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1 Corinthians 7:9

ESV But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
NIV But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
NASB But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
CSB But if they do not have self-control, they should marry, since it is better to marry than to burn with desire.
NLT But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.
KJV But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

What does 1 Corinthians 7:9 mean?

Paul has written in the previous verse that those currently unmarried should not seek to be married "just because." Marriage, in and of itself, is not something believers must pursue or achieve. To be celibate and single as Paul was is a good thing. For one, it allows a Christian to devote more time and energy to serving Christ (1 Corinthians 7:32–34).

Paul adds a qualifier to this idea, as begun in verse 8. He refers to an unmarried person who "burns with passion." The context doesn't suggest someone who is oversexed or obsessed with sexuality. Rather, Paul means this in contrast to someone who has the gift of celibacy. A person who feels a strong desire for sexual activity ought to pursue marriage as would any other Christian. As a parallel application, those involved in romantic relationships or betrothals—engagement—should pursue marriage rather than engaging in sexual immorality because of a loss of self-control. This is something Paul will address more directly near the end of this chapter (1 Corinthians 7:36).

Paul does not mean a person ought to rush into marriage simply because they are frequently "in the mood." Paul has directly stated that married couples ought to "have" one another, because of their sexual urges. He did not indicate one should "seek" a spouse for that reason: specifically so one can have sex (1 Corinthians 7:2).

Those content in singleness should not seek to get married. Those who desire to be married should prepare for marriage by honoring God with their lives and desires. In this verse, Paul instructs those not called to exercising lifelong self-control—those not called to singleness—to pursue getting married. Paul’s comment dissuades those with the common human desire for sexual intimacy from “burning with passion” by artificially taking on lifelong celibacy when God may not be calling them to it. Marriage is not better than singleness, nor is being unmarried better than being married. What’s best is submitting to God’s calling on our lives, at all times. Being married will not cure or “fix” sexual temptations. Marriage is, however, the appropriate place for sexual desire to be fulfilled. Those called to celibacy may still experience temptation, just as the married person may experience illicit desires; prayerfully submitting our desires to the Spirit is needed in all cases.

Paul's main concern here has to do with correcting any wrong thinking about reasons to get married or to avoid marriage. Nobody should choose one over the other thinking it inherently more spiritual or more honoring to God. Those choosing to remain unmarried should make that choice based on the gifts God has given to them specifically. Those who choose marriage, or who are already married, however, should continue to honor their marriage commitments, as explained in the following verses.
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