Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 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 goods, 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.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 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. 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.
If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.
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. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God. – 1 Corinthians 7:25-40 (ESV)
One of the challenges in rightly understanding a two thousand year old letter is that while the original audience understood their circumstances we sometimes have to do quite a bit of investigation to grasp the situation in life in which the letter was written and received. For example, none of us automatically knows that the Roman Empire was experiencing an unusually severe famine around the time Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians. N.T. Wright helps us understand this situation when he writes:
Paul left Corinth, most likely, in AD51. Right around that time, and for a few years afterwards – exactly the period between his leaving and his writing this letter – there was a severe shortage of grain, the most basic foodstuff, around the Greek world. Other people writing at the same time mention it. Many Roman citizens and colonists – and many in Corinth were both – had taken it for granted that the great Roman Empire would keep them safe, sound, and well fed. Suddenly the food had run out. A great question hung over the whole imperial world. Was everything going horribly wrong? The poor in particular – and most of the Christians in Corinth were poor – would be feeling the pinch. It was a time of great distress, as much because people were anxious that it would get worse as because of the immediate effects of the crisis.
Why is this helpful? First it alerts us to the fact that Paul was writing to people who were living through a very real economic crisis. In verse 29 Paul lets the Corinthians know that the present situation is not going to last very long. He then goes on verse 31 to make it clear that, instead of going back to the way things were before, the world is about to fundamentally be changed. Paul wants the Corinthians to realize that they are living through a type of birth-pains which will soon result in the destruction of national Israel and the firm establishment of the Church among all the nations. Just as an impending birth radically alters the priorities of human parents; Paul is urging the Corinthians to live wisely in light of the impending crisis and the new world that is about to be born.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 3
Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.