1 CORINTHIANS 7:32-40
32I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; 33but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, 34and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. 35I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.
36If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancee, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. 37But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancee, he will do well. 38So then, he who marries his fiancee does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.
39A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord. 40But in my judgment she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
We distinguish Scripture from other writings by whether or not God is speaking authoritatively through the written text. Paul's letters were collected in the early church because in many of his letters he was speaking/writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as an apostle conveying God's intention to the churches. (If Paul had written a list of things while he was in prison and sent that list to a young colleague to retrieve the listed items, that list would have been just a list and nothing more. The list would not have counted as "scripture" for obvious reasons.)
An interesting feature of Scripture above in 1 Corinthians is that Paul breaks off from speaking authoritatively to speaking about his opinion on a certain matter. In verse 40, he uses the phrase "in my judgment" to signal that his thoughts about being unmarried being better than being married is not a divine command of the Lord but rather Paul's own opinion about which state is better. Paul is saying that from his perspective, if given a choice, it is better to be single than to be married. For one outstanding reason: the unmarried person can give his or her entire thought and energy to the "affairs of the Lord." The married person, on the other hand, is encumbered with pleasing his or her spouse, which is inferior to giving one's all to the Lord.
Now if the person's "passions are strong" (v. 36), Paul concedes that in this case getting married would be better. (But if you were a real man or a real woman, then you would remain single! That's the undercurrent.)
What does this train of thought reveal about the Apostle Paul?
Completely sold out to Jesus! Nothing else dares compete with Paul's singular attention and commitment to the "affairs of the Lord." Everything is assessed according to whether it advances or thwarts the cause of Christ. Personal happiness is set aside to the mandate of Heaven. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is of paramount importance to Paul and whatever gets in the way of this Gospel -- even good things -- are jettisoned for the sake of this Gospel. And for Paul being single and being single-minded go hand-in-hand.
I believe we "get" Paul if we understand his intense and focused commitment to the Lord. Everything else, as he says elsewhere, is rubbish to knowing Christ Jesus as Lord (Philippians 3:8).
Is it possible to be single-minded and intensely devoted to the Lord as a married couple? The short answer: yes. Is Paul right about being distracted as a married person? The short answer: yes. Does being single make you a more focused disciple? The answer: not necessarily so. Besides "passions," there can be other things that can hamper a single person's life in Christ.
So, whether you are married or single, there are challenges. Nothing is really easy.
The takeaway for us -- whether married or single -- is the Big Picture that comes through Paul's writing: give yourself wholly to the Lord and consider what's important to the Lord and do that important thing.
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, we thank you for a man like Paul. We thank you for this most impassioned and deeply theological of your servants. We thank you that we can live like the Apostle Paul. We ask that you would give us that singular devotion and mature commitment to follow where you lead us, both externally in terms of how we serve you and internally in terms of how we love you. Life indeed, we confess, is about you and your glory. Like the Apostle Paul, help us to lay aside every competing claim upon our lives and help us daily to love you deeply and well. In your name, amen.