Frankincense, Gold, Myrrh ... and Singleness
- Monday, December 13, 2004
Are you still with me here?
This grammar lesson is important because we need to understand what kind of gift we are talking about when we discuss “the gift of singleness.” It’s not a gift that we have to spend time trying to identify, and even worrying that we may have forever. If we’re single today, we have the gracious gift of singleness today. How we may feel about it—“Do I like being single? Do I desire marriage instead?” — is not part of the equation. The emphasis here is on a gracious God who gives good gifts, and ultimately on His purpose for giving them. It’s also not a “spiritual gift” in the way we’ve come to use that term in our churches today. It’s not an activity or a role, but a blessing — like the free gift [charisma] of eternal life (Romans 5:15) that was given to us without any merit of our own.
We have this “gracious endowment” to be single. But for what purpose? We find it just a few chapters later, in 1 Cor. 12:4-7. It reads: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (emphasis added). Then, after giving a list of ways the Spirit can be manifested for the common good, Paul writes in verse 11: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
We have each received a variety of gifts. 1 Corinthians 7:7 says that as a single woman, I have received the charisma of singleness. 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 lists other gifts that I may also receive. I may yet one day receive the gift of marriage. However, two things are important to remember about any spiritual gift:
- “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor 12:11);
- “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7).
Given as God Wills
Let’s consider this first point. Do you see God’s will at work here? Ultimately, we are single because that’s God’s will for us right now. That’s it. It’s not because we are too old, too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, too quiet, too loud, too smart, too simple, too demanding, or too anything else. It’s not wholly because of past failures or sin tendencies. We are single today because God apportioned us this gift today. (If you are single again due to divorce or death, I realize it can be challenging to reconcile your current experience with the concept of a gift that God has allowed or even willed, but this is the testimony of Scripture. I trust the expanded definition of “gift” has helped you to understand better your current situation.)
Will we always be single? We can’t know. God’s will is revealed to us on a day-by-day basis. I know many single women who feel they need to know now if they will always remain single so that they can plan their lives accordingly. They see biblical womanhood coming to a fork in the road — one path for the terminally single, one path for the wife and mother. I will make a case in future columns, Lord willing, that this way of thinking is a worldly model and that the Bible presents women with a seamless model of femininity that easily transitions from one season to the next.
One more thought: I’ve often heard married people say to singles that we won’t get married until we’re content in our singleness, but I humbly submit this is error. I’m sure that it is offered by well-meaning couples who want to see their single friends happy and content in God’s provision, but it creates a works-based mentality to receiving gifts, which can lead to condemnation. The Lord doesn’t require that we attain a particular state before He grants a gift. We can’t earn any particular spiritual gift any more than we can earn our own salvation. It’s all of grace. However, we should humbly listen to our friends and receive their input about cultivating contentment; we just shouldn’t attach it to the expectation of a blessing.
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