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.