MARRIAGE and Service
“But I would have you without carefulness; He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit; but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction … So, then, he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.” 1 Corinthians 7:32-35,38 KJV
Tremendous implications are involved in these verses and they touch upon subjects that are so delicately poised that one must speak of them in the attitude of forbearance and grace. Affairs of the heart can seldom be dedicated in the strident voice of the lawyer.
Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 is that there exists a decided contrast between the married and the unmarried state from the viewpoint of care. He considers first the Christian man, and points out that the unmarried Christian man is free from the anxieties of the domestic sphere so that as he pursues a pathway of service for Christ, he is unhampered. If he be married, however, he has his home, his family and his wife as legitimate liabilities, and Christianity does not in any sense free him from the responsibility of looking after them. This perhaps touches upon a point that is well for us to contemplate.
I have known Christians who have desired to serve the Lord, and who have sought escape from the responsibilities of their families and homes in order to perform that service. This is regrettable, and not pleasing to the Lord. I’ve known some, for instance, in what is often mis-named “full-time service,” who have traveled all over the country preaching, and who have received so little financial support for service rendered that their families have been at the point of starvation. This is not the Lord’s will. The Scripture says without qualification: “If any provide not for … those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8) If any of us have shouldered the responsibilities of family and home, our first obligation is to provide for them. To do otherwise brings a disgraceful reflection upon the testimony of Christ.
This is but a logical conclusion to Paul’s statement that the unmarried man or woman does not have the care and responsibility that falls upon the married. It may be that the truth of this is more pronounced on behalf of the unmarried woman, as Paul says: “The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit; but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband” (1 Cor. 7:34).
Some have judged from this verse that the marriage relationship itself is unholy, and is therefore sinful, and that an unmarried woman is more free from sin than her married sister. I see no such implication in this verse. Let’s remember that the word “holy” means “set apart for the Lord.” This is asserted most refreshingly in 1 Corinthians 7:14: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified ( made holy) by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified (made holy) by the husband; else were your children unclean, but now are they holy.” In other words, the thought of holiness in this chapter is very much like a vessel of service in the Old Testament tabernacle, whose entire furnishings were holy unto the Lord. They were set apart for God’s use and for no other function. So the children in a Christian home are set apart by the faith of the parents for the Lord.
Likewise, an unmarried Christian woman is set apart for the Lord’s use – both physically and spiritually – as far as freedom from responsibility is concerned, more than a married woman. This does not mean that an unmarried woman is less sinful than a married woman. It is rather that, both physically and spiritually, she has more time and liberty to be available for the Lord’s service. This arises from the fact that a married woman has her family ties and her responsibilities toward her husband and her children, and it does not relate to either guilt or sin. I believe it is essential that we should keep this in mind because to do otherwise attaches unholiness or sin, in the ordinary accepted sense, to cohabitation and sexual intercourse in the marriage relationship, which is not true. The Word says: “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled” (Heb. 13:4).
Then Paul goes on, in 1 Corinthians 7:38, to substantiate what he has been insisting upon all along: “He that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.” This is from the viewpoint of service for the Lord, and not from a moral or spiritual viewpoint. In other words, we must look upon ourselves – body, soul and spirit – as being vessels for the Lord’s service, if we belong to Him. Paul has already asserted that in the previous chapter: “Ye are not your own … ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). In view of that, we look upon the Christian as a human vessel set apart for the Master’s use. The question then is one of readiness, or fitness in the sense of being available.
So the contrast is drawn between the unmarried woman and the married woman: Which is more available for the Lord’s service? It is not a matter of opinion. The fact is that the unmarried woman, because she is not bound by family ties and earthly cares, is much more available for the Lord’s service than the married woman, provided they are on a par spiritually. We must remember, however, that other things enter into the case. Oftentimes you will find a married woman who, through the very experience of testings and trials of family life, is brought into greater conformity to Christ, and so she is made more spiritual than her unmarried sister. She may not be as free to move about in the same manner as the unmarried woman, but spiritually she may be far more capable.
Let’s not then confuse the issues. Paul’s assertion is that, in the normal course of affairs, if a woman is “given in marriage,” he says, “Ye do well.” But if she is not given in marriage, he says “Ye do better.” It is better, of course, only in the sense that the one is more available for the Lord’s service than the other, and this casts no reflection upon the sanctity and honor of the marriage state.
We have to be especially careful about these issues today, given the present confusion there is about marriage.
By Tom Westwood
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org