Saturday, March 23, 2013

Is Singleness Really a Gift? – Part 4

No, I can’t bear to live my life alone
I grow impatient for a love to call my own
But when I feel that I…I can’t go on
These precious words keep me hanging on…

-          “You Can’t Hurry Love”, The Supremes

For some single women, the precious words of the Gift-of-Singleness doctrine gives them comfort, eases the pain of their singleness, keeps them “hanging on” as the above song lyrics state.  The thought that God, from ages past, has chosen them to be single forever gives them a sense of peace.  It seems to prove that they are single not because they don’t get out enough, or because they haven’t met the right guy, or because they should have moved to Chicago instead of Cincinnati, or because they need to lose 15 pounds, or because their church doesn’t have a singles group.  They are single because God doesn’t want them to marry.  It is He who has supernaturally thwarted all their attempts to be betrothed to a man.  He has bestowed on them the “gift of singleness”; a gift they don’t dare spurn or pray away for how could anyone reject a gift from the Lord Himself?  The Gift-of-Singleness (hereafter referred to as GoS) doctrine therefore explains away all the lonely nights, answers all the lingering questions, ties up all the loose ends.

I deliberately say “some” single women feel this way because I don’t know many in my circle of single Christian friends who do.  I personally have never found the GoS doctrine comforting.  On the contrary, I find it depressing, frustrating, and restricting.  And after the three previous posts in which I attempted to knock the stuffing out of the GoS doctrine, I am certain I look like the most carnal, wicked, reprobate, marriage-hungry, sex-obsessed, truth-hating sinner there is.  This doctrine sounds so holy and pious and it is supported and touted by so many respectable Christian leaders and speakers.  Many preachers bang the pulpit, admonishing singles to accept the gift, though I suspect they are secretly very thankful they weren’t assigned this “gift”.  Nevertheless, the GoS doctrine is a much-cherished teaching, in recent years becoming something of a sacred cow.  Those preaching it have the best of intentions:  To encourage singles.  To stand against it would seem to stand against unarguable truth.  Why disparage the GoS doctrine? 

If the GoS doctrine were biblical, if it was truly the message Paul was giving to the Corinthian church in his famous discourse in 1 Corinthians 7, I would be wrong to disparage it no matter what my personal feelings were regarding it.  But therein lays the biggest problem with the GoS doctrine:  More than being deeply discouraging and downright maddening, it is not true.  Not only that, it is a false doctrine that leads to more untrue and damaging doctrines that are built on top of its shaky premise.  That’s a bold statement, I know, but bear with me as I unfold the argument against the GoS doctrine.

Red Flags and Biblical Problems

There are aspects of the GoS doctrine that call to question its veracity.  For instance, if singleness and marriage are spiritual gifts assigned by God then, by logical conclusion, every person on the face of the earth has been assigned a spiritual gift because every person on earth is either single or married.  This is true of saints and sinners alike.  Furthermore, there is no indication in Scripture that God considers the marriages of sinners to be invalid.  So we must conclude then that sinners have been assigned spiritual gifts.  But this poses a problem biblically because we know from Scripture that spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the church (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-13, 1 Peter 4:10-11).  Sinners are not a part of the church nor are they given the gift of the Holy Spirit and, by extension, the spiritual gifts of the Spirit.  Therefore the state of being single or married cannot in itself be a spiritual gift. 

There are also interpretation problems with the GoS doctrine.  This teaching is derived from 1 Corinthians 7 but it is an isolated interpretation.  In other words, the teaching or doctrine cannot be found anyplace else in the Bible, which is a huge red flag.  Doctrines derived from the biblical text are usually corroborated in multiple passages and when they cannot be that is a good indication the doctrine may be errant.  Specifically if Paul is making the far-reaching statement in 1 Corinthians 7:7 that marriage and singleness are spiritual gifts why does he not include them in his listings of the spiritual gifts in Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 12?  Why doesn’t Peter mention them in 1 Peter 4?  If God truly expects resident singles in every church why are there no specific guidelines and admonitions for singles in passages like Ephesians chapters 5-6, Colossians 3:18-25, or Titus 2?  Notice Paul’s instruction to women in Titus 2:3-5,

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

There is an underlying assumption in this passage that the older women will be married (or will have been married if they are now widows) and that the younger women will also be married.  And though it is true every woman does not have to marry to be right with God, Paul seems to assume here that the vast majority will be.  There are no specific instructions to older or younger single women who are perpetually single.

Lastly, the GoS doctrine is a relatively new doctrine, a Johnny-come-lately interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:7.  It is not how this text has traditionally been understood through the annals of Christian history but has come up only in the last forty years or so to try to explain the recent explosion in singleness among adults.  As such it is an example of eisegesis of Scripture instead of the more correct and orthodox exegesis of Scripture.  Exegesis draws out the meaning of God’s Word taking into account historical and grammatical context.  Eisegesis ignores historical and grammatical context and instead imposes meaning, presuppositions, and an agenda into and onto the text itself.  Eisegesis has the effect of altering the author’s original meaning or intent and thus is considered an incorrect way to interpret the Bible. 

It is always better to approach God’s Word with the question, “What message is God revealing to me in this text?” rather than the question, “How can I prove what I believe to be true with God’s Word?”  The GoS doctrine makes the mistake of asking the second question.  It twists and contorts the text of 1 Corinthians 7 to make it explain the increase in singleness among Christians which is not at all the purpose Paul had in his letter to the Corinthians.

The Dangers of the “Gift of Singleness” Doctrine

Some of the most godly and Christ-exalting people I know believe in and promote the idea that singleness is a spiritual gift assigned by God, so I don’t find it easy or pleasant to label it a dangerous false doctrine that leads to more erroneous and damaging doctrines built upon its premise.  I know those are fightin’ words – I don’t take this stance lightly.  But having seen and personally felt the pain and injury the GoS doctrine inflicts, I feel I must address this.  The GoS doctrine is a peculiar belief.  It sounds so pious, godly, and noble.  When you take it in, it’s immediately palatable to the tongue, silky smooth when it first goes down, but jagged and razor sharp once it’s inside you.  It tears singles up.  A quick look at two false conclusions the GoS doctrine brings you to will reveal why.

 “God’s blessings are merit-based.”

Tagging along with the belief that singleness and marriage are gifts is the assumption that to get the gift of marriage single people must meet certain criteria in God’s eyes.  They must enjoy their singleness, see it as a gift from God, use it for His glory, desire nothing more than singleness, never complain, and on and on the list endlessly goes.  Married people are apparently married because they have pleased God in some way that the single person hasn’t and until the single person reaches some nebulous, undefined level of spiritual maturity and growth God will never assign them the gift of marriage, making God’s blessings of marriage merit-based.

You can imagine how frustrating this belief can be to singles.  Trying vainly to reach spiritual perfection before God so that He will bless you with marriage is impossible.  If it were possible for us to reach spiritual perfection, we wouldn’t need a Savior.  Furthermore this belief is contrary to Scripture.  God does not withhold marriage from anyone and it is His nature to pour blessings on the good as well as the evil (Matthew 5:44-45).   The fact that God-hating atheists, drug czars, and cruel despots are allowed to marry and enjoy the blessings of family is proof of that.  None of us can earn the right to be blessed by God and none of us deserves His blessings.  God blesses us purely on the basis of His kindness and graciousness.

“Your desire for marriage is a sin.”

When you start with the belief that God wants some people to be single and others to be married, it’s a short jump to believing that single people who continue to desire marriage are sinning because they are going against the will of God.  If God wants you to be single and that’s His desire for you then desiring the opposite of that is to desire what God doesn’t want….which is sin.

This is error of the most irritating kind, weighing singles down with guilt because they continue to desire something they cannot help but to desire.  No one has the liberty to take marriage, something that God created and established as holy and good, and turn it into a sin.  Furthermore there are no individualized sins, things that are sins for some people but not for others.  Hence if the desire for marriage is a sin for some then it is a sin for everyone.  There are no individualized sets of commandments for each individual.  Lying, adultery, and coveting are sins for everyone.  The Scriptures reveal that no one is forbidden from desiring, pursuing, and obtaining marriage which is why Paul could state confidently to singles in 1 Corinthians 7:28, “…if you do marry, you have not sinned.”

Want joy in your singleness?  Abandon the "Gift of Singleness" doctrine.

“But If Singleness Isn’t a Gift...…Then......Why.......”

The obvious question you may have at this point is if singleness is not a gift that God habitually assigns to a portion of the church population why are so many people singles these days?  Why can’t I get married even after appealing to the Lord continually in prayer and trying everything from matchmaking to singles groups to online dating to blackmailing? 

If realizing your singleness isn’t a gift leaves you despondent or confused, fear not.  There is a bright, shimmering light at the end of this tunnel.  God has His reasons for allowing singleness even in His beloved children who would greatly prefer marriage.  Knowing why God is allowing this in my life has helped me immensely in loving my singleness even though I would rather be married and I want to share that encouragement with you.  Look for the future post "Why Is It So Hard to Get Married These Days?!" to find out more.

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