In anticipation of “Single Minded” – a TGCA partnered conference on singleness – here is a post from speaker Benjamin Danson.
Apple or Android? Which is better? More than likely you have an opinion on which is better than the other. But when you stop and think about it you soon realise that both of these types of phones are good. They are different from each other in many ways, but both of them are good. So how do we decide which we should choose? One of them will be a better choice for each of us.
Marriage and singleness are similar to this, both are good gifts from God. But is one better than the other, is marriage better than singleness or is singleness better than marriage. Let me assure you that in the sight of God they are both as good as each other. So how do we choose between them? Is one a better choice than the other?
Wisdom from Paul
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians it seems that he had been asked a similar question; is it good for a man to marry? Paul gives his answer in 1 Corinthians 7 where he addresses those who are already married (7:1-16) and those who were not married (7:25-40). In verse 25-35 Paul addresses those who never married and gives them three reasons why they might choose to remain single.
The first reason that Paul gives them is “Because of the present crisis” (7:26). We are not certain what this present crisis is, most likely there was a famine in Corinth. Whatever the crisis is, Paul’s advice is simple, in light if this it would be a good idea not to marry. But they should feel free to choose for themselves, whatever they choose to do they are not sinning (7:28).
Paul’s second reason is similar to his first. Paul points to how the “time is short” (7:29) and the how “this world in its present for is passing away” (7:31). Paul is reminding the Corinthians of how this world is finite, of how it will eventually pass away. So the Corinthians are to live their lives in light of this. They are to not become engrossed in the things of this world, like marriage and possessions (7:29-31). It is better to be single than to be engrossed in marriage.
This world is finite, of how it will eventually pass away. It is better to be single than to be engrossed in marriage.
The third reason is that the unmarried person is free from concern. Paul compares how those who are single are able to concern themselves with how they can please the Lord. While those who are married are concerned about the things of this world, how they can please their spouse (7:32-34). Paul’s point is that the single person is able to be undivided in their devotion to the Lord (7:35). The married on the other hand will be divided, they will be pulled in different directions by their desire to please the Lord and their spouse.
At this point we might be tempted to think that Paul doesn’t like marriage or that he sees it in a negative light. But we know from elsewhere that Paul sees marriage as a good thing that comes from God (Eph 5:21-33). Paul’s desire here in 1 Corinthians is that they would not be troubled (7:28), he does not want to restrict them either (7:35). Paul’s concern in this whole letter is that they would know the Cross of Christ (2:2) and remember the Gospel which he taught them (15:1-11). Paul wants them to be living their lives in undivided devotion to God. In order to do this Paul thinks that it is better to remain single.
Choosing to remain single
Paul doesn’t give us a command here, we are free to choose to remain single or to marry. At the same time we should carefully consider the words of Paul. These words of Paul apply today as much as they did for the Corinthians. We are given three reasons to remain single; difficult circumstances that would make it hard to be married, the finite nature of this world and that we are to be undivided in our devotion to God.
Simply put, it is better to remain single because we can live lives devoted to God. We are not to choose to remains single so we can pursue our own career, or so we can travel, or even so we can be free of responsibility. Choosing to remain single is not about us but about devotion to God, it is about living our lives in response to the Gospel.
So why would we marry someone? Why would we put ourselves in a position where we will be pulled in different directions? The best way for us to answer this is to go back to the beginning when God created humanity.
In the Garden
In Genesis 2 we are given an up close and personal picture of how God created humanity. We see that God planted a garden and placed Adam into it to work it and tend it. But there is something wrong, God says “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen 3:18) What is the actual problem here? Why is this important?
The problem is not that Adam is lonely, but that he is the only human. Adam is a complete human being as he is, it is not as if he is missing something. The problem here is that God has actually made Adam to be in relationship, he is in a sense relationally asymmetrical. This is important for us to see, to realise that Adam is complete on his own, but that he is made to be in relationship. So what is God’s solution to this?
The problem is not that Adam is lonely, but that he is the only human. He is made to be in relationship
God says that he “will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen 2:18) The solution here isn’t just to make a companion for Adam but to make him a helper, someone who can help him in his task of working and tending the garden. Initially God shows Adam all the animals, but cannot find one who is a suitable helper. So instead God makes Eve from Adam’s own flesh, and when Adam sees here he breaks into poetry saying
This is bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called ‘woman’, For she was taken out of man. (Gen 2:23)
This is followed by the explanation of why a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and become one flesh (Genn 2:24). This is a beautiful picture of what marriage is, of how we are made to be in relationship.
But did you notice that there is more going on here than just a beautiful picture of the creation of Adam and Eve and the ordaining of marriage. God has a purpose for this relationship, Eve is not just made to be a companion to Adam or to fulfil some emotional longing. Eve is made as the perfect helper, to help Adam in his task. In the end this relationship is about more than just intimacy between Adam and Eve. It is about serving the purpose for which God created humanity, to work and tend to the creation, to rule it under God and to bring glory to God. This is the purpose of marriage here, marriage is about serving God’s purposes not ours.
What does this mean for us now?
This creation has not yet passed away, we still live in it and are engaged with it every day. What this means is that this picture of humanity in Genesis 2 still applies. We are still made to be relational beings, the purpose of marriage is still to bring glory to God. So from this we can conclude that there is still good reason to marry, to tend and care for this creation and to bring glory to God.
This leads us to potential dangers for us as Christians. We can look at Genesis 2 and begin to think that the ideal for the Christian life is to be married. We can also begin to become focused on the wrong aspects of marriage that it is about intimacy or finding fulfilment. We can end up becoming focused on becoming a husband and a father or a wife and a mother. We can end up looking around us and desiring what everyone else has in their marriages. In the end we can end up taking what is a good thing from God and instead make it an idol to be pursued.
But things have changed since Genesis 2, when Christ came, died and was raised to life again. He gave us the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all the nations and to bring them into his Kingdom (Matt 28:16-20). This is to be our priority now as the people of God. The Kingdom of God now grows through the preaching of the Gospel. We may even choose to remain single for the sake of the Kingdom of God (Matt 19:11-12). Marriage is not done away with here it is still a good thing in which we can bring glory to God, but it is no longer our top priority as Christians.
How do we decide?
Apple or Android? Singleness or Marriage? Both of these things are good, Paul gives us good reasons to see remaining single as the better choice, but there are also good reasons for us to choose to marry. What really matters for us no matter the choice we make is that we are seeking to bring glory to God in all we do. If you choose to remain single, do it in order to be undivided in your devotion to God, if you choose to marry, do it seeking to bring glory to God.
Find out more about Single Minded here: https://www.singlemindedconference.com/