Singleness—Its Advantages and Opportunities
1. What is the opinion of many about singleness, and why do some feel this way?
A 21-YEAR-OLD schoolteacher was asked by an older girl friend: “Do you not want to get married?” This young teacher, who appreciated the advantages of her singleness, replied: “I guess I have never seriously thought about it.” Surprised at her reply, the friend said: “Well, when you get older you will wish that you had. Everybody should get married.” When you consider the multitude of God’s servants who are married you can understand why many, like this well-meaning friend, feel that singleness is an undesirable condition, making a person’s life incomplete.
2. Why should both single and married Christians be interested in our subject?
2 A person may be single because of being too young or otherwise unable to take on the responsibilities of marriage. Others have lost a mate through divorce or death. In the United States one out of every three households is currently headed by a single person. There has been a 64-percent increase of people living alone in just 10 years. So the chances are that even if you are not single, someone close to you is. How can you as a married Christian have more “fellow feeling” for single persons who comprise a significant part of God’s household? Of course if you are single then you know the difficulties of being happy and single in any society where marriage is regarded as the norm. Just how should you view your singleness?—1 Peter 3:8.
3. (a) During Jesus’ time, how was singleness viewed? (b) How did Jesus consider singleness “on account of the kingdom”?
3 Jesus Christ revealed that singleness “on account of the kingdom” was a gift from God. This was a totally new concept, for among the Jews of his day marriage was considered a “universal obligation” and singleness a reproach. “He who has no wife is not a proper man,” was one of the sayings of the Jewish rabbis. However, Jesus encouraged his disciples to “make room” for the gift of singleness and not feel obligated to marry.—Matthew 19:10-12.
4. What has been the course of many Christians, and how do these feel about their circumstances?
4 So marriage and singleness are both gifts from God. During the early days of Christianity, as well as in our day, many have pursued a life of singleness, “on account of the kingdom.”* Rather than bemoaning their circumstances, many of these feel as did one never-married 41-year-old Christian woman who recently said: “I would not take anything for the years that I have spent as a single person.” Why do many feel this way?
5. How can unmarried Christians take advantage of opportunities that their circumstances open up?
5 The examples of married Christians such as the apostles of Jesus, as well as Aquila and Priscilla, show that couples can make valuable contributions in God’s service. (Acts 18:26-28; 1 Corinthians 9:5) Yet the apostle Paul showed that a single person has an opportunity for an enlarged field of service. He wrote: “The unmarried man [or woman] is anxious for the things of the Lord, how he [or she] may gain the Lord’s approval. But the married man [or woman] is anxious for the things of the world, how he [or she] may gain the approval of his wife [or her husband], and he [or she] is divided.” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34) A single person is not “divided” because of the responsibilities of marriage, which bring “tribulation in [the] flesh,” and therefore can be “anxious” or eager for spiritual matters. Note in the box the extent to which sacred works filled the lives of those listed. The ability to engage “without distraction” in God’s service, which includes foremost the preaching work, is a rich treasure. Single persons usually have more time for study and meditation. This can improve the “spirit,” or inner motivation, bringing that person closer to Jehovah as he or she concentrates on being ‘holy in body and spirit.’ Not having a marriage partner, many learn to rely heavily on God, looking for his direction and counsel. Unmarried Christians are often able to accept privileges of service that married couples could not. No wonder Jesus called this privilege of remaining as a single Christian a “gift”!—Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 7:28, 35.
6, 7. (a) Does having the gift of singleness mean that one is no longer attracted to the opposite sex and will never marry? (b) What is meant by ‘making a decision in one’s heart’? (c) What question may be in the mind of some single persons?
6 Those who ‘make room for the gift’ are not necessarily persons with some special “gift” in their emotional makeup whereby they no longer are attracted to the opposite sex. These have not made some vow of celibacy, as if they never intended to marry, but have made a “decision,” or judgment, in their hearts to make a success of their single state.* (1 Corinthians 7:37) These persons have weighed in their hearts the advantages of singleness. On the basis of this ‘evidence’ their hearts begin to ‘judge’ singleness as a “gift” and they “make room” for it.—1 Corinthians 7:38.
7 But what if you have a strong desire to get married? Did not Paul say it was better to marry than be inflamed with passion?—1 Corinthians 7:9.
Why Such a Strong Desire?
8. (a) Why might some young single persons have a strong desire to marry? (b) What advantages are there in postponing marriage till one is “past the bloom of youth”?
8 It is only natural to want to get married. God created us with that desire. (Genesis 2:18) But is this strong yearning because a person is in the “bloom of youth,” when there is the initial surge of sexual drive? Paul recommended that one delay marriage till this period is “past.” Such a wait may seem impossible to a young person. Some in the first century also felt that they just had to get married. Yet while these were “seeking a wife” others who were married were “seeking a release” from their situation! Marriage, though it might serve as a protection against immorality, does not solve all problems. One 35-year-old single Christian said: “When as an elder I see people’s lives crushed by a bad marriage, it is sobering. I am not against marriage but I feel that there is no need to rush.” Research studies show that American women who married before age 18 are three times as likely to be involved in a divorce as those who waited until they were 24! The divorce rate for teenage husbands in the United States is three times as high as for the general population. Young single years may be used wisely in developing a fine relationship with Jehovah as well as the qualities and skills needed to become a good mate.—1 Corinthians 7:27, 36.
9. (a) What have some done because of a desire for companionship, and often with what results? (b) What question here confronts single persons?
9 Many Christians have grown older without marrying. In time, some of these, because of a strong desire for companionship, have rushed into marriage with an unbeliever, thinking that any mate is better than none. Yet you may know of some that did this only to find themselves just as lonely with a mate with whom they could not communicate. However, how can a single person remain “settled in his heart”?—1 Corinthians 7:28, 37, 39.
Draw from an Interchange of Encouragement
10. According to Romans 1:11, 12, what was the apostle Paul’s desire, and how was he benefited?
10 Successful unmarried Christians are people oriented. The apostle Paul, himself a single man, wrote: “I am longing to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you in order for you to be made firm; or, rather, that there may be an interchange of encouragement.” (Romans 1:11, 12) Paul was keenly interested in people and wanted to extend to fellow believers a “spiritual gift.” In return he was encouraged. The same is true today.
11. What experience illustrates how a person may be encouraged through extending a “spiritual gift”?
11 A 28-year-old single Christian woman invited many of the younger sisters in the congregation to her home for a small gathering, desiring to share a “spiritual gift” through wholesome association. The following day one teenager threw her arms around this sister and said: “You will never know how much that gathering meant to me and how I needed the encouragement. I thought that I just could not take the problems at home with my stepmother any longer. Now I feel that I can cope.” As the single sister related this experience, she said, with tears: “I never forgot that. In the long run she did me a real favor, because I felt so good about what she said.” Cultivating a personal interest in others of our ‘spiritual family,’ as appropriate, can help in overcoming loneliness. Yet, effort is needed to develop meaningful friendships.*—Mark 10:29, 30.
12. What opportunities does the disciple-making work open up?
12 However, even beyond opportunities within the Christian congregation to offer ‘spiritual gifts,’ there are those that open up with the disciple-making work. The one giving is often refreshed to see the progress of the learner and to note the lasting comfort that Bible truth can bring. So as you ‘take the lead’ in showing love to those both inside and outside God’s household, your own life will be richer and you will find it easier to ‘remain settled in heart.’—Romans 12:2; Ecclesiastes 11:1; Luke 6:38.
Draw on Power from Above
13. How can 2 Timothy 4:17 be especially encouraging to single Christians?
13 While imprisoned in Rome, the apostle Paul had to face a difficult situation alone. He wrote: “But the Lord stood near me and infused power into me.” (2 Timothy 4:17) By this power Paul was faithful and was delivered either literally or symbolically from “the lion’s mouth.” When symbolic “lions” come into your life, do you turn to your tender Father for help? Do you pour out your heart to him, knowing that even if no one else does, he understands your needs and will stand near you?—1 Peter 5:6-9.
14. (a) With what pressure was one single sister confronted, and how was she blessed? (b) What confidence should 1 Corinthians 10:13 give us?
14 One 53-year-old single sister was crushed when she lost her job. “I begged Jehovah to help me to find some work just to keep things going. Before the week was out I had a new job! From that day on I determined to take a day at a time and rely on Jehovah’s care. He has never let me down.” In 1982, after 26 years of pioneering, her prayer for a spiritually qualified mate was answered as she became the wife of a widowed traveling overseer. True, Jehovah does not always answer our prayers in exactly these ways, but he will strengthen us to deal with whatever problems may persist.—1 Corinthians 10:13.
15. (a) To master sexual desires a person must realize what? (b) How is this illustrated in Proverbs chapter 7?
15 “I feel I just cannot make it alone anymore,” wrote one Christian woman. “I find myself with a strong sexual drive and for years I have been unable to find a suitable Christian husband. I have been told just to go home and control myself. But how?” Coping with such emotions is not easy. To master sexual desires a single person must realize when he or she must start bearing down with self-discipline. For instance, in Proverbs 7:6-23, a young man loses his self-control and in a sexual frenzy ‘goes after’ a prostitute. However, he did not immediately reach this stage. Preliminary steps included (1) walking on her street at night, (2) allowing her to kiss him, and (3) listening to her immoral suggestions. Each step made it harder to have self-control until there was no turning back. As soon as he saw himself pursuing step one, he needed to stop!—Galatians 5:22, 23.
16. While no real Christian would follow the course of the immoral man, what could he possibly do?
16 No real Christian would follow the literal steps of this man, but what about one’s thoughts? Could a person mentally begin ‘going down the street to her house’ by dwelling on immoral thoughts? Right then put on the brakes! Failing to do so may result in mentally progressing to further steps such as masturbation or eventual sexual immorality.
17. (a) Why is it necessary to impale the flesh together with its passions? (b) How does a Christian do this?
17 Because wrong desires are pleasurable to our imperfect flesh, they are not easily dismissed. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus impaled the flesh together with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) Impalement was a harsh, painful execution. So take harsh measures with yourself to deaden or “kill” such improper desires—right at the start before they become entrenched. If a TV program begins to excite sexual passion, then turn it off or switch to another program at once. Be circumspect as to movies that you watch or literature that you read. Guard your conversation and how you look upon those of the opposite sex.—Matthew 5:28-30; Colossians 3:5.
18. What have some single Christians done to deaden improper sexual desires, and with what result?
18 When it is time for personal or congregational Bible study, do we resist any urge to neglect these? One Christian, in an effort to impale impure passions when these emotions were especially strong, forced himself to get up out of bed at night and read out loud from the Bible and orally summarize each paragraph until such urges subsided. Christians have at times compelled themselves to pray fervently to Jehovah for help right there and then. As long as a Christian is sincerely striving to impale “sexual appetite” it is unlikely that he will progress to fornication.—Hebrews 4:16.
The Effort Is Worth It!
19. Does our relationship with God depend upon whether we are married or single?
19 Singleness ‘for the Kingdom’s sake’ and marriage—both are gifts from God. Yet both require effort if a Christian is to be successful. Regardless of our status, we can build a close relationship with our God and find fulfillment in life. Even if you “make room” for the gift of singleness only for a short time, what counts is that you use it wisely.
20. (a) How should all mature Christians view singleness? (b) What assurance can single persons have about the future?
20 Realize that Jesus put the gift of voluntary singleness in a very noble position. Every mature Christian should feel as did Jesus and not think of it as a condition to be pitied. Jehovah highly values the sacrifices made by single persons who have chosen to do what he delights in. (Compare Isaiah 56:4, 5.) Jehovah will not forget them. Some who survive into the new earth may enjoy the privileges of marriage, and like the children of Noah after the global flood, have opportunities to take part in the divine commission to ‘fill the earth.’ (Genesis 9:1) Such may be a blessing in addition to those already enjoyed by single Christians. In God’s new order he will ‘satisfy the desire of every living thing’ and give to all the ‘requests of their heart.’ So be assured that all will find full happiness in accord with God’s will at that time.—Psalm 37:3, 4; 145:16.
21. (a) How has the schoolteacher mentioned earlier used her single life? (b) How can other single Christians feel the same way?
21 The former schoolteacher mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article is now 83 years old and still single. She has spent 57 years in full-time Kingdom service, including 56 years at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How does she feel about her life? “I am fully satisfied with my life and my work. I am busier now than ever before in a work that I dearly love,” said this vibrant Christian woman. “I have no regrets. I would make the same decision again.” Yes, you, too, if you are single, can have such satisfaction by making a success of singleness—reaping to the full its advantages and opportunities.
□ How should singleness ‘on account of the Kingdom’ be viewed?
□ What enlarged opportunities are there for single Christians?
□ Why is it better not to give up one’s singleness hastily?
□ To remain ‘settled in one’s heart,’ a single person needs what three things?
Professed Christian writer Athenagoras wrote around 175 C.E.: “You would find many among us, both men and women, growing old unmarried, in hope of living in closer communion with God.”—A Plea for the Christians, chapter 33.
The original Greek word translated “decision,” krino, means “to judge, to pronounce an opinion.” The word is used at John 7:51 where Nicodemus says that before a person is judged, it is necessary to listen to evidence. This would take time.
Please see the articles “But What Do I Say?—Developing the Art of Conversation” and “How Can I Make Real Friends?” in the January 22 and March 22, 1982, issues of the companion magazine Awake!
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SOME SINGLE PERSONS IN THE BIBLE
Jesus: “My food is for me to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.”—John 4:34.
Paul: ‘I slaved for the Lord and thoroughly bore witness. I did not make my soul dear to me.’—Acts 20:19-24.
Jeremiah: “O Jehovah my strength and my stronghold, and my place for flight in the day of distress.”—Jeremiah 16:19.
Jephthah’s daughter: ‘She never had relations with a man. Yearly, women of Israel would go to her at the sanctuary to commend her.’—Judges 11:39, 40.
Anna: ‘She was a widow now eighty-four years old, who was never missing from the temple, rendering sacred service night and day with fastings and supplications.’—Luke 2:37.
Dorcas: “She abounded in good deeds and gifts of mercy.”—Acts 9:36.
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TO REMAIN SETTLED AT HEART
1. Extend yourself spiritually for others
2. Draw power from above when problems abound
3. Resist improper desires at once