Relationships in a Crisis
Religious persecution was a normal hazard for Christians in the Roman Empire (Acts 1:8; 11:19; 13:50), as it is in many places today. The key to survival was mobility; and it was also one of God's methods to spread the gospel from region to region as refugees moved home and took a transportable trade skill with them (such as Paul's tent-making activity) setting up home and business wherever they could.
So what should a believing young man or woman do who had been promised in marriage, and wanted to learn to love each other? Marriage in that culture was intended to unite families and secure property, as well as provide children to look after grandparents and parents in their older age. It brought extra social responsibilities, which could be wrecked by the persecution of a believer in a largely non-believing extended family. It was a dilemma.
Paul's advice was to encourage the church to value singleness as he did (1 Corinthians 7:7). Unmarried people had maximum mobility and fewer responsibilities. They could be more proactive in gospel ministry and when persecution came they would be gospel bearers wherever they went. The emotional distractions of seeking a wife and supporting a family could be unhelpful to the gospel in such an unpredictable time. On the other hand, to break off a betrothal would be a bad witness and damage spouse and family. If they were already married they should not divorce; and it is not a sin to marry. However it is a sin only to think about what you want to get out of life and not how God wants you to serve Him.
We should not think about marriage in isolation from gospel ministry. Think about how your personal relationships and family responsibilities will impact on the gospel. Or to put it the other way around, 'what priorities should I establish in order that my gospel responsibilities will be fulfilled?' That was the attitude of great missionary pioneers in the 19th and 20th centuries and still is in missional churches worldwide. Do not swallow the lie that only marriage can bring personal happiness if God has called you to serve Him as a single person. And single or married we all need to honour and support those whom God has called to that special role for His sake.
© Dr Paul Adams