1 Corinthians 7:32-40

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 7:32-40

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.


Paul continues to give advice about whether people should get married. He advises – though he does not state this as a rule – that is it better to remain unmarried if that is possible. We’l start the examination of these verses by looking at The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 7:32

But I would have you without carefulness. In these words he reverts to 1 Corinthians 7:28, after the digression about the transiency of earthly relations. If they were “overcharged… with cares of this life,” the day of the Lord might easily “come upon them unawares” (Luke 21:34).

1 Corinthians 7:33

Careth for the things that are of the world. St. Paul’s language must not be extravagantly pressed. It only applies absolutely to times in which the conditions are the same as they then were. The “anxious cares” which marriage involves may be more innocent and less distracting than those which attack the celibate condition; and when that is the case, marriage, on St. Paul’s own principle, becomes a duty. Thus some of the best and greatest of our missionaries have found their usefulness as God’s messengers vastly increased by marriage, in spite of the awful trials which marriage often involves. The apostles and brethren of the Lord felt the same. St. Paul’s opinions here are, as he tells us, opinions only, and admit of many modifications. Advice given to men and women when Christians believed that the Lord was coming, perhaps in that very age, to judge the world, is not universally applicable to all ages. In St. Paul’s later Epistles he does not revert to this advice, but assumes that marriage is the normal condition.

Paul’s focus here is the best place for a person to have his or her attention. Unmarried, a person can more easily focus on the Lord, as that person does not have another person to care or provide for. Married, though, this circumstance is different. A married person must care for the Lord, but also for a spouse and any children that they might have. This can lead to tension or internal division, as he speaks on more directly in verse 34. Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 7:34

There is difference also, etc. The reading, punctuation, and exact sense are surrounded with uncertainty, which does not, however, affect the general meaning. This is probably given correctly in our English Version. He implies that the married woman must of necessity be more of a Martha than a Mary. Nevertheless, two things are certain:

(1) that God intended marriage to be the normal lot; and

(2) that marriage is by no means incompatible with the most absolute saintliness.

It is probable that most, if not all, of the apostles were married men (1 Corinthians 9:5). The spirit of St. Paul’s advice—the avoidance of distraction, and the determination that our duty to God shall not be impaired by earthly relationships—remains eternally significant. Another common way of punctuating the words is, “The married man cares.., how he may please his wife, and is divided [in interests].”

We know that Paul was unmarried. Which of the other Apostles were married?

Peter was married.

Matthew 8:14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.

1 Corinthians 9:Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

The second verse quoted above jumps a little bit ahead of our present position, but it informs us again that Peter (Cephas) was married and it implies that other Apostles, and Jesus’s brothers, were also married. From here, though, the the text does not tell us more.

Paul qualifies his advice in verse 35. He is not issues any rules regarding marriage. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(35) And this I speak for your own profit.—The reference is to the preceding passage, commencing with 1 Corinthians 7:32; and the writer explains that these instructions are given, not to please himself, but for (emphatically) your own advantage; not to entangle you in a noose, and so take away your liberty, but with a view to comeliness (or, honesty, Romans 13:13), and to your waiting upon the Lord without being cumbered with earthly things (as, in Luke 10:40, Martha was “cumbered”).

Luke 10:40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

The reference in the note to Luke shows us Martha, distracted by her duties, compared to Mary who had no such duties. Mary is viewed as the preferable path, though Paul understands that this is not a path a majority of people will take. Simon Peter is an example of someone, though, who demonstrates that one can be married and a faithful believer in leadership. Paul may have viewed his burden as lighter than the burden of Peter. Continuing with Ellicott in verse 36:

(36) But if any man think.—Here the writer turns to the duty of parents, and there is a further explanation to such that the previous expressions are not binding commandments, but apostolic advice. If the case arises that a parent thinks he would be acting unfairly towards his unmarried daughter (i.e., exposing her to temptation) by withholding his permission for her marriage, he ought to do as he feels inclined—i.e., let the lover and his daughter marry.

Let him do what he will.—This sentence does not—as it may at first sight in the English appear to do—imply that he may consent or not, and whichever course he adopts he does right. It is implied, in the earlier part of the sentence, that he thinks he ought to give his consent, and therefore that is what he wishes to do. Let him do that which he so wills, says St. Paul, and he need not in doing so fear that he does wrong.

The note here clarifies that this verse is to the parents of one who is betrothed. Paul advises a parent as to when and whether they should consent to marriage. The same principle apply as before. He advises readers to do as they desire, but to do so in the Lord. Returning to the Pulpit Commentaries for verse 37 and 38

1 Corinthians 7:37

Steadfast. The general meaning of the verse is that the father, who, from high motives, remained unshaken in the resolve to dedicate his daughter (as Philip did) to the virgin life, doeth well, though neither Jews nor pagans thought so. Having no necessity. Because the maiden did not wish to marry or was not sought in marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:38

Doeth well. Because” marriage is honourable in all.” Doeth better. Obviously not morally, because, if one course be morally better than another, we are bound to take it; but “better” with reference to expediency in “the urgent necessity” which rested on the Christian world in that day. It is quite clear that, if these words are meant to disparage matrimony in comparison with celibacy, or to treat celibacy in the abstract as a holier state that marriage, they have been set aside by the universal practice and theory of the Christian world. But, as we have seen, they are expressed by St. Paul only as a relative and diffident opinion. It is remarkable that not one word is said as to the choice of the virgin herself in the matter, which is one of the most essential points on which the decision must turn. St. Paul, no doubt, assumes the acquiescence or preference of the maiden as one of the elements in the absence of any “need” for her marriage; but also he writes after lifelong familiarity with the all but absolute control exercised by Jewish parents over their youthful daughters.

Paul here essentially says that both options are acceptable, provided they are done with the Lord in mind, though he expresses a belief that an umarried life is preferable if possible.

Concluding the chapter, looking at Ellicott:

(39, 40) The wife.—The question of the re-marriage of widows is here considered. It was probably a matter in which his opinion had been asked, and, in any case, naturally completes the subject of marriage. The widow may be married again if she desire, but “only in the Lord”—i.e., not to a heathen. She, being a Christian, should marry a Christian.

The words “by the law” are not in the best MSS. The opening sentence, asserting the marriage union to be dissoluble only by death, is to guard against any married woman applying these words to herself, they having reference only to widows.
St. Paul explains that she is happier to continue a widow (her case coming under the same considerations as referred to the unmarried in the previous verses).

I think also that I have the Spirit of God.—This is no expression of doubt as to whether he had the Spirit of God, but an assurance of his confidence that he, as well as other teachers (who, perhaps, boast more about it), had the Spirit of God to guide him in cases where no direct command has been given by Christ.

Paul addresses widows and remarriage here. He states that a widow is permitted to remarry, provided that she marry a Christian. Marriage to a non-Christian, assuming the conversion happened after the marriage occurred, is allowed. However, Paul does not permit a Christian, already a believer, to marry someone who is not a believer. Again though, Paul argues for celibacy as the better outcome.

This concludes for now Paul’s advice regarding marriage. He will begin addressing food offered to idols in Chapter 8.

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