The Single Life: Good!
To the distress of those to whom God has not led a marriage partner, it often happens in Reformed churches that the singles in the congregation are neglected. Very little is said about their good place in the church, about the propriety of their single life. Often they are viewed as misfits because they are not married as most others in the church. Sometimes this attitude shows when parents are horrified because their son or daughter enters their twenties with no sign of finding someone to marry, much less a date.
Part of the reason singles are neglected is the emphasis (the proper emphasis) that Reformed churches place on the family. Now, we ought not minimize the importance of the family; but we ought not so emphasize it that the single life is ignored or scoffed at. Another reason the single life is neglected is the over reaction to the Roman Catholic teaching that the single life is more spiritual and more holy than the married life. Whatever the reason, singles are often neglected by the church.
Add to this that unmarried are often left out of the fellowship of the church, and the result of all this is that the singles become discouraged and tempted to despair over their circumstances.
The testimony of Holy Scripture is that the single life is good. This is the good teaching of I Corinthians 7 where Paul says, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (verse 1). That is, it is good for a man not to engage in those practices that belong to the marriage relationship. In other words, it is good not to marry. Paul goes so far as to say that he wishes that “all men were even as myself” (vs 7), meaning, unmarried (see I Corinthians 9:5 where he says that he was single). Now this doesn’t mean that all must be single; but it does point out that being single is not wrong!
Sometimes God compels a young person to remain single, because He never leads to them a mate. And we accept this as God’s good will. (More later). But if a young person chooses not to marry, he may make this choice; but his choice is a good choice only if he has certain gifts. That is, he or she must be qualified for this “good” life. The essential gift required for the single life is the gift of self-control, sexual self-control. When Paul says, “I would that all were even as myself” we shouldn’t miss the important qualification he adds, “but every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.”
If one does not have this gift, he or she must not remain single, but must seek to be married. Else the danger is that one who remains single, but does not have this gift, burns in his or her sexual lust. “it is better to marry than to burn,” Paul said in verse 9. But those who have this gift, male or female, may remain single.
An important question for the single person comes up here: Why would God give this gift to any of His people?
Why would He give this ability: to be single without “burning”?
Paul’s answer in I Corinthians 7: Because the single life enables a person to serve the Lord to a greater degree than a married person can (see verses 32-34). Freed from the calling to care for his wife and children, the single man can devote his life (time as well as financial resources!) wholly to the service of God. This is not to say that a married man or woman cannot serve God; it is to say that some unmarried (who have the gift) can serve God better. But whoever chooses to remain single, must do so because he/she desires to serve God in single life!
A practical point ought to be made here. Churches, disregarding God’s Word in I Corinthians 7 and disregarding the very clear example of bachelor Paul’s good ministry, sometimes adopt the notion that single men are not to be considered good candidates for the office of elder and deacon, or that a seminary student must be persuaded to marry before he finishes seminary. As though singles will not be able to serve well in their office unless they have the experience of marriage and family life, some in the church play matchmaker for seminary students and refuse to place in the office of elder or deacon the single men. That ought not be. Even a casual reading of I Corinthians 7 will show the error of that thinking and practice. The single life is good; the single life is good for the service of Christ’s church in the world.
Understanding this, those to whom God has brought a mate can be comforted and encouraged. Perhaps they feel cheated; perhaps they feel pinned down by their earthly circumstances – they have no mate; everyone else does. Then there is the temptation to rebel and de dissatisfied with their life, perhaps even by seeking to marry one not “in the Lord.”
But understanding this truth – that the single life is good, and that God gives to some the gift of continence – the single adult can be comforted and encouraged by this: God gave you the gift; God calls you to this life; God is pleased with your position; marriage isn’t everything!
In glory, earthly marriage relationships will be no more. What is of ultimate importance is the heavenly marriage between Christ and His Church. You are united to Him in a marriage that will last forever!
Single adults, have you given serious thought to what service of God’s kingdom you may be called?
Young men, have you considered the ministry of the gospel, or the high calling of teaching covenant children in the Christian school?
Do you aspire to and prepare for service in the office of the church?
Young women, has God also given you the aptitude to teach, so that you could consider giving yourself to Christian education?
If you have the gift of continence, you ought to consider remaining single for the sake of these or other services for the kingdom of heaven.
Church of Christ, are there singles among you?
Receive them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t feel as though you need to begin a separate ministry for them. Include them among you as you would have included Jesus or Paul in your fellowship had they lived among us today.
By Barry Gritters