The Maligned Status/Calling/Privilege & valuable, honorable and esteemed position of serving the King SINGLE
Our Christian society esteems marriage to a place of idolizing the nuclear family unit, something almost foreign to the people who lived when the Scripture was written. I’m not writing to decry or dismantle the nuclear family and I agree it is the building block of society (apparently a crumbling one, but a block).
I’m writing because we esteem the state of a Christian being married over all else. When a person is not married we ask
a) what’s wrong; as in what is wrong with the person (what are his/her issues)?
b) did something happen that made them unable/willing to engage in a committed relationship – then refer to “a”
c) is he/she gay/lesbian?
d) is he/she divorced or widowed
Historically Catholicism overly esteemed being single (the orders, the clergy, etc). Vatican II saw huge changes in this. And conversely, the Protestant church, especially the evangelical church, overly places a priority, status, acceptability, trustworthiness on a person being married.
No, this is NOT for everyone to be remain single. Yes, I get the social issues if people are not married (see “building block” comment above). Yet, we weight our theology and orthopraxy on the passages that we want, and refuse to admit.
We’ve not listened well to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:
1Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. 2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 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. 5 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.
6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 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. 8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.
9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
12 To 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. 13 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.
14 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. 15 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.
16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? 17 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. 18 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. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.
20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.
21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you— although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For 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. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.
24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to. 25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. 27 Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. 28 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.
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; 30 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; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. 32 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. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world— how he can please his wife— 34 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.
35 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. 36 If anyone thinks he is acting improperly towards the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting on in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married.
37 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. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.
39 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. 40 In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is— and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
When you look at it context, neither is valued or prioritized over another. There are reasons for both. We’ve lost value and people are made to feel less when they are pressured, even unintentionally. I speak as a person who was single longer than many, and as a married man now. I love my boys and my wife. It’s great. With that said, without any confusion that I want not these wonderful treasures from God, that it was often easier to be about Kingdom work because there were not multiple people who wanted so much from you financially, time wise. There simply isn’t enough of a person to give and serve the same as when you were single.
Do we say, “Wow, Mother Teresa was awesome. Wish she was married.” It was the consecration of her life to God that made her so valuable. I see this pressure and feeling of incompleteness in single leaders all the time and one of my community leaders, at a meeting with our parent order, was given that stayed ole “awe shucks, we have to find you a wife” sympathy.
No, most people will not be called, or able to live content single, but there are many married who would have been more centered in His calling had this pressure not been there from us, brothers and sisters.
So, maybe we can honor, esteem, and even be a touch jealous of those who’s lives are simpler (personally in time and resource consumption) and can give 100% of themselves to the Kingdom, and celebrate our honor to be spouses and parents.
Can we swing the pendulum to the center so we aren’t wacking out at either end of this conversation?