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1 Corinthians 7:25-40 Study Guide: Christian Singleness

Community Group Study Guide — Christian Singleness
1 Corinthians 7:25-40

Main idea:
The Christian faith is the first worldview to affirm the goodness of singleness. In the ancient world you were often defined by your family of origin, your children or your spouse; God instead defines us by our relationship to him as children of God and heirs in Christ. Being married is a gift, but it comes with certain anxieties like caring for your spouse and children. Christian singleness offers the benefit of being “undivided: and devoted to the Lord (1 Corinthians 9:35).

Study Information:

We just learned from Paul that the Lord can be at work in whatever situation we are in for us to represent the gospel and to grow in holiness. Those situations include singleness, being married to an unbeliever and dealign with difficulties in our marriages. Paul carries this logic forward to help us think about how do we follow Christ given the “present distress” of the world (1 Corinthians 7:26). We’re challenged to have a radical focus on the work of ministry and to consider how our lives can be used to share the gospel, build up other believers and make disciples. The words of Paul are counter cultural to our world’s attitude when he makes a case for the goodness of singleness. Our American/Western culture has shifted away from marriage towards cohabitating or hooking up without commitments, but neither of those are what the Bible means when it talks about being single. Indeed the attitude against marriage and towards building an autonomous life can be seen in things like how the average age of first marriages has climbed to 30 for many whereas it was in the early 20s a few decades ago. Paul is not advocating for us to be unmarried and instead engaged in other types of sexual or dating relationships. To Paul we’re either committed in a covenant with a husband or wife or purposeful in our singleness in how we use it to honor God. Our passage gives us a picture of the reality of marriage and the goodness of singleness. Let’s explore those two things in turn:

The Reality of Marriage:
1 Corinthians 7:25-35
Even with all the “present distress” of the world and our time being short, it is not sin to be married. Paul already told us that it is better to marry than to burn with passion, marriage is a gift and that it reflects the gospel (1 Corinthians 7:7, 9, Ephesians 5:25-33). So of course it is not a sin, but it does come with a certain set of troubles. We can appreciate how real the scripture can be to our experiences when it says that “those who marry will have worldly troubles” (1 Corinthians 7:28). Many people who have delayed marriage or looked down on commitment do so because of poor examples of marriage in their lives like divorced parents or couples who no longer strive to love each other in word and deed. Some marriages get overrun with worldly troubles like financial stress, sexual challenges, argumentative spirits and struggling to be on the same page. If you’re married you also lose some sense of worldly freedom, for example you cannot easily pick everything up and take a job somewhere else and spending time doing X comes at a cost of time with family the responsibility there. If you’re a godly husband or wife you will be filled with what Paul calls “anxieties” when it comes to how to please your spouse and care for your kids (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). We may cringe at the word anxiety in this passage but it is not meant to describe something inherently sinful but rather something we can be preoccupied with. Paul accurately calls this being “divided” and it is not to our shame but just the reality of being a godly husband or wife in this world. You should be thinking about how to nurture your family, earn a living and invest well into the lives of those God has trusted to you. We can recoil at this word “anxiety”, but Paul is being real with us and God would have you do those things well yet they come at a cost. You will be unable to fully invest in some areas of ministry. You will have a hard time serving in all the places you could serve or maybe even want to serve, studying all the things you can study and there will be seasons of time where you attention will be pulled towards shepherding those in your family as you navigate crisis and challenges. This is because “the time is short” and “the present world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29, 31). Marriage is a good gift from God and he uses it to picture the gospel to the world, but it comes with its challenges and there is also another gift that God has given that we ought to consider and support: Singleness. 

The Goodness of Christian Singleness:
1 Corinthians 7:32-40
This affirmation of Christian singleness is not in the scripture because we should not want to be “tied down” or committed to something; that is the reason much of the Western world pursues singleness. The Christian life is actually one marked by sacrifice and surrender and much of the growth God causes in our lives is when we embrace those virtues. Instead Paul is telling us that we can either be anxious about how we please our spouse and care for our families or anxious about the things of the Lord and how to please the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32). Christian singleness allows you to focus more on pleasing the Lord. We know from practice that married couples can certainly be anxious about pleasing the Lord and serving him, however Paul is talking about varying levels of focus here. A single person can devote more time and attention and focus to serving the Lord than someone who is married with or without a minivan full of kiddos. These words would have been shocking to the original audience because of the emphasis the ancient world put on what family you belonged to and if you had kids, specifically male heirs. Our Western culture is different since we put more emphasis on our individuality and freedom from commitments. Yet, if you were a Jewish man you name would include your fathers name… Simon Bar Jonah (son of Jonah) as an example. In the Greek world, having a legal heir was of infinite importance if you were a person of wealth. This could be why the scripture so heavily leans on the family imagery for believers who are sons and daughters of God and heirs of God in Christ. Your worth is not found in being born in the right family or married to the right person or in your ability to have kids; your worth is found in Christ. Our contemporary world may not struggle with defining ourselves through our families, we may actually make an idol more out of our freedom and independence as single individuals, hence the rising age of getting married in America. Regardless of which side you lean towards, we should neither make an idol out of marriage or out of being single; both are called gifts and there is value and difficulties to both callings.

Christians today should be really careful with how they may unintentionally devalue singleness in conversation when you ask someone about their dating relationships, or when they’re tying the knot. Likewise if you’re a married couple do you only spend time with other married couples or people who are in the same stage of life as you? Valuing Christian singleness is opening up your home to brothers and sisters in the church regardless of if they’re married or have kids the same age as your kids. These things can be unintentional and seemingly harmless, but they can devalue someone’s status as an image bearer of God whose identity is in Christ and work against unity in the church across generations. The early church did not pressure people to marry and they worked hard to support widows in particular because one’s identity in Christ and value was not determined by their family or marital status.

If you’re currently single know that this season in your life is one that can be marked by an increased attention to serving God and his people in a way that may change if or when you get married. Think about how you’re using your time to serve others, share the gospel, make disciples and invest in the life of the church. Try to find opportunities to connect with people across generations and lead the way in helping the church to facilitate connectedness regardless of similarities. Second, know that marriage is a good thing and that if you desire to marry it is not sin (1 Corinthians 7:36-37). Just be cautious to not become attached to someone who is not a follower of Jesus. Finally, you may be wondering if you as a single can be friends with a person of the opposite sex. It is important to remember that the primary marker of identity in scripture for you is a brother and sister. Act accordingly, set up good boundaries, but do not ignore half of the body of Christ. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 7:25-40

What does Paul means when he says married people are divided or filled with anxieties about the world? 

What do you think it means to be anxious about the things of the Lord and how to please the Lord? 

If you’re married, what are some ways you were able to serve the Lord as a single? What are some unique ways you can serve the Lord as a married couple?

If you’re single, what are some things you wish that married couples in the church knew about being single in the 21st century? What are some steps the church can take to grow in being brothers and sisters in Christ?