Better Married, Or Single?
by Willie and Elaine Oliver
Several of my friends at church say that the apostle Paul wrote that being single is better than being married. I want to get married someday, but fear I will be tempted to put my future spouse in the place of God. Is my desire for a mate a sign that my relationship with God is weak?
Mandla—Cape Town, South Africa
Marriage is God’s ideal for the human race. From the very first week of creation God declared: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable him” (Gen. 2:18). Through inspiration, the writer of Hebrews declares: “Marriage should be honored by all” (Heb. 13:4). It is obvious by these quotes that God has no second thoughts about the importance, prominence, and honor of marriage. Humans have been hardwired for marriage.
Nevertheless, we have to admit that with sin came a number of extraordinary variations in marriage/relationships specifically, as well as in other areas of life, including the reality of idolatry that plagues human life and existence.
Speaking to widows and unmarried Christians in Corinth, Paul suggested that remaining single is a good thing. However, Paul was also clear: “It is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9). Paul’s warnings, according to verse 26, were given because of a crisis situation that existed in Corinth at the time. Some commentators submit that political and economic pressures may have been taking place in Corinthian society at the time. In fact, it is possible that some type of religious persecution was underway*.
Given the difficult situation, Paul warned that it is easier to negotiate life as a single person than to have to deal with the complexities at hand by being responsible for others. Despite his counsel for not getting married if one is single given present circumstances, Paul clearly stated that married persons should not look to divorce their spouses (verse 27). In fact, Paul was not giving a general prescription to all Christians in this passage. Rather, he was simply speaking to a specific time when marriage may not have been the best thing to do.
Despite the context of Paul’s counsel in this portion of Scripture, what he shared still applies to relationships today. For example, the notion that life as a married person is more complicated than life as a single person is still accurate. The nature of relationships is that when people live that close to each other, they are more likely to observe differences that may cause friction and disrupt their relationship than when they have their own space and see each other only from time to time.
Also, a big issue in marriage is religion, and how people in relationships practice their faith. While Paul was not suggesting that it is impossible to serve the Lord if one is married, he underscored the fact that being married makes it more challenging to serve God because of the differences that may exist between two people who are married.
One person in the relationship may be more devoted than the other, or may not be as interested in spiritual matters, which becomes a distraction for the mate who wants to tune into God. This means that unmarried believers who are thinking about marriage should be very careful in their choice of a mate.
Your desire for a mate may have nothing to do with your relationship with God. While it is God who put in you the strong desire for a mate, it is also God who warns of idolatry. Anything or anyone whose place in our lives is above God’s becomes an idol.
But wanting to be married does not mean you will allow this to happen with your spouse. However, it is important that you examine your spiritual life in general, and take steps to strengthen your relationship with God every day. Take your time in choosing a mate. Your choice should be for a lifetime, and should be based on much more than good looks and charm.
Allow God to guide your life in everything you do. Practice putting Him first, and trust Him to supply what He thinks is best for you. Be at peace. Remain faithful.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister and family sociologist, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Elaine Oliver, MA, CFLE, an educator and counseling psychologist, is associate director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Address your questions to them at family.adventist.org.
* W. W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books) 1996.