If we read the New Testament in its historical context, we must cannot underestimate the importance of the end of the old covenant in AD70. The imminent warnings of the apostles (as Covenant prophets) to the first Christians all relate to that event. Peter Leithart writes:
Given the high view of marriage and sexuality in Scripture, Paul’s
instructions to the Corinthians are odd and out of character. Why
would Paul think it good for everyone to be as he is?
Jeremiah 16 provides a clue. In verse 2, Yahweh instructs Jeremiah not
to take a wife or raise children “in this place,” because Yahweh is
bringing distress on the fathers, mothers, and children who are born
in doomed Jerusalem: “They will die of deadly diseases, they will not
be lamented or buried; they will be as dung on the surface of the
ground and come to an end by sword and famine, and their carcasses
will become food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the
earth” (v. 4). In view of the present distress, Yahweh says, Jeremiah
ought not marry or have children. Jeremiah would remain unmarried as a
prophetic sign of Yahweh’s determination to withdraw peace from His
bride (v. 5).
As Paul makes clear in various places, he is an apostle like Jeremiah,
not only in being called from the womb but also in his singleness, a
sign of the approaching doom on Jerusalem and Judaism.
Many scholars miss the Old Covenant context of the warnings in the gospels, epistles and especially the Revelation. They might object that this means the New Testament doesn’t apply to us. But one could ask the same thing of the book of Ezekiel. The real question is, was it written to us? We must interpret before we can apply.
The interpretation of this passage above must take into account that its context is a first century distress. The distress came and went. Being single is not a principle that applies consistently to the church throughout history. It is a "wartime" measure.
"And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!" (Matthew 24:19)
A fair question to ask would be why is Paul warning the Christians living in Corinth about an event coming upon Jerusalem? The answer is that the events predicted in Matthew 24 (the end of the age/Old Covenant era) affected the entire empire. Leithart again:
Madden examines the Jewish War (66-70 AD) in some detail, using it as
an illustration of the difficulty of controlling religiously motivated
terrorism, and he interestingly points out that Diaspora Jews not only
celebrated the exploits of Palestinian guerillas but also initiated
conflicts in their own cities:
“As news of the violence in Jerusalem spread [in 66], the killing was
mirrored across the region and then the empire. . . . Diaspora Jews
sympathized with their coreligionists, but few would condone this sort
of slaughter. And yet, in some places in the Middle East, Jews
celebrated the massacre of Romans. Several cities with large Jewish
populations saw open warfare between them and their Gentile neighbors.
. . .
“In places like Alexandria, Caesarea Maritima, Caesarea Philippi,
Tyre, and Ascalon, the Jews had the worst of it, with many thousands
killed. In other places like Sebaste, Gaza, Anthedon, Gaba, and the
Decapolis it was the Jews who won out, massacring the Gentiles.”
After six thousand Romans were killed in Caesarea Maritima, the
citizens of Damascus “poured into the streets killing Jews wherever
they could find them.”
This is of interest partly because of the light it sheds on the New
Testament. Paul and the other apostles write to Christian communities
scattered about the Mediterranean about a coming day of retribution.
On a preterist reading of the NT, these are likely references to the
Jewish War and AD 70. But why would Christians in Corinth or Rome
care? Madden’s information clarifies this: As in the book of Esther,
the conflict of “true Jews” and the “Agagites” is not confined to a
single region or city but spreads throughout the empire.