But to the Unmarried
It seems to me that so much of modern concern is for niche communities or customers that we feel we must make a special appeal to every possible demographic to be relevant. This thinking can sometimes pervade the church, and we must create a special “ministry” for every part of life. This, of course, downplays the universal application of scripture and the nature of scripture. However, there are certain situations to which the apostles and prophets pay attention and it would do us well to see what they say about specific modes of life.
I am not going to downplay the advantages or benefits of marriage by any means, as scripture speaks of the marriage relationship in overwhelmingly positive terms (Genesis 2:18-25; Proverbs 12:4; 18:22; 19:14). These blessings are evident in my life and in the lives of so many others. On the other hand, the reality is that our churches have many members who are not married, and can often feel marginalized, sidelined, or even second-tier. Therefore, it is important to note what scripture says about the work of unmarried saints.
It is often noted that Paul was a man who was completely devoted to the gospel, and encouraged others to seek the benefit of that devotion. In speaking about those believers who were not married, he said so plainly. “I wish that all men were even as I myself am.” (I Corinthians 7:7) It is true that he says this amid the difficulties of single life concerning sexual desire, but his point stands. He saw a benefit in the gospel being his sole devotion. (II Timothy 2:4) When a person has only their own life to see to, they can do great things for the kingdom.
Paul was not only speaking to evangelists when he said these things, either. Consider his extended encouragement. “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and [his interests] are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and [to secure] undistracted devotion to the Lord.” (I Corinthians 7:32-35) Both women and men have an opportunity to serve undistracted when they are not attached in marriage.
Perhaps what is needed is to stop judging people by their marriage status, and to start praising people for their devotion to the things of God. Certainly, we do not first think of Paul’s bachelorhood when we think about his effectiveness in the gospel. What might be the future of the church if more people took full advantage of their freedom and applied it to the kingdom? What might happen if we encouraged them to do so?