Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to get married(?)

1 Corinthians 7:7, 27, 38 {ESV} I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another… 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife… 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

Marriage is frequently projected as “the norm” in today’s church (at least in Protestant circles). The assumption is that all good Christian men and women have been ordained to find their complementary other half, the resulting implication being that to remain without a spouse signals some lack or deficiency in the single person. Marriage books, studies, and seminars are prodigiously produced but finding some decent material on singleness or celibacy is like finding a few Arminians at a Piper conference–you’re pretty sure they’re out there but it ain’t gonna be easy to find them.

Where is the church that would take seriously Paul’s preference for celibacy in 1Corinthians 7?  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a pastor or teacher challenge young, single Christians to examine themselves to see if they might be gifted for celibacy or to consider the advantages of living single. Certainly we should be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. Paul may have preferred singleness for the sake of the gospel but he stopped short of discouraging marriage. Even so, I think there are a few things we might consider to better reflect the biblical perspective on singleness and marriage.

Churches might:

  1. Determine not to exclude single men when searching for a new pastor — if Jesus & Paul could be single why can’t our pastor(s)?
  2. Intentionally disciple single members in such a way that we communicate their equality as members and their unique opportunity for ministry. 
  3. Preach/teach that the ability to remain celibate is a gracious gift for some men and women. [The gift is the ability and/or desire for celibacy, not celibacy itself. The single whose desire for marriage remains unfulfilled probably shouldn’t be told that their singleness is a gift.]

Christian parents might:

  1. Pray that God would raise up their child(ren) to be happy in holiness more than happy in marriage.
  2. Consider that their child(ren) may be destined to produce spiritual children (rather than grandchildren) for God’s greater glory and their greater joy (1Cor 4:15; 3Jn1:4).
  3. Nurture their child(ren) to seek His kingdom before they consider searching for their counterpart. 
  4. Remind themselves that marriage is temporary but glorified singleness is for eternity (Mat 22:29-30). 

Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Lead pastor at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian, theological Luddite, and long-suffering Atlanta Falcons fan. A student of one book.

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