What is the “present distress” of 1 Corinthians 7:26?


by Shawn Brasseaux

What is the “present distress” of 1 Corinthians 7:26?

“[25] Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. [26] I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. [27] Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. [28] But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.”

The chapter’s theme is marriage, divorce, and re-marriage in the Dispensation of the Grace of God. Verse 26 focuses on unmarried people. The Lord had not directly revealed to Paul what to do about single individuals. What the Apostle did do was use what Divine guidelines had been revealed to him, to come to a wise decision about a situation not revealed to him. The Apostle concluded that, because of the “present distress,” it was good to remain unmarried. Married people were not to seek a divorce, and those divorced were not to seek another spouse. It was not a sin for single people to marry. However, they would have trouble in the flesh (sin always complicates life, even in the marriage relationship). Paul issued advice to spare them that trouble.

We can use the word “distress” to mean extreme sorrow, anxiety, or pain. Therefore, the vast majority considers the “distress” here as persecution. After all, it was dangerous for a Christian to live in the Roman Empire in New Testament times. Such commentators read the verse as, “Do not get married, or you will experience hardship and bereavement when your spouse is persecuted or martyred.” The possibility of persecution and martyrdom makes marriage unfavorable? Such a warning seems wholly unnecessary. After all, the Thessalonians were suffering far worse persecution than the Corinthians (see 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 3:4-8; 2 Thessalonians 1:4-7), yet no such admonition of “do not marry in light of persecution” is found in either Thessalonian epistle. What other explanation could there be for 1 Corinthians 7:26?

“Distress” can also carry the meaning of limitations or restrictions. Consequently, others interpret the “distress” of 1 Corinthians 7:26 as restriction or limitation. The Corinthians were noteworthy for their carnality, their fleshliness, their worldliness. First Corinthians chapter 3 says to this point: “[1] And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. [2] I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. [3] For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”

It is more likely that the “distress” is carnality. Self-centered individuals do not make good spouses. (Are you surprised to learn that?!) Marriage is about living for the benefit of another, and fleshliness does not allow such a relationship. It is therefore better for the virgins in Corinth not to marry. Until they spiritually mature—that is, come under the control of the Holy Spirit through the intake of sound Bible doctrine—the wisest decision for them is to remain single. This is sound advice even now. Marriage is a time to set aside selfish ambitions. Therefore, non-spiritual (babes as well as carnal) Christians are strongly (!!!!!!!!!!!!!) advised not (!!!!!!!!!!!!!) to seek marriage until they reach some level of Bible maturity. They will be spared the pain of a “marriage from hell” and probable divorce.

Also see:
» How could “wise” King Solomon let foreign women deceive him?
» What about unmarried, divorced, and remarried men in the ministry?
» Should a Christian be polygamous—having multiple spouses?