Making the Most of Seasons of Singleness
“ I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:32-35)
We can be fickle creatures, can’t we? Each of us is prone to let our eyes wander toward what those around us have that we do not, and the comparisons begin. Contentment becomes an afterthought and desire—jealousy even—swells inside of us. It can be seen as the human condition, an effect of the fall. But however we define its root cause discontent becomes the enemy of faithful devotion and service to God.
Many times our discontent is directly tied to our relationship status. Are we single? Are we dating someone? Are we married? Envy never seems as evident as in those times when we compare ourselves to others and their relationships. We are undeniably relational creatures fashioned in the image of an incredibly relational God, so we should desire connection with others…but not at the expense of contentment in Christ. This is what Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 7, and what Dr. Estep spoke on last Sunday.
In fact, in his discussion regarding the complexities of relationship types and statuses in the Corinthian church, Paul’s intent is not to merely comfort believers as they exist in their respective relationships, but to promote devotion to Jesus. And in a church culture where marriage is often elevated in our eyes as God’s ultimate schematic of sanctification for our earthly lives, those who are single (either by choice or circumstance) are often relegated to an unintended arena of less-importance. This cannot be the case if we are to be the body of Christ in our local context. If anything, we must look to those who are single in our congregation as those most available for ministry—not to mention those most primed for incredible seasons of securing “undivided devotion”. We must look to those who are single as those with unfettered potential for the kingdom of God, and encourage them to pursue Christ wholeheartedly. We can and must do this for their sake, but ultimately for the good of the bride of Christ, his church.
John Piper stated once in an interview regarding his book This Momentary Marriage that, “Singleness doesn’t mean one has embraced a lesser life because there are ways to display the corporate glory of God and experience the glory of dependence upon God in unique ways as one who is single that cannot be experienced by a husband and wife.” This is what we should encourage of those who are single in our congregation, whether they be college students, young professionals, those who have been called to a life of ministry free of the concerns that exist in marriage, those patiently waiting for a mate they feel God has granted them a desire for, or those who, by circumstances unforeseen, are made single again. Singleness does not mean someone doesn’t measure up, rather the Lord has seen fit for them to have the opportunity to be undividedly devoted and thus an asset for our congregation.
So what can we take from this emphasis of Paul’s? Well, a few things stick out to me:
First, we must recognize (and remember) that in all of our lives there is at least one season where each of us is single. This may be ridiculously obvious, but I believe it’s helpful to note. It’s helpful because when we remember this fact we empathize more with every person who comprises the congregation of First Baptist. It fosters community because we can sympathize with the struggles of those who do desire to be married, but have yet to see that desire realized in their lives. We can mourn with those who have lost their spouses and support them moving forward. We can encourage those who feel called to remain single to pursue Christ full force along with whatever ministry he deems fit for them. We can sympathize with the unique issues that face those who do not have a spouse to support them emotionally, financially, etc. We can surround our brothers and sisters who happen to be single with love, support, and even encouragement to utilize their beautifully unique (not to mention ordained) circumstances to experience devotion and availability to the Lord that others can only dream of. In other words, it is our privilege to do life with believers of every ilk—relationally speaking—and our honor to encourage their development, maturity of faith, and desire for devotion to Jesus. As we remember this season in our own lives and seek to do these things, our local community of faith will be the better for it.
Second, for those who are single, do not dismiss, or undervalue your singleness.
This may be most applicable to those who are unmarried yet hope to be so, but regardless the emphasis from Paul is for all who are unmarried. Utilize your time of singleness to pine after Jesus, not for those things you have yet to experience, or those you may have lost. I know this is easier said than done, especially when we have fostered a culture where marriage is so often elevated, but please take to heart that your particular circumstance is indeed a gift from God. No matter where you are in life, the Lord is with you and equips you for what He has for you. I truly believe this is why Paul includes this exhortation to “promote good order and secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (see v. 35 above) in the midst of sharing his desire for believers to be free from anxieties. You have the ability and opportunity to serve him in ways that are much less hindered by worries and anxieties, so for your sake, your personal sanctification, the edification of the church, and even the Lord’s sake, invest in your relationship with Him at this point of your life like you never have before!
Third, we can take this passage and its context to lead each of us to live as we have been called. We can and should celebrate the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ is a tapestry woven with innumerable, singularly unique threads created and called to serve an amazing God who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light! My prayer is that we allow our different life stages, our different relational circumstances, and our different gifts to build us all up as a community of believers in Columbia, SC that seek to serve the Lord faithfully and work to make disciples of all nations!
Other resources that could be helpful to check out on this topic:
“Happily Unmarried” – Dr. Wendell Estep, Sermon from 2/21/16 Here’s a link to the sermon on Soundcloud https://soundcloud.com/first-baptist-church-cola/happily-unmarried
This is very helpful! – “4 Things God Says to Singles” Vaughan Roberts
“Nine Lies in the Not-Yet-Married Life” by Marshall Segal
“Single, Satisfied, and Sent: Mission for the Not-Yet Married”, Marshal Segal
First Baptist Church