Marriage and Singleness in a World That is Passing Away (1 Corinthians Sermon 26)
April 14, 2019 | Andrew Davis
1 Corinthians 7:29-40
Teach Us to Number Our Days
This Wednesday, Andy Wynn and Wes Treadway and I were meeting in my office around 10 o'clock to discuss some aspects of our new member process, and Wes felt the ground shake. I didn't feel it but he did and went like, "What is that?" And we received some communication from someone that was near the scene of the gas explosion that something had happened, and actually the communication we received was that Kaffeinate is gone. So it was a coffee shop that Andy went to that very morning, that very morning. And so we went right up this aisle, through those doors, down the... And we could see smoke billowing up. There were helicopters over North Duke Street at that point. No sirens though, I thought that was strange how the helicopters were there first, and then as we walked past McDonalds, then the sirens started.
We got as close as we could. We were over at West Village and there was already a tape barrier there, and we were just looking at the smoke billowing in the air and just praying. Saw a man there whose was flecked with blood, his ear was bloody, very, very minor injuries. But he was somewhat stunned, not really conversational. I told him that I was a pastor, and he wasn't opposed to talking, but it was, it was just, wasn't there. Just a lot of disorientation, a lot of sadness already. And then things as they developed, come to find out the one person who died, Mr. Lee, was good friends with Andy Wynn and others have communicated with him. His shop is gone. I looked at the photos this morning of North Duke Street. Google Earth had a before picture and then there's some pictures after. And that whole building right in the middle of the block is gone, like a tooth that was knocked out, it's just a gap there.
And for me, as I get up to preach today and I look at the text, I realize just how sovereign and perfect God orchestrates things. I wrote this sermon weeks ago, weeks ago. Paul wrote the text centuries ago, millennia ago. But look what he says. In verse 29, he says that time is short. Time is short. Verse 31, he says that the form of this world is passing away. And so for me, I think about Psalm 90 where Moses, the man of God, says, "Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom." In that same Psalm, Psalm 90, he said, "You turn men back to dust saying, 'Return to dust, o sons of man.'"
In 1734, Jonathan Edwards presided at the funeral of a young man, a teenager who had died in two days from pleurisy, from a sudden fever that seized him. It was shocking to the young people of that church or that community. And he went to Psalm 90:5-6, and there in those verses, it talks about grass that flourishes in the morning, but in the evening it's gone. And he invited them to look on the dead face of this young man who just two days before that was flourishing with the beauty of youth and now he's dead. And he zeroed in on the brevity of life, and the young people in that particular community who were just wailing with grief at their friend, but also at the shock of it, quickly turned with renewed zeal to the gospel and to Christ and to the Bible and began one of the greatest awakenings that's ever happened in history there in Northampton, 1734. And Jonathan Edwards wrote down about these incredible occurrences. It was published in England, George Whitfield and others read about it, and the revival spread over there in amazing ways. It became what some people argue is the greatest awakening, the Great Awakening, that's ever happened. It all started, in some ways started with the death of that youth, that untimely death, and people realizing again that we're all going to die, that time is short. Time is short.
And so all I can do as a minister the gospel here is to remind you of that so that you can look at what Jesus called the signs of the times. Should be enough evidence already. We didn't need another blast or another sudden removal of buildings like happened in 9/11. We don't need another reminder, we have had plenty to know that it's appointed for each one of us to die, and after that, to face judgment. And so what we need to do is remind ourselves of the joy that next week Christians are going to be celebrating. We don't have to wait for Easter. We don't have to wait for next week. We can focus right now on the death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead as our only hope, and that we can get ready to die by trusting in Christ. We can be aware of the fact that our time is short and that God has made provision for sinners like you and me by sending His only begotten son. He has made provision for this sinful world by His son being born of the Virgin Mary, living a sinless life, doing signs and wonders, giving amazing teachings.
There was a current event in Jesus' day in which a massive tower fell over and killed some people, and people were shocked. And in the theology of the day, there was an assumption that they were worse sinners than the people that survived. Jesus said that was not so, "but unless you repent, you too will all perish." Jesus would say the same thing to all of us, if we do not repent of our sins and find forgiveness in Christ, we will likewise perish. Now when we say likewise, we need to realize the death of the body is as nothing. Jesus said, "Don't worry about those who kill the body and after that can do nothing. I'll tell you who to fear, fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in Hell. Yes, I tell you fear him." So the physical destruction of the body is a picture of the real death that's coming, what the Bible calls the second death. And Jesus is the deliverer, the savior from the second death. And so all I can do for me as a minister of the gospel is say, current events continually remind us of the fragility and the brevity of life. We've seen it, you don't have to live in that or the other city where there's a terrorist attack or some other natural disaster. We're wired in, we're tuned in, we know. It happened in our community so we can see it with our own eyes, but we have evidence every day.
II. Don’t Let Your Heart Be Entangled in this Fleeting World (vs. 29-31)
And so as we come to 1 Corinthians 7:29-40, we come to a really timely word, don't we? And Paul's been talking about marriage, and the message he gives here is you should see your marriage from an eternal perspective, or your singleness from an eternal perspective. That's what he's saying. We should look at everything from an eternal perspective. And we will do so if God gives us faith. Faith is the eyesight of the soul, I've been saying this for years, by which we can see invisible spiritual realities, past, present, and future. But you know, faith is also the eyesight of the soul, where we can see physical realities properly. We can see the physical world from a faith perspective, and that's exactly what Paul wants us to do. Look at marriage, look at singleness, look at your earthly situation from a spiritual or eternal perspective.
The Present Crisis
Alright, so let's look at the flow of argument here, what Paul is doing. Alright, in verses 26 through 29 he's talking to single people and to married people and he's talking about how they should see their marital status. He says, "Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife, but if you do marry, you have not sinned. And if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life and I want to spare you this." Verse 29, "What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short." So that's the run-up into the text we're looking at today. So in these verses, in verses 17 through 24, Paul advocates that as much as possible people should remain in the life situation they were in when they were called to become Christians. Don't try always to be improving your earthly situation. How can I make my earthly life better? Don't think like that. Be content in the situation you're in. We saw that last week. Now in verses 25 through 28, he applies this general rule to the case of unmarried people, virgins, people who have never been married. He says to them to stay single if you can. If you're able to control your desires, if you're able to control and not burn with passion, as he said earlier in this chapter, then stay single if you can. That's what he's advocating.
In verse 26, he says, "In light of the present crisis," is one of the translations, meaning there are different ways to look at that, but first start with the persecution that Christians undergo as Christians in this world. That's a crisis. Or it could just mean what life is like in this present world. This chapter is a timeless chapter, so we shouldn't just think there's some unique thing going on there in Corinth, and therefore Paul is giving very time-bound instructions, but once that little crisis is over then all bets are off. He's not saying that, there is a timeless word the Holy Spirit is speaking to us here. So there seems to be a timeless present crisis. So that would be a persecuted setting or just the general struggles of this present life, this present world, that might be a way to understand this present crisis.
Alright, Paul himself understood very much of persecution. He's in prison continually, again and again. As a matter of fact, the Holy Spirit had warned him that prison and hardships would face him every city he went to. So he was very aware of what that present crisis looked like. Imagine how much grief his calling would have caused him if he had a wife and young children to look after, how difficult that would be. How would he provide for their needs from prison? Paul says concerning himself, he has the single-minded devotion to the calling of the Lord and the present crisis, the persecution, is not going to stop him at all. He said that he is ready not only to be bound but to die for Jesus, he's ready for that. But he's speaking as a single man, he's got that kind of freedom, that's what he's saying. If he were married, he says, "I would have a deeply divided mind."
The Troubles in This World
Well, even beyond the present crisis, married people, Paul says, face many troubles in this world, and Paul says compassionately and wisely that he wants to spare them of those troubles. Well, what kind of troubles does he mean? Well, start with simple physical provision, food, clothing, shelter, other basic necessities, medical care, the different things of the physical worlds. Marriage frequently implies, usually implies children. And when women are pregnant and then they give birth to newborns, they need care, they need a shelter of protection and provision. The newborn clearly needs care that he or she cannot care for himself/herself. And so there needs to be a bubble of protection, and in ordinary patterns God has provided that through a godly husband and godly father. From the very beginning in Genesis 2:15, He put out Adam in the garden to serve and protect. And so that is extended how much more, not just the garden, but the family, wife and children, serve and protect. So a godly husband would be called on to do that.
Jacob was very aware of that. You remember when Esau came to meet Jacob, and he was talking together and he wanted to escort Jacob back into the promised land, and he said he didn't want to do that, but this is the reason he gave, Genesis 33:13, Jacob said to Esau, "The children are tender and I must care for the ewes and the cows that are nursing the young. If they're driven hard for just one day, they will die." So he's very aware of the weak in his family and his flock and the need to take a slower pace for them. Paul says concerning the care for your family, for the elder, your aging parents, in 1 Timothy 5:8, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." So that provision is very physical, the need to care for their ongoing needs.
So once you have a family, you begin to have practical issues of, let's say, housing. So home ownership brings you into many issues that take a ton of time to address. You who are homeowners know exactly what I'm talking about. It seems almost limitless what you can do for your house. So the metaphor of putting a roof over your head, it becomes actually not metaphorical but physical, you need to be sure that the roof doesn't leak, and so every period of time, you need to replace the roof, and so you thank God for a hailstorm because then the insurance company will pay for much of it.
And so when our inspection happened, we were grateful for the damage done to our roof. Do you see the kind of thinking you start doing? I'm going to put a roof over their heads, but we need to be sure that it doesn't leak. So you've got upkeep, you've got preventive maintenance, you've got car repairs, budgets, long-range financial planning, college for the kids, planning for your own retirement, all of these kind of things. And everything you own is being broken down every moment by existence in this hostile world. Jesus talked about moth and rust destroying. And so that's true, things just break down. They get destroyed, they become decayed, they rot. Fire is a fast destroyer, water is a slow and patient destroyer. And so these things are going on all the time. And you don't want to be the Proverbs sluggard who someone goes by and looks at your property, and it's overgrown with weeds and it's ramshackle. That would be a poor witness. And so just being a good steward you're going to be thinking about these things all the time, considering them. Beyond that, you've got the medical needs of your family, your wife and children, if they're sick or they have some kind of chronic medical issue, it's going to dominate a portion of your time, energy, and money.
So these are just the realities of a settled normal family life. These are the kinds of troubles Paul said, "I would spare you." A single person, Paul advocates, is much more free to move around in the world, not so tied down with these levels of concern. You remember in Matthew 10 when Jesus sent out the apostles two by two, He sent them free, physically free from things. Remember He said, "Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts, take no bag for the journey or extra tunic or sandals or a staff, for a worker is worth his keep." Now, we'll talk about that later in 1 Corinthians 9, how those who preach the gospel should make their living from the gospel. But He's saying, "Don't go encumbered, find some place and just stay there as a base of operations. And don't think you're going to be lavishly provided for, but you'll get enough, and just preach the gospel." So there's that kind of freedom Jesus was giving the messengers of the gospel.
Christians Need an Eternal Perspective
Well, in any case, Christians need an eternal perspective. If we look at verse 29, He says, "What I mean brothers, is that the time is short." Again, verse 31, "The world in its present form is passing away." What a powerful expression, this present form. There is a future form of this world coming. I believe not on an entirely new Earth, but in a resurrected Earth with some continuity, free from decay and death. But this present decaying, dying world is passing away. And he says in verse 29, "The time is short," literally, "It has been shortened or compressed." There's an intentionality here. Have you ever noticed that time isn't linear? Have you ever had some experiences where the time just drags out? It seems to have slowed down to a stop. I was in some lectures at MIT I'll never forget. This two-hour lecture, I think... Yeah, I don't remember the topic. It was on medieval history, I think, and the lecture had this monotone...And it was a long two hours. And then there are other times it's like you've been looking forward to this thing and it's just gone, time flies when you're having fun, this kind of thing, it's not linear. I don't know what this means, but there's a sense that the time has been compressed, it's been shortened. And so Paul says the present sufferings aren't even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in the future world because the time is just so brief. Hebrews 1:2 calls it "these last days." We're in the last days. Been in the last days for 2000 years.
1 John 2:18 shortens it even more and says, "This is the last hour." So there's this sense of urgency, a brevity of life. Very soon Jesus will come. Three times in the final chapter of the final book of the Bible he says, "Behold, I am coming soon," Revelation 22. This is going to end very, very soon. That's what we're saying. We with the faith perspective, we know that. We know it in ways non-Christians don't. We have a sense of a vivid reality of the brevity of life. So James says in James 4:14. "What is your life? It is a mist, a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live one more day and do this or that.'" So we've got a faith perspective. We're trained by the Word of God to see our lives in this world differently than unbelievers. They act like life will go on as it always has. It's kind of essential to the perspective of an unbeliever is to think things are always going to go on like this, and to forget Hebrews 9:27, "It is appointed to each one of us to die once and after that to face judgment."
Every Christmas time, my family and I, some of my family, watch the musical Scrooge with Albert Finney, the 1970 version of Christmas Carol. And in that the Ghost of Christmas Future brings Scrooge to a grave. And there's a headstone on the grave and he's just kind of stunned. And then he gets brought around and sees his own name, Ebenezer Scrooge, on the headstone, and he staggered, he's stunned, "Oh no, may it never be." It's like what world are you living in? You don't know where this is all heading? You're an old man. This is coming soon. But we Christians, even if we're young men and young women, even if we're teenagers, we need to know it's all going to end very soon. It's a mist and a vapor. Don't be shocked to think in the future, if the Lord doesn't return in our lifetime, that there will be a grave and perhaps a headstone with your name on it. Picture It. Jonathan Edwards had the young people look at the dead face of their teenage friend. Look at the face. Look death in the face and be ready. That's what the Christian faith tells us to do.
This Will All Soon End
So we are prepared for the brevity of our own lives, and we're going to die. And we're going to die at a time the Lord ordains. All the days ordained for us were written in His book before one of them came to be. And our Christian faith prepares us for the future end of not just our lives, but actually of the entire world. It's all coming to an end. Not just one building on 115 North Duke Street, not just one of the... All of the buildings, all of them. All of the businesses with their buying and selling, all of the empires with their rising and falling, all of the inventors and the composers and the authors and the creators with their creativity. It's all going to come to an end, and the Bible says soon. It's all coming to an end soon. We need to be ready. Verse 31, "This world in its present form is passing away."
Paul’s Rather Shocking Applications
Alright, so Paul makes these applications. Look at verses 29-31, "So from now on, those who have wives should live as if they had none, those who mourn as if they did not, those who are happy as if they were not, those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep, those who use the things of this world as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away." So there's almost a rhythm to this, like a poem. Let me reread it and insert a phrase that I think will line up with Paul's meaning. "From now on, those who have wives, let them live as if they had no wives. And those who weep, let them live as if they did not weep. And those who rejoice, let them live as if they did not rejoice. And those who buy, let them live as if they did not really possess it. And those who use the things of the world, let them live as if they didn't use them at all." So Paul is teaching an eternal perspective on all of these temporary conditions, even marriage.
Now, these words could be taken out of context and twisted to mean something Paul didn't really intend, especially when it comes to marriage. I'm going to say something to you husbands. Do not quote this verse to your wife because you want to watch the Masters Tournament when you get home from church and she wants you to do something else. It says right here, "From now on, those who have wives should live as if they had no wives."
Don't do that. That's not what Paul's saying. Ignore your wife, especially when she tells you to do something you don't want to do, that's not what he's saying. What he is saying is even if you are married, even if you are in the covenant relationship that is the most significant human relationship there is on earth, the most lasting human relationship there is on earth, still live like what it really is, temporary, because it is. It is, it's temporary. Live that way. You will both die some day, if the Lord doesn't return in our lifetime, you're both going to die, and your marriage will end when the first of you dies.
Your present physical relationship is temporary, but if you're both Christians, your spiritual relationship is eternal. You will spend infinite time as brothers and sisters in Christ and a short amount of time as husbands and wives. You will spend an infinity of time, both of you as part of the bride of Christ, married in a spiritual mystical way to Christ. That's what you're going to spend eternity doing. This physical marriage now is a blessing from God, it serves certain purposes on earth, but it's temporary. That's what he means. See it that way. So it is vital for couples to hold on to each other loosely, as in God's hand. If your spouse dies and you continue to live, your life on earth is still valuable. You are still valuable. Your life is hidden in Christ, not in your spouse. Christ is your life, and when he appears, you will appear with him in glory, not your spouse. I've seen some godly people grieve with a healthy grief when their godly spouse dies, with a healthy grief. And I've seen them recover from that grief and then live fruitful lives in the years that follow the death of their godly spouse. I've seen it happen, but I've seen the opposite too. I've seen godly couples, one of them lose a spouse, and then that remaining person shrivels and dies soon thereafter, literally within a year. I've seen it happen.
So when Paul says, "Those who have wives should live as if they if they had none," he's saying, "Have an eternal and wise perspective on your brief life together. Even if you're married for six decades, if you're both Christians, you're going to spend infinitely more time together in heaven than you'll ever spend on earth. Just keep that in mind."
Paul then extends that to every area of life in this physical world. Hold onto everything loosely. If you weep, don't act like your weeping is eternal and permanent, it isn't. Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. Paul says when you come to a Christian funeral, don't weep like those who have no hope. It's a temporary weeping that you're doing. We should always remember the place to which we're going. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there'll be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain. That's where we're all heading.
In the same way, those who rejoice in some earthly things should act as if they did not. It's too easy for us to get wrapped up in earthly successes and be too elevated. I'm a big sports fan, it's easy to see the emptiness of sports championships when in the locker room, they're interviewing the newly crowned champions to see if they can repeat next year. It's like, "What? Let us enjoy just this evening." Anyway. I wonder about those who go out on the Super Bowl field to clean up the confetti. What a job that is. Do they use snow shovels and big barrels? What do they do to get rid of the confetti? Or pity the individual that goes into the locker room to scrub the dried sticky champagne off the lockers. But the moment's passed. It's over, it's nothing, it's just nothing.
For a long time, FBC had a collection of old softball trophies. Some of you have been here long enough to know exactly what I'm talking about. Third place trophies. Third place in the city softball tournament 1981. Why did we keep it? There was a while that some of the staff were starting to do pranks with a particular trophy. It was a garish trophy for second place, I guess, had three levels with a Triumphant wreath holder at the top. And it kept showing up on people's doorsteps on Christmas Eve or whatever. Jason Duesing, my secretary, sat up there while I was preaching with his arm around the trophy.
So that was mine. I'm glad it wasn't up here. I think they've been cleared out. I don't know, I think they're gone. We were ruthless with those, we weren't worried about any residual team members from 1981 remembering the glory days when we finished third in the Durham Softball tournament.
Honestly, most of the things that we celebrate in this life are so clearly temporary, like the tinkling glasses on New Year's Eve and then it's just over. Honestly, even good wholesome Christian joys should be tempered by the realization that our lives here on earth will soon pass away. The birth of a child, the happiness of a wedding should be celebrated in light of eternity. Those who rejoice should do it knowing that the real joy comes from something else. Honestly, you can enjoy those things better if you think that way. It's the best way you can enjoy the birth of a child and your wedding day. The best way. And Paul says, those who buy something, don't act like it's really yours to keep. It looked at best in the store, and then from then on it's downhill. Everything you own, you don't really own it. God is loaning it to you, and He has a very clear intentionality to why He gives it to you. There's a clear kingdom purpose for the money and the things you buy. Think that way. Don't think like, "I really possess this thing," Because honestly, if you think that way, the reverse is true, it really possesses you. That's really what's going on. It has become an idol, it's something you can't live without, and any created thing you can't live without is by definition an idol.
So why is this? Because this world in its present form will soon pass away. You are an alien and a stranger here, you're just passing through. And in this context, that includes how you should think about marriage.
II. The Practical/Spiritual Advantages of Singleness (vs. 32-35)
Now, in verses 32-35, Paul then transitions to give his clearest defense for the practical and spiritual advantages of singleness. He's already established the temporariness of this life, and then he advocate singleness in light of that. Look at verse 32 and following, "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs, how he can please the Lord, but a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world, how he can please his wife, and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs. Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world, how she can please her husband. I am saying this to you for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord."
So Paul is not some killjoy, he's not some strict ascetic. He's not anti-marriage, not at all. His argument here is amazingly practical/spiritual, it's a combination of practical spiritual thinking here on singleness. He wants to free Christians from the inevitable practical issues that are going to dominate daily life as a married couple, especially as parents. The concern, some translations say anxious, that you're anxious about the things of this world. It reminds me of the story of Martha and Mary, remember that? Where they had Jesus over, and Martha was distracted by much serving, it said. It's the same Greek word. Her focus is on getting as many different varied dishes to the table hot and ready to eat for the honored guest and for that time, and so she's spending zero time with Jesus. But Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet drinking in his wisdom.
And so there is that same idea, you're going to be distracted from what's really going on here. And we can look at that every moment we could have an encounter with Jesus, and if your interests are distracted by making your earthly situation the maximal best it can be... There is a reasonable serving that Martha and Mary could have done, getting a meal on the table, but it doesn't need to be the best it was ever... because you only have Jesus for a short time. So he says, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 4but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
Really, if Martha heard that properly, it's not like she's excluded. "Just stop. Sit down, sit down, listen to me."
And so I wonder if there's some of that where as a single person, you can just do that better. You're free, you're able to focus on the Lord and concern for Him. So he wants to free both men and women from the earthly physical concerns so they can be more devoted to the Lord. So a single man can be much more single-minded on pleasing the Lord than a married man. The married man to some degree is serving two masters, Jesus Christ and his family's bodily needs, not just his wife, but the kids too. So he's serving two concerns; his mind is divided, Paul is saying. Got to be.
When you think about the Apostle Paul, and I'm going through 2 Corinthians with my men's Bible study on Thursdays, and Paul gives his litany of sufferings and its staggering what this man went through. No one went through more suffering than the Apostle Paul for the gospel. I mean in 20th century church history. There's nobody even close, nobody. And as he lists his physical sufferings he gets to this one point, listen to this, 2 Corinthians 11:27, "I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep. I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food. I have been cold and naked." Wow. Now, for Paul as a single man, as an apostle, a frontier trailblazing church planner to the unreached Gentiles, that is heroic. But if you hear a story about a married man with little kids, toddlers, often hungry, thirsty, cold and naked, we almost wonder if it might be abusive. You feel like his job, among other things, is to be certain that their bodies, their little bodies, are provided for. It just makes sense. And so Paul is arguing for a certain level of freedom in the Gospel of which he is the ultimate display.
Paul Also Addresses a Godly Single Woman
He also addresses godly single women, verse 34: "An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs. Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord both in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world, how she can please her husband." There are many throughout church history, especially the history of missions, many godly women that have forsaken marriage so they can give themselves fully with undivided devotion to their calling. Think clearly about Lottie Moon, who is... The IMB's annual Christmas offering is named for her. She was I think engaged to Crawford Toy at Southern Seminary. But she was called to mission, she was called to China. Sadly, he was called to false doctrine, and so she wisely turned away from him and just went on as a single woman heroically serving the Lord.
You got the same with Amy Carmichael who lived as a single woman, and who served in India and was hugely instrumental in issues of child trafficking, this amazing heroine. When she realized, Amy Carmichael realized that God was calling her to singleness, she had significant fears about that life, and she wrote of those fears in a letter to one of her adopted children. This is what Amy Carmichael wrote, "The devil kept on whispering, 'It's all right now, but what about afterwards? You're going to be very lonely.' And he painted pictures of loneliness. I can see them still. I turned to my God in a kind of desperation and said, 'Lord, what can I do? How can I go on to the end?' And He said, 'None of them that trust in me shall ever be desolate.' That promise has been with me ever since. It has been fulfilled to me and it will be fulfilled to you."
So these great women of God were freed from fears and lived lives for the Lord without the responsibilities of marriage. But a godly wife spends much of her time meeting the bodily needs of her husband and children. Think about the Proverbs 31 woman, she's a hard worker, and she gets up, Proverbs 31:15, while it's still dark, so that she can provide food for her family and portions for her servant girls. Verse 27, She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. A busy life, hard working life. Paul's talking about exactly that.
So Paul's concern here is for eternal fruitfulness for how this is all going to look on Judgement Day, not for restriction. He's not trying to restrict people. Look in Verse 35: "I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint on you, but to promote good order and secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." So the Greek word is a noose or a harness. "I'm not trying to put a noose on you or a harness on you. I'm not trying to do that. I'm trying to set a certain category of you free, so that when you see this instruction and you have the gift of singleness, you're set free and you'll be able to serve the Lord. Again, friends, this is not for everyone. I was raised Roman Catholic. Roman Catholic priests, it's required that they take a vow of celibacy. They have forbidden marriage for their clergy. Paul calls the forbidding of marriage the doctrine of demons, and it's led to all kinds of terrible excesses throughout centuries of Roman Catholic history of forced celibacy on men and women who clearly did not have the gift of singleness by how they lived their lives. Even worse, in the medieval Catholic system there's a hierarchy of holiness, and the single people that took vows of celibacy and vows of poverty and all that were at the highest level, and then your average married couple very low on the pecking order.
Now, listen, I believe that some of the greatest heroes and heroines have taken Paul's advice and been single, but the overwhelming majority of the redeemed in Heaven will have been raised in godly Christian homes where you have a Christian marriage, a godly husband and wife raising the children in the nurture and admonition Lord. That's the normal mechanism by which the elect get to heaven. Two-thirds, as many as two-thirds of the redeemed in heaven will have had at least one godly parent who poured into their lives. It's normal. So even missionaries that go and set up among unreached people groups, they're hoping, if the Lord doesn't return in their lifetime, to set up a healthy church with healthy families, with husbands that follow Ephesians 5, they'll love their wives as Christ loved the church, the wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord, the two of them raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, that's the normal way. But there are some people that are called to singleness and Paul's advocated.
III. “So... Should We Get Married or Not?” (vs. 36-38)
Alright, so verses 36-38, should we get married or not? Answer, I don't know. [chuckle] You have to decide that for yourself. I'm sorry, let me read the verses. "If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she's getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning, they should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, who's made up his mind not to marry the virgin, this man also does the right thing." Verse 38, "So then he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better."
So Paul turns to address, if we could say, couples in the pipeline. Maybe they're already betrothed in the pattern of the ancient near east. They're already betrothed together, but they're not actually gotten married yet, or maybe they're not even betrothed yet. They're just single. So what should we do about it all? What about us? And you can imagine a man saying, "My betrothed is eager to get married. What should I do?" And Paul says, "If you think you're behaving improperly toward her... " So I don't know exactly what that means, but it could be that maybe you've made certain pledges verbally and talked about how excited you are to get married. And her heart is kindled and she doesn't have any gift of singleness. She's excited. And for yourself, you don't know what to do; if you feel like you're doing her injustice then get married. That's what he's saying. Even more, however, if your conscience is telling you that you have the gift of singleness, and you're solidly under control and you have no obligations restraining you, your conscience is free, then if you can, stay single.
So in the spirit of the chapter, he says, "If you marry, you do well, but if you can stay single for you, you do even better." It's the only way to understand the better, that he's not setting up a hierarchy. For that person with the gift of singleness, they will do better if they stay single.
IV. Should the Widow Remarry or Not? (vs. 39-40)
Then finally he addresses widows. "A woman," verse 39:40, "is bound to her husband as long as he lives, but if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord." He must be in the Lord. Must be a Christian marriage. Verse 40, "In my judgement, she's happier if she stays as she is, and I think that I too have the Spirit of God." So just the same advice he's been giving, stay in your condition now if you can.
Alright, so applications. I gave the central application at the beginning of the sermon. Life is short, time is brief. I'm amazed... Are you okay? Here we go. We'll find out in heaven what that was all about. Anyway, let's keep going.
I am amazed, I say this with all reverence, that more people weren't killed on Wednesday. And apparently the reason was there was a smell of gas that enabled people to take warning and get out of there. So if I can just say, take warning and get out of there. Flee the wrath to come. Flee to Christ. Years ago in the early 90s, I was pastor up in Massachusetts, and there was a hurricane that was coming. And everyone heard about it, they heard the forecast, they believed it, and they went and put these big Xs with duct tape on their windows, I'll never forget it, because you could still see the adhesive years later, but they took warning and they were trying to protect from glass shards being everywhere. And I thought to myself, "Why can't you take warning concerning your soul and the fact that you're going to die and flee to Christ?" But it's because it's spiritually discerned.
Now, if God gives you the gift of faith and flee to Christ while there's time, flee to Christ. Now if you've already fled to Christ as a Christian, then just understand the wisdom of this chapter. What he's saying is look at everything in your life from an eternal perspective. Look at your marriage, say, "How can we be a married couple for eternity, with a perspective toward eternity? We know our marriage is temporary. How can we best make the most of the brief time we have together?" And so it is with every condition. "I'm buying this thing Lord. How can I make best use of this thing I'm buying for eternity? Because I know some day it's going to be destroyed. What can I do with my life so I can live best maximally for eternity?" Close with me in prayer.