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Home School of Suffering Living alone

Living alone

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“Living alone”      1 Corinthians 7:1-40             

Over four weeks we have considered the definition of family, and looked specifically at the relationship between husbands and wives and between parents and children. Just as important, but often overlooked in a series on family, are those who live alone. And realistically this is a significant and ever increasing group in most church families.

So this morning I am addressing those who are alone, in the sense that they are unmarried. Perhaps you are a teenager and only beginning to think seriously about marriage, but struggle with fears of marrying the right person. Perhaps you are a bit older and have yet to find a soul-mate and get married in spite of longing to do so and you are struggling with a sense of disappointment and maybe even hoplessness.

Perhaps you are living alone because your marriage has ended in the hurt of divorce, and you are now struggling to survive while being both dad and mum to your children. And perhaps you are living alone because your spouse of many years has died and you are struggling with grief and emptiness.   

So, how does God’s word help us, individually and as a congregation, through such a real and sensitive area? I want to suggest two key principles we all need to embrace.

1. Being single doesn’t define you or your worth (1-24, esp 17-24). This point is drawn from Paul’s argument in verses 1-24. The Corinthian church was seriously divided over many issues, one of which was the place of sex and, by implication, marriage in being ‘spiritual’. Obviously, verse 1, they had written to Paul for guidance on the matter.

Some Christians, still wrestling with Greek philosophy they grew up with, that physical things are bad and that spirit is good, took the line that ‘to be spiritual’ a Christian had to withdraw from everything to do with the bodily realm, and especially sex the cause of so much immorality in Corinth.

This was creating divisions within the church. Verse 2-7 married couples were being pressured into giving up sex as the spiritual thing to do. But Paul is clear that sex is a good and wholesome part of marriage provided that it is managed properly.

Verses 8-9, Widows and widowers were being pressured to remain single if they were truly spiritual, even though some were worried about falling into sexual sin because of their inability to cope with celibacy. Verses 10-11, it would appear there may even have been pressure for those who had already remarried to abandon their marriages, if they were truly spiritual. But Paul is clear that Christians in this situation are free to re-marry or stay single, but once re-married, they must stay married.

Verse 12-16, Spouses who had become Christians were being pressured into separatiing from or even divorcing their non-Christian partners as an expression of being truly spiritual. But Paul is clear that marriage is still marriage, so the marriage should continue if the unbelieving partner will be in it. And the Christians spouse should consider the enormous impact for good they could have on their unbelieving spouse.  

Paul concludes this section in 17-24, and this is the heart of the point I want to make. Being spiritual is not about trying to create pure circumstances by separating spirit and physical. Being spiritual is about obedience and service of Christ as a whole person.

Verses 17-19, Jews were not popular in Corinth and some Christians were actually having surgery to cover the evidence of being Jewish. Look at v20-24. Some converted slaves were led to believe they could not be truly spiritual while remaining slaves.

Paul says that’s garbage, physical categories or circumstances are irrelevant to the value or worth of believers. Verse 23, the fact that Christ redeemed us gives us our worth as people. Slaves, circumcised or uncircumcised believers, married or single people, are equally valuable to Christ and equally loved by Christ.

Paul goes on to say that while being married is the normal pattern, it is by no means essential to make people worthwhile. V26, it’s good to be single, but v28, its no sin to be married either. The whole point of Paul’s advice, verse 35, is to get the Christians to see that ultimately being married or single is not the issue, rather obedience and service of Christ in whatever state you are in is the mark of being spiritual.

So, don’t be fooled when society says that unless you are sexually fulfilled then you are incomplete. Of course we are made for relationship, but TV and radio twist that truth and make us believe that having sex is what turns boys into men and girls into women.

The danger is for you young people to have a boyfriend or girlfriend because it makes you feel complete or because it shows you have made it, where it really counts. All too often that thinking leads them into marriage as the ultimate proof of being lovely and lovable. And almost surely they will become the next generation of miserable marriages and the next wave of divorces, because that is never the basis for a good relationship.

Likewise some married Christians imply that being married is essential to being a real man or woman. They talk about their spouse, children and being married in such gushy, unrealistic and even dishonest ways that leaves those who are single feeling less than complete. Of course marriage and family is highly desirable to most, but they are not essential to make you a person of worth or complete.

Christians have too often made an absolute of marriage because the majority are married and are wrongly absorbed with being married and having families as if that was the be all and end all for a Christian. Not only is it wrong, it is also deeply hurtful to those who are not married.

2. So, bloom where you have been ‘planted’. Being spiritual is about obedience and service in whatever circumstance of life.

So as a single person, embrace God’s provision whole-heartedly. It’s always easy to say God is sovereign when life is charging along as we want it to. It’s only when our circumstances cause frustration that what we really believe about God is clear.

When it comes to being married or being single, both are God’s provision and to be embraced whole-heartedly. Verse 17 & 23, God assigns our circumstances to us, including that of being married or being single. There is no second best with God. Married or single, each is from God and each is good.

The secret of contentment as a single person is not to be consumed with changing your circumstance but to embrace God’s provision and beg him to work in you daily enabling you to live alone and serve him well as a single person because, v7-9, this is simply another gift God has entrusted to you and expects you to use in his service like the gift of evangelism or preaching or hospitality of giving or whatever.

So, you must never succumb to thinking you are second-rate if you are single because that is to say one gift of God is superior or more useful than another. Obviously you may long for it to be otherwise and in fact the Lord may well bring someone into your life in the future so that your circumstance changes, but in the meanwhile, you are not incomplete or second-rate in God’s eyes.
And married Christians ought to give up attempts at match-making. Not only is the message communicated that being single is less than desirable and wholesome, but it also puts them under wrong pressure. Those who are single are not public property to manipulate and scheme over as if our provision for them is better than the Lord’s.

Marrieds easily become insensitive or patronising of singles. Often Christian girls are single because they have courageously and faithfully turned down offers of marriage rather than marry someone who was not a serious-minded Christian. This requires our admiration and respect and support, not cheap comments that attacks their worth and value such as, “they’re too fussy” or “they’re playing hard to get.”

Both singles and marrieds are equal at this point as each must seek to embrace God’s provision and cultivate this gift for the good of the wider church family.

Exploit ministry options in the ‘family’ you do have. Listen as I read verses 25-35. This section is addressed to those who have never been married. Once again the lobby group suggested the spiritual option is to remain unmarried. Paul’s answer, once again is that it is a matter of choice.

But built into his answer is the need for Christians to respect each other’s circumstance, recognizing that each choice has its own advantages and disadvantages, in terms of ministry opportunities. The important thing, verse35, is that whether married or single, everyone gives undivided devotion to the Lord on a day to day basis.

So, both marrieds and singles have a common concern and responsibility. That is to exploit ministry options as best you are able in your situation. Whether married or single, God has put you in this family and you should enjoy the benefits this brings and take up ministry opportunities it offers to you, as you are able.

Now, once again we need to be very careful here, lest we polarize and lose respect for one another’s position and become resentful of one another.  

We married people tend to think those who are single have it made; only themselves to think about, to get ready, to spend their money on. They have it easy compared to us married people with all our responsibilities and demands on our time. But this selfish and narrow thinking is not only hurtful to those struggling to live alone, it means we fail to see and exploit opportunities to help those who are single.
We don’t think how hard it is for singles to work out where to sit on a Sunday morning. We don’t think about the jobs around their homes that would normally require the finesse of a woman or the strength of a bloke. We don’t think to make time to be a strong father or mother figure to the children of single parents.

We don’t think about their struggling to feel as if they really belong in a congregation predominantly made up of families. We are so taken up with our families we forget how those who are single can feel quite out of it and even awkward.

We forget they have no-one on tap to talk things through with and help make decisions or to sound of to when angry and frustrated. We go out to tea and think that singles are great to mind our kids; probably they even like to mind kids since they don’t have their own. We don’t stop to think who takes them out to dinner as a special treat?

We assume they have unlimited time to take up ministry in church. But this is hurtful to single folk because it reflects a lack of thoughtfulness. In many ways they will have less time because it takes the same effort to maintain a home or nurture children, but they do it alone rather than being able to share the tasks and responsibilities between two.

Friends, the sad fact is that too often as married folk, we are consumed with our own situations and responsibilities and difficulties and have neglected to care for those who live alone, thus making them feel fringe dwellers in this church family, which is a higher calling for us than biological family.

But flip the coin and singles easily think married folk have it made. If I was married I would be happy. If I was married I wouldn’t complain about my spouse or children or mess or fights. It’s ideal.

As a single person you need to understand that living alone is not necessarily harder, just different. Hear me carefully, I think that on the whole living alone, and especially as a single parent, is generally more difficult.

As a single person you need to understand the pressures and demands of marriage and family life. Don’t sit around waiting for marrieds to pander to your every need as if they owe it to you.

You need to understand that often you will be more flexible time and more disposable income than those who are married and with young children. Single people often go out to dinner far more frequently than those who are married and with young children because you can afford it. But the trouble is that often your situation makes you pre-occupied and even selfish and put you into a “poor me” cycle.

Friends both being married and being single requires constant hard work to keep balance and perspective. At this point we need to understand, respect, support and encourage one another rather than have cheap shots at each other as we often do.

We married people need to understand that serving Christ in this church family means praying and working towards genuine care for and support of those who are single in this church family from teenagers to those who long to be married, to single parents to older people whose spouses have died.

And you single people need to understand that serving Christ in this church family means caring for and supporting those who are married in this church family. It is only in this mutual submission that we will demonstrate our true newness and unity in Christ and grow in Christ-likeness together.



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