To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 1 Corinthians 7:8-9
Welcome, Young Believer!
Today we're talking about honoring God as a single person. Now I know many of us cringe when our church friends start talking about what it means to be single, often cause those friends are married. This is a struggle that I am still living with, I am a single woman who wants to be married with no kind of romantic relationship in sight. So I'm writing this to myself as much as to any of you out there. First, let's acknowledge that being single can be very difficult it comes with long periods of loneliness, the temptation to lust and be sexually immoral, a person can become selfish and cynical, and often our culture makes us feel as if something is wrong with us for still being alone. That's before we talk about the abysmal condition of dating practices and the pool of options that we find available. Then there is often mounting pressure from well-meaning parents, family members, friends, church family, and random strangers to find someone to marry. Sometimes the greatest pressure can come from our own desires to be married! Do you know the one place we won't find that pressure? God's Word.
In Paul's letter to the young church at Corinth he spends the opening chapters addressing struggles the church has been having that were reported to him. Among these struggles was a lot of misunderstanding about what God has to say about sexuality and sexual immorality. The Corinthians themselves had written Paul with their concern and confusion. It seems that some of the Christians in Corinth believed that they shouldn't even have sex in marriage while others had yet to define any boundaries from God's Word regarding what would honor Him in their relationships.
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 1 Corinthians 7:1
If you're a young believer who has grown up in the church, a lot of this probably sounds familiar to you as many young adults now walk away from the church due to the hurt they experienced within what they would call "toxic purity culture." If you're a new believer, it probably won't take very long before you hear about this particular controversy. What this question from the Corinthians should point out to us, is that even 2,000 years ago the church was still wrestling with the question of how we should honor God inside and outside of marriage. While we won't be talking about honoring God in your marriage until next time, I want to let you know for the record that Paul emphatically rejects this statement, instead encouraging the Corinthians that one of the reasons for marriage is to have a sexual relationship that honors God by being within the design He planned for it. A married person should not permanently stop being intimate with their spouse thinking that they are somehow "honoring God" by doing so.
Now let's get to the part that applies to our situation: What Paul has to say about being single.
Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 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. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 1 Corinthians 7:6-9
Isn't it interesting to discover that Paul himself was single too?! He doesn't give us dating advice or give us a list of why we might not yet be able to find a spouse. Instead, Paul tells us that he views being single as a gift and wishes that Christians would be able to remain as he is. However, if they cannot exercise self-control and burn with passion then they should get married.
In Paul's view, the same as if you were saved as a Jew or Greek, as a bondservant or a freeman,... if you were saved as a married person then you should remain married and if you were saved as a single person then it would be preferable in his opinion for you to remain single.
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 1 Corinthians 7:17
At no point does Paul give a command to single people not to get married if that is what they desire, especially if getting married prevents them from succumbing to temptation. What Paul does point out to us is that our focus whether we are single or not should not be constantly reliant on our relationship status, it should be on honoring and serving God.
Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. 1 Corinthians 7:25-28
"Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife." Did anyone else have to reread that a few times? I can't count how many times I've heard exactly the opposite of this from the pulpit or from prominent Christians who proclaim it as a duty today for true Christians to find Christian spouses and raise Christian children. Paul says exactly the opposite here! Marriage is not our duty as Christians, in fact, some Christians like Paul may remain single for their entire lives.
Still, this is not a ban on marriage! Paul warns the young man, Timothy, who he is training to be in leadership in the church that it is false teachers who will forbid marriage.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-5
The purpose of singleness is not to seek out a spouse. The purpose of singleness is to pursue a deeper relationship with God and to honor and serve Him with our time. What married people will accurately point out to us is that once you're in that family relationship much more of your time has to be devoted to your spouse and eventually your children. The gift of being single is that you don't have those relationships to divide your time and attention away from pursuing God.
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, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Therefore, how should we go about honoring God as a single person?
- We should be anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.
- We should concern ourselves with how to be holy in body and spirit.
- We should give God our undivided devotion.
This is the time to spend with our friends telling them about Jesus. This is the time to dig deeply into God's Word. This is the time to serve in our local churches. This is the time to assess our own character and consider in what ways we need to correct our behavior to please the Lord, to work on being holy in body and in spirit, and whether or not we are giving the Lord our undivided devotion.
There is nothing wrong with finding someone you wish to be married to. What is wrong is wasting these single years pursuing a spouse instead of seeking to honor God.
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 7:39-40
If you have more questions about honoring God as a single person please place those in the comments. I also highly recommend, as always, that you find a mentor in the faith that will help to walk you through these issues as you grow in your faith. This is one journey you were never meant to take alone!