In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul talks about marriage, a topic that seems to be quite important to Eastern students. The most oft-quoted verse is often 7:9: “but if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (NRSV).
However, there are many other ideas raised about marriage in this passage, and they too are important for college students, perhaps just as or even more important than 7:9.
In 7:32-35, Paul suggests that those who are unmarried are better able to serve God. This seems to be quite contradictory to the prevailing attitude in many churches and among many students that marriage is the best way to serve God, while celibacy is the lesser calling.
In the eyes of the early Christians, however, who believed that Jesus himself was returning soon, being married could become a distraction, for the interests of the married person “are divided” between the “affairs of the world” and God (cf. 7:33-34).
If we too believe that Jesus is coming again, and if we agree with the psalmist that our life is just a breath (Psalm 144:4), then perhaps we should think seriously about the relationship between marriage and the service of God.
Before we elaborate on the role of celibacy, one note is important: marriage is not bad! Paul himself says that “if you marry, you do not sin” (1 Corinthians 7:28), and later Pauline letters use the marriage analogy for Christ’s relationship with the church (cf. Ephesians 5:29-32).
I myself am one of those Eastern alums who married during her senior year (to someone who had been out of college himself for 4 years). Yet I have many friends, many of them Eastern graduates, who have not yet married, and some of them may never marry.
However, contrary to popular belief, their lives are not over. Rather, for many of these single men and women, opportunities to serve God abound, and they have full, meaningful and purposeful lives in their various chosen vocations.
Many of you reading this article will find yourselves still single on graduation day. Many of you will find yourselves single as you grow closer to 30 (and beyond, if there is such a thing). Do not fear! There is life apart from marriage, and there is life abundant.
According to the New Testament, those who are unmarried can be “anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit” (1 Corinthians 7:34).
During the first few centuries of the church, the church fathers (leaders of the church) praised virginity and celibacy over marriage, in large part because the celibate person could better focus on serving God and others.
In fact, many of the church fathers’ treatises about marriage seek to defend its goodness, because leaders in the church maintained that virginity was the higher calling. Hence, some heretics were degrading marriage.
The Orthodox Church, which allows priests to marry but forbids bishops to marry, preserves this belief in the goodness of marriage quite well. With Paul and with the men (and women) who shaped early Christianity, perhaps we need to recognize that the call to celibacy, which is not an easy one, is a rich and fulfilling way of life-and one Eastern’s Christian students need to take seriously.
Many of you may one day marry, but until then, how do you view your life? Are you simply waiting for it to begin (as if life begins after marriage), or are you excited about the possibilities you have now, as someone freed from the cares and concerns of marriage? Are you preparing yourself to grow as a man or woman of God, regardless of your marital status?
For those of you so anxious to be married while at Eastern, or to meet your future spouse here, (before it’s too late), please take note: marriage is not going to happen to all of you, and marriage is not the complete fulfillment of all your needs and desires, as I suspect many of you think it is.
Rather, it is in serving God, whether unmarried or married, that we find our purpose and the best life possible.
Lest you become convinced that life is over if you graduate without that ring on your left hand, be reminded that you, both now and then, have a purpose, a calling and a role in God’s kingdom-no rings required.
Haney is an adjunct professor in the Christian Studies Department. She is also a 2002 alumna of Eastern.