Stop justifying your singleness

Because you don’t have to…

Being single is a freedom given you in Jesus Christ, but many of my single friends often misunderstand just how to live in this freedom. Many singles can’t understand why they continue to feel such tension in their singleness after reading books, articles, and receiving much counsel in defense of singleness. Singles need to understand why they feel so much tension even though they are living well within the bounds of obedience.

Three components causing the deep tension you often feel

1- Scriptural misunderstandings

As Christians, our obedience is rooted in the truth of God’s word. There’s no shortage of scriptural defenses for singleness, most often ending up paper thin and leading to conclusions that haven’t been entirely thought through. This leaves us with unresolved tension. The two primary explanations given to singles leading to this tension have to do with Jesus and Paul.

The Idea that Jesus was Single

Not true.

Jesus was God in the flesh, and this God had a wife, Israel (Ez. 16:32). This God wrapped Himself in flesh and came to His wife Israel. They not only rejected their husband, they killed Him. Being that there is only one way out of a marriage covenant, His wife Israel put Him on a cross. This gives way to the New Covenant in which He is “wed”, not exclusively to Israel, but to all the nations including Israel. He gives His people His spirit to ensure they spread His glory all over His world in faithfulness unlike Israel (see Hosea). Playing out the “Jesus was single” justification for singleness reveals missing links in our Biblical understandings about His love for us, intimate work in us, to ensure His work all around us. To say Jesus was single is either to say God was single, which He clearly wasn’t, or Jesus was not the married God of the Old Testament, which we know He was.

The idea that Paul supported the narrative of singleness

Not true.

One of the most misused scriptures to justify an elongated narrative for singleness is 1 Corinthians 7. We see Paul wishing everyone were like him, having the “gift” of singleness. We see singleness spoken of as a gift without seeing the setting around the culture or certain identifying markers within the text. Things like; 1-Because of the present (or impending) distress (1 Cor. 7:26), 2- This is what I meant brothers, the appointed time has grown short (1 Cor. 7:29), 3- For the present form of this world is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31). Paul caps all he has been saying on marital issues in chapter 7 within the context of “This present distress.” Singleness was a “gift” so the 1st century Christian could function more nimbly in the midst of coming persecution and the mission of God within this predetermined time table. Thinking that Paul means to refer to singleness as a ‘gifted’ better way than marriage is completely outside the bounds of his culture, the context of 1 Corinthians 7 and what Jesus has already said about children regarding the coming distress. On His way to the cross Jesus looks at the weeping women and tells them not to cry for Him (Luke 23:28). He goes on to say that they should cry for themselves because the day is coming when they will wish and will be better off not having children. Why? Because Rome, like Babylon, is coming to destroy Jerusalem and eventually will set out to destroy Christianity. Is Jesus saying the better way is childlessness? Of course not, and there is rarely a theologian on Earth that would support such an unnatural reading of the text. Paul and Jesus are both culturally and contextually making observations of life within the context of coming destructive atrocities. When your 1st century captors come it will be best if you are single and without children. What’s worse with this scriptural argument for the “gift” of contemporary singleness is that it can play right into the hands of the “Asexual” argument in that it creates a change, addition or “better way” to the original idea for humanity and the creation of the family. Jesus himself, when asked about marriage, refers back to its creation and institution for humanity. A time when, by God’s own admission and confirmation, everything was perfect in form and function (Gen. 1:31). 

Access a more in-depth argument for 1 Corinthian 7 (Here)

Access a more in-depth argument for Children and Marriage (Here)

2- Society at large

Most of the world is married and moving toward marriage (global stats). Most of the world is not a courtship culture like the West either. Most cultures of the world highly value marriage to the point of their being shamed if you’re not married. In Hmong cultures you aren’t really seen as an adult until you are married. In some African cultures it is seen as a curse if you are older and unmarried. Singleness as a descriptor is only understood as being different than the overarching human narrative of being married. Single people have single friends and a few married friends. Married people have married friends and a few single friends. This is just one aspect of how humans gather. Society is pressuring you to marry or justify your singleness, and as Christians, we run right toward the two misunderstandings above to make sense of our singleness to those around us. If most of the world wore shoes on their hands, in a world primarily accommodating for people with shoes on their hands, people with shoes on their feet would spend a lot of time adjusting to this world and justifying their non-conformity. 

3- Desire to please people rather than God

For very good reasons, we’re all desperately trying to do what’s right in a situation that seems to cause the deepest of tensions. Pastors, theologians, and thinkers are even trying to do the same for the singles among us. We have this idea that it should be okay to be single as we seem to scramble to piece together paper thin arguments, but we also know that God’s narrative of all creation was a husband and wife that had children and were told to go work. This is where we confront very deep tension. We are inclined to please the people around us, which isn’t a bad thing so much as we understand God is to be pleased first and foremost. Everything we do is for God’s pleasure and glory (Prov. 29:25, Col. 3:23, Acts 5:29).

A few more verses on pleasing God rather than people (Here). 

Singleness must be a derivative of Christian liberty, and we must learn to live and support our brothers and sisters within this liberty…

BY JOSHUA WHETSTINE – NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD CITY MISSIONARY FOR MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Jamie Carter says:

    Actually, God is divorced (Jeremiah 3:8, Isaiah 50:1). The marriage broke up long before Jesus entered the scene in corporeal form. When people say that Jesus is single, we don’t see him as the groom who marries a bride like Mary Magdalene, starts having a family and raising children. He wasn’t that kind of typically betrothed/married guy. The use of describing Jesus as the bridegroom is almost always in an ethereal, spiritual sense. Not a human one.

    Singleness was considered a blight, it was the ending of a father’s name and lineage and also cutting off an old woman from the only form of support she would have had – from her children. When I was doing ancestry information, I saw how many widows/widowers were being cared for by their sons/daughters and in-laws. It was a lot like that in the ancient world – anyone who didn’t have children didn’t have anyone to care for them in their old age – except for the church. One Roman was once impressed how Christians take care of not only their own widows, but non-believing widows as well. In the ancient world, marriage was pretty much a prerequisite to belong. That’s true of Christianity today, where singles are often marginalized and shamed for being “less mature” or “selfish”.

    Statistics cut both ways, here in the states, there are more single people than married people for the first time since the data began to be recorded in 1976. There are 27 states where more than half of the population is single: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/09/15/for-the-first-time-there-are-more-single-american-adults-than-married-ones-and-heres-where-they-live/ Some of that might be owing to the fact that women are no longer incapable of supporting themselves, holding down a job, or in a society that forbids them from driving, for example. If other cultures had similar freedoms where women didn’t have to marry in order to survive, more women might actually marry for love and fewer would marry just so they can have access to the basics for survival – food, shelter, etc. In the ancient world, in the time of Jesus and Paul, that degree of singleness would have been unheard of. What it means that we live in a radically different world than that of Jesus and Paul with completely different values and beliefs – we no longer live where marriage is the end-all and be-all of of human life and faith in God, we live where each individual is prized and cherished not for how married they are, but that they are primarily a daughter or son of God rather than a wife or husband of some believer in God.

    Ultimately, we can’t decide how others ought to live, and married people shouldn’t decide for singles the best way for them to live any more than singles should call all the shots for married people. We have to remember that the Bible is a book two thousand years removed from our culture and time – so it’s not going to speak directly to us in everything. But it is from the Bible that the world did learn respect for it’s singles, it’s a shame that the Church hasn’t learned that same lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comments!! Here are my follow-up thoughts

      1- Jer. 3:8, and Isaiah 50:1 are set in the context of a rebellion and unfaithful wife Israel, just as you’ve agreed. However, the full and final fulfillment of this isn’t until the 1st century and Rome’s Babylonian like final destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. What you’re seeing in Jerimiah and Isaiah is the Babylonian destruction that is but a shadow of the things to come. We know this wasn’t the great divorce because we see God sending them back to their land and rebuilding their city and temple as His bride, just like many of the prophets promised. Even Daniel, reading Jeremiah, knew that the unfaithful wife would be accepted back. A full divorce, per se, doesn’t happen until the 1st century.
      2- On this comment, “Singleness was considered a blight, it was the ending of a father’s name and lineage and also cutting off an old woman from the only form of support she would have had – from her children. When I was doing ancestry information, I saw how many widows/widowers were being cared for by their sons/daughters and in-laws. It was a lot like that in the ancient world – anyone who didn’t have children didn’t have anyone to care for them in their old age – except for the church. One Roman was once impressed how Christians take care of not only their own widows, but non-believing widows as well. In the ancient world, marriage was pretty much a prerequisite to belong. That’s true of Christianity today, where singles are often marginalized and shamed for being “less mature” or “selfish”. I agree, mostly. You make a right and historic case from societal and cultural arguments at the beginning of your response, you then seem to imply that culture is moving in a different direction, with Christianity the lone marital relic. You seem to base that movement on a US or western phenomena, which is largely a courtship cultural. I think it’s important to see anomalies in regions, but we have to see what’s happening among all of humanity given that this issue from the beginning is a human issue.
      3- On the idea that “We must not decide how people should live.” I couldn’t agree more. In fact, that’s why the Christian worldview is one that allows God to speak over us, and on the issue of marriage, He has spoken loud, clear, and specific. This is why I think it’s very important to make allow singleness a right home within Christian liberty because anything else simply will not work.
      Thanks so much for the comment and interaction!!

      Also: Mary also refers to Jesus as the bridegroom in John 2, when she approaches him to do something at the disaster that was occurring in the Cana wedding feast. He replies to her with asking why she is approaching him as the bridegroom when His wedding (hour) is not yet come John 10-12. Both very real, physical, and human realities. Divorce is also not the best way to refer to what is happening with Christ and His people, in that He fulfills all that is covenantally required of Him in this relationship, and even picks up the beginning of the church with a remnant of Israel to create the foundation of the new church.

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      1. Jamie Carter says:

        When people say “Jesus was single” we mean: “Jesus was not the groom at something like the Wedding at Cana, where he married his bride, and started having children, raising them in a normal, human existence.” Jesus’ marriage, at this point, is not consecrated. Jesus is the bridegroom at his father’s house, preparing the nuptial rooms. The church, the bride, remains in her father’s house, awaiting the marriage feast.

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      2. Paul, in Ephesians 5:22-32 uses Christ relationship with His people as the ultimate end-visioning of what marriage should be. In fact, the changed nature of the Spirit of God from the Old Covenant to the New is that now the Spirit of God is very intimately within His people, permanently and all encompassingly (very different from the Old Covenant), so that by the spirit of God working in the people of God the church will create a posterity of God that will fill the globe of God. This is what Adam was supposed to do with Eve, but failed. Now, Christ as the Second Adam and the church as the second Eve will in fact accomplish the original mission of God, and that was to fill the Earth with His glory.

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      3. Jamie Carter says:

        And Ephesians 5:21 says that everyone ought to submit to one another, that’s what starts off the entire passage, unless you’re indicating that the rest of it contradicts what Paul wrote. Paul’s point wasn’t that every man and every woman have to be married, or as the rest of that passage indicates, have to have children, or have to be masters who own slaves – those household codes told them how to live under Roman rules about marriage and family while living in a Christian context – which was to undermine the Roman ideas. You can’t just isolate part of the passage as the human ideal and ignore the cultural reason why it exists in the first place.

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      4. Agreed, in fact, I would argue that many of these types of text, which both Paul and Peter engage in, are in one sense household codes that are bent toward an instruction to the young church and an apologetic for their existence as Josephus had done for Judaism to the Roman Empire. I haven’t made the argument for all humanity to be married. Just the contrary. I make an argument from scripture on how to be single within Christian liberty. However, God’s plan for marriage and the children that ensue is rooted in a perfect creation, in form and function (Gen 1:31). While there are culturally ebbs and flows throughout history, humanity continues to show their deep and primary value of marriage. To argue that Paul’s primary and overarching example of submission in Eph. 5:22 is somehow at odds with what he says in verse 5:21 is an attempt to reconcile the text by making a similar mistake in the other direction. There are arguments on both sides as to where this verse should fit, whether with 5:1-21 or 5:21-31, but this doesn’t take away from the primarily point that I make regarding this text and that Paul equates the relationship of Jesus and His people with that of Husband and Wife. So to bring it back to the original argument, Jesus was not single, and no matter the form we think that reality takes on, we cannot use His example of supposed singleness to justify our own because it simply isn’t accurate.

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      5. Jamie Carter says:

        I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Christians talk about men and women only in the context of husband and wife, how Ephesians 5 always begins at 22 and never starts off with 21, how male headship and female submission is the Biblical ideal and singles are “selfish” and “immature” What I’m saying is that just because God uses it as a metaphor it doesn’t make so. Think like the parables, just because they describe what something is like in some fashion, it doesn’t mean that the Kingdom of God IS a tree to which all the birds come to call home. The whole thing about marriage was to give the people a way of understanding what it was sort of like, but it’s not exactly the same thing as they lived it out.

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      6. I don’t think you’re immature or selfish at all based solely on singleness. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that rooting your freedom to be single in proof texts and certain arguments that simply don’t work all the way out is going to get sideways on you and is going to cause constant tension and anxiety in life. You have the liberty to be single and it is in no way displeasing to the Lord. regarding the relationship of the parables and Eph. 5; the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, the seed being Jesus going into the ground to die, a small and seemingly insignificant person, only to rise as King of the world having all authority given to Him, and by His spirit working in His people throughout the ages this mustard seed will grow to take over the garden and the nations will come and flock to it. Leaven in the bread works the same way. Even though it isn’t actually this or that as we all understand, it is very much “like” this or that. You then have to take that hermeneutic and layer that back over Eph. 5…

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      7. Jamie Carter says:

        You have the liberty to be single and it is in no way displeasing to the Lord.

        Few churches actually teach/preach this – they say that because the Bible is filled with marriage metaphors and instructions, then it’s a prerequisite to be a true believer. That’s why I’ve never heard one sermon extolling the virtues of living a single life, ever. That’s why every Bible study I’ve been to features marriage as central to it’s arguments.

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      8. I know… and I know it’s an narrative that can be very difficult to live in and hear non-stop, but you have the freedom to live single and well pleasing to the Lord!! Great interacting with you!

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  2. Interesting article. I have never before heard the argument that 1 Cor 7 should not be considered as truths for the entire church age. My question would be what about verses 32-35? Those seem to me to clearly be timeless truths for the church. Would you agree? I see what you are saying in that we should not view singleness as a type of asexuality gift, but it seems to me that Paul is saying that those who choose singleness as a devotion to God, choosing to deny their physical urges do indeed do better then those who marry, yet he still maintians that those who marry do good. This seems to fall in line with Jesus’s statement that some have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of God. and Jesus seemed to partially affirm the disciples assessment that it is better not to marry in Matt 19.

    The focus I see from 1 Cor 7 is about how this present world is a very short stint for us in the grand scheme of our time with the Lord, and that it is best not to set our hearts on these temporary things like marriage. And this advice is for all of us…yes, we buy and sell, marry and have kids, but out devotion and love for the Lord should make these worldly things seem COMPARABLY like very small matters. And in this way the one who has a wife should live as if they do not. Basically saying live a life with the eyes of your heart set on eternal things. Our endeavors here are light and momentary.

    Thanks for the thought provoking article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is very good reason to believe that Paul’s advice given is constrained to the events prophesied by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse relating to the tribulation that would precede the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). I’m not certain I would say that there isn’t ageless truth in 1 Cor.7. Of course there is, but not at the expense of the original author, his original intent, to his original audience, in their original context, given the big picture of the biblical story. I think it’s a bit of a false dichotomy to pit the two against each other. A natural reading of the text cannot overlook specific time references that Paul is rooting all of what he has to say. Read a little more here, and let me know what you think..

      https://files.acrobat.com/a/preview/0dc333c2-0a23-42f6-98a8-fad48bdfc392

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  3. Lot’s of good points and very well written. Especially interesting was the connection with Jeremiah’s command not to marry.

    But I am unconvinced that “the present form of this world is passing away” is not talking primarily about the end of the age. If Paul is really talking about the end of the old covenant age and the destruction of Jerusalem, what does that have to do with how the Corinthians live, considering they are primarily gentiles and far from Jerusalem?

    Regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, was that not a foreshadow of the end? My understanding has been that there are times in scriptures, especially in regards to the end times, that we see prophesy with multiple fulfillments. The immediate fulfillment that is partial, and the main fulfillment at the end. What I am trying to say is that I think it might be a false dichotomy to say that warnings referring to how to live in regards to the coming judgement need to be either about Jerusalem or about the end to come.

    thanks!

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    1. “Regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, was that not a foreshadow of the end?” The ultimate substance cannot itself be a shadow as we understand theological shadows…

      We see fulfillment of prophecies and promises in the Old Testament, but they are but shadows of the ultimate fulfillment in Christ. The best hermeneutic to anchor our faith in is one that makes the most of Jesus:

      Acts 3:24New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      24 And likewise, (A)all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. (Not 12/12/16) but 1st century…because something amazing was occurring…

      Luke 24:27New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      27 Then beginning [a]with (A)Moses and [b]with all the (B)prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

      Colossians 2:16-17New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      16 Therefore no one is to [a](A)act as your judge in regard to (B)food or (C)drink or in respect to a (D)festival or a (E)new moon or a (F)Sabbath [b]day— 17 things which are (G)a mere shadow of what is to come; but the [c]substance [d]belongs to Christ.

      Hebrews 8:5New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      5 who serve (A)a copy and (B)shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses [a]was (C)warned by God when he was about to erect the [b]tabernacle; for, “(D)SEE,” He says, “THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN.”

      Hebrews 10:1New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      10 For the Law, since it has only (A)a shadow of (B)the good things to come and not the very [a]form of things, [b]can (C)never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, (D)make perfect those who draw near.

      John 5:39New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      39 [a](A)You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is (B)these that testify about Me;

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