Living in a Field of Hats

some ramblings and reflections on working with students in Herts and Beds.

Singleness isn’t second best! March 27, 2009

Filed under: Christian Life,Church — Sarah @ 6:39 pm
Tags: , , ,

Now, just the word singleness conjours up may different images I’m sure. I’m guessing for a lot of girls aged 10-30 (and probably over and probably a lot of men as well!) it’s a hugely negative thing. Why? Because we are so often told by the media that its normal to have a partner – or to at least be really wanting one! I’ve really tried but can not think of a poisitve single person in the media. It isn’t seen as ‘normal’. As Christians we believe that the Bible is God’s Word and what is in it is from Him and totally true. So, why is it that so many Christians seem to ignore:

I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.
1 Corinthians 7:7-8

Now, obviously this has to be taken compltely in context, and I am not trying to say that marriage is bad at all, because it isn’t biblically worse than singleness. They are both equal. However, I think that it is very true that in many churches today the prevailing view is that singleness is what happens before you find ‘the one’. It’s not a situation that people are expected to stay in much longer than their 20’s (and I do realise that I am only in my early 20’s!). This is expressed in so many different ways! I have lost count of the amount of times that I have been told people that “it’ll be my turn to get married next”. Where’s their proof?! People, and I’ve noticed it in married people and single people, seem to just assume that marriage is for everyone and that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t think like that.

The way many churches are set up can quite easily back this view up. For example having a 20 & 30’s group can actually give the impression (and it easily does give the impression) that if you over the age of 39 then you are no longer expected to be part of that group and in fact you should be in a relationship and participating in areas of church life more appropiate to your age – i.e. families

I’ve struggled with this for quite a while now in varying measures. It is hard being made to feel (99% of the time at least unintentionally) like I should be married, and should be expecting God to provide someone soon but I’ve known that there is no Biblical promise.

But, recently I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’ve been thinking about my future, and the areas that I think God might be leading me in. There really have been times when I have gotten freaked out by the fact that a marriage and God’s will might clash (which is ridiculous I know!) But even thinking about not being free to be able to go and serve God wherever he might call me has been really difficult! This has led me to really pray about the issue quite a lot, and I’ve ended up having a lot of conversations with single Christian friends quite randomly which have been so helpful. And now, I think that I am in the place where I can actually whole heartedly say – “Yes I am single. No, it isn’t second best. It may last my entire life, it may not but either way I am happy with that. I am happy to be freed to serve God in places which I couldn’t if I was married. Whatever my situation my only aim is to serve and glorify God – whether that being single and more able to travel, or married and serving in a very different context.”

It has taken months to get to this situation to whole heartedly say that. This does not mean that it is easy in any way shape or form, but I know that the God we serve is good and He has a very definite will for me and I am happy to completly submit to that. If the Bible says that singleness and marriage are equal then why should I say different???

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6 Responses to “Singleness isn’t second best!”

  1. gortexgrrl Says:

    I am glad that you are glad that you are single, Sarah, but if others don’t feel that way about their situation, then it’s not because of the media — it’s because of God’s design.

    Right from the beginning of Genesis, it was clear that man was not meant to be alone. Paul also reiterates this in 1 Cor 7, in stating that each woman should have her own husband and each man his own wife, because of the natural God-given desire for sex and companionship. There’s nothing wrong with people seeking marriage for that purpose, as that is what people have always done, and so marriages occurred at much younger ages. It’s only in the past few years have there been this huge stack of (human, not godly) requirements and issues people have been expected to deal with before marrying.

    It is a misreading of the text you’ve quoted to suggest that Paul is saying that singleness and marriage are “equal gifts”, when he has declared neither as gifts. He’s recommending singleness temporarily (see 1 Cor 7:25-26 — due to the “present distress”– forseeing the pending persecution of the early church), merely suggesting that his own preference for singleness has to do with his own personal gifting (perhaps a passion for a mission that exceeds his desire for marriage, a proclivity towards celibacy, etc…his wording is non-specific). But he understands that given the fact that God gifts us all differently, so he leaves it up to the individual to decide. But you left out the second part of verse 8, where he advises those who struggle with sexual containment should marry, because it’s better to marry than to burn (with passionate frustration).

    Although there’s nothing wrong (and everything right) with wanting to remain single to serve God, it is a teaching that not everyone can receive — Christ says this twice Matthew 19:11-12 — only those “to whom it is given”, ie. like Paul, who suggested that he has some kind of gift that would enable him to prefer singleness. When Christ refers to the involuntarily single (born eunuchs, made eunuch by men) he is matter of fact about their situation does not suggest in any way that it’s a gift.

    Although the scriptures teach us to rejoice in God regardless of circumstance, it’s important to know that not all singleness is a gift, let alone a gift of equal value. Marriage is the norm for most people, and there are losses that go along with prolonged singleness, such as loneliness, missed opportunities to have a family, etc. These losses aren’t necessarily compensated by church service. I agree that we shouldn’t pity or patronize single people, since most are doing fine. But neither should we assume that everyone’s singleness is a gift.

    One other problem with the idea that singleness and marriage are gifts is the notion that one must “wait on the Lord” or get “word from the Lord” about which gift is for you. Too often, this causes people (especially men) to be passive in their pursuit of marriage). The fact is the scriptures speak of these things entirely in the language of human effort and personal choice (Proverbs 18:22, “a man FINDS a wife”, 1 Cor 7: 36 & 39, etc). So you need not worry that your (eventual) desire for marriage might be pitted against your desire to please God. I encourage you to check out Boundless.com, a website and blog of Focus on the Family that has great discussions about singleness and marriage for young adults.

  2. matt Says:

    This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

  3. Sarah Says:

    Thank you both for your comments. I think I possibly wasn’t clear enough in some of the things that I was saying. So, let me try clarify it a bit!

    Firstly, when was quoting 1 Corinthians 7, and said that Paul was saying marriage and singleness were equal, I was taking into account the context that the one verse quoted was in. Perhaps I should have been clearer about that. I am totally, not against marriage so please don’t think that was what I was getting at because it wasn’t my intention. I think the 1 Cor passages you quoted do make a good for staying single as well as getting married. However, I’m not totally sure that we can read it as just being for that time. Obviously that is an important thing to work out if was just for them then or for us now as well, but I think when you look at it as part of the whole Bible story it becomes clearer that this is for us now as well.

    You quoted Genesis saying “it’s not good for man to be alone” and I agree. However, when this was said, Adam was totally alone – just him! And so, I think the alone here is counteracted by Eve, but because she was another human being. The church, the body of God’s people, is meant to be our community, in the same way that the trinity is in community. So, I don’t think that Genesis is saying that our lonliness is combatted by marriage, but by living in community with God and with fellow human beings.

    My view on seeing marriage/singleness as a ‘gift’ is based upon the fact that so many people my age seem to really stress about whether they have the gift of singleness or of marriage, whereas actually if we are trusting in a sovereign God, that shouldn’t matter because He knew that right now we were going to be in the situation that we are and therefore He will sustain us in that and give us the strength, patience and endurance that we need. Also, you said that in Matthew Jesus himself says that singleness is a gift – it is given to some! Surely, then it is?

    I am interested by the fact you say that “not all singleness is a gift”. Surely, it is the situation that God has given that person at that time and if somebody remains single until the day they die surely that was God’s will for them.

    And, there is no promise that any of us will get married. None whatsoever! None of us will know if we are going to get married, until we wake up on the first day of our honeymoon – i.e. when we actually are married!

    I do think that there is a danger in encouraging people to see the gift of marriage as something for them, as that so often is then their focus rather than serving God. What I was trying to do in blogpost, perhaps unsuccessfully was to encourage people to be who they are now, and not totally focused on who they want to be. But to know that God has placed them in this situation in order to glorify him.

    However, this doesn’t necessarily make it easy to be single. You mentioned a few things that single people can lose out on, such a lonliness and lack of a family. However, it is very true that people in a marriage can be really lonely if they have married for the wrong reasons (which can happen when people are marrying because they are so unhappy being single) and also, there is no promise that when people marry, a family will follow. Sadly, there are many couples who just can not have children and so these things that you mentioned do not just apply to single people. And also, ministry should not be the way in which they are combatted necessarily, but by being part of God’s family- his church. Your church family should be a support to you, that is where loneliness should be at least partially combatted.

    I hope this has clarified some of the things that I was trying to say!

  4. gortexgrrl Says:

    “I am totally, not against marriage so please don’t think that was what I was getting at because it wasn’t my intention”

    I don’t think your message was “against” marriage, it’s just that too often, what is taught (or not) to singles amounts to the recommendation that one be almost indifferent to it, as if it shouldn’t matter whether you marry or not, since after all, “marriage and singleness are both equal gifts of equal value”. Yes, God loves the single as much as he loves the married, but the notion that singleness is a gift equal to marriage is erroneous and overstated idea.

    “I think the 1 Cor passages you quoted do make a good for staying single as well as getting married. However, I’m not totally sure that we can read it as just being for that time.”

    With all due respect, this is not what Calvin thought. In his commentary on this epistle, he acknowledged that this advice was for that of “expediency…nothing farther”. Theologian Simon Kistemaker also supports this view.

    “The church, the body of God’s people, is meant to be our community, in the same way that the trinity is in community. So, I don’t think that Genesis is saying that our lonliness is combatted by marriage, but by living in community with God and with fellow human beings.”

    Looking to God in times of loneliness can be a great comfort, but make no mistake: “community”, even church community is no substitute for family.

    “My view on seeing marriage/singleness as a ‘gift’ is based upon the fact that so many people my age seem to really stress about whether they have the gift of singleness or of marriage, whereas actually if we are trusting in a sovereign God, that shouldn’t matter because He knew that right now we were going to be in the situation that we are and therefore He will sustain us in that and give us the strength, patience and endurance that we need.”

    No young person should ever have to stress about whether they have the gift of marriage or the gift of singleness, because neither exist! If they are stressing about these two gifts, it’s probably because of church leaders who teach this nonsense! Now, if they are anxious about whether or not they “should” choose marriage or singleness, that’s up to them (as the scriptures I’ve cited show). And if they are anxious about whether or not the opportunity to marry will come along, then they need encouragement to do their part in taking godly ACTION towards marriage (especially if they are male) and to pray for strength, patience, endurance, etc. as they do so, and leaving rest up to God. Which what you’re probably trying to say, but I recommend that you leave the GoS out of it, for a few other reasons that follow..,

    “Also, you said that in Matthew Jesus himself says that singleness is a gift – it is given to some! Surely, then it is?”

    I’m glad you brought this up for clarification, because a lot of people misunderstand this passage as well. First of all, Jesus didn’t even address the idea of staying single until the disciples brought it up. And then, he says “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only(O) those to(P) whom it is given.” 12For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs(Q) for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

    So who are “those to whom it is given”? Not the first or the second type of eunuch, for whom it’s a done deal, they are involuntarily single for good. It’s for the third type who can CHOOSE voluntarily to be single (“made themselves eunuchs”) for the sake of doing special kingdom work. And again he says A SECOND TIME to let the one who is able to receive this, receive it. So it’s not the singleness that’s the gift, it’s whatever it is about that person that enables them to CHOOSE singleness for the “sake of the kingdom (whatever gifts they have, let’s say unusual abilities of self-discipline or a passion for a mission that exceeds the desire for marriage).

    So this teaching is for the third (voluntary) kind of eunuch, not the first two “eunuchs by circumstance”, aren’t even mentioned as candidates for this kind of special kingdom service. It sends chills up and down my spine when I hear this passage being misused to suggest to the involuntarily single that their singleness is some kind of gift for God’s kingdom!

    “I am interested by the fact you say that “not all singleness is a gift”. Surely, it is the situation that God has given that person at that time and if somebody remains single until the day they die surely that was God’s will for them.”

    This is the problem with the GoS, which started out as a kind of a substitute term for “gift of celibacy” (ie. kind of what I’ve been talking about re: Matthew 19, people who can choose to be single for the sake of the kingdom). In the past few years, there have been a few popular books to Christian singles that put a spin on the GoS, so that it means “God causes all things to come to pass, including your singleness, so your singleness is a gift, whether you want it or not”. This is a faulty understanding of the scriptures.

    Firstly, get a concordance and see for yourself what the bible does and does not call a “gift”. Gifts are generally things that you would think of as “good” at face value. The notion that one must consider something unwanted that causes suffering a gift is not biblical. The scriptures simply require that we are obedient and have faith. Even under God’s sovereignty, things happen that are not “good”. Is rape good? A godly gift? Or course not, it’s a sin. Secondly, According to good reform theology, God cannot be the author of sin. Much of what you see in the way of widespread protracted singleness is caused by sin. Are all these people single because God has “gifted” them with special kingdom work? NO! God is allowing us to reaping the consequences of our individual and collective sin. As such, it seems a bit cheeky for us to assume that our singleness is a “gift”.

    “I do think that there is a danger in encouraging people to see the gift of marriage as something for them, as that so often is then their focus rather than serving God.”

    When I hear or see a statement like this, I just shake my head. It’s as if you are equating the desire for marriage as possibly being at odds with the desire to please God! How about a bit of balance? Both pursuing marriage and pursuing God? Are you afraid that if someone does this without accurately decerning first if they have the “gift of marriage”, that if they don’t marry, that they will have “wasted their life” when they could have done more to serve God?

    Much of what you’re talking about here really sounds like the old “don’t make marriage into an idol” thing, which Focus on the Family’s Candice Watters says has been “blown out of proportion” in her Boundless.com article “Marriage: An Idol?” There are other articles there that discuss how fears about “marrying the wrong one” have also been overstated. Her book “Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help It Happen” is groundbreaking, because it encourages the desire for marriage and “praying boldly” for it even when it seems as if there are no guarantees and the odds are against it.

  5. Sarah Says:

    Thank you for your reply again, I think it’s clear we’re probably not going to agree totally but here’s just a few things from you said.

    In terms of the validity of singleness and marriage being equal, I can not see where you are getting the idea from that they are not of equal value?!

    Also, you keep referring to marriage as being a “gift” and yet you are very determined that singleness is not. Surely, if marriage is a gift then singleness must be! All of us are either married or single – there is noone who is neither. Therefore, your view is saying that those who are not married haven’t received a gift from God. Therefore God hasn’t blessed that person in terms of relationships?

    In terms of who said what about 1 Cor, I am sure that both us could find many theologians that would back us up if we tried hard enough! However, I have found tis quote by Bruce Winters in the IVP New Bible Commentary which I think is helpful:

    “Singleness in some societies is the subject of cruel innuendo. At times in the church it has been either over-valued or under-valued, in each case contary to God’s word. It, like other gifts, is a personal one to an individual from God”

    On the whole I think this is helpful in stating that our sovereign God is in full control of our relationships as much as anything else, although it is unclear on the “gifting” side of things – ie do we have the gift for life, or until it changes? Looking at the nature of gifts I think it is most probably until it chnages. I’m not an expert on this area at all, but just looking at lives of older Christians,some have been amazing evagelists when they were younger but now are pastoring a church.

    Also, I think we differ on views of church. The church is what God created for his people to live in community with Him and with one another. It is the church that should be combatting being lonely. As I said before, loneliness isn’t restricted to single people! People of all ages can be lonely and surely the church, God’s people should first and foremost be the ones whom support them and befriend them.

    In terms of all gifts being good, that is true but in who’s view – ours or God’s? Surely God’s as He is the only perfect one in this whole situation! And yes God can not be the authour of sin but what situations are you thinking of where sin is the cause of singleness?!

    I don’t really know Matthew 19 well encough to give proper comment, however if some are born eunuchs then surely still God has ordained that and He will give them the strength and power to live for Him through it?

    And I am definetly talking about don’t make marriage an idol. If marriage is seen to the ultimate goal for people, which is what you appear to be saying, then it is going to be peoples main focus, they are going to be spending their time thinking about it and also it is going to affect the way in which they relate to the oppoiste sex constantly thinking when they meet someone new, is this my future husband/wife. And more importantly is the fact that it becomes an idol – it is more important to them than God. e.g someone feels a call to do ministry in a remote area but doesn’t go because of the lack of chances to meet their future marriage partner.

    But most importantly when we become Christians we are reborn as children of God. And we are fully reborn then. We do not need anybody other than Jesus to enable us to live our lives the way in which God ordained!

  6. gortexgrrl Says:

    “In terms of the validity of singleness and marriage being equal, I can not see where you are getting the idea from that they are not of equal value?!”

    Where are you getting the idea that they are? Do you know where the phrase “gift of singleness” comes from? It’s a modern invention, coined by the editors of the Living Bible in the 60’s, for 1 Cor 7:7, which used to read:

    “But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. But God gives to some the gift of marriage, and to others the gift of singleness.”

    Because this version was revealed to be such a drastic departure from the original meaning, the “gift of singleness” (and the “gift of marriage”) has been removed from the current edition (now called The New Living Translation). The Message is soon to follow suit.

    The proper understanding of this passage is that although Paul preferred to stay single (and would have liked others to do so at the time in light of the “present distress” as per verses 25-26), he recognized that God has gifted us all differently (some one way, some another way…and another, and another — “hos..houto” is indefinite). The overwhelming majority of theologians throughout history believed that Paul was suggesting that his gift was sexual self-control (“gift of celibacy”, as it has been called, not “gift of singleness”), because he goes on to say in verse 8 that it’s good to remain single, but if you cannot “contain” (ie may be his gift, but not necessarily yours), then get married, because it’s better to marry than to burn (with passionate frustration).

    You can see for yourself from the language of these verses that it’s our gifts (ie. abilities) that are a matter of divine providence, whereas, marriage and singleness is spoken of entirely in the language of personal liberty. Surely marriage and singleness occur under the sovereignty of God, but that is not what we are encourage to dwell on primarily, but rather these teachings that admonish individuals to wisely decide for themselves whether to marry or not, based on their strengths and limitations.

    The main reason the GoS has been removed from the NLT and The Message was because of the confusion it created — the reader was left wondering if the GoS was a special ability (like the traditional “gift of celibacy”) or if it applied to all singles, as Bruce Winters seems to think. Often you’d hear sermons that seemed to muddle the two, leaving the listener to wonder things like, “how do I find out which gift I have?”, “does God want me to stay single?”, “is it a sin if I don’t want to be single?” “is it a sin to look for a spouse? ”

    “Also, you keep referring to marriage as being a “gift” and yet you are very determined that singleness is not. Surely, if marriage is a gift then singleness must be!” Therefore, your view is saying that those who are not married haven’t received a gift from God. Therefore God hasn’t blessed that person in terms of relationships?..In terms of all gifts being good, that is true but in who’s view – ours or God’s”

    Actually, I did not refer to marriage as a gift in any of my posts. Neither do the scriptures, although Proverbs refers to a prudent wife being from the Lord. Likewise, children are called a gift, but is there any “gift of barrenness” in the bible? No! Christians of old would regard that as backward thinking. They accepted that there are some gifts you get, and some gifts you don’t. There was no modern entitlement fallacy that all gifts are equal and that everyone gets an equal share. And as for the Matt 19 eunuchs you asked about, note that Christ refers to those born that way and those made that way by men — in neither case does he attribute their condition to God.

    “On the whole I think this is helpful in stating that our sovereign God is in full control of our relationships as much as anything else”

    I don’t dispute that. Although the scriptures seem to encourage us to think of relationships as something humans need to pursue for themselves (Proverbs 18:22, “a man FINDS a wife, 1 Cor 7:8 “if they cannot contain, let them marry”, 1 cor 7:39 “free to be married to whom she wishes”, 1 Cor 9:5 “the right to take a believing wife”.

    “The church is what God created for his people to live in community with Him and with one another. It is the church that should be combatting being lonely.”

    The church exists for the purpose of achieving God’s work in the world. It is not a lonely hearts club. The lonely need (and should be given) encouragement to marry (Genesis 2:18, Ps 68:6, Tim 5:14). I know that many mid-20th century evangelists have taught “Jesus is all you need”, and in the past several decades we have learned that it sounds great in principle, but in practice, it sets many up for failure if used to sell singles on the idea that it shouldn’t really matter to them if they marry, as they become disillusioned with the negation of their sexuality and either act out sexually or fall away from the church. Yes, it inspires some to be holy, but what about the ones that are needlessly scared off, never to be heard from again?

    “And yes God can not be the authour of sin but what situations are you thinking of where sin is the cause of singleness?!”

    Ever heard the phrase “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Ever wonder why there are so many more single women in the church than single men? Think about it.

    As for “don’t make marriage an idol”, here’s an excerpt from that Boundless article by Candice Watters, “Marriage, an Idol?”

    “Can the desire for marriage really become an idol? It’s technically possible. But that notion has been blown out of proportion. And repeatedly suggesting the possibility of idolatry has done more harm than good. It’s caused a lot of women to be tepid in their approach to marriage and made them afraid that any amount of thinking or acting on their desire might be a sin. Both have the unfortunate consequence of making marriage even less likely to happen.”

    Anyways, there has been a rethinking of teachings to singles in the church in the past couple of years. Some of the ideas you have sound very much like the slogans of the last century. If you are truly hoping to reach out to single people of all stages of life, I would encourage you to update yourself by perusing some of the articles at Boundless.com, especially the stuff by Candice Watters.


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