“But this I say by way of concession, not of command. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:6–9, NASB95)
These next instructions flow out of Paul’s response to this first question of whether it was good or not for a “man not to touch a woman.” Paul’s overriding first statement in response was to say that he wished, willed, or desired that all men were single even as he was and experience the freedom of ministry that came with his celibacy.
This is in contrast to the married person whose interests are divided as Paul wrote later in this chapter. The married individual has other considerations when making decisions and responsibilities that go beyond caring for his or her own personal needs. While I have been married for thirty-eight years I think I freshly understand what Paul was wiring about. My wife and I are in the middle of a transition to a new ministry in a new location. As a part of this transition I am spending considerable time away from my them. I am loving the new role, but there are several times during the day up there that I miss the presence of my family. And, when I am down with my family I miss the opportunities for ministry in the new location. It is this kind of divided interest that Paul referred to as not being a struggle for the one who is single in his or her service to the Lord. He was not advocating celibacy as much as he was recognizing the benefit for service that he had in being single. This was a gift from God to him which was not the same for all. Everyone is different in this regard as Paul indicated in his wording “one in this manner, and another in that.” Unlike Paul, I know that I enjoy ministry much more with my wife and family by my side. This is God’s gift as well.
But, he added, “to the married and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as [he].” Studying the New Testament, we clearly see how God used this single man to accomplish so much. Paul traveled far and wide, but he also spent considerable time in prison while being constantly called upon to trust God for his welfare and even at times where his next meal would come from. He did all of this without having the divided interest that he referred to here and later in this same chapter. For those who were like him Paul saw a similar advantage in how God would use if for their good and His glory. But he also knew that this single life was not for everyone. In fact, it was not for most. Paul knew that in general “it was not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). It was for that reason that we read in the same verse that God said, “… I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18, NASB95) And, in verses 21-25 we see God meet this need in creating woman and bringing them together as one.
Some people are quite comfortable being single. Others struggle with it greatly. It is to this second group that Paul added, “But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:9, NASB95) The single person and even the widow are not required to remain as they are. There is freedom in choosing to marry, and this is especially so when they meet that right person and their passions are ignited. Having said this, we don’t have to look far to know that there are many in our culture that would dearly love to be married but who are not. Additionally, there are those who are walking through this season of life without their spouse due to his or her death. While Paul’s answer here does not answer those struggles, we know that our God is intimately familiar, He knows our deepest desires, and He is good who makes us to stand strong in Christ.
Paul presented this in the form of a lack of self-control, and for some this is a huge issue. You may not have to look further than your own life and the strong sexual desire that you had for you spouse prior to your marriage or for those that are widowed and long for the closeness you once shared. You might even look at how you may have succumbed to those desires with either your spouse or someone else prior to your marriage. And, you can definitely look outside to culture and the types of things you see and hear in the media or watch on the streets. These desires can be strong, and for some they can seem to be consuming. Whether reigned in appropriately or left to wreak havoc, this desire is real and for that person Paul says it is much better to marry that to burn with its passion.
It is no sin to have passion and to want to be united with another. God created us to come together in the one man and one woman relationship of marriage. Attraction and desire are strong magnets in this process. But this magnet can be abused and the restraints that God put in place ignored. This was the problem of the Corinthian church and one which led to the “not touching” question. Paul’s response was it’s a good thing to be single and to be able to serve freely. It is also a good thing to be married. But, whether you are single or married do it God’s way recognizing that both are a gift from Him.