Category: I Corinthians 7

Singleness – solitary confinement or solitary refinement

orange and bananasSolitary confinement is considered to be the toughest, most extreme form of prison punishment.  People are put into a small hard-surfaced space for up to 23-24 hours a day, with no personal human contact.  Even their exercise time is alone.  Depending on the prison, they may have very limited opportunity for any stimulating experiences, TV, radio, education, hobbies, and reading.  The length of time may be days, weeks, months, even years.  Research shows that if a person was not mentally compromised before this experience, they will almost surely be, following lengthy isolation which was thrust upon them.

So, how does this relate to singleness?  Well, when a person is single for a lengthy part of his/her life, it can sometimes feel as though they have been put into a box labeled “alone.”  And, many of them simply did not “choose” this solitary circumstance.  It may feel as if it is a room which becomes smaller and more confining the older they get.

God addresses the solitary part right away in Genesis 2:18 after He had made a huge variety of animals and birds and a man who was given the incredible job of naming all these creatures.  How interesting must that have been?  But, when all was said and done, God saw that it was “not good that the man was alone.”  Now, given that He did go on to provide Eve for Adam – you know the rib story – over the years many have taken that verse to mean that it is not good for man to be unmarried.  But, the meaning is far wider than that.  No one can survive in a healthy manner totally and always alone.

Being isolated and alone for long periods of time changes who you are!

Unfortunately, many singles go through a period where they make the choice to exaggerate their aloneness by removing themselves from places where they feel their singleness is exaggerated.  And, unfortunately many onesomes feel that church is a place where this happens.  When marriage is held up as the “normal way to live,” they may wonder, “what about me?”  Now, I love seeing little folks running, laughing and playing, and love seeing moms and dads with their growing families.  I love seeing little glances couples give one another, and seeing them hold hands as they stand for prayer or singing or scripture reading during worship services.  In fact, for me, it is often just those simple things which warm my heart with joy – and which bring tears at the same time.  For some singles, going to church alone is simply too hard, and so they find other things to do with their Sundays.  In short, many isolate themselves from anything which is uncomfortable when it comes to relationships.

Most folks think of singleness as being a period of waiting – waiting for the next romantic relationship, waiting for that special person to marry, who also wants to marry you.  It is also considered preparation time for marriage.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with that.  However, I can tell you that “waiting” has a whole different feel when you are 20 or 30 than at 50 or 60 and beyond.  The Apostle Paul and I would have an animated conversation about a couple verses in I Corinthians 7.

Paul:  (NIV) Now to the unmarried and the widows I say:  It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.  But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.  (verses 8-9)

Me:  I agree.  But I need more details.  Is there some sort of “marriage pool” for eligibles?  You make it sound so easy.

Paul:

Me:  Uh, I can’t hear you.  I’m burning here.  (Repeat this last exchange over and over until you realize Paul doesn’t have an answer for you.)

 Let’s face it.  Just deciding by yourself that you will marry is not enough.  Wanting, desiring, longing, wishing, hoping, and even praying are not enough.  Going to singles activities, joining a singles group, going on-line to meet others who want relationship, and making yourself as attractive as possible, may not be enough either.  After a number of years, energy may wane.  And, let’s also face it.  It takes two to choose one another!

For many, it feels like solitary confinement which isolates, separates, and disconnects.

So, what is the alternative?  Solitary refinement!

Solitary refinement integrates, joins together, and connects, as well as frees from entangling and hindering things – “sin” is what Hebrews 12:1 calls it.  And I John 5:17 expands on it by calling it any un-right-ness.  Solitary refinement focuses on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – otherwise known as fruit of the Spirit.  Solitary refinement even rejoices when waiting is interminable, when broken relationship brings deep heartache, when God brings spiritual surgery using suffering as a scalpel.  “Consider it pure joy” is the way James 1:2 says it.  Faith-trials and testing bring perseverance, maturity, and completeness.

Solitary refinement brings freedom to serve the Lord in both body and spirit, bringing undivided fidelity to Him.  Note how strongly Young’s Literal Translation says it:  I Corinthians 7:35  “And this for your own profit I say, not that I may cast a noose upon you, but for the seemliness and devotedness to the Lord, undistractedly.

In other words, God through Paul is telling us that He does not want to confine us, but to refine us!

For more thoughts on I Corinthians 7, go back to the very first posts in this blog.

CELIBACY – Gift? Choice? Discipline?

wait hereA number of years ago as I closed a college women’s Bible Study, one of the students said to me, “I’ve never known anyone before who has the gift of celibacy.”  I can still see the admiration in her eyes – and can still feel the absolute gut-wrenching punch I felt inside.  I drove home in tears with this question:  “You didn’t do that to me, did you, God?”  I was in my early 30s.

I’ve wrestled with that question for what for some readers is more than their lifetime of years.  Earlier editions of Webster’s Dictionary define celibacy simply as the unmarried state, or as a vow made not to marry, particularly for religious reasons.  Somewhere along the line it also came to mean abstinence from sexual activity.

I find it interesting that while the Bible never uses the term, celibacy, it is well understood that abstaining from intimate physical relationships is the recommended way of life for those who do not have a spouse.

Gift?

Many Bible scholars use I Corinthians 7:7 as proof positive that Paul calls this way of life a gift.  “I wish that all of you were as I am, but each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” (NIV)  He appears to be speaking of the practice of abstinence from physical intimacy in and out of marriage – limited abstinence by agreement of husband and wife if married, total abstinence if not married.  For the unmarried person, Paul goes on to say in verses 8-9:  “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say:  It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.  But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

So, what happened to the gift?  Is it returnable?  Is it acceptable in some cases, not in others?  Is it one of the more specialized gifts termed as spiritual?  Are the effects instant if you accept it?  When and where do I get it?  What if I am one of the “burning” ones?

Hmmmmmm.  I wonder.

Choice?

Now, my stance on Scripture is constant.  I believe II Timothy 3:16-17 implicitly:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  So, that’s how I handle my frustration at times when I wish the Bible went further in some of its explanations – especially for the onesome.  Even though verses specifically for the single are few, they say exactly what God intended to say on the subject.

Our lives are rarely without choice in some form.  We choose to make God the center of our lives.  we choose modes of conduct, such as to steal or not steal, to envy or not to envy; to respect or to disrespect; to be faithful or to cheat.  We choose what to eat, wear, say, and do.

My personal opinion is that celibacy is a choice God leaves up to me.  Now, sometimes choices are made willingly – or unwillingly.  Both depend on what we conclude are the right things to do.  Why in the world would I choose celibacy when every part of my being desires that close connection with another person?

  • *  Well, first and foremost, I believe it is what God requests of me in order to serve Him faithfully.
  • *  I believe that physical intimacy involves giving of the deepest parts of my being to another.
  • *  I want the deepest parts of my being to be entrusted to my husband, not just anyone.
  • *  I want my husband to whom I give the deepest parts of my being to have mutual spiritual values.
  • *  I want to avoid distraction of physical/emotional complications caused by short-term intimate social relationships.
  • *  And so, I choose celibacy.

Discipline?

Personally, I believe a celibate life involves both well-considered choice and intentional discipline!  Self-discipline is one of the spiritual fruit mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5:22.  While this verse does not specifically connect it to intimacy issues, there are a host of scriptures which tell us to avoid unfaithfulness of all sorts, including sexual issues.  Where I used to rant and rave at God about the battle of hormones vs. faithfulness to Him, I find that disciplined practice brings a solid consequence of more consistent contentment with where I am now.  Let me illustrate.

I am a pianist.  I began piano lessons when I was about 4 years old because I would stand at the piano and pick out tunes I heard – mainly hymns.  My mother helped me begin to develop the gift of music.  Along with that came a bunch of choices.  I discovered along the way that my tastes moved toward traditional baroque, classical, and romantic composers:  Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.  Hearing music by composers like these just blessed a depth of my soul unlike much of contemporary music.  And then came discipline.  I decided to major in piano performance in college.  I thought I was pretty good as an incoming freshman piano major.  And then, I met my piano professor!  He took me way back to some basics I thought I had far surpassed.  I had to learn every piece at a snail’s pace.  BORING!  Then, one day I discovered that when I could play pieces from memory up to tempo, it was almost as if I could read them in my mind.  Learning them very slowly to begin with brought freedom from memory lapses, and great confidence and fun in performance.  I learned that discipline, while is often not fun, brings great reward!  I’m sure great athletes think the same.  What we see in public is born out of thousands of hours of private repetition and practice and study.  Discipline enhances the gift and the choice.

That is exactly how I feel about the discipline of celibacy after practicing it throughout my life.  It helps manage my thoughts and actions.  Choice of what I watch on TV and how I exercise my love of reading is managed by the discipline of knowing what causes me to move into areas of intimacy which simply are not available to me at present.  You know all those Hallmark movies, especially at Christmas?  Girl always gets boy, even in the most impossible of circumstances.  Even those I have to watch with discernment, because sometimes they feed a yearning in my heart which is not one God has chosen to fulfill – so far anyway.  There’s nothing wrong with the movies.  But, discipline has taught me that I need to discern the vulnerability of my heart to choose whatever I read and watch and think about in order to cultivate the quality of my life.

So what do you think?  Gift?  Choice?  Or discipline?  For more of my thoughts on this, see the first posts of this blog:  “I Corinthians 7 – a new look.”

Appetite, hunger, AND celibacy in singleness . . .

It’s the week after Thanksgiving, and if you are like the lion’s share of the country, you ended your Thursday with a full tummy and the thought that you wouldn’t need to eat for 3 days.  By the way, “lion’s share” is a term meaning “the most of.”  Watch any wild life documentary, and you’ve probably seen lions growling and biting and groveling for every bit of food they can get without concern for their furry family members. Of course, most of us didn’t wait 3 days, but were happy to see breakfast the next day.  Hopefully, most of us also stopped to ponder things to be thankful for in 2014.

Celibacy is often put into the same category as appetite and hunger.  Our body signals when it’s time to eat.  Our body also signals when it wants physical intimacy.  Just as hunger pangs increase the longer we do not eat, physical desire also increases when it does not receive release.  There’s just one gigantic difference.  One hunger leads to physical death if we do not eat again.  The other can lead to a variety of different places – frustration, anger, despair, or even contentment and self-control.  No matter how strong the urge,no one dies if they never express their sexuality in physical intimacy.

Not expressing sexuality in physical intimacy, however, has become a laughable, irrational, unreasonable concept to the lion’s share of the country.  And, too many of the lions are those who say they consider the Bible to be the faithful transcript of God’s mind in rules of conduct, yet they also agree that it is not reasonable – or even possible – to save physical sexual expression for marriage.  I have to admit that I have never seen a really good answer to “how does a single deal with intense sexual feelings without giving in to them?”  The church in general has opted to keep repeating, “Just don’t,” “Wait,” and “Take cold showers.”  None of these responses even begins to touch the core of the depth of desire many onesomes experience.

I admit that at times I am baffled by the lack of specific instruction in Scripture for the single person, especially the onesome in unwanted protracted singleness.  I have often read I Corinthians 7:9 with puzzlement.

  • *  KJV – If a man cannot contain, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn.
  • *  NIV – But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
  • *  NLT – But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry.  It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.
  • * AMP – But if they have not self-control (restraint of their passions), they should marry.  For it is better to marry than to be aflame [with passion and tortured continually with ungratified desire].
  • * MSG – But if they can’t manage their desires and emotions, they should by all means go ahead and get married.  The difficulties of marriage are preferable by far to a sexually tortured life as a single.

A cursory reading of this verse makes it sound as if marriage was sort of like a peach on a tree available for the picking.  It speaks to the “unmarried and the widows,” so men and women were addressed alike.

But, what happens to those who “burn” with nary a future spouse in sight?

I admit to a few flames at times.  How ’bout you?

Well, this is where the whole area of self-control, restraint, and management of desires and emotions comes into the picture.

Thought and physical desire become partners.

  • *  Jesus speaks of lust and immorality beginning in the mind.  (Matthew 15:19)
  • *  Taking part in things not glorifying to our Holy God leads to sin.  (Acts 15:20)
  • *  Alcohol can lead us to drop our normal boundaries.  (Romans 13:13)
  • *  The body is meant for sexual morality.  (I Corinthians 6:13-18)
  • *  Sexual immorality is idolatry.  (Colossians 3;5)
  • *  Flee immorality!  (I Corinthians 6:18)

Are restraint and self-control feasible in terms of celibacy even in a sex-crazed society?  Absolutely!  We have to make difficult choices every day.  Why not in this area?

NIV – Titus 2:11-12   For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age . . .

 

The Definitive Answer to “Why?”

why question mark“10 things to say to singles.”  “10 things not to say to singles.”  “14 principles for single living.” “5 things to do while single.”  “25 things to do to prepare for marriage while you are single.”  “35 things to be grateful for if you are single.”  “53 things to say to your spouse.”

OK.  We’ve all seen articles with titles like these, haven’t we.  Quite frankly, I seldom read them anymore.  They just don’t scratch the itch of onesomeness issues.

The Church tries to parcel out good advice to singles by saying, “Just don’t. . .”  Folks may talk about some of the negative consequences of “doing,” but rarely do they stress positives of “not doing.”  Of course, the title of this post is said tongue-in-cheek.  I’m still working on my definitive answer.

I said in my last post:  “. . . the Church has said “don’t” for centuries.  But the question of ‘why’ has not been answered adequately in order to build a good enough reason into single hearts to comply, [especially in the area of sexual activity.]

Everyone loves a baby.  Their innocence and sweetness when they smile and coo just touches deep places in our hearts.  People acting inappropriately toward a baby or young child brings out the “mother bear” in most of us.  In particular, we teach our little ones about good and bad touch and we work hard to keep them out of harm’s way.  So, what happens when they begin to mature physically and hormones start to kick in with hyperactivity?  Are they stilll not precious and do they still not house a treasure in their bodies and souls?  Are there not still reasons to consider good and inappropriate touch, particularly to areas of the body we consider private?  Is there an age where these considerations automatically stop?  Why should something which obviously brings a great deal of pleasure be limited to marriage – especially when we feel like the bull in a rodeo which is penned into a small stall.  Every fiber of his being wants out – to be free – to express his intensity.

So, what is a good enough reason for Christian singles to wholeheartedly comply with spoken cautions about our actions?  For some, the possibility of surprise pregnancy is not enough to deter.  A variety of health issues is not enough to deter.  “Because Scripture says so” is not enough to deter.  Shame is not enough to deter.  Waiting for a more fulfilling physical and emotional life is not enough to deter.

I wholeheartedly agree with Paul’s words in I Corinthians 7:32-35 which speak of freedom from concerns, undivided devotion, and the opportunity for unhindered attention to the Lord’s affairs.  This is exactly God’s desire for us in singleness.  However, I also know from personal experience that these things are not automatically built-in when a single commits him/herself to moral faithfulness.  Personally, I often find myself living in the midst of a great many concerns, divided attentions, and a feeling of loss and dissatisfaction at not having an intimate human life companion.  I have even at times hollered at God, “I know You are sufficient – but I do not feel as if You are enough.”

So, what have I found which helps answer my “why?

  • * God loves me with everlasting love and draws me with unfailing kindness.  (Jeremiah 31:3)
  • * Celibacy has never been the cause of anyone’s death – no matter how it may feel at the time.
  • * God knows my desires and He also knows my frustrations when they are not fulfilled.
  • * Jesus was tempted in all things as I am, and because He never gave in to temptation, He provides for me a way out of my temptations – every time.  (Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 2:18; I Corinthians 10:13)
  • * Temptation’s strength is not determined by what I give in to – but by what I resist – and I can resist!
  • * The Holy Spirit gives me power to live with self-control, patience, and persistence.  (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • * I can utilize self-control in many things which are harmful to relationships.  Why would I not expect to use it in sexual areas in sight, hearing, thought, and action?
  • * I can use unfulfilled desires as a sort of “fast,” as a reason to help me deepen my relationship with Christ.

Above all, I thank God for those friends who have listened to me throughout the years – sharing my desires and frustrations, encouraging me, not trying to “fix me.”  Giving these things a voice is extremely helpful!

For more thoughts on these things, take a look at the first posts of this blog, “I Corinthians 7 – a fresh look.”

S-I-N-gle and other S-I-N words

nametag single

“Sincere, singing, singular, and oh yes, single,” is the title of another post on my blog.  I mentioned that some well-meaning Christians may think it is no mistake that the word “single” starts with s-i-n.  This only applies to English, however.  I looked up the words for “unmarried person” and “sin” in Spanish, German, and French, and there is no similarity between the two words in those languages.  Go figure.

Sincere:  not false or fake; without pretense; free from adulteration.

One suggested origin of this word is from Latin, sine cera – without wax.  The story goes that some dishonest sellers of clay pots would cover over cracks with a mixture of clay and wax. The unsuspecting buyer would not know of the flaw until the pot was used with heat and the wax would melt.  I like that story, although now as I search that term, it is mostly discredited.  It encourages me, though, that God likes sincere jars of clay – cracked or not.  (II Corinthians 4:6-7)  By the way, I think the phrase, “without adulteration” is an apt definition we can ponder as Christian singles.

I’ll gladly apply that s-i-n adjective as a positive reflection of God in the life of singleness.

Singing:  to utter sounds with musical inflections or melodious modulations of voice, as fancy may dictate, or according to the notes of a song or tune, or of a given part (as alto, tenor, etc.) in a chorus or concerted piece.

Well, that’s how Webster.com describes it.  We know it as a mostly uncomplicated expression of the emotions of the heart, usually uttered by our mouth – happy or sad, joyful or sorrowful, fast or slow, leaping or standing still.  God likes our singing when we do it to His glory and honor; our level of skill is immaterial.  Of course, this applies to the whole scope of our lives, not just music.  (Colossians 3:16)

OK.  I’ll apply that s-i-n word as a possible reflection of Jesus in the circumstance of singleness.

Singular:  Webster uses words such as:  distinct; separate; individual; that of which there is only one; unique.

Peter calls us “a peculiar people” in I Peter 2:9.  That’s the King James way to say “chosen people,” “holy people,” or “purchased, special people.”  No matter now you phrase it, we are a singular people.  “A man after my own heart” is how God described David in Acts 13:22.  Now, that is a trait worth pursuing for a lifetime, isn’t it?

Time to apply that s-i-n- word as a positive reflection of the Holy Spirit in the state of singleness.

SINGLE:  One only; individual; separate; having no companion.

The word “single” is not one which is actually used in Scripture to describe a person without a spouse.  In I Corinthians 7:32, Paul uses the term “unmarried” for a man who does not have a wife.  In verse 34, he uses “unmarried” and “virgin” for a woman who does not have a husband.  Why both terms?  In Old and New Testament times, a man was most likely un-married only by way of death or divorce.  Very few men fell into the never-married category.  If a woman was no longer married because of death or divorce, she was un-married.  If she had never been married and had remained pure sexually, she was called “virgin.”  Today, the word “single” is used to denote anyone who is spouseless regardless of their sexual activity.

‘For some of us, words like “lonely,” “isolated,” “unfulfilled,” “unhappy,” “disappointed,” “dissatisfied,” or “discontent” come to mind as we ponder our state.  My personal experience in each one of those places is one of misery and pain.  As I continue my walk into the future, I choose to let each of those adjectives turn my focus to God for His compassionate work in my heart.  Instead of focusing on what I do not have, I ask Him to show me what I do have:

  • * A loving Heavenly Father..
  • * Jesus, Who is my Emmanuel and Savior, AND the ultimate model of the single life and joyful anticipation.
  • * The Holy Spirit Who is inside and beside me at all times working transformation in me.
  • * The ageless word of God which discerns the thoughts and intentions of my heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
  • * Brotherhood and sisterhood with others who walk this challenging path.

So, I guess I’ll add that s-i-n word to my current life, and praise God for His indescribable love for me – and for you!

 

I Corinthians 7 – a new look (Part 4)

Our impression of what the word “intimate” means has diminished over the years to mean sexual activity.  A dictionary search is quite different:  close personal relationship; characterized by warm feelings; private; closely personal; characteristic of inmost or essential nature; and finally, engaging in sexual relationship.  Scripture is full of information about how we are to conduct our lives in all these definition areas.  How the unmarried and married persons are to conduct themselves in physical sexuality is the only one which gives different instruction to each.  Handling this area with faithfulness, righteousness, and purity is a broad umbrella over those in both circumstances.

From the very beginning, close relationship with God was His intention.  Then came close relationship with others.  and the story unfolds with success and failure to this day.  Faithfulness to God is mentioned early in Genesis, and the pattern for Godly relationship is spoken of in marriage terms.  Violation of trust in this relationship is vividly represented in Jeremiah 3:6-10:  During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done?  She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.  I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.  I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.  Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.  In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the LORD.

Pretty strong language!  While there are no verses stating explicitly that Israel and Judah were “married to God,” it is to be understood from these verses in Jeremiah that the connection was in that context.  God states plainly to Israel in Jeremiah 3:14, “for I am your husband.”  And in verse 20:  “Like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me.”  And of course, we have other Old Testament verses which support this thought, a most notable one being Isaiah 54:5 where God says to Israel, “your Maker is your husband.  (Hosea 3:1; Isaiah 54:5)

Just as our understanding of intimacy is too small, so is our understanding of marriage!  We most often see it in the earthly relational and physical sense without realizing that it is a symbol of the spiritual relationship we have with our Maker, with Christ and His church. (Ephesians 5:21-32)  Neither the married nor unmarried have the complete picture which will be made perfect in our heavenly home as we finally understand the mystery of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Colossians 2:2-3)

I Corinthians 7 – A New Look (Part 3)

Three New Testament unmarried men stand out:  Jesus, John the Baptist, and Paul.  While it was very unusual, it does not appear that it was a popular subject for debate or criticism by the religious leaders.  Apart from Paul, their unmarriedness is never mentioned.  And, certainly their focus was undivided in serving God.

The matter of intimacy is a big one for the unmarried folk who desire to live faithfully in the physical sense.  The world has no problem flaunting sexual freedom in our faces.  Television and the internet bring vivid images to our sight 24/7.  We have to make choices which are in harmony with our commitment to Christ.  Can we tune out all temptation?  No.  Being tempted is not a sin.  Yielding to it is.  James is very adamant in his summary of temptation: (James 1:13-15)

  •               God tests us, but never tempts us to do wrong.
  •               We are tempted when our own desires take a wrong turn – to ache to do something immoral.
  • .             We have a choice:  turn away, or follow it and let it take over.
  •               Sin results, bringing death with it.

Eugene Peterson says it this way in The Message:  “Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby:  sin!  Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer.”

Obviously, temptations take many forms as addressed very clearly in the Ten Commandments, and breaking them begins with lust or the inordinate desire to do wrong.  Most of them have nothing to do with sexual issues.  And, obviously, these things apply to men and women alike, married or unmarried.

God’s grace and mercy, forgiveness and restoration also apply to men and women alike, unmarried or married.  We have Jesus as an Advocate who can empathize with our weaknesses and understand every temptation.  He not only provides a way out of every temptation; the Holy Spirit and Jesus intercede for us!  (Hebrews 4:15; I Corinthians 10:13; Romans 8: 26-27, 33)

 

I Corinthians 7 – a new look (Part 1)

What does the Bible say about singleness – or more precisely – unmarriedness?  I Corinthians 7 is the “go to” chapter since it and Jesus’ comments in Matthew 19 are the only New Testament verses which specifically speak to that state.  Knowing that those words were written during a time when singleness was a rarity unless it came with death of a spouse, may explain the scarcity of instruction, and has not made it an easy subject to talk about with clarity through the centuries.

But, guess what!  Everyone starts out single and unmarried!  Even Adam.  Now, Eve seems to be the only exception in the history of the world since she became an instant wife.  And, of course, neither of them started out as babies, making them a unique couple.  But, for the rest of us, initial singleness is a universal given.

Most of the attempts to explain Paul’s words in I Corinthians 7 leave me with more frustration than comfort, because the emphasis is usually that singleness can only be understood in light of what marriage is.  This emphasis is understandable, since even Paul gave the majority of this chapter over to speaking to married folk.  But, as a single woman who falls in the age category of “ancient never-married,” the sort of cursory mention of singleness in this chapter or a sermon or book is not satisfying.  Hearing a panel discussion a few weeks back with three married women whose marriages ranged from 15 years to 45 served as a catalyst to my decision to take a fresh look at this chapter.  I found their comments flippant.  I decided it was time to look at this chapter from another angle:  that understanding Godly singleness can bring more understanding of marriage.

I believe that every word of Scripture is “breathed by God” to teach and train us in righteousness.  So, I think the shortness of instruction in I Corinthians 7:32 and 34 to unmarried men and women is exactly what God intended to say to us.  Both have the freedom to be more concerned about the Lord’s affairs because they do not have a spouse.  That is unequivocally true!  But, with all due respect, trying to encourage singles with only these words may fall short.

  •                  What do we do with our hearts?
  •                  Who serves as our sounding board?
  •                  Who is as fully vested in the decisions we must make, and helps us make them?
  •                  How do we have meaningful conversations without having to make an appointment?
  •                  How do we handle intimacy when even simple things are not ours to enjoy, let along deep things?
  •                  How do we satisfy the need to be touched?
  •                  Who chooses us?
  •                  Who puts romance in our lives?

These are places unmarrieds live every day!