Now as we continue in our family series, talking about marriage and family and child raising, we come to a subject that has been much requested through this series, and that is the subject of singleness. Many in our church are single and many of you have come to me through the weeks and months of this series and said, "When are you going to talk about single people?" And tonight is the night.
You know, being single is not a new dilemma. It's a relatively old dilemma. In fact, I have in my files archives of all kinds of rather antiquated viewpoints and I have a file that has to do with singleness. And in that file there are some expressions of the woes of singleness from back in the nineteenth century, the late 1800's. In fact, there were a whole group of single people who got together for the Ladies Home Journal and all wrote poems expressing their distress.
Now I'm not going to read you all of the poems, but they're quite interesting. Here's one from a gentleman. He writes, "Of all the girls that ever I knew, I never saw one I thought would do. I wanted a wife that was nice and neat, that up-to-date and had small feet. I wanted a wife that was loving and kind, and that hadn't too much an independent mind. I wanted a wife that could cook and sew and wasn't eternally on the go. I wanted a wife that was strikingly beautiful, intelligent, rich, and exceedingly dutiful. That isn't so much to demand in a wife, but she's still not found though I've looked all my life."
And then one from a young lady. "The only reason why I've never wed is as clear as the day and as easily said. Two lovers I had who'd have made me a bride, but the trouble was just that I couldn't decide. Whenever John came, I was sure it was he that I cared for the most, but with Charlie by me, my hands clasped in his and his eyes fixed on mine, twas as easy as could be to say I'll be thine. Now tell me, what was a poor maiden to do who couldn't to save her make choice between these two? I dillied and dallied and couldn't decide till Johnny got married and Charlie, he died. And that is the reason why I've never wed for how could I help it as everyone said, when Johnny was married and Charlie was dead?" Fair warnings, ladies, the struggles of being single, as going about as an unclaimed blessing.
What does the Bible have to say about being single? And how are we to understand singleness, this unique design by God for some of you? We all are aware of the fact that God has designed the relationship of marriage to be the most common expression of human life in an intimate social way. God has designed marriage and called it the grace of life, the gift of God for the fulfillment of most people. And marriage is the only relationship in which sexual intimacy can take place at all. It is God's design and God's gift.
But it is not the only design of God. God designed that some people be unmarried. And that too fits into God's will and God's purpose. And to see what God says about that, I ask you to turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 7...1 Corinthians chapter 7.
A very noble and a very excellent and godly man, to be sure, was the Apostle Paul, and a single man, as well. For he writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 in verse 7, "Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am, however, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I, but if they do not have self-control, let them marry for it is better to marry than to burn...implied with desire."
Here Paul tells us that he is single and he is single with great blessing to the degree that he could wish that the unmarried, which is likely a reference to those who have been divorced because it's differentiated from virgins who would be those never married, but those who are divorced and those who are widows, it is good for them if they remain as they are. In Paul's case, singleness was a great blessing. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry. It is better to marry than to continually burn with lust, such temptation obviously is more than one can bear.
But Paul is here offering himself as an example of the fulfillment of being single. Since the apostle includes himself in a discussion of the unmarried and the widowed, it is very likely that he has been married but no longer is. Most likely his wife had died. Some have suggested that because he was a member of the Sanhedrin he would have at once had to have been married since that was a requirement, and now his singleness would mean that his wife had died.
But what Paul is saying here is that singleness is not incompleteness necessarily. In verse 7 he says, "I wish that all men were single as I am single because it has so many pluses." However, he is very understanding, "Each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that." That is it is a gift of God to be able to live singly, it is a gift of God to be married. I wish that all could enjoy the blessings of singleness but such gift God has not given to all. But to those to whom it is given to be single, singleness is a very special benediction from the Spirit of God for His glory and the advancement of the Kingdom and the blessing of the church.
Now in this chapter the virtues and blessings and the importance of singleness is clearly given to us. Skipping over to verse 25, Paul reengages on the discussion of singleness after a discussion of marriage and divorce. And in verses 25 and 26 this is how he begins: "Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy."
In other words, what he is saying here is I can't quote Jesus. There is nothing in the gospel record or in any other record that has been laid down regarding the teaching of Jesus in which He refers to the benefits of singleness, so I cannot quote the Lord on this, but I can give you a viewpoint as one who by the mercy of the Lord can be trusted. In other words, I am the representative of the Lord, I am an apostle, I speak the truth as the Spirit of God reveals it to me. I can be trusted to give you wise counsel. And that wise counsel comes in verse 26, "I think then that this is good in view of the present distress that it is good for a man to remain as he is."
Now Paul is saying, "I cannot quote Jesus on this matter," and he makes that reference in other cases in this same chapter, "but I will tell you what is my own viewpoint as one who is trustworthy to represent the Lord and to speak under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that is this, that there is great benefit for an individual to remain single." It is good to be single. That's exactly what he said back in verse 8...it is good for them, that is the unmarried and the widows, to remain even as I...and that is single. It's good to be single. It's not bad, it's good. And it is good for a number of very important reasons. These reasons unfold starting there in verse 26 and running all the way to the end of the chapter, and we're going to hastily go through those in the limited time that we have tonight.
I'm going to give you five reasons why it is good to be single. Now listen, some of you have the gift of singleness and these are most suitable to you. Some of you are in the condition of singleness though you are positive you don't have the gift. You are not married and you don't like it. You are divorced and you don't like it. You are widowed and you don't like it. You really need a partner.
Nonetheless, in the current state that you are in you must understand the benefits that come to you if only for the short term. I believe that if you are single and you don't have the gift and your life is as it should be before God, that God will fulfill your desire. Until then, and you don't want to rush into anything, until then you can enjoy the benefits of being single. For those of you whom God has blessed with the gift of singleness, these are the very principles which makes your singleness so wonderful.
Number one, the first benefit of being single is the pressure of the system...the pressure of the system. Look at verse 26, Paul says, "I think then that this is good," and he's talking about virgins, so back in verse 8 he talked about unmarried who would be divorced, he talked about widows who would be formerly married but a spouse has died, and now he talks about virgins who would be those who never married. And he says, "It is good in view of the present distress. It is good for a man to remain as he is."
"In view of the present distress" is what I want to draw to your attention. The term here, anaken, anake, can mean violence, by the way, and it is translated "violence" in a number of places in the New Testament, Luke 21:30...ah, 21:23; 2 Corinthians 6:4, 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 3 verse 7. It is a word that speaks of tremendous difficulty. In fact, in one of the most outstanding dictionaries of the Greek language, edited by Kittel, it says it denotes the tensions that exist between the new creation and the fallen kosmos.
In other words, there is just difficulty in life. There is the present distress that comes against God's people. Paul is thinking of painful and violent distress that may come at any time on anyone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord. He's really talking about the imminent persecution that is going to fall upon the Corinthians in this case, and to Paul many...upon many other believers. He knew what persecution was like. He knew what it was, as he says in 2 Corinthians, to wake up every day and have the realization that it could be his last day because he would be killed in an ambush or executed. He knew his enemies were all over the place and they were stalking him and they were plotting against him and he knew that he was hanging, as it were, by the fragile thread of God's sovereignty. And if his enemies had their way, they would gladly cut it and send him into death. He knew what it was to live under tremendous persecution. He writes about that all through 2 Corinthians...he was beaten, he was shipwrecked, he was whipped, he was robbed and you know the long litany of things...stoned and left for dead.
Realizing the tremendous implications of all of that on a loving wife and loving children, he could see the value of being single. The days of persecution were escalating and he knew it. And a married person with a family would have far more intense suffering, far more intense sorrow, far more intense loss in the circle of that family. And if the persecution extended to the whole family, the pain and the suffering and the agony would be so profound. Paul is saying there is a benefit in a time of distress, a time of violence, a time of persecution, there is a benefit to having no wife and having no children so that you do not live in constant fear for their lives. Hard times were coming and Paul knew it. It would be within fifteen years from the writing of this letter that the first general persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero would break out against Christians, within fifteen years. Erastus, the chamberlain, that's a city official of Corinth was among those who perished in this persecution. Now that shows us that the distress did indeed come right into the city of Corinth and take one of the Christians there and perhaps many more. And when that persecution began, within the fifteen- year period from the writing of this, it lasted for over 200 years. In view of this and the sensitivity that Paul had to this escalating persecution which already was beginning, he said my advice is if you're single, consider it a blessing because you will not have the fear and the dread that comes when you have a wife and a family in time of great persecution.
Now he doesn't want to be misunderstood so in verse 27 he says, "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released." He throws that in because somebody might say, "Well, I want to go the whole route as a believer, I want to be unencumbered fully, so I'll divorce my wife." Just to stop anyone from doing that he immediately says if you're bound to a wife, don't seek to be released. But if you are released from a wife, and the only way that can happen is through...what?...a divorce, the implication here, of course, is that if you are married you do not get a divorce, if you are divorced, think about staying that way. You don't need to make this point to the unmarried who have never been married because they're not about to divorce. You don't need to make this point to the widows because they're already without a partner. But you do need to make it to those who are married and those who are divorced. If you're married, stay that way. If you're divorced and now single, stay that way. If that's your state, stay in it.
Now you say, "Well that's fine for the apostle Paul living in a time of impending violence and distress and disaster and persecution, but what about us?" As I mentioned to you this morning, in many parts of the world this is exceedingly practical teaching because there are more Christians being executed for the gospel of Christ today than at any time in the church's history. Who knows what hostilities may escalate in parts of the world which now are certainly havens for the church where no persecution occurs, that is corporeal, physical persecution. Who knows what may come. Who knows for certain what will come. Well, I'll tell you one who knows and that is the writer of the Revelation, John, who tells us that at the end time there will be massive persecution. When you read the words of our Lord in the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 and 25, the end of the age is characterized by wars and famine, disease, earthquakes and persecution and hostility. The worst of it, of course, after the church is taken out, but some of those things beginning certainly at the end of the age. Who knows what is around the bend in a hostile, ungodly, immoral society like ours. We live in a rough, rough world and I think many of us certainly have thoughts even about not only marriage, but about having children when we realize what lies ahead in this society.
Paul is simply making that point. Singleness is not bad, it is good when you think about the distress that can come against God's people. For those who are single, consider it a blessing at the time. For those who have the gift of singleness, consider it something from God intended to preserve you from some of the distress and some of the pain, some of the anxiety that married people and those with families must endure.
I think we would all agree as Christians that the nearer we come to the end of the age, the higher the price we'll pay for our witness. And if evil men continue to grow worse and worse as 1 Timothy says they will, and if apostasy runs wild and if the heat of Satan's battle begins to increase and persecution rises, it will be least complex for those who are single. So, stay single, appreciate the benefit because of the pressure of the system, the world system around you.
Second reason that we can look positively at singleness is not just the pressure of the system but the problems of the flesh...the problems of the flesh. Verse 28, "But if you should marry you have not sinned." Now remember, this is not a command to be single, it's wisdom for those who can bear it, those who are gifted for it as verse 9 said. If you marry you haven't sinned, and if a virgin should marry she hasn't sinned, so a widowed person, a divorced person, a virgin can marry and that is not a sin. But just know this, "Yet such will have trouble in this life and I'm trying to spare you." I'm giving you some practical advice, you're going to have trouble in this life, or you're going to have trouble in the flesh.
Paul never was against marriage. He didn't see marriage as sinful. He didn't see it as evil. He is saying if you marry, that's not sin. Marriage is still the majority state. It is still an institution of God. It is still the grace of life. It is a good thing. But those who marry...end of verse 28...will have trouble. Now he doesn't define the word "trouble," but he just says "trouble in this life." Some translations would be "trouble in the sarks, trouble in the flesh."
What trouble is he talking about? He's talking about this kind of trouble, the trouble that comes when you have to live intimately with a sinner. That's the trouble. Marriage is an intensely intimate relationship, as we all understand. It is the most intimate of all human relationships. And while in, of course, many ways it is the most fulfilling of human relationships, it has trouble and it has trouble because you have put two sinful people so close together. And that's trouble that comes from our humanness, it comes from our sinfulness...the ever-present conflict of married life.
Now the word here for "trouble" is thlipsis, it means pressure, to be squeezed. It comes from a Greek word that means to press together and it was used to the crushing of grapes to produce juice. And what you've got in a marriage is two sinners pressed together. And in that intimacy where we are less than perfect, there's going to be some trouble...trouble that wouldn't be there if you weren't married. And I know some of you are saying, "You don't know my roommate." Well, you may have trouble with your roommate, but you do not have trouble with your roommate to the degree that marital conflict can rise because of its far greater intimacy. Marriage is pressing two sinners together. And anytime you press two sinners together, there's trouble. Occasionally there's anger, selfishness, childishness, stupidity and that horrible sin that husbands commit, forgetfulness, dishonesty, deception, pride, thoughtlessness, over-indulgence, self-centeredness. And what is that? That's one thing when it's in your life, but how difficult is it for your partner to have to deal with your partner's own sin and yours also at such an intimate level? That's trouble.
And I would suggest to you and with no fear of contradiction that the most miserable people in the world are not single. It's true. The most miserable people in the world are married. That does not mean that all married people are miserable, I'm not. I'm thrilled, I'm happy. But I'll tell you, the potential for misery in marriage is greater than the potential for misery being single because when you're single there's only one person who can make you miserable. And as I've said before, the only thing worse than wishing you were married is wishing you weren't. All marriages have difficulty, hardship, sacrifice because you have two people who are human, who are fallen and they're pressed so tightly together.
Then they have children, and you know what happens? More little sinners and you crush them into the mix. And the sin of one...speak for your own children, feel free, right?...I think you speak for all of us, but when you press all these sinners into the same environment there is an immense complexity. I think of that as a father. I not only have to deal with sin and temptation in my own life, but I have to shepherd my wife and all my children, and now all my little sinning grandchildren. And I'm telling you, when they're all together, parents, children and all the sinners in one place at one time, it is a ministerial monstrosity. You can just about ask anybody who is married if they've ever had trouble, and they will...if they're honest...tell you of course, it's part of married life.
Please, if you're single, do not look at marriage as the solution to your trouble. It probably is the multiplication of it. Marriage intensifies human weakness because it puts you under such intimate scrutiny. Sometimes young people say, "You know, I have strong desires sexually and if I can just get married." That is not in itself a sufficient reason to get married. Even after marriage there is no guarantee that your elicit temptation will go away. And the fulfillment you find in your marriage doesn't satisfy...listen carefully...doesn't satisfy unrighteous longings.
Some people say, "Well I'm lonely, I need to get married cause I'm lonely." And they get married and often are far more lonely after married than before because somebody so close becomes so indifferent, and that's crushing.
Marriage, you see, is the solution to only one thing, just one, and that is this, the will of God. If God wants you married and for all the right reasons in your heart you believe that's His purpose for you, pursue it...pursue it. But if you have the gift of singleness because of the violence of the system, and because of the flesh and the trouble that it brings, consider singleness.
Thirdly, Paul says singleness is a benefit because of the pressures of the system and because of the flesh and the trouble that it brings. Thirdly, because of the passing of the world, because of the passing of the world. This is hard, this portion, to accept in some ways, but what it tells us starting in verse 29 as we move through and going down to verse 31 is basically that marriage, listen carefully, has no relationship to eternity. You hear that? It has no relationship to eternity.
Look at verse 29, "But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none, and those who weep as though they didn't weep and those who rejoice as though they didn't rejoice and those who buy as though they didn't possess and those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it for the form of this world is passing away."
The form of this world here is described as marriage, sorrow, material things. It's all passing away. Marriage is part of the passing world. And Paul says the time is short, the kairos, not the chronology, not the clock time, this era, this season, this set time is passing away. It's...it's rolling up is the idea. It's coming to an end. It is brief. It is a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes away and our life is very short, James 4:14. What is your life? Just a vapor. And marriage is a part of that very short vapor, it's a part of that very brief time. It suits us wonderfully and richly for this life but has no connection to eternity. It is God's design that we attach lightly to earthly things.
How lightly? Very interesting, verse 29, "From now on those who have wives should be as they had none." What does that mean? Hold lightly, that's the same as saying Colossians 3:2, "Set your affections on things above and not on things on the earth." I don't think it means be indifferent to your spouse, I don't think that at all. I don't think it means become so spiritual, so godly and so consumed with ministry that you ignore your life partner or your family. It simply means you must give to marriage a perspective that it belongs to a passing time.
You say, "Well, will I not love my partner in heaven?" Of course, but you'll have perfect love toward everyone. "Will I not know my partner in heaven?" Of course with perfect knowledge the likes of which you've never even experienced. But understand the relationship you have now for physical fulfillment, for procreation and for joy is part of temporal life.
And Paul gives several examples of what is passing. Marriage is passing. Marriage will give way to heavenly family life with God the Father, Christ the husband and all believers the wife. Weeping will cease because God's going to wipe away all tears. Earthly joy will fade into an eternal joy. Earthly joy which comes and goes and ebbs and flows and rises and falls will disappear into the eternal joy of heaven. Buying will cease since we will inherit everything in the entire new heaven and new earth and lack nothing. We'll never need to buy anything. And worldly pleasure, those who use the world, that simply means who extract out of it all the fun and all the pleasure and all the fulfillment that it can yield, that will be replaced by the thrills of everlasting life in the presence of God and Christ.
So, Paul is just saying marriage, weeping, earthly rejoicing, buying, worldly pleasure, all a part of the passing scene. The end of verse 31, the form, the schema, the fashion of this world is passing away. It's about to go away. Treat those matters in a temporal way with all the dedication that they deserve, understanding, however, that such things are not eternal. Don't value human relationships, human emotions, human possessions, human pleasure above their true worth.
You say, "Well, that's kind of hard to understand because it may make me be indifferent to my partner." No, just don't let your marriage...I'll put it this way...don't let your marriage be a distraction from your spiritual life. You don't want your human emotions to distract you from your spiritual life. You don't want materialism to distract you from your spiritual life. You don't want worldly pleasure to distract you from your spiritual life. And God has given you all those things to enjoy and you don't want marriage to distract you either. Sorrow can be a distraction, so can pleasure and possessions and so can marriage.
You know, I'm concerned about this. Sometimes I think Christian people in our contemporary scene today spend an undue amount of time working on their marriage instead of a healthy amount of time working on their spiritual life which takes care of their marriage. My wife will tell you and you will certainly tell each other that the more godly and the more Christlike I am, the better it is to live with me and the more fulfilling and the more enriching and the more enjoyable...so that our priorities are very clear. Marriage is a sacred thing. It is a picture of Christ's relationship to the church, but it becomes what it ought to be when two people are solely and singularly devoted to Jesus Christ. Sometimes I use the illustration of a tuning fork. If you had a couple of pianos and you wanted to tune them to each other, it would be very difficult to do that. But if you had one tuning fork and tuned both of them to the tuning fork, they would be tuned to each other. That's how a marriage works. I love my wife most fully when my devotion to Jesus Christ is unwavering.
And so, I understand that marriage is a passing and temporal thing and it is most fulfilled when I pursue the kingdom of God and His righteousness and other things follow along. When I pursue Christ it takes care of my human emotions. When I pursue Christ it puts material things in the right perspective. When I pursue Christ, worldly pleasure falls into an appropriate line and so does my marriage. Concentrate on the eternal and the passing things will be as fulfilling as God intended them.
So, if you are single, thank God for it because of the pressure of the system, the problems of the flesh, and the passing of the world. And what he is saying here is all of that stuff is only temporal and if you are single, stay that way and therefore you minimize the necessity of preoccupation with the temporal.
Number four, and this follows the same thought, not only the pressure of the system, the problems of the flesh, the passing of the world, but fourthly, the preoccupation of the married...the preoccupation of the marriage. Look at verse 32. Paul says, "I want you to be free from concern and one who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife and his interests are divided." Stop at that point.
That...that's very obvious. The wonderful gift of singleness allows for undivided service to Christ. The emphasis shifts from human problems and pressures to the spiritual dimension. And verse 32 says, "I want you to be free from concern," literally, "I want you to be without care, I want you to be anxiety free." Lightfoot, an old commentator, said, "A man who is a hero by himself becomes a coward when he thinks of his widowed wife and his orphan children." Sure. When you're married and have family, you are distracted, you are divided, whereas the unmarried man, he says, can concentrate on those things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord. Unmarried folks have only one set of cares, is what he's saying. Married people are divided.
You remember in Luke 14:20 Jesus called a disciple a would-be disciple? And the man replied and said this in verse 20, Luke 14:20, "I have married a wife and therefore I can't come." How many times have we heard that? How many times has it been said that I would like to go to seminary...I would like to go a mission field...I'd like to engage in this ministry or that, but I am married and I have a wife and I have a family and I can't do that?
Paul is not saying that married people think only of the world. That's not true. He is simply saying what he says there in verse 34, his interests are divided. And frankly, singlemindedness is a great blessing and a great benefit to the Lord's service. If you have the gift of singleness, it is a great blessing. If you are single and for the time can endure it until the Lord answers your faithful prayers and brings you a partner, rejoice in the fact that you may spend your attention on the single purposes of God's glory.
In verse 34 reading further, "And the woman who is unmarried," that would be the one who had been married, now is unmarried, "and the virgin," the one never married, "is concerned about the things of the Lord that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband." That's just how it is. That's just how it is.
I might add as a footnote here that in Paul's writing to 1 Timothy, he encouraged younger widows who would grow wanton in their desire for a husband to get married. And I simply remind you that where you have folks who need to be married, who don't have the gift of singleness, God expects them to pursue marriage. But for those who can be single, either because they are gifted for it or because they're older and do not have the strength of those youthful desires, it is a very noble path to take. It is not that they are more holy, it says, notice, that they are concerned about the things of the Lord which cause one to be holy in body and spirit. That singular focus is a benefit. I might add, and it needs to be said at some point, perhaps this is the best place to say it, it is a serious iniquity and waste where you have a single person who has the opportunity to be so focused and they are themselves worldly and forfeit this potential of blessing and usefulness.
So, in regard to the married woman, her case is exactly like that of a married man. And he's covered both in this text. He says in verse 33, "One who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife." And in verse 34, the end of the verse, "One who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband." So he has covered both the man and the wife, and it's just the way life is. You have to take care of your partner. But one who is single can make a consecration to the service of Christ and the purposes of God that is unique.
I remind you again, 1 Timothy 5:11, I didn't give you the verse, "Younger widows when they feel sensual desires and disregard to Christ want to get married." So when that happens and they start to desire a man, they need to pursue that marriage. But for those who can endure it, it is a blessing.
As Christians, of course, the supreme desire of our heart should be to please the Lord. When you get married you have to filter that through your concern for a partner and a family.
Now in verse 35 Paul gives another statement showing something of his purpose. "And this I say for your own benefit," I'm telling you this because I...I just believe it can be of great benefit, "not to put a restraint upon you." And I want to hasten to say that, beloved, because I don't want...I don't want people who are single to think they're super spiritual. I don't want people who are married to think somehow they have fallen to a second-class status. Paul says no, I'm just saying that there is great benefit in being single. I am not trying to put a restraint on you but to promote what is seemly, or what is reasonable, or what is fitting. And if it fits, where it. "And then this secures undistracted devotion to the Lord." You would expect Paul to be concerned about that, wouldn't you...wouldn't you? I'm not trying to put a restraint, that's a snare, brochos, a noose. I'm not trying to throw a noose over your neck. I'm not like a hunter roping a wild animal to make it helpless. I'm ot trying to tie you down. I'm not throwing a legalistic noose of commands around your neck to force you to surrender. Not at all. I'm simply suggesting to you what can be beneficial...here's the key...and to promote what is seemly, what is fitting. I'm not writing a law, I'm sharing a freedom, a liberty of the Christian life which enables us to choose what benefits us most to the glory of God. And it would be wonderful if you could secure undistracted devotion to the Lord. That's a potential.
And by the way, it's not automatic. Not all single people by any means have undistracted devotion to the Lord. That is a potential, a potential that can be and should be fulfilled. It is not necessarily a reality just because you're single. In fact, today what is being prescribed as the right kind of single life is anything but honoring to God, isn't it?
So, Paul says there are reasons to be single. There are benefits to being single if you can handle it. If you have the gift, if you're old enough, if for the time you are single, look at these benefits as blessings from God.
All right, let's go to number five, and this is really the...sort of the capstone. It is good to be single because of the pressure of the system, the problems of the flesh, the passing of the world, and the preoccupation of the married. You're going to have to give your attention to the other partner. Number five, it is good to be single because of the permanence of the union...because of the permanence of the union.
Jump down to verse 39...39 and 40. And here Paul wraps up this chapter and goes back to his discussion of singleness and talks about the permanence of the union. "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives, but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes only in the Lord. But in my opinion, she's happier if she remains as she is and I think that I also have the Spirit of God." That's a little sarcastic there. He's giving them wisdom, practical advice and it is Spirit-led advice.
What's the point? The point is this, marriage is permanent. You're bound as long as your partner lives. Once you're married, that's it until death. A single person has liberty, but as soon as he marries, or she marries, that liberty ends and you are bound to a person as long as you live.
You say, "Does this forbid divorce?" No, God hates divorce, divorce does happen. That is the exception to the rule, but apart from unrepentant adultery and an unbeliever departing, the two biblical grounds for divorce, you're married till one dies. That's permanent.
Jesus said that to the disciples. They were talking to Him one day, as recorded in Matthew 19, and they got the message pretty clearly. Jesus said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife except for immorality and marries another woman, commits adultery." In other words, you can't divorce unless there's continual immorality. And the disciples immediately, Matthew 19:10, said this to Him, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry." You know what they were saying? It's better not to get married than to marry and be stuck for life with the wrong person. It's permanent...it's permanent. If you have the gift of singleness, or if there is a measure of contentment in being single, there's no reason to engage in a lifelong tie that can only be severed by death. You will have all the pressures, all the trouble, all the divided interest all your life long. You need to be certain that it is God's design.
Romans chapter 7 also speaks to this same issue in the context of Paul's discussion about sanctification. He says, "Do you not know, brethren, that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living. But if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning her husband. So then if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is free from the law so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man." Again the point being, marriage is for life. That's why we used to say in marriage ceremonies, "Until death do us...what?...part." That's why people pledged lifelong allegiance. And it can be the most wonderful and the most fulfilling and the richest and most blessed of partnerships, and should be, but it is for life and you need to understand that going in.
So, Paul is saying...Look, if...if your husband is dead, ladies, you are free to be married to whomever you wish, only in the Lord, only a believer. But in my opinion, she's happier if she remains as she is. And I think that's the wisdom of the Spirit of God coming through me.
So he's simply really extolling the virtues of being single. He says it's my opinion she would be happier, rather than take on all that comes with another husband if she can handle that singleness. And in 1 Timothy chapter 5, if old enough she can be put on a list, remember, if she's 60 years old, for the church and spend her years left serving the Lord with a single heart. Marriage is a lifelong bond and that's good reason to think seriously about it.
Should a person stay single? Well, if you have that gift. In other words, if marriage is not a pressing necessity, if you do not burn with that physical desire, yes. Or if you have been married and now are either divorced or widowed and no longer have that driving need, consider remaining single. If...if you're single for the time but feel it is a very unfulfilling, uncomfortable and even tempting situation, consider the great benefits of your current singleness and be the man or woman that God wants you to be and wait on Him to provide the answer to your prayers. But don't look down on singleness as if somehow it's a second-class life, it is not...it is not.
Now you say, "Well, yeah...if you've said all that and there's a certain level of singularity of mind and great devotion to Christ that can be gained through singleness, why is it that God has designed that preachers marry and have families? Wouldn't it be simpler if they were single?" It's unusual for a pastor to be single and the reason is because preaching is only one part of ministry, example is another part of it. And since the normal pattern that God has designed for most people, of course, is to be married and to enjoy the bliss and the thrill and the fulfillment of marriage and raise up godly young people to provide righteousness in the next generation, since that's God's normal desire it is also normal that God put people in the leadership of married people and families who not only can teach them about that but who can model that for them.
I'm glad I'm married, I want to make that very clear, lest I not eat in the future. I was never designed to be single. I thank God for my wife. I thank God for her continually and in my own heart I'm as fulfilled now probably more than ever in our marriage because of God's grace through all these years and to have a life partner like her. And I cannot measure the value of the intimacy of our marriage relationship in the fact that her standards for me were so high that she was God's gift to me to keep my life what it ought to be. The woman actually believes I ought to live everything I preach all the time. Is that ridiculous? But that kind of accountability is highly profitable to me.
God knows those of us who need that partner and that level of accountability. It is also true that God has allowed us through our marriage and family through these many years of ministry to demonstrate hopefully from time to time what a good marriage and a godly family should look like. And that's all part of spiritual leadership. God's design is marvelous. For some marriage, for some marriage and children, for some singleness, each in the manner that God has designed and His purpose can be fulfilled in your life in any of those cases.
Well, let's bow in a word of prayer.
Our Father, how clearly has Your Word granted to us an understanding of this most important truth that singleness can be for the sake of devotion to Christ. And I do pray for the single people in this congregation, for those unmarried, once married now single, for those widowed, I pray that You will lead and guide them as to how they respond to this sanctified advice prompted in the heart of Paul by the Holy Spirit, to consider the value of being single and devoting themselves completely to You. We have many such single people in this church for which we are immensely thankful, many faithful, loving, gracious widows who serve You with a whole heart, many who have been divorced who had an unfaithful partner, or an unbeliever who left them and they now have given themselves solely to Your service, and in many cases to their children. There are single people who desire to be married, Lord, and are waiting for that partner to come along that You would have them marry. I pray to that end that You will make them the men and women they ought to be so that they will recognize Your will as it unfolds in that right person for them. Lord, in every case, whether married or single, fulfill Your purpose and Your will in every life. And may we know that any of those temporal passing conditions can be greatly suited to the purposes which You desire to unfold. Through families and marriages You pass on righteousness to the next generation. Through single people You get wholehearted and singleminded devotion to Yourself and to Your kingdom, both critically important. Some are fulfilled in the union of marriage and blessed with children. Some can be fulfilled in their singleness as they give themselves to You and in so doing to the lives of others around them. But none are second class. Lord, the only thing that makes us less than what You would have us to be is not our marital status, but our spiritual commitment. Whatever we are, married or single, divorced or widowed, we ask, Lord, that we would just be all You want us to be that You might use that temporal state for Your own glory in Christ's name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.