To watch the full sermon, click here.
Marriage, we are told by the writer of Hebrews, is to be held in honor among all. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is honored to be married. In fact, many are honored with singleness. For the believer, it is as much of a grace of God to be called to singleness as it is to be called to marriage, though for different reasons. Sadly, for many singleness looks to be more of a curse than a blessing, more of a judgment than a grace.
We live in a world where we are often identified by our status. Single, Married, Divorced, Widowed, and of course by sexuality: virgin, hooking up, not to mention the LGBTQ+ movement. And it is easy to allow that to consume thoughts and feelings. It can compound the loneliness and leave one in despair.
I’m starting with the content because, I think if we get why God has called singles to singleness, the contentment aspect will be easier to understand and receive.
I call this a gift or a grace because of what we see in 1 Corinthians 7:7. “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another,” (ESV). What gift? The gift to be single. “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am,” (1 Corinthians 7.8, ESV). Paul was writing to the Corinthians that, while marriage is and was a good thing, it would be better for them to be single. God has gifted, or graced some with the gift of singleness and the abstinence that goes with it. Others have been gifted with marriage and the responsibilities that go with that.
What Paul does not say toward either person is that they are less than fulfilled or that they have or will have lived less of a full life, having or having not been married. Marital status does not fulfill anyone. Remember the words of Christ, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” (John 10.10, ESV). Christ is our fulfillment in life, not a wife and not a husband. When Hannah was praying in Shiloh she recited the truths of God: “There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God,” (1 Samuel 2.2, ESV). No one can or ever will fulfill like God, like our Savior Jesus Christ. If we cannot find fulfillment in Him alone, then we will not find fulfillment.
Paige Brown wrote in a recent article for the Gospel Coalition:
Accepting singleness, whether temporary or permanent, does not hinge on speculation about answers God has not given to our list of whys, but rather on celebration of the life he has given. I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me. It is a cosmic impossibility that anything could be better for me right now than being single. The psalmists confirm that I should not want, I shall not want, because no good thing will God withhold from me.
To be single, whether it is from having never married, having been divorced, or having been widowed, can be and is a gift. The caveat to that is toward the divorced, which ought to come only at the abandonment of the unbelieving spouse. If he or she leaves their Christian spouse, they are to let them go. Consider it a gift of singleness. “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace,” (1 Corinthians 7.15, ESV).
Like being a gift, singleness is a calling. It is that which God does not have for everyone to do, but has for specific people to do. Not everyone is called to be a pastor or a missionary or an evangelist. Not everyone is called to marriage, and not everyone is called to singleness. But if you are called to singleness, then embrace the calling. In the same way that God equips pastors in their calling, missionaries in their calling, and the evangelists in their calling, he equips the single person in their calling. As the old saying God, God does not call the equipped, but rather equips the called. “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned him to, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches,” (1 Corinthians 7.17, ESV). I love that last part, because it would be so easy to say, “Chris this is Paul’s advice and command for the Corinthians.” But he tells us straight up that it is for all the churches.
If you are single, even for the moment, even if you are actively wanting and looking for a spouse, live this time in the calling and assignment that you have been given. Again, in the same way that one would not expect a pastor to fumble his way through his pastorate, or the missionary to be a couch potato out on the mission field, those who have been called to singlehood (for however long or short a time) have a job to do, given by God—called on for a specific purpose.
Which leads to the next point. You have been called in a way that married folks haven’t been. It is unique and special and freeing. Paul wrote, “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife,” (1 Corinthians 7:32-33, ESV). Marriage divides the heart. It has to. We are called to be one flesh, which has multiple layers to its meaning. Paul calls on husbands to love their wives as their own bodies, and even to love them as Christ loves the church. The fullest of loves is between Christ and His Bride. Husbands are called to love their wives that way. Some of you may be saying, that’s what I want. But guess what: you already have that love in Christ. Is it the same? No. In fact, it is better. But we will talk about that in a little bit.
For now, we see that by command and by default our love, our hearts are divided. We are to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Yet we are also to love our wives as Christ loves the church. There is this constant battle. And the question is: how will it end?
Part of Paul’s social context was that of persecution. What happens if the spouse is taken and the other is ordered to deny Christ for that spouse? What happens if one of the spouses comes to Christ, having been married as an unbeliever, but the other spouse doesn’t believe? The heart is divided.
At the same time one spouse may be feeling led or called to the mission field, the pastorate, to inner city ministry, but the other spouse has not yet felt the call or is fighting the call. There is trouble and anxiety in that relationship. A higher income must be made, which means that if one works, then they need to work more hours or somehow bring in more income so that the other can be home. If there are children, even more income is necessary. The homes or apartments have to be larger, the food expense grows with each new mouth to feed, clothes need to be bought, cars need to be driven.
To the Christian single, who has been called and assigned such by God, that means there is so much freedom to make an impact in God’s Kingdom. Think of all the possibilities that could happen: mission trips (whether going or sponsoring others to go), helping the less fortunate, inviting others from the church, work, or school over to minister to them, babysitting kids in the church and giving mom and dad a chance to go out and get a break, and a million other ministries that you could do.
Matt Smethurst has said,
Singleness isn’t the kind of gift you unwrap and put on the mantle; it’s the kind you put to use. And the gift isn’t addressed to the single person only, but to their entire community. Everyone benefits from the life of an unmarried person who has embraced this calling—this deployment—from the King himself.
Can you see why there can be great contentment in being single? The church often sends the message that singleness is a mistake or it is wrong or it is unfulfilling. The world often sends the message that singleness is the life because you can do whatever you want. But Scripture says that singleness is a gift of God by his grace, to call you to do that which married folk cannot do.
God may not always call you to singleness. But if you are single, it is your calling right now. There may be an aching for someone to go home to at night, to talk with, to snuggle with, to grow old with. That is fine. Contentment does not mean that we can’t have longings or desires. It means that we will receive, accept, even rejoice in God’s will.