The subject of Christian singleness is often discussed among Christians. The gender imbalance in many churches (usually in favour of females) is a matter of grave concern.
As a Christian, how can one know whether singleness is the Lord’s will for you? The answer is not found in human philosophy or secular psychology, but in the Holy Scriptures, including in what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:25-35.
When it is wrong
First of all, enforced celibacy as practised by some ecclesiastical systems is unbiblical (1 Timothy 4:1-3). The Word of God never commands it and no one should make a presumptuous vow of celibacy.
Secondly, people must not be too quick to assume they have a gift of singleness just because they remain unattached at a marriageable age. God’s timetable often differs from ours and we must be careful not to jump to conclusions too soon; we have witnessed the holy matrimony of some in their late thirties and early forties.
We need to learn to wait upon the Lord patiently (Psalm 27:14) and commit this vital aspect of our lives to him in prayer. God’s will is the best for us (Romans 8:28). It is better to be involved in a relationship that may come later and be the first and last, than to have experienced many broken relationships that don’t come to fruition and bring all the attendant heartaches.
God’s timing is always best. Trust the all-wise creator God rather than yourself. And, it must be added, there is human responsibility too. Make time for Christian fellowship and healthy inter-personal relationships in the Lord; you never know what God can do.
Having said all that, what if it really is God’s will for you to be single? Some have expressed concern about their ability to remain so. I believe that if the Lord has called you to be single, he will supply the necessary grace for such a calling.
He who is our creator knows our make-up and his will is best for us. The psalmist said, ‘For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust’ (Psalm 103:14). What then are the reasons Paul gives for some (not all) remaining single? The following are to be taken seriously.
The prospect of persecution (1 Corinthians 7:25-27)
Persecution is bad enough for a single person, but problems and suffering are multiplied for one who is married. Married believers can expect that persecution will not only affect them but their families as well.
Married believers in Paul’s time, and ours too, cannot escape carrying a heavier load than those who are single. In times of trial (which may come at any time), it is better to go through it alone than compound the suffering with a spouse or family, and maybe face the prospect of separation too.
In this sense, singleness is preferable to marriage.
The problems of the flesh (1 Corinthians 7:28)
Believers are subject to the limitations and temptations of the flesh. When two imperfect persons are bound together in marriage, the problems of human nature are multiplied. They as redeemed sinners will inevitably have a measure of conflict with each other, with their children, and possibly with their parents and in-laws.
If God has given you the gift of singleness, it is good to avoid the problems that humanness brings into marriage. There are real practical concerns within a marriage bond from which a single person is spared.
The passing of this world (1 Corinthians 7:29–31)
Paul said that ‘the fashion of this world passeth away’. The original word for ‘fashion’ refers to a way of doing things or a mode of existence. Although God ordains and blesses marriage, our Lord Jesus has said that marital relations do not last for ever (Matthew 22:30). Death severs a marriage.
The time that God has allotted to us in this world is brief. The marriage vow is ’till death (not divorce) do us part’, and not for eternity (Mark 12:19-25). Life is described as a vapour that vanishes away (James 4:14). 70-80 years is not a long time compared to eternity.
Paul ends verse 29 by saying ‘it remaineth, that … they that have wives be as though they had none’. That does not mean that you are to neglect your spouse or children for the sake of ministry. It does mean that you are to get your priorities right and fulfil your responsibilities to God and men (including spouse and children) in that order.
Whether you are single or married, give your devotion and energy to the Lord above all things, to the glory and honour of his name.
The preoccupation of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:32–35)
According to the apostle, those who are married will naturally be preoccupied with each other and family matters. But one who is not married has the opportunity to be undivided in devotion to the Lord.
Paul said in verse 32, ‘I would have you without carefulness’, and in verse 35 he ends with ‘that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction’. It is inevitable that there are certain things that encumber you when you are married.
It must, however, be emphasised that marriage need not prevent us from greater devotion to the Lord; and singleness does not guarantee such devotion either. The apostle is saying that, on balance, singleness has fewer hindrances and more advantages. A single person has fewer distractions in this life. It is noteworthy that there are many single ladies and men serving the Lord effectively on the mission field and in other ministries.
This is not to disparage married couples, but to recall the privileges of the unmarried person. The central focus of the apostle Paul’s advice here is the promotion of a faithful, undistracted and undivided devotion to the Lord. For what is the chief end of man, but to glorify God and enjoy him for ever?
One inevitable outcome of gender imbalance in our churches today is that more Christians will remain single (or be unequally yoked to non-believers, which is forbidden by such Scriptures as 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). It is better to be single and serving the Lord fruitfully than to be unhappily married with an unbeliever and live to regret it later.
We have known of quite a few single ladies who are living fulfilling lives, serving the Lord in the church, and having a fruitful career at the same time. They have the added advantage of being available to reach out and minister to others or be involved in supporting missionary endeavours.
Some have been enabled to give more liberally as they carry less financial burden than if they were in a family situation. There are tangible burdens within families, with children and other familial commitments.
There are distinctive benefits in being single according to the Word of God and we should not despise those who have such a calling in the Lord. There should be no social or moral stigma attached to singleness.
In fact, Paul by implication commends such people for their single-mindedness and undivided devotion in the things of the Lord (v.32), and believers should do likewise and not disparage them. Let us be careful and sensitive that we do not tease nor pass unedifying remarks about those who are single in our midst.
Paul was able to testify in Acts 20:24: ‘But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God’.
One need not avoid the subject of marriage and singleness, nor be embarrassed or overly engrossed with it. Whether you are married or single, may it ever be your goal to set your affections on things above (Colossians 3:1-3) and consecrate your life to Christ in joyful worship and service, for the time is passing quickly and soon we will ever be with the Lord.
We are living in momentous days. Who can tell if the Lord will come tomorrow? ‘Occupy till he comes’ (Luke 19:13) is the holy injunction and we do well to heed it, whatever our circumstances.
Praise the Lord both for the married and for the singles in our churches. Both are blessed and a blessing as they walk in their God-ordained paths.
Jack and Angelina Sin