Singleness: A Calling

Last Friday, I began a three-part series on singleness.  The first dealt with singleness being a gift from God, and this week is its being a calling from God.  Next week I will show that because of these two truths, the single person (whether life-long or momentarily) can be content.  I would encourage you to read last week’s article before this week’s.

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.

According to livingwage.mit.edu, a living wage for a single person in Missouri averages to be $22,371 a year.  If you add a spouse, it jumps to $38,186 a year.  If you add one child, to those two parents: 45,588.  If both parents work with one child (probably because of daycare) the cost of living is $52,488 every year.  Now according to missourieconomy.org, the average wage in Missouri is $45,231 a year, double what is a living wage for the single.  That’s almost $23,000 in discretionary money to be spent for the single.

And for 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.

Imagine the various ways that God can use you in your calling to bless others all around you.  There is definitely a place for single people, and their relevance is hugely important.  Their relationship within the context of the church is different, but different in a good way.  Because that relationship is displayed in a number of different relationships.  In 1 Timothy and Titus, Paul instructs older people to be mentors to the younger, almost in a spiritual parental role.  Young men are to be like brothers, younger women to be like sisters.  Do you know how often New Testament writers call the ones they are writing to or writing about brothers and sisters?  In 1 Corinthians alone, it’s over 20 times!  Why?  Is it some cute name?  I don’t think anyone would accuse the Apostle Paul as being cutesy.  It’s because of the family dynamic of the New Testament.  Jesus increased the narrative about family when his mother, brothers, and sisters came to him.

But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother,” (Matthew 12:48-50, ESV).

Ed Shaw wrote in his book, Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of a Celibate Life,

It turns out that Jesus defines his family as those who follow him rather than those who are related to him.  This didn’t mean that his immediate family didn’t matter to him.  After all, he made sure his mother was going to be looked after even as he died on the cross.  But it shows that talk of church family isn’t just a PR stunt—it’s a spiritual reality.[1]

When Paul wrote to Timothy he called him his true child in the faith and his beloved child, and Titus was his true child in a common faith.  He commended Phoebe to the Roman church as “our sister.”  So it isn’t some cutesy nickname, but as Shaw states, it is a spiritual reality.

That can happen because of the freedom, the gift, the grace, the calling that comes with singleness.  Again, Matt Smethurst said, “The world champions the single life because of all you can do for yourself. The Bible champions the single life because of all you can do for others.”  This is our high calling as believers, is it not? Doesn’t Paul call on us, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” (Phil 2.3b-4, ESV)?  There is much more freedom to do so in singleness.  That is Paul’s point.  That is why he wishes they all could remain as he.

In his singleness, he we went all over the known world preaching the gospel and spreading the kingdom.  He was able to see and do more for the kingdom of God than any married man could have done.  And he was fulfilled in doing it. Listen to some of his last recorded words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV).  Paul was not only called to be an apostle, not only called as a missionary, but called to singleness. It was the singleness that gave him the freedom to be on mission for Christ. As a single person, at this moment you have freedoms to be on mission for Christ that married persons simply do not have. I would urge you to see that as a gift and a calling, and so act upon it. It is easy to look at what one does not have, and so difficult to see what one does have. Don’t forget to see the gift and the calling.

[1] Ed Shaw, Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2015), pp. 42-43.

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