But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.

I Corinthians 7:8 

The subject of singleness.

At first glance my subject may appear to be a bit strange. Certainly, in the conservative Christian Church you do not often hear many people extolling the goodness of the single life. It is far more common among Bible believing Christians to promote the goodness of marriage. Good marriages are good things. This brings me to why I chose to write on singleness, because previously I have just written on the blessedness of the marriage union.

I do not want any unmarried brother or sister in Christ Jesus to conclude that they are not blessed by God because they are single. I have met more than a handful of young and middle-aged women and men that see their singleness as a cross to bear rather than a blessing in which to serve Christ.

Single Christians can also be tempted to envy their married peers within the church as the ones having the real favor of God abiding upon them. (WLC 146-148)

There is a line in a song that runs like this, the grass is always greener in the other fellow’s yard. Comparing God’s government over our life with anyone else is actually questioning our Divine Governor, something we have no right to do. Also, the sin of envy is based on ignorance. We do not know the responsibilities and the crosses that come with the “good things” we covet in another’s life. There are crosses that come with the marriage life that God has mercifully exempted the single person from. Paul speaks about this in I Corinthians 7:28.

When we wish we have what another has we are turning a blind eye on the super abundance of the blessings we currently enjoy in Jesus. The unmarried Christian has more unfettered times and talents in which to serve Christ by serving others. The Holy Spirit inspires Paul to say this very thing to the encouragement of the single person. May we have the faith to believe the word of God. (I Cor. 7:32-34)

Marriage is a blessing from the Lord. He bestows it upon whom He wills. The single life is also a gift from God to us. He distributes it according to His holy wisdom and goodness. (Rom.8:28, Eph.1:11)

The subject of singleness in the Bible.

God speaks about the subject of being single in His word. (I Cor.7:1-11, 27-40) That means He wants to inform us about it. (I Cor.10:11, Dt.29:29) We want to believe and to live according to everything in His word. (Mt.4:4, 2 Tim.3:14-17)

Now there is a certain danger in approaching this subject.  A danger which perhaps some of the ancient church fathers and to some degree the Roman Catholic Church may have succumbed.  And that is the idea of elevating the estate of singleness and of virginity to place of super-spirituality.  Especially concerning the so-called celibacy of the clergy.

We know God does denounce the forbidding of marriage as a doctrine of demons. (I Tim.4:1-5, Col.2:15-23) However, the fact the sinful men can and do twist scripture ought not dissuade us from seeking God’s truth on this matter.  (2 Pt.3:16)

But there is another error in the church that says marriage is God’s will for everybody, and marriage is the best estate for all Christians.  That is false.

For most of the OT prophets and NT apostles we are not told if they were married or single. Isaiah and Ezekiel were married. (Isa.8:3, Ezek.24:15-18) But then in Ezekiel’s case he became single again by the death of his wife. God forbade Jeremiah to marry to spare him anguish as Judah was about to undergo captivity. (Jer.16:1-13)

We know that John the Baptist and the apostle Paul and Jesus were single.

The definition of singleness.

For this brief look at singleness I want to look at I Corinthians chapter seven.  Here are a number of verses where the apostle speaks about being single.

I Corinthians 7:7. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. 8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.

I Corinthians 7:10. But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband),

I Corinthians 7:25. Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.

Let’s define our terms.  The definition of singleness for our purpose is to be unmarried.  Amazingly insightful I know! 🙂 

The reasons for singleness or the stages of singleness.

Perhaps not quite as obvious as we would think.  Most people think that singleness is the young person that has yet to get married.  And of course, that is true.  Or they think of life-long singleness, along the lines of a “lifelong bachelor”.

Lifelong singleness. As an aside I found data that that stated in America for 2010 the percent never married for ages 35 and older is 14% and the percent never married age 45 and older is 11%. Perhaps 10 % never marry; not an significant number.

In our text Paul speaks of various types or times of singleness.  Singleness by youth – the young virgins, never been married. There is also singleness by virtue of divorce.  And then singleness by virtue of the death of one’s spouse.

I have compiled some statistics that may prove helpful as regards to the time of singleness.

First marriageFrom the U.S Census Bureau (www.census.gov) the median age for first marriage in America in 2019 is age 30 for men and age 28 for women.

Divorce.  It is difficult to determine what percentage of first marriages will last till the death of a spouse. 

One study said this on the median duration of the first marriage. 

From 2008-2012, the median duration of first marriage at divorce was shortest in 2009 at 11.1 years. Since then, duration has increased to a five-year high of 12.3 years in 2012, a 10.8% increase. (https://www.bgsu.edu/content/dam/BGSU/college-of-arts-and-sciences/NCFMR/documents/FP/FP-14-20-median-duration-first-marriage.pdf) 

Another study from the Pew Research in an article by D’Vera Cohn said the median duration of married life in 2008 was 18 years.  (pewreasearch.org “The States of Marriage and Divorce”, 2009)

Death.  From the Center for Disease Control (cdc.gov) the average life expectancy in 2018 is age 76.2 for men and age 81.2 for women.

Conclusion.  I suggest the following very general numbers.

We can say the average age of 25 to 30 years of singleness before (first) marriage.

Then say, for some large percentage, perhaps 30 to 50 percent will be single due to divorce.  I do not have figures for time single from first divorce to any remarriages.

Then for the average woman she will outlive her husband by 5+ years.

The duration of singleness.

If you add up these time periods of singleness for these three reasons potentially, we could be single for 30, 40, or 50 years out of 80 years of life.  In part this is why I do not believe the single estate is extra-ordinary or unusual. All Christians will be single at various points in our life. And large numbers of Christians will spend increasingly longer periods of our life single.

The estimation of singleness.

In many ways Christians are apt to look at singleness as a failure on their part, they have done something wrong, or being too picky.  Or even worse, that somehow God has punished them with singleness – they have been kept from being blessed, some cross they have to bear until (hopefully) they marry.

But this is where the Bible becomes so very helpful to us. It teaches us what we are to believe about God and what duty God requires of us. It shows us what to think and how to feel rightly, to please God and to enjoy God.  

Singleness is good.

Consider this.

I Corinthians 7:1. Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.

Obviously, Paul is using a euphemism to be discreet. What he says of the man is also true for the woman.  It is good for the woman to not touch a man.  He is referring to physical intimacy within marriage.  Marriage is the context of the entire chapter.  This is why the NIV translated this as, good not to “marry”.

God the Holy Spirit says it is good to be single.  Oh, how I want to let that sink into our minds and hearts.  It is good to be single!

The Greek dictionary gives the following meaning to this Greek word kalos: good, right, proper, fitting; better; honorable, honest; fine, beautiful, and precious. This is what God says about the estate of the single unmarried person.

Let me anticipate an objection.  How do we reconcile God saying, it is not good for man to be alone? (Gen.2:18-24)

Adam was truly alone, there were no other humans in existence. This statement was before the earth was populated.

Currently singles live in community with many other people. Stop and think about this for a moment. Being unmarried does not mean God is calling us to live a life of an isolated hermit. No. Think of Christ. Think of Paul. Constantly among other people, loving them and being loved (and also being opposed).

But my point is single Christians are called to have loving vibrant relationships among family, friends, and church members. For the divorced person, can they not have warm and meaningful lives with their children and or with their grandchildren? For the widower, does the departure of his wife banish him from loving other loved ones in his life. No, of course not.

Also, God made this statement was before the Fall, before the entrance of sin and death.

Before sin, marriage was all perfection, and it was not good to be single.  But subsequent the entrance of sin, marriage is still good, but it is greatly marred with sin.  So now post-Fall there are times where to be single is also good, depending on God’s calling and gifting.

None of this depreciates marriage.  Marriage is of divine origin.  It is holy.  In fact, Paul in Ephesians paints a most amazing picture of marriage (Eph.5:22-33) Marriage is necessary to the welfare of individuals, families, churches, and societies at large.  To commend or to elevate singleness does not denigrate marriage.  To say girls are created by God and are good does not slight the very same fact about boys.  Marriage is good. Non-marriage is good. If both are seen as gifts and opportunities to serve Christ and serve others.

Singleness is good for some but not for all.

The apostle is quick to add that singleness is good for some but not for all.  The apostle ‘wishes’ all Christians were like him.  Here then he alludes to the fact that he is single.

I Corinthians 7:7. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. 8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.

I know there are some who say, oh Paul was single because his wife divorced him when he became a Christian.  The reason they say that is because he was former Pharisee, and it was uncommon for Pharisees to be single. (Phil.3:1-14)  Or they say Paul was a widower for the very same reason, i.e. it was normative for Pharisees to be married. But the Bible does not tell us.  It is immaterial to Paul’s instruction.

What is material is that Paul is not commanding singleness. He is commending singleness.

But I want to be quick to say, neither is he commanding marriage.  Marriage is not a requirement to be a Christian.  Christians are permitted to marry. And it is Biblically legitimate to desire and or to choose singleness.

It is not Biblical to say everyone should be married.  The Christian that thinks so, goes against the mind of God and they can inflict untold anguish upon the Christian single person they think they are ‘helping’ find a spouse.

Of course, some “match making” may be good and helpful and wanted.

But a well-meaning but ill-informed person can say to a Christian single, Oh I know the perfect person for you, I will arraign things.  Beloved, there are no perfect people. In addition, that person trying to ‘help’ they most often know next to nothing about the persons involved (really).

And what they are most especially ignorant of is the thing most important for a successful marriage and that is the heart of the person for Christ.  But when Christians do persist in the contra-scriptural thinking and practice, they only add to the pressure and pain of the single person who themselves has believed the error promulgated against singleness.

What is one of the great dangers in this kind of thinking?  Well it prompts the anxious single into making a sinful and or ill-informed hasty marriage choice in order to escape the “stigma” of being single.  For the Christian it is better to remain single than marry an unbeliever.

God may be saying, I have called you to singleness.  Or God may be saying, I want you to be single now and perhaps married later, in His own time.

Singleness is a gift from God.

 

Singleness (and marriage) are good for those for whom God has gifted with each estate.  Herein we learn to recognize and rejoice in the sovereign providence of God. (Eph.1:11) God has placed us where He wants us in the Body of Christ. He gives gifts and stations and callings. And this is good. (Rom.12:3-8, 1 Cor.12:4-31)

I Corinthians 7:7. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. 8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.

Paul says each man has his own gift.  Paul knew his gift from God, and he was content with it and thanked God for it, and sought by God’s grace to glorify God with it.

Now there are a number of different views as to exactly what this gift (charisma) is.

Continence.

One group says it is continence, sexual self-control.  His desires for physical intimacy were either taken away or under control thus he had no need for marriage.

I Corinthians 7:2. But because of immoralities each man should have his (own) wife.

I Corinthians 7:9. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

It does appear that Paul is teaching a larger part of mankind cannot remain single without being unduly troubled by sexual temptation.  So, for them it would be wiser to marry and, in that way, curb that temptation. The marriage bed is ordained, in part, for this.

However, I do not believe that the absence of this sexual burning is the essence of this ‘gift’ that Paul is talking about.  Why do I say that?

There are plenty of singles who ‘burn’ but God has not providentially sent them a spouse.  They cannot conclude they have no gift from God and seek sexual relief outside of marriage.  No, they must ask God for self-control and He will give it.  Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that all Christians have in Christ. (Gal.5:23)

There are plenty of married people who ‘sexually burn’ but for a variety of emotional and physical reasons they cannot find sexual satisfaction within the marriage.  Perhaps they or their spouse has a physical problem that makes intimacy impossible.

Their ‘burning’ does not mean they have no gift from God and thus need to seek solace in a third party. No. They are to love their spouse and look to the Lord to sustain them in this particular trial He has called them to. And I would say, to remember their marriage vows – for better or for worse – till death do us part.

Contentment.

Similar with the continence view is the contentment view.  This view says, if I am content to be single then I have the gift to be single.

I do not believe that is correct either.  The thinking cannot work for marriage. We cannot say, if I am content in my marriage therefore, I have the gift for marriage. But I am not content with my marriage, therefore I do not have the gift of marriage and therefore I should be single.  No.

Discontentment with our condition is sin.  And the remedy is not so much change of condition; but change of estimation, seeing all things coming from our loving heavenly Father in our holy Christ.

Estate.

I believe the ‘gift’ Paul has is the estate of singleness.

Often you hear marriage is the ordinary estate and it does not require a special gift from God.  And singleness is the extra-ordinary estate, therefore you need a special gift from God to be single.  I do not believe this is correct.  Both states require God’s grace or gifting.  God gives the gift of singleness and of marriage.  And then He gives the gifts to prosper in each estate by faith in Christ. (I Jn.5:4)

Think of this. When we were young God had us in an estate of singleness. He gifted us with that condition, and He prospered us in it. Perhaps now we are older, and our spouse has gone on before us to Christ, well God has placed us in an estate of singleness again. In this He will gift us to live for Christ. He is Jehovah Jireh in all circumstances.

Paul enjoys his singleness because he is in Christ, he is content with Christ, Christ is his all and all, he views himself and his calling in relationship to Christ and to His kingdom as a gift from God. (Jas.1:2, I Pt.1:8, Heb.12:1-3) Everything works for the spiritual benefit of those in Christ. (Rom.8:16-39)

Beloved, this is how we glorify God and enjoy our calling of singleness or of marriage. We live by faith in God. (Gal.2:20) God is.  God calls. God gives.  And that gifting and that calling may be for a season, short or long.

But we remember, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil.4:13)

What did the Risen Jesus say to Paul about the thorn in the flesh?  My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.

Paul responded, most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor.12:8-10)

Singleness is comparatively better than marriage – stated.

Paul continues to offer advice to unmarried persons.

I Corinthians 7:37. But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. 38 So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.

Being unmarried for some, for those called to it by God, is better than marriage.

In fact, Paul says in V.40 that the widow is free to re-marry, only in the Lord.  But in his view, she will be happier if she remains single.

I Corinthians 7:39. A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.

The Greek word being used here has the same root word of the Beatitudes, blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt.5:3) This word can also be translated – happy.  So, the single are more blessed, more happy than the married!  

Singleness is comparatively better than marriage – defended (reasons).

Because of the present distress.

V.26. (WLC 25, 27, WSC 18, 19)

I Corinthians 7:26. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 

Some say Paul was thinking Jesus was going to return very soon and therefore it did not make sense to get married.  But since that did not happen, now Paul’s advice is more relaxed.  Others say, this only refers to the persecution of Paul’s day, or of other times of Christian persecution.

Still others note that at this time there were famines and riots over famines in the Mediterranean, along with ensuing riots. (circa A.D 55)

John Calvin holds that this distress is comprehensive of all type of inevitable distress for us as creatures and as Christians in this world, therefore it is best to remain single. (Calvin’s Commentaries, vol.20, p.253)

John 16:33   These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”(Mt.24:9-13, Rev.1:9, I Thess.1:6, Rom.5:3, 2 Tim.3:12, trouble, distress, hard circumstances, suffering)

Because of the obligations of marriage.

Paul is very realistic and practical and honest and true throughout his discussion of singleness and of marriage.

He does not hold up either estate as one of perfection, or as heaven on earth, or the end all of life.  No.  He tells the truth about each.

I Corinthians 7:28. But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. 29 But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away. 32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 

Marriage contains greater obligations, duties, and stresses than singleness.

Because of the freedoms afforded in singleness.

Clearly from the text Paul says singleness is better than marriage because singleness allows one more time to devote to the Lord.

I Corinthians 7:32. But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to

the Lord.

Mt Henry says, for some it is better for them to remain single. Because if they have the gift (of continence) they are less encumbered with the cares of this life and have greater freedom of thought and time to mind better things.

So the apostle is not saying, oh, it is better to be single because you can spend all of your time and money on yourself, on enjoying your recreations or building your career.  No.

All estates and conditions for him have religious relevance.

The unmarried man or women, young man, young woman, divorced or widowed can use their singleness unto the Lord.  In worship, in prayer, in Bible reading, in serving, in giving.  Singles can do things marrieds cannot.  One woman is free to serve Christ in her vocation as a counselor or a doctor unimpeded by the other duties. One man is free to be a missionary to China because he was single and can live in dangerous places.  Another man free to pastor a tiny church because he is single and can live on a meager salary.

Because the time is short.

Marriage is of the passing-away age.  Marriage is not of the Eternal Estate.  Soon we will be like the angels in heaven that do not marry.

I Corinthians 7:28. But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.

I Corinthians 7:31. and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.

Paul’s views on singleness and marriage are based on his other-worldly perspective as a Christian.  He believes that Jesus is near, that Jesus is soon to return, or he is soon to be with Jesus.  Since this is true Beloved Believer, be content with your station, it will soon give way to eternal bliss.

Do not get caught up in the circumstances of your life. Do not let these things or this life become the dominant focus or the thing through which we judge our worth, our happiness, our contentment.

View your calling and station as temporary and preparatory for eternity with Christ and all the saints made perfect.

Beloved in Christ, married or unmarried, think of this:

Very soon we will all be eternally single, unmarried to any earthly spouse.

We will all be eternally married to Christ. (Isa.56:3-7, Lk.23:29, Gal.4:26-31)

Even so Lord Jesus come quickly.

 

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