18 March 2017
1 Corinthians 7:25-31
“The present form of the world is passing away” (v. 31)
Psalm: Psalm 121
Paul anticipated that the end times with the return of the Lord
and judgement were close at hand. In view of this, he tried to
create a reflective space for the Corinthians to work out a
responsible ethical stance for marriage. It is interesting because
it was not prescriptive, but nevertheless tried to give the
Corinthians a steer.
A virgin was likely to mean an unmarried but engaged young
woman. Paul had no direct teaching from Jesus (the Lord) on this
subject, so gave his opinion, deeming his seasoned Christian
judgement to be trustworthy.
His advice was essentially pragmatic and designed to prevent
unnecessary disruption to community relationships. If you were
already married, stay that way. If you were not married continue in
that state. If you really wanted to marry, go ahead, that was not a
sin. Remember, however, that marriage can bring complicating
But in the context and understanding that everything was passing
quickly away, hold to attachments relatively lightly. Commitments
in this life were shortly to pass away.
Paul's framework for individual discernment was the well-being
of the whole Corinthian community. In other words, how did
individual choices safeguard the well-being of everyone, at the
same time give the individual room for manoeuvre and discernment
for personal happiness?
Paul stated his preferences, but was not prescriptive.
The passage can help us to think about the basis for our own
ethical living, when there is no clear right and wrong. For
- How far is it an individual choice to marry, or not to marry
(but maybe live with a partner); to divorce or not divorce?
- How in our individual choices do we also make space for
considering how those choices are affecting the well-being of the
Perhaps for us, this is particularly problematic when finding an
ethical, responsible attitude to saving money or giving away
In balancing individual and collective choices perhaps we need
always to hold the two in tension to guard ourselves against
hypocrisy. For example, saying one thing collectively and doing
another individually. And also, being aware that the collective can
coerce the individual. (Note that this was one thing that Paul was
- What principles guide you in the making of your own personal
- In making our ethical choices we may be quite judgemental on
ourselves or fear others disapproval. In what ways does Paul's
advice encourage us to be compassionate and not too purist? Is this
helpful or the slippery slope?
Bible notes author: The Revd Jenny Ellis