Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Single Vs. Married Life?

Popular Translation

32 I don't want you to worry. But let's face it. The single person can focus on the Lord's will and ways to please him. 33 The husband needs to focus on the making a living in the world, so he can please his wife. 34 The husband's attention is divided between the needs of his family and the will of the Lord. In the same way, the single woman or young girl can focus on the Lord's will so she can grow close to him, both in body and spirit. But the wife needs to focus on the ways of the world, so she can please her husband. 35 I mention these things for your benefit. I don't want you to feel tied up by my words. I only want what's right for the community, so you can love the Lord without distractions.

Literal Translation

32 I want you to be free from concerns. The unmarried (man) is concerned about the (affairs) of the Lord, how he might please the Lord. 33 But the married (man) is concerned about the (affairs) of the world, how he might please his wife 34 and has been divided (in focus). The unmarried woman or young girl is concerned with the (affairs) of the Lord, so that she might be holy both in body and in spirit. But the (woman) being married is concerned with the (affairs) of the world, how she might please her husband. 35 But I say this to you for your benefit, not that I might throw a noose around you, but for the right order (in the community) and (your) undistracted attention to the Lord.

7:34 "the unmarried woman or young girl" Paul mentioned mature, unmarried women and young girls (literally "virgins" in Greek). Some scholars have speculated that "unmarried women" referred to widows in the community. But, how old were these women? Some speculate further that these "unmarried women" were elderly widows, beyond child-bearing age. These scholars further posit that widows still within child-bearing years were expected to remarry. Roman law taxed any bachelor of marrying age and stipulated that the divorced and widowed under 50 years of age were to remarry within one year of their separation. How much influence this law had on Paul and the community was unclear. Paul was clear, however, on the practicality of the single life.

This study continues last week's reflection on detachment. But, in these verses, Paul stressed the practicality of the single life. Implicitly, Paul reflected on his own situation. He was free to travel and preach the Good News without relationship attachments. He was spiritually ready for the return of the Lord. Despite the Roman law mentioned in the note above, the freedom of the single life in the ancient culture allowed for such possibilities with little personal cost. If one could withstand the gossip, rumor, and even slander of neighbors and family, one could devote time and energy to prayer and evangelization. For Paul, this was the ideal.

Obviously, the single life both then and now has real advantages. But take away the expectation for the immanent return of the Lord, and Paul's argument was one-sided. While he focused upon the undivided attention a single Christian can make to the Lord, he failed to mention the advantages the married state added to a life of holiness. Married life may distract the husband or wife from their devotion to the Lord (even that of Aquila and Prisca mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16:19?), but the sacrifices of compromise and devotion made to spouse and children can certainly open up the heart to the Lord. Married life was a proper way to God.

We must realize that Paul wrote from his life experience and his personal expectations. While his advice was (and still is) solid, there was another view point he did not address. Yes, a community of single people can focus clearly on the Lord. The cares of the world demanded by the married state do interfere with that focus. But even the distractions of married life can and do strengthen one's spiritual life. Single or married life depends upon the call of the Lord.

How does your life status help you to focus on the Lord? How does it hinder you? How can you use this hindrance as a means to holiness?