1, 2. Why is it logical to give attention to both the individual and the family?
AFTER Joshua urged the Israelites to choose whom they would serve, he said: “As for me and my household, we shall serve Jehovah.” (Josh. 24:15) Joshua was determined to be loyal to God, and he was sure that his family too would be loyal. Much later, as Jerusalem’s destruction neared, Jeremiah told King Zedekiah that if he surrendered to the Babylonians, “you yourself and your household will certainly keep living.” (Jer. 38:17) The king’s bad choice affected him, his wives, and his sons. He watched his sons be killed; then he was blinded and taken captive to Babylon.—Jer. 38:18-23; 39:6, 7.
2 In each of those two italicized phrases, one person was directly involved. But his family was also mentioned. That is logical. Each adult is responsible to God. Yet, most Israelites were part of a family. The family is important for Christians too. We see that from what we read in the Bible and from what we consider at Christian meetings regarding marriage, child rearing, and respect for family members.—1 Cor. 7:36-39; 1 Tim. 5:8.
AN UNUSUAL COMMAND
3, 4. In what ways was Jeremiah’s situation different from most, and how did he benefit?
3 Jeremiah was one who did “keep living” in his day. He survived Jerusalem’s destruction, though his personal situation was different from most. (Jer. 21:9; 40:1-4) God had told him not to marry or have offspring or share in some other common aspects of Jewish life at that time.—Read Jeremiah 16:1-4.
4 In Jeremiah’s day and culture, it was normal to marry and to have children. Most Jewish men did, thus keeping the ancestral land in the tribe and family.* (Deut. 7:14) Why not Jeremiah? Because of what lay ahead, God told him not to share in normal occasions for sorrow or rejoicing. He was not to comfort mourners or to eat with them after a funeral; nor was he to take part in the levity of Jewish weddings. Such feasting and rejoicing would soon end for all. (Jer. 7:33; 16:5-9) Jeremiah’s course gave credence to his message and underscored how grave the coming judgment would be. Eventually that calamity arrived. Can you imagine the feelings of those who were reduced to cannibalism or those who saw loved ones become mere carrion? (Read Jeremiah 14:16; Lam. 2:20.) Thus, unmarried Jeremiah was not to be pitied. Though the 18-month siege and its carnage would wipe out families, Jeremiah would be spared the loss of a mate or children.
5. What bearing do the directions found at Jeremiah 16:5-9 have on Christians?
5 Could it be said, though, that Jeremiah 16:5-9 applies to us? No. Christians are urged “to comfort those in any sort of tribulation” and to “rejoice with people who rejoice.” (2 Cor. 1:4; Rom. 12:15) Jesus attended a wedding and contributed to the rejoicing. Nevertheless, what lies ahead for this wicked system of things is serious. Christians may even face hardships and deprivations. Jesus stressed the need to be ready to do what it takes to endure and keep faithful, as did our brothers who fled Judea in the first century. Hence, staying single, getting married, or having children merits serious thought.—Read Matthew 24:17, 18.
6. Who can benefit from reflecting on God’s direction to Jeremiah?
6 What relevance is there in God’s command that Jeremiah not marry or have children? Today, some loyal Christians are unmarried or have no children. What might they learn from Jeremiah’s case? And why should even Christians who are married and have children give attention to this feature of Jeremiah’s life?
7. That Jeremiah was to remain childless merits what consideration today?
7 Consider first that Jeremiah was to remain childless. Jesus did not command his followers to abstain from having children. Yet, it is noteworthy that he pronounced “woe” on pregnant women or those nursing a baby when tribulation came on Jerusalem in 66-70 C.E. That time would be especially difficult for them, given their situation. (Matt. 24:19) We now face a greater tribulation. This should add a dimension for Christian couples who are deciding whether to have children. Do you not agree that it seems harder and harder to deal with these critical times? And couples have admitted that it has been very challenging to raise children who will “keep living” through the end of the present system. While each couple must decide if they will have children, Jeremiah’s case is worth considering. But what of God’s command that he not even get married?
Jeremiah received what unusual command, and what should that move us to consider?
LEARN FROM JEREMIAH’S SINGLENESS
8. Why can we say that marrying is not a necessity in order to please God?
8 In telling Jeremiah not to marry, God did not establish a norm that all his servants were to follow. Marriage is good. Jehovah initiated human marriage to populate the earth and to be a source of abundant satisfaction and delight. (Prov. 5:18) Still, not all were married. There may have been some eunuchs associated with God’s people while Jeremiah was prophesying.* In addition, you can be sure that there were widows and widowers. So Jeremiah was not the only true worshipper who did not have a mate. Of course, he had a reason for not marrying, and so do some Christians today.
9. What inspired counsel regarding marriage should we seriously consider?
9 Many Christians do get married, but not all. You know that Jesus did not, and he said that some disciples would have the gift to “make room for” singleness in their mind and heart. He urged those who could to do so. (Read Matthew 19:11, 12.) Therefore, it would be proper to commend, not tease, one who pursues singleness so as to do more in God’s service. Granted, some Christians are single, at least for a time, because of circumstances. For example, they may not have found a suitable Christian mate and commendably are determined to uphold God’s standard to marry “only in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:39) And, of course, some of God’s servants are widows or widowers, thus being single.* They should never forget that God (and Jesus) have long displayed concern for such single ones.—Jer. 22:3; read 1 Corinthians 7:8, 9.
10, 11. (a) What helped Jeremiah to make a success of singleness? (b) How do modern-day experiences bear out that those remaining unmarried can have a rewarding life?
10 Accordingly, as Jeremiah maintained his singleness, he could draw on God for support. How? Well, recall that Jeremiah took delight in Jehovah’s word. That would have been a source of strength and reassurance to Jeremiah over the decades as he focused on his God-ordained ministry. Furthermore, he carefully avoided the company of those who might ridicule him for being single. He was willing to ‘sit down all by himself’ rather than to be around those with such tendencies.—Read Jeremiah 15:17.
11 Many single Christians—men and women, whether young or advanced in years—are following Jeremiah’s good example. Experiences show what a great help it is to be immersed in God’s service, to have a large share in meaningful spiritual activities. For example, a Witness serving with a Chinese-language congregation observes: “Pioneering gives my life direction. As a single sister, I lead a busy, active life, which helps me to avoid loneliness. I feel satisfied at the end of each day because I can see that my ministry really helps people. This gives me great joy.” A pioneer aged 38 says: “I think the secret to happiness is being able to enjoy the positive aspects of whatever situation you find yourself in.” An unmarried Christian in southern Europe noted frankly: “My life may not have turned out exactly as I planned, but I am happy and will continue to be so.”
12, 13. (a) What is a realistic view of both singleness and marriage? (b) Paul’s life and counsel underscore what about singleness?
12 Could it be that Jeremiah noted that his life had not turned out as he had planned while growing up? But he might wisely have seen that such is also true of many who marry and have children. A pioneer in Spain shared this insight: “I know married people who are happy and others who are unhappy. This reality convinces me that my happiness does not depend on whether I get married in the future or not.” Without question, Jeremiah’s experience—just one of thousands—proves that a full, rewarding, happy life is possible for one who is single. We have further confirmation from the apostle Paul, who wrote: “I say to the unmarried persons and the widows, it is well for them that they remain even as I am.” (1 Cor. 7:8) Paul may have been a widower. In any case, he was unmarried when he did so much in the missionary service. (1 Cor. 9:5) Is it not reasonable to conclude that his single state was an advantage? For him it meant “constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction,” and thus he accomplished much good.—1 Cor. 7:35.
13 Paul was inspired to add something else: “Those who [marry] will have tribulation in their flesh.” God had Paul include this profound truth: “If anyone stands settled in his heart . . . to keep his own virginity, he will do well. Consequently he also that gives his virginity in marriage does well, but he that does not give it in marriage will do better.” (1 Cor. 7:28, 37, 38) Jeremiah never read those words, but his course over decades proves that singleness need not stand in the way of a fulfilling life in God’s service. In fact, it can contribute mightily to a very meaningful life centered on true worship. Though married, King Zedekiah did not heed Jeremiah’s advice and “keep living”; whereas the unmarried prophet followed a course that allowed him to do so.
What can you learn from Jeremiah’s example of maintaining singleness over many decades?
REFRESH AND BE REFRESHED
14. The relationship between Aquila’s family and Paul highlights what?
14 As noted earlier, most men and women in Jeremiah’s day got married and were part of households. It was similar in Paul’s day. Undoubtedly, most Christians with families could not engage in the ministry abroad as Paul did, but they had much to do locally. That included being a blessing to unmarried brothers or sisters. Recall that when Paul arrived in Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla welcomed him into their home and worked with him at their common trade. But there was more to it than that. The friendship that Aquila’s family offered Paul would certainly have been refreshing. Think of the pleasant meals together and other occasions of warm human companionship. Did Jeremiah benefit from similar association? He was using his singleness in God’s service, yet we need not think of him as a recluse. He could have enjoyed warm fellowship with families of devoted servants of God, perhaps those of Baruch, Ebed-melech, or others.—Rom. 16:3; read Acts 18:1-3.
15. How can Christian families be of great help to unmarried Christians?
15 Single Christians today likewise benefit from warm companionship of the sort that Aquila’s family offered Paul. If you have a family, do you make it a point to provide companionship for those who are unmarried? One sister opened her heart this way: “I’ve left the world and do not desire to go back. However, I still need to be cared about and loved. I pray that Jehovah will provide additional spiritual food and encouragement for us single Christians. We’re not invisible, and not all of us are eager to get married. Yet, in a way it seems that we’re on our own. Yes, we can always turn to Jehovah, but when we need human contact, can we talk with our spiritual family?” Thousands of single brothers and sisters can honestly respond yes. They do enjoy such human contact in their congregation. Their circle of friends extends beyond brothers and sisters their same age. Being people-oriented, they enjoy friendships with those of different ages, including older ones or the youths in local Christian families.
16. What simple things might you do to refresh unmarried Christians in your congregation?
16 With some forethought, you can be a source of refreshment to single ones by sometimes including them in your family activities, such as your evening of Family Worship. Sharing a family meal with an unmarried brother or sister can mean far more than a plate of good food. Could you take the initiative to make an appointment to share in the ministry together? What about inviting a single Christian to work with your family on a Kingdom Hall maintenance project or occasionally going shopping together? And some families have invited a widow, widower, or single pioneer to join them on a trip to a convention or a vacation spot. Such association has proved to be mutually refreshing.
17-19. (a) Why is loving balance needed by children in arranging to care for aged or infirm parents? (b) What practical lesson can we draw from what Jesus did regarding his mother’s care?
17 Another area to consider regarding unmarried brothers and sisters relates to the care of aged parents. In Jesus’ day, some prominent Jews craftily sidestepped caring for their father and mother. They claimed that fulfilling self-imposed religious obligations came before their God-given obligations toward their parents. (Mark 7:9-13) That should not be the case in Christian families.—1 Tim. 5:3-8.
18 What, though, when aged parents have a number of Christian children? If one of the offspring is unmarried, must this person inevitably be the primary caregiver? A sister writes from Japan: “I would like to be married, but because I have the responsibility of caring for my parents, I am unable to get married. I am confident that Jehovah understands the stress of caring for parents and the pain of heart felt by single people.” Could it be that she has married brothers and sisters who have decided, without consulting her, that she must be the one to provide the care? In cases like these, it is noteworthy that Jeremiah had brothers who did not treat him fairly.—Read Jeremiah 12:6.
19 Jehovah understands single people and feels for those who are experiencing trying circumstances. (Ps. 103:11-14) However, aged or infirm parents are the parents of all their children, not just of those who are unmarried. Granted, some of the children may be married and have their own offspring. However, that does not dissolve the ties of natural affection to their parents, nor does it relieve them of their Christian duty to help when care is needed. We remember that even when Jesus was near death on the stake, he sensed his duty and acted to care for his mother. (John 19:25-27) The Bible does not give detailed rules on sharing the care of elderly or infirm parents; nor does it suggest that unmarried children are automatically more responsible for their care. In this sensitive field, details need to be worked out with reasonableness and mutual consideration on the part of all involved, bearing in mind the example that Jesus set in caring for his mother.
20. How do you feel about association with unmarried ones in your congregation?
20 Under inspiration, Jeremiah foretold: “They will no more teach each one his companion and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know Jehovah!’ for they will all of them know me.” (Jer. 31:34) In principle, we are already enjoying such outstanding companionship in the Christian congregation, including that with brothers and sisters who are single. Without question, all of us want to find mutual refreshment with them and to see such unmarried ones “keep living.”
What additional steps might you take to refresh, and to be refreshed by, some unmarried brothers or sisters?
In the Hebrew Scriptures, there is no word for “bachelor.”
Isaiah prophetically addressed literal eunuchs in his day, who would have a limited share in Israelite worship. He foretold that by obedience eunuchs would gain “something better than sons and daughters,” receiving “a name to time indefinite” in God’s house.—Isa. 56:4, 5.
Others may be living alone because their mate, perhaps an unbeliever, separated from them or got a legal divorce.