A while ago, a friend of mine and I were talking and she mentioned the fact that singleness is always viewed as a temporary stop. Yes, people are encouraged to enjoy this ‘season’ but it’s meant to be just that: a season. Those who have the ‘misfortune’ of languishing in it are invariably pitied. “What if staying single were viewed more positively?”, she mused.
“But I say to the unmarried and to the widows, [that as a practical matter] it is good if they remain [single and entirely devoted to the Lord] as I am. But if they do not have [sufficient] self-control, they should marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9, AMP)
The life that Paul lived lent itself to be single. The brackets in the AMP version aptly convey the justification for what Paul is saying. Without them, it would be easy to question why Paul is advocating that you stay single when all your friends are happily ‘boo’d up.’ Extensive travelling, frequent confrontations, and lengthy imprisonments were hardly going to sit well with a wife and kids. It’s unsurprising that he’d therefore champion singleness a means of taking the Gospel further, faster. Whether you’re single temporarily or permanently, you should have one main focus (see #1 Priority For Single People).
Choosing marriage instead of singleness causes you to have a split focus.
A married couple should be devoted to the Lord, but they also have to be devoted to each other. You’re probably itching to remind me that God said “it’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Paul isn’t against marriage, but he certainly appreciates the challenges it brings. The ideal union will ensure that both of you focus on God – hence the persistent reminders, in both the Old and New Testament, to be equally yoked (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:3-5; 2 Corinthians 6:14). Whilst your marital status is not a reflection on your commitment to hastening Christ’s coming, those that are married have to be more intentional about focusing on mission as well as marriage.
The friend I mentioned in the introduction spoke of remaining single with such peace and conviction. She hadn’t ‘given up’ on God finding someone for her, nor was she using this as a ‘spiritual excuse’ to reject those that may express interest in courtship. It’s a decision that she made prayerfully. Presumably she also satisfies the criteria in verse 9: self-control. Remaining single long term is contingent on this factor. Put simply, if you’re burning with passion, that’s going to distract you from being useful; therefore, it’s far better to marry and pursue God’s will jointly with your spouse.
Permanent singleness is purposeful.
Clearly, Paul didn’t find it difficult to deal with self-control or else he would have got married. For those of you that are blessed to be in the same position – don’t waste it. The vast majority of people do want to be in a relationship and that’s ok. However, those in relationships must be willing to compromise and be sensitive to the other person’s needs. You, on the other hand, have the delightful convenience of only needing to think about yourself. It would be a misuse of privilege not to devote your energies to God.
- Identify your ministry – Paul was a preacher, but that might not be your calling. Don’t be idle, but don’t do something ‘just because’ either. By pursuing what you’re passionate about, you’ll make devoting yourself to God as fulfilling as possible.
- Stand firm – in a world that is overwhelmingly skewed towards couples and families, don’t apologise for who you are. People may not understand how you can be so ‘disinterested’ in marriage; in fact, they may even want you to conform to their ideal for you. They mean well… but be resilient.
- Stay focused – despite being sure of your desire to stay single, there may be times where you wish you had what others have. Don’t be sucked into comparison. Make the most of being single; your inherent freedom is enviable.
Singleness, permanently, is just as much of a blessing as marriage. Relationships have their merits, but those that are choosing to remain single have a distinct advantage as far as ministry is concerned.