Thursday, July 07, 2011

Rethinking The Gift of Singleness

by CWK

Is it true that the single life enables one to be less distracted, and focus more attention on service and faith? This is the common interpretation of 1 Cor. 7. This interpretation is incorrect for 3 reasons. 1 Cor. 7 is written in special circumstances (persecution, 1 Cor. 7.26), and Paul makes clear that his advice on singleness applies to these circumstances only (1 Cor. 7.26), "in light of the present crises." Also, Paul's overall encouragement is toward marriage (1 Cor. 7.1-7), and not singleness. Finally, the gracious norm for men and women is marriage, "it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2.18)," within the blessing of family, "God blessed them (Gen. 1.28)," as they fulfill the first great commission, "be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1.28)." In other words, Genesis 1-2 provides the overall interpretive paradigm for 1 Cor. 7, and not vice versa. 

Here are some interesting comments from John Calvin on this subject, “I would argue, on the contrary, that celibacy has its own disadvantages, and that these are considerable, and not all of one type. I am not speaking yet of the difficulty of sexual continence. I say that celibate men are distracted by no slighter and fewer distractions than married men; certainly the difference is so small that we might say that both are equally distracted...It is certain that many who are otherwise suited for the ministry cannot usefully do without marriage.”[1] 

Calvin argues that the married person is not less distracted. I have pondered this over the years, and I think Calvin has a point. Singleness has many distractions. For one thing, you do not have a helper in the Lord to bear the pressures of life. A partner can help with very practical things like making a home beautiful, and managing money. But there is also the emotional burden all of us carry, and it can be very distracting to bear our frustrations and griefs all by ourselves. Calvin ends this section with a warning, “I always fear that it is dangerous for celibacy to be honored extravagantly, for good men may be frightened away from marriage, even when their need of it is urgent.”[2]

[1] Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Advice, 115.
[2] Ibid, 115.

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