All of the Bible is written for all of us. And just because it does not have direct application for you personally, does not mean it does not apply to the one body of which you are a part.
How often have you heard a sermon on celibacy (never being married) or remaining single after marriage? I don’t know if you all realize this, but we are all single at some time. And even if you are married, it will happen that at least half of you who are married will be single again. So, this is relevant for all of us. If singleness is part of life we should be hearing sermons on singleness, and how it applies the gospel. It’s about living for the Lord. Its about wholly and totally living for God.
For the Christian singleness is celibacy. But celibacy in our culture is also something that the world scoff at. It is laughable at best, and hurtful at worst. We all understand a movie titled “40 year old virgin” is a comedy, even if we have never seen it. You will not get encouragement outside the church when it comes to living a celibate life, and sadly that could be the case in the church.
The church can also sometimes assume that a Christian should be married. It’s almost like graduation into Christianity. People become elders or deacons only after they are married, and preferably have kids. This cannot be more wrong or further from the truth. Some of the greatest saints have chosen to remain single for a lifetime, Or after losing a spouse at a young age. Among these saints is the man who wrote this letter, and the one whom he served, Jesus Christ.
Dear church, you do not need to be married, to be a fully developed mature human being. Sex is not what makes us human – otherwise Jesus was not perfect human and could not sympathize as a great high priest. Jesus was single. Never married. Never in a romantic relationship. Never was intimate with a woman. The moment you imply that marriage is part of humanity, you are saying Jesus was not complete in humanity. And we dare never ever say that.
To marry or not to marry that is the question
- Live as you are called
- Live without anxiety
Live as you are called
This is a difficult passage to preach on in our culture because we base everything on choice. And you decide your own future, and destiny. But scripture does not talk that way. The Bible speaks about a person “leading the life that the Lord has assigned to him and with which God has called him (v. 17).” Its God that assigns us to be married or single. Many people don’t choose to be single. It is where God has placed them.
This is why vocation might be better word when speaking about these things. Vocation or calling is something that is sometimes a choice, and sometimes it is pushed on you. One theologian said, “the most reliable callings are born from reflecting on a situation that is more or less imposed on us. A vocation is nearly always a way of accepting a situation that was at first considered a limitation.” What we see as a limitation is often Gods call upon our life to follow him and know him and his love more deeply.
Unfortunately, today, among some, marriage is almost seen as the sole means and choice toward following Christ, precisely because it makes us happiest. Dear church, if there is one thing that Paul makes abundantly clear in this passage it is that marriage is not the only good choice because marriage is not the goal of life, nor where we find deepest satisfaction. In fact later he tells the young women they may be happier if they stay single. Marriage is the course of life for most, but that doesn’t make it the best. He clearly says it is good not to marry and stay single like he himself is.
Verse 8, “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 then to burn with passion.”
He is speaking to those who have not married, or lost their husbands or wives, and he says, it is good to remain single. But if they struggle with self-control, it is time to get married. It is better to marry then to burn with passion. Not everyone has the gift of self-control. I sometimes wonder at the couples who decide to want to get married and then have a five-year engagement. One of the reasons for marriage is to satisfy human’s sexual desire. This is the way in which we are designed.
He talks again about it down in verse 36, “If anyone things that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes, let them marry – it is no sin.”
But he does add in if you have your desire under control to not marry but stay a virgin. verse 38, “So then the one who betrothed does well, and he who reformed from marriage will do even better.” He then gives the same advice to the widows, that they are allowed to be married, but says Paul, “In my judgement she is happier if she remains as she is.” That is single.
The point in this whole section is not be overly concerned about whether one is married or single but to focus instead on how faithfully one is living a life in Christ.
That should be our focus. The church can so often worry more about whether someone will get married, then about whether they are living faithfully.
Or as Paul says in the middle of the chapter, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” In this middle of this chapter on marriage divorce, and singleness, Paul encourages the whole church to live as you are called. Live the life to which God called you now! Fully. Passionately. Doesn’t matter if you are circumcised or not (v. 18) or a slave or a free man. The point is these things don’t count. Its neither here nor there if you are married, some people in the church may make a big deal out of it, but before God what matters is “keeping the commandments (v19).”
Life without anxiety
“Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgement as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress is food for a person to remain as he is.”” Now before we continue what follows here is one of the most difficult texts in the book at least from an exegetical standpoint. There are a lot of differences among the commentators. What we can say is that he is responding again to the letter they wrote. And he is offering his advice. We don’t know what he means by the present distress. Was it something that was unique to that time, or is it more generally the distress of a sinful world? I think it was particular to the distress at that time but can have more general application.
About 15 years after this letter was written, the church would experience probably one of the most intense persecutions of the early church. Now if you are married with a family, it is a lot harder to face this kind of suffering. Because God has given you to not only watch over yourselves but also the family. This is true in general of life. And he makes that clear in the following verses, “ 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 (or virgin) married she has not sinned.
Its not a sin to marry. The Church in the past has also fallen in this trap to over-spiritualize singleness. In certain times of the churches history there were theologians like Jerome who thought marriage was an evil and one could not truly follow God unless you were single. His contemporary, Jovia, discussed that marriage was the only complete good. Both extremes need to be nuanced with Gods word.
Paul seems to say if you can stay single - it is better. Why? Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles and I would spare you that.” In other words, if you marry your attention is more divided then it would be if you were single especially in light of coming hardships. He is basically saying in light of the danger of death, is marriage really to be held up as the ultimate ideal. For Paul and for us – no it should not be held up as the ultimate ideal. We are living in a world with more singles than before. Christ comes first, and anxieties can pile up in light of harder times in church history. We have to live always with the end in view.
He says, “This is what I mean, brothers, “the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as those they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as if they had not good, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. for the present form of the world is passing away. Paul is saying whatever your state right now, whether married or single, mourning or rejoicing, rich or poor hold that state loosely, because the present form of the world is passing away. Dear church doesn’t get attached to the things of this earth. Don’t get to attached to your current state in life, because it can, no better yet, will change. There is only one who doesn’t and that is Jesus. Hold him.
In verse 32-34 Paul says, “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the thing of the Lord, how to please the lord. But the Married man is anxious about worldly thing, how to please his wife, and his interest 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 the worldly things, how to please her husband.” Here Paul discusses the advantages of a life of celibacy or virginity. The same Paul who has such an exalted view of marriage in Ephesians five, also has an exalted view of singleness. What he says here is that anxieties increase when you are married. One sinner is hard to deal with in terms of learning how to be holy in body and spirit. Now in marriage you put two sinners in that picture and then you mix up a few more sinful children. When a Christian is single, he or she tends to have more singlemindedness when it comes to their service to God. Less anxiety considering coming trouble. And they can focus on pleasing the Lord.
Paul believes that, with the various responsibilities it entails, marriage has the potential to distract men and women from their service to God. As already stated, this point does not make marriage evil in Paul's eyes. It simply makes the gift of celibacy, for those to whom God has given it, a special blessing especially in a time of crisis.
The point is, “Think about how to please the Lord! Singleness can point to the priority of the church. and the reality of the resurrection, when there will be no marriage. As one author says, “Singleness is a sign of God’s future breaking into our present, a future characterized by radical, total dependence on God.”
He goes on and says, “Marriage shows the shape of the gospel, singleness shows its sufficiency.” You have in Christ all that the very best human marriages point to. The ultimate marriage will be the people of God beholding the face of God.
So by this time he has repeated himself a few times if you don’t get the point. Verse 6, “I wish that all were as I myself am.” Verse 8, “to the unmarried and the widows it is good for them to remain singing, as I am.” Verse 28, “those who marry will have worldly troubles and I would spare you that.” Verse. 38, “he who refrains from marriage will do even better.” I think its pretty clear by this time, that we should not exalt one too much over the other. The Bible says both are picture of the gospel – both point to Jesus. And we need both in the church. And if you can remain single, by all means do so.
So what if we as a church actually said unmarried and celibate (like Paul and Jesus) is a noble and fruitful calling? What if we affirmed along with Paul that the calling to singleness, though less common, is still a “better” calling than marriage because it frees single men and women to devote themselves fully to the Lord’s concerns? Speaking of this, what if we got rid of the term “single” and saw the church as a family. No one is single in a family. We have deep spiritual friendships and relationships with each other.
We can be grateful that the singles do devote so much time to the Lord. It can so easily happen that we don’t make it about the gospel in marriage or in singleness. In marriage we can make it all about idolizing our spouse and family, above Christ and the church. And in singleness, we can so idolize our time that we spend little time investing in Christ and his bride, the church.
We will understand this vision when we understand better biblical what a spiritual friendship looks like. It is deeper than a marriage. Because it outlasts any marriage. Like when David says the love between him, and Jonathon was better then the love of a woman. We have downgraded friendship. Now a friend is someone who can see a picture of you on Facebook. This is sad, and heartbreaking. The man who wrote this did not need marriage to enjoy real deep rich fellowship and intimacy. Read Romans 16 and just be amazed and the depth and the variety of Paul’s friendships. Furthermore we need to realign our relationships with Jesus relations. Who are my mother, my brother and sisters he asks? Then he point to the believers and says, here they are.
One theologian said, “Loneliness is the one part of suffering no Christian should ever have to experience.” The society has collapse intimacy into sex. Paul shows us this cannot be farther from the truth.
What if we shifted our emphasis from all the singles being married toward THE MARRIAGE to which all other marriages are but a shadow—the union between Jesus and his bride, the Church. According to Scripture, no matter what one’s marital status, the first moment of trust in Jesus makes that person as complete as s/he will ever be. From our first moment of faith, Jesus is our Bridegroom and we are his Bride. Lets all single and married commit to living wholly for him.