Everyone wants to be married, until they get married. Then they want to be single again. At least, that is how the expression goes. Really, this popular saying springs from the delusion that all your dreams will be realized once you get married. But then, once the honeymoon is over and reality sets in, you begin to realize how difficult marriage is, how it has a unique ability to expose your selfishness and pride, how that girl you dated actually looks in the morning without her makeup on, how that guy actually looks after too many hours playing video games and not in the gym. Marriage—this is real!
Don’t get me wrong—marriage is a wonderful thing. There is no relationship on earth that someone can have that is as intimate, secure, and edifying as a union between husband and wife. Paul talks a lot about the blessing of marriage throughout his epistles, including here in chapter 7. But here, Paul uniquely talks about a very sensitive issue both in the church and in society: singleness.
In the Ancient Near East, to be unmarried was a tragic situation. If you were a single woman, it meant that you had no opportunity to be a mother, you had no real social standing, there was no financial security, and a plethora of other negative effects. If you were a single man, it meant that you had no opportunity to carry on your family legacy; a man’s social status depended much on if he was married and to whom he was married. Socially, marriage was important.
In the church, unfortunately, people tend to view singleness in two ways: either there is something wrong with you and/or God has “blessed and called” you to singleness (though they make you feel like it is more of a curse), or you are just in a “season of waiting” (whatever that means) and you just need to be patient and wait on the Lord to bring you that “perfect person” (again, whatever that means).
Though these two responses to singleness by others sound very different, the core misunderstanding is the same. What both opinions are doing is making marriage the chief and highest end of man; therefore, the greatest thing a person can achieve in life is to find a spouse.
Sadly, many people have wasted their singleness by caving in to the social pressures. In the first century, they would respond by quickly getting married. In our culture, people don’t necessarily get married, but girls go from boyfriend to boyfriend and guys go from girlfriend to girlfriend. They feel incomplete or embarrassed socially if they aren’t currently “in a relationship.” All this stems from a very low value people have toward singleness.
Paul writes the words at the top of this page as a completely antithetical* opinion. His opinion is that he desires his readers to be single so that they can freely serve the Lord and advance His kingdom on earth. Naturally, if you are married and have a family, you can’t just pick up and go somewhere that has a need for the gospel. You have committed yourself to your family. But the single person doesn’t have these limitations. The single person can go anywhere, do anything, and take massive risks for the kingdom of God.
Far from the cultural pressures that push people toward relationships and marriage, Paul’s greatest pursuit for himself, and his desire for his readers, is to “secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35 NASB). Therefore, singleness should be considered a wonderful gift from the Lord.