The Gift of Singleness: Part II
- Thursday, February 23, 2006
When speaking of singleness and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul seems to be saying that both are gifts from God. No indication in the text has been given to this point that would suggest that marriage is superior to singleness.
Yet, author Debbie Maken (in an article titled "Rethinking the Gift of Singleness: Is Singleness Really a Gift?") asserts that singleness is only allowed for those who meet two criteria. First, they must have the gift of celibacy. That is, they have been relieved of all sexual desire as a gift from the Lord. Second, they must have a full-time gospel call upon their lives. Again, these things sound plausible, but do not seem to be necessitated by the text.
It seems odd that a Christian would not have some sexual desire toward the opposite sex. That desire need not be sinful as we have spoken of proper desire already. At the same time, what better way to glorify God than to put down the desires of the flesh for the sake of devoting oneself to full-time gospel ministry or gospel ministry beyond one's vocation in a situation where a family is not a hindrance? We are told to die to self daily, take up our cross, and follow Christ (Luke 9:23).
Additionally, Maken posits that seeking Christ is an excuse not to marry. We must seek marriage first, and, she would add, that in itself is seeking Christ. While we agree that there is a pietism that goes beyond Scripture, and while we agree that Christianity is often more practical than some would make it out to be, we cannot agree with her premise. Our Lord Himself said "seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you (Matthew 6:33)."
So then, when deciding of marriage, Christians must seek the Kingdom of God first. At the same time, they must exercise their choice practically. In v. 8, Paul says, "but I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I." Two points may be brought out here.
First, Paul refers to the "unmarried and to widows." In light of his further word in regard to virgins in v. 25f, it seems that by use of the term "unmarried," he is referring to those who were married at one time and are not now married. He uses the same word in v. 11 when referring to a woman who has divorced her husband. No word in the Greek corresponds to the English word divorce in a direct sense. The words used for this concept have to do with being sent away, being loosed, or being unmarried. Thus, Paul here refers to those who have been divorced and to those who have been widowed.
Second, his point in regard to the divorced and widowed is that "it is good for them if they remain even as [Paul]." That is, it is good for them to remain unmarried. Paul simply means they may remain single for the sake of the gospel (v.7). At the same time, as he does not condemn marriage, he does not condemn remarriage in every case (vv. 9; 11; 15).
In plain terms, if you have a biblical divorce combined with the gift of self-control, why not remain unmarried for the sake of the gospel? If you are left a widow and have the gift of self-control, why not remain unmarried for the sake of the gospel?
However, in sharp contrast, Paul makes a different application in v. 9. If you have a biblical divorce combined with the gift of proper-desire, you had better get married for the glory of God. He says such so that your proper-desire will not become improper desire: sinful lust. Further, he says such so that a sinful lust will not become a sinful action: sexual activity. The same dynamic applies to widows, especially those who are younger. If you are left a widow and have the gift of proper-desire, you had better get married for the glory of God for the same reasons noted.
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