This comes out of two conversations. One Christian has been going out with a non-Christian, and has been harshly criticised by his Christian friends for what they see as a completely wrong relationship. Another Christian has struggled with both her own singleness and the way singles can be overlooked by Christians. In this paper I’ve drawn together some of these issues and questions, based around the idea of two marriages and a reading of 1 Corinthians 7. There’s stuff in here for everyone: singles, marrieds and everyone in between.
Categories: Woman Written by Arthur
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.
thanks for your post, I think your article is very thoughtful and well-written. I like you point that marriage is not on a pedestal, and I think this is a trap we (the church) have fallen into. I know of a (male) friend who, upon becoming engaged, was congratulated by another guy who told him “well done for manning up”… as if to say that if he wasn’t getting married he would be less manly?
As a single christian it can feel like we are missing out, especially when churches do series on marriage and sex and how these are such awesome blessings from God (which I’m sure is true, but is of little comfort to people who, rightly or wrongly, can sometimes feel like this isn’t on the cards for them)
looking forward to hearing how this discussion unfolds
Hi Arthur, I thought it was good too.
A random story i remember from Church history – John ‘golden mouth’ Chrysostom a few centuries after paul takes 1 cor 7 to promote the ascetic lifestyle. His sermons had such gold as ‘Virginity stands as far above marriage as the heavens stand above the earth’. Apparently mothers feared their children going to hear him in case they missed out on grandchildren!!
That aside :-) …What do you think you’d say to someone who hears the both ways are good message but still wants to marry, yet no one wants to get married to them? This kind of ‘enforced’ celibacy seems pretty common presently…
Also i’m wondering how prescriptively you are understanding pauls ‘stay as you are’ comments in 1 cor 7?
Hey everyone. A few people have had trouble downloading the PDF. If it’s not working, please e-mail me at arthurgeoffrey at gmail dot com.
Thanks. I guess the next question is, how can we actually go about fixing things up in practice? I’ve only just started to think about that one…
Thanks for the questions. Thanks for highlighting that we can’t always choose our circumstances! Whatever our situation might be, I think the take-home message is to continue pursuing a Godward life. I would be prescriptive about staying single whenever an unwise marriage presents itself…
Christianity Today had some interesting reflections (and statistics) on this issue. Thanks to Jess for the link!
I was talking to a friend about this blog post and he raised the question: “If singleness makes living a Godward life clearer, why would God institute marriage in the first place?”
That got me thinking, and I’m not sure that remaining single does necessarily mean we can live more ‘Godward lives’. It may well mean we can’t ‘spend’ our entire life doing overt Christian ministry (as a ‘more than full time’ job). But being a good father and husband will mean we will have our own ministry – to our wife and children – that should be more influential to them than any other ‘minister’.
Hi David, do we know you? Face to a name and all that. :)
I think your friend is asking the wrong question — it’s not about whether one or the other is better. When I talk about living a Godward life, I’m not talking about ministry opportunities (of which there will always be an endless supply, whatever our situation!) but about life priorities/orientation. I want to see us recapture the value that Paul gives to singleness. As Reuben pointed out, that’s been badly overemphasised in the past, but it’s underemphasised today.
Hi Arthur, interesting paper.
I do want to raise a concern on something in your conclusion. You say:
“…singleness does provide a unique freedom for Godward living. A Christian single has the capacity to turn their whole life towards God’s service, unencumbered by family concerns.”
A few things:
1) Singlehood does provide unique freedom for Godward living. But so do marriage, widowhood, minimum wage employment, positions of authority, athletic prowess, disability, martyrdom and retirement. None of these are “wiser” than others, so your point seems to be a bit redundant.
2) Why make a distinction between “family concerns” and “God’s service”? Surely such a distinction either over-spiritualises vocational ministry (it’s more “special” simply because it’s formalized), or denigrates the very real ministry that a Godly spouse has to their family. I’m sure that’s not what you meant to say, but that’s the logical conclusion to draw from what you wrote.
Interested to hear your response :)
Thanks Andy. You and David seem to have the same concerns, and I agree with everything you’ve pointed out. We want to add all kinds of qualifying remarks but (annoyingly!) Paul doesn’t go there! Instead, he says, “It is good to stay unmarried” (v8) in order to be “free from concern” so that our interests are undivided (vv32ff). He adds that singleness is “even better” (v38) before recommending that widows don’t remarry (v40).
I’m not asking anyone to denigrate marriage and family. I’m making a corporate call to Christians to rightly reaffirm singleness.
you are attempting to do something I really respect – to affirm the significance of singleness. Good work! I think your paper needs more work and care, but you have posed some good questions and thoughts. The ‘wisdom questions’ on marrying a non-Christian are definitely good.
Perhaps you could expand sometime about the importance of the church being the family of God, and our role as spiritual brothers/sisters/fathers/mothers. In my mind that’s one of the main advantages of remaining single: the ability to invest more time into the family of God, which is often filled with people who come from broken biological families.
I’m more comfortable being single right now than at any other time before. I’m enjoying its value. But I do want to get married someday. I see marriage as an honourable calling. After reading the paper, though, I fear I’d somehow be ‘giving in’ if I got married, and that my service to God would be crippled. Should I feel that way? How do you want singles like myself, who desire it, to view the future possibility of marriage?
Also – a personal question (which you don’t have to answer): has your marriage made you more effective in serving God? Why or why not? Or, has it merely changed they way in which you serve God (i.e. loving and serving Tamie)?
Hey Jack :)
Yes, I think we (the church) need a more robust theology of “the greater family”.
If the paper left you feeling like that, you’ve probably started playing marriage and singleness off against each other, which isn’t what’s going on in 1 Cor 7. Marriage is good! But there’s a sense in which singleness is better. But more importantly, how does 1 Cor 7 itself make you feel? :)
How to view the future possibility of marriage? As a good thing! But I suspect that’s something we find all too easy to do. Paul isn’t so much saying that singleness is better, but that we ought to consider it *first.* Marriage is not the default or ideal state.
Tamie and I see ourselves as a team, and we hope that makes us a two-for-one ministry deal. But even if I were the only one formally in ministry, Tamie would be my greatest asset because she empowers me to serve, as I try to for her. Eg, with me being an INTP, she’s perfect for drawing me out on all kinds of levels. :) It’s true that she takes up a fair bit of time and energy, and that will only increase once (God willing) we have children, but she is every bit God’s gift to me and all my ministry efforts.
Could I achieve more for God as a single? Perhaps. Is my marriage good? Yes. Does it enhance my ministry? Yes.
I was interested to see this somewhat contrasting view from Mark Driscoll:
“As a general rule, single men should aspire to marriage and fatherhood, and if they do not there is something seriously wrong with them.”
Yeah, I’d seen that too.
I have some sympathy with his point of view. This does appear to be the general teaching of the Bible and he is obviously affirming the goodness of a sex drive properly directed.
Jesus seems to be doing something very radical by opening up a category of singleness for ‘the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 19.11-12)!
Maybe Paul is following Jesus here, maybe not…
Reuben — thanks for the Jesus quote, by the way! An important verse!
Here’s something else. Barry Webb in ‘Five Festal Garments’:
“Singleness remains a state that is ‘not good’ in the sense that it is a state of loneliness in which certain natural created desires are not met” (p33n31).
BW is not suggesting that singles are incomplete. But I guess that he’s individualising Gen 1-2, which I think is primarily about human society (2:23), of which marriage is a microcosm (2:24). In other words, the man’s ‘aloneness’ is not ‘loneliness’ so much as incompleteness, which is set right through the creation of womankind (rather than just a single female companion)…
Here is Laura Smit, author of Loves Me, Loves Me Not, giving a 20-min talk on singleness with similar conclusions to mine:
[audio src="http://www.calvin.edu/worship/idis/theology/smit_singleness.mp3" /]
Here’s a good Aussie article covering similar ground in terms of reclaiming singleness: http://matthiasmedia.com.au/briefing/library/5571/