Staying Stag: Celebrating Singleness, Pt 1
Almost everyone is single at some point in their lives. I say “almost” because while I was touring in the Himalayas I encountered an odd cultural phenomenon– a society without weddings. This diffident enclave of mountain dwellers bear offspring with pre-arranged spouses already lined up for them by their proactive parents.
The pigeon-pair is considered married from birth, but only enjoy the privileges of the union when the man is able to provide for his bride-to-be (-is?), though no formal ceremony is observed. [The tribe's name is omitted as per the request of the Christians among them.]
Originally, and with harmless jocularity, I indelicately titled our young adults’ Bible study series on 1 Corinthians 7, “Surviving Celibacy.” But since it was really more about celebration than suffering, we renamed it “Celebrating Singleness.”
Untethered independence has some massive advantages for one’s ministry. Of course, there are also drawbacks. Paul, the über-bachelor, had much wisdom to dispense on this salubrious state of singleness.
Paul had been married before, but wasn’t during his tenure as an Apostle. This we surmise from his qualification as a black-belt Pharisee in his BC years–an elite strata of Jewish men who required marriage as a prerequisite for induction into their coveted quorum. The assumption we pluck from the white spaces in our Bibles is that Paul’s wife had died by the time he became an Apostle. He references being unmarried a number of times (e.g. 1 Cor 7:8; 1 Cor 9:4).
In 1 Corinthians Paul waxes eloquent about the pro and con columns of his SWOT evaluation of staying stag vs getting hitched. His insights may seem quite quirky at times, but are singularly helpful.
Here are the first 3 instructions Paul gives to single folk (more to follow tomorrow). Let’s keep score as we decide if they belong in the pro or con column of whether to get married.
1. Be Pure
1 Cor 7:1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman (NASB).”
Paul opens discussion on this touchy topic with this “no touch” injunction. The most arresting challenge single people experience is the magnetic pull of hormones and natural desires, with no way to fulfill them. In my humble opinion (and experience), this is a major pro in the get married column.
2. Be realistic
1 Cor 7:2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
And in vs 8-9,
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.
I envision Paul as a spiritual iron man, a nonsuch who was impervious to the blessed distraction that stops the rest of us dead in our lonely tracks. I see Cupid’s arrows glancing off his breastplate of faith. And so, I am thankful for his gracious concession: the celibate life isn’t for everyone. You need to be realistic about your ability to persevere in purity for a lifetime. Another check-mark in the pro marriage column.
3. Be informed
1 Cor 7:3-5 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Here Paul chalks one up for the single folks. If you think marriage is all about fulfilling the urges you were trying to cope with in point # 1 above, guess again. Paul says you need to be informed that in marriage there will be times that the “conjugal rights” part is as much duty as it is delight. Why else did God need to include in His word a command for spouses to “not deprive one another…”? It’s a command because it’s a duty. When you get married you are handing over the keys of your body to your spouse. Now it matters what they want as much as it matters what you want. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds, but Paul wants you to at least be informed.
Let that marinade in your mind til tomorrow when we discuss the next three:
4. Be grateful
5. Be warned
6. Be content