Monday, September 20, 2010

CONCERNING SINGLES

TEXT: 1   Corinthians  7:6-9
TITLE:  “Concerning Singles “ 
DATE :  THE LORD'S    DAY    19/09/2010

We now come to the matter  of singleness .   I speak to you on this theme with  a great sense  of inadequacy . I  have been happily married to  my wife Marcelle for  almost 24 years . I am sorry that I did not marry her  earlier  - say ,  at the ripe old age of 19  , after high  school .   We  were  married , when I   was  28    years old  I had my days as a single, but  to be honest , I always had known that I was not destined to be a single .  That  is why I speak on this subject with  a sense of inadequacy .
But then  I  immediately think  about  the fact  that I am not here to express my own opinions on singleness  , but that I   am in fact  preaching this morning to  you  from the word of God.
I also  want you to notice that the man who was inspired by the Holy Spirit   to write  on this subject  was also  a single man – the apostle  Paul ! 
So , here  in  chapter  7  we find  the longest passage about singleness. It is also  the only passage in the Bible in which singleness  is called a gift –  a good gift- which may be surprising to some .

Before we consider what   is taught here about singleness, allow me to  walk you through the text , verse by verse :   
Chapter  7 began with Paul  responding  to a matter  raised by the Corinthians in a letter to him. That matter was about ‘ abstinence of sex in marriage’ . Paul  refutes this idea in  vv 2-5 .

From there  he proceeds to  address other related matters.
vv.6 - 7  :    “ 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.
Paul   makes the point here that   being  single  does have advantages . He will  expand on this point later in v. 25.  One of them is the matter of anxieties  ( v.32-34). The more people  you must care for,  the more stressful (v.26)  life becomes  , and the less time you will have to  serve the Lord  (v.33) .
It is clear that Paul’s personal preference is the state of singleness .  There can be no doubt that the apostle Paul  really had the time to give himself fully to the work of the Lord . He was an amazingly productive man in the work of the kingdom of God  , but  I cannot imagine that he  could have done the same , had he  a wife and  children.
So,  in terms  of  work in God’s kingdom,   a single can do far more for  the Lord than a married man or woman .
But note  that Paul is not  declaring himself to be  somewhat elevated above other on account of his state of singleness . He is also not saying that  everyone must abandon their dreams  for  marriage .  He  himself   says  explicitly  that he is only expressing his own opinion   on this matter.   (7:6,25) .
He  knows that   singleness  is not for everyone. The ability  to remain single , without being tempted sexually,   is a gift  (Greek -  “charisma”) from God. 
Paul   is  a  single  and celibate man who is  so gifted by God  and  happy in his state.  In fact he is so happy   in this state that he wishes  that everyone  else could be as he is !    As I   have reminded you  already , Paul will explain the benefits of the single life later. 
But right  now he is clarifying for us  the proper attitude about sex in both the married and single state.   We saw in  6:12-7:5, that  the Corinthian  believers  were  confused in this area   ( some were  Epicureans and others were Ascetics - see  my previous sermon for  definitions)  .  To the ascetically minded church members   he  had to explain  that  sex was  good  and necessary  for marriage, but  only in that context  .  Those who are married  must not  be embarrassed by  their  passions .    One does not become more spiritual by abstention,  as some of the  Corinthians seemed to believe  .
But once you  have that gift of  singleness , you   know it by the fact that you are able to be celibate – to abstain  from sexual activity .  I will say more about this when we get to v. 9 .  Clearly  Paul lives such a life and is pleased that he has the gift to do so. 
By the way : The fact that it is a ‘gift ‘ from God  is significant . When we  ill eventually get  to 1 Corinthians  12  (  concerning spiritual gifts)  we will learn among many other things that  the characteristics of a spiritual gift   is that  it does not require a great deal of effort to exercise.  It comes  spontaneously and joyfully  because God is behind it , enabling you to do it .   You know that you have the gift of celibacy when you don’t  struggle  with sexual impulses. God has obviously  given  this gift  to Paul.

v.8  “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is  good for them to remain single  as I am  “  .  There are  unmarried  people  and widows/ divorced   ( who have been married and who are now single again)  in the Corinthian congregation . To  them    Paul recommends that they remain  single  and ( again)  will give some account of his reasons later in the chapter. For himself ,  it frees him to devote his attention and energy to God’s kingdom work.  Thus, he thinks others who are free from marriage should see the blessing of such a life. 
But, remember, he fully understands that marriage is the norm  to which God has called most people.

v.9  “ But if they cannot exercise self control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion “ .   Clearly , if you  cannot  control yourself  in this area    you are not called to a state of singleness  . The answer is to  get married , and enjoy sex in a biblical context.   That last statement, “ it is better to marry than to burn with passion” affirms  once again  that marriage is the  only legitimate context  for having a sexual  relationship .

Now  that we have looked  at these  4 verses  , let us  try  to  summarize what we have said , and then try to fill in some of the   blanks …

Summary  :
1. Marriage is good and singleness is good.  No state is superior  , for both are gifts from God .   
2.  Singleness is good and is not a sign that God has withheld his blessing from the single person.  It is not a curse to live the single life.   For Paul it is in fact  a  blessing . From a  spiritual point of view  he  had more  opportunities  to serve the Lord .
The main problem  is however , that you may be a single  and  you sense  that this is not a permanent state for you . You sense that you are not called to be celibate .   

“Single Frustrations”   :  
I will  address  two major frustrations that single people  express :

(i)  “ I feel so out  of place among  married people  and families . I feel abnormal . “ If people think of you as being abnormal , than  you need to know that it is true . Carolyn McCulley ( Sex  and  the Supremacy of God  - Piper et. al  pp 186/7 )  says : 
It’s true . You’re not normal. But this is good news . If you’ve repented of your sins and put your trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ and His substitutionary death  on the cross for the punishment of your sins  then you’re definitely not normal . Your identity  has been reclaimed and reordered by the Lord . You are a Christian  , a man or woman , and currently a single adult. And that is the information that is currently  most important about you .
  • Your most important identity is as a Christian ransomed by God Himself.
  •  Second  to that is your identity  as a woman or a man – made in God’s image . Those two identities will never change.
  • But your status as a single person could change  several times within your life time, so that  is the least important aspect of your identity . “  [1]

(ii) How does the single person who feels that they  do  not possess the gift of celibacy handle singleness?  It is fine  for Paul to say  “get married”,   but what if  there is no suitable marriage partner  at this time  ? 

We know that  most singles today do not handle  their state of singleness  very well . By far most modern  single  people are  sexually active (often with many partners)   and those  that are not sexually  active are thought of as ‘queer’  or  abnormal .. How can the Christian single  person survive in such a climate ?
a.      Know where you stand.  Ask yourself  : What does Scripture teach, for the Scriptures are your authority on matters of life .  The Scripture plainly  teaches that sex outside marriage is sexual immorality. ( e.g. David and Solomon’s  immoralities ; the woman at the well ( Jn 4)  are  not condoned in Scripture  . See  also the warning of Galatians 5:19-21.  “ Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality…I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God “ .  The Bible  simply does  not recognize sex  outside the  context of  marriage .
b.      Know   where the world stands:   Feeling  defines  for the world’s sense  of  right and wrong. (i.e.  Does it feel good  to me ? If it does it  must be right  - hence the “ Just do it”  philosophy).   This is undoubtedly the moral philosophy of  our day.  The Christian ethic of moral absolutes  is  sneered at.   The problem with such a philosophy is that it believes that man is basically good . It  does not believe the  biblical  teaching on  the nature and extent of the  fall into sin . Genesis  1- 11 , where all the major doctrines of Scripture  are rooted is  written off by  scoffers and liberal theologians  as ‘ mythological ‘.  So if you  do away with the basic  doctrines  of Genesis , you have no moral ground to stand on . Unfortunately the world  has no effective answers  as  to why the world is so  full of lies and so  angry  and so sick.
c.      Once you know where scripture and the world stand , you – married or single must decide where you  must  stand. 

A WORD FOR SINGLES  :  Why some people are single :

Apart from the reason that we have already discussed  - namely  that some people are called and gifted of God for this purpose ( c.f. Matt 19:11 ,12  1 Cor 7:7)  there may be the following other reasons why  people are single :

a. When  sin (having sinned or having been  sinned against)  has distorted   a person’s  relationship to God / or others they  may  lack courage /or  perspective   to  enter into a relationship. Rather than experiencing hurt or rejection, they choose to live single lives. 

b.  Single people ( particularly those that  are advancing in their years)  need to ask themselves, before  they complain  that God must have passed them by : Has God singled me out for His service ? If this is so , then the church needs to recognize this  and help them to fulfill their calling to deeper service , whatever that may be .

c.  Those  singles  who are not convinced that singleness is indeed  their calling ,  and who  bemoan their loneliness (which God understands) need to  be helped understand their causes of singleness . Some of these questions below need to be asked with honesty :

  • Am I marriageable  at all ?  Have I been traumatized in previous relationships  to such an extent that I cannot entrust myself to  someone?  Healing  (e.g. forgiveness  and  being forgiven)   in such cases  must come from the  Lord  who either gives grace  to find a loving partner , or helps us to accept our situation  and to move on . The church can go some  way to provide a family  atmosphere for such  singles. 
  •  Am I too selfish  to be married ? Do I have personality traits that make me unmarriageable? The solution  to this  dilemma  is to  receive biblical counseling  which helps you to take  a  critical  look at   your  personality traits, and leads you to make some important adjustments .
  •  Am I fishing where there are fish?   Christian singles obviously are looking  for Christian partners.  The first solution  would be for God to  send someone into your life  ; alternatively relocate to an area/ church where there are  other Christian singles  to meet.  Alternatively  become involved  and encourage your church  to start a  God-centered  singles ministry.


[1]  Sex and the Supremacy of God , p. 186/7 ( Article by Carolyn McCulley)

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