‘If sex is for marriage, what does the Bible say about singleness?
1. It reminds us that Jesus himself was single, although he is also set before us as God’s model for humanness. This should not lead us to glorify singleness (since marriage is God’s general will for human beings, Gen 2:18, but rather to affirm that it is possible to be single and fully human at the same time! The world may say that sexual experience is indispensable to being human; the Bible flatly disagrees.
2. Both Jesus and his apostle Paul refer to singleness as a divine vocation for some (Mt 19:10-12; 1 Cor 7:7). Paul adds that both marriage and singleness are a charisma, a gift of God’s grace.
3. Paul indicates that one of the blessings of singleness is that it releases people to give their “undivided devotion” to the Lord Jesus (1 Cor 7:32-35).
The truth is: although unmarried people may find their singleness lonely (and at times acutely so), we will not end up in neurotic turmoil if we accept God’s will for our lives. Unhappiness comes only if we rebel against his will.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 375, numbering and emphases added)
The single life should not be elevated to a status of moral superiority over the married state. But neither should it be relegated to the mere absence of marriage.
Martin Davie writes:
‘Although the Church maintained the New Testament pattern of affirming both marriage and singleness, it began to characterise the choice between them as a moral one. For Jesus and Paul the call to singleness is a gift, that is to say a state of life to which someone is called by God, and while the recipient ought to live in light of that gift, doing so does not make them morally superior to someone who had been called to marriage. From the Patristic period onwards, however, singleness came to be seen as a morally superior state. An individual might choose singleness as a higher degree of spiritual attainment.
‘During the Middle Ages this misapprehension contributed to the requirement of clerical celibacy and to the belief that those who embraced a (celibate) monastic way of life won greater merit before God. Becoming a monk or a nun even came to be seen as a ‘second baptism’ wiping away the sins committed after one’s original baptism. The Protestant Reformers rightly rejected these ideas as incompatible with biblical teaching, but what they arguably failed to do was to give any positive account of the value of singleness. They taught Christians to aspire to marriage and family life but treated single people as nothing more than ‘the un-married’. This significant oversight has persisted to the present day in churches shaped by the Reformation, including the Church of England.’