After I drilled a bit on my memory verses (I Cor 10), I took a little extra time to graze through the rest of the book. Chapter 7 caught my eye, as it has before.
“An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (I Cor 7:34-35)
I remember studying this in high school Bible study and laughing with my churchmates at the obvious joke: Please God, anything but that gift! Even service, or encouragement (the Hufflepuff gifts) would be better! (But seriously. Please, no.) A joke made half in earnest and half in horror, as I recall. Is that my gift, I wondered? Thanks bunches, God. You’re a real pal.
But this morning, I read it differently—without the queasy horror of dying a little old cat lady/saint. This time I read it in slight indignation as I think of my church in Korea and, indeed, most churches whose doors I’ve ever darkened. Paul is praising single people here, encouraging them to stay single. Why? Not because it necessarily makes them happier people or allows them to live longer lives (a couple perks of marriage, according to Science), but because single people can live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
So why can’t singles be elders? Deacons? I Corinthians clearly states they are more devoted to spiritual matters than married folks, who are “concerned about the affairs of this world.”
Or are we wrong about “the husband of one wife” delineating a specifically married man rather than if he’s married, it should be to only one wife? Because if we’re wrong about that (perhaps some of you can guess where I’m going) we might as well be wrong about the man part of it, too, right?
My indignation was only enhanced when I read thiswell-meaning article. I feel as if the writer, Louise Wilsher, perfectly encapsulated the sweetly condescending tone the Church has set for the Christian view of single people. She talks about outreach and “embracing” singles with warm smiles and invitations to the theatre.
Yes! Please! Of course! People all need community. Being exclusive is unbliblical, (James 2), and hurtful for anyone—married or single—because everyone needs smiles and invites. Welcoming people into your circle, or helping them get connected in another circle in which they will feel comfortable (whether it be as friends or adopted family, as she suggests): that is Christian hospitality. Rock on, Romans 12.
So, to the married folks, when the outreach has worked and the singles are in your church, what do you do with them? What do you do when they grow in faith? How do you treat them as they live “in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” Pity is certainly not an appropriate response, nor condescension.
And single people, what is your attitude toward singleness? Do you embrace this gift of free time and unfettered passion? Are you thanking God for leading you toward a way abounding in steadfast love? Or is it still the same joke—not that gift, Lord, please—that you pray, half-earnest, half-horrified? Can you trust God to be better than fallen, crippled expectations?
The great love story of our lives is taking place right now, and it will continue to take place for the rest of our lives. Let’s revel in it!
Happy Valentine’s Day, Folks!