The Gospel and Singleness
The Gospel and Singleness – Part 4
Dr. David Platt
Well, if you have a Bible, and I hope you do, I invite you to open with me to 1 Corinthians 7, as we finally get to the Gospel and Singleness. A little over 100 years ago, 90 percent – some say 90-plus percent of the adult population in the United States of America was married. Most people were marrying young. Divorce was very uncommon, and it was basically synonymous: adulthood and marriage. Singleness was very rare. Fast forward 100 years plus, you have a much different picture. Nearly half of the adult population today is unmarried. Many never been married are waiting longer to get married. Then many people are separated, divorced. Many people have lost spouse through death. The picture is in our country today the number of adults who are single and the number of adults who are married almost parallel one another; and the question is: What do we think about this? Is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? What’s the cause of the major dramatic shift over the last 100 years, and how do we address that shift?
I hope the answer that we’ll find in Scripture is a better answer than what the church has given over the last few years. We have talked about how you go into Christian bookstores, and you find all kinds of books on marriage and family. We’ve talked about that the last couple of weeks. The reality is, though, you find very few books on singleness. Lot of books on marriage. Lot of books on family. Very few books on singleness, and most of the singleness books actually talk about how to find the right one. How to find the right husband or the right wife and so – and it’s really interesting when you go look at the content of both types of books because you look at marriage books and you don’t hardly find any marriage book that makes an argument for marriage being a good thing. It’s kind of an understood. Instead, marriage books look at all the problems of marriage and they talk about this problem or that problem. They say, “Well, you got problems in marriage and you come to these books and these books will help you out.”
On the other hand, you go to singleness books; and singleness in a lot of these books is almost diagnosed as the problem; and the solution for the problem is, of course, what? Marriage, and so if you solve the problem over here, then you move into the marriage category; and now you can have all kinds of problems and go read these books and find out what to do based on that; and what we’re going to do is we’re going to dive into 1 Corinthians 7. I’ll go ahead and let you know the answers we’re going to find here may not be the most desirable answers in our culture today. We’re about to come face to face with the apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament; and he’s actually going to recommend singleness. He’s going to say it’s preferable; and there’s going be a temptation to say, “Well, that’s kind of Paul. He’s kind of out there. He’s kind of extreme.” And if we’re really honest, if Paul were in the church today, I’m convinced he would be marginalized, at best. A single church leader.
Well, obviously, there’s something wrong with Paul. Maybe it’s his looks. Maybe he wasn’t the most attractive dude in the world. Maybe it’s his intellect. Maybe it’s his social skills, or maybe he just has really high standards. Or we don’t know, maybe – maybe it’s his sexual orientation. We’d ask all kinds of questions. There’s got to be a reason why he’s single, right?
That’s how we often view singleness in the church, as a negative thing; and Paul says in a resounding way across 1 Corinthians 7 that he is single, not because it’s a negative thing, not because something is wrong. He is single because something is very right in his life; and what we’re going to do is we’re going to uncover the pictures here in 1 Corinthians 7 that help us to understand the Gospel on singleness; and we always think, “Well, how do you put those two words together – Gospel and singleness? What has the Gospel has to do with singleness?” And I hope you see it. I hope you see. If you hang with me, we’re going to wade through some Old Testament stuff; but I promise if you hang with me, you will see that the Gospel had a radically transforming effect on singleness in Scripture and has a radically transforming effect on singleness today; and so I need you to kind of hang on with me through all of that; and I say that just like I started the last few weeks in this series, almost with a disclaimer or qualifying statement here.
I am not in any way claiming to be the expert on singleness. I’ll be completely honest from the start. I was 21 years old, just out of college, when Heather invaded my single life in marriage. Invaded, that’s probably not the best word; but invaded in a very good way, a great invasion; and so, anyway, I get married at 21; and so the single life didn’t last very long; and I am in no way presuming to know what it’s like, circumstantially, to be 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70-plus years old and never been married. I realize that there are people all across this faith family that fall in that category, in addition to singles who have been divorced, single parents, singles whose husbands or wives have passed away, maybe recently or maybe a long time ago. I, in no way, want to presume that I know every situation represented in this room. My only hope is to presume to know this Word, and to pray that God would take it and apply it to your hearts appropriately.
That’s what I’m praying for; and so, singles, I want to beg you, don’t tune me out; and then, married men and women, don’t tune me out either. Don’t think, “Well, this is singleness; so I can kind of check out.” No, we desperately need to recover how to best encourage, serve, and support single brothers and sisters in our faith family around us. So this message, this text is most definitely for you; and the implications, as we’ll see, for marriage are throughout 1 Corinthians 7. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to actually read 1 Corinthians 7:1 all the way to Verse 40; and so we’re going to read this chunk of Scripture; and I’ll go ahead and let you know, when we dive into it, there’s going to be all kinds of things that Paul says that you’re going to wonder, “What does he mean by that? What does he mean by that? What does he mean by that?” And we’re just not going to have time to dive into every single thing.
Instead, we’re going to trace this thread of singleness that really starts off at the beginning and then kind of weaves and comes back really strong in the end. We’re going to see what Paul is talking about when it comes to singleness, but we need to see it in its context. We need to realize, when you come to 1 Corinthians 7, this is not Paul writing down and thinking, “You know, I’d like to give people in the 21st century a theology of marriage and singleness; and so that’s what I’m going to give them here.” Instead, you’ll notice from the very first verse, he is responding to questions and situations that were going on in this young church – and young meaning new believers in Corinth. Corinth was a pagan city, a pagan city filled with rampant immorality, particularly sexual immorality; and the picture we’ve got when we come to 1 Corinthians 7 is Paul is addressing specific issues, specific questions; and the disadvantage that means for us is it’s like we’re on – we’re listening to one side of a telephone conversation. We’re hearing Paul talk. We don’t know what’s being said or what’s being done on the other side of that conversation; and so that gives us a challenge. It’s a challenge we have when we come to study the Bible, to try to put ourselves in their shoes.
So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re about to read 40 verses; and I want you to imagine with me, as best as you can, you’re in 1st century Corinth, a pagan city filled with rampant sexual immorality and all kinds of confusion about singleness and marriage and divorce; and Paul comes on the scene with this letter; and he says these words. Follow along.
Verse 1, “For the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The 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. Do 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. I say this is as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord):” which, by the way, side note here, when Paul says this stuff, the “not I, but the Lord” or “I, not the Lord,” he’s not saying, “Well, this is actually not coming from God. This is just something – it’s my opinion. Instead, what he’s saying is he’s differentiating from when he’s quoting what Jesus had taught on marriage or divorce in the New Testament – in the Gospels and what he is saying; and so he’s just basically saying, “This is what Jesus said.” Now, in this verse 12, when he says, “I, not the Lord,” he’s saying, “Now, I moved off from what Jesus said; and I’m bringing kind of fresh stuff down the pipe here, fresh revelations.” So here’s the picture. “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For 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. But 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. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? “Nevertheless, 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. Was 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. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he 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. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to. “Now about virgins:” – and this is where he really shifts from Verse 25 all the way to Verse 40, to really focus on unmarried, those who are single. “I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But 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.” He’s really honest here. Be careful how loud you laugh sitting next to your spouse there.
Verse 29, “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those 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; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and 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. I 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.
“If 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. But 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. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better. A 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. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is – and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.”
Now, what’s that all about? There are phrases throughout 1 Corinthians 7, you say, “What exactly is he saying here?” What I want us to do is I want us to start with a few foundations that undergird this picture of singleness in 1 Corinthians 7; and we’ve kind of run through some foundations the last couple weeks of the beginning. We’re actually going to camp out the majority of our time in these first two foundations, because they are so key. They are simple. When we look at them, you’re going to think, “Well, that’s easy. Let’s move on.” But they are so simple, yet so profound and completely foundational for our understanding of the Gospel and Singleness.
So foundation No. 1, both singleness and marriage are good. Both singleness and marriage are good. Chapter 7, verse 1, where he starts the whole picture. “For the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.” Now, that seems simple; and it doesn’t really surprise us. It doesn’t really stick out to us in a culture where half of the people around us are unmarried; but what we’ve gotta realize is that on the pages of Scripture, this verse screams out as an astounding statement from Paul. Now, in order to realize that, we’ve got to understand the picture of singleness, not just here in 1 Corinthians 7, but in all of Scripture before this.
So let’s take a tour, and I want you to go back with me to Genesis 1. You have got to see this. I want you to turn back with me to the first book in the Bible, first chapter in the Bible, Genesis 1; and we’re not going to have time to turn to all these places. You might write some of these different places down as we take a little tour; I want you to see the foundation for singleness up to this point in 1 Corinthians 7; and what’s been going on in Scripture when it comes to singleness up to this point. This is huge.
Genesis 1:27 – this is the creation of man. It’s creation of man and woman. Listen to what it says. Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” So He created man, and listen to what happened. Verse 28, first thing, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” So the first command that God gives creation, God gives man and woman, is He says, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth.” Translated – make babies. “This is what you do. You need to multiply. Fill the earth with image bearers. Those who will bear My image and glorify My name through multiplication.”
Now, how does that work? Go with me over to Chapter 2. Chapters 2, follow along with me. Don’t get distracted. Chapter 2:24 – this is the Bible’s answer to the question. How does this happen? “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” That’s the picture that leads to filling the earth, right there. So what we’ve got is a command from God. He blesses them so that they might fill the earth and subdue it; and they do that through coming together in marriage; and, basically, the picture is that people of God are going to reproduce and fill the earth through this process; and when you get over, go with me to Genesis 12.
Genesis 12, when you get over to God’s calling the people of Israel. Abram, Abraham is where this whole picture starts and He starts by telling Abraham that He’s going to bless him so that his name would be great. Look at it with me in Verse 1, Genesis 12:1. “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you. Whoever curses you, I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
God says, “I’m going to bless you with a great name, Abraham.” How is He going to do that? Fast forward to Genesis 15, just a couple of chapters over and listen to what He said. It’s what He told Abraham in Verse 4, Genesis 15:4. “The Word of the Lord came to Abram: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.’ He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the starts – if indeed you can count them.’ Then He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” How would the blessing of God be evident in Abraham’s life? By descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky, by great offspring. It is the same promise that God gives to Abraham’s son Isaac in Genesis 26:3-5; and it’s the same promise God gives to Jacob, Isaac’s son, in Genesis 28:14. The picture is God’s blessing here in the book of Genesis is synonymous with offspring. It’s synonymous with descendents. “I’m going to give you descendents.”
Even the points of tension in the book of Genesis revolve around this picture. What you’ve got is – you’ve got Sarah and Rachel struggling with barrenness and the curse of barrenness; and I say curse because God’s blessing was associated with offspring. If you couldn’t bear offspring, then you were considered cursed; and the tension is – is Sarah going to be able to give Abraham an heir? You get to Genesis 22, after Isaac has been born; and God says, “Sacrifice Isaac on the altar” and there’s tension there. The picture is you get all the way to Genesis 48:16, and it says that your sons, your inheritance in this life, your name will continue through your sons; but if you don’t have children, your name will be cut off.
You go to Deuteronomy 26:5 and it says that if you don’t have a child, your name will be cut off from Israel. I want you to let that soak in. The blessing of God is synonymous with offspring. It’s synonymous with descendents; and if you are single, therefore, you’re not married. Therefore, there’s no children coming from you. That means your name will be cut off from Israel. As a result, you look in the Old Testament; and if you’re single in the Old Testament, you don’t have a place. You’re considered cursed by God. You look at the classifications of singles in the Old Testament. Singles – some singles are eunuchs. A eunuch is someone who has had their sexual capacity physically taken from them, so they cannot bear offspring. You look at singles or people who are widows; and even when you see widows in the Old Testament, you see them encouraged to remarry as soon as possible. It’s not desirable to be a eunuch, a widow. It’s not desirable to be diseased. This was another picture of singles – those who had leprosy or other diseases that made them untouchable or unapproachable. Maybe you were divorced, which was not looked favorably upon in the Old Testament.
We don’t see a positive picture of singlehood in the Old Testament, which heightens the picture when God says to a prophet like Jeremiah, “You will be single. You will not take for yourself a wife.” This is a picture. It’s strong. It’s against the grain in that culture. Elijah and Elisha, similar stories. If you’re single in the Old Testament, it is not a good thing; because your name stops with you. Offspring is everything. The blessing of God’s synonymous with it. You’re single, you miss out on the blessing of God. That’s the mentality you’ve got in the Old Testament until you get to Isaiah 53. Turn with me there.
Go to Psalms, right in the middle of your Bible, then take a right. Proverbs, Ecclesiastics, Song of Solomon, go to Isaiah 53. You’ve got to see this. Isaiah 53, look with me at Verse 7. While you’re turning there, let me give you a little background about what Isaiah 53 is about. Isaiah 53 is a prophecy of Jesus. It’s a prophecy that pertains to the cross and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross; and so when you see He being talked about, when you see a Man being talked about in Isaiah 53, it’s talking about Jesus. I want you to listen to what it says.
Verse 7, Isaiah 53:7, follow along close. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He not open His mouth.” Listen to Verse 8: “By oppression and judgment He was taken away. And who can speak of His” What? “Who can speak of His descendents? He was cut off.” Same language we’ve seen used in the Old Testament for “cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.”
Jesus, single man, the Son of God dies a horrible, cursed death on a tree; and who can speak of His descendents? He was cut off. It’s a picture of curse, but then watch this. Verse 10: “It was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His” What? “offspring. He will be see His offspring and prolong His days.” What does that mean? What do you mean offspring? He’s a single man. He doesn’t have offspring. Who can speak of His descendents?
We’ve got a whole new picture coming here. Listen. “The will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge, my righteous servant will justify many; and He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will give Him a portion among the great. He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” He’s a single man. What offspring could He have? And the picture Isaiah 53 gives us is the offspring of Christ are those whose sin He bore on the cross. It is a spiritual offspring, not a physical picture of offspring. It is a spiritual picture of offspring, and this picture here radically changes. This is where I was saying the Gospel has such a huge impact on singleness. When Christ comes, the picture of singleness in the Old Testament is radically transformed.
You see it in the very next chapter. Look at Isaiah 54:1. “Sing, O barren woman, you who have never bore – you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy.” Barrenness is a picture of curse. Why would a barren woman sing? “You who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.” What does that mean? Does that mean she all of a sudden started having physical children? No, we’ve got a whole different picture of children here.
“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendents” – barren woman – “your descendents will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is His name – the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.”
Do you see the hope here? This is not just a picture of physical offspring. It’s a picture of spiritual offspring. It’s a picture that is to come with the coming of Christ. The picture is no longer being born into the people of God physically. It is being born again spiritually into the people of God. We know this. We studied this a few weeks ago in John 3. We are born again. The Kingdom of God, through Christ, advances not primarily through making babies and multiplying the earth with babies. Instead, the Kingdom of God multiplies through spiritual birth; and that heightens the significance and the value of singleness, of barrenness, even – look over in Isaiah 56. It’s the last place we’ll look in the Old Testament. Look in Isaiah 56:3. Remember the eunuch? We talked about the eunuch. Listen to this. Verse 3, “Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from His people.’” And listen to this. – “Let not any eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.’ For this is what the Lord says.”
Listen to what God says to eunuchs. “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, who choose what pleases Me and hold fast to My covenant – to them I will give within My temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.” I want you to put yourself in the shoes of a eunuch. You have had your capacity to carry on your name stripped from you; and you hear God Himself say to you, “You will have a name that is better than sons and daughters. You will have an everlasting name.” Can you imagine the hope that this just brought to the picture of eunuchs? You can see it played out in Acts 8, when an Ethiopian eunuch is reading Scripture. You’ll never guess what chapter he’s reading from. Isaiah 56, and he’s pointed to the Gospel; and there he is baptized. This is a huge picture.
Now, fast forward. One place in the New Testament, Matthew 19. This is the picture that was prophesied in the Old Testament. This whole scene in Isaiah 53, 54, 55, 56 has turned things upside down, prophesying this to come through Christ. You still got an Old Testament mentality, though, that is pervading the Gospels, the people in Jesus’ day; and Matthew 19, they’re talking with Him about marriage; and they’re talking with Him about divorce. They ask Him about divorce; and He talks about the troubles that come with divorce; and listen to how they respond. Verse 10: “The disciple said to Jesus,” Matthew 19:10, “if this is the situation between a husband and a wife, it is better not to marry.” And that, right there, almost seem to disciples, for disciples to say that, saying, “Well, obviously, that’s not the answer. It’s not better not to marry, because that would be a picture of curse.” And listen to what Jesus says.
“Jesus replied, ‘Not everyone can accept this Word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs’ – listen to this – ‘some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the Kingdom of Heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’” Did you see how Jesus just took this stigma of a eunuch, who has been cut off, and He raises it; and He said, “It’s good. It’s good to be a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom.” To be single. Jesus – Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, what they’re saying when they talk about singleness being good, when we understand in the backdrop of the Old Testament, we realize that it is only good because Christ has made it good. Because of the coming of the Christ, because of the Gospel, He has completely turned upside down the whole picture. Entrance into the Kingdom of God is a spiritual entrance. It’s a spiritual birth, not physical birth. As a result, both marriage and singleness are very, very good things.
You see how the Gospel radically changes everything. When you look at Scripture, and I want to be careful, very careful here with these words that I’m about to use; but follow with me. Biblically, marriage is expected. Here’s what I mean by that. Here’s what I believe the Bible is teaching us here. You look at Matthew 19, the very beginning of that chapter, and then 1 Corinthians 7, you don’t see Paul or Jesus demeaning marriage. They’re not saying marriage is a bad thing. In fact, marriage is still the norm. It’s the picture from the Old Testament, Genesis 2:24; and it hasn’t changed. We look at that a couple weeks ago in Ephesians 5. In fact, you get over to 1 Timothy 5:14, and Paul actually there is encouraging people to get married. So marriage is a good thing. It’s the norm. It’s expected.
At the same time, biblically, singleness is exceptional. Now, here’s where I really want you to follow with me. What I don’t mean by that word and the two words together, I don’t mean, and I don’t believe in any way Scripture is teaching that if you don’t get married, that you’re not living up to God’s expectations for you. That’s not what Scripture’s teaching, certainly not what 1 Corinthians 7 is teaching. Instead, well, I’ll borrow a quote here from a guy named John Stott. I don’t know if you’re familiar with John Stott. He’s a theologian, author, one of my favorites; and this is a guy who has spent his 70-plus years, all of that time single, going around the world, especially in third-world countries. This is a guy who has sons and daughters, spiritually, all over this planet; and I came across an interview with John Stott about singleness; and I want you to listen to what he said.
He said, “God’s general will for His human creation is marriage. We single people must not resist this truth. Marriage is the norm. Singleness, the abnorm.” So there is a picture of exception there, but not exception in that you don’t live up to expectations. Exception in an awesome way, in a very good way, in an extraordinary way that we see in Scripture. You see all over the pages of the New Testament how the Gospel elevates the significance of singleness. Look at single people. They almost outnumber, especially in influence, the picture of married people we’ve got in the New Testament. Look at John the Baptist. Well, maybe he’s not the best example. The guy wore camel’s hair and ate locusts and honey; but, anyway, John the Baptist aside, you’ve got, obviously, Jesus, Paul. Okay, you put those three together, all revolving around Christ. Then you get to the picture in the New Testament.
Now, we don’t have all the information about a variety of different folks; but we definitely see in Paul’s life and in his ministry, in his missionary journeys, we see him joining together; and his churches are being planned; and the Gospel is being spread. We see people that we have no indication that they have – that they’re married. You see – you don’t see indication of that in Timothy’s life, in Titus’ life. You don’t see indication of that in Phoebe’s life, in, of course, Philip’s four unmarried daughters, a variety of people, all throughout the New Testament elevating the picture of singleness; and what we’ve got to be careful to do is this. You look throughout church history, and the church today; and what you’ll find is at different points in church history, the church has elevated one of these above the other. There have been times in church history where the church has elevated singleness above marriage; and if you’re really holy, you’ll be single. If you’re going to be a leader in the church, you’ll be single. There was a time when nobody could be a leader in the church unless they were single.
Then you see the Protestant Reformation. You see Protestants really kind to tipping the scales the other way, exalting marriage, but almost to the point where they begin to look on singleness negatively in some respects. What we’ve got is a picture in Scripture of both marriage and singleness as very good things; we need to realize that marriage is really good; and singleness is also really good; and the Gospel makes it that way. Now, based on that, second foundation. Both singleness and marriage are God’s gifts. They’re God’s gifts. Now, this is – He starts talking about marriage some; and then He comes back in Verse 7. Listen to what he says, 1 Corinthians 7, we’re back there, Verse 7. “I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”
Now, there’s a lot to discussion about Verse 7. People who’ve studied this passage far longer than I have, it’s clear that, obviously, there’s Paul making a statement here about singleness being a gift and marriage being a gift. The discussion revolves around what kind of gift is he referring to? Some people think he is talking about a subjective gift, much like the picture we got in 1 Corinthians 12, when it comes to spiritual gifts. This divine enabling for someone to be a single. Just like you have another spiritual gift, you have a gift of singleness. What’s interesting is I remember in college talking with guys; and this was often the topic of conversation: the gift of singleness; and guys would kind of talk about it; and wonder, “How do you know if you’ve got it?” And if a guy, you know, wasn’t getting a date or something, he was like, “Well, maybe I’ve got the gift.” And they would talk about it; but the reality is, if we’re really honest, they were talking about it like they certainly didn’t want it. This was like the Christmas gift you didn’t want, that you would immediately return when you got it. It was like, “Well, I hope I don’t have the gift. You know, I hope this doesn’t mean I have the gift.”
And I started thinking, “Okay, well, how do you know if you have the gift? And if it’s a gift, then why does nobody want it?” So thinking about this picture here, I don’t believe what Paul is talking about here; and, again, I emphasize, there’s a variety of people that say a variety of different things here. This is how I understand this picture as best as possible through studying this text. The picture is: What if the gift is not some subjective feeling that we need to figure out whether or not we’ve got it or not? What if it’s a description of objective status, much like Romans 6:23, “Gift of eternal life.”
Here’s what I mean. What if what Paul is saying here is not, “We’ve got to figure out whether or not we’ve got the gift or not”; because let’s be honest. Regardless of whether or not a single person in this room thinks they have the gift or not, the reality is they’re still single. Let me illustrate it by comparing it. How many people with the gift of marriage sit around and wonder, “Well, do I have the gift of marriage?” Don’t answer that too quickly. The picture is, of course, I’ve got the gift of marriage. Now, obviously, there are times where you wonder, “Okay, what do I do in this situation? How do I respond to this situation?” Wrestle with this or that, but the reality is Scripture said you’re married. God’s given you a gift called marriage, and He’s commanded you to work in the context of that gift.
What if the same picture is applicable the gift of singleness? And what if, regardless of what subjective feeling there is, what if, when Paul says, “Each man has his own gift from God. One has the gift of marriage; another has the gift of singleness.” And the reality is every single one of us has one of those two gifts. Some of us have the gift of marriage, at this moment. Some of us have the gift of singleness, not necessarily a gift of singleness that will last 60 years. Possibly, but maybe there’s a day that comes when God exchanges the gift of singleness in your life for the gift of marriage; and it’s not exchanging from one inferior gift to a superior gift. Instead, both gifts are good; and both are gifts. They’re both given to you by God.
The other danger with this subjective feeling is it almost creates a two-tiered system of singles. Singles who have the gift. Singles who don’t have the gift. You got singles who have the gift that spiritually enables them. God has enabled them for their singleness. Then you got a group over here that’s spiritually frustrated by God with their singleness? What if the issue in 1 Corinthians 7 is not whether or not you are single or married at all? What if the issue is whether or not we are content with the good gift of God in our lives? What if the issue in 1 Corinthians 7 is not whether or not we are single or married? What if the primary issue that Paul is hitting at here is that – God has designed us to be content with His good gifts.
What do you mean content? Well, contentment is a deep trust in the sovereignty of God; and we see it all over 1 Corinthians 7. 1 Corinthians 7, verse after he talks about marriage and divorce, skip down to Verse 17. “Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life the Lord has assigned to him and to which God has called him.” Same thing in Verse 20. “Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.” Same thing in Verse 24. “Brothers, each man, is responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.” Verse 27. “Are you married? Don’t seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.” Amidst all the frenzy going on in Corinth, should I get married or not? Should I get divorced or not? Should I get remarried or not? All of these pictures – and Paul says, “Stop. Stop. Just rest for a second and trust in the fact that God is still in control in your life. That He has not forgotten about you; and that He has not lost one ounce of wisdom; and He is still the Father who knows what is best in your life.” This is the sovereignty of God. It’s a contentment that says, “I can trust that if I have been given a gift of singleness now, it is because I have a Father in Heaven who is all wise and who gives me what is best for me.”
And there is a deep contentment in that. We have to be careful; because, if our contentment is based on a destination that lies out there in the future – “I’ll be content when I get married. I’ll be content when I have kids. I’ll be content when I get there.” – The reality is when we get there, we’ll be looking in the future for another destination; because our contentment was never designed to be fulfilled in external circumstances. It was designed to be fulfilled in the internal reality of Jesus Christ in our lives; and this is the point of 1 Corinthians 7: Trust in God. Trust in His gifts; and not just trust in His gifts; but contentment is a deep enjoyment of the grace of God. It’s enjoyment of the grace of God. It’s a gift. It’s a good thing. The word literally translates given by grace. God has shown His grace in our lives with the gift of singleness, with the gift of marriage, with what He’s entrusted to us. It is evidence of His grace in our lives, and it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing.
God knows us. He knows what satisfies us in Himself, and He gives us gifts according to that. That is really, really good news; and, therefore, we don’t have to live in the frenzy of 1 Corinthians 7 or the 21st century picture we have around us today, wandering around, trying to think, and even going through this torturous wondering of whether or not we’ve got this gift or that gift or whether or not this is going to happen or that’s going to happen. What happens when we realize at this moment right now, there is a sovereign God who has poured out His grace on your life; and He has not forgotten about you; and He will walk with you every step of the journey ahead of you. Paul says stop and trust. Trust in Him and enjoy His gifts.
Well, spring from that. Those two are foundational. We’re gonna fly through some of this stuff, both singleness and marriage are for God’s glory. Foundation No. 3, they’re for God’s glory. Ladies and gentlemen, please hear this. What matters ultimately in 1 Corinthians 7 is not whether or not you’re single or married. What matters ultimately in 1 Corinthians 7 is whether or not your life is identified with Jesus Christ. If your life is coming under the design of God for your life in Christ. Our identity is not found in marital status. It is found in Christ. That is where identity is found.
Now, you think about that. Put it together with those other two foundations. God gives us gifts. He doesn’t give us gifts just because it’s haphazard. He gives us gifts purposefully. What that means is singleness has a purpose that we must be careful not to waste; and the challenge for every follower of Christ if, if you are married, make the most of the gift that’s been entrusted to you by the grace of God. Make the most of it. If you are single, by the grace of God, make the most of the gift that’s been entrusted to you. In other words, don’t squander your singleness; and don’t squander the gift of marriage.
Now, based on those foundations, we’re going to fly through these. Four reasons to delight in singleness starting in Verse 25 and going through the end of the chapter. Four reasons to delight in singleness. No. 1, because of the times we’re in. Because of the times we’re in. You look at Verse 25, he’s giving a –he says, “I don’t have a command here; but listen to what I’m saying.” Verse 26, “Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are.” Because of the present crisis. You get down to the end of Verse 28, “Those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” Now what is he talking about when he talks about the present crisis?
Again, there’s a lot of discussion here. I believe in the context of this picture, it revolves around two main things: persecution and perversion. In other words, 1st century Corinth. It was not an easy time to be a follower of Christ. Not an easy time at all. It cost you a lot to be a follower of Christ, even your life. Just a few years after Paul wrote this book, you had Nero, who was taking Christ followers; and he’s throwing them to animals to eat them alive. He is taking Christ followers, and he’s burning them alive on crosses. It was not an easy time to be a follower of Christ.
You look over in 2 Corinthians 11:22-28, you look at all that Paul went through, all the persecution he endured; and you imagine yourself as Paul’s wife; and it is not an easy picture. And the picture is the present crisis, what is going on in light of the obligations, relationships marriage involves, it’s not easy. Persecution and perversion. He says, “Look around you. Look at all the rampant immorality.” Look at the rampant divorce. There’s so many implications in 1 Corinthians for our culture today; and the picture is – it says it – basically, says at the end of Chapter 6, when we get to it in a second, he says, “Run from it,” in a sense. “Run from immorality.” If it is possible for you to experience singleness continually – marriage is not a gift that God gives you, then rejoice in that. That is a good thing because of the times we’re in.
Now, what does he mean by that? You get to Verse 29, listen to what he says. He kind of interprets it for us. “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they have none; those 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; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.” But listen to what he says. “For this world in its present form is passing away.” Please do not miss this. This is going to kind of debunk the romantic eternal picture of marriage that we have. We’ve got to see this. Paul is saying here in 1 Corinthians 7 that even this wonderful picture of marriage, this good picture of marriage, is still a part of this world that is passing away. It’s passing away.
Matthew 22:30, “In the resurrection people will not be given in marriage.” The picture is even marriage, as great as it is, is still a part of this world that’s passing away; and there is coming a day – there’s coming a day when every single, as well as every married man and woman, will find themselves through Christ. Trust in the Gospel. Find yourself at the wedding feast of the Lamb; and your husband in Christ, and you, His bride, us, His bride; and we will experience His beauty and His intimacy and His joy for all of eternity. This is the picture. For 50 billions years, we’re going to experience that; and after 50 billion years, it’s going to be like the day we first met. It’s going to be greater and greater and greater and greater. This is the picture that is there that really makes this life, even marriage in this life, come into a proper perspective. Even a marriage that lasts 50-plus years in this life. Praise God.
The picture is it’s still a part of this world that is passing away, and there is a much, much greater picture to come. What this means is, in the present crisis, it is good to be single; because we are looking forward to an eternal hope. This is the picture. This is the picture that Paul encourages us with. Jesus also encourages us with. The picture is marriage here is a shadow of what’s to come. So don’t feel like you’ve missed out on anything when you’ve got this picture ahead of you. We’re looking forward to an eternal hope, because the present crisis, present times we’re in.
Second reason that goes with that, because of the mission we’re on. You see the urgency. Time is short. The world in its present form is passing away, and you look. This ties in with the context of persecution. Paul is on mission. There’s a lot to be done. There’s people who need to hear the Gospel. What he’s saying is, “We need to give our lives to this – mission that we’re on is urgent.” Singles, the priority in your life, the priority in your life is the advancement of the Kingdom of God. That is the priority in your life; and I say that because it’s the priority in married men’s lives and in married women’s lives, as well. The priority is the advancement of the Kingdom of God. This is the picture that Jesus brings on the scene in the Gospels when He says things like, “If you’re going to follow after Me, anyone who does not hate his mother or father, brother, sister, even his own wife cannot be My disciple.”
The picture is there’s an allegiance. There’s a loyalty here that supersedes every family loyalty there is. This is why he would make statements in Matthew 19 like being a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom, because we have a mission we’re on; and just like we’re looking forward to an eternal hope, we’re living for an eternal heritage. Now, here is where all that work that we did going through the Old Testament really pays off in understanding this text. Follow with me here.
Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful. Fill the earth and multiply.” Not repeated in the New Testament. Instead, what picture do we have here of multiplication? Matthew 28:19-20, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” You take the Gospel; and you multiply the Gospel; and the reality is, regardless of whether or not we are single or married, the priority in our lives is the multiplication of the Gospel, not primarily through physical birth, but through spiritual rebirth. This is where I want to encourage singles who were sitting here last week and were listening to us talk about parenting. We were seeing, in Scripture, Ephesians 6, how, in parenting, Gospel is central in the home; and the advancement of the Gospel is central to the home; and you think, “Well, I don’t have children in my home. So how am I going to advance the Gospel?” And the picture is that regardless of whether or not we are married, regardless of whether or not we have children, the picture of spiritual rebirth and leading others to come to know Christ, leading others to be born again in Christ, is a reality for us all.
And what that means is – what that means is if you are single all your life, or if you’re single, and you do not have children, the reality is that when you live your life for this mission and this eternal heritage, then one day you will bow around the throne of Jesus Christ with a multitude that no one can count, from every tribe, people, language, and nation; and there will be people from the nations, people from the languages of the world that will be singing the praises of God because of your life and because of how you have led them to experience new birth in Christ. That is a goal worth living for. It is a heritage worth living for. It is a heritage, to borrow from Isaiah 56, that is better than sons and daughters. It is an everlasting heritage. To think that God has intended our lives to lead others, to experience marriage with Christ for all of eternity, there is nothing greater than that.
This is a mission we’re on; and we are living for an eternal heritage; and you see it all over. You see it in Paul. You see it in Lydia in the New Testament. You see it in Thomas Aquinas. You see it in Francis of Assisi. You see it in Joan of Arc. You see it in John Stott, like I mentioned. Amy Carmichael, you see it in C.S. Lewis, all the way to about 56, 57 when he got married. All of these people, whose lives counted for the Kingdom, not in spite of their singleness, but precisely by the means of their singleness. Because the mission we’re on, we’re living for an eternal heritage.
Last two reasons why we delight in singleness. Because we want to be undistracted in our affections. Verse 32, 33, 34, 35, the picture is Paul is talking about how we need to be – he would like for us to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs, how he can please the Lord; but a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world, how he can please his wife; and his interests are divided. Now, Paul is not saying – these poor guys that have to deal with their wives and other problems in their wives’ lives. The poor, poor wives that have to deal with all the problems in their husband’s live. He’s not demeaning marriage.
Instead, he’s saying, “Advantage – single.” 1 Corinthians 7, when it comes to distractions, because marriage is a part of this world that is passing away, then it’s one more tie to this world that is passing away; and without that tie, you’re undistracted; and I want to spend just two points of application here that I believe flow from this picture; because I’m convinced the adversary is still in singles’ lives, maybe not distracted by husband, wife, and the troubles sometimes that go with that picture; but the adversary is distracting singles from accomplishing this mission. I believe two primary avenues of application that I just want to put in front of you; and, one, and it’s all over this one – all over 1 Corinthians 7, that we must guard, when it comes to distractions, we must guard against unholy sexual desires, especially in the beginning Chapter 7:2, Chapter 7:9, all the way back in Chapter 6:18, when he said, “Flee from sexual immorality.” You get back to Chapter 6:13-15, he’s basically talking about this rampant immorality in Corinth; and he says, “I know the common statement around there is just as food is for the stomach, the body is for sex. We need sex like the stomach needs food.”
As a result, you had this rampant immorality; and Paul comes on the scene and says very clearly, very clearly, that “All of our sexual desires are intended – every single one of them – intended to be fulfilled in the context of covenant marriage; and so flee. Run from any fulfillment of those sexual desires in anything outside of that covenant.” That has huge implications for singleness, which he obviously comes back to over and over again in 1 Corinthians 7. He’s not saying it’s easy. I want to urge you, singles in this faith family, we desperately need to see single followers of Christ who rise up in this culture that says sexual desires are for us to fulfill however we want, whenever we want. Not only when we want, we need that. There’s a desperate need for single followers of Christ to rise up and show exactly what Christ showed in His life, exactly what Paul showed in His life. That we don’t need that. There’s – desires are intended to be fulfilled in the context of covenant marriage; and God is good to provide us with every resource we need for the gift that He has given to us. He is good. He does not give us a gift – that flows all throughout 1 Corinthians 7 – He doesn’t give us a gift without giving us the ability to use that gift for His glory. So guard sexual desires, thoughts, actions, anything, anything that would fulfill sexual desires outside the covenant of marriage.
Run from them; and, similarly, we must guard against – second point of application – against unholy selfish desires. Unholy selfish desires, and I want to borrow here from Stott. He said this – when I saw this and thought about it in the context of this distraction picture, I want you to hear what he said. He said, “Apart from sexual temptation, the greatest danger which I think we face as singles is self-centeredness. We may live alone and have total freedom to plan our own schedule with nobody else to modify it or even give us advice. If we are not careful, we may find the whole world revolving around ourselves.” And I want to be careful here. I’m not saying, “Singles, stop your self-centeredness.” But I want you to listen to this with me. I want to share with you two quotes from popular Christian books on singleness.
I want you to listen to what they say. First one, “Singlehood is a state of existence, a way of being. It is a condition of encouraging, affirming, and maintaining one’s integrity as a self. It is being willing and learning how to become increasingly self-aware, self-preserving, self-affirming, self-fulfilling, and autonomously self-governing.” Next quote from a handbook to ministers or pastors of single adults, “The church has a role in helping the single adult to become aware and accepting of self. The goal is to become overcomers of low self-image. The church can assist the single in learning how to make a self-commitment. Whether individual or group counseling, the result of the work must be found in the principle of self-esteem.”
And I what I want to say, based on those two quotes, is those are lies. The goal of singleness is not to be an overcomer of low self-image, to be self-fulfilling, self-affirming, self-preserving, self-aware. The goal of Biblical singleness is to die to self and live for the esteem of God. This is the picture; and the world would have us look in; and it’s all over marriage; but here in singleness, the picture. Don’t forget. Don’t miss that the whole point of singleness is that you are less tied to the things of this world. Less tied to the selfish pursuits of this world. Not more tied to them, and think about this along these lines, with those two points of application when it comes to dating.
Now, here – I mentioned dating last week; and this is where I just kind of almost want to move aside; because the Scripture doesn’t give us a word about dating. It’s not a reality here in this picture. As a result, this is totally not Paul – not quoting from Paul here. This is I, over here. But I want you to think with me about how dating feeds off of those two desires in singleness. Dating feeds off of sexual desires and selfish desires. Dating feeds off of selfish desires. In a consumer market, where we buy products, we shop for products. We shop for CDs. We shop for music. We shop for TVs. We shop for this or that; and so we shop for a partner, as well; and we shop for someone who seems to fit our needs and wants. We find that that person doesn’t, then we take them back to the store and exchange and hope that there’s another product that’s better. We go on from product to product to product; and we master the art, in dating, of initiating and breaking off relationships that often, in the process, most often, become romantic; and this sexual desire picture comes in; and along the way, we begin to think that we actually need to experience fulfillment of our sexual desires in that person to know if we really love them; and that is not love. It is rampant lust. It is what is being addressed here in 1 Corinthians 7, and it’s all over the picture of contemporary dating.
It does not honor God; and it defames the picture of Christ before the world; and I want to urge singleness – singles to consider how to guard against selfish desires and sexual desires, how to guard against practicing divorce and dating. Where we finally find the product that seems like it’s going to work; but the reality is a year later, two years later, five years, ten years, twenty, thirty-plus years later, we find out the product’s not working like it used to; and it’s time to exchange it in. That is not the Biblical picture of marriage or singleness; and it does not show us to be great stewards of the gifts God entrusted to us by His grace; so guard against these things. Guard against these things. We must be undistracted. That’s the picture of singleness. It is less tied to the world, not more immersed in the world; and we see how dating immerses us in the world instead of pulling us from the world. We’ve got to see the difference there.
Leads to the last one, fourth reason to rejoice, delight in singleness. Because we want to be undivided in our devotion. This is the last part. Really summed up in Verse 35. I’m saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way, an undivided, devotion to the Lord. Undivided devotion. Last paragraph, last couple of paragraphs talk about – Paul’s saying, “Live in undivided devotion.” And he says twice, “It’s better – it’s better. If you ask me, it’s better not to be married. It’s not bad to be married. It’s good to be married; but it’s better not to be married; because you are less divided in your devotion.” The picture that 1 Corinthians 7 drives us to is that we need to guard against selfish desires, to guard against selfish desires; and we give ourselves wholly to one single desire; and this is the thrust of all of 1 Corinthians 7. One single desire – that desire is to use His good gift for His great glory.
Kanessa Wells, shortly before she moved to the Middle East in 1999, Kanessa Wells, nervous, overwhelmed, but determined wrote to her friends. “I could give up on overseas service and get married and become a music teacher. All of this is very noble and, to be quite honest, sounds good to me; but in my heart, I want to change my world more than I want a husband and more than I want comfort. I need this opportunity to grow and, especially, to tell others about Jesus.” She shared her passion for God with Egyptians, with Palestinians in refugee camps in Jordan, with Muslims in France, with Bedouins in the desert. Two years later, in her last e‑mail home, the 24-year-old Texas teacher and musician wrote, “It seems that everything we do comes down to one thing: His glory. I pray that all our lives reflect that. It seems like a floodgate has been opened in my heart to share God’s love. I have a passion for it I never knew God had given me. He has given it to me for His glory.” Two weeks after she wrote those words, two weeks before she planned to go home, Kanessa Wells died in a bus accident in the predawn darkness of Egypt’s Sinai desert.
The world saw this story and exclaimed, “Tragedy.” That a girl with so much potential, 24 years old, so much potential to have a husband and a family and to live life well, experience all that this world has, lost it all and died in a bus accident in the middle of the desert; and I want to remind you, ladies and gentlemen, this is not tragedy. This is beauty. It’s beauty; and before you say, “Well, that’s pretty crass to call that beauty.” Here’s why I can say that. The very instant that Kanessa Wells breathed her last breath in Egypt’s Sinai desert, that next instant, she was transformed into the presence of Jesus Christ; and she beheld His face, the face of her husband as His bride; and she began to experience the intimacy and the joy and the beauty of knowing and experiencing life and relationship unhindered with Him; and you know where she is today? She’s in the same place; and you know where she’ll be a hundred billion years from now? She’ll be in the same place; and I guarantee you, not one moment of that time will she look back and regret what she missed in this life. Even deeper, she will be surrounded by Egyptians, Palestinians from refugee camps in Jordan, former Muslims in France, and Bedouins from the desert who were singing His praises for all of eternity; ‘cause she learned not to squander her singleness.
I’m not saying that every single needs to pack up and move overseas. I think that’d be great, but doesn’t necessarily have to happen. But how is your life here in this moment going to trust in the sovereignty of God, His plans, His grace, His mercy in your life, and ask God, “How can my singleness, right now, as long as I’ve got the gift of singleness, God, how can it count for Your glory?” And this is a question worth asking. It’s a question that Gospel gives us the privilege of asking.
I invite you to bow your heads with me. Bow your heads with me and close your eyes; and I want to ask every single person, not just those who are single. We’ve obviously talked about singleness, but married and single folks alike, are you content? Married folks, are you content in the gift of marriage God, by His grace, has given to you? And singles, are you content in the grace of God displayed in your life with the gift of singleness that He has entrusted to you at this moment? And I’m not presuming that that is an easy answer for married or single folks in a variety of situations. What I want to urge you, based on 1 Corinthians 7, what I want to urge you to do is simply, in y