A Biblical View of Singleness
I Cor. 7:7-9, 32-35
In Matthew chapter nineteen, the Pharisees, came to Jesus with a question. They were trying to find some way to accuse Him of disobeying God’s law. The question they raised was this; “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?”
Jesus responded by taking them back to Creation to God’s original intention. In response to their second question about the “certificate of divorce,” He said those regulations were necessary because of the hardness of their hearts. So, God’s law through Moses didn’t approve of divorce, but it protected women who were often the helpless victims of divorce.
In verse nine, Jesus made a very clear statement about marriage, divorce, and remarriage; “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”The response of Jesus’ disciples is very instructive. They said, and I paraphrase, “If this is the case, if marriage is to be this permanent, it’s best not to marry!” They understood that Jesus was reinforcing the permanence and inviolability of the marriage bond.
If you wonder where I’m going with this, just be patient and notice with me what Jesus says in verses 11 and 12. “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”
In response to Jesus’ teaching, the disciples concluded that singleness was a better option. Jesus didn’t refute that idea. He simply stated that not all persons would be able to maintain and practice a lifetime of singleness. He acknowledged some have no choice, either by birth or by others who take advantage of them, rendering them incapable of reproduction.
But what I want to highlight is the phrase “…those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” In other words, Jesus taught that a man or woman, who remained single for the sake of being better able to serve God, was making a legitimate lifestyle choice. That choice is still available today. And that’s what we want to look at together this morning; “A Biblical View of Singleness.”
Our study will be taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and chapter 7. First, I’ll read verses 7 to 9, and then I’ll jump to verses 32 to 35. Listen now to the Word of God through the apostle Paul.
I Corinthians 7:7-9, 32-35
In this text, we’ll discover several FACTS that establish “A Biblical View of Singleness.”
The First FACT is,
The Gift of Singleness
Paul begins his discussion of this subject in verse seven by expressing his desire that all people would be in a state of singleness like he was. He enjoyed certain advantages in ministry because he did not have the responsibility to provide for a wife and family. But he knew about God’s gift of sexuality and His plan for human procreation, so he realistically admitted that most people wouldn’t be able to remain celibate.
Verse 7 makes it clear that each follower of Christ has his or her own gift (charisma). This is the same word that is used in relation to the spiritual gifts listed later in Corinthians, chapters 12 to 14. Just as marriage is a gift from God, so is singleness. The adjective describing the gift, proper (idios), means personal. God, through the Holy Spirit chooses for each believer what their personal gift should be relative to marriage or singleness. Since He is Lord and is in control of our lives, He chooses according to His knowledge and His plan for our lives.
Now I know some single people who don’t view their singleness as a gift from God. There are several reasons for this. First, God has given most people the desire for marriage, especially those who know Him and have a desire to follow His plan for the human family. Some of these singles feel frustrated by the sexual desires God has given them which they cannot legitimately fulfill. Those of us who are married need to acknowledge their struggle and encourage them to be faithful to God’s commands regarding their moral purity. We can pray God’s enabling grace for them in their desire to follow Him and we can offer them accountability in their pursuit of purity. We can also hold out the reality that the intensity of those desires may decrease as they grow older and mature in their faith.
Another reason some singles chafe at their singleness is because the church has, at times in the past, viewed singleness as abnormal. That is a grievous mistake. I have known and benefitted from the ministry of older singles. They were most definitely not abnormal. Certainly, the Bible does teach that marriage is normative for the human family. It is a general pattern of behavior. But the opposite of normative is not “abnormal.” The opposite of normative is to be the “exception” or to be “atypical.” To be a single follower of Christ is to be in special circumstances for special service.
In these verses the apostle Paul does not ignore the strength of our desires. In fact, he states that “it is better to marry than to burn.” “Burning” was a very common description of unfulfilled passion in Greek and Roman literature. Paul’s point seems to be that part of the gift of singleness is the ability to control desire. Evidently God had given him grace to live as a single person without feeling consumed by the fires of passion.
There’s a lot of room for improvement in the way the church relates to those God has called to a life of singleness. We must be willing to invest in their lives and share our lives with them. Inviting them into our homes for meals and fellowship, publicly acknowledging their contribution to the church and to our families and encouraging them by our words and by our prayers are just a few suggestions we can work on. Singleness is a gift from God. As much as we rejoice over a couple starting a home and family, we should also rejoice in the achievements of singles too. God has gifted them for a unique work in His church.
The Second FACT is,
The Government of Singleness
What do I mean by that? Well, every responsibility we have in life has a set of governing principles that go with it. On your job, there are certain procedures or protocols you must follow. These procedures are established by your employer, and, if you are a Christian, by the Word of God. Similarly, on the highway there’s a set of laws that govern how you drive.
And yes, there is a government of singleness; the guidelines by which godly singles live. Paul explains it in verses 32 to 34. He begins by acknowledging the difference between the married and the single person. The word “care” in the text is translated “anxiety” in some other versions. Using the word anxiety more accurately conveys the meaning of the Greek word. Some interpreters put more emphasis on the negative feelings of anxiety. Others stress the positive legitimate care that each person needs to show. Both aspects of concern are probably in view. Even though the unmarried state is in one sense preferable, it is not intrinsically better. God’s will for you is the best, whether single or married.
Comparing two equally committed Christians, an unmarried man can give more concentrated attention to the things of the Lord. A married man needs to think about his family responsibilities. He needs to be sensitive to the needs of his wife and children. The bulk of his time will be spent providing for their physical and spiritual needs while developing and nurturing the family relationships. That is the command of Scripture for him.
The unmarried man is free from the constraint of those responsibilities. He has greater flexibility in serving the Lord. If he feels the need for further spiritual training, his decision to attend a Bible institute or Bible college is easier to make than if he had the care of a family. If he feels the Lord calling him to serve in missions, again, he has no wife or family to factor into the decision. There are many options available to him that would not be available to a married man or would require much more planning.
This is true of women too. Paul says that an unmarried woman cares for the things of the Lord in order that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. The unmarried woman is free from the responsibilities of caring for a husband and children. As any godly wife and mother will tell you, that’s a full-time task! That doesn’t mean a married woman has no opportunity for ministry. It just means that her primary ministry takes place in the home with her family. An unmarried woman is free from those obligations and enjoys a wider range of opportunities for service. Her life is governed by a different set of guidelines because she is single.
God, in His sovereignty, knows what’s best for each of us. As His children, and as voluntary slaves of Christ, we surrender the right to make our own choices in life. And we can rest assured that whatever “gift” He chooses for us, whether singleness or marriage, He will enable us to live under the guidelines He has established. He will also provide the grace and strength we need to discover and fulfill our purpose for His glory and the furtherance of His eternal kingdom.
The Final FACT is,
The Goal of Singleness
In our day, the number of singles is growing. Unfortunately, many of them who are professing Christians remain unmarried for the wrong reasons. Many do not want the responsibility of caring for a spouse and family. They want the freedom to spend their “hard-earned money” only on themselves and the things they want. They want the freedom to come and go at will and not have the consideration of the needs of others. But that’s not God’s design or goal for those He has called to a life of singleness.
In the final verse of our text Paul makes a definitive statement about the reasons for singleness. He says, “And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.” The ESV translates it like this; “I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” Did you pick out the goal of singleness in Paul’s words? It is the ability to serve the Lord with undivided devotion and without distraction.
Notice that Paul is cautious in his promotion of singleness. He doesn’t want to be identified with the ascetics who elevated singleness as being “holier” than marriage. He doesn’t want his teaching to become a snare or a trap. He does want his readers to think carefully about the responsibilities that come with either calling.
Singleness is a calling from God. The goal of this calling is to serve the Lord by serving others. If you are a single person and you are using your singleness for selfish purposes, God isn’t pleased. His desire is for you to use your time and energy to assist in building His church. Perhaps you wonder how you can do that.
First, begin by using the gifts and abilities God has given you, both natural and spiritual. As a young boy some of the people who made a major impact on my life were my Sunday School teachers, single women. If you have expertise in a certain field, you can offer your services to the church and to families who would be blessed and helped by it.
Our family benefitted from the ministry of a godly, single, young lady who was our midwife. Our daughters’ piano teacher was a single young lady. Both of them received payment for their services, but because they were single, they chose to serve the Lord by offering their services at a very reasonable cost. Other single women, acknowledging the busyness of a mother with small children, came and washed all the windows in our house as an act of service to the Lord and to my wife. Your service will be limited only by your desire and creativity.
Single young men need a special challenge to live with purpose. God designed men to be achievers, to set goals and reach them. Too many young men today are bored with life. They work, eat, sleep, and spend money on the latest toys and gadgets, not recognizing that God wants to use the strength of their youth to glorify His name and build His church. Like single women, single men have gifts and abilities they can use to assist the body of Christ.
Years ago, Heralds of Hope benefitted from the skills of a single, young man who computerized our donor data. Another single young man spent a year volunteering his time, serving in any way he was needed. His service was a great blessing too.
Those are just a few examples of the things singles can do for the Lord. As I said earlier, your creativity and desire are most likely the only limits. The most important thing to remember is that the goal of singleness is service to the Lord, not selfishness.
As the church, the local body of Christ, we must be more open to using the gifts of singles in creative ways. The enthusiasm, vitality, and creativity of godly, young singles coupled with the maturity of older Believers must be blended together to effectively use their gifting for the building up of the church and for reaching out to unbelievers.
If God has given you the gift of singleness, I urge you to receive it with thanksgiving. In ways you may not be able to understand now, He wants to bless you, use you, and glorify His name through you. May God bless you as you discover and fulfill His calling and purpose for your life. And may God bless each of us as we continue to develop a biblical view of singleness.