Paul doesn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement to marriage in these chapters. Happy himself as a single man, free to work for the spread of the gospel without having to care for a family, he clearly thinks this is the best way to live for those who can do it – but recognises that it’s not everyone’s calling. So he recognises that for those not called to a single life, marriage is a good thing. If you must.
And if you are married, then he’s clear that you should be properly married – sticking to the relationship, even if your husband or wife doesn’t share your belief, and giving yourselves wholly to each other.
For that matter, Paul tells us that if we are slaves, then we should be wholeheartedly slaves – or free, or whatever our situation may be – as part of our discipleship. Most of us may not have to contend personally with issues of slavery and freedom, though they exist hidden below the surface even of our own society. But we can all take Paul’s words on board – in whatever situation we may be, it is possible to live out Christian faith there; and the calling of discipleship is to live faithfully in a situation before it is to change that situation.
Paul goes on to spell out in more detail the principle of limiting our own freedom for the good of others – back to his ‘strong caring for the weak’ argument in Romans. He knows that the idols worshipped in temples around Corinth have no real meaning – but most of the butchers in Corinth worked out of temples, and it would be hard to share in social life with friends without eating meat from sacrificed animals. Paul didn’t see a problem with this, but he was aware that there were those who would find it hard to eat sacrificed meat without feeling guilt, or even being led back into thinking that the idols mattered. So he said that in these situations, or for that matter where the host made a big thing of the sacrifice, the right thing is to abstain.
It’s not a bad continuing principle. On many things in life we may not think ideal, there’s room for just getting along quietly. But if we see that keeping quiet is harming others, or if we feel that our quiet tolerance is being presented as approval, then we may well have to speak. We’re not to go looking for arguments, but at times we’re to be ready to answer them.