A few months ago I heard a sermon on 1st Corinthians 7 in the context of a great series on marriage and love. Paul writes here that some people should stay single. That part of the scripture was read, but the pastor literally skipped talking about it. Hmmm.
Here’s the truth about the Church and singleness: We don’t know what the heck to do with it.
There are almost no scriptures that talk about it. There is the idea of a gift or calling to it but we are somehow unable or unwilling to actually preach on it. Meanwhile the number of singles in our country continues to grow. What is it we are going to tell them?
We only have one recorded conversation in which Jesus discusses it directly. Jesus is asked about divorce as a kind of a trick question in Matthew 19 (Mark 10). The pharisees ask Jesus if a man can divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus answers that even though the law provided for it that it was not the original intent. He points out that from the beginning (pre-sin) that marriage was the joining together of two people and should not be separated by man. As we’ve discussed, this shows us about marriage and that sex belongs there.
The disciples are incredulous. Basically they say that being married no matter what is too hard. Jesus then takes this opportunity to say marriage is not for everyone. Sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance and still other times by calling – people shouldn’t get married.
The over all point here is that singleness for the kingdom is an option. Marriage is an option. Both are hard and both can be worth it. But one is not lifted over the other, or necessarily harder than the other.
That is literally as close as you’re going to get to Jesus talking about being single. However, Jesus was Himself single so we can learn things from that.
We don’t really know if Jesus was tempted by sex. I fully believe that women were often attracted to Jesus. To think that this man who was full of life and confidence did not attract women would be crazy. I would bet all I own that women wanted to be with Jesus.
But, Jesus knew that He was called to be single. He lived that out. His mission was to live the life that we should have lived and die the death that we should have died. That necessitated a kingdom calling that didn’t include marriage.
This for sure shows us that marriage does not complete us. A single person (by calling or by situation) is not less holy, mature, or spiritual than a married person. Marriage is not a promise, right, or entitlement. It isn’t necessary for a right spiritual life. If it was then Jesus would have needed to marry to live the life we should have lived.
At the same time a person called to singleness is not more holy or special than a person who is not. To me Jesus clearly states this. Both marriage and singleness are hard and are a calling from God.
The huge mistake we keep making in the Church is we toss around this idea of being called to singleness but then we don’t help anyone actually figure out if they are called. It’s like a footnote in a sermon once every two years.
This is not enough! We can’t just say to a country that is 50% single, “Hey some are called to singleness which is great. In fact Jesus was single so we know it can be good. However we aren’t actually going to help you determine if that is your calling but somehow you will magically know so good luck with that.”
This lack of direction and teaching leads to all sorts of problems. There are married people who initially were called to be single (They should not get divorced. God’s grace can cover any mistake we make – including getting married when we shouldn’t have). There are people called to be married who are single because they don’t know how to get married. And there are single people who just have no idea of what they are called to. We aren’t helping any of them.
It’s time that churches step up in this situation. We can’t just drop a line in about this now and then and hope it will work out. If we are going to help our people as well as be missional in what will likely soon be a majority single society, then we have to actually engage this.
We have to help people figure out which way they are called and then we have to help them pursue that calling. Anything else is insufficient at best and gutless at worst.