea?
- How does marriage portray the gospel? How does singleness?
- What encouragement does Scripture give to those struggling with singleness? (See the 8 points in John Piper’s chapter below)
- What does the gospel say to those who are single? To those who are married? (See 1 Corinthians 7:29–31)
- How does the gospel create community? Where are you (should you be) finding spiritual community and relational intimacy? (Hint: the answer is not marriage, nor an individualistic experience with God).
For Further Study
Articles on 1 Corinthians 7
- Was the Apostle Paul Single? — Denny Burk answers in the affirmative and gives many strong suggestions from the text of 1 Corinthians 7.
- Is My Singleness a Gift? — A exegetical and practical look at 1 Corinthians 7 from Ryan Griffith, someone who has used his singleness to create many relationships at Bethlehem Baptist Church and Bethlehem College and Seminary.
- Let Christians Vote as Though They Were Not Voting — John Piper applies the principles of 1 Corinthians 7:29–31 to address the important but not ultimate matters of politics.
Articles on Singleness
- Singled Out for Good — Speaking as a single and to singles, Paige Benton Brown considers the goodness of God in the life of singles.
- Why Single Is Not the Same as Lonely — Sam Allberry reminds marrieds and singles how relational intimacy can be found and fostered through a breadth of close, personal friendships.
- For Single Men and Women (and the Rest of Us) — This is John Piper’s opening chapter in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (pp. 13–24)
Sermons on 1 Corinthians 7 and Singleness
- Radically Single: Authentic Christianity as Men and Women (David Platt) — from CBMW’s 2014 National Conference
- Singleness and the Next Generation (David Platt) — a longer address to singles from the NEXT 2011
- Undivided Devotion: Serving Christ with Your Singleness — two messages by Garrett Kell and Nathan Knight
- Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity by Lauren Winner — a winsome, witty, and wise approach to singleness
- Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life by Ed Shaw
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
One thought on “Words of Wisdom to Those (Still) Waiting to Be Wed (1 Corinthians 7:25–40)”
I appreciate your effort to try to put a positive spin on it, but the title of Burk’s article was actually “Was the Apostle Paul Married?” and not “Was the Apostle Paul Single?” He was not questioning whether Paul was “single,” but whether he had been married before which, in my mind, comes under the heading of theological nonsense. But I guess a man like Paul would make most academics today rather uncomfortable.
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