The Bible nowhere speaks of a “gift of singleness,” yet this is common parlance in recent decades. For most Christians, protracted singleness is a gift in a similar way to chronic illness.
The following is a guest post from Valerie Anne Bost, one of our essay contest winners. (Writing Prompt: “Is singleness a gift?”) The views expressed in these essays do not necessarily reflect the views of Dominion Dating.
The Bible nowhere speaks of a “gift of singleness,” but this has become common parlance in recent decades. For most Christians, protracted singleness is a gift in the sense that something like chronic illness is a gift—we can trust that hard providences come from the Father’s hand and that He will use them for our good and for His glory, but the afflictions themselves are not spiritual charisms.
The Bible does speak of a giftedness for celibacy, though it doesn’t use those words. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 7 (my italics):
1 It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband… 6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. 7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.
See here that Paul is noting that a special giftedness is needed to remain celibate, and that it was a gift that he himself had.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
And here we see the nature of the gift—that it is a superabundance of self-control. And it is by no means a common thing. Being single doesn’t mean you have the gift of celibacy any more than being in Latin class means you have the gift of tongues.
Now we go on to look a bit at the context in which Paul is urging those who do have this gift to exercise it:
25 Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. 26 I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress—that it is good for a man to remain as he is: 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.
In the face of impending persecution, life is going to be far more difficult for those who have family responsibilities. Douglas Wilson writes,
It is one thing to be told that if you don’t deny Christ you will be thrown to the lions. It is another to be told that if you don’t deny Christ you, your wife, and three little children will be thrown to the lions. But this emergency situation was just a temporary one; the “time is short” (v. 29). Reasoning by analogy, we can conclude that the same counsel is good for comparable situations down throughout the history of the church. But even then, even in times of impending persecution, the encumbrances and cares of marriage are to be preferred to trap of fornication* (v. 2).
We in the United States are not in an analogous time. Although persecution against Christians is on the rise in the West, none of us has a résumé like Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26, where he recounts beatings, imprisonments, stoning, and the like that he suffered. We’re not at a point where we should be urging anybody to remain celibate, especially in a culture where the temptation to sin is so pervasive. Of course there are places in our world today where severe persecution is happening and a call to celibacy might be in order. But as for twenty-first century America, show me a man with the gift of celibacy, and I’ll show you a man who, like Paul, is called to life-threatening missionary service. I believe Jesus is referring to that sort of man in Matthew 19:11–12:
11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”
Notice how similar this is to what Paul said—this isn’t for everyone; not everyone can accept it. While this passage is mostly addressing men, and their self-control must be significantly greater to endure celibacy, it can be pretty maddening for unmarried women, too, especially in a hypersexualized culture.
I also want to draw attention briefly to the celibacy of Jesus Himself. Some might conclude that men should emulate Jesus by staying single, but step back and remember what He came for—to find and free and save and sanctify a bride for Himself. His example is of premarital chastity, not permanent celibacy.
My favorite of Paul’s lists of gifts is in Ephesians 4:11–12:
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
I love this not because it’s the most comprehensive list, but because it says that God doesn’t just give special abilities, He gives people. Singleness may not be a gift, but singles are. If you are unmarried, pursue marriage. Pursue making yourself more marriageable. And above all, pursue Christ’s glory and His Bride’s edification by using whatever gifts you have in joyful service.
All Scripture references are from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Douglas Wilson, “Touching a Woman and the Present Distress,” Blog and Mablog (blog), January 17, 2012, https://dougwils.com/books/touching-a-woman-and-the-present-distress.html.