Saturday, April 24, 2010

Should I Get Married?

1 Corinthians is a masterpiece. Not surprising, since it's inspired by the Holy Spirit, but it really is an amazing piece of work.

What makes it so profound is the way that Paul applies the gospel, in a penetrating way, to everyday struggles inside (and outside) the church. Incidentally, I think this is the most important way to help people learn the gospel--by applying it concretely to everyday situations. And make sure that when you pour the concrete you use enough of it; concrete is usually measured by the bucket or the truckload, not in tablespoons or cups.

So anyway, in chapter 7, Paul answers the classic young adult's question, "Should I get married?"

Here's Paul's answer: "I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned. ... Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that" (1 Corinthians 7:26-28). He then goes on to explain that even if you do get married, you should see it as secondary to your eternal calling to know and proclaim Jesus Christ.

So he basically says: "Should you get married? No, not with everything going on right now. You can serve the Lord more effectively in this evil world by being single. But if you must be married, go ahead, you're free to do what you need to do. But remember, I warned you."

The typical response by an American evangelical like me is to frantically race to defend marriage and, more specifically, our Christian subculture's near idolatry of it. We want to take the teeth out of this passage. But we shouldn't.

If Paul were a counselor, he would answer the question "Should I get married?" with probing questions like these:

"What is your motivation?"

"You do realize you're complete in Christ, don't you?"

"You do realize that marriage is only for this life, right?"

"Is your goal to serve Jesus Christ? Do you see yourself as a missionary in this world? How do you see marriage fitting into this framework?"

"Are you making this decision with a lot of self-awareness, and with humility? Do you realize that marriage shows your desperate need for help and not your advanced degree of godliness?"

"You aren't planning to settle down are you? Because that's a sin." (See vv.29-31.)

I'm not sure Paul would get many referrals for his counseling services. However, he would rest at night knowing that he mixed a lot of gospel that day, filled up the truck, laid a firm foundatin with it, and had some left over to patch up the cracks and crevices. (This is my overly clever way of saying that he didn't hold back.)

Then, if the young man or woman did choose marriage he could launch into his Ephesians 5:21-32 speech. Which basically says to the happily married couple: "What I told you earlier still applies. It's all about Jesus."

The Bible has a high and lofty view of marriage. But it's secondary to its high view of Jesus. We never want to think that marriage is a final destination when in reality it is only preparing us for the "marriage supper of the Lamb."


Jeff said...

Interesting post Ken. I think I agree with all that you've said. But I'm wondering how you would discuss Genesis 1-2, and the idea position some hold that marriage is a creation ordinance. Does Genesis teach that men and women were created to be married? I think most of us can relate more to Genesis, than to Paul who seems to be so down on the whole thing...

Ken said...

Umm, I'm with you in that I relate far more to Genesis 1-2 and Ephesians 5! Actually, I wonder if Paul is describing a pretty extraordinary calling in 1 Corinthians 7--but one he is so acquainted with that he comes off almost nonchalant about it.

But for us married guys (and happily at that), I think we should still be humbled by the passage -- to examine our attitudes, including our attitude toward single guys (esp older single guys).

I don't know. Any better ideas?

Joel Pearce said...

Is it true that Paul was married at some point in his life? I can't remember if he was or not, or if we even know if he was or not.

Ken said...

Joel, that's a good Q. What I've heard is that "he would've been married because he was a Pharisee and that was the norm, therefore his wife might have died." Not sure the level of speculation here.

FYI -- I think the way to summarize 1 Cor 7's application to the married and non-married alike is to realize "marriage is not arriving." Marriage is awesome, but we go beyond the gospel when we think that NOW we have arrived... and we have different ways that we say that to ourselves. I think that's the reason Paul would counsel people to think through those Q's--to make sure that anyone approaches marriage with the understanding that "to live is Christ."