Single and Devoted | Daily Office Devotional 2021/9/28

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord. 

If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancee, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancee, he will do well. So then, he who marries his fiancee does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better. 

A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

1 Corinthians 7:32-40

I remember feeling very “single and desperate” when I first came out of an all-boys secondary school into a co-education junior college environment. With hormones kicking into overdrive, I felt the strong need to find a romantic partner, always obsessing over girls and anxious about dating. I ended up dating a lot over the next six years, falling in and out of relationships, even after I became a Christian in National Service. Then I met my wife and the rest is history. Perhaps this is a rather normative narrative in our society, and even in church, because getting married and having children is often portrayed as the normative Christian life. Those who continue to be single find themselves doubly miserable: not only are they desperate to find love, they are also stigmatised because people think there must be something wrong with them if they aren’t in a relationship or married.

Getting married and forming a family was also normative for those in the Apostle Paul’s time. In fact, Jews were expected to get married to fulfil God’s commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.” This was also why it was expected for Jewish teachers to have families: how could they teach the Jewish Law if they didn’t adhere to this basic instruction of God? Therefore, it’s most surprising when Paul himself wasn’t married and he instructed Christians to imitate him if they can. For Paul, getting married is now a matter of indifference because we’re in the last days awaiting for Christ’s return. Being devoted to the Lord and serving his kingdom are now priority. Romantic relationships and marriage only compromise this devotion because a couple tends to devote their time and effort to one another (and to their children). On the contrary, remaining single enables one to wholeheartedly devote one’s life in service of the kingdom.

Therefore, although most Christians still get married and have children, this is no longer considered the ideal in the New Testament. Rather, being single and devoted to the Lord has become the exalted ideal. Unlike being anxious about singleness (as I did), we should use the freedom it affords to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” It’s only when one is unable to pursue this path due to fleshly weakness that one should seek to get married. We need to remember that our Lord himself, as popular a teacher as he was in his ministry, remained single and devoted to God his earthly mission. If we are called to imitate him, then why aren’t we imitating him also in his singleness?

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