Feb 15, 2012
neil

Marriage or singleness and Christian ministry? How do we decide – part 1

An interesting post by Chris Wiles on being a single Christian on Valentine’s day prompted me to offer up some material on marriage, singleness and Christian ministry. A second post will follow on some of the practical outworkings on the issues faced by married’s and single’s in ministry situations.

1. Biblical models of marriage and singleness in the Bible

a. Marriage

  • The Apostles – 1 Cor. 9:5
  • Priscilla & Aquilla – Romans 16:3
  • Typical situation of a church elder – 1 Tim. 3. 2-5

b. Single

  • Jesus, Paul

2. Does the New Testament offer any advice on whether marriage or singleness is better for Christian ministry?

a.  Genesis 2, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Tim.3:2-5

Marriage is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Companionship, procreation.

Christians, through marriage, have opportunity to model to the world God’s ultimate purpose of the heavenly marriage between Christ and the church.  Given that the majority of people in a local church congregation will be married a church minister has opportunity to model to the church, and to a watching world, Christian marriage and through marriage point people to Christ.

Marriage is a privilege, blessing and gospel opportunity!

b. 1 Corinthians 7 – a brief overview

1 Cor. 7:1 should follow the ESV translation

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good  for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’

Some at Corinth seem to have been following the Greek practice of celibacy and considering themselves more spiritual for doing so. They were possibly also using Paul’s celibacy to justify their own attitude to sex and marriage.

In Chapter 7 Paul wants to defend the value of singleness without defending their rationale for it.

The theme of Chapter Seven can be summed up as ‘remain in the situation in which God called you’ v.8, 17,20,24,26,40. i.e. Be content with who you are in Christ.

Were you married when you became a Christian? Then stay married, even if your spouse is an unbeliever.  This is command of the Lord v.10-11

Were you a widow(er) or unmarried?  Then Paul’s advice is that it is best to stay unmarried, as he himself is. v.8.

Please notice that to those who are married Paul issues a command from the Lord but to the singles Paul does not use commands but rather offers guidance.  He chooses not to speak with the full force of his apostolic authority but with words of advice.

Gordon Fee in his commentary on 1 Corinthians writes:

‘Paul’s argument takes on a character of its own, quite unlike anything else in his extant letters.  He begins with a caution, that what is about to be said, even though he thinks it trustworthy, is less than a command of the Lord; it is his ‘opinion’ (v.25). The argument is then laced with ‘I think’ (36), ‘I am sparing you’ (28), ‘I wish’ (32), ‘I say this for your own good’ (35), ‘let him do as he wishes’ (36), ‘he shall do well’ (37).  Whatever else this is not your standard Paul.’

 

c. Why does Paul seem to prefer singleness?

i) Eschatological perspective – Christ is coming soon vv.26-29

This is almost certainly what Paul is referring to in vv.26-29 as the present crisis v.26 and again in v.29 when he comments that the appointed time is very short. If Christ is coming soon then there is an urgency about the Lord’s work and we must be free from the grip of the world’s values e.g. Pursuing the things the world chases after – spouse, 2.4 kids, nice house, car and dog!

ii) Those who are married inevitably have divided interests. v.28, 32-24.

Family life is hard work and requires time and effort to sustain.  Being single enables an undivided service of Christ.

d. Is it less spiritual for Christians to seek to be married?

No. Twice Paul affirms that if you marry you are not sinning v.28, 36

Paul also recognizes that God gifts people differently. He gives a marriage partner to some and not to others. v.7.  If you are married, thank God for your partner. If you are single thank God for that too! Both are gifts from God.

Paul is concerned that we seek the Kingdom of God first, c.f. Matt.6:31-33, and not get hung up on marriage.  However if a suitable marriage partner comes along and we wish to marry then we are free to do so.

e. Conclusion.

‘Ultimately, however, it is our freedom to marry or not which Paul emphasizes time and again. .. As such, we  should regard singleness (whether short or long term) as an available option and, since we all start out single, we should approach life form the point of view of seeking the Kingdom of God, not the end of our singleness, as our priority.’

John Richardson in God, Sex and Marriage

 

 

 

f. Application

  • First things first. Seek to serve Christ where you are!
  • Don’t idolize either marriage or singleness.
  • Don’t consider yourself superior because of your status e.g. ‘smug married’s or ‘single for the gospel’.
  • If looking for a potential marriage partner ask:

‘Will this person I am thinking of going out with / marrying help or hinder me in the work of the gospel?’  ‘Will I help them?’

  • If you are thinking about starting a relationship look to go out with someone more godly than you.
  • Consider life goals i.e. how, where and when you might serve in say 10 years time when thinking about marriage.

 

g. Can I know today which gift I have been given by God?

Not necessarily.   John Stott helpfully comments in an interview with Al Hsu at the end of his book Singleness

In spite of rumours to the contrary, I have never taken a solemn vow or heroic decision to remain single! On the contrary, during my twenties and thirties, like most people, I was expecting to marry one day. In fact, during this period I twice began to develop a relationship with a lady who I thought might be God’s choice of life partner for me. But when the time came to make a decision, I can best explain it by saying that I lacked an assurance from God that he meant me to go forward. So I drew back. And when that happened twice, I naturally began to believe that God meant me to remain single. I’m now seventy-six and well and truly ‘on the shelf’! Looking back, with the benefits of hindsight, I think I know why. I could never have travelled or written as extensively as I have done if I had had the responsibilities of a wife and family.

It should also be noted that some people long to be married and yet for various reasons never do. This must be seen as God’s sovereign gift for them.

 

Some good books to read on the broader issues of marriage, singleness and the gospel:

Ash, Christopher, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, Leicester: IVP, 2003

Ash, Christopher, Married for God, Leicester: IVP, 2007

Farmer, Andrew, The Rich Single Life, Sovereign Grace Ministries, 1998

Hsu, Al. The Single Issue, Leicester: IVP, 1997

McCulley, Carolyn, ‘Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?’ Sovereign Grace Ministries, 2004

Richardson, John. God, Sex and Marriage – Guidance from 1 Corinthians 7, MPA Books, 1995

Good commentaries on 1 Corinthians!

 

 

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