When my elder nephew was about seven, my sister and I took him shopping with us. We happened to stop at a pet store to look at the puppies. He told us, “Maybe when you grow up you can get a dog.” “We are grown up,” I told him. “Oh,” he said, “well maybe when you get married.” At seven, all the adults my nephew knew were married. They were his friends’ parents and the people at church. His aunties, apparently, were in an in-between category, somewhere between adolescence and married grown up. I feel like this is how the church views singleness. It is looked upon as a phase (almost always referred to as a “season“) that occurs between high school graduation and getting married. Marriage is assumed to occur between finishing college (another assumption) and turning thirty.
The church in America seems to realize the trend of more people in the country being single. I read online that there are now more single adults in the U.S. than there are married adults. While I hear the fact acknowledged, and know that churches want to welcome singles, they can’t seem to break away from their cookie cutter idea that singleness is a “season” for everyone. The very way that the Word of God is presented in many churches assumes that all the grown ups are married.
I have heard a few sermons on singleness over the years (not nearly as many as I have heard about marriage). These sermons focused on the things that singles should get done before marriage and children make it impossible. Meanwhile, having attended church my entire life, I cannot remember ever hearing a sermon on 1 Corinthians 7, which is a chapter wholly devoted to the topic of marriage versus singleness in the Christian life. If it was preached on, the text itself wasn’t taught, but rather the pastor’s ideas of what singles should be doing with their time. I have been left to study this important, sometimes frightening, chapter of Scripture on my own. Frankly, if I were any less determined to know what God’s Word has to say to a single woman, I would have avoided this chapter all together.
I am not a Bible scholar; I have no credentials. But, I do take time to study God’s word, to read books by actual Biblical scholars, and to be under the teaching of those who are trained to preach God’s Word. As a lay person, I want to go out on a limb and assert that I cannot find anything in 1 Corinthians 7 about singleness being a “season.” I also cannot find any suggestion of things to do before you marry. Paul writes: I want you to be free from anxieties. . .The unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 7:32a, 34-35
Really that is toward Paul’s conclusion of the chapter. He also speaks of gifts and callings, and not seeking. I think there is enough in the forty verses for not just one exegetical sermon, but a whole series of sermons. As I have opportunity, I most certainly will share my thoughts on what I have gleaned from my own study. The most important lesson for me has been embracing the idea of “undivided devotion.” It is scary to read this chapter and wonder if God means for me to be single for my whole life. Because, honestly, I want a dog. My nephew is now a grown up, and I still don’t have a dog. I want a house with a yard for the dog, a husband, and a few children. But, I have found joy in seeking God rather than focusing on seeking a husband (Paul says, “Do not seek. . .”). I also have a suspicion that “undivided devotion to the Lord” may actually be the greatest thing we can have in our lives.