Gift of Singleness
Singleness is a difficult field to talk about, but it is important to talk about! I'm keenly aware that when we come to discuss biblical relationships (or lack thereof) we are talking in broad strokes. So, if you read this and it rubs you the wrong way, or unsettles you, I'd love to talk it through with you in person to see how the scriptures apply in your circumstances.
When God created the world, He created a normative design for human community. There was a man and a woman charged to multiply, fill the earth and take dominion. But soon sin affected everything. It would be hard to do what God designed and commissioned us to do.
Back in the day, in Old Testament times, you could make a case that everyone should marry in order to fulfil the commission God gave, plus there were reasons under "loving your neighbour" in a fallen agrarian society that made marriage almost unavoidable.
Yet even so, under God's providence in those times there were those who shouldn't or didn't need to marry. Perhaps because there was nobody eligible in their community, physical reasons (e.g. eunuchs) or because they were in their later years and there was no point in marrying.
A New Vision
What makes this really interesting is that when Jesus, Paul and others rock up on the scene in the New Testament they put forward a vision of fruitful single life. Singleness is not just for people who had "bad luck" in life.
In a discussion about marriage and singleness Paul says "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" (1 Co 7:7). In the Gospel age, God makes it clear that you can live a God glorifying faithful life as a single person that is just as good (if not better) than the alternative.
Yet, Paul does not present the life of singleness or marriage as two options that anybody can choose, like what clothes you're going to wear today. He puts qualifications around each to make it clear what God would have you do.
Discerning the Gift
This means that you as a single person can read the scriptures to understand if you have the gift of singleness, or whether you should pursue marriage. God's providence may yet hold marriage back from you as a trial to face under His loving hand, but we must make a distinction between those who have the gift of singleness, and those single folk who should take up the gift of marriage if given the opportunity.
Why do I make this distinction? Because Paul does!
Straight after Paul's comment about gifting from God he says: "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 Co 7:8–9).
So it is a very straightforward qualification. It might make you a little squeamish that it is so crass, but it certainly clear.
If a) you desire the act and estate of marriage with all that entails (including children); and if b) you are likely to pursue these desires in an ungodly way; then you should marry. It is that simple.
If you are single and your temptations to sin in this area are in check, then pursue singleness to the glory of God!
If you are single and looking at porn, then you do not have the gift of singleness. If you are single and addicted to rom-coms or soppy romance novels you do not have the gift of singleness. Continuous lust or coveting is a sign you do not have self control in this area. It should be obvious, but the same goes for if you're actually engaging in any sexual activity outside marriage.
These are God given, good and beautiful drives that were built into us on purpose, and it is much better to channel them into marriage than to sin. Marriage won't necessarily solve your lust and coveting problems, but it is better to pursue our God-given desires in it's proper place than to sin outside it.
Fulfilling our Commissions
So how does the creation commission to humanity fit with singleness? I would suggest that in God's church, our fruitfulness and multiplication takes on a new spiritual dimension through the great commission (Matt 28:18-20). One can multiply disciples by having a family, that is raising children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord, but if a family is not God's call for you, you can still help make and mature disciples from out of the world. Disciple younger believers Titus 2 style, evangelise, support Gods mission and so on.
This is exactly what Paul did! He went out all across the world becoming a spiritual "father" to countless believers in the Church (see 1Co 4:14–16). He used the gifts God had given him, including the gift of singleness, to serve God with his whole life.
I'm not suggesting that married folk are free from the burden to evangelise the world, but I am suggesting that each of us should seriously consider what missional fruitfulness will look like in our life with our particular gifting.
Naturally talking about such matters so frankly is bound to raise some questions such as "What about my particular situation?". Like so much of the Scripture we are given the principle, some worked examples, and then left to apply the principle under the Holy Spirit's guidance. Decisions around marriage or singleness can have lifelong ramifications, so it is well worth taking the time to talk to a trusted Christian leader and bring the word of God to bear on your life. Although it can induce embarrassment, you have nothing to be ashamed of in seeking wise counsel in this area.
Perhaps you have read this and concluded, "I am single right now, but I'm sure I should marry," then go for it! Although there is confusion around Christian dating where once there were clear social norms, do not let this dissuade you (God willing I will soon write more about this). But here let me give you one piece of advice: You need not be passive. Some of us are hoping that one Sunday the right guy or gal will show up at church and take an interest in us. This may happen in God's providence, but it no sin to actively seek out a godly spouse.
So lets say you conclude "I'm sure that I have the gift of singleness," an obvious question is: how is it a gift? How can I use it? Well, we have run out of space here, so let's discuss it next time!
"Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him" (1Co 7:17).