Let me ask you a question. What if, instead of the current life you now enjoy, with your job and your home and your every tuesday night Biggest Loser episodes, you were wanted for belonging to a secret society that the government had called out a search warrant on? They were kicking down doors, barging into rooms, and dragging off your people to the open square where they would be hung, tortured, or both. Would you still roll through Starbucks on your leisurely drive to the office? Would you still be planning that amazing Alaskan vacation that you’ve been talking about going on for the last 30 years? Or would you be more concerned with the present, taking every day at a time, wondering whether or not that gathering you had with other members of your group last night would be your last?
It may sound like an unlikely scenario, yet it is exactly what the early Christians found themselves in, day after day and year after year, faced with the possibility that at any time, their job, their homes, their kids, their spouse, or even their own life could be taken from them. What do you think their day was like?
Faced with this situation, Paul gives some admonishments in 1 Corinthians 7 as to the lifestyle that one should employ, with the caveat that this is his advice. He advises the widows and unmarried to remain celibate (7:8-9), those who are slaves and free to not seek the opposite (7:20-24), and for fathers to encourage their daughter to remain unmarried, yet allow it if desired (7:36-38). His reasoning is simple, and is stated in v.32-34a: “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided.”
It’s not rocket science to discover that a man’s greatest physical blessing is that of his wife (hopefully), and, when faced with the possibility of losing her, will do everything in his power to protect her (and vice-versa with the wife). Newly married men in the army during the time of Moses’ campaign enjoyed a one year leave, in order to enjoy this newfound happiness (Deut. 24:5). With this extreme capactiy of love towards your spouse, and towards that of your children, Paul’s recommendation is not to get married or, if you are married, perhaps not have children at this time, due to “the present distress,” a period of time that is describes the intense persecution of the Christians. Paul is wisely speaking from experience, perhaps gleaned from his own years of breaking into people’s homes and dragging off family members to prison, knowing that a person who is concerned about the things of his family is apt to be less concerned with the things of God. Under scrutiny, and given the option of saving his wife or saving his soul, the decision to serve God becomes ultimately more harder. It’s one thing to maintain your faith when someone is torturing you; it’s another altogether to maintain it when they’re torturing your wife.
History has confirmed Paul’s wisdom in this case. Littered throughout time are the stories of men tied at the stake, forced to recant while they torture his wife or kids. Or the widow who is threatened by having her kids be made slaves unless she denounce her faith. One story that highlights the maintaining of integrity through these ordeals is said of Faninus, an Italian protestant who was condemned to die by the Catholic Church. When the subject of his children was brought up, and how he felt about leaving them as orphans rather than recant his faith, he responded with,“I shall not leave them in distress; I have recommended them to the care of an excellent trustee.” By that, he meant to Jesus Christ. Oh, that we would all maintain the strength of such a man, but Paul understands the stresses of humans as much as the next guy. It’s a double-edged sword, with Paul expressing the love that a husband should have for his wife in Ephesians 5, then contrasting that with the greater love they should always maintain for Christ in 1 Cor. 7.
Thanks be to God that we live in a time where no one is kicking in our doors to haul us or our spouses off to prison because of what we believe, but far be it from us to not still take Paul’s words to heart in today’s world as well. In Matthew 19, when Jesus is outlining the necessary boundaries of marriage and divorce, the Apostles respond in verse 10 with, “If such is the case with a man and his wife, it is better not to marry!” Jesus didn’t shy away from that extreme, but simply acknowledged in verse 11, “Not all men can do this, but only to those whom it has been given.” Only you know the limits of your own personal attachment to the things that exist in this life, but the bottom line is, whatever it is in your life that would absolutely crush you to watch taken away, whether it be a job, car, wife, house or friend, it may be better to not get so attached in the first place. Certainly enjoy your life, and take advantage of every opportunity you have to enjoy it, but always remember what is most important. Not super-intense doctrine, just real-life advice from a man who not only watched his own life taken away (Phil. 3:13-14), but also took others’ from them as well.Last modified: January 22, 2019