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.