I think it’s fair to say that Paul makes it very clear that he is expressing his personal opinion in these verses (7:25-40). I also think that it is fair to say that if everyone had taken his advice to remain single, the human race wouldn’t be here in the 21st century.
No one that I’ve ever heard of thinks that Paul wanted that to happen. For his part, Paul was interested primarily in the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world, and he wanted every man and woman to play a role in the building up of the Church. His reasoning is clear and simple: Married couples have a much harder time devoting themselves to this cause, since they must be concerned with many other matters of this life on earth. Single people are free to concentrate 100 % on the things of God.
While no one can argue with that logic, it is also very clear that God did not intend for everyone to remain single and celibate; that is simply not the way He created things. Some are called to forgo married life to serve God, others are called to raise godly children, others to lead the church, others to serve and help those in need… and together we make up the many members of the Body of Christ. If you are called to the mission field, then you must forsake all else and go, but if you are not called in that way, then you haven’t done anything wrong.
If we consider the totality of this section from 7:1-40, this seems to be Paul’s clear message. He put this message into a context of sexuality, celibacy and marriage because these things, whether we like to think of it this way or not, comprise the fundament realities of our everyday lives. They really encompass the range of choices that each person must make about his or her living situation. Each person must decide whether they will be sexually active or celibate, yet few actually make a conscious decision. Each person who decides to be sexually active must decide whether they will be married or single, and many just go with the flow, and never consider fully the consequences of their decisions. Each of these decisions set us on a path, and that path takes us to the point where we are in life at any given time.
The day comes for most people when they wake up and wonder how they got to the place they find themselves in and begin to have regrets of one sort or another, and then they say, “Gee, I wish I could go back and be 20 again, knowing all that I know at 50.”
Sadly, we cannot do that.
Now that we have come all of the way through this chapter, it seems to me that Paul is trying to encourage the people in Corinth to start making intentional decisions about where their lives are headed in the Lord, and to act accordingly.
I would add to this that we should probably all do the same. I’d love to hear your thoughts…