Singleness and Union
Johann Christoph Arnold FAITH Magazine January – February 2012
The below is an extract from the upcoming revision of the book, "Sex, God and Marriage" by Bruderhoff community pastor, Johann Christoph Arnold, published by Plough.com
SINGLENESS AND UNION
The disciples said to him, "If that is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry." To this Jesus replied, "That is something which not everyone can accept, but only those for whom God has appointed it." Matthew 19:10
The gift of unity, whether with other people or with God, does not depend in any way on marriage. In fact, the New Testament teaches that those who renounce marriage for the sake of Christ are not deprived, but blessed. Jesus says that if we give up everything for him, he will be near to us at his return (Rev. 14:1-5). Whether such people find themselves without a life partner because of abandonment, death, or lack of opportunity, they can find a much greater calling than marriage if they are able to accept their singleness in the depths of their hearts. They can dedicate their lives in a special way to undivided service for God's kingdom.
In the lifelong struggle for purity, those who remain single are no different from those who marry. Just as marriage is no safeguard against lust, neither can a vow of singleness keep a person pure. For every heart, purity demands constant watchfulness, a daily fight against the flesh, and a firm attitude against sin.
The Scriptures do not promise us the removal of temptation, but we do have the assurance that it need not overcome us (1 Cor. 10:13). If we prove ourselves in patience and faithfulness, God will help us. We cannot remain pure by the strength of our own will. Yet by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is possible to find freedom and victory (Gal. 6:1-2).
Those who remain single only because they cannot find a marriage partner can become bitter. In a way, this is not unexpected: loneliness and unrequited longing can harden any heart. But even such people can find peace, as Elisabeth Elliot asserts:
"Accept your loneliness. It is one stage, and only one stage, on a journey that brings you to God. It will not always last. Offer up your loneliness to God, as the little boy offered to Jesus his five loaves and two fishes. God can transform it for the good of others. Above all, do something for somebody else!"
The solution, then, is service rendered to others. Teaching, nursing, counselling, or social work - any of these can lead to a fulfilled life. The world is full of souls dying for need of love, and those who are single are uniquely free to take up the task of being there for them.
Ultimately, we have to be willing to be used by God as he wills, and find contentment in whatever circumstances we find ourselves (Phil. 4:11-13). But we should never think that God does not love us. To doubt his care for us is to doubt the essence of his gospel: that every heart can find peace and rest in him.
Singleness can be Accepted as a Burden -or as a Higher Calling
Single people must not stifle what is best in themselves, nor give themselves over to dreams that cannot be satisfied. They must not let self-circling fantasies block the unfolding of all that God has given them. If they are able to accept their singleness as a gift or a special calling, they will let none of their energy or love go unused. Their longing will be fulfilled in giving and showing love to Christ and to others. As Paul says:
An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs -how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world - how he can please his wife—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. 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 (1 Cor. 7:32-35).
Earlier in the same letter, Paul refers to another blessing of singleness: the lack of care and worry over spouse and children, especially in times of hardship. "Those who marry will have pain and grief in this bodily life, and my aim is to spare you" (1 Cor. 7:28).
Widows, like the unmarried, are also able to serve when a married person cannot. Paul says, "A woman who is really widowed and left without anybody can give herself up to God in hope and consecrate all her days and nights to petitions and meetings for prayer" (1 Tim. 5:5). In the early church in Jerusalem, widows were therefore appointed to serve the poor, or entrusted with other responsibilities.
How sad it is that today, widows are so often neglected and lonely! If we care about "family values," we will then find new ways to show single people that we love them, by caring for them and drawing them into our fellowships and activities. We need to welcome their gifts and services, and provide them with meaningful tasks.
Those of us who are married should share our happiness with others. If fulfilment and joy can be found only in service to others, then we are called to a love that gives unconditionally. We should want to reach out to those who struggle with loneliness.
...What we need is Christ as a living force in our daily lives ...