Monday, September 11, 2017

Pastoring Singles in a Sex-Crazed, Gender-Confused World

Christian singles must pursue holiness in a world of friends with benefits, genderless children, and polyamory. They’ll be tested as to what they believe about sexuality, gender, and marriage. We all will. If we’re to shepherd singles faithfully in this sex-crazed, gender-confused world, we need to ground them in what the Bible teaches about being a Christian and being single. Here are six truths the Bible affirms about singleness.

1. To be single is to be celibate (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).

Celibacy is practicing self-control and abstaining from satisfying sexual desire. Sexual desire is good; it is a part of our humanity. But sexual desires may only be satisfied in a life-long covenant marriage between one man and one woman (7:5, 9).

Therefore, when the Bible speaks of Christians who are single, it does not merely refer to someone who is not married. Today, many singles enjoy the benefits of marriage, namely satisfying sexual desire and companionship, without any of its responsibilities (commitment). But to be a Christian and single is to be celibate. Remaining celibate in today’s world is hard, but God does not abandon us to pursue holiness in our own strength.

2. Singleness is a gift of grace from God (1 Corinthians 7:6-9).

Christian singles can persevere in purity and holiness knowing that celibacy is a gift of God’s grace (7:7). Paul uses the same word for celibacy as a gift (charisma) that he uses of prophecy, miracles, and tongues. Because celibacy is a divine gift, then, it’s a good gift (7:38). That means biblical masculinity and femininity don’t depend on being married. So, the church cannot look down on singles and feel sorry for them, as if they’re incomplete or second-class church members. We must encourage singles to recognize their season of singleness as a good gift and give thanks to God for it.

3. Singleness is also a calling that requires a fight of faith (1 Corinthians 7:17-27).

We’re mistaken to think that because singleness is a divine gift, sexual desire is removed. Admittedly, there may be (rare) individuals who claim to be free of sexual desire, but I suspect the common experience of every human being is the natural longing for sexual desires to be satisfied.

The “theme” of 1 Corinthians 7 is “remain as you are.” Paul urges the Corinthians to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (7:17). That includes celibacy. Celibate singleness is hard precisely because sexual desire is natural, and celibacy is a call to practice self-control and not satisfy those desires. Celibate singleness, then, is a call that requires a fight of faith to believe that celibacy is a good gift, and that Christ is sufficiently satisfying for every need. It is a fight of faith to believe that sexual desire is only to be satisfied within a life-long marital covenant, not alone (self-satisfaction) or with anyone else. And that fight does not have to be entered into alone. So, remind singles they don’t fight alone; the church is there to fight with them.

But also remind them that, while it’s wrong to make marriage an idol, it’s not wrong to pursue marriage (7:9). If marriage becomes an idol, they will willingly sacrifice their purity and convictions at its altar. And remind singles that if they are dissatisfied, cynical, and bitter now, they’ll likely be dissatisfied, cynical, and bitter when married.

4. Singleness has certain advantages (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

Being single has certain advantages over being married. Singles have certain freedoms with their finances. They can invest more freely; they can reduce debt more aggressively; they can give more sacrificially. Singles also have certain freedoms with their time. They don’t have to go directly home to a spouse or children; they can freely choose where to invest their time. Singles also have certain freedoms with their plans. They can be flexible about future plans, where marrieds cannot. So, encourage singles to consider how they are spending their time and money. Help them consider the flexibility of their plans. What are they doing with those freedoms? Encourage them to utilize those freedoms and flexibility to the glory of God.

5. Singleness is purposeful (1 Corinthians 7:35).

The freedoms and flexibility of singleness do not exist for personal convenience and benefit, though they may be real blessings. The real reason for the advantages of singleness is to secure undivided devotion to the Lord. And if spiritual gifts are for the edification of the church (cf. 12:7), then the gift of singleness is granted by God to certain individuals for the sake of the Lord and the good of the church. So, ask singles how they can serve Christ, the church. There are multiple opportunities to serve, but with their flexibility, they may be willing to change their plans and spend some time on the mission field for a few weeks, months, or even years.

6. Like earthly marriage, singleness is temporary.

The Bible begins and ends with a marriage. The first marriage ends in death (1 Corinthians 7:39); the last marriage is eternal. But, while earthly marriage pictures the gospel by showing Christ’s love for his church and the church’s love for Christ, singles picture the gospel by showing us how the church patiently awaits her bridegroom.

I thank God for singles; they remind us that our bridegroom is coming, and they show us how to pursue holiness and purity as we await his return. Celibate singleness is a gift from God with a purpose. So, let us shepherd singles in this sex-crazed, gender-confused world to glorify God with their gift.

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