The gift of singleness
This article is based on a talk given by Brian Whittaker to the student group at Above Bar Church, Southampton. It may be reproduced in print or on other web sites, subject to the copyright notice below.
You might have heard about the 'gift' of singleness. Many Christians feel it is more of a curse. Our society, and even our Christian society as well, can pressure us into finding a husband or wife or some sort of other partner. Singleness can be seen as inferior to married life. Singleness might even be something which embarrasses you. But that's not what the Bible teaches.
What is the 'gift' of singleness?
1 Corinthians 7 clearly teaches that if you are not married then you have the gift of singleness (verse 7). You might later have the gift of marriage of course, but at the moment you have the gift of singleness.
It's a common mistake, and one sadly often heard in Christian circles, to say that the gift of singleness is some subjective ability to endure singleness which some single people have and some don't. This would mean there are two types of single people: single people who have the gift of singleness (an ability to endure it) and some singles who don't have this gift (who presumably won't be single for long).
This is nonsense. It would be like saying the gift of marriage (verse 7) means some married people have the ability to endure marriage whilst other married people don't. The Bible doesn't offer that interpretation. You either have one gift or the other. If you're single, you have the gift of singleness.
Having the gift of singleness does not necessarily mean a lifetime of singleness. While it is true that God calls some people to a lifetime of singleness, this is not true for most single people. Everyone starts off by having the gift (i.e., being single) but most people later marry. The challenge is how to work out what God's will is in this area. But this is the challenge in every area of life, and one that can only be answered by reading the Bible thoughtfully and prayerfully and by seeking guidance from friends and family. All we can be sure of is that if you're currently single that is God's will for you at this moment.
What about boyfriends and girlfriends? Well 1 Corinthians 7:7 states that you either have gift of marriage or the gift of singleness. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you still have the gift of singleness since you are not married. It's one or the other - there's no gift of 'going-out' in the Bible! However, if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend then the issues surrounding singleness will probably not be the same as the issues facing a single person without a partner.
So how is singleness actually a gift?
Firstly, it is a gift because, as shown above, the Bible says so. 1 Corinthians 7:32-33 shows us that an unmarried man is concerned with the pleasing the Lord, while a married man has to please the Lord and his wife. Singleness gives us freedom to serve God without having to think about a husband or wife, and means we're just seeking to serve God first and no-one else. This is not to suggest marriage is not good: the Bible clearly states it's a gift, but marriage or children can cause strains in all sorts of ministry areas which singleness would not.
Practical things like hospitality can be easier if you're single, you don't have to worry about what your husband/wife or children think about inviting that person over for Sunday lunch, or about having to be careful how much time you spend doing church work in case you neglect your duties as a husband or wife.
Singleness provides us with such a great opportunity to stand out for Jesus and be good salt and light in the world. By abstaining from sexual relations whilst single, a Christian single stands out in stark contrast to the world where sex before marriage is prominent. This means that single people are more clearly and more obviously witnesses for Christ than married Christian couples. After all, we are told 'let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.' (Matthew 5:16)
There are, of course, many problems which single people face. Loneliness and sexual struggles are but two. There is another issue, however, which tends to be prominent in church life – inferiority. In our hearts do we consider singleness to be of equal value to marriage? Our society doesn't think so, and even our church life doesn't necessarily think so. Marriage is so very often made into an idol, which all Christians must aspire to. But the Bible says singleness is a gift and no less than marriage. We should, therefore, transform our thinking away from what culture says, away from what our hearts say, to the objective truth of scripture.
Ultimately, the only eternal relationship is with Christ, and not between a husband and wife. You won't be married to your husband/wife in Heaven! (Matthew 22:30). Singleness is a gift from our good God, the Bible says so clearly. We should therefore use it and thank him for it.
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