Single and Satisfied

1 Corinthians 7:6-9, 25-35

May 30, 2020 | Brian Bill

Back before COVID, I heard about a pastor who was visiting a fourth-grade Sunday School class to talk about marriage.  In his introduction, he asked the class, “What does God say about marriage?”  Immediately one boy shot up his hand and replied, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”

It’s certainly true that some people get married not knowing what they’re getting into.  To those who are single, please forgive us for we know not what we do when we put pressure on you to get married, or make disparaging comments, or tease you, or just leave you out of things.  Forgive us as a church for the times we’ve made you feel second class or unimportant.  That’s wrong.  And we must stop.  We must do a better job helping you live out your singleness with single-minded devotion to the glory of God.  

Recently I read an article called, “Singles Nation: Why so Many Americans are Unmarried.”  Here are some up-to-date stats on singleness in the United States:

  • Singles now outnumber married adults.  In 1950, married couples were 78% of all households, in 2011, married couples represented only 48% of all households.
  • Almost half of new births are to unmarried mothers.
  • Only 30% of Millennials say having a successful marriage is “one of the most important things in life.”  This is down from 47% of Gen Xer’s who said the same thing in 1997.  
  • In 2020, four in ten Americans believe marriage is becoming obsolete.
  • In the QCA, the highest number of unmarried adults live in Rock Island Township at 51%, while the lowest number of unmarried adults at 19% live in Eldridge. 

In his sermon called, “Solid Singles,” Rick McGinnis began by saying he had a certain amount of dread when he was preparing, not because the Bible doesn’t have anything to say on this topic, but because he wondered if any single person would want to listen to a married guy speak on singleness.  Also, he didn’t think married people would want to hear about singleness, unless of course they were planning to join their ranks! 

Then, he realized the tension he was feeling is the same tension that exists in general between married couples and single people.  Those who are married often don’t know how to relate to singles and some singles feel they can’t connect with couples.  One unmarried person put it this way: “Being single would be easier if others would accept it as a valid lifestyle.”  

My guess is you haven’t heard many sermons on singleness.  On Tuesday we posted this question on the Edgewood Facebook page: “How many sermons have you heard on the topic of singleness?”  Here are some of the responses…

  • Maybe two, but they were never beneficial.
  • Maybe one, if that?
  • I think just one…but no one seems to care or help those of us who are Christian and single.
  • I think it’s way too easy to be overlooked as a single…culture treats you like you’re in a ‘holding zone’ until you get married and have kids.
  • I can’t remember one.

One researcher polled evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 35 and found 70% had never heard a sermon on singleness.  To my embarrassment and shame, this is only the second time I’ve dedicated an entire sermon to what the Bible says about singleness.  

Here’s our main idea today: Since singleness is a gift from God, it is good and should be used for His glory.

Have you ever watched the show, “MythBusters”?  Before we go further, let’s bust some marriage myths.

Myth #1: Singleness = Your Identity. 

While it’s OK to use the term single to distinguish someone as unmarried, a person is more than their marital status.  You are made in the image of God and therefore have great worth, value and dignity…whether you’re married or not.  If you’re saved, you’re a child of the Father, your sins are forgiven, your purpose is to live for the glory of God in a forever family filled with brothers and sisters in Christ.

In a 2013 survey by Christian Single, at least 40% of singles between the ages of 30-60 felt there is a “presumption that there must be something wrong with them because they are single.”  The survey also showed that “in particular, the disappointment of being single caused them to doubt God has a plan for their lives.”  Let me remind you the word “single” also means, “unique” and “exclusively attentive.”

Myth #2: Marriage is the only God-ordained lifestyle. 

Some think God’s preference is always for people to get married.  Keep in mind singles in Scripture include Jesus, John the Baptist, the widow Anna, Daniel, Jeremiah, Elijah, Naomi, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, Miriam, Dorcas, Lydia and the four unmarried daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9).  The Apostle Paul was either single or widowed.

Marriage is not ultimate.  Because God alone is ultimate, we must not idealize or idolize marriage.  As we will see, singleness often allows someone to have a singular focus on Christ and His kingdom as stated by Jesus in Matthew 19:12: “…Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven…”

Myth #3: The grass is greener on the other side of the matrimonial fence. 

If you get to the other side of the fence you will learn that life is good and bad no matter which side you are on.  

Some singles believe if they were married everything would be better and some married people think the same about singleness.  Married people often bail on their vows believing their life will improve and some singles forget no spouse is better than the wrong spouse.  Here’s the truth: If you get to the other side of the fence you will learn that life is good and bad no matter which side you are on.  

Those who jump the fence quickly discover the grass looks about as green or brown as it did on the side you were on.  I’m reminded of the title of Erma Bombeck’s book, “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.”  Randy May reminded me “the grass is always greener where its watered and cared for.”

Myth #4: My life + someone else = happiness. 

Our culture communicates if we find the right person, we’ll be happy.  Singles are faced with this all the time but so are married people when they consider leaving their spouse to find that elusive individual, they think will finally make them happy.  One unmarried woman reports she’s been fighting “matrimania” because people automatically assume she’s not happy since she’s not married.  Write this down:  Contentment only comes from Christ and does not depend on anyone else.  

Myth #5: Singleness produces loneliness, while marriage produces intimacy. 

Some believe if you’re alone, you must be lonely and if you’re married then you’re never lonely.  Actually, there are many singles who are not lonely and many married people who are.  Hebrews 13:5: “…Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”

Are you aware there’s an entire chapter in the Bible which celebrates singleness while exploding multiple marital myths?  Please turn to 1 Corinthians 7 where we will find the Apostle Paul’s manifesto on marriage and treatise on singleness.  

The Corinthian church was crippled with division, arguments, lawsuits, and immorality.  On top of that, there was confusion about marriage, food sacrificed to idols, worship, the Lord’s Supper, the Resurrection, giving, and spiritual gifts.  In particular, some people thought they were more important than others because they had greater gifts.  Paul wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians to address these issues in an effort to get everyone on the same team.  Notice the first phrase of verse 1: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote…”  

Because of rampant immorality in this seaport town, some thought marriage should be abandoned.  Others downplayed celibacy among singles.  Kind of sounds like America today, doesn’t it?  Let me be quick to add that Paul was not against matrimony.  Two weeks ago, we learned because marriage matters to God, we must do marriage His way.  Last week we established that a ministry mindset in marriage means serving your spouse.

This passage is deep, very practical and deserves careful study.  In these verses, marriage is validated, singleness is upheld as advantageous, marriage is not for everyone, singleness is not for everyone, and the reality of human passions is stated without reservation.  These verses clamp down on the extremes of promiscuity among singles and abstinence in marriage.  Balancing all of these truths while speaking directly into the cultural confusion and answering their specific questions, Paul advocates just two alternatives:

  • Celibate singleness
  • Monogamous marriage

In his book called, “Holy Sexuality,” Christopher Yuan points out holiness is always the goal and sanctification the process.  He calls people to chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage.

Let me see if I can bring this all together: The only thing more radical in our culture than a man and woman exclusively committed to one another in the covenant of marriage is a single man or woman living for the good of others and the glory of God as a celibate Christian.

Some of you are single by choice and others of you by circumstance.  I’ve talked to some who have unwanted same-sex attraction and have decided to remain single and celibate.  Some have little interest in being married while others long to get married.  Some of you have never been married and others have been divorced or widowed.  On top of that, some are single and glad, some are single and sad and there may be others who are single and mad.  

Listen now to 1 Corinthians 7:6-9: “Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.  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.  To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.  But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry.  For it is better to marry than to burn with passion…”

Since singleness is a gift from God, it is good and should be used for His glory.

1. Experience singleness as a good thing (verses 1, 8). 

In the second half of verse 1, Paul states his thesis statement: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”  Another translation captures this with more clarity: “…It is good for a man not to marry.”  The word “good” means “acceptable, excellent, beautiful and honorable.”  These are words of life to those of you who have felt shame in your singleness.  

It is not God’s will for everyone to be married.

Being single doesn’t mean you are deficient or have a condition that needs to be corrected.  Singles are not second-class citizens.  Being single is a special state, not a second-class state.   Let me say it this way: It is not God’s will for everyone to be married.

Drop down to verse 8: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.”  The Jewish culture taught it was wrong for someone to be single, believing it was a sin for a man to reach the age of 20 and not be married.  Here’s the Apostle Paul, who is no doubt single when he wrote this, saying to singles: It’s good for you to be single just as I am.  

Paul sums up his stance on singleness as noble in verse 17: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”  

In a very helpful article called, “Singled out by God for Good,” Paige Benton writes: 

“Accepting singleness, whether temporary or permanent, does not hinge on speculation about answers God has not given to our list of whys, but rather on celebration of the life He has given.  I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one.  I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, this is His best for me…

…Am I a Christian single or am I a single Christian?  The discrepancy in grammatical construction may be somewhat subtle, but the difference in mindset is profound.  Which word is determinative and which word is descriptive?  You see, we singles are chronic amnesiacs – we forget who we are, we forget whose we are.  I am a single Christian.  My identity is not found in my marital status but in my redemptive status.  I’m one of the ‘haves,’ not one of the ‘have-nots.’”

Singleness is not a curse.  It is honorable and totally acceptable to the Almighty.  You are not incomplete just because you are not married.  You are a family and you have a place here in this church family.  

2. Exercise singleness as a gift to others (verse 7). 

Singleness is a good thing because it is a gift from God Himself.  Look at verse 7: “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.” The word “gift” is the same word used extensively in 1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul answers another question about spiritual gifts of grace.  This is what it means: “A divine gift freely and graciously given by God, not earned by good behavior.”  

Since singleness is a gift, let me point out three truths about grace gifts from 1 Corinthians 12.

  • God gives a wide variety of gifts.  1 Corinthians 12:4-5: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord.”  The word “variety” speaks of “different classifications.”
  • God gives gifts to grow His church.  1 Corinthians 12:7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  To “manifest” has the idea of making visible and the “common good” means, “to bring together for the benefit of another.”  Ultimately, whether you are single or married, it’s not about you anyway.  We’re all here for God’s glory and for the good of others.  1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

Whatever our status, we’re to see ourselves as gifts to help others grow.  One single has developed an answer to the question, “Why are you still single?” by answering, “It’s for your good!”   

  • God gives gifts according to His will.  1 Corinthians 12:11: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”  If you are single, God has determined at this point in your life, for you to be so.  And since God is good, His gifts to you are good, even if you’d rather have a different one.

Actually, marriage is a grace gift and singleness is a grace gift.  Both are gifts of God’s grace.  It all comes down to recognizing and receiving your situation as a calling from a gracious and generous God.  When we serve according to our gifting, God will bring fulfilment and fruitfulness to us, while fortifying His church.  Drop down to the end of verse 24: “So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”  God is the giver of gifts and the setter of situations.  

You may not have the gift of singleness for your entire life, but right now God has presented you with this present in the present.  Your singleness may be a waiting season, but it doesn’t have to be a wasted season.  God may change your assignment, or you may become increasingly content with being single.  As one author says, “There’s grace for being so gifted either way.”  

Nancy Leigh DeMoss-Wolgemuth, who was single for most of her life, wrote these words several years ago: 

“There is no greater Giver than God Himself.  He loves to give good gifts to His children!  As with human givers, when God gives us a gift, He is pleased when we receive it, thank Him for it, and use it for its intended purpose…I am not single by accident.  I am not single because I have made up my mind not to marry.  Rather, I am single because God has chosen for me the gift of singleness.” 

When Paul speaks of singleness as a gift, he isn’t speaking of a particular ability some people have to be contentedly single with no struggles.  Rather, he’s speaking of the state of being single.  As long as you are single, you have this gift from God.  If you get married, that will be God’s gift to you.

Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you find yourself, divine love would have placed you there.”

Since singleness is a gift from God, it is good and should be used for His glory.

3. Exhibit singleness as a way to bring glory to God (9, 25-35). 

I feel badly for singles when they’re asked something like this, “Why aren’t you married?”  One single got fed up with this question so started asking married couples, “Why are you still married?”

I like the perspective of one single who reframes this question by asking: “What is God doing for His glory in and through my singleness?”  This same woman says instead of thinking of herself as a “single” woman, she refers to herself as a woman who happens to be single.  This helps to keep the emphasis on who she is and the gifts she has been given, not on her marital status.

1 Corinthians 10:31 challenges us, whatever we do, whether we are single or married, to bring glory to God: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  

Verse 9 is a call to sexual self-control and the pursuit of purity: “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry.  For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”  Let me say two things about this.

  • Both men and women must wage war against lust in an overly sexualized society.  
  • Both singles and married couples must battle sexual temptation by fighting the lie that sexual expression outside marriage is necessary for human flourishing.

Let’s look at how singleness can help bring glory to God from 1 Corinthians 7:26-35: “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.  Are you bound to a wife?  Do not seek to be free.  Are you free from a wife?  Do not seek a wife.  But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned.  Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.  This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short…for the present form of this world is passing away.  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.”

Redeeming Singleness

In his book called, Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life, Barry Danylak writes: “We all begin our lives single, and the majority of us also will exit this life single…singleness itself fits into God’s larger purpose of redeeming a people for His glory…theological reflection can give an added degree of excitement and richness to living a life singly for the kingdom of God.”

Here are some ways to redeem your singleness from this passage.  

  • Find your status in Christ.  In verse 26, Paul says, “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.”  The word “distress” can refer to persecution or calamity or trial.”  Commentators believe he’s referring to a crisis situation that may have involved a serious drought.  This crisis had affected everyone, including the church, much like COVID has affected everything in our culture.  It wasn’t easy being a Christian then, and it’s not easy now.  Paul says if you’re single, focus on your status in Christ because in times of crisis, the single life has advantages.
  • Focus on your sufficiency in Christ.  In general, singles may be able to focus on their sufficiency in Christ more readily than those who are married.  In his book, 7 Myths About Singleness, Sam Allberry writes: “If marriage shows us the shape of the gospel, singleness shows us its sufficiency.”  Listen to verse 28: “Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.”  To have “trouble” means to be “pressed together, crushed and squeezed.” If you’re single, don’t mistakenly think if you just get married, you’d have fewer troubles.  Actually, you’d probably have more.

The overriding principle is found in verse 29: “This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short…” This word means “to be contracted” or “drawn into a narrow space.”  We need to give our all to Christ today because we may die tomorrow, or He may return tonight and therefore we must live with expectancy and urgency.  This is underlined in verse 31: “For the present form of this world is passing away.”

Marriage is part of a world that is already on the way out and so we must focus on eternal matters.  I like what the missionary martyr Jim Elliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.  Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”  Since the time is short, singles have some distinct advantages when it comes to serving the Savior.

Remember this: Jesus + Nothing = Everything!

  • Fortify your singular focus on Christ.  We see this in verse 32: “I want you to be free from anxieties.  The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.”  Paul makes the point that a married person needs to also be devoted to his or her spouse, but the single person can be singularly set on the Savior in verse 35: “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.”   The word “restraint” literally means, “to throw a noose around you.”  Singleness is not designed to choke you or limit you, but rather to free you to be undivided in your devotion to Christ.  The phrase “undivided devotion” means, “without distraction.”  Interestingly, the word “anxious” or “anxiety” is used five times in three verses.  

To sum up, it may be better to remain single because of three things.

  • Life is filled with trouble (28).  
  • Life is temporary (29).  
  • Life is transitory (31).  

A single can have less distress, less distraction and more devotion.  In a post called, Sacred Singles, Suzanne Gosselin writes: “Lead the life God has assigned to you.  Sometimes the assignment is difficult but knowing that your singleness is sacred should embolden you.  What if your singleness isn’t the problem, but it’s the point?”

Since singleness is a gift from God, it is good and should be used for His glory.

  1. Experience singleness as a good thing.
  2. Exercise singleness as a gift to others.
  3. Exhibit singleness as a way to bring glory to God.

So, here’s a question.  What do you do if your singleness doesn’t feel good right now?  Here’s how one single answered:

  • Pray for God to help you see your singleness as a gift.
  • Make a list of benefits you have as a single.
  • Remind yourself often that God loves you.
  • Read God’s Word to help you focus your mind on Him, instead of on your situation.
  • Ask a married couple to give you a reality check about the struggles of marriage.

I turn to Redeeming Singleness again, “Paul envisions those who are above reproach in their sexual conduct, undistracted by spouse and family, and ready and waiting at the service of their Lord…the capability to remain single is thus to be regarded as a spiritual gift and it is characterized by three predominant features: a life of simplicity free from the stresses of spouse and family; a life that finds sufficiency in Christ alone…and a life ready and free for service to the King in whatever way He should call.”

Action Steps

I want to end with some action steps for singles.  Then, I’ll give some suggestions to everyone, and finally to those who are married.

For those who are single:

  1. Steward your singleness well.  Use your freedom to focus on ministry matters.
  2. Start living right now.  Celebrate your singleness, whether it is temporary or permanent, and live a life of undivided devotion to the Lord.  Don’t wait to start living.  One single put it this way: “I need to stop asking, ‘Why am I alone?’ and start asking, ‘Why am I here?’”  
  3. See your faith family as your true family.  Share the gospel and make disciples so you will have sons and daughters in the faith.

For Everyone:

  1. Express gratitude for the gift He has given you in this season of life.  Value where God has currently placed youWhether single or married, live on mission by making disciples for the glory of God.
  2. Extend appreciation for how God has gifted others.  If you’re single, celebrate those who are married.  If you’re married, celebrate those who are single.  We need each other.
  3. See faith as more important than family status.  Once Jesus was told members of his family were waiting outside a house.  In Matthew 12:48-50, Jesus redirects them, and us, to see that our family includes our faith family: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

For Those Who Are Married:

  1. Stop seeing singles as second-class.  Rosaria Butterfield writes: “Far too often, the church regards single Christians as people who need to be fixed or fixed up.”  Instead of questioning why someone is not married, we should applaud and celebrate those who see their situation as good, as a gift and as a way to bring glory to God.
  2. Start including them.  Encourage them to take advantage of the unique opportunities their singleness affords them.  

When the Apostle Paul was nearing the end of his life, people deserted him and he felt alone until He remembered Christ was with him.  Check out 2 Timothy 4:17: “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it.”

Jesus endured ultimate isolation when He died as your substitute on the cross and was raised on the third day.

I’ve quoted the “Fellowship of the Unashamed” several times in sermons and it kept coming back to me this week as I thought about singles.  This was written by an African pastor.  You have no reason be ashamed.

I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed.  I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of his. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on his presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power. My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till he comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till he stops me. And when he comes for his own, he will have no problems recognizing me. My banner will be clear!

May God be with you until we meet again.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?