I'd like to double back to chapter 7 of I Corinthians and pick up an idea that pertains to a specific group in the church: those who are single.
It seems to me that the life of the single/unmarried adult is plagued by the following problems:
- Waiting - For a new situation to develop whether it is a job, education or especially a relationship. When it comes to relationships it is always the painful waiting to see if this person is the "right" one, or the fear of being hurt.
- Worry - You worry about direction and making right decisions and yet have so little information with which to make them. It seems that everything is always "in the air" and that can be stressful.
- Loneliness - Christian single adults cannot experience satisfying sexual relationships without guilt and disappointment. It's hard to develop deep emotional bonds and receive comfort from a loving partner without sexual intimacy. In a world of couples, a single person seems to be perpetually on the outside looking in.
The problem facing the single person is that eventually much of his/her emotional energy becomes focused on simply waiting, worrying and feeling lonely. The result of this is that many singles:
- Become impatient and begin making foolish commitments to people and things that are wrong for them.
- They pay too much attention to their own problems and needs which only intensifies the feeling of depression.
- They go from being alone, to feeling lonely; quite a different thing.
This cycle of worry, loneliness and depression can make the single life more difficult than it needs to be. In chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians Paul talks to singles and provides them with some solutions to their particular problems.
Recognize your state for what it is - 7:25-28
Vs. 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.
Jesus never talked about this directly so Paul, as an inspired Apostle, teaches on the subject. The word "virgins" refers to a single person who had never married. The term "unmarried" was used to refer to widows and those single because of divorce.
Vs. 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.
Jews considered it a disgrace to be single, but Paul says that being single is not something to be despised. Jesus was single. Paul was "unmarried." The single state is different from being married, but not inferior in God's sight. In those times it was easier to remain single because Christians were persecuted and married Christians had more to lose, so it was wiser to "remain unmarried."
Vs. 27-28 - Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 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.
He reminds them that they shouldn't try to change their state, but if they marry they are not sinning, they just need to be aware of the risks. Whether married or single, God blesses both states. This should help us when anxious or waiting. We need to be assured that being single is acceptable to God. He can bless us and provide us with joy whether single or married. Singles may be impatient, but God is not impatient with a person because they are single! Being married isn't better or easier, it's just different.
Recognize the world for what it is - vs. 29-31
Vs. 29-31 - 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; 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; 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 reminds them that this world is passing away. The term "form of this world" is a theatrical term used to describe the situation where one act is over and a new group of actors and scenes are about to come on stage. This is the state of the world.
The Apostle is saying that whether happy, sad, unmarried or married, we need to remember that this world is only temporary; we, as Christians, are only passing through; and singleness and marriage are only for this world, not the next.
This realization should produce two things:
- It should lower our concern and emotional investment in situations and things that are only temporary. In order to get the proper perspective on things, ask yourself the question, "How important will this be to me in one hundred years from now?"
- Recognizing the temporariness of the world should help us focus on the world that is to come. A world which is represented here and now by:
- The Word of God
- The church of Christ
- The Holy Spirit
This is where our emotional and intellectual energy needs to be invested: in the world to come, not in this temporary place.
Recognize the differences between the priorities of the single life and the married life
- vs. 32-35
A Christian has to live in the world but he/she lives for the Lord, whether single or married. The single person, however, has more time and resources to devote to this first priority. The married person's first commitment is also to the Lord but in marrying, that commitment is primarily carried out by serving one's family (what a lot of husbands and wives don't understand when they decide to marry). Paul is not degrading this service, he is merely reminding them that this is the choice we make when we marry (to serve spouse and children in the name of Christ).
The single person's advantage is that he/she does not carry this burden of responsibility, and so is free to offer the Lord a wider range of time, talents and services. In the church the reverse often happens. It is the married people who carry the bulk of the responsibility for service; they do the majority of teaching, giving, visiting and serving, often to the neglect of their own families. Singles sometimes think their freedom belongs to them when in reality it belongs to the Lord.
When singles begin to make the Lord their first priority, not only does it benefit the church, but it also breaks the cycle of loneliness and depression caused by too great a focus on self.
Single life doesn't have to be a burden.
If we recognize that being single is blessed by God, we can begin living for now and not see single life as just a waiting room area for the unmarried. If we recognize the difference between what is temporary and eternal we'll stop worrying about what is passing away and pay more attention to what is truly valuable: the word, the church and souls. If we recognize that our first priority (single or married) is pure and sincere service to the Lord then two things will happen: the Lord will draw near to us and we will be drawn into other peoples' lives through Him. This will be the deathblow to our loneliness and depression.
Are you single?
Make the most of your life for what it is now and serve God with enthusiasm knowing that He knows about your state and blesses it. Don't worry, God is the one who cares for you whether you are single or married, and He will see to your needs whatever they are. Remember that marriage is neither a solution nor a promotion but rather an opportunity to give yourself to one person instead of sharing yourself with many.