Is Singleness a Spiritual Gift?
- Tim Laitinen Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2014 12 Aug
Back when I was young, footloose, and fresh out of college, I lived and worshipped in New York City. Our vibrant singles ministry at Manhattan’s historic Calvary Baptist Church had a couple of small discipleship groups, and I was part of one.
There were three of us in that group; another young single guy named Todd, the singles pastor of our church, and myself. At one point, our singles pastor had Todd and me go through a spiritual gifts inventory, which required us to take a test so we could assess what spiritual gifts God had given us. You know, things like a special ability with teaching, or administration, or hospitality and such.
However, one of the spiritual gifts on that test was singleness, or celibacy. And that test said I had it. The gift of singlehood.
But I balked. I did not believe singlehood was a gift, and if it was, I certainly didn't have it!
Fast forward to today, and Todd, who did not get singlehood on his inventory, is happily married with two kids, living in a suburban New Jersey colonial. And then there's me…
So, was that spiritual gifts assessment correct? Is singlehood a spiritual gift, and if so, do I have it, whether I like it or not? Granted, I’m relatively content with my marital status, but plenty of singles are not, or they’ve become single through a decision somebody else made for them. Is contentment with anything enough proof that it’s a spiritual gift? God may not ask our opinion on what spiritual gifts we might want, but does he give us gifts that are incompatible with our desires?
After all, I may be content, but that doesn’t mean I don’t desire marriage.
Remember, there’s a difference between the Fruit of the Spirit, which all of us believers in Christ should model, and the spiritual gifts. The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those of us who claim Christ as our Savior should be practicing all of these. However, the spiritual gifts are given to Christ’s followers individually by the Holy Spirit, so that as the body of Christ, we as the church can competently serve each other and our world.
From 1 Corinthians 12 we learn that “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
In Romans 12, we learn that “we have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” And we should exercise our gifts generously, diligently, and cheerfully, in proportion to our faith.
Good grief! Cheerful about having the gift of singleness? Not me.
For the record, that test also said I have the gifts of administration and helps, which I’ve been able to practice with varying levels of success over the years. Yet singlehood isn’t like administration. Singlehood is a marital status, whereas administration is a function independent of gender, marital status, race, ethnicity, and even personality.
Ahh, yes: personality. Don’t we tend to shape our giftedness by our personal opinions, experiences, and expectations? Perhaps I’ve been doing that with my perspective of singlehood? Am I making it some sort of martyrdom, or at the very least, some sort of punitive gift, like some awful necktie a distant relative had given me as a birthday present?
“Oh. Um… thanks?”
I don’t know of anybody who gets excited about the prospect of never being married. I’ve never heard anybody say they’re happy about not ever having sex for as long as they live. “Let joy be unconfined: I’m being denied one of the most significant, meaningful forms of human relationships.”
See what I mean?
Sure, the Apostle Paul rhapsodizes about his own singlehood, and calls the ability to remain celibate a “gift,” but does that make it a “spiritual gift?”
He writes, “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. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
So, what other spiritual gift can you ignore if you believe you’ll be forced to sin if you actually do it? If you have the gift of hospitality, for example, can you get out of it somehow if you think being hospitable will force you to sin in some other way? Like, maybe, trying to impress people with your home and furniture, instead of being mature enough to invite people over for dinner regardless of whether you live in a showplace?
If your sexual urges are too powerful, Paul says we can cave in and get married. But who would want to deny the Lord’s giftedness of singlehood by being the one to force you to void it? What prospective spouse is going to be swept off their feet by that kind of motivation? After all, Paul is talking about singlehood as being a special way to devote one’s self to God’s service. Taking Paul’s advice as a proof text for singlehood as a spiritual gift, you’d also have to presume that the marriage bed can trump a spiritual gift.
That doesn’t sound right, does it?
Then there’s Christ’s controversial teaching in Matthew 19 on relationships. Part of this passage can be interpreted as describing people with a particular predisposition to abstinence for a variety of reasons, including those who renounce marriage “because of the kingdom of heaven,” as Jesus puts it; “The one who can accept this should accept it."
Doesn’t that sound like Christ is describing singlehood as an option - or at least a circumstance - that may or may not be what we think we would prefer, but that we can still accept? To the extent that we choose to exercise any spiritual gift we’ve been given, singlehood could be a giftedness, but what other spiritual gift depends on biology, and the covenants other people are willing to make with us? Sure, people who think they have the gift of teaching or leadership may not be able to find a willing audience, but that’s not the same thing as not being able to find somebody willing to marry us, is it?
It’s been two decades since I took that spiritual gifts assessment at Calvary Baptist, and it would appear that in terms of the gift of singlehood, it’s been proven correct. Regardless of whether I’ve embraced it!
Nevertheless, I’ve come to a different conclusion, based on my broader life experiences since my time in New York City. It's not that singlehood is a spiritual gift, but the Bible does teach that God can give us contentment and purpose with whatever circumstances we face, at least as long as those circumstances do not contradict his holiness.
From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.
Publication date: August 12, 2014