Unmarried and Devoted to God

October 9, 2016 / No. 3849

Dear Radio Friends,
Today in our broadcast we are going to study the Word of God found in I Corinthians 7:34. That verse reads, “There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” I Corinthians 7 is a unique chapter of the Bible. It is wholly devoted to practical instruction concerning marriage and the single life. The difficulty that many have with this chapter, however, is that Paul seems simply to be passing on good advice. Advice that we can either heed or not heed.
For example, we read in verse 12 of this chapter, “But to the rest speak I and not the Lord.” Or in verse 25 Paul writes, “Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.” How are we to take this instruction of Paul in this chapter then—as God’s Word to us or as Paul’s word of judgment on certain matters? Paul answers this question for us in the very verses we quoted.
Paul first of all calls the attention of his readers in Corinth to the truth that Christ, the Lord of the church, had not given any particular instruction on the matters he brings up. Christ during His earthly ministry did not teach concerning these matters. Paul could not appeal, therefore, to what Christ had taught His apostles.
But Paul does call attention to his apostolic authority: verse 25, “I give my judgment as one that has obtained mercy of Christ [to be an apostle] to be faithful, that is trustworthy.” The idea is that what Paul teaches regarding these matters is trustworthy because he was given apostolic authority. Paul’s judgment therefore is authoritative! He speaks on behalf of Christ. This he confirms in verse 40 when he writes: “and I think that I have the Spirit of God.” Not that Paul is doubting or is quite sure he is led by God’s Spirit, the Spirit of truth, but when Paul says “I think,” he means “I believe” I have the Spirit of God to impart to you the truth.
At the same token, we need to be careful too that we do not jump into a legalistic interpretation of the matters set down here in this chapter. Paul addresses God’s saints as they live in the liberty that belongs to them in Christ. Hard and fast rules can often be laid down in these areas of life that will lead us into frustration and legalism. That is obviously not Paul’s intent. He gives sound, infallible advice as to how to deal with questions that surround single life and marriage. We must bear that in mind today too as we consider the instruction of this Word of God concerning single women in the church. This Word of God is both instructive and encouraging to single women, who also are given by God a place in His church.
I. The Unmarried Woman
The verse we consider in today’s message distinguishes between two types of women in the church: married and unmarried. We need to be clear that both of these types of women are believers who fear God. They both are virtuous women whether married or unmarried. From the point of view of their salvation, therefore, there is no difference. Both are saved in the blood of Jesus Christ and are precious in God’s sight. They are His dear children whom He has chosen and loved from eternity in Christ. It is clear from this entire chapter that Paul holds both types of women in highest esteem. Both have their own particular place in the church.
Neither does Paul, as an apostle, prefer one over and above the other. We say this because Paul is oftentimes accused of being a male chauvinist. He was single himself and is, at times, accused of being anti-marriage and anti-women. This is not true, of course. Scripture is God’s Word—not Paul’s. Paul does not state anywhere that single life is to be desired more than married life. He only confirms what is the truth: that one is able in single life to devote himself more to the study of God’s Word. And it is with that in mind that we also must understand the instruction given us in the verse before us. Paul mentions both the married and unmarried woman, but his instruction in this verse addresses the single woman.
But then, it is necessary for us to identify the single women in the church. You see, this verse has a little different translation than what is evident in our KJV. When we read, “There is a difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares for the things of the Lord,” we are left with the impression that the virgin and the unmarried woman are one and the same. A more literal translation of this verse, however, reads this way: “Even this difference: the unmarried woman and the virgin care for the things of the Lord.” Now, it can very well be that the unmarried woman and the virgin are synonymous, that is, one and the same. After all, a virgin is an unmarried woman. But our text can also be translated in such a way that the unmarried woman and the virgin are two classifications of women who stand outside of marriage. And I believe that is the preferable translation too: “the unmarried woman and the virgin care for the things of the Lord.”
Let’s examine this classification.
There is, first of all, the virgin, that is, the young maiden who is of marriageable age and who, because she is a virtuous woman, is also a virgin. The term “virgin,” therefore, implies more than simply the truth that this woman has come of age and is old enough to become someone’s wife. It implies that she has kept herself pure and chaste. She has not allowed herself to become sullied by the sin of fornication by giving herself to a man outside of marriage. This is indeed a rarity in today’s society and takes truly a believing young woman who loves and keeps God’s commandments. Virgins—whether women or men—are usually mocked in today’s society. The unbelieving outside of as well as inside of the church open their eyes wide and chuckle when they learn this of us. But truly a virgin is a woman that fears Jehovah! The Word of God in our text places the virgin who has not married over against that young woman who has married.
There may be a couple of reasons that a young woman of this age does not marry. The first is, she would rather not marry. For one reason or another she prefers to remain single. This is not sin. Just because the majority of women in the church set their designs on marriage does not mean every one of them does. Of course, the virtuous woman does not desire to remain single in order to fulfill her own lusts or to live a life of frivolousness and irresponsibility. Paul writes concerning single people as well as married in verse 31: “they that use this world as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.”
The second reason a single woman may remain unmarried is because the Lord, in His providence, has not brought to her a God-fearing man to marry. She desires it, but God, in His sovereign and good will, has not brought it to pass. She does not become discontent with His will. She does not rebel and go to the wicked men of this world in order to force the hand of God, so to speak, and marry an unbeliever. But she patiently waits on the will of God and follows His lead in her life, all the while remaining that virtuous woman who fears the Lord.
But there are other unmarried women in the church too. There are widows. These are women who were married but the Lord took their husbands away from them in death. This means she is unmarried. She is without a husband. Now, this widow may remarry again. We learn of that in verse 39 of this chapter. But as long as she is a widow, she is unmarried. And truly, if she is without children in her marriage, she is no different than a virgin from that point of view. She, as an unmarried woman, therefore, cares for the things of the Lord and not how to please her husband.
But there also are other women in the church who are unmarried. These women are under obligation to remain unmarried. These women have gone through a painful but lawful divorce. Jesus teaches us both in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 that there is reason for a lawful divorce: when the husband (or wife) has been unfaithful to us. There can be reason for a divorce under these circumstances. The other circumstance a woman can be alone is that her unbelieving husband abandons her and obtains a divorce. She is then left behind without a husband. She is obligated by Scripture not to remarry. Paul writes in verse 27, “Art thou bound to a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife.” The same is true, of course, of a wife. If she is loosed from her husband, she must not seek to be married again. This, too, classifies that woman of our text as unmarried, meaning, she is without a husband. So, the instruction here is given to virgins but also to all unmarried women in the church. And by implication it also applies to all unmarried men in the church. All unmarried women are at a distinct advantage over the married women of the church.
II. Her Care
To show this, God’s Word here contrasts the unmarried women of the church with those who are married. The unmarried women care for the things of the Lord. The married women care for the things of the world. Now, this needs some explaining, obviously. That married women care for the things of this world ought not to be interpreted in an evil way, as if married women are worldly minded and unmarried women are not. The term “world” does not mean wicked world. It refers to the things of this present life—the life that we lead in this creation. In the case of a married woman the things of the world pertain to her husband and children. She is extremely busy with them, while the single woman is not.
Neither is Paul teaching us here that single women are prone to be more holy than married women. This is the false conclusion the Roman Catholic Church draws from this verse and those that precede it. On the basis of these verses, the Romish Church maintains the celibacy of the priesthood. Monks may not marry. Nuns may not marry. And they may not because they then can fully devote themselves to the Lord and be holy in body and spirit. Nuns are said to be married to Christ. They therefore are a step or ten above the married women of the church because they are more holy unto the Lord. That is not what the Word of God in this verse teaches us. But rather it teaches that the married woman is busy with the things of this present life, namely, how she may please her husband. A godly woman in marriage always gives of herself and her time to her husband and children. That is her calling in marriage—a holy and sanctified calling. Marriage is an institution, the success of which depends on a person always and ever giving of their time and efforts to please their spouse. It is not a place of taking, but a place of giving. And the wife always concerns herself, then, in those things that will please her husband and her children, if the Lord chooses to give her them.
That is not true, obviously, with an unmarried woman. Now, I know an unmarried woman can be very busy with her work and life too. But when she comes home there is no one but herself to attend to. Her sole care is how she is to please her Lord, and she has the time in her home to read more, study more, discipline herself more in the things of the Lord. Christ is her Head. He rules her in her life and home. She seeks, therefore, to please her Lord. The difference between a single and a married woman of which Paul speaks at the outset in our text is this: a married woman seeks to please God by means of pleasing her husband. A single woman in the church seeks to please her Lord directly without interference and diversion of her attention by others.
Now, all of this has something to teach unmarried women in the church. I know from spending some lengthy periods of time alone without my wife that it is easier to let spiritual matters slip. When my wife and children are around it is a matter of priority to instruct and lead them in the Word of God. Besides, a God-fearing wife always reminds her husband of the need to read God’s Word and pray. Likewise, a God-fearing husband is there to lead a wife into God’s Word.
This is not true when a person is alone. This Word of God, therefore, applies well both to single women in the church and to single men. You may not forsake the spiritual exercise of reading and prayer in your lives. You may not forget about the fact when you are sitting in your home that you need to spend time with your Lord. It is so easy to turn on the TV or be so busy in some project that we forget about this all important aspect of our lives. You may not do that! You have the advantage of busying yourselves in spiritual matters more than one who is married. God gives you that time. Use it for Him and not to satisfy yourself. There is no one to force you to go to church. You have no obligation toward husband or children to be in church for their spiritual welfare—only for your own. But you must discipline yourselves to attend to the things of God’s kingdom by faithful church attendance and pray for the grace that God keep you faithful in seeking those things that are above.
You must exercise yourselves in things spiritual because this is the way you may be holy in body and spirit. The Word of God adds that, here in the verse we consider. It is by attending to the things of your Lord and Master that you become holy. Now, this does not contradict the truth that we are holy only through the work of Jesus Christ. We know that through His blood alone we are cleansed from the filth of our sin. He alone has overcome the power of sin and Satan in our lives. Christ makes us holy before God. But Paul here is addressing those who are already cleansed in the blood of Christ. To the single woman Paul points out that her holiness is practiced by means of attending to the things of the Lord. The term holy here means consecrated and dedicated to the service of God. Holiness does not simply mean without sin, but it expresses what must be the desire of the believer, to devote herself to the service of her Lord. By involving herself in the things of her Lord, the single woman becomes all the more dedicated to the cause of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God in this world. And she is so in body and spirit, or simply put, she becomes the more dedicated and consecrated to serving God with her whole being. Not just in her heart, the spiritual center of her soul, but in her body as well, she keeps herself pure and chaste unto her Lord. Completely within and without she becomes more and more devoted to her Lord.
Now, once again, we can apply this Word of God here. The life of a single person in the church can become rather vain and self-centered. This surely is the lifestyle we see in the wicked, unbelieving world around us. The empty and selfish and superficial life of that loud, barhopping, skinny, make-up-pasted woman of this world is always in our face. You are bombarded with it, single women. We all are. You must realize the sinfulness in all of this. You must realize that the pearl of great price to your Lord is that of holiness, chastity, modesty, a woman of a meek and quiet spirit. And when you are characterized by this, you are a woman that fears Jehovah! That sets you apart from the women of this world. You are a woman of God. That is your beauty. Such is what you must strive for in your lives. And when you do, you adorn the church. You make all of us beautiful. What a wonderful witness you leave to others.
And what a wonderful witness you leave to us.
III. Her Service
One more thing. Your service to the church of Jesus Christ is of great value to us too. Is that not often the question a single woman may have? What good am I to the church? I feel like a fifth-wheel sometimes. I am not busy with a husband and children like so many others are. It seems the married women have such a wonderful task to raise the next generation of believers. But what am I to the church? What is my place, my niche, in the church of Jesus Christ? Is that not often the question that can come to mind? Well, there is an answer to that question, or that doubt or fear that a single woman might have.
You have a very important place in the church! First, as all God-fearing women—married as well as unmarried—you are virtuous. You have the virtues of strength and honor, wisdom and kindness. In these you are godly examples to others in the church—to the boys and the girls that grow up in the church and come to know and love you. They see your holiness in the place you are given in the church, more than you realize it—more than they realize it. And they take note. You are godly examples to others. Secondly, you participate together with the whole church in her fellowship and activities. You are a part of the body of Jesus Christ sharing together in the joys and life of the church where you are a member. You cast your all in with the church and become a part of that church. The church, therefore, is incomplete without you.
And then, finally, as a member of the church, you are able to lend of your time and talents to the church of Christ too. When you are a living part of the church of Jesus Christ, then you use your time on behalf of the church. That is your invaluable service to the church and to your Lord.
We give thanks for the unmarried women of the church. And we pray that God will keep you faithful in your life in the church. You are important to the church. But better: you are important to Christ.