Joyful in Singleness part 1
Joyful in Singleness part 2
Joyful in Singleness part 4 conclusion: Personal Note and Opinion
Are you one of a partly hidden minority in the body of Christ who has felt led by the Lord to remain single and celibate for all your days? I’m not talking about unbiblical vows of celibacy like the false Roman Catholic Church forces on its priests and nuns. I’m asking if you are one of the blessed recipients of what apostle Paul called a gift of singleness.
Though marriage is the norm for most people, and it is indeed an institution created by God, and it is a picture of our coming union with Christ, marriage is not given to everyone. Never mind that the average person on earth is single for a good portion of their lives. Americans now spend more years of their adult lives unmarried than married.
The trend toward spending more time single is not specific to the United States. Across 192 countries, people who, by age 30, had always been single, increased from 15% in the 1970s to 24% in the 1990s. The increase was greater for developed countries: In the 1990s, 38% of the women and 57% of the men reached the end of their 20s without ever marrying (World Fertility Report, 2003). Source: Single Women Fact Sheet
These demographics are reflected in the average church congregation. Yet ministry and interpersonal attitudes have not kept up, and many permanently single people feel marginalized or overlooked.
In part one I introduced these and other facts. In part 2 I looked at specific verses and passages that address marriage, singleness, celibacy, and eunuchs (old and modern-day). In this part I’ll look at the impact that single people have made for the kingdom. I’m not focusing on the status of temporarily single people who will marry at some point. I am looking at those people who are beneficiaries of the God-given gift of singleness, a status designed purposely by God for His glory through His use of these individuals. (1 Corinthians 7:6-7).
A few days ago, Aimee Byrd posted an essay reviewing Kevin DeYoung’s new book, “What Does the Bible Really Say about Homosexuality?” In her essay titled The Demythologizing of Sex, Byrd quoted DeYoung.
But, of course, none of this can be possible without uprooting the idolatry of the nuclear family, which holds sway in many conservative churches. The trajectory of the New Testament is to relativize the importance of marriage and biological kinship. A spouse and a minivan full of kids on the way to Disney World is a sweet gift and a terrible god. If everything in Christian community revolves around being married with children, we should not be surprised when singleness sounds like a death sentence.
I admire married people with children who labor in the church. I can’t imagine their exhaustion, the time it takes to raise children, and still have time to study that Sunday School lesson he will be teaching, or her volunteer work in the nursery, or their ministry to the community hungry…and remain diligent in personal Bible study and family devotions. Phew! There seems not to be enough hours in the day. Jesus designed it so that a majority of people will at some point in their lives marry and most of these will likely have children. Their focus is naturally on their family lives. And naturally, their interests are divided. (1 Corinthians 7:33, 35).
We know of famous married couples in the Bible, Adam and Eve, Ruth and Boaz, Jezebel and Ahab, Abram and Sarai, Jacob and Rachel/Jacob and Leah, David and Michal/David and Bathsheba, Solomon and all his wives, Mary and Joseph, Zacharias and Elisabeth, Priscilla and Aquila, Ananias and Sapphira…In each case God ordained for the person a spouse and in each case their marriage as recorded in scripture became something the Lord used for His glory and our instruction.
However, remember, marriage is not an institution that will last forever. In his exposition of 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, S. Lewis Johnson said,
The central thought of the apostle is that celibacy is desirable; it’s not demanded. Why? … Well, from reading the passage here and from knowing the things that our Lord had said with which the apostle was familiar, evidently for him he thinks of marriage as a temporary covenant for the propagation of the human race. But the relation to the Lord is an eternal relation — relationship.
And so in the light of that, what he seems to be suggesting to us is that we, as believers, should remember that we are heading to an eternal destiny in the presence of the Lord. … He wants to focus our attention upon the fact that we are on our way to eternity. And this is temporary. And we are to spend ourselves during this temporary period of time in seeking the Lord and ministering as believers for him in the society of which we are apart. I gather that that’s what — that’s why Paul says the things that he says when he says, “Marriage is good. It’s alright to marry, but it’s better to give yourself holy to the Lord.” And now he is going to talk about why it is so.
The unmarried man or women does not have divided interests and can focus solely on pleasing the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:32, 34b). Let’s look at some people in the Bible who were specifically and notably single, devoting all time and energy to ministering to Him. First will be people from the Old and New Testaments we know were single, and then a list of others we can say might have been or were probably single.
|Jeremiah, by Michaelangelo
A prophet of the Lord and author of the book of Jeremiah and Lamentations, Jeremiah never married or had children.
The word of the Lord came to me: 2“You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. (Jeremiah 16:1-2)
The LORD said He was planning to still the voice of the bride and bridegroom, and plagues and hardship were going to come upon the land. Gill’s Commentary explains Jeremiah’s single status,
Thou shall not take thee a wife,…. Not because it was unlawful; for it was lawful for prophets to marry, and they did; but because it was not advisable, on account of the calamities and distresses which were coming upon the nation; which would be more bearable by him alone, than if he had a wife, which would increase his care, concern, and sorrow.
Apostle Paul alludes to the times also as a reason not to marry. (1 Corinthians 7:26). Sometimes God ordains singleness not to test a person in endurance or deny a person a pleasure, but to spare a person grief in coming calamity.
|St. Anna the Prophetess by Rembrandt Van Rijn
Here is a woman who lived in apostate times, the worst of times. Her generation had drifted fully from the Old Testament law and lived under the oppressive and false rule of Pharisaical law, as we know from the many admonitions and warnings Jesus gave to the Pharisees, and Paul’s initial terrorism against the early Christians. God had been silent 400 years, since the close of the Old Testament canon in Malachi in approximately 430BC. The last chapter of Malachi is short, but contains a warning about the Day of the LORD, a warning to follow the Law given to Moses, and this, the last words Israel heard said to them by God–
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
Malachi’s warning was not without cause. The Jewish people were mistreating their wives, marrying pagans and not tithing, and the priests were neglecting the temple and not teaching the people the ways of God. In short, the Jews were not honoring God. (Source)
Things only worsened as 400 years ground on. Yet there were a few that remained pure in heart and pleasing to the LORD. In approximately 27-29BC, Jesus was born and was presented at the Temple according to the Law. Anna was there.
And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38).
A widow can know what it is to face a long, lonely and cheerless life, and a solitude made more acute because of the remembrance of happier days. But it was not so with Anna. When as a young, motherless wife, God withdrew from her the earthly love she rejoiced in, she did not bury her hope in a grave. In the place of what God took, He gave her more of Himself, and she became devoted to Him who had promised to be as a Husband to the widow, and through her long widowhood was unwearying in devotion to Him. She “trusted in God,” and her hoary head was a crown of glory (Proverbs 16:31). Repose of soul was hers for eighty-five years because the one thing she desired was to have God’s house as her dwelling place all the days of her life. Source.
|Paul writing his epistles. Valentin de Boulogne
In 1 Corinthians 7:6 Paul declared he himself had the gift of celibacy, so we know that he was not at that time married. Had he ever been married? We don’t know for sure. At some point, if Paul had been married, his wife either had died or was not in the picture. Paul’s tremendous conversion showed that the redemption available in only Jesus Christ is not beyond even the “chief of sinners”, a murderer and terrorist of His people. (1 Timothy 1:15).
In his life lived and in the strength of Christ, Paul founded churches all over the region in his three missionary journeys, pastored them, discipled young men for the future labor in Christ, contended for the faith alongside many men and women, ‘redeemed’ a slave and reconciled him with his master, and wrote Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.
From conceited, legalistic terrorist, Paul became a humble, powerful witness for the glory of Christ.
This sibling trio were single. They were used mightily of Jesus. In His Incarnation He lodged with them, all three of whom He loved. (John 11:5). He used Lazarus to show the glory of God, Martha illustrated her “love and piety alike found adequate and satisfying expression at all times in the ordinary kindly offices of hospitality and domestic service” according to Lockyer, and Mary of Bethany loved to sit at her Lord’s feet and absorb heavenly truths.
Philip’s four unmarried daughters
These women (Acts 21:8-9) prophesied.
Philip’s household included four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. That Luke describes them as virgins suggests that they may have been set aside by God for special ministry (cf. 1 Cor 7:34). Prophets, like apostles, were specially appointed by God in the church. They must be distinguished from individual believers with the gift of prophecy (1 Cor 12:10). They complemented the ministry of the apostles (Eph 4:11) by functioning exclusively within the body of a particular congregation, while the apostles had a broader ministry.
It has been recorded that early believers regarded these women as valuable sources of information on the early history of the church. The historian Eusebius notes that the church Father Papias received information from them (Ecclesiastical History III.XXXIX, p. 126). Perhaps Luke used them as a source of information in writing his gospel and Acts. He would have had many opportunities to talk with them, not only during this visit but also during Paul’s two-year imprisonment at Caesaria (Acts 24:27). (Source: MacArthur Commentary on Acts).
|Apocalypse of Lorvao. Wimimedia Commons public domain US
Revelation 7:1-8 and Revelation 14:1-5 records that the Lord reserves 144,000 virgins and will supernaturally seal them from harm during the judgments of the Tribulation, in order to use them for His glory. They will evangelize the world during the Tribulation. Multitudes and myriad come to faith in Jesus Christ during this time, thanks to the supernatural energizing of these unmarried singles.
We, in the Christian church, perhaps in our day are not giving proper credit to those who, by the grace of God, have given themselves to a celibate or single life. The unmarried woman, for example, and the unmarried man who have given themselves to service for the Lord and have eschewed marriage; we should give them credit for what they have done. ~S. Lewis Johnson, Marriage Counsel III
John the Baptist
The bible doesn’t say one way or another whether John the Baptist was married…he was in all probability a Nazirite but Nazirites were not forbidden to marry. Nazirite comes from a Hebrew word meaning “consecrated.” There were only two other lifelong Nazirites in the bible (Samuel and Samson) so it not unlikely that John was not married but consecrated for life to his task, which was forerunner of Christ. Though we can’t speculate too far, given John’s lifestyle of living in the desert, eating, locusts and honey, wearing camel hair, and being a Nazirite itinerant preacher completely submitted to Jesus, it is unlikely that he was married. (Matthew 3:1,4). Since before the foundation of the world, John was appointed forerunner of Christ. It seems as if it is not too presumptuous to say he was unmarried so that his attention would not be divided.
Daniel 1:3, 7-9 alludes to the fact that when taken captive, Daniel might have been castrated and become a eunuch.
In Daniel 1:3, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (known by the Babylonian names Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) were put under the care of Ashpenaz, the chief of the saris. The Hebrew word saris is translated as “eunuch” and “court official.” It does not always refer to one who has been made a eunuch. Potiphar is called an Egyptian “saris” in Gen 39:1, yet he was married. It is unclear whether he was also a eunuch. Despite this devastating turn of events, Daniel possessed an unwavering faith in God. In Ezekiel 14:14–16, he stands with Noah and Job as the three men God commended for their righteousness. Daniel obeyed God in matters from dietary cleanliness to daily worship, and he proclaimed to everyone—at great peril—that God is above all. Source: Faithlife Study Bible, JD Barry.
This woman ran a profitable business and had a home large enough to accommodate the entire missionary team. (Acts 16:14, 15, Acts 16:40). No husband is mentioned in association with ‘Lydia’s business’ and ‘Lydia’s household’ so it was likely she was single via widowhood. She provided a safe haven for Paul and his mission team time and again, in loving hospitality so they could rest and recover. Her home is where Paul and Silas went after being released from prison, and it was there the brethren received solace and encouragement. Baumgarten says,
“This assembly of believers in the house of Lydia was the first church that had been founded in Europe”.
Of Marriage and singleness in general, S. Lewis Johnson remarked,
I never quite understand why married people who have the comforts of home often speak in a disparaging and unkind way of unmarried people. It should be that if marriage is so delightful, that married people would speak in a very tenderness and — tender and sympathetic way of people who have not married. But instead of that, they speak sometimes in such a contentious way. I never like to hear people say, “Oh she’s just an old maid’ or “he is just an old bachelor.” Wait a minute! He whom you so designate may be glorifying the Lord in a way he could not have done if he were the head of a household and she of whom you speak, may be one who is rendering wonderful service to God and humanity. I repeat, some of most devoted Christians I have ever know have been unmarried men and women who gave themselves holy to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. All honor to them. I agree with that. ~S. Lewis Johnson, Marriage Counsel III
In modern times we can point to many people who chose to remain unmarried for the sake of the kingdom, like Pastor John Stott, for example, who was single all 90 years of his life and served the Lord actively as pastor for 65 of them. Some chose to stay unmarried after the death of a spouse, Rachel Saint, for example. MacArthur says of Mrs Saint,
Rachel Saint served as a single missionary among the Auca Indians of Ecuador for many years without companionship. She poured out her life and her love to the indians and found great blessing and fulfillment. (source)
S. Lewis Johnson said of single missionaries,
Many of the missionaries who have gone out from the shores of the United States have been women missionaries who’ve gone out, spent their lives in heathen lands and the jungles, and in the countries where things are not nearly so nice as the United States of America, and have been responsible for many, many people having an opportunity to hear the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve known of some who have gone to Mexico, translated the language of tribes themselves and then written the Bible for them, so to speak, translated it, and made it possible for people to have the Bible in their own language. What a marvelous ministry. And when you remember that we are here just a short time and eternity is fairly long, you can see what a marvelous choice has been made by some people to not be entangled in marriage.
Whether God has destined a mate for you, or has consecrated you to Himself as an unmarried/single earlier than eternity, His glory always shines through His people when we submit all to Him. Whether married or unmarried, single temporarily or permanently, we are His children, loved perfectly and endowed with His Spirit to do His work. We have all been gifted, and when we look upon each other, we should not see married or single, at odds in misunderstanding or apprehension, but equally gifted individuals co-laboring for Christ’s name and His glory.
Joyful in Singleness part 1
Joyful in Singleness part 2
Joyful in Singleness part 4 conclusion: Personal Note and Opinion