According to a 2015 article in Christian Women Today, more than 50 percent of the adult population (older than age 16) is single. And yet, when you are the one who is single, it can feel like you are the oddball, that everyone else is married. Living single in a married world presents its challenges. Though singleness has freedom and perks, it also has its pitfalls. Loneliness is one. Feeling like the 5th wheel is another.
The unintended attitude found in some churches adds to the problem. One writer says, “In many churches, singleness is treated as a disease to be endured while you’re stricken with it, and to be cured of as quickly as possible.” So, to help us think rightly about this important topic, I decided to include it in my current sermon series, Christ-Centered Living. Let’s begin with four foundational thoughts derived from Scripture.
- There will be no marriage in heaven. In Matthew 22:30, Jesus said, For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage…
- Therefore, marriage is a temporal, earthly picture of something more important. Ephesians 5 teaches that marriage is a picture of the love of Christ for His bride, all whom He redeems with His blood.
- Jesus experienced the fullness of human life, yet He never married. Jesus was fully man and fully God. He was without sin. He did not miss out on anything essential to being human; i.e. marriage.
- Singleness is a gift from God to some for the purpose of more dedicated service. In First Corinthians 7:25-35, we find the most extensive teaching on singleness is found later in that chapter (7:25-35). Some of the single men and women Paul addresses are already engaged to be married, while others may remain single. He begins this final section of the chapter by reiterating his guiding principle: remain as you are.
APOSTOLIC RECOMMENDATION (vv. 25-28)
The Corinthian church was being influenced by something called asceticism. Asceticism is the religious mindset that believes self-denial is the ultimate virtue. It says, “I am spiritual because of my self-denial.” This often results in comparison, thus, “I am more spiritual than other Christians because of what I’ve given up for God.”
Therefore, Paul corrected their error—commanding husbands and wives to not neglect each other (7:1-6). But now he turns to the singles, specifically those who were engaged to be married. Because of their infatuation with asceticism, engaged couples were probably being told that it would be more spiritual to call off the wedding than to follow through with it. So, Paul wrote to set the record straight and relieve their false guilt.
He does this by giving them his personal recommendation: I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment. He does not mean that what he is about to say is not important, or not inspired by the Spirit. He simply means that he has no direct teaching of Christ to refer back to, but still his advice is sound because, by the Lord’s mercy, he is trustworthy.
Paul’s conclusion is, it is good for a man to remain as he is. Paul agrees with their emphasis on singleness, but disagrees with their reasons. Therefore, he encourages engaged couples to continue with their wedding plans if that is what they desire. However, Paul personally thinks it is good to remain single in view of the present distress (v. 26). He then gives two reasons.
APOSTOLIC REASONS (vv. 29-35)
Paul’s reasons for recommending singleness are clearly pastoral in nature. He is not pitting singleness against marriage, or vice versa. Both marriage and singleness are biblically acceptable according to the will of God for each person.
- Reason #1: Because believers now have an eternal worldview (vv. 29-31)
The believer’s eternal perspective places this life in its proper place. It is just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:14). Therefore, we should hold loosely to the things that are a part of this life only. The believer with the correct perspective does not allow himself to become totally engrossed in the things of this world.
Everything we enjoy in this life is a gift from God. The problem arises when we hold onto the gift too tightly, acting like it will last forever. To hold loosely to the things of this world means we recognize they do not give us our chief meaning and fulfillment in this life. Instead, we should be driven by our relationship with God, our love for Christ, and what matters for eternity.
- Reason #2: Because of the reality of earthly concerns (vv. 32-35)
The second reason he recommends singleness is that he wants them to be able to concentrate fully on serving Christ. I want indicates his concern is again purely pastoral. It is his personal recommendation, what he thinks is best. Marriage and family bring with them a multiplication of earthly concerns, which distract from serving Christ. Paul’s preference is that other believers be like him, that is, that they are free from these distractions.
APOSTOLIC RESOLUTIONS (vv. 36-38)
Paul closes out the chapter with two resolutions for the single and engaged.
- Resolution #1: He that is convinced he should marry should marry, it is no sin (v. 36).
- Resolution #2: He that is convinced he should remain single should remain single (vv. 37-38).
Both singleness and marriage are gifts from the Lord. It’s good for us to remember that. Singleness is not a problem for the one who is given that particular gift. Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “If you are single today, the portion assigned to you for today is singleness. It is God’s gift. Singleness ought not to be viewed as a problem, nor marriage as a right. God in his wisdom and love grants either as a gift.”
I’m single. What should be my focus?
- Concentrate on your relationship with Christ. Pursue Him and grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Seek Him first (Matthew 6:33).
- Relate to other singles in purity, as fellow members of the family of God (1 Tim. 5:1-2).
- Don’t date until you are ready to be married. Dating is not for recreation, but for marriage preparation. [Get this mini-book: HELP! I’m Confused about Dating.]
- Make growth in godly character your priority. (Titus 2 contains instruction for both single men and single women)
A word to the church…
The local church is the family of families—it is the family of God. Some of us are married, while others are single. Our station in life should not segregate us. It should not keep us out of each other’s lives. Instead we must all be diligent to maintain the unity of God’s family through humility and love for one another. Let us work hard to include each other in our lives.
Let us remember this: What unites us is not our marital status. It is our status as co-heirs of the grace of God in Christ. What we have in common is we have a common Savior. Though a church may have various ministries for different seasons of life, which allows for focused teaching, I believe it is unhelpful to over-program the church.
So, whether you are married or single, the call of the Lord is the same: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
[This post is adapted from last Sunday’s sermon, Living Single in a Married World.]