Today I want to revisit the idea of the “gift” of singleness. I was reminded of how messed up our theology of singleness seems to be by this post at Relevant.
Now to be fair, the author says some good things so I want to point those out. He rightly says that the Church is too focused on marriage as the only path. He also rightly implies that the Church is terrible at dealing with single people. And he even goes so far as to say that not everyone will or even should get married. Amen!
However, the problem here is that he links the gift of singleness to all people that are not married. This idea is rampant and it’s bad. It’s terrible theology, and it leads to confusion. Now I’ve written about this a ton, but like I said, we need to keep revisiting this.
First of all, the statement that “even if you’re looking for a spouse, that is not your number one priority” is just patronizing. “Remember single folks, your number one priority is your relationship with God”. Wow. Really?! I didn’t know that. Geesh. You want to know what your number one priority as a married person is? Um yeah . . . your relationship with God.
While I don’t think that you should become consumed with looking for a spouse, I actually think that if you want to get married and you’re over the age of 22, you should probably put some serious effort and focus on it. It doesn’t just happen. Remember that Reformed Romance is a myth and its killing us. God isn’t going to just “poof” you a spouse when He decides it’s time.
Second is the completely ridiculous idea that if you are single and want to be married that you are less distracted from God and His calling on your life than if you are married. That is NOT what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. What he says is that if you aren’t distracted by it, then maybe you have the gift of singleness. In 25 years of ministry to young people and with those serving young people, I can tell you that some of the most distracted people I’ve known are those looking for a spouse.
Another funny thing about this is that almost every pastor, elder and church leader that you see is married. So the idea that you can’t be as good in ministry married as single seems a bit disingenuous at best. Especially when spoken by a protestant church leader.
Another big problem here is that if everyone who is not married has the gift of singleness then we end up lumping all unmarried people together. This is unbiblical, ineffective and often hurtful.
Does the person who has been married and divorced three times now have the gift of singleness? Does the person who consumer dates have the gift of singleness? Does the person who has three kids out of wedlock have the gift of singleness? Does the widow have this gift?
The truth is that biblically speaking, there are the not yet married, the divorced, the widowed, the married, those who are celibate because they were born that way, those who are celibate because of the fall of man and those who are celibate for the Kingdom (the actual gift Paul is talking about). All have different contexts and biblical instructions.
When we lump everything together, even with good intentions of actually engaging singles, we just create more mess. We need to do several things instead.
First we need an actual theology of singleness. This includes understanding all of the aforementioned groups and especially an actual biblical and traditional view of celibacy. Without this, we will continue to create confusion and chaos.
Secondly we while we do need to quit treating all unmarried people, regardless of which biblical group they are in, as inferior in the church, we also need to walk a very fine line. We need to be able to say both, It’s ok that you’re single but understand not only the “advantages” but the costs. We need to help people determine their actual calling to either celibacy or marriage, and then help them follow it.
It’s not beneficial to keep telling a group of people who aren’t getting married not to worry about it. We need to stop telling them how hard marriage is while leaving out the joy of marriage every bit as much as we need to not tell them about the joy of marriage while leaving out the hard. We need to quit telling single people to take advantage and do more ministry while they can before they have to do the hard work of marriage. We don’t have a too much too soon marriage problem. We don’t need to de-incentivize marriage for those not called to celibacy.
And for the love of all things we need to quit telling every unmarried person that they have the gift of celibacy. It confuses those not called to it and dishonors those that are.
Every day is a gift from God. But not every context we find ourselves in is our gifting.