03 Apr 2022

To Marry Or Not To Marry? [1Corinthians 7:7-16]


Singleness is stigmatized in many parts of the world today. Single people are made to feel as if there is something wrong with them. So it is interesting that during the days of Paul, some Corinthians in the church believe singleness should be the ideal for Christians. So, which is better? Singleness or marriage? Paul sets out to answer this question, and much more, in the passage we read. He addresses different groups of people- singles, widows, divorcees, marrieds (to fellow Christians), and those married to unbelievers. He covers all grounds so that we can all be clear. Ultimately, however, the great question is not "to marry or not to marry? ", but who are you living for.


Sermon Transcript

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Now, this week, I was looking at some online articles and I chanced upon this article. I'm sorry, the fonts are a little bit out-of-sync here, but I think it's a simple title that all of us can understand. It says, "Unmarried women in China have discovered how to escape the stigma of singledom: Flaunting their wealth on social media."

So two things to note, there is this strong stigmatization of single women in China according to this offer, at least. In other words, if you are single, if you are lady in particular, people look on you with kind of a disapproving look. There's this bias against single women in that country, and the way for these ladies to fight back or to prove that they are not inferior in any way is that they would flaunt their wealth on social media.

They will post pictures of the wonderful travel escapades they have, of the products they buy, the bags, the expensive stuff they can afford, so that people do not look on them as if they have something wrong.

Well, the article goes on to say the Chinese term, 剩女 [shèng nǚ]. Ah, not "圣洁"的"圣" [shèng jié dé shèng], not the "holy women," but the "left behind women," the ... that's the Chinese word that they are referring to. The Chinese term 剩女 [shèng nǚ] or "left over women" is often used to describe women who haven't married by the age of 27, suggesting that they are leftover or that they are unwanted.

But Mini, so she's a Chinese influencer who goes on social media, she says, “I want to show them, that just because you are single doesn't mean you can't lead a fulfilling and wonderful life. People always say certain things about older single women — that they are undesirable or useless members of society, I want to show them that, that's so far from the truth.”

So her social media post that has been exemplified or put up by the author, contains content such as this, "41 year old, yet to be married, yet to have children, but having fulfilling everyday lives," that's what it is in Chinese.

So, the article really is saying that, there are many women in China who face this unhappy stigmatization that they are left over or nobody wants them. But they're fighting back saying, “No, we are valuable and we are capable and really, we have very fulfilling lives!” So,there's this battle right there.

What about here in Singapore? Do single people face stigmatization? Do you feel that people are biased against you if you should be single?

Well, I suppose it might be a scenario that many single people unhappily have to face, particularly during Chinese New Year.
Your relatives asked you, "结婚了没有?"[jié hūn le méi yǒu] "Are you married?" And sometimes they ask it out of well meaning, but sometimes they ask it with a kind of a tone that makes you feel awkward.

You feel stigmatized, you feel biased against, you feel like, "He thinks or she thinks there's something wrong with me." Of course, this past two years are very good, because no visitation, no relatives asking you this kind of awkward questions, but next year you're probably having to prepare yourself to answer these questions again.

So in a culture like China, and maybe in a culture similar to that here in Singapore, it is rather strange or even surprising and refreshing that we should read about the Corinthians, suggesting that it is good to be single, at least a certain segment of the people in Corinth, in the church there have written to Paul saying, "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." [1 Cor 7:1]

So they hold the view that remaining single or celibacy is better, it's good, it's an ideal that we should shoot for. So here we go, there are people today in China, in Singapore and in many parts of the world who believe that getting married is better, that's why you have the stigmatization of ... or against the singles. But then when you read the Bible, there is a certain segment of Corinthians who say, "No, it's better to be single."

Which camp is correct? What is your view? Should we as Christians aim for singleness? Should we as Christians aim for a married status? What is the ideal state for the Christian? Well, Paul is going to answer this question in the passage we have just read.

It's interesting that in the 10 verses that we have read in Scripture reading, he's going to address different groups of people. He ... he talks to the single; unmarried people. He talks to the widowers, the widows and widowers, people who have lost their spouse because they have passed away. He speaks to divorcees, he speaks to people who are married, married to Christians, and married ... some of them are married to unbelievers, who want to stay in this marriage and those who are wanting to leave this marriage.

So he speaks to different groups of people and we're going to just simply look through Paul's instructions to all these groups. So, it's not a difficult sermon, it's a simple message. I think we should be done early, I hope, and it answers this question - To marry or not to marry? Which one is better?

Paul begins in verse 7, speaking to the unmarrieds and to the widows. He says, "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am."

So again, he begins with those who are not married, at that point of time, those who are unmarried, those who are single, and those who are widows, who have lost their spouse because they have passed away. And his preference, his desire is that for those who are unmarried and widows, he wishes that they are single as he is. It's good for them to remain single.

Now, he ... he doesn't quite explain why here, he's going to explain why later on. I ... I don't quite want to steal the thunder from the verses later on. But in summary, Paul is saying, "It's good for you to remain single because it frees you to be able to seek God and to serve God."

So, he's not saying, "It's good for you to be single so that you save money." He's not saying, "It's good for you to be single so that you don't have an argumentative spouse." He's not speaking about personal conveniences, and advantages, and comforts. He's speaking of a God-centered reason that we might be free from the ... from the encumbrances of family, so that we may be able to devote ourselves entirely to serving God.

Don't get me wrong, don't get Paul wrong, he's not saying that family is bad, he's not saying family is a problem. He's just saying that when you've family, you have people to take care of and you can't totally devote all your time to seeking and serving God in that sense.

So he's going to say all that later, but first of all, he says, "Good for you if you should be unmarried and if you're a widowed, to remain single." Then he goes on to say, "As I myself am ..." So obviously Paul at this time of writing, he was a single man. And as far as we read, he remained single, of course, we don't know in the last few years, but he probably remained single.

But there are scholars, commentators, preachers, who would suggest to you, though he remained single from this point onwards, he was probably a married man before this. The reason why they say so is because he was a member of the Sanhedrin. For those who might be interested, he ... he had to cast in his vote in Acts 26, verse 10, and that suggests that he was part of the 70 members Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel in those days. And in those days, if you want to be a member of Sanhedrin, you got to be married. The Jews value marital ... marital lives.

Well, we do not know for sure if he was a married man, if he was, we do not know what happened to his wife. He did ... he did not say it, the Bible doesn't include it. The fact of the matter is for those who may be wondering what's this about, I just want to say, Paul is single at that point of time, we just do not know what happened before that.

But whilst Paul says, "I prefer, I would encourage you to remain single ..." He doesn't say that, "I command you." But he says, "I wish ..." So he doesn't elevate this to the level of a rule or a law or a command, as if everyone who is a Christian must remain single. He understands that different people would have different needs.

Now, that brings us back to what we studied last week. He actually said, "Because of the temptation to sexual immorality ..." [1 cor 7:2] If you cannot control, if you have such desires, and needs and urges, then you should be married, nothing wrong with that!" "But if it's left up to me ..." he's saying, "It's better not to marry."

Now, Paul is not saying something unusual. The disciples of Jesus Christ, when they heard Jesus teach about the permanence of marriage, about how Jesus says, "There is to be no divorce." They say, "Then like that ah, better not to marry lah!" [Matt 19:10] "Because the idea is wah, get ... getting stuck with one person is terrible, no way out it's terrible!" So they thought to themselves, "Then like that don't want to marry already lor!" You know, kind of a petulant kid's response.

Well, Jesus, however, replied them, "Not everyone can receive this saying ..." [Matt 19:11] Not everyone can remain unmarried, "... but only those to whom it is given." So this ability to remain single ... now, I'm not saying everyone who is single is because they are given this ability to be single, some really may have problems. Please don't get me wrong there.

But Jesus is saying, "For those who want to and can remain single, it's not a matter of mere personal choice, it's got to be given, it's an ability given by God." So, Paul does not say, "Everyone should remain single, some should get married," as what he says in verse 2. And what Jesus Himself, Himself affirms.

In fact, to forbid anyone to marry is a satanic lie. We looked at that in 1st Timothy 4:1-3, "The deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons involve the forbidding of marriage for those who want to."

So let's put it back all together again, verse 7, Paul says, "I wish ..." "I'm not saying, "This as a command, I prefer that everyone would be single, like I am, so that we may give our lives, our time, our energies, our focus to seeking God and serving God." "But I also understand, "... each has his own gift from God." [1 cor 7:7]

"I have the gift of celibacy from God. Some may have the gift of celibacy from God, that's a gift from God, "... one of one kind and one of another." [1 Cor 7:7] Some others, they are given the gift of marriage, that they will not fall into the sin of sexual immorality. I understand that God gives different gifts to different people."

So I say to you, "To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am." [1 Cor 7:8] "If God has indeed given you this gift, but if you do not get given or you have not given this gift, you cannot exercise self control, then you should marry, because it is better to marry than to burn with passion." [1 Cor 7:9] Speaks about that consuming passion, and desire, and frustration of unfulfilled sexual needs.

So, you could see Paul is saying, "Singleness is good, I wish you would be single, like I am." But he also says, "Marriage is good, especially if you're not given this gift of celibacy." The point here is both singleness is good, and marriage is good. And Paul is arguing that God gives different gifts to different ones, and that must be the concept we understand as a church.

So right here, we are not saying that singleness is to be preferred, as if marriage is an inferior status. Neither are we to believe that marriage is better and that single people are somewhat inferior. That may be what the world thinks, that may be what other people think, but that ought not to be the way Christians think.

So I want to say to you, singleness is not a disease. You know, growing up here in Singapore, I ... I ... I imbibe a lot of this culture, and when I speak and when I get to know Christians in our church, I will sometimes in jest, together with the rest of people in church say, "Eh, why you not married yet, hah? Why so long, hah?"

You know, I say it not because I despise any of them or I think that there's something wrong with them. I ... I say in jest, kind of like a friendly nudge, but I've learned not to say these things anymore. Better don't! Huh, because number one, it can be misconstrued. Number two, why do I assume that God has given every single person here marriage as an inevitable state of life?

Because there may be some here who are given the gift of celibacy. There are some here who want to dedicate their lives to serving God, and you know that there are some in our church like that. So I may not be doing the right thing by saying, "Eh, get married lah! Why, is something wrong ah?" Hey, aiyoh, that ... that ... that is not very sensitive, and that is actually not very scriptural.

So I think as a church, we must be careful to ask this kind of question, "Eh, when you get married, hah?" They feel like Chinese New Year over and over again. So, I think we must learn to be scriptural and not just cultural. We understand our culture, but we do not need to follow the prevailing culture of this world.

We need to be scripturally informed, that maybe this is a helpful consideration for all of us. So that as a church we are not characterized by how we value married people above single, and value single people above married. We value both, we value all who are in Christ.

And so to balance both views, I think this is a good saying, "The question God's concerned with isn't so much whether you are married or single, but whether or not you're serving Him in the various status or stage of life you are in."

If you're married, serve God, if you're single, serve God. That has to be your number one priority. Not switch it the other way around, "I'm single, I need to get married, serving God can wait." Nope! I think you got to get the right priorities. Serving God is number one, and if it is God's will for you to get married, you will get married, if you're faithful and obedient and taking the necessary steps.

So for those who are single, this isn't a season to simply endure, "Huh, like something's wrong with me until I get married!" But maybe God has given you this time, so that you may focus yourself on serving Him.

So the question here is not whether you're married or single. The question is - Are you serving? I think that's the lesson we can get from Paul's instructions thus far.

Now, I want to ask this question - What is the perfect time to get married? 27? China says, "27, above that you're in trouble." What's the perfect time to get married? Now, I do not know a numerical figure, I'm not here to suggest a number, but I just want to suggest a principle.

I realized that for many years, for people to get married it is often a long journey. They date for a few years, sometimes one, two years, three years, four years, and then they plan for wedding for another one or two years. I'm not sure why people do things this way, but learning from the principle in 1st Corinthians 7, I think you need to consider the factor of burning with passion.

In other words, struggling with sexual temptations. Now, I'm not saying, you meet someone today, tomorrow you get married lah! That's a bit extreme! But one of the factors clearly must be - Is it wise for us to drag this out and submit ourselves to excess or unnecessary temptations? I know you need to get your hotel, your HDB flat, you need to talk to your parents and all these things, I understand that, but just one more factor to consider, don't assume that you will not be tempted along the way.

And maybe another question - What does the Bible say about remarriage after the death of your spouse? So here Paul speaks about the widows. Is it alright for a widow or a widower to remarry? Well, I think Paul says clearly, "It is quite alright. Good for you to remain single but if you cannot, get married."

And that's exactly what he also says in Romans 7:2-3 that, "The woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she's released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress, but if her husband dies, she's free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man." So it's very clear that remarriage is scriptural and allowable if your spouse should pass away.

Now, I hope that's clear for you in these three verses, regarding single people. So is singleness good? Wah, you all not very convinced! Is singleness good? Not always, huh, huh, huh, some are single because of some problems in their own life, let's ... let's ... let's understand that but it's not really, but it's a calling from God, it's good, it's nothing wrong with that.

Is marriage good? Not always and there are always caveats. But we must not feel like that status of singleness is superior to that of being married and vice versa. Both are good in the right context, and both are gifts from God.

As a church, we must be color neutral, color blind, as it were. Not look at people as if the skin color determines our value and worth. And I think we should be also having the same approach to marital status. What matters is - Are we in Christ? That's what church is about.

So let's move on to the marrieds. I think this will be shorter, don't worry. So Paul says, "To the married, I give this charge, not I, but the Lord: ..." [1 Cor 7:10] In other words, this is a clear teaching that Jesus Himself has spoken of, "... the wife should not separate from her husband."

Now, before we go on, I want to emphasize that verses 10 and 11 are primarily about Christians who are married to fellow Christians. Because verse 12 onwards will be about Christians who are married to unbelieving people, to non-Christians. So he says in verse 12, "To the rest ..." to the unbelievers, to the rest who are married to unbelievers.

So verse 10, and 11 is really about those who are married to Christians. So if you are a Christian married to a Christian, then do not separate from your Christian husband or wife. "But if you should ..." I am not sure why, Paul does not say, but even if you should, you have already done so, you should not or "You should remain unmarried, or else get back to be with your husband, And likewise, the husband should not divorce his wife." [1 Cor 7:11]

Now, this is a teaching from the Lord Himself. You will recall in Matthew 19, and also in Mark 10:11-12, "Whoever divorces his wife has not committed adultery yet but if you divorce your wife, and then you marry another, that marrying another is adultery. And likewise, for the woman if she divorces her husband and goes on to marry another, she commits adultery."

So it is no wonder that Paul would say to the church, "If you're married, you should not separate from your husband, you should not separate from your spouse, and if you should, for whatever reason, have separated from him or her, don't get married to another, work towards reconciling." [1 Cor 7:11]

And I think this again is the emphasis about the permanence of marriage. Our marriage is for our lifetime, and according to the world we live in, you can divorce for irreconcilable differences, whatever you may want to suggest, but according to God, according to Scripture, marriage is for a lifetime.

So, the implication here is for those who are not yet married, please choose your spouse very carefully. You can't choose the family you're born in, but you can choose your spouse. And I think it's very important to do that wisely. I don't think there's a more important decision than that.

You know, if you choose to wrong course of study, it's not too bad. You waste four years, you can still study something else later on. You choose a wrong job, you can still quit, but you choose a wrong husband, you choose a wrong spouse, wrong wife, you can't quit.

There's ... there's this boy who went to church wedding and he heard the pastor preach and when he got home, he asked his mom, "Mom, why is it that I can have 16 wives?" Mom: "What 16? The pastor did not say 16, did you see 16 women there, just one women, ah one woman!" To which the boy then says, "But the pastor says four better, four worse, four richer, four poorer."

Well, that's not what it is, isn't it? We don't have the liberty to have many wives or many husbands, we just have one, and in this for one for your entire lifetime. So there is no greater decision, apart from knowing Jesus, then choosing the right spouse. Because the Scripture affirms one woman, one man, two shall become one flesh, and they shall hold fast, till death do them part.

So, I think it's clear for the Christian couple. How about ... what if one of ... Oh, not what one ... what if my spouse is not a Christian, should I remain married with him or her? "I have now become a Christian, I belong to God, he or she does not believe in God, should we separate?"

Well, this question is answered this way, "To the rest I say (I, not the Lord), that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her." [1 Cor 7:12-13]

So the key here is that the unbelieving spouse is willing to remain married, then you should not have a divorce. This is very clear and this does not apply only to the wife, this also applies to the husband. Same principles, so no difference if you're Christian wife or Christian husband.

You say, "Why?" The reason is given in verse 14, "The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, the unbelieving wife, his wife is made holy because of her husband and children is also made holy."

Now, the question then is, "What do you mean by made holy?" Does it mean that when I become a Christian, and I remain married to my husband, my husband now also becomes Christian because diffusion and osmosis takes place? Somehow the spiritual power comes from God, flows through my body to him and to my children. That automatically because one in the family is saved, everybody else is saved!

I don't think so, that is not a teaching found anywhere else in the Bible. Moreover, it clearly is not, if you look at verse 16. "For how do you know wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?"

So the point here is saying, "Don't leave this marriage because you might be a means, a channel through which God blesses your husband and your family, that they may one day come to Christ." It's not automatic! So whatever this made holy is, it does not refer to how you will save your husband just because he remains married to you.

The best way to understanding this 'made holy' is that God uses the Christian family member to be a source of blessing to them, in living out the Christian life and in sharing the Word of Life, à la or maybe similar to 1st Peter, chapter 3:1.

"Likewise, wives, be subject their own husbands so that even if some do not obey the Word ..." they are not Bible readers, they do not know the Bible like you do, "... they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives." They are blessed because they see your holy and submissive life, and God uses it to turn their hearts towards Him."

So, if you are married to an unbelieving spouse, and he wants to stay or she wants to stay, no divorce, stay married. "But finally if the unbelieving partner wants to go, he separates, he leaves you ..." [1 Cor 7:15] He says, "You follow Jesus, I don't like Jesus, I'm leaving."

Now, this does not mean that you say, "Hey, hey, hey, wow, please go!" I don't think that's the attitude, I ... I think you should still try your best to ... to ... to ... to win your husband or wife, I think that's should be the posture. But if you have tried and he still or she still wants to leave, "... then let it be so." [1 Cor 7:15]

Traditionally, most commentators will understand that this means that you're no more bound in this marriage, you're freed from this marriage, and, "God has called you to peace." [1 Cor 7:15]

In other words, you can be settled in this condition, that is to say, we believe is possible for such, for people in such a situation to be able to remarry. But this is, I must say not without its challenges and controversies, but the best we know, this is the appropriate way to read this.

Now, I know there are many questions that you may have, especially when it comes to divorce and remarriage. My purpose here is not to be exhaustive in covering every other aspect because I think we've done it already, in two sermons, at least.

One is in the permanence of marriage in "Home Fix", you can Google, if you like "Home Fix", and there'll be a sermon about divorce and remarriage or the permanence of marriage. A second sermon is when we covered Matthew, chapter 19, verses 1 to 16.
So if you'd like to have these questions answered, beyond what is covered in the text, you can refer to those messages or if not, join me in a Q&A session right after this service.

But I think my purpose is just to give an exegesis or exposition of this text, bring out some of the applications for your consideration. So at the end of the day, to marry or not to marry? It's a trick question!

Neither is superior to the other. But we understand, we must understand that God has different callings, gifting for different individuals. And as a church we don't categorize people as superior or inferior based on their color, based on their education status, or based even on their marital status.

Whether you're married or not married, that's not the ultimate question. The ultimate question is - Who are you serving? And what is the priority of life?

You know, according to the Bible, whether you're married or married or not married, it does not matter when we are resurrected in a new life. Jesus explicitly said in Matthew 22, "That in the resurrection, we will not be married nor given to marriage, but we will be like angels in heaven."

So we remain, we will be single in a sense in heaven, that when I see my wife Winnie in heaven, I will not say that she's my wife, then er, she used to be my wife, but she will not continue to be my wife in heaven. I do not know how that is going to be like! I'm not sure what it's going to be like!

But the point is, marriage is not permanent, at least earthly marriages are not to be permanent, they are not eternal. So really, we do not have to fret over this marital status thing, as if it's the ultimate thing. It's important, but it's not the ultimate thing.

In heaven, in the resurrection that is to come, all earthly marriages dissolve away. There will only be one great wedding, there will only be one great marriage, and that is the marriage between Christ and His Church, the bride. All who are God's people, we are that bride, and we will be joyfully united, intimately united with God, with His Son. And that is what real marriage is all about.

So for those who are single, it may not be an easy season of life, I understand that. And there's a period of seeking and praying and longing, but that's not the ultimate thing. Steward your singleness today for the glory of God, seek Him, serve Him, seek first the Kingdom of God.

For some of us who are going through difficult times, look forward to that time of great ecstasy and joy when Jesus comes back for us.

And for those of you here who are not Christians, I want to tell you Christianity is not a religion of drudgery and pain and suffering only because underlying all that suffering that Christians may have to go through in this life, there is that deep confidence of everlasting joy and bliss when we are united with God in a joyful marital union to come.

So I invite you if you're not a Christian, you're unbeliever, there's a gap, there's a hole, there's a void in your heart. Well, that void can only be filled by the loving presence of God. And I say to you, Jesus is that Bridegroom that wants to win you to Himself. He has done it! He has gone to the cross, suffered and died, shed His blood, given His life, so that He might save you from your sin and bring you back to your Creator God.

And I pray today, even as we talk about marriage and singleness, it reminds you about that deep longing of your soul, to know God and to belong to Him through His Son. May you repent of your sin, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

Let's bow for a word of prayer together.

Father, we thank You today that whilst we look into a subject of earthly importance, marriage and singleness, we are reminded of the ultimate marriage between Christ and His Church. We, of all people are supremely blessed to be called to know You and Your Son.

So as a church, I pray that we will seek first the Kingdom of God, that the joy and the hope of that future joy will fuel our hearts to live for You and to serve You. I pray for my brethren today who are married, some married in very difficult trying circumstances. We pray that You will give them strength and endurance to obey. Some have separated from their spouse, I pray that You will give them grace, not to fall into sin, but to work towards reconciliation.

For those who are having a hard time in marriage, I pray that they would look to the gospel, look to Jesus and the Church, for strength to honor you in a holy lasting marriage. I pray for my brethren who are single today, some are praying for a spouse, I pray you lead them, and some are gifted with the gift of celibacy, singleness. O Lord, may You also lead them that they may absolutely, joyfully give of their lives for the sake of the kingdom.

Again, we pray for those who are here who do not know Jesus, work in their hearts, that one day they would also enter into this joy of knowing You and Your Son. So thank You for Your word, help each one of us to find comfort and joy in the principles herein, we pray all this in Jesus' Name, Amen.

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