Making Up Your Own Mind (1 Corinthians 7:36-38)

My wife Tiffany and I met on a blind date. It was arranged by my pastor’s secretary, who also happened to be Tiffany’s parents’ next-door neighbor. For me, meeting Tiffany was a case of “love at first sight.” For Tiffany, it was “love at two- or three-weeks-later sight.”  Pretty soon into our relationship, we both knew we were headed for marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, Paul writes advice to a Corinthian man who was experiencing difficulty making up his mind whether see through his engagement all the way to marriage. The man’s difficulty was not related to issues of personal compatibility with his affianced, however. Instead, taking into account the overall context of chapter 7, the man’s difficulty was related to issues of theology.

To recap, many of the Corinthians were extreme ascetics who taught, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (7:1 TNIV). This led them to advocate, among other things, avoiding marriage entirely or, if married, abstaining from sex or divorcing one’s spouse. By way of reply, Paul stated his personal preference for celibacy (7:7) but went on to teach that marriage—contrary to the Corinthians’ asceticism—is not a sin (7:28, 36) and may be “the right thing” (7:37).

Applying these broad principles to the engaged man’s situation, Paul writes in verses 36-38:

If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin — this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.

I guess that most American Christians—excepting American Catholics, perhaps—read this passage with blinking incomprehension, not because the words don’t make sense, but because they describe a reality very different from our own experience. American evangelicals view celibacy as part of the journey toward marriage. We don’t view it as a destination in and of itself (unlike Catholics, for whom religious orders are an honored way of life). And from a cultural point of view, the biblical prohibition of sex outside of marriage is more honored in the breach than in the observance anyway.

So, what to do with Paul’s advice? Take it, obviously. If so inclined, one should marry. And toward this end, I believe churches can play a role in helping Christian singles meet and marry. Why can’t church also be a venue for dating? How else will Christian singles meet? By the same token, however, churches should honor those inclined to serve God with their singleness by honoring the choice not to date as well.

The key thing: When it comes to dating and marriage, don’t force anyone to do what they don’t feel God has called them to do. Let them make up their own minds.

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