Corinthians 7:17-33

Paul reiterates his advice not to change your status of vocation. He is encouraging stability in life to give us a clear vision on God’s plan for us. If we bounce around in our vocation, from marriage to celibacy, then this makes for a confusing life. These callings are very different and take time to prepare for. In both marriage and in religious life is the calling to live out the faithfulness of God. God is faithful to us, and the love spouses have for each other are to make this reality seen in each other, as well as when others look upon them. In a similar way, a priest or religious is to make the faithfulness of God and experience for the people. The people are to know the faithfulness of God because it is their experience in their priests and religious they encounter. Experience is knowledge. Sometimes we write it down as data. But mostly it is processed by our relationships we have as spouses, parents, children, priests or laity. The knowledge we gain in our relationships goes deeper than data. It pierces the subject, rather than observing an object. It is not something merely observed on the exterior; it delves into the heart. This is where God wants to be known. In the way God calls us, we want to make sure our relationships, our very being, proclaims God’s fidelity and love so that His desire may come to be. In this way, it becomes real, experienced and integrated.

In verse 28, Paul goes back to encouraging people not to marry. He goes back to the trials that marriage brings. That is not to deny the trials of any of the other states in life. What happens to so many couples that get married is that they think and may even be well prepared to get married, but find marriage is a different experience than what they had expected. In our world today, we define love as merely an emotion. The emotion is great and we should embrace it. It is God’s way of encouraging us in love for one another. But love requires sacrifice. Because marriage is a total gift of self, it is a total dying to self and living totally for the other. This is at the very core of living out God’s fidelity for us. It is found in marriage and in celibacy. Either one can be exhausting, but they are expressed in radically different ways. Stick with one and get good at it.

In the next verses, Paul starts to point to a higher reality based on nature. The world is passing away. Nothing that is created can live forever. The things of this world are “passing away” (v31). Marriage has its foot a little more in the door of this world (v33), whereas celibacy has its foot in the door of the spiritual life (32). What is created has a beginning and an end; it is finite. When a person dies, the marriage as we know it here no longer exists. That is not to say our relationships end, but they change radically, as expressed in the immense sorrow it brings. The physical expression of marriage is no longer able to be expressed. This expression is a mere symbol of the reality it tries to emulate. The reality of the symbol is now made real. As great as some marriages can be, it still falls short of the reality of God’s love and fidelity. The love spouses have for each other did not come from the spouse themselves. It originated from God. It was God who was acting in their marriage the whole time as they were married.

Thus, marriage gives way to God Himself; the image gives way to the reality. If you have a good marriage, this is good news! How much greater can the reality be? Don’t you want to find out? If your marriage is not so good, this is also good news. It means you’ve got something great waiting for you in heaven. Yet, we all need to remain faithful to Him.