So the Apostle Paul married, but how has Paul spent his life since becoming a widower? He has completely devoted himself to the gospel ministry. Marriage has certain responsibilities that come with it. And Paul was thrilled to remain free from those responsibilities so that he could pursue with single-minded devotion the ministry to which God had called him.
Think about it. Could Paul have traveled all over the Roman world for two decades if he had a wife and children at home to care for? Of course not. Paul is simply expressing here that “it is good” for widows and widowers to choose to remain unattached for similar purposes. They don’t have to feel any pressure to remarry simply because they were married before. God may give them a post-marriage life like Paul has. And if so, it is not a less-than life. It is a glorious calling to remain “unmarried.”
But then Paul qualifies:
9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
The text doesn’t actually say if they cannot exercise self-control. It says if they are not exercising self-control. It does not necessarily refer to a sinful lack of self-control. It could be referring to one who finds their desire for marital relations to be a constant distraction. Paul is simply saying that if you find yourself in that situation, then you should get married. Of course, Paul understands that not everyone has the same opportunities to marry, so I think he means that it is good and right to pursue marriage if or when the opportunity emerges. Paul’s “unmarried” example should not at all constrain a believing widow or widower from remarrying. Why?
For it is better to marry than to burn…
This phrase can mean one of two things: (1) it is better to marry than to burn with passion—as the ESV has it, or (2) it is better to marry than to burn in judgment.