Many different times I’ve been asked if I had the “gift” of singleness. It’s always bothered me. I think it’s because there is basically only one scripture that uses anything close to that term, and even then it isn’t singled out (ha – how about that pun).
The scripture of course is in 1 Corinthians 7. I’ve talked about this section of scripture more in depth but basically Paul is talking about marriage, singleness, divorce etc. In the very first paragraph, Paul says that he wishes all were like him (single) but that each person has their own gift from God.
That’s it. That is the only place in the entire Bible where you could make the case for the “gift” of singleness.
Notice that we don’t go around asking people if they have the gift of marriage. I guess if you are married you’ve got it and if not it could go either way?
I think either marriage or singleness could be a gift in a sense. But it’s not a spiritual gift. It’s not tongues, prophesy, teaching, mercy, healing, exhortation, singleness. . .
The big problem I have with the gift idea is what is often implied. It’s the idea that if you have this gift then you will know it and you will be able to handle singleness no problem. Flip this around – if you have the gift of marriage then you will not have any problems in marriage, because you will desire all the right things etc. Um yeah, not so much.
A president of a seminary has said that to determine if I have the gift of singleness I should ask myself, “Can I go the rest of my life without sex, without the companionship of marriage, without having children and without being bitter about it?” He says if I answer yes, then I probably have the gift of singleness.
Maybe, but the problem is that I could probably answer that yes at this point in my life. But I’m engaged and I’m pretty sure God is in that. My point is that I could go without sex (I’ve done it for 40 years) and I’m not bitter.
This whole area is a complete mess in our culture because we have so many people not married. There are A LOT of reasons for this, some good, most bad. But we have the chance here as the Church to begin to help people figure this out. It starts with recognizing what marriage really is and what celibacy for life really is, and then helping people walk in both. We need some different questions.
Jesus doesn’t talk about it being a gift. In one of the most misused “singleness” scriptures of all time Jesus actually says something way more interesting. In Matthew 19 Jesus is asked about divorce. He says it’s not good and goes beyond what they were expecting to say that anyone who divorces his wife for any reason other than sexual immorality and marries another, commits adultery.
The disciples are shocked. They say, “If this is the situation between man and wife, it’s better not to marry.” Then Jesus says this not every one can accept this word (what he just shared about marriage), but only those to whom it is given.
But then Jesus goes on to say that some are eunuchs at birth, some are made that way by others and, “there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Big word there. Do you see it. CHOOSE. Look Out!
Is Jesus saying we have a choice?
This is so critical. We have over spiritualized/romanticized the whole dang thing. No where in the Bible does it say that there is THE ONE. No where does it talk about a soul mate. No where does it say that married or single that I won’t struggle with sexual sin or have no unmet desires. We’ve made up this perfect scenario and it messes up the whole thing – singleness and marriage.
Marriage is a choice. So is celibacy. I can choose to make a vow with God to another person in holy matrimony. I can also make a vow with God, to celibate ministry. Both are good. Neither has anything to do with being single as we know it today. It’s not about whether one is easier or harder for me.
We all make choices. We pass on dating/marrying certain people and we make choices to date/marry certain people. Other people make choices about us. We make vocational choices, geographical choices. We have more choices than any culture at any point in history.
This is why it is so critical that we walk with God and others – so that we can make more good choices. God may well call you toward one or the other. We choose whether or not to listen and obey – just like every other aspect of life.
I need to read your blog more. It is so great. I have been bad about reading (and writing) all blogs in general lately. Just wanted to say that this is my favorite quote from this most recent post: “I guess if you are married you’ve got it and if not it could go either way?” Ha! Love you Justin!!
Thank you for pointing out the fact that we make choices and that we are responsible for our choices. Simple, powerful truth.
Amen! I think the church uses that blanket phrase to pay lip-service to singleness being an okay life choice while still emphasizing marriage and family. They act like having the gift of singleness is a consolation prize. I wish the church would address singleness in a real way, something that deals with the depth of the issue and acknowledges the challenges and the fact that some people have singleness forced on them rather than choosing it, and not everyone is happy about being single. (Of course, catch me on another day and I’ll complain that the church needs to realize some people ARE happy being single. 😀 )
Marriage is what most people are called to. It’s the default way of life. It’s not a spiritual gift. But there is a spiritual gift of celibacy, as rare as it may be. Most people will never meet somebody called to this way of life. A better word today may be “calling” because “gift” is misinterpreted by so many people today to mean “if you have this gift then you will know it and you will be able to handle singleness no problem.” That is not true. There are challenges with it, just as there are challenges with marriage. If you use the phrase “lifetime celibacy,” that might clear up the mess in this area. “Singleness” basically has no meaning. I have a single pencil on my desk. Your method of interpreting 1 Corinthians 7 is interesting. I know of only one place in the Bible where it mentions Jesus wept. Are we to discount that because . . . it’s only mentioned one time? The bible does not change based on cultural expectations. John http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2012/12/20/the-gift-of-celibacy-its-meaning-today/
Good thoughts. I agree most people are called to marriage. The problem is we don’t even ask the question. And I totally agree singleness (especially as practiced) is not a good word. We need to recover words like celibacy and chastity. As far as one verse, no I wouldn’t base my whole picture of Jesus around Jesus wept. However it goes with the bigger picture of what we know of Jesus in total from the scripture, that he was compassionate.
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I felt as if God was urging me to seek out a mate about four years ago, but nothing good came out of it. I found myself feeling anger and jealousy towards Him and the couples I saw walking hand-in-hand out in public. And that’s not even mentioning the smothering depression that seemed to creep up me at random. It wasn’t helped by the posts I saw online of people who’d been praying and waiting for years for a mate and still hadn’t found one. In fact, one of the last proverbial straws for me was when I called a prayer hotline for emotional support a few months back. I told the kind-hearted lady about my predicament, and she said, “I know how you feel, Chris, because I’ve been asking tne Lord for a mate for 30 years now.” It was like, REALLY?
I decided that I couldn’t and wouldn’t wait that long if that’s how long it would take and asked God to just take away my sex drive so that the urge for a mate, and the emotional havoc that I was experiencing as the result of not having one, would all go away. And you know what? He listened. Being single and celibate doesn’t sound nearly as bad as it used to.
Due to a birth defect I had no say in
It’s resulted in me being asexual
I hate how sex seems to be a deal breaker In marriage . I don’t desire sex at all due to a medical condition I will always have so I can’t get married even if I wanted too I’m screwed because of sex . I’m not ok with that ! Feel likey free will has been very much violated
Marriage has to be more than sex !!
I took a spiritual gifts test and my top gift was Celibacy. I think you’re really on to something with the choice thing, though. The questions that led to my getting high marks in the celibacy category were questions like “Do I understand where Paul is coming from when he says he wishes we would all be single like him?” I have the gift of Empathy, so of course it’s very easy for me to understand where another person is coming from. Yes, I understand why Paul says that. I’m also uncompromising in my standards and values, so I’m not going to just up and marry the next man I meet. Is that a gift? I don’t know. Do other people not have that?
Do I hope I will marry some day? Yes, I do! I don’t think it’s a “gift” that I’ve been celibate for 31 years, though. I think God has done an extraordinary amount of hedging in to protect me from bad choices I might’ve otherwise made.
“Can I go the rest of my life without sex, without the companionship of marriage, without having children and without being bitter about it?” No, I can’t. I’ve been bitter, and then I calm down. And get bitter again, and calm down again. It’s a struggle because I can’t possibly believe God would want for me the kind of pain and heartbreak I feel at the prospect of being single forever.
But I am choosing to be faithful. I am choosing to cling to the standards and ideals my faith has given me. I am choosing not to compromise. Does that make me gifted? I don’t know.
I don’t know what test you took, but based on what you’re saying here, I would guess that celibacy is not a gift. What you have done, and should continue to do, is remain sexually pure. That’s a good thing. That’s called obedience. That is very good. Now I suppose you could be called to celibacy and because of cultural expectations built up this idea that you need to be married. But if you desire it and feel like God hasn’t gifted you to remain single, then I’d free yourself from the results of that test. I’d also ask those who know you best what they think.
Actually, you arent quite right about thats it a choice. Someone who like me is disgusted by the very idea of having sex being anything other friends with someone is not my choice. Its a sexual oriontation called asexuality. Due to this i have no interest in having arelationship with any man woman or anything in between. (any relationship beyond friendship) My pastor says i am the only person he has met with a true gift of celibancy. In its estimated that only 1% of the population are like me. Truthfully i find it to be nice not having to deal with those feeling. While i see nothing wrong with people getting married i know i will never have that need to. So what you say is not entirly true, people with the real gift of celibancy do exist we just arnt as common some would have you believe.
Why do many men blame women for their singleness? Well i know i do.