Saturday, November 27, 2004

The Christian Single

Skipped the ARPC "Pure Sex" material and did 1 Corinthians 7 with my DG this week. Nothing better than the word of God itself to illumine the mind and convict the heart.

The common questions that were thrown up before the study were:
  • What is the gift of singleness?
  • Do I have the gift of singleness?
  • What should I do about my position as a single? Should I be proactive or passive?
  • Is it ok for a Christian single to feel lonely, even within the church community?
  • Is it ok for a Christian single to have a general sexual desire?
  • What should I do about my sexual desire?
  • Is it ok for a Christian single to masturbate?
It's amazing what just a straight reading of 1 Corinthians 7 yielded when we put aside our questions (ie. did not read the chapter to answer *our* questions) and studied the chapter for itself, for what the author was trying to say and in the context of the whole letter to the Corinthians.

Context
"Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry."(1 Corinthians 7:1)
Here, Paul is quoting the Corinthian's erroneous statement. While in 1 Corinthian 6, a group of Corinthians erred toward the side of liberalism ("Everything is permissible"), here another group of Corinthians erred toward the side of asceticism ("It is good for a man not to marry").

Marriage
Paul answers this erroneous statement in 7:2-7:
"2But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. 8Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion."

So he sets out the reasons for marriage:
  • to avoid immorality
  • for marital sex
  • to avoid temptation
  • because of lack of self-control
  • to avoid burning with passion
The primary reason for marriage seems to be marital sex and the underlying goal of marriage is the godliness of the parties to that marriage: to avoid sinning against God (by not living within the good order that he created and therefore denying that he is the ruler of the world) and to avoid sinning against neighbour (by lustful or adulterous thoughts or actions).

Singleness
In contrast to the Corinthians' erroneous view of the inherent goodness of staying single, Paul argues that single people should stay single for good reasons in 7:25-40:
"25Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. 26Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. 27Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. 28But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

29What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

32I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs--how he can please the Lord. 33But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world--how he can please his wife-- 34and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world--how she can please her husband. 35I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

36If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin--this man also does the right thing. 38So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.

39A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. 40In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is--and I think that I too have the Spirit of God."

In vv7:25-28, Paul states 2 main reasons and expands on these reasons in the remaining verses:
  • because of the present crisis (7:26)-they were (just as we are) living in the last days; the days between the first and second coming of Christ (7:29-31) and there is urgent work to be done!
  • the troubles of marriage (7:28)-that your interests will be divided, that you will not be able to live in the right way (ie. in undivided devotion to the Lord) (7:32-35)
Again, the underlying goal of staying single and not getting married is the godliness of the single: to avoid sinning against God (by not introducing another god in one's spouse) and to do the urgent work of his kingdom before it is too late.

The Common Goal of Marriage and Singleness
So we see that the goal of marriage is not some happily-ever-after, romantic relationship but the godliness of the parties to that marriage. And the goal of staying single is not to have that swinging bachelor/bachelorette freedom to live our lives the way we want but to protect our relationship with God against all distraction and to serve him wholeheartedly.

What is the godly thing to do in my situation?
So should we strive to change our status from
married to single or single to married for godliness? Paul answers this in 7:10-24:
"10To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

12To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

17Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts. 20Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. 23You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to."

Do not be deceived. Changing your status is not the goal. Godliness is. So whatever is your status, strive to be godly by keeping God's commands in the situation you are in (7:19). If you are married, be aware that God created man and woman to be unified into one flesh in sexual union and marriage. Therefore Paul thinks that God would not have you leave your spouse even if he/she is not a believer. If you are single and you think for your godliness it is better to get married and the opportunity comes along, balance this against the dangers to your relationship with God if you do so and make a wise decision. Godliness is the goal. A change of status for the goal of godliness may help in your godliness but does not necessarily mean you will achieve that goal following the status change. Status change is not a magic pill that turns you into a godly person. What matters is how you live every day of your single or married life. And each man will be responsible to God for this on the Last Day.

Answers to Common Questions
Now that we have a concept of the goal we are striving for, how do we get there? Aren’t we still left with unanswered questions of what to do with loneliness, unfulfilled sexual desire and available ways to relieve these “needs”? What is the godly way to deal with these areas?

That’s the thing about God and his word in the Bible isn’t it? It’s not a set of rules, it’s not a set of laws per se. Even the 10 commandments aren’t just legislation. Neither is it an encyclopaedia where you can find all your trivia questions answered. It is about a worldview and a lifestyle. It is about God’s view of the world and the lifestyle he created us to live.

In light of what you know about God and his creation, what are the practical outworkings to these common questions in your life?

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