Personal view: Singleness
I was interested in the article on ‘Singleness’ in September’s ET by Jack and Angelina Sin. I have now celebrated over 70 years as a single person, 60 of which have been spent as a Christian single.
I gather Jack and Angelina were motivated to write firstly out of concern over ‘the gender imbalance in many churches’ and a subsequent desire to encourage single people (predominantly female) to see their role in a positive light, and secondly to encourage a more positive, caring attitude within churches towards single people.
Both of these motives are commendable and I trust both singles and married were helped through reading their article. But I would like to address some issues they raised and add some further comments, partly from my own experience as a single person.
Jack and Angelina particularly focused on the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. But this difficult passage, I believe, could raise more questions than provide answers for many a single person. It could also lead a sensitive married person to question whether he or she should have got married after all.
In Ephesians 5, Paul places marriage on a high pedestal, using it as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the church. And 1 Corinthians 7 must be considered in conjunction with Genesis 2:18-25, where God explicitly teaches that it is not good for man to be alone.
How should we encourage those who are single? Personally, I don’t believe the answer lies in encouraging us to seek assurance that we have the ‘gift of singleness’, whatever that term may mean.
The phrase ‘gift of singleness’ is frequently bandied about, and often in situations when the single person appears to be coping well with his or her single state. Sharon James makes reference to ‘the myth of the gift of singleness’ in her book God’s design for women (EP Books) and I agree with her view.
If someone knows they have this ‘gift’, I cannot help but wonder what practical difference this knowledge really makes and at what point in time the single person can expect to be aware of it. Surely as Christians, single or married, we should all aim for the attitude described by Paul in Philippians 4:11: ‘For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances’?
I would encourage the single person to make every effort to learn more about God and his wisdom, omnipotence, faithfulness, sovereignty and other attributes – and particularly his concern for his own glory – and then to seek to live life in the light of this knowledge. Herein lies our peace.
Living the single life (and probably the married life) is a continual battle against the world, flesh and devil. A single person has to do this without the support systems available to married friends, and needs to trust in and lean on the Saviour all the more.
Being assured of the prayers, understanding and support of the family of God is, therefore, of tremendous value. Whatever the meaning of 1 Corinthians 7, persecution and trial are very hard for single Christians too; particularly as ‘it is not good for the man to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18).
It is sad if there is a singles/married divide in churches. Where this exists, every effort should be made to remedy the situation.
Single people can be quite vulnerable, particularly if they find themselves within a small church situation where most of their contemporaries are married and they are made to feel something is ‘not quite right’ about them if they haven’t ‘found’ a marriage partner by a certain age. However well singles have adjusted to a single life, they still have God-given longings and desires, and the need for recognition, inclusion and acceptance.
Christian singles these days can find themselves emotionally bruised in the work place, where the cultural expectation is that women should at least have a partner, even if they are not married.
It can also be difficult for singles attending work-related social functions. It is sad, therefore, if whilst facing such problems at work, Christian singles encounter innuendoes and insensitivity within the family of God.
If a single person is hurt by a particular attitude within their church – and sadly such situations are not uncommon – the ethos of the church should encourage open discussion of the problem before the wound becomes deep-seated and causes a rift in relationships.
In many ways, a single life is a ‘life outside the norm’. It is part and parcel of living in a fallen world. I believe that God, for his own purposes, chooses some to live ‘outside the norm’ in this way.
I find it a real comfort to know that I am single, not because of a fault in my genes, not because I am less attractive, not because I have chosen to live a selfish life rather than give myself to another, nor that I just have not been in the right place at the right time, but predominantly because God has willed that at that time, and maybe across the whole of my life, this is how it should be. What a privilege that God should choose my way for me!
It can be encouraging for the single person to reflect on God’s hand in the events of life, those twists and turns that have occurred and led from one strange situation to another, bringing sometimes blessing and at other times sorrow in their train.
At such times of reflection, however hard and however contrary to natural inclinations the single path may be, we can remember that, ‘in [Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will’ (Ephesians 1:11).
Finally, I have found the last two lines of a verse from a hymn by George Herbert to be of great comfort and challenge:
Or if I stray, he doth convert
And bring my mind in frame
And all this not for my desert
But for his holy name.