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1 Corinthians - Part 19

"Advantages Of Singlehood And Advice For Widowhood"

by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com

I Corinthians 7:25-40
  1. The Benefits Of A Single Life
    a. Fewer External Pressures (verses 25-27)
    b. Fewer Internal Problems (verse 28)
    c. Fewer Temporal Preoccupations (verses 29-38)
    i. Less distraction away from spiritual things
    ii. More concentration on spiritual things
  2. The Bounds Of Married Life
    a. Duration: Life (verse 39a)
    b. Termination: Death (verse 39b)
    c. Exhortation: Stay as you are (verses 40)

'Preach The Word'

I believe that all of the principles and the guidelines and precepts that you will find apply to singlehood and widowhood in this passage, many of them can be applied to marriage - indeed, in any circumstance in which we find ourselves

Turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 7, we're reading from verse 25 tonight - and God willing, if time permits, we hope to finish this chapter which we've spent several weeks in looking at the subject of marriage, and many other related subjects which come within the boundary, if you like, of relationships, and man and woman intimacies.

Verse 25 through to the end of the chapter: "Now concerning virgins", or that could be translated 'unmarried', "I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful". Paul's just saying there, as we've seen already in this passage, that Paul himself was a single man. We looked into all the various arguments as to whether he was married at one point or not, and if you want to know that - I believe, personally, that he was not married, or at least he had been married at some time, he's not married in this chapter that's for sure. It was not necessary for the apostle to be married, and certainly as he writes this he wants all believers as far as is possible to be unmarried if that is possible for you - i.e. if you have the gift of celibacy which he has already talked about. But even he, who had the gift of celibacy, recognises in verse 25 that it's because of the mercy of the Lord that he has been able to be faithful in his singlehood. That's what we will all need, whatever our circumstances are - whether we find ourselves divorced, singled, widowed, whatever the capacity is in which we live, we need the faithful mercy of God as our portion.

Verse 26: "I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be" - for a man to remain single. "Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 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", or a noose, "upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God".

A little girl on one occasion was caught eavesdropping through the keyhole of her spinster aunt. As she was kneeling down there her mother caught her, and said: 'Dear, you should not eavesdrop, it's wrong to eavesdrop'. 'But Mummy', she said, 'Aunt Emma ended her prayers so funny!'. 'What did she say?', said the mother. 'Well, when she finished praying she said, 'World without men, O me!''. For many single people, world without men, or world without women, is the prospect that they have for the rest of their days - but whether it is singlehood, widowhood, or even indeed marriage, Paul has a great deal to say to us in these verses that we're looking at tonight from verse 25 to 40. We're going to see this evening the advantages of singlehood, but also some advice to those found in widowhood. I believe that all of the principles and the guidelines and precepts that you will find apply to singlehood and widowhood in this passage, many of them can be applied to marriage - indeed, in any circumstance in which we find ourselves. The reason why that is, is that the issue that Paul primarily is dealing with is how we can serve the Lord most effectively. No matter what situation or capacity we find ourselves, how we can, to the best of our ability, use our energies, use the gifts that God has given us, use the opportunities and the circumstances that God's providence has led us into for the full extent of service that we can bring to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The two specific cases that we are given tonight is: if you have the gift of singleness, and if you want find out what that is look at the previous tape that we did - the tape people up in the upper room will give you help there - we looked at how the gift of singleness is something that is given by God, and if you don't have that gift of singleness you can't expect to live a celibate life. Paul is saying here tonight that if you have that gift of singleness, you should serve the Lord without the distraction of marriage - but if you haven't the gift of singleness, well then you should serve the Lord without the distractions of frustrated sexual appetites, you should get married. If it's not your gift to be single, get married and serve the Lord as best as you can in the marriage bond.

Are we doing all in our power to serve the Lord?...We all have a responsibility to serve the Lord in whatever capacity He has called us in

But the general rule that we're going to see bore out by the apostle in this passage is that, whatever capacity we find ourselves in, we're to make sure that we put all our energies, times and gifts into serving the Lord to the best of our ability. The reason why we're to do that is found in verse 29: 'But this I say, brethren, the time is short' - the time is short! The time is short in which we have to live, specifically the time was short for these Corinthian believers - we'll see why that is a little bit later - but even if we take it for ourselves, in our own situation, the time is short, as we all know, for Jesus is coming back again. We're instructed in the New Testament to look for the glorious appearing and imminent return of the Lord Jesus. Whether the Lord calls us to be with Himself through death, or whether He bursts through the clouds and brings us to the air to be with Himself, the time is short - and because the time is short, Paul says, whether we're married, whether we're single, whether we're virgins, engaged or widowed, whatever capacity and situation we find ourselves in: we're to use everything that God has given us in His grace, and the circumstances we find ourselves in, to the glory of God to the best of our ability.

So my question right at the outset of our study tonight is: are we doing all in our power to serve the Lord? I want to be absolutely sure that I am not talking about being a pastor, so-called, or an elder, or a deacon, or a missionary, or an evangelist, or a full-time children's worker, or whatever label you want to put on this - we've got to get away from this ecclesiasticism of thinking of clergy and laity, that there are people in the pew who listen, and there are people in the pulpit who work. As far as the New Testament is concerned every child of God born-again is a worker, and is a servant of Jesus Christ. We all have a responsibility to serve the Lord in whatever capacity He has called us in.

If you go to your average Christian bookshop you'll find that there's a lot of literature on the shelves and resources giving advice and counsel on Christian marriage - but there's very little about being single as a Christian. Even that which there is concerning being single as a Christian, of what there is the theme often is: 'how to cope with being single'. The insinuation, almost, behind the writing of these books is that being single is a predicament, that it's like a disease, it's second-best, you haven't got your goal or achieved what you really wanted. This is completely and entirely contrary to scripture! We only need to look at this portion of Scripture, in verse 1 Paul said: 'It is good if a man doesn't touch a woman' - 'calos' (sp?), 'it is morally good' if a man doesn't get married, it's as good as being married. In verse 7 he expresses the desire: 'For I would that all men were even as I myself'. He acknowledges that not all have that gift, but he wishes in verse 8: 'I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I'.

I don't know what your situation is as you've gathered here tonight, but I'm aware that some of you are single, and some of you may find yourself in a single capacity - but the word of God is not despising this in any shape or form, and in fact we'll see tonight that there are benefits of a single life, and you're not to view a single life as a problem. It's not something to cope with, but the single life, Paul says, is a gift from God! It is something that we are to embrace, not as a consolation prize, but as a high calling of God which He can use for His glory in a way that He cannot use married couples. Let's see tonight the reasons why the single life and singlehood is a benefit.

I'm aware that some of you are single, and some of you may find yourself in a single capacity - but the word of God is not despising this in any shape or form, and in fact we'll see tonight that there are benefits of a single life, and you're not to view a single life as a problem

Look at verse 25: 'Now concerning virgins', I already said that this verse means 'unmarried', it can mean male or female. The word itself probably is referring specifically to females, but we can take the general meaning tonight and apply it to all who are unmarried, man or woman. He's coming to widows later in verses 39 and 40, we'll see that in a few moments later on in our service, but all these truths can be applied to single people, male, female, to widows, to widowers - and really to anyone, even those in our contemporary situation who find themselves single through divorce of no fault of their own. Paul says: 'I am teaching you here, not in a commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment', or my opinion, 'as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful'. Now we saw in previous verses, such as verse 10 and verse 12, that when Paul says: 'I'm giving this not in commandment, not of the Lord', it doesn't mean that he's not inspired, or that he doesn't have any authority to say what he's saying. He's simply saying that the Lord Jesus in the Gospels had nothing to say about virgins and those who were unmarried, He didn't specifically teach anything concerning this situation - but yet Paul, as he brings us this teaching, is giving us his opinion as the apostle of God with apostolic authority, and we know later on in verse 40 that he not only gives it with his apostolic authority, but verbal inspiration - because God's Holy Spirit has given us these verses as His holy Word.

I believe that, although Paul is saying that the Lord didn't give any specific instructions and teaching with regard to singlehood and virgins, Paul is probably also alluding to something that the Lord Jesus did say. I want you to turn with me to Matthew 19 verse 12, of course His disciples said to Him in verse 10: 'If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry'. In other words, He's been outlining how marriage is permanent - we'll see that again in verses 39 and 40, and how there's no grounds for divorce whatsoever, apart from the betrothal period within the Jewish culture that we find in Matthew's gospel. This can be seen and evidenced in the fact of the reaction the disciples bring: 'Well, if that's the case of a man with his wife, it's better not to marry!'. 'But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it'. This is a gift from God, and some people have decided that they will not get married, and they've been able to contain themselves for God, for His kingdom, and for the glory of the Gospel - even the Lord says that not all can receive this saying.

So this isn't a commandment that Paul is giving us tonight, saying that we ought to all stay single, but what he does say is that it's trustworthy advice. He's giving his opinion, and don't forget that he's inspired by the Spirit of God. He's saying to us, as we've seen right throughout this chapter, that being single is not more spiritual than being married, and being married is not more spiritual than being single - but there is one scenario within the present historical church situation that, as far as Paul is concerned, makes more sense. There is not one that's morally better than the other, but as we find from verse 26: 'I suppose therefore that this is good', that a man or woman remain single, 'for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be'. So we've seen already that one is not morally superior to the other, one is not more spiritual than the other, but for some reason Paul says - because of what's going on, the present distress - it makes more sense, and my qualified trustworthy opinion to you is that it's better, if you are single, to remain single for the present distress.

Of course we have to find out what this present distress is, and the Greek word simply means 'a stress', a literal stress or a calamity. Because this calamity is described as being 'present', we have to discern that it is something that was going on within the Corinthian society at that very moment that Paul was writing to them. In fact one modern translation translates it like this: 'the impending distress' - not just something that was going on at that minute, but something that the apostle thought was going to get worse and worse and worse, to such an extent that it was better for believers who find themselves single to stay single because of the impending distress. Now if you're familiar with any sort or form of church history, you will know that even as Paul was writing to the Corinthians there were believers being imprisoned, arrested, beaten, and even martyred for their faith in the Lord Jesus - all in fulfilment of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. He told them in John 16: 'They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God a service'.

What I want you to see this evening is what Paul is addressing: practical problems arise when you decide you're no longer going to be single in this situation

What is this impending distress Paul talks about? Well I believe that one of the things, at least, he's speaking of is the first phase, if you like, of the Roman persecution begun under Nero. Many of you will know of Nero, of course he was the Emperor when Rome burnt, and of course he had a hand in the burning down of Rome - he got so intoxicated with his own power. Ten years after Paul wrote the first epistle to the Corinthians, he began to almost, some would say, lose his mind with regards to persecuting Christians - so much so that he refined the torture of Christians into a diabolical art. His name 'Nero' became synonymous with sadistic torture. We read in history books of Christians being sewn into animal skins and thrown to wild dogs, and being torn apart, eaten live, and left unburied, dead. We read of Christians being dressed in clothes that were soaked in wax, and then hung up in Nero's gardens and set alight as human torches, burnt alive. We also read in Foxe's Book of Martyrs that in the very city of Corinth there was a man who was the treasurer of the city, we find him in Romans chapter 16 verse 23, probably an early convert of the apostle Paul - his name was Erastus - and we find that he was martyred in Rome for the Lord Jesus Christ under these persecutions of Nero. So we see the immediate situation that these Christians were living in, and as the 10 years of Nero's persecutions went through, and as the greater phases of his persecutions were executed, you would be able to discern - wouldn't you, I hope - that it was difficult to be a Christian in first century society. If it was difficult to be a single Christian, in other words no family or marital ties, how much more difficult would it be to be a married Christian with a family going through persecution?

All would suffer - if your husband was put in prison, you would suffer, wouldn't you, and the children would suffer? If your wife was put to death, the children would suffer the loss of their mother; and if one was beaten another would suffer in the family; if one was tortured another would feel the anguish of it. If the father was taken away who would care for the family? Who would teach the children the things of God, which is the father's duty? Who would care for the mother and comfort her in the difficulties and in the distresses? What I want you to see this evening is what Paul is addressing: practical problems arise when you decide you're no longer going to be single in this situation, you're going to get married. Not only do practical problems arise, but your ministry's effectiveness decreases. Because you have these problems of family, worrying about others, being responsible for your children and food on the table and so on, it can also decrease your ministry's effectiveness. You can't just run away and hide from the Roman government, you can't decide to be a hero for Christ with a band of Christians - and therefore, Paul is saying, if there is a time when you find yourself single, to stay as you are. That time was the impending distress that we read of here in verse 26.

Leon Morris put it well when he said: 'When high seas are raging, it is no time for changing ships'. When high seas are raging, it is no time for changing ships! Let me illustrate this for you in this way: some of you can remember World War II, the outbreak of it. You will remember that Adolf Hitler's troops got through Belgian and eventually came to the border of France, and the day came when those Panther tanks went over the Belgian border into France and went through the nation of France like a flaming fire. We read in our history books that in 40 days those Panther tanks of Hitler were in the French capital, Paris. There is a book written: '40 Days That Shook The World', and in 40 days the nation of France was taken over by the Nazis. I want you to imagine this in your mind for a moment, villages being plundered and destroyed, homes being crushed, great cities within France being destroyed, family being smashed, tanks rolling down main roads, the French people running for their lives! The French were really put to the test - but what I want you to grasp in your mind is mothers running down the lanes and the streets of French towns and villages with babies in their arms, fathers trying to hide their sons. The question I'm wanting you to answer is this: is that type of situation and time in history a time, men, for you to get down on your knees and propose marriage? It's not, is it? It's not the right scenario or situation, and I imagine - I don't know this for a fact - but if you were to go back to the records of the marriages that took place in this particular era in French history, you'll find that there were very few. The impending present distress necessitated that the people weren't thinking about those things, they were running for their lives!

Singleness is not more spiritual than marriage; marriage is not more spiritual than singleness; but what the Bible is saying is that there are certain things you can do as a single man or woman that you cannot do as a married man or woman with children

Maybe some of you who are so zealous are thinking to yourself: 'Oh, have I made a mistake? I've went and got married, and I could do more for the Lord if I wasn't married, and maybe my reward would be greater in heaven' - listen: don't misunderstand what we're saying this evening. Singleness is not more spiritual than marriage; marriage is not more spiritual than singleness; but what the Bible is saying is that there are certain things you can do as a single man or woman that you cannot do as a married man or woman with children. Don't say: 'I wish I weren't married', unless you've got good reason for saying that! But this is what Paul says, he anticipates this question in our minds perhaps, verse 27: 'Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed'. The danger is that you say: 'Alright! I'll get divorced' - that's what these Corinthians were doing - 'I can serve the Lord better if I don't have a wife or husband'. No: 'Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. The present distress really necessitates, if you want to take my good advice, stay as you are!'.

Now can I just make a bit of a detour for one moment, because I think this is tremendous pastoral advice the apostle gives here. We've seen this as we've gone through this epistle, how Paul has such balance when it comes to pastoral counselling. I learnt very early on, and I think that it was a good lesson that I've used since, that it's a good practice when you find yourself in a moment of distress and calamity and turmoil, not to make rash decisions or quick decisions - because when you're in an emotional turmoil usually your mind is not the clearest. That is exactly what the apostle is saying here: let the air sit, let the mist of battle and persecution fall before you make a rash decision - if you're married don't seek a divorce; if you are unmarried, don't look for a wife - it's clear and plain, isn't it?

He's saying: 'Cherish your singleness'. If you're single, see it as a blessing from God, take its advantages because its advantages are many. I want to proclaim tonight to you, if you are single and you find yourself in that situation, and the large pressure of society makes you feel like some kind of second-class citizen and leper, you have been given a gift by God that not many are given! There is still the gift of singleness, and can I say in a prophetic note that when we read in Matthew 24 of some of the things that will befall this earth: persecutions, earthquakes, wars and rumours of wars, pestilence, famines, all sorts of deaths, there is coming a day even before the rapture of Jesus Christ when I believe that as these birth pangs come upon the scene of this earth that it may necessitate that some believers - certainly some are tonight at this very moment in countries where they're being persecuted - rather to choose singleness than marriage, because of the impending distress.

If you have this gift thank God for it, and use it. Now I want you to see tonight, that's the first thing: you will have fewer external pressures in the impending distress, you'll not have to worry about the persecution among your family and your children, but you'll just be looking after yourself towards God and the cause of Christ. The second benefit of a single life is fewer internal problems, not just external pressures, but internal problems. Paul says that it's not wrong to get married, verse 28: 'If thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I would spare you'. If you don't get married you will have fewer internal problems.

Now what does he mean when he says 'trouble in the flesh'? When he talks about 'flesh', he's not talking in the spiritual sense about the old Adamic nature, our sinful flesh theologically. He's talking about circumstances of life that will come upon you if you find yourself a family man or woman in persecution circumstances. You see, you can be stronger in persecution if you're single, you can stand up in a greater way for Christ, and do greater things for Christ if you haven't to worry about the ramifications for your family, your wife, or your children. So Paul says you have less trouble in the flesh, but on a practical note, of course, I think he's also talking about the natural problems of marriage. We saw in previous studies that whenever a young man or young woman find themselves with these natural sexual appetites, Paul says that the way for an outlet for these appetites is to be married, and God has blessed marriage in such a capacity. Although marriage solves many problems, you have to realise that marriage creates problems as well. Maybe it creates more than it solves for some people, because when two people come together the problems of human nature are intensified - you've got two sinful human natures that are coming together as one person. Both of them still have their own characteristics, their own emotions, their own temperaments, and their own wills and ways. They are two sinners, and no matter how holy they are as Christians, they still have pride, there's dishonesty deep down in their heart, there is thoughtlessness and selfishness - and this may even be increased if the other partner is an unbeliever. It's not always the case, but it could be the case.

Let me say, young people, that sexual problems aren't necessarily solved through marriage - although marriage is the only legal and lawful, before God, outlet for sexual passion - it is not always the solving feature, because perhaps the worst sexual organ that we have a problem with in our bodies is our minds

So what Paul is saying here is: not only can you be a better Christian in persecution if you're single, but you have to realise that marriage in itself often causes hardships. There are sacrifices that are called for, you have to adjust yourself in ways that singleness doesn't call you to do. Let me say, young people, that sexual problems aren't necessarily solved through marriage - although marriage is the only legal and lawful, before God, outlet for sexual passion - it is not always the solving feature, because perhaps the worst sexual organ that we have a problem with in our bodies is our minds. Marriage will not solve a problem that is in your mind. Of course, many people may get married because they are lonely - but as the divorce courts testify today, some carry their loneliness into marriage and end up making the other person lonely when they eventually leave them.

If you're sitting here single, and you think you've got problems being single, Paul is saying to you tonight that you need to realise that if you get married you'll have more problems. Not the same problems, but problems of a different kind. Don't think that the grass is greener on the other side. As Warren Wiersbe has said: 'The cheapest thing is the marriage licence, and then the price goes up'. That's so true, and many historians, Christian historians, think that Wesley and Whitfield would have been better off if they had remained unmarried. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying here tonight, I'm saying that if you have been given by God the gift of singleness, supernaturally as a gift of the Holy Spirit, the best life that you can live is a single life - but if you're not given that gift, you can't live the single life, and you must live the married life. But whether you live the single life or the married life, you're to do all to the glory of God!

Let me encourage those who are married, as I encourage myself for a moment here tonight: there is the capacity in marriage to glorify God, and to work together with God pulling the family toward God rather than pulling the family in two directions. This is very important, because we live in a society today where selfish marriage is the norm; where you just set up a little home - us four and no more, or whatever it is - and you live in your domestic affluent capacity, and have no thought of God, even as Christians, but just provide for yourself. Now marriage can be the most useful of unions for God, or it can fall into the category of being the most selfish partnership on the face of God's earth. There's something to learn for us all tonight: if you remain single there will be fewer pressures, there will be fewer internal problems - but thirdly: there will be fewer temporal preoccupations.

Paul says that the time is short, verse 31: 'this world, the fashion of this world, passeth away'. The word for 'fashion' is 'form', the Greek word 'schema' - and what Paul is saying here is: 'Marriage is not an eternal thing'. Marriage will not last for all eternity, it will pass away - the word used for 'pass away' was used in the theatre of the changing of scenes. There's going to be a day when there will be no more marriage. Remember the Lord Jesus was asked the question about someone who had married several times, their partner had died, whose wife will she be in heaven? And Jesus said: 'In heaven we will neither marry nor be given in marriage like the angels are' - I'm not entering into what capacity we will know our husbands and wives, the Bible is largely silent on these things, and I wish to be silent too. But although marriages may be 'made in heaven', what the word of God is saying here is that they will not be carried over into heaven in the capacity that we know them here today. This world will pass away, the scene will change, and marriage will pass away also.

This phrase 'time is short', could be translated 'time has been shortened', and I think what Paul is saying here for these persecuted Christians, for many of them, they're suffering premature deaths - I don't mean that they have died before their time, what I mean is that they have died young men and women because of this persecution. The time has been shortened. Life at best is very brief, but when we consider how our lives could be taken one day in persecution, and how some believers are being martyrs and laying down their lives for Christ as we speak, and as we also realise that we're in the end times and the hastening of the Lord Jesus is coming very soon, Paul is saying: 'In the light of all these things, I want you to do five things - no matter what capacity you find yourself in relationships'.

What Paul is saying is that the Lord's claims are paramount, and marriage is no excuse for reducing the Lord's work

Here's the first thing, verse 29: 'both they that have wives be as though they had none'. That's the first thing that he wants: they that have wives must be as though they had none. Now, what he's really saying here is that a husband is to behave as if he's on military service - you've seen it on the news here, the folk going in boats and ships over to the Gulf, and their wives waving. They've to go maybe for months, perhaps years, but they're prepared to go - that's what Paul is saying here. There are sacrifices that need to be made. Turn with me for a moment to 2 Samuel chapter 11, this is the story of David - and you'll remember that he committed adultery with Bathsheba, Uriah's wife. He decides to con Uriah, make him drunk, and also send him to the front line of the battle so that he's murdered - but Uriah, in this, was a more righteous man than David. In verse 11 we find, verse 10: 'And when they had told David, saying, Uriah went not down unto his house, David said unto Uriah, Camest thou not from thy journey? why then didst thou not go down unto thine house? And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing'. He was a soldier when he was at home, as well as when he was on the battlefield, and he knew that his brothers were on the battlefield laying down their lives - as we know that some of our brothers and sisters are laying down their life for Christ - he wasn't prepared to live it up! He was a soldier.

Now this doesn't mean that we neglect our husbands or our wives, of course the rest of Paul's epistles that we've studied on many occasions tell us that that is not an option. We're reprobates and evil, the word of God says, if we don't provide for our own and those of our own household - but what Paul is telling us, and we need to hear it in our materialistic affluent society today, is that the Lord's work must come first! You don't often hear that, what you hear today is: 'The Lord comes first, then the family comes next, and then the Lord's work comes next' - I don't know where that order comes from, in fact I don't think there ought to be any order whatsoever, because if the Lord is first in your life your family will be up there too, and the work of the Lord will be up there. You don't need to make a top ten of things to do! What Paul is saying is that the Lord's claims are paramount, and marriage is no excuse for reducing the Lord's work. Your wife, your husband, whatever your relationship is, it ought to be a help to you not a hindrance in the work of God!

We need to hear this today, and I'm never going to get through all of this chapter tonight, but I want us to really ponder this: are you a help or a hindrance to your husband or wife in the things of God? A Scottish preacher, a well-known one, on one occasion was experiencing public criticism because of a stand he was taking biblically. Almost every day there were negative reports of him in the newspapers. A friend asked him: 'How are you able to carry on in the face of this opposition?', and he replied quietly: 'I am happy at home'. Now, that means a lot, to be happy at home, but Paul is saying that you can't put the temporal over the eternal. What he's calling on wives to do is to stand beside your husbands in the work of the Lord! I believe the insinuation right throughout the Scriptures is, that if you can find within yourself to do this, you will share in the reward of your husband at the judgement seat.

If I can cast your mind back to whenever David spoke words concerning those that were abiding with the stuff, that's the way he said it, the soldiers were on the battlefield but there were those who were left behind in the camp looking after the goods and the weapons. He said of those that abide with the stuff: 'he will have his part with he that goeth down to battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff'. I know, maybe when you're at home, wives, maybe even husbands, and your partner is out serving the Lord - and they're maybe out serving the Lord an awful lot, and at times you feel the spirit of resentment welling up within your heart. You think to yourself: 'Well, why can't I be out there doing as they're doing? Why can't I have a purpose like they have a purpose?' - will you see this? That there's a day coming when your partner will stand at the judgement seat of Christ, and if you've stood with them and supported them and stayed with the stuff the reward will be split! Is that not encouraging? I wonder, I just wonder, whether those in the shadows and behind-the-scenes will have the greater part?

No matter what circumstances come into our life, even bereavement, it's not meant to be the finish of our service for God

That's what Paul says for those that are as they are married, they're to behave as if they are not married. Then it says: 'And they that weep, as though they wept not', sorrow must not be allowed to engulf the soul so that we become totally self-centred and our service for the Lord ceases. No matter what circumstances come into our life, even bereavement, it's not meant to be the finish of our service for God. He goes on: 'they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not' - every emotion is to be brought under the lordship of Christ, under control. We're not to be excessive in our sorrow, we're not to be excessive in our joy, we can control our emotions. How many stop serving the Lord because of emotions? Whether they're sorrowing because of what another brother has done to them, or whether they're over-joyous because they're newly married, or because they've got a new family or a new job, or more wealth, and they stop serving the Lord for a moment.

Then he goes on: 'they that buy, as though they possessed not' - finances and possessions, Christians who are more concerned about accounts and businesses and cars than their Christianity - the time is short! Jesus is coming! It's time to get the priorities right! Then fifthly he says: 'those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it'. Friends, pleasure is not immoral, enjoying yourself is not immoral, but as one author said: 'In times of affluence, ease, permissiveness and inordinate self-acceptance, it is easy to live for pleasure'. To live for more leisure, more recreation, more holidays, more comfortable homes, earlier retirement, occupying these interests - they're not all wrong - but occupying them at the expense of spiritual neglect. Paul is saying all these pass away, distract away from spiritual things, but if you're single you can concentrate more on the spiritual things. As Paul says in verses 34 to 35, the one that's unmarried, their body and their soul is given over to the Lord - that doesn't mean they're more holy, it just means that their body doesn't have to worry about looking after a family, their body can be totally consecrated to the Lord as well. He's only stating a fact.

Now Paul says in verse 35, this isn't a noose put around your neck, I'm speaking to your profit, so that you can serve the Lord without distraction. If you've got the gift of celibacy, use it; don't get married if you've got it! But if you haven't got it, get married - this isn't a noose, he's not trying to drive us down a road that we cannot go. He speaks then in verses 36 to 38, I personally believe, as J.M. Darby translates it and William Kelly translates it, to those young men and young women who hold their own virginity. If they can hold their own virginity, not necessarily fathers with their daughters, or even fiancées with their fiancée, but rather if you can honour God in this way by not getting married, don't get married and honour God - but if you do get married it's not a sin, but it's better, Paul says, concerning the present distress, not to marry.

Will you allow me five minutes or so as we look at the bounds of marriage finally, verses 39 to 40? Again he tells us that marriage is insoluble, and let me say this: that this is the law of last mention, and when God mentions a thing for the last time as He does here, we need to sit up and take note because He's giving His final thoughts on the important matter of marriage and divorce. He says that the only way that marriage can be dissolved is through death. The duration of marriage, verse 39a: 'The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth', the termination of marriage, 39b, 'but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will', the exhortation: 'But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God'.

Paul is giving here advice to widows and widowers. He's saying here that if you have been widowed already, why get married in the present distress and suffer to be widowed again? There's so much comfort, so much instruction in these passages, and this one passage, chapter 7, that we've been looking at over these weeks - and we can apply it to those who are single, widowed, even divorced in the capacity today, those who are married, all of us. What God is doing in this chapter is He's putting walls around marriage, restrictions around marriage, and principles - not to make marriage a prison, but to make it a safe fortress for those who enter into it.

Do you view your singlehood as a curse or as a gift? Are you using it for the Master?

If you want to enjoy the full extent of marriage or singlehood, the best thing to do is to take God's advice, God's principles. Don't forget please, this evening, the main point of what Paul the apostle is bringing to us in all of these lessons as he closes this passage: the time is short, and because of the brevity of time and the transitory nature of everything that's around us, we've got to give ourselves completely to the service of God no matter what situation we find ourselves in. The important things are not the things of time, like money and marriage and health, but the things of eternity! I wonder have you got there? We're standing as a nation on the brink of war, and when a boy goes to war the sum total of that war for his mother is that that young boy comes back one day in one piece. She gets down upon her knees and prays that he'll have a safe return, and that's all she's concerned about in a war, but that's not what the government's concerned about in a war. The government sees the bigger picture, and they're prepared to sacrifice hundreds upon thousands, even millions of mother's sons to defeat the enemy and to keep the glory of the nation. Paul is saying: you see in your home, you see in your marriage, you see in your singlehood and your widowhood? Look at the bigger picture!

There are sacrifices even here that need to be made for eternity. Here's a hymn we often sing to the lost, but I think we need to take a leaf out of it tonight:

'Life at best is very brief,
Like the falling of a leaf,
Like the binding of a sheaf:
Be in time.

Fairest flowers soon decay,
Youth and beauty pass away,
Oh, you have not long to stay:
Be in time'.

Let's sing our final hymn together, 469 - of course, what else can we say but the spirit that the apostle is looking for in our lives is none other than the spirit of our Lord Jesus that went to Calvary and made the ultimate sacrifice for us. The last verse of this hymn says:

'Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all'.

Whatever situation you find yourself in: that is what God wants! Your soul, your life, your all.

Let's bow our heads - and let me just address us all individually: those married - do you give your partner slack to serve the Lord? Do you allow them? Do you make sacrifices? I know you would love to see them a bit more, but friends it's eternity you're meant to be living for. We're not excusing neglecting children, that's not what we're talking about, or neglecting wives or husbands, but we're talking about mutual sacrifices for the kingdom of God. Single person: do you view your singlehood as a curse or as a gift? Are you using it for the Master? Those widowed: don't let your service end. It's tragic what you're going through, but God still has something for you to do. Even those divorced, left, deserted, not of your own fault: God can still work through you. He can work through us all, if we give our all to Him.

Lord, we thank Thee for grace. We thank Thee for enablement to be what Thou hast planned us to be in Thy sovereign will and mind: to be like Jesus, to give our all, to lay our lives down for His cause. May we do it, Lord, for the time is short and the fashion of this world passes away. May we live for eternity, for Christ's sake, Amen.

Don't miss Part 20 of '1 Corinthians': "Light, Liberty and Love"

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Transcribed by:
Andrew Watkins
Preach The Word.
March 2003
www.preachtheword.com

This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the nineteenth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Advantages Of Singlehood And Advice For Widowhood" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.

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