Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
1 Corinthians 7:25-28
Now, Paul turns back to his main theme and addressed the unmarried. In doing so, he is very clear about the fact that he is speaking as a trustworthy person, a man who is wise, but not for the Lord. As he gives his advice in this section, it is much like his advice in the previous text; remain as you are. If you are single, remain single. If you are engaged, remain faithful to your commitment. He gives this advice “because of the present crisis” (7:6), which begs the question: What crisis?
As you might expect, there are a great many theories about the “crisis”, and there really isn’t a way to be entirely certain about what he is intending here. We might just consider the context of the letter− Paul has written the church to correct a great many serious problems, including the presence of immorality in the congregation, so if I were going to hazard a guess, I’d be inclined to throw that one on the table. Yet the church is in the fledging stage everywhere, very vulnerable to persecution at any time, which could be described as a crisis. A bit later in this chapter Paul will mention that the whole world is messed up and this world will pass away (7:31): That could be what he means.
If Paul had written this letter to a modern-day church, I might suggest that the “crisis” is really all of the little crises we hear about every day! And that could also be what he means in the letter to Corinth.
What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (7:29-31)
This paragraph comes pretty close to advice for all time, for although he didn’t say it directly, Paul is advising the people to change their thinking away from their everyday living circumstances to a more heavenly perspective. Since we have the benefit of hindsight, we can see that people nearly 2,000 years ago were all caught up in the day-to-day things of this life: Status in the community, pleasures and delights of this world, getting everything right in doctrinal arguments, paying the bills, raising the children, having some good times, what is for dinner… and so on. As we look back across all of those centuries since then, it’s easy for us to say that none of that stuff was really so important, for they all left this earthly life so long ago; hopefully they took care to ensure their eternal futures.
While it’s easy to see that looking back 2,000 years, it is much harder to think that way in the moment, isn’t it? Paul’s message clears up as he completes this section in the remaining verses of the chapter…