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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Singleness. . .A Gift or a Curse?

I am reading a rather difficult chapter in 1 Corinthians that I'm still trying to understand. Paul, in chapter 7, attempts to address marriage and its challenges and benefits. While he clearly says those who get married are not doing something that is wrong, his emphasis is heavy on singleness. (all references taken from NLT)

7: I wish everyone could get along without marrying, just as I do. But we are not all the same. God gives some the gift of marriage, and to others He gives the gift of singleness.
8: Now I say to those who aren't married and to widows--it's better to stay unmarried, just as I am.
25,26: Now, about the young women who are not yet married. . .Because of the present crisis, I think it is best to remain just as you are.
28: However, I am trying to spare you the extra problems that come with marriage.
34: In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be more devoted to the Lord in body and spirit, while the married woman must be concerned about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband.
35: I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.
38: So the person who marries does well, and the person who doesn't marry does even better. [prefaced by verse 36 to marry based on inability to control sexual passion]
40: But in my opinion it will be better for her if she doesn't marry again [in reference to a woman whose husband dies]

First, I am troubled because the reasons given for marriage appear to be linked only to sexual desire, as described in verses 9 and 36, or to convert an unbelieving spouse as seen in verses 12 through 16. Paul says in verse 39 that he does not want husbands to let marriage be their major concern and continues in verse 32 to say he wants people to be free from the concerns of this life.

I will stop here to note that Paul prefaces all but verse 7 and 8 by saying his words are not a direct command from God, but that he is sharing his trusted wisdom (verse 25) and what he believes is counsel from God's Spirit (verse 40). I also compared the verses with the KJV (often confusing, using words like flower of her age), NKJV, NIV, NASB, and ESV. One thing that isn't as clear in verse 7 is whether Paul was indeed single, but in verse 8 it appears to be so because he speaks to the unmarried and widows. Verse 26 uses the masculine gender in all but the NLT versions when referring to staying married or staying single.

While I agree having someone intimately a part of your life in every manner of speaking can be challenging, I believe the value of marriage outweighs its disadvantages. First, marriage was instituted before sin and intended to reflect the beauty of the relationship God desires with His people. Marriage is the only Biblically-sanctioned realm within which to create children. Marriage provides support which is particularly necessary in today's increasingly disconnected world. In Paul's day, extended family systems were still the norm; today this is unusual in Western society. Marriage gives financial stability to women, provides structure to raise children, broadens our worldview by bringing together two different people, and gives opportunity to mentor in spiritual growth.

I will conclude by telling you why this chapter rattles me so, a single mid-30's multicultural woman, causing me to dedicate a blog post to sharing my thoughts. Paul appears to imply that singleness is a gift from God. I believe a gift is something you desire and appreciate. I am single by necessity and because I value my self-worth as a daughter of God too much to allow myself to be in an unhealthy abusive relationship. I believe singleness for women who did not choose it, other than in self-protection, is a result of the sinful world we live in. In other words, I am not single because God wants me to be miserable and therefore has given me the "gift" of singleness that I haven't learned to appreciate yet. I'm single because this world has more evil in it than good, so it is hard to find a true man of God who can commit to honouring me.

In a similar note, I also find this chapter unsettling because the men who speak out clearly against women's ordination do so based on another chapter by the same author, 1 Timothy 2, where Paul says Women should listen and learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. . .But women will be saved through childbearing (verses 11,12,15). I do not find a clear verse where Paul indicates if these are his words or direction from God. Perhaps you could argue his use of I want and I do not let in verses 9 and 12 indicate he is speaking of his own accord. The passage has been argued to death to be culturally-contextual and so on. Regardless, these are some tricky passages I need to consider more in depth.

What do we do when principles seem to clash with illustrations? God created marriage but Paul recommends people remain single. Salvation is found in Jesus but women must have children to be saved. Do we toss out the Bible because of seeming discrepancies? Do we ignore the principle and cling to the illustrations? Do we attempt to wrestle the illustrations into some form of obeisance to the principle? These are questions I wonder as I continue the exploratory process of understanding my worldview and reconciling it with Biblical truth.

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