The Apostle Paul on Marriage and Singleness

Marriage is clearly not for everybody. And yes, from the biblical point of view there's a great deal to be said for the advantages of the single life. That much we'll grant you.

At the same time, we can't possibly go along with the idea that "marriage is a second-class state" or that "singleness is the ideal." If that were true, why did God say in the very beginning that "it is not good that man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18)? Why did He purposely make man "male and female" (Genesis 1:27)? Why did He create for Adam "a helper comparable to him" (Genesis 2:18)? Why did He bless Adam and Eve with the words, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28)? Such statements make it clear that marriage is anything but a "second-class state." On the contrary, it's vital to the design of creation. It's central to the Lord's original intentions for the human race.

In this connection, we should point out that there's an important difference between mere "singleness" and a genuine spiritual calling to the celibate life. We must be careful not to confuse the two. Singleness is circumstantial. It "happens" to people for a wide variety of reasons. Inability to find a mate. Death of a spouse. Difficult family situations. Medical or financial difficulties. The list goes on and on. Celibacy, on the other hand, is a vocation. It's a rare gift that God grants only to a few special individuals (see Matthew 19:10-12; I Corinthians 7:7). In our opinion, the charge of living a completely asexual life – and this, we must remember, is what "singleness" or celibacy implies for a serious Christian – is a difficult standard to achieve. That's why we consider marriage such an important part of the divine plan for the average believer (I Corinthians 7:2).

Paul in particular doesn't pull any punches in this regard: "But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: it is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (I Corinthians 7:8, 9). The practical application seems plain: if you're single and aren't convinced that you have a clear calling to the celibate life, you should be thinking seriously about exploring the option of marriage.

Naturally, we don't take any of this to mean that married people are somehow "superior" to singles. That's not the point. We understand that singleness can be a good thing in many situations and for a number of different reasons. But we still believe that it's the exception to the rule. This is the assumption underlying Paul's entire discussion of the subject in I Corinthians 7. In this passage the apostle is careful to distinguish between commandments from the Lord and pronouncements based upon his own opinion (see vv. 8, 10, 12, 25). He also makes it clear that his ideas about the advantages of the single life are largely a response to the practical necessities of the immediate historical situation (i.e., persecution and hardship-see v. 26). Whatever else he may be saying, he is certainly not arguing that singleness is the "standard" for human life.

If you'd like to discuss this subject at greater length, give us a call. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.


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