In my single years, Sunday mornings in Church used to feel unbearable.
At the beginning of the service, well-meaning couples would greet me with phrases like, “Sooo, did you find a woman yet?” or “Hey, did you meet Jade yet? She’s really cute. You two should go out!” Aside of the fact that Jade probably had her eye on someone else, it bothered me that those couples never took into consideration the fact that what they were essentially saying was, “You aren’t really a major player in the life of the community unless you’re married.”
At the end of those same worship services, I would be met at the door by other well-meaning couples who would say things like, “Hey, how are studies going? Keep focusing on your books, okay? Don’t bother about relationships now, you’ll find someone when you’re ready!” To which I’d secretly think, Thanks for the unsought advice, buddy! But you get to go home after church with a wife — I have a goldfish waiting!
In between those two depressing questions, I had sat through a worship service with hundreds of other seemingly happily married couples who held each other’s hands during worship and leaned their heads on each other’s shoulders as they listened to a sermon about developing godly relationship virtues that will help my marriage go the distance.
Church felt like a prison sentence.
I detested being single so much that in my desperation to fit in, I jumped into a few unhealthy relationships which ended up costing me a little more than I was willing to pay at the time. Yet, I still longed to share those worship times with someone special, someone I could call “my sweetheart.” But alas, I would have to wait for several more years [at the time].
You know what didn’t help matters much? Paul! Yes. I mean the Church-planting, theology-spouting, Apostle Paul! He couldn’t just leave me be in my quiet devotions as I queried God about what was taking Him so long to hook me up! Nooo, Paul had to go and write this about being single in 1 Corinthians 7:25-34:
Now about virgins [unmarried people]: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short … I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.”
Were I not a student of Church history, I might be inclined to think Paul just went through a nasty breakup before writing this passage.
Paul’s motive and intent in writing this text was actually a lot more honorable (And no. He was not going through a bad breakup). There were some extenuating circumstances taking place in Corinth that necessitated his counsel to his audience to consider singleness.
For one, he was writing to a group of people who were about to enter into a season of crisis. They were more than likely about to face persecution for their faith, possibly being dragged from their houses, beaten or beheaded, (like we recently saw on TV with the 21 Egyptians being beheaded by ISIS). Secondly, Paul was writing in a time period where the Christians truly believed the return of Jesus Christ was imminent, hence verse 29, “the time is short.” Lastly, Paul understood that singleness reduced distractions in the sense that it allowed the believer to pour all their focus and attention in service of Jesus Christ and His kingdom (in ways that married people wouldn’t have the time to).
His big idea in these verses is that singleness carries with it great advantages that married people don’t have. It is in fact, a gift.
This “gift” however, is sometimes a confusing issue for singles. I say so because I’ve never met any single person who actually claims to have the gift, and the ones who think they have the gift are usually sad about the fact that they have the gift, and would very much like to return the gift back to God.
But what if the gift of singleness wasn’t a curse after all? What if indeed, it is a gift?
When Paul speaks of the gift of singleness in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, he’s not speaking of it in a possessive manner in the same way that one has the spiritual gift of prophecy or leadership. The “gift-ness” of singleness is not the lack of romantic desire; rather, the “gift-ness” is in the freedom you have to concentrate on ministry in ways that a married person could not, due to marital obligations.
The person who has the gift of singleness WILL on occasion find himself or herself longing for marriage, but with God’s help, find that they’re able to channel their energies to focus on the work of ministry God places before them. Another important aspect of the gift of singleness is that it might not necessarily be a lifelong calling. For some it may, but for others, it may just be a season of life, a finite period of time for which God allows you the freedom and flexibility to serve Him in ways you otherwise wouldn’t be able to, were you married.
So if you’re single, here’s one way to pray: “Lord Jesus, You were single, so you understand me completely. How can I best leverage this season of my life for Your Kingdom? What spiritual investments can I make now for Your Kingdom that I may not have the time or flexibility to make when I get married?”