“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 Corinthians 7:7)
I was single for the first 20 years of my life. I can remember times when I wondered whether or not God had planned for me to remain single forever. I sometimes wondered whether or not I had the gift, which, to those who hope to be married one day, the gift sounds more like the curse—a sort of “cross to bear” in the name of the gospel that we didn’t really choose for ourselves. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Not everyone is sitting around waiting for their future husband or wife to arrive on the scene to take this “gift” away from them. But most people seem to desire marriage at some point in their lives, and when this doesn’t come as soon as they expected, it’s natural to wonder if singleness is a gift that they’ll have forever. We need to redefine the way we look at singleness, and in particular, the way we understand it as a “gift.”
How is singleness a gift?
First of all, being single is not a gift that necessarily lasts forever. Let’s get this misconception out of the way. As a single, you are the gift to the people around you. It becomes obvious very quickly that as a married person, you cannot do ministry the way you used to as a single. Even if you and your spouse are both looking to serve in ministry, and match each other perfectly in terms of theological beliefs, you still won’t be able to serve to the extent that you did before. This isn’t to paint marriage in a bad light at all. With marriage comes the ability to minister in ways that you couldn’t before. But you must realize that your time and attention are now considerably more divided than they were before. Serving your spouse and your family should come before giving your time to a particular ministry. In fact, the Bible says that if you can’t manage your own household spiritually, emotionally, and physically, then you aren’t fit to lead in the church (1 Timothy 3:5).
Many pastors and leaders in the church have attempted to live life as if they had the gift of singleness, placing the priorities in their lives like this God>Church>Spouse>Kids which results in the latter two getting the short end of the stick. That sometimes means that the family falls apart in the name of serving the church. This is ironic, especially considering that this person is seldom fit to serve in the church after this happens. And of course it naturally becomes harder for a person to be effective after he or she has let their family fall by the wayside in the name of their ministerial ambitions–regardless of how pure these ambitions seem, and regardless of great of a leader they are.
So what does this all mean?
It means that singleness is a way of maximizing the potential to serve those around us without other obligations. Singles are not in some kind of purgatory waiting to be qualified for marriage. The longer I’m married the more I realize that I’m not qualified for it. Nobody is. Singles are not deficient, or ill-suited for marriage. Both Paul and Jesus were single, and nobody would argue that they weren’t qualified for marriage. The church needs singles because they have the incredible potential to do great things that many other people in the church will simply not be in a position to do. They are a vital organ in the somatic make-up of the church. When we think about the gift of singleness, let’s not think of permanent loneliness or an inescapable duel with lust. After all, if marriage removed loneliness and lust then people wouldn’t have affairs. The “gift” should be viewed as a fantastic window of opportunity to serve. It is not only for certain people and it is not necessarily forever.