A lot of married people have told me over the years that I should enjoy ministry as a single person because when (notice not if) I get married then I will not be able to do as much for the Lord.
I’ve determined that most of these people have no idea what they are talking about. I don’t mean that as a slam at all. I just think that most people haven’t lived it. It comes mostly from people who have a tough situation or who got married really early and the last thing they remember about being single was what it was like as an a person in their early twenties.
This whole thought process is based on a bunch of wrong understandings and assumptions.
A lot of it comes from what I would call a misinterpretation of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35. Paul basically says that an unmarried person is devoted to the Lord and not distracted by the needs of his spouse. This is then interpreted to mean that a person can do more ministry as a single.
But I don’t think that is actually what Paul is saying when you put it in the wider context of that scripture and certainly in the context of all scripture.
First of all if this is true then the Church should be encouraging everyone to stay single. We’d get a heck of a lot more done apparently. But obviously this is not the case. Hmm. So I can be more devoted to the Lord as a single but I should get married. Confused yet? So are they.
This is why it is so important to think about calling instead of making assumptions. In the broader context it seems to me that Paul is saying live as you are called – don’t give in to societal (or I would add Church) pressures. Are you called to singleness – don’t seek marriage. Are you called to marriage – don’t remain single.
Paul is not trying to say that married people are any less devoted to the Lord or that they can’t do ministry.
He’s saying be aware that the married person’s number one ministry is to their spouse -that is what the covenant of marriage is all about. Second would be their children. But that doesn’t become their only ministry.
Paul is also not saying, as many people tell us singles, “Enjoy this season being devoted to the Lord until you get married because then you’ll be less devoted.” Paul is not talking about a season of singleness. He is talking about a calling to follow the Lord in a way that doesn’t include marriage. Big difference!
This is actually one of the huge tensions single people often face. They know that they are called to be married, and yet they are trying to serve the Lord. Tension comes in big time when the calling seems to lead them into less chances to meet potential partners. Let’s say you’re single and 30 and feel called to work with youth. You work on a team with all married people. So now you spending your free time with married people and kids. Whoops.
I have often lived in this tension. Do I stay in my small group with all marrieds or not? Should I go do my ministry tonight or to the party? I want to date this person but they aren’t doing any of the same ministry (church, small group, project etc) as I am. What do I do?
The truth is that despite the common assumption, I can be extremely distracted with marriage and the things of this world even though I am presently single. I’ve seen this totally wreck single people’s ministry and for that matter their walk with God.
I’ve actually seen many times where a person becomes a better missional person after they get married because the question is now answered and they don’t have to be distracted by it any more. And there in lies what I think the whole of scripture would point to.
We need to take stock of our calling. One of the tests here is if I’m not distracted by the need to marry it might be a good idea to stay single (now just because I’m distracted doesn’t mean I’m called to be married but it’s an indicator). If on the other hand I don’t feel called to follow the Lord that way and indeed feel like I should be married then I need to pursue that.
What Paul is saying is be devoted to the Lord and take action. When he says to “stay” as you are that is not passive – it’s an action step. If you should get married pursue it, with the Lord obviously. If you shouldn’t get married, pursue that – again with the Lord.