Do You Have the Gift of Singleness?

Title: Do You Have the Gift of Singleness?

Text: 1 Corinthians 7:1-7

Time: August 19, 2008

The Apostle Paul was arguably the greatest Christian of all-time, and he was a single man. He often urged Christians to imitate him in singleness: “I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that, ” 1 Corinthians 7:7. The gift he is talking about is, of course, the gift of singleness. Evidently Paul considered it a gift from God that enabled him to live as a single man in a world of sexual temptations and avoid falling into sexual immorality. He was able to travel, work and live his life without the normal and natural male/female sexual relationship. He didn’t have a wife and yet he was able to fulfill his calling and mission from God. While the other apostles had wives and carried out their assignments from the Lord, Paul fulfilled his calling single. He resisted the temptations that came his way as a single man and kept his focus on God and God’s will. He had a special gift – the gift of singleness. Now today many Christian singles ask themselves the question: “Do I have the gift of singleness, like the Apostle Paul?” They are really asking the question: “Can I live out my life single, resist all the sexual temptations of the world, and fulfill my purpose on earth as God wills?” These questions are particularly relevant today because, as a percentage of the population, there is a greater percentage of single adults than ever before. This is mostly due to divorce, but it also has to do with the fact that people are marrying later in life. It’s a simple fact that adults today spend a great deal of their life living single. So then the question, “Do I have the gift of singleness?” becomes an important question to ask, especially for Christians seeking to do the will of God. According to a popular Christian writer, the gift of singleness is “the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to remain single and enjoy it; to be unmarried and not suffer undue sexual temptations.” I realize this definition isn’t specifically spelled out in the Bible, but it pulls together a number of biblical truths found in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7: “Now for the matters you wrote about: it is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” What Paul seems to be describing is a special gift of singleness. Do you have such a gift? Let’s explore further.

First, if you obsess or are preoccupied thinking about sex, you probably don’t have the gift of singleness. 1 Corinthians 7:2, “But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” The gift of singleness enables a person to not obsess or be preoccupied thinking about sex, so if you are obsessed and always thinking about sex – either about having it or not having it – you probably don’t have the gift. We’ve all heard the statistics that the average man thinks about sex every seven seconds, which shows why the average man doesn’t have the gift of singleness. But a person with the gift of singleness would not be thinking of sex that much; he would have the ability to focus on other things, most importantly the calling God has placed on his life. It’s probably different for women, but the basic truth is still the same: a person with the gift of singleness will not be obsessed or preoccupied with sex the way a person without the gift will be. Marriage is the normal and natural outlet for such a preoccupation, but the person with the gift won’t be motivated as much to marriage because he or she will not be preoccupied with fulfilling their sexual urge or desire. That is not to say that singles with the gift won’t have sexual desires or be tempted to act on them, it just means that they won’t be driven by these urges the way a person without the gift will be to fulfill them. For a person without the gift of singleness – or as it’s sometimes called, the gift of celibacy – the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5:27-30 are particularly difficult: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Don’t commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” For a typical person without the gift of celibacy or singleness, this verse presents an almost impossible condition for obedience. If a man thinks about sex on average every seven seconds, then it’s probably safe to assume he’s breaking this command of Christ in some kind of lustful thinking. To go an entire lifetime in such a state would be misery for the average person. That’s why marriage is such a blessing, because it fulfills an important need and at the same time promotes holiness of mind, body and soul. But for the person with the gift, he or she doesn’t need marriage to fulfill the need because God has so enabled him or her to focus on the task at hand God has given that they can forget about their need for sexual gratification. Most people can’t do that. Can you forget about sex for the most part? If so, you just might have the gift.

Two, do you spend a lot of time, energy and effort resisting sexual temptation? If so, you probably don’t have the gift of celibacy. 1 Corinthians 7: 5, “Don’t deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” It kills me when I read advice to married couples not to abstain from sex very often or for very long because it could lead to excessive temptation or even immorality. Here Paul gives such advice to married couples. What about singles? Until they are married they must resist temptation and abstain from sex for years, for decades even in some cases – and Paul’s concerned about married couples having to go without sex for a while or for periods of time? Give me a break! Pardon me if I don’t have much sympathy for them. If God is calling singles to celibacy before marriage – and he is – married couples can certainly resist the sexual temptations to stray while married. God calls all people to resist temptations of all kinds, but it does raise the question within the context of the issue of the gift of celibacy: if a single person has to spend a lot of time and energy, in prayer, in mental warfare, fighting off sexual temptations, in resisting outright sexual immorality, what does that say about the person? It probably says they don’t have the gift of singleness, they probably don’t have the gift of celibacy. There comes a point where each person must ask himself this question: if I’m spending so much prayer time praying for strength to resist sexual temptation, if I’m spending so much energy and effort in resisting and suppressing my own sexual urges and desires, wouldn’t it be better to just go ahead and get married and spend my time and energy in more constructive positive endeavors than negatively denying myself sex? That’s a good question. I think the Apostle Paul answers this question in another verse, 1 Corinthians 7:9, “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Definitely, if a person can’t control him or herself, he or she should marry, but an equally important truth is, even if a person can control himself – resist giving in to sexual temptation and immorality – it still might be better to marry than to spend all his time suppressing and denying his sexual desires and urges, resisting temptation with much prayer and mental toughness. All of these activities preoccupy a person with a negative defensive living instead of a positive living out of God’s will. God doesn’t want people to play defense all their lives, resisting, avoiding, denying. No. He wants us to go on the offense and live out positive lives of fulfilling our callings. If a person finds himself spending some much time and energy on defense against sin, they probably don’t have the gift of celibacy, and should go ahead and admit it, seek after and get married, and move on to doing God’s positive will for their lives.

Three, if you find yourself easily able to resist sexual temptations, focus on God’s calling for your life, and not think much about sex, you probably have the gift of celibacy. 1 Corinthians 7:37, “But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin – this man also does the right thing.” Here the Apostle Paul is describing a man – it also could be a woman – who is not overly burdened with sexual temptations, is not obsessed or preoccupied with sex (probably doesn’t think of sex every seven seconds on average), and can focus on the task at hand of doing God’s will and fulfilling God’s calling for their life – that person probably has the gift of celibacy or singleness. No doubt Paul had such a gift. According to the Apostle, “It is good for a man not to marry,” 1 Corinthians 7:1, in order to devote 24/7 or 100% of his time and energy to serving the Lord in single-minded devotion. Or in other words, it’s good to have the gift of celibacy or singleness, since only these kind of people can forgo marriage and sexual relations and be at peace about it. As someone with the gift of singleness, Paul is urging it upon all those who can receive it or have it, in much the same way Jesus taught in Matthew 19:11-12, “Jesus replied, ‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” Celibacy isn’t for everyone, but for those who can accept it – without too much distress – should accept it. Can you accept celibacy – life long abstinence? If you have the gift, you can and will, and it won’t be too much of a burden, in fact, it will be a blessing in your life. You won’t be under stress as a younger single in life searching for a life mate to fulfill your desires for sex and marriage. And later in life, you won’t be under stress of holding a marriage together or raising kids. You’ll be free to serve the Lord in whatever capacity he calls you without so many earthly and material obligations holding you down. You may have sexual desires but they won’t be overwhelming to you, they won’t be distracting to the point of interfering with your life or God’s calling upon your life. You won’t be driven by sexual desires the way most people are, and you won’t be burdened by the problems normal sexual desires cause in life to singles or married people. But if you don’t have the gift of singleness, if you don’t have the gift of celibacy, you’ll be constantly frustrated in life, unfulfilled, tormented by your desires if you try to live as if you had the gift, when in fact you don’t. Better for you to go ahead and get married, and get on fulfilling God’s calling and purpose for your life in marriage, rather than waste time and energy fighting it single.

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