The Problem with Singleness
Text: 1 Corinthians 7:1-9
Last week we addressed the position of singleness, a state which a lot of people find themselves in. Those who have never married, those who have been divorced, and those who are widows. The Will of God, Sovereignty of God, Purpose of God in Singleness, as well as a word to the People of God Serving Singles. Admittedly, it was a very broad brush message on the topic, but I don’t want to get too bogged down in this series. My intention is to deal with each topic that needs addressed in one message if possible just to keep it moving along.
Paul speaks very bluntly here about the desires and temptations that are broadly experienced among not just men, but among men and women v2.
In his mind it would be great to have more singleness to serve the Lord. But he acknowledges that it’s better to be holy in marriage than it is to be sinning in singleness. Which shows the importance of holiness when it comes to serving God. Being single and having lots of time and freedom to serve God is no advantage to the Kingdom when you’re living sinfully.
Paul acknowledges the desires many have and addresses it directly. He speaks to believers who have certain cravings for physical intimacy. While singleness is common, celibacy is not that common.
It’s clear that in the mind of Paul that it’s not a sin to have the feelings of desiring intimacy. To fulfil those desires outside of marriage is a sin, but the yearning for intimacy and closeness with another is not a sinful desire.
The temptation here is real, and the Bible gives frequent warnings against them, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” 1 Pet 2:11.
War has the idea of relentless assault. In war you try to find the weakness of your opposition and exploit it. And lusts will war against you until they find your particular weakness. Sexual temptation is a battle-hardened warrior. It has destroyed the mighty like Samson, so do not think you’re able to fight it. No, you will lose the battle. You are to flee. “Flee also youthful lusts” 2 Tim 2:22. “Flee fornication.” 1 Cor 6:18.
So strong are these desires that the answer for them isn’t to suppress them indefinitely, but to satisfy them in a marriage union. So, if you struggle in this area, do two things; pray for strength and pray for a spouse.
I said last week that marriage is something people are delaying more and more. Prolonged adolescence among men that makes them shun responsibility, and a spirit of feminism among women that makes them embrace an independent attitude.
When I got saved, the Lord immediately gave me a fire to serve him. In fact, such was my desire to do God’s will, I actually entertained the idea of celibacy. Melanie and I took a short time apart and I remember talking to my mother about the possibility that I should remain unmarried. I prayed and I remember God speaking clearly through his Word, and we were engaged when I was 21 and married 10 months later.
And this brought shock to some people. You can have a child and 16 and the world doesn’t say anything, but get married at 21 and you’re crazy. The wife of my pastor in my home church was just 18 when they married, and it certainly wasn’t unwise for them. And I’ll tell you folks, marrying young for the sake of purity, providing you’re marrying in the Lord, is not unwise. The devil would have you delay it, because with greater delay comes greater chance of falling into temptation.
I spoke to a young man in Northern Ireland a year or two ago. In his late twenties, going out for some time with a young woman, and the conversation of marriage came up and he was talking about building a house, etc, etc. before getting married and in general there seemed to be a spirit of delay. I subtly made mention of the Larger Catechism on the subject of adultery that it mentions the “undue delay of marriage”.
Q. 139. What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage; having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.
I heard later that my comment was helpful to another who realized there’s no sin in marrying and renting a place for a while before buying. You don’t have to have the perfect white picket fence before getting married. That’s an undue delay.
Singleness can give licence to delay maturity, which instead of making you an attractive prospect, often has the effect of prolonging your singleness. Whether or not you realize marriage is for you, immaturity is not a godly attitude. But what I want to focus on here is that often single people look at the problems with others and complain about the lack of this or that in everyone else, and rarely take stock of themselves and ask, how can I make myself a more attractive prospect? i.e. Am I spiritually slack? Then why would a godly person want to marry me?
If we spent as much time cultivating godliness in ourselves as we may do criticizing flaws in others, we may find a magnetism whereby the Spirit will draw a godly prospect across your path.
Last week I spoke about the fact that we should not assume single people are unhappy. But at the same time, loneliness is a real factor. As God observed a perfect world for Adam, He recognized his isolation from his own kind and it wasn’t good in the eyes of God. He had God and a perfect world, but not a complete life.
“Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” Eccl 4:9-10
It is not ungodly to find comfort in the company of others. 2 Cor 7:5, “For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”
Paul had people with him and their presence was important to him. Now that’s not to say that we are incomplete when single. Two becoming one flesh does not depict two broken halves coming together to make one complete whole. It is two complete individuals coming together and being one complete unit. Our completeness is in Christ, “But I have all, and abound: I am full” Phil 4:18.
1. Awareness of Sin – Again, many of the greatest spiritual individuals were spiritual giants, John the Baptist, Paul, Barnabas, and the Lord Jesus Christ. However, having a spouse helps with spiritual growth for many people. e.g. if you’re on your own and I say, you’re a sinner you might say, “yes I know”. Bit if I ask you to name a sin in the past week, you might struggle. But if you’re married, that won’t happen. Your spouse can keep you accountable with specifics.
2. Acquaintance with Rebuke – Most of us fall into the sin of thinking too highly of ourselves. “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Prov 27:5-6. If we say something we shouldn’t others might say nothing, but your spouse, because they love you, will give you perspective of how what you said was wrong, or could be taken in a wrong way. A mark of grace is being able to accept rebuke. Marriage helps you to get acquainted with rebuke. If you’ve ever met an older person that never married, often you’ll find that they say things that are inappropriate, or say things in a manner that’s inappropriate. They’ve never had someone help them with the rough edges. Now marriage isn’t fool-proof in this, but it’s often helpful.
3. Exercising of Virtues – live in isolation and often your virtues aren’t tested. You can think you’re godly, but the truth is you aren’t tested. Marriage however, will test your patience, learning to hold your tongue, understanding weakness in others and learning to ‘bear all things’ (1 Cor 13:7). So marriage helps us to build our virtues to be more Christ-like.