World English Bible translation
7:34There is also a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world--how she may please her husband. 7:35 This I say for your own profit; not that I may ensnare you, but for that which is appropriate, and that you may attend to the Lord without distraction. 7:36 But if any man thinks that he is behaving inappropriately toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of her age, and if need so requires, let him do what he desires. He doesn't sin. Let them marry. 7:37 But he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own heart, to keep his own virgin, does well. 7:38 So then both he who gives his own virgin in marriage does well, and he who doesn't give her in marriage does better. 7:39 A wife is bound by law for as long as her husband lives; but if the husband is dead, she is free to be married to whoever she desires, only in the Lord. 7:40 But she is happier if she stays as she is, in my judgment, and I think that I also have God's Spirit.
Paul continues his discussion on marriage and the family in the context of restraining the sexual immorality that had plagued the Corinthian church. Corinth was a Greek city and the Christians in the new church at Corinth were being influenced by their Greek culture. They had not yet made the transition to a Judeo-Christian ethic and as such there were still basic questions in the church as to whether a man or woman should remain faithful to only one spouse and as to whether ritual prostitution that was practiced at Corinth was a sin under Christian doctrine. As he dealt with other portions of the society, the married, widowed and unmarried, here Paul sums up the section dealing with the basic difference between a married woman and an unmarried one and some advice to those that are betrothed.
The basic difference in Paul's eyes between those that were married and those that chose to remain unmarried was that those that married had to devote a large portion of their time to more worldly concerns. A married woman, for instance, must devote herself to the cares of her husband. Likewise the husband has to concern himself with his wife's needs. Paul taught that being unmarried would be preferable during what he anticipated as a coming time of distress. Those that chose to remain unmarried could more fully devote themselves to the Lord and His work.
But Paul is not establishing the idea that being unmarried is preferable, only expedient for their time. He teaches that those that chose to marry have not sinned. He has already taught in this section that those that cannot keep themselves from sexual immorality should marry. Now he teaches that there are other good and legitimate reasons for marrying as well, even during a time of distress. "If the need so requires ... Let them marry." During the time of distress it would be better if they remained unmarried, but this was a decision for them to make based on the leading of the Spirit of God.
Finally, Paul gives the same sort of teaching about widows. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. After he dies, she is free to marry another Christian. However, Paul advises that if she can control her heart and remain a widow and serve God with her whole heart, which was preferable for the time. In this Paul emphasizes that he is delivering his own judgment and not a teaching of the Lord. However, in this matter he feels as though he is confirmed in God's Spirit that his teaching is correct.
In all of the teachings of this section there has been this consistency. There was coming a time of distress on the Corinthian church, and perhaps all the churches. It was good that individual Christians should remain in the state that God called them. If they were Jews, they should live as Jews who trusted in Christ. If they were Gentiles, they should live as Gentiles that trusted in Christ. If they were married or unmarried -- slave or free -- they should try to live their lives as when they were called to Christ. It was not a sin if their status should change because a Christian can serve God in all of these modes. However, for practical reasons Paul advised Christians to remain as unfettered by the cares of the world as possible so that they might serve God in the best way that they were capable of doing.
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