What is this gift of singleness that demands so much attention from Christian pastors and writers? And when some believers have such a strong desire to be married, is it right and considerate to refer to singleness as a gift? These are valid questions that stem from a desire to understand a tricky text. In 1 Corinthians 7:6-7 Paul says, “Now as a concession, not a command, I say this, I wish that all were as I myself am. But each his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot express self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
Right there, in the context of marriage and singleness, Paul insists that each Christian has “his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” God gives to some people the good gift of marriage and he gives to others the good gift of singleness. But how can you know if you’ve been given that gift of singleness? You can know through a simple test: Are you married or are you single?
Vaughan Roberts writes about singleness and says, “As long as you have it, it’s a gift from God, just as marriage will be God’s gift if you ever receive it. We should receive our situation in life, whether it is singleness or marriage, as a gift of God’s grace to us.” John Stott concurs: “I have myself found help in 1 Corinthians 7:7. For here the apostle writes: ‘each man [or woman] has his [or her] own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.’ ‘Gift’ translates charisma, which is a gift of God’s grace (charis). So whether we are single or married, we need to receive our situation from God as his own special grace-gift to us.” Singleness is a gift. Marriage is a gift. Each is a gift from a wise, kind Father.
“My circumstances are God’s gracious gift to me, and I am to learn to accept them from his hand as such.”
How can you know if you have the gift of singleness? I don’t meant to be trite, but you can go about it this way: Look at your ring finger. No ring? You’ve got the gift of singleness. Ring? You’ve got the gift of marriage. Christopher Ash summarizes it this way: “I know which ‘gift’ I have by a simple test: if I am married, I have the gift of marriage; if I am not married, I have the gift of being unmarried.” That leaves us with an important implication and application: “My circumstances are God’s gracious gift to me, and I am to learn to accept them from his hand as such.”
God does not leave any of his people without a gift. If you are currently single, you have no reason to think you have been bypassed when God dispensed his gifts. No, your current circumstance is God’s gift to you, just as marriage will be your gift if and when he brings you a spouse. You do not need to feel guilty or rebellious if you desire marriage, provided you do not begrudge God the gift he has currently given you. While you ought to consider deliberately remaining single (see 1 Corinthians 7:7, 25-40) you are still free before God to desire marriage, to pray for it, and to pursue it.
It is crucial to understand that God’s gift provides you with special ability and responsibility to serve and honor him. Tim Keller points out that when Paul speaks of “gifts” he refers to “an ability God gives to build others up.” “The single calling Paul speaks of is neither a condition without a struggle nor on the other hand an experience of misery. It is fruitfulness in life and ministry through the single state. When you have this gift, there may indeed be struggles, but the main thing is that God is helping you grow spiritually and be fruitful in the lives of others despite them.”
God gives good gifts. God, the loving Father, loves to dispense good gifts to his children, one of one kind and one of another. To some he graciously gives the gift of marriage and all the abilities and responsibilities that attend it. To others he graciously gives the gift of singleness and all of its abilities and responsibilities. Some experience only the gift of singleness. Some experience a long gift of singleness followed by a short gift of marriage. Some experience a long gift of marriage followed by a short gift of singleness. All have the opportunity to use their gift for fruitfulness in life and ministry—the opportunity to serve the giver of such good gifts.
(This blog originally appeared on Challies' blog)