There are more people than ever in America who are living as singles. Yet even in the American church, while there are more opportunities for singles to serve in minister, there still seems to be a stigma that is attached to being single.
So what’s a single person to do? Biblically, singles are free both to marry and to remain single. It is a liberty to do both and it is not inherently a sin to do either. But the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 7) offers at least four compelling reasons for a single to consider remaining single. And all singles would do well to wrestle with these principles.
Singleness may liberate one to suffer for the sake of ministry (v. 26). There are distresses in the world, as Paul noted. He is probably referring to the persecution of the early church and perhaps the foretaste of what came with persecution of A.D. 70 at the fall of Jerusalem. His point in offering a caution for marriage in the anticipation of persecution is that being persecuted has implications for your family. It’s much easier to serve Christ in a hard place as a single without being responsible for others or worrying about impact on others.
While in America and in the West we do not typically consider persecution a significant possibility, believers are still promised persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). And as a single, one can serve in places (even in America) that are more difficult and dangerous without fear of implications on other family members. We are more willing to die for Christ without the entanglements of family.
Marriage may actually accentuate fleshly struggles (v. 28). It is not a sin to get married — for men or women. But marriage comes with the potential for troubles (“trials”). Marriage is filled with many joys, but it is not a “trouble-free” life. If you are a sinner before marriage (and you are), you will be a sinner after marriage — and your troubles will be compounded because there is always someone available as a “recipient” of your sinful actions (attributes like pride, selfishness, anger, covetousness, dishonesty, and thoughtlessness have a way of diminishing joy in marriage!).
Beware of going into marriage thinking that it will resolve your sinful tendencies. It won’t. It will only extend the impact and influence of your sin on others. So, to the degree that you are sure that you are committed to getting married, you must also be that committed to the process of Christ-honoring confession and forgiveness, the only hope that will overcome your struggles with the flesh.
Singleness helps one to minister in urgent times (vv. 29-31). Paul notes that “time has been shortened.” That is, time has been compressed, so that “the world is passing away.” The advent of Christ is near (Mt. 25:36ff; Phil. 4:5b), and the opportunities of our fleeting life are fewer than we think (Js. 4:13ff; Eph. 5:15). Because of that there is an urgency to ministry — even for those who are married (e.g., “those who have wives should [minister] as though they had none”). Marriage does not release one from ministry. And the one who is single will be the one who is best equipped to serve in the urgency of last days.
Singleness encourages a preoccupation with the greatest, eternal things (vv. 32-35). Marriage results in a “divided” concern. The husband wants to do things to care for his wife; the wife wants to do things to care for her husband. Is that good? YES! To not do it is worse than the conduct of unbelievers (1 Tim. 5:8)! But the great goal of life is to please the Lord (vv. 32, 35; 2 Cor. 5:9) and be occupied with Him. And a single person can do this best of all (Mt. 19:12). This does not mean a married man or woman can’t be holy (v. 34) or that all single people are inherently holy; it is to say that the single person has more discretionary time, money, and greater opportunities to express her holiness through her obedience and use of spiritual gifts.
Again, these principles do not necessitate that all singles must remain single. God instituted marriage and gave it to mankind as a gift and most people will get married. And God is honored when they get married. Yet, every single does well to consider the possibility of remaining single so that ministry is enhanced and expanded.