Navigating Long-term Christian Singleness Concise Version
Many fall away from the Lord, or fail to mature much in the Lord, due to problems related to navigating long-term singleness as a Christian. This message then is about handling the trials of prolonged singleness in order to be saved from great damage in relation to it and navigate through it in a way where God will indeed get glory.
Understand that for most people who face this, it’s indeed a real problem. The Apostle Paul, who in spite of the fact that he was single and recommended that others remained single as an ideal, understood that this is very difficult for most people.
1 Corinthians 7:1-9: “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. 5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency (i.e. lack of self-control). 6 But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. 7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. 8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”
Note that Paul recommended marriage to avoid fornication. Continually burning in temptation and lack of companionship can be the result of prolonged singleness. Though this is a problem which many single people face, at the same time it is a problem that can be overcome righteously for as long as someone remains single.
There are rare people who either don’t have great desires in that way, or who at least have a knack of managing those desires and distracting themselves from them, so that prolonged singleness is not a great weight and overall difficulty for them. But this is not a gift that most have. At the same time, even if someone doesn’t have such a gift, they can still live by God’s rules and walk righteously before God as long as they are single- despite the challenge which they face in doing so. Single people should really believe this, as it is certainly true. I once heard a man confidently and enthusiastically say that it’s possible to stay pure and wait until marriage; and it is something I remember well that has been encouraging. Our society says otherwise- yet that is a lie. You can be faithful and pure in this area- even if you don’t get married in early adulthood and even if you don’t have a special gift of singleness. It is a battle which others have fought victoriously; and it is a battle which others are fighting victoriously now. Knowing you are not the only one facing temptation like this, and that others have overcome great temptation related to this, really does matter.
Every Christian ought to be anchored in the fear of God so that even if it could be truly said that the temptations and trials which they face are miserable (in this area or in any area), it is still much better to endure misery for righteousness’ sake than it is to relieve yourself through sin. It is very similar to where Jesus said to fear not them that kill the body but after that have no more that they can do; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. Even though it is better to marry than to burn, it is also better to burn in celibacy than it is to yield to sin to relieve that burning- and so damage yourself and offend against God. It is also better to burn than to enter into an ungodly marriage and/or a marriage which you know is not a good idea otherwise. Perhaps if you were to patiently wait a little longer a potential marriage partner would come who doesn’t display red flags, even as you honestly look for such with the willingness to back off if you see any. Yet even if such a person doesn’t come anytime soon, and singleness is your righteous lot for a while yet, that trial is still way better than entering into a marriage with red flags attached.
People facing the trial of long-term singleness should be taught to use the awareness of the spiritual danger they are in to work hard, to find good projects to do, godly missions to perform, and definite goals to obtain. When one does so, they can use their singleness to do good works that are pleasing to God and find ways to better themselves. One can also in these ways distract themselves from troubles they might face in relation to loneliness, frustration, etc. Doing these things will also help those facing great temptations to tire themselves out so that they sleep better. This will truly minimize their temptations and make it easier not to act on them.
Whether someone has a special gift of singleness or not, those with definite goals and missions will likely do better being single and feel much better about being celibate than others. Even lost people sometimes just skip over snares related to fornication and certain other vices simply because they are taken up with their studies, their job, sports, and/or some hobby that they are obsessed with. Though they are idolaters who are not serving God and are rather living in sin, they are yet being spared from a lot of damage pertaining to this life (remember 1 Corinthians 6: he that commits fornication sins against his own body). They serve as lessons of how Christians can be active in ways that are consistent with serving God faithfully to indeed avoid the snares of sexual immorality, as well as the bad habits which people often take up to compensate for the void which they might perhaps feel in relation to the potential problems of long-term singleness.
So even if singleness is seen as a great disadvantage, like any disadvantage it is possible to spin it, overcome it, and use it to your advantage instead. Single people who are struggling definitely need encouragement and instruction along these lines. They should know for certain that they can indeed get through long-term singleness righteously for as long as they need to. In the grace of God and by the grace of God, praying for His help through Jesus Christ one day, one week, one year at a time- this can be done. Single people also shouldn’t be making vows to stay single for life (those who have done so should retract them and ask God to have mercy on them- lifelong vows in this area are too daunting and not necessary to make).
What Does “Cannot Contain” in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 mean? 1 Corinthians 7:8-9: “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”
Is this teaching that someone who is defeated by sexual sin should get married to solve the problem of their inability to exercise self-control? Some definitely think that. But if that were true, that would mean that the Apostle Paul is teaching here that the person marrying them would have to compromise Christian standards in their selection of a spouse. And that is ridiculous. There is a way to understand this without having to come to such a ridiculous and unrighteous conclusion. It should be established that nobody ever needs to commit sexual sin, even if they are single and they find being single very difficult. And anyone who is yielding to temptation and lacking self-control will surely not be cured of this just by getting married. They will likely still be plagued by sexual sin after marriage. And even if they are not, they will still carry habits of being impulsive and intemperate which will manifest themselves in other ways (such as bad temper, talking way too much, improper eating, inability to handle finances, etc). If someone does not seek God and learn to take up their cross daily to overcome sexual sin by His grace while they are single, then marriage will not cure them of their carnality. Marriage will only draw someone else into having to put up with their carnality in a very personal and continual way.
So what does the phrase “cannot contain” actually mean if it can only apply to faithful Christians who are righteously eligible to enter into marriage with another faithful Christian? Consider the Apostle Paul’s main point in this chapter as he talked about the perspective which Christians should have about marriage. That point can be summed up well by 1 Corinthians 7:35: “And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.”
Marriage brings a set of cares and snares related to this life which are good to avoid. And yet many single Christians find the weight of long-term singleness very hard to bear. They can overcome sexual sin and endure faithfully in this state as long as they need to by the grace of God- yet they may find it so difficult that it is a weight and a care to them which is even greater than the weights and cares typically associated with marriage.
Obviously, the weights and cares of an unequal marriage yoke are way worse than the weights associated with being single would ever likely be, but that truth only strengthens the case that “cannot contain” here is referring to finding singleness to be a notable difficulty, not as a reference to being overcome by sexual sin. Viewing it as the latter would mean that another Christian would have to compromise and enter into a marriage that would be a tremendous spiritual weight for them in order to help solve the other’s sexual sin problems. That is a view which is neither righteous nor practical. Yet when “cannot contain” is understood as singleness being a weight that might hold an already faithful Christian back from serving the Lord as well as they might if they were to marry another faithful Christian, then that is both a sensible and righteous understanding of what Paul meant here. Such an understanding also lines up well with the main point which Paul sought to drive home in this chapter related to how Christians should view and approach marriage.
Aaron’s email is: [email protected]