‘Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me—a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.’ (1 Corinthians 7:7 MSG)
This famous (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians exhorts singles to embrace ‘the gift of singleness’. While some struggle with the concept of singledom being a ‘gift’—I know I did when I was single—I have to ask myself if there are genuine benefits to singledom. And I mean more than having sole possession of the remote control and enjoying the freedoms of autonomous living. Are there more meaningful and even spiritual benefits too?
Are there more meaningful and even spiritual benefits to singledom?
When I was single, I enjoyed some distinct advantages of singledom. Here are some examples of how I was single-with-benefits:
- I moved around according to job changes in different locations;
- I adopted a cat;
- I changed churches; and
- I discovered how much I could do on my own.
Of course, one does not have to be single to do these things, but singledom perhaps affords us more of these opportunities. Paul’s point is that life is simpler for the single person because you don’t have to factor in another person when making these decisions. Factoring in another person in married or family life can be wonderful; it is just slightly more complex than not having to factor anyone else in.
Life can be simpler for the single person.
Paul spends this whole passage in Corinthians encouraging Christians to live as unencumbered and distraction-free as possible, in order to serve God as wholeheartedly as possible. Paul argues a single person has fewer distractions:
‘I want you to live as free of complications as possible. When you’re unmarried, you’re free to concentrate on simply pleasing the Master. Marriage involves you in all the nuts and bolts of domestic life and in wanting to please your spouse, leading to so many more demands on your attention. The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend in becoming whole and holy instruments of God.’ (1 Corinthians 7:32-34 MSG)
‘When you’re unmarried, you’re free to concentrate on simply pleasing the Master.’
For me, this was my experience of singledom: it was relatively free of distractions—while I was content. But I became increasingly frustrated in my late twenties. The frustration actually became distracting. I channelled it into writing about singledom—perhaps God brought purpose out of my singledom after all! Mercifully, I met my now-husband at the age of twenty-nine; who knows how distracted I might have become had that not happened.
Paul does not pit marrieds against singles; both circumstances have their benefits and drawbacks. He encourages us not to seek either singledom or marriage, but to serve God in whatever circumstance we find ourselves:
‘And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life.’ (1 Corinthians 7:17 MSG)
’God, not your marital status, defines your life.’
My take-home point is Paul’s last comment: ‘God, not your marital status, defines your life.’ Whatever your marital status, I hope you can find a way of serving God in and through it, even if you are frustrated. There are undeniable benefits to being completely available to God in singledom. I pray he will use your willingness (and even your frustration) to serve him and others.
Have you experienced any benefits of being single? Does your singledom help you focus more on God, or is it distracting? How can you encourage your single friends to serve God in distraction-free ways? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.