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1 Corinthians 7:8–9

“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

A question from the first-century Corinthian church regarding sex in marriage moved the Apostle Paul to write 1 Corinthians 7, where he deals with various issues related to matrimony. Having acknowledged that God has not given every believer the gift of celibacy (v. 7), Paul in today’s point expands on this point and its relation to singleness.

The basic question addressed in verses 8–9 is what single people are to do if they find that they do not have the gift of celibacy. First, Paul notes in verse 8 that it is good for single people—whether they have never been married, are divorced, or have lost a spouse—to remain unmarried. Singleness is not to be despised in the church, and unmarried people should not be treated as second-class citizens. Moreover, to treat single men and women as less than married people is to forget that Jesus Himself did not have a wife during His earthly ministry and that key biblical figures such as Jeremiah and Paul were also unmarried.

Remaining unmarried in itself is no sin; however, lifelong singleness is not God’s demand for all people. The Apostle tells us that those who cannot exercise self-control should seek marriage rather than burn with passion (v. 9). Specifically, Paul seems to have in mind single people in Corinth who have been visiting prostitutes or otherwise engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage. Essentially, his direction to single people is to refrain from sexual immorality; if they find they cannot control their passions, they should seek marriage. Although the Apostle provides guidance specifically to unmarried people who are already having sex, we can apply the principle more broadly to singleness in general. If single Christians have a strong desire for sexual intimacy, the solution is not to begin sexual encounters outside of marriage but to first get married, for God’s Word teaches that sexual activity is appropriate and sanctified only within the bonds of matrimony.

Importantly, in speaking of “burning,” Paul is not saying that the mere existence of sexual desire or attraction is bad. His point is that those who cannot keep such desire under control should pursue marriage. But he is also not justifying a failure to keep such desires in check. All believers, married or single, are to rely on the Holy Spirit and mortify the lusts of the flesh (Matt. 5:27–30).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Recognizing that most single people do not have the gift of celibacy, the church should be doing what it can to encourage godly marriages in its midst. Single Christians who want to be married, in particular, should be seeking the counsel of married couples in the church as they approach marriage decisions. We are to look out for one another in deciding to marry, one of the most consequential decisions we will ever make.


For Further Study
  • Proverbs 12:4
  • Jeremiah 16:1–2
  • 1 Corinthians 7:36–38
  • 1 Timothy 5:14

Paul’s Counsel on Singleness

Remaining Married

Keep Reading The Christian Ethic

From the March 2021 Issue
Mar 2021 Issue