Divided loyalties are very difficult and here Paul reminds us of them. In this passage, it is clear that Paul believes we can simultaneously serve both the Lord and our marriage partner. Of course, he would have known many who did including other apostles but at the time of writing there was a famine. They were difficult times perhaps especially for newlyweds. In times of social and economic distress it may be almost impossible to discover and obey God’s will, working for the gospel in whatever way one is called to do, AND to build a new marriage. And if that’s the choice, Paul is clear: one’s service to the Lord belongs first.
Paul is not laying down a rule, he is trying to teach the Corinthians to think clearly, wisely and above all Christianly about delicate issues where there is no absolute right and wrong. Paul is not opposing marriage. On the contrary; if a couple finds that their desire for one another is getting stronger, putting them in an impossible position, then they should marry. But they should be prepared to face the difficulties that will accompany the early days of a marriage, even and perhaps especially a Christian one, when life for other reasons is in any case hard.
Paul finishes with a short word to widows. A widow is free to marry again, though only ‘in the Lord’, i.e., to another Christian. But Paul sees, once again, that there may be reasons for resisting the social pressure that would otherwise hurry such women into a further marriage as soon as reasonably possible.
So, what do we learn from Paul’s musings here? Marriage is a good thing, but it is not always the best thing. Wisdom needs to be applied in a Christian manner to situations and we should choose the Lord above all other things, even marriage!
Father may we be more aligned to you than even marriage and family relationships – for you will provide all we need according to Your riches in glory in Christ Jesus!
Written by Ps. Richard Botta