25I don't know of anything the Lord said about people who have never been married. But I will tell you what I think. And you can trust me, because the Lord has treated me with kindness. 26We are now going through hard times, and I think it is best for you to stay as you are. 27If you are married, stay married. If you are not married, don't try to get married. 28It isn't wrong to marry, even if you have never been married before. But those who marry will have a lot of trouble, and I want to protect you from this.
29My friends, what I mean is that the Lord will soon come, and it won't matter if you are married or not. 30It will be all the same if you are crying or laughing, or if you are buying or are completely broke. 31It won't make any difference how much good you are getting from this world or how much you like it. This world as we know it is now passing away.
32I want all of you to be free from worry. An unmarried man worries about how to please the Lord. 33But a married man has more worries. He must worry about the things of this world, because he wants to please his wife. 34So he is pulled in two directions. Unmarried women and women who have never been married worry only about pleasing the Lord, and they keep their bodies and minds pure. But a married woman worries about the things of this world, because she wants to please her husband. 35What I am saying is for your own good—it isn't to limit your freedom. I want to help you to live right and to love the Lord above all else.
36But suppose you are engaged to someone old enough to be married, and you want her so much that all you can think about is getting married. Then go ahead and marry. There is nothing wrong with that. 37But it is better to have self-control and to make up your mind not to marry. 38It is perfectly all right to marry, but it is better not to get married at all.
39A wife should stay married to her husband until he dies. Then she is free to marry again, but only to a man who is a follower of the Lord. 40However, I think I am obeying God's Spirit when I say she would be happier to stay single.
As far as I’m aware, there’s no other passage in Scripture that begins with the disclaimer that what follows is only the author’s opinion, and is not a word from the Lord. Paul underscores that by also making it clear that what he has to say is specific to “the present crisis” – perhaps the sexual and moral confusion that afflicts the Corinthians.
His opinion, as might be expected from a long-time bachelor, is that it’s simpler not to be married. But if you are married, or engaged to be married, you should honor your commitment, and carry on. It’s pretty simple, really.
What is challenging and compelling about what Paul says here is not the actual advice he gives, but his reason for giving it: “that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (Italics mine.) He recommends singleness because it’s easier to be concerned about the Lord’s affairs without the distractions inherent in having a spouse. Anything at all that gets in the way of relationship with and living for God is, from Paul’s point of view, something to be avoided.
Some of us might say that our intimate relationships, especially our marriages, actually help us stay in tune with God and focused on living right. Fair enough. But few of us should remain unchallenged and uninspired by Paul’s single-minded and passionate determination to live solely for the God who had saved him.
Lord God – you are surely Lord of all. Help me to live all my relationships with perfect integrity; above all, my relationship with you. Help me to live every aspect of my life in complete devotion to you. I ask so that I might please you, who have loved me from the beginning. Amen.