Is Situational Singleness A Gift?

One of the things that I’ve read on occasion and heard in conversations as well as from the pulpit, is the way to know if you have the gift of singleness is if you are single right now, then you’ve got it.

Now, in some evangelical circles, there is of course debate on whether singleness is a gift or even a calling at all.  But I’m going to go ahead and side with 2000 years of Church history along with a straight reading of the scriptures and say that it is.

Here is the general idea of what these folks are selling.  The basic idea is of course that God is sovereign and therefore whatever context you find yourself in is the one that God is “gifting” you with right now.  If you are unmarried then right now you have the gift of singleness.  Married?  Then right now you have the gift of marriage.  Both are gifts.  All contexts we find ourselves in are gifts.

But in our current culture this idea is fraught with problems.

First of all, we don’t do this with other contexts of our lives.  For example.  Let’s say that you don’t have a job.  One might say, “God will bring you a job” or “God will show you how to get a job”.  We might even say, “take whatever job you can to provide for your needs but look for what God is calling you to do.”  What we don’t do however is say, “sit around and in the right time God will bring you a job.”  I’ve never heard anyone preach about the “Gift of Joblessness” simply because you don’t have one.  “God is gifting you with joblessness right now.”  Yeah no.  Do you have the gift of being thousands of dollars in debt because that’s your financial context?

This also flies in the face of what Paul says, (What is amazing is that they will quote Paul while teaching exactly what he doesn’t say – it’s confounding).  What Paul says is that if you are single and not content – go get married.

One of the big results of this sort of teaching is a bunch of Christians sitting around waiting for their spouse that God has for them or their Christian soulmate.  This creates all sorts of issues which we’ve discussed ad nauseam here.  The worst might be that it turns God into the Great Withholder and puts all the blame for our rise in singleness on Him.

Now we can be content in Jesus no matter what our circumstances.  And every day is indeed a gift from God.  But not everything that happens is a gift from God – although He can use it all.  In fact if we are content in Jesus, frankly that should make us discontent with our context at some level.  If for no other reason than I should at least be discontent with my sin.

Which brings us to the next problem.  It doesn’t take into account sin.  If you are single and sleeping with someone, or a lot of someones, do you have the gift of singleness right now?  If you are living with someone do you have the gift?  If you are divorced do you have the gift?

Whatever else Paul is implying he is not saying, “stay single and date around if you are called to singleness” or “remain single and irresponsible for as long as you can”.  He is in no way talking about the space of extended singleness we have created in our culture. That season did not exist in Paul’s world.  Certainly not as long of one.

We need to understand that in the secular vernacular anyone who is not married is single. And the Church has played right into this.  Rather than lead, we’ve surrendered the terms. Biblically speaking there are those who are celibate via one of three ways, those that are divorced, those that are widowed, and those that are not yet married.  Those are all completely different contexts with completely different instructions.  It would probably be better if the word single was never spoken from the pulpit again.

We need to rescue the call of celibacy for the Kingdom that Paul and Jesus are actually talking about from the contexts of our culture that frankly the church has helped create. We need to help people follow their actual calling.  We need to stop demanding everyone get married while at the same time telling them that God has them gifted as single “for now” which makes no sense whatsoever.  Downgrading the gift/calling of celibacy into a situational gift is hurting both those who are called to it and those who aren’t.

I realize that if you are currently not married, none of this helps you with the actual question of do you have the gift/calling of celibacy.  I plan to write a post soon with some help on that question.  But I want you to hear this:  Your circumstances do not define you or your gifting.

You Are Single For A Reason – But Probably Not The One You Think

In my 20 plus years of being single I’ve heard a lot of reasons for singleness.  Some of it was attempted pastoring or self righteousness, but most times it was attempted encouragement which I learned to appreciate because I knew people loved me.

As I’ve said almost ad nauseum here we in the Christian single culture have basically settled for spiritual platitudes that don’t really deal with the issue at hand – either individually or as a whole society.

One of those is the idea that God has you single right now. This is of course often followed by other platitudes such as “God has you single right now for a reason”, or “Since God has you single right now, take advantage of that”. Or “God has you single right now so be content in that”.

One of the big problems we have in protestant culture when it comes to singleness is a complete lack of understanding of what Paul is talking about when it comes to the unmarried.  It kills us because we keep bringing “the word” to the situation without even understanding what we are saying.  We mix and match scriptures in an attempt to make the current singleness culture fit into our favorite theological leanings.  It ends up being “help us sleep at night theology” that frankly doesn’t help many people live well single or get married.

Now before I say more and make some people really uncomfortable, let me say this clearly for the record – God may indeed want you to be single right now.  No doubt He calls us to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different seasons.  So I’m not negating that possibility in someone’s personal life.

But it is a terrible blanket answer to singleness.  It would mean that God has suddenly in the last 40 years of history decided that people shouldn’t get married until 30 or older.  Or I guess it could mean that for thousands of years people disobeyed God by getting married earlier.  I’m not comfortable with either of those answers.

First off, the bible never talks about singleness as we know it.  It just doesn’t.  In the oft referred to passage in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul is answering questions the Corinthians had asked about marriage and sexual immorality.  There was mass confusion and he was attempting to clear some things up.

Paul says a lot of things here but when it comes to the “gift” of being unmarried, Paul is NOT talking about a call to a season of singleness.  He is instead talking about a call to (or gift of) celibacy.  He is saying that some are called to serve God from an unmarried state. He is not saying you have the gift of singleness until you get married.  He is saying if you have it, don’t get married.  That is a HUGE distinction.  

What we’ve done is taken this and turned it into a way to avoid dealing with why we are single.  Or we take other things Paul says in other places and transpose it into this passage.  For example in Philippians 4 Paul says he has learned to be content in all circumstances.  We transpose that to mean, “God has called you to singleness right now and you should be content in that.”  But that isn’t what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7.  He says if you aren’t content (read called, or gifted) in celibacy – Go Get Married!

This is so critical.  Paul is not saying if you are unmarried that you don’t have to worry about the things of marriage.  It would be more accurate to say that one of the ways to see if you are called to celibacy is to ask if you are worried about it.  Otherwise he would be saying that celibate people are better followers of Jesus than married people.  If that were true then no one should get married.

My biggest problem with this is that we end up saying to people, if you are single right now that is where God has you and you should just sit there and be content in it.  That is not what Paul says.

There are lots of reasons our society is where it is in terms of marriage.  Most of it is not God’s plan.

God is not calling you to be insecure around women you like.  He has not given you the “gift” of lack of commitment.  He has not called you to live with someone you are dating instead of marrying them.  He is not calling you to consumer date.  He is not promising you that if you are called to marriage that it will magically happen without your effort.  He has not “gifted” you with the fear of divorce.  He has not given you the “gift” of extended adolescence.  I could go on and on.

We as singles need to quit hiding from our crap in bad theology and the Church needs to get off it’s butt and quit enabling us to do it.  The Church should be the safest place to deal with all of the reasons why we are single, not just the ones that make a nice sermon.

You are single for a reason – lots of reasons actually.  Some of that may be God’s timing or calling.  But a whole heck of a lot of it isn’t.  The way out isn’t mixing and matching scripture to feel better.

Singleness Is Not A Spiritual Gift

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.