In our passage for study, Paul addresses the issue of unnecessary anxieties in the Christian life. He does this in the context of what was a major concern for the Corinthian believers. The congregation was concerned with the issue of asceticism. Not only were some members deciding to remain single, but married couples were separating to take up the single life.
v32a. Just as Jesus once said to his disciples "do not be anxious about your life", so Paul similarly tells the Corinthian believers to possess a state of mind which is "without anxiety." A believer stands totally approved before God, possessing the fullness of divine blessings, and so there is no reason to be anxious about anything.
v32b-34a. The Corinthians are anxious about many things. The spiritual elite, most being celibate, were worried about their level of dedication to the Lord, "how to please the Lord", while members who were married were worried about their divided responsibilities, how to please the Lord and at the same time "please their wife". Paul has already agreed that there are advantages in the single life, particularly as "the time is short", v29. Yet, this doesn't mean that the married life is sinful, less than holy, or unworthy of a believer. When faced with a quandary, Paul's rule of thumb is leave things as they are - chill out!
v34b. Paul now repeats his point, this time for single women, women who are no longer married and those not yet married, and also married women. The crucial difference with the men is found in the description of the single woman who pleases the Lord by being "devoted to the Lord (holy) in her whole person (body and spirit)." It seems likely that Paul is quoting words used by the spiritual elite in Corinth. Of course, there is nothing wrong with such devotion, but there is a problem if a believer is racked with anxiety as they seek holiness in their own faithfulness rather than the faithfulness of Christ.
v35. When it comes to issues of getting married or staying single, the advice Paul has given "is not a matter of what is right or wrong, but what is or is not expedient and profitable", C.K. Barrett. Paul gives his advice to the end that it may "contribute to propriety and good order [in the church]", Joseph Fitzmyer
I can remember this passage getting worked over in my youth fellowship and being battered with the rather fearful notion that the single life was somehow a superior discipleship path. Of course, most of us chose the married life and so seemingly chose the rank of a second-class disciple.
The trouble is we had totally misunderstood what Paul was driving at. There are many paths in our journey through life - married or single, businessman or clergyman, working mum or home mum, home owner or renter... Some paths may give us greater opportunities in service to the kingdom, but they are not intrinsically superior, or holier, more worthy in the sight of God. Our worthiness is found in Christ, not in what we do.
A believer is controlled by other quite different principles. We are children of the end time, waiting for the present form of things to pass away. Our center is now Christ, faith in his faithfulness is the ground of our being. Anxiety over levels of performance, or degrees of compromise, over the spiritual or the secular, the celibate life or the married life, is unnecessary. We can only do what we can and leave perfection with Christ.
As Jesus put it "do not be anxious about your life."
Anxiety is a common problem for most humans. How can we defeat anxiety in our lives?