This topic has been hashed and rehashed for centuries, and I hesitate to bring it up again. I don’t want to open wounds or incite contention. I don’t want to hurt anyone or lead them to feel condemned.
For no particular reason, though, I found myself awake in bed late last night, wrestling with this issue. What is it? Who has it? Is “singleness” a gift? And so on. I believe the Lord laid it on my heart to raise it again in order to dispel misconceptions about it and to stir up hope and renew your motivations.
The term is drawn from 1 Corinthians 7:6-9:
Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
It is clear that the “gift” refers to a freedom from “burning with passion” to focus all one’s energies on serving others in a perpetually non-married state, unencumbered by the joyful responsibility of spouse and kids. I can’t relate to this gift, but a few (such as Paul, Jesus, John the Baptist, “eunuchs,” and others) were given this gift so that they might best serve God and others in that capacity.
So what is the “gift of singleness”? It is not singleness itself. If you find yourself single, you most likely don’t have the “gift of singleness.” Your state is a gift, but only as much as life is a gift; it may sound harsh, but there’s nothing uniquely special about your singleness itself.
The state of singleness is not a sin, though some singles’ motivations for prolonging it are sinful and the temptations to sin sexually during an extended season of singleness are heightened, often resulting in sexual sin. Calling singleness a “gift” facilitates prolonging this season of sexual temptation, and that contributes to the problems of sexual sin plaguing single adults.
The thing is, just as singleness is not itself “sin,” it’s also not a “gift.”
Too many people say, “If you are single, then you have the gift of singleness.” That sounds cute, and affirms those who are single, but it’s unbiblical and meaningless and unhelpful. It’s just wrong. Again, Paul clearly says that if you “burn with passion,” then you don’t have the “gift of singleness” and you “should marry.” Would Paul command those with the “gift of singleness” to reject that gift and instead pursue marriage? No, he wouldn’t. And so “if you are single, then you have the gift of singleness” is pure unbiblical vapidity.
On the other hand, marriage and kids are gifts, things given to us by God and clearly considered blessings by Scripture.
God wants people married. I’m not a “marriage mandate” advocate by any means, but I do see how God expects people to marry. He’s commanded it in Scripture (Genesis 1:27-28) and affirms it by putting into the vast majority of us the passionate desire to “know” (in a sexual sense) another person intimately. The only way that desire can be fulfilled in a God-honoring way is within marriage.
If you desire marriage, if you “burn with passion,” then you do not have the “gift of singleness.” If you burn with passion, take that as a sign from God that you should be preparing for married life. And if you’re at a “marrying age,” with the blessing of your parents or mentors, you are free — even encouraged — to pursue it. As Paul wrote, you “should marry.”
(I can hear the complaints already, from women who are “older” and discouraged that they’re still single, from men who continue to be rebuffed by women they pursue, by those whose careers inhibit their being able to be in marriage-minded relationships, from those who live in small towns or attend small churches where there are few options. While you’re free to express your complaints below, my hope is that you’d instead try to dig into what Paul is saying in the passage of Scripture I referenced above, that you’d humbly and prayerfully examine your heart in an effort to determine what God would have you do now. My intention is to inspire hope — if you feel that passion, then God is for you, and eager to conspire with you to bring about the end for which that passion exists: marriage.)