Singleness—A Door to Undistracted Activity
“[It] means constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction.”—1 CORINTHIANS 7:35.
1. What disturbing news reached Paul about the Christians in Corinth?
THE apostle Paul was concerned about his Christian brothers in Corinth, Greece. About five years earlier, he had established the congregation in that prosperous city renowned for its immorality. Now, about 55 C.E., while in Ephesus, in Asia Minor, he received disturbing reports from Corinth of partisan divisions and the tolerating of a bad case of immorality. Furthermore, Paul had received a letter from the Corinthian Christians asking for guidance on sexual relations, celibacy, marriage, separation, and remarriage.
2. How was the immorality prevalent in Corinth apparently affecting the Christians in that city?
2 The gross immorality prevalent in Corinth seemed to be affecting the local congregation in two ways. Some Christians were yielding to the atmosphere of moral laxity and were tolerating immorality. (1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:15-17) Apparently others, by way of reaction to carnal pleasures that were omnipresent in the city, went to the extreme of recommending abstinence from all sexual intercourse, even for married couples.—1 Corinthians 7:5.
3. What matters did Paul initially deal with in his first letter to the Corinthians?
3 In the long letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he first addressed the problem of disunity. (1 Corinthians, chapters 1-4) He exhorted them to avoid following men, which can lead only to harmful schisms. They should be united as “fellow workers” of God. Then he gave them specific instructions on keeping the congregation morally clean. (1Co Chapters 5, 6) The apostle next turned to their letter.
4. What did Paul mean when he said that “it is well for a man not to touch a woman”?
4 He began: “Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is well for a man not to touch a woman.” (1 Corinthians 7:1) The expression “not to touch a woman” here means avoiding physical contact with a woman for sexual gratification. Since Paul had already condemned fornication, he was now referring to sexual relations within the marriage arrangement. Therefore, Paul was now recommending the single state. (1 Corinthians 6:9, 16, 18; compare Genesis 20:6; Proverbs 6:29.) A little further on, he wrote: “Now I say to the unmarried persons and the widows, it is well for them that they remain even as I am.” (1 Corinthians 7:8) Paul was unmarried, perhaps a widower.—1 Corinthians 9:5.
5, 6. (a) Why is it clear that Paul was not recommending a monastic life-style? (b) Why did Paul recommend singleness?
5 Likely the Christians in Corinth had come into contact with Greek philosophy, of which certain schools lauded extreme asceticism, or self-denial. Might that have been why the Corinthians asked Paul if it would be “well” for Christians to avoid all sexual intercourse? Paul’s answer did not reflect Greek philosophy. (Colossians 2:8) Unlike Catholic theologians, he nowhere recommended a celibate ascetic life in a monastery or convent, as if single persons were particularly holy and could contribute to their own salvation by their life-style and prayers.
6 Paul recommended singleness “in view of the necessity here with us.” (1 Corinthians 7:26) He might have been referring to the difficult times Christians were going through, which could be compounded by marriage. (1 Corinthians 7:28) His counsel to unmarried Christians was: “It is well for them that they remain even as I am.” To widowers, he stated: “Are you loosed from a wife? Stop seeking a wife.” Of a Christian widow, he wrote: “She is happier if she remains as she is, according to my opinion. I certainly think I also have God’s spirit.”—1 Corinthians 7:8, 27, 40.
No Compulsion to Remain Single
7, 8. What shows that Paul was not compelling any Christian to remain single?
7 Jehovah’s holy spirit was undoubtedly guiding Paul when he gave this counsel. His whole presentation of celibacy and marriage shows balance and restraint. He does not make it a matter of faithfulness or unfaithfulness. It is, rather, a question of free choice, with the balance tipping in favor of singleness for those who are able to remain chaste in that state.
8 Immediately after stating “it is well for a man not to touch a woman,” Paul added: “Yet, because of prevalence of fornication, let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:1, 2) After advising unmarried persons and widows to “remain even as I am,” he was quick to add: “But if they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:8, 9) Again, his counsel to widowers was: “Stop seeking a wife. But even if you did marry, you would commit no sin.” (1 Corinthians 7:27, 28) This balanced counsel reflects freedom of choice.
9. According to Jesus and Paul, how are both marriage and singleness gifts from God?
9 Paul showed that both marriage and singleness are gifts from God. “I wish all men were as I myself am. Nevertheless, each one has his own gift from God, one in this way, another in that way.” (1 Corinthians 7:7) He doubtless had in mind what Jesus said. After establishing that marriage came from God, Jesus showed that willing singleness for the sake of serving Kingdom interests is a particular gift: “Not all men make room for the saying, but only those who have the gift. For there are eunuchs that were born such from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs that were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs that have made themselves eunuchs on account of the kingdom of the heavens. Let him that can make room for it make room for it.”—Matthew 19:4-6, 11, 12.
Making Room for the Gift of Singleness
10. How can a person “make room” for the gift of singleness?
10 While both Jesus and Paul spoke of singleness as being a “gift,” neither said that it is a miraculous gift that only some have. Jesus said that “not all men make room” for that gift, and he exhorted those who can do so to “make room for it,” which Jesus and Paul did. True, Paul wrote: “It is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion,” but he was speaking of those who “do not have self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:9) In earlier writings, Paul showed that Christians can avoid being inflamed with passion. (Galatians 5:16, 22-24) To walk by spirit means to let Jehovah’s spirit guide our every step. Can young Christians do this? Yes, if they closely follow Jehovah’s Word. The psalmist wrote: “How will a young man [or woman] cleanse his [or her] path? By keeping on guard according to your word.”—Psalm 119:9.
11. What does it mean to ‘walk in accord with the spirit’?
11 This involves guarding against permissive ideas diffused by means of many TV programs, movies, magazine articles, books, and song lyrics. Such ideas are flesh-oriented. A young Christian of either sex who wants to make room for singleness should “walk, not in accord with the flesh, but in accord with the spirit. For those who are in accord with the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those in accord with the spirit [set their minds] on the things of the spirit.” (Romans 8:4, 5) Things of the spirit are righteous, chaste, lovable, virtuous. Christians, young and old, do well to “continue considering these things.”—Philippians 4:8, 9.
12. What is largely involved in making room for the gift of singleness?
12 Making room for the gift of singleness is largely a matter of setting one’s heart on that goal and praying to Jehovah for help in pursuing it. (Philippians 4:6, 7) Paul wrote: “If anyone stands settled in his heart, having no necessity, but has authority over his own will and has made this decision in his own 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 Corinthians 7:37, 38.
Singleness With a Purpose
13, 14. (a) What comparison did the apostle Paul make between unmarried and married Christians? (b) How only can a single Christian “do better” than those who are married?
13 Singleness is not meritorious in itself. In what sense, then, can it be “better”? It all depends on how a person uses the freedom it brings. Paul wrote: “Indeed, I want you to be free from anxiety. The unmarried man is anxious for the things of the Lord, how he may gain the Lord’s approval. But the married man is anxious for the things of the world, how he may gain the approval of his wife, and he is divided. Further, the unmarried woman, and the virgin, is anxious for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in her body and in her spirit. However, the married woman is anxious for the things of the world, how she may gain the approval of her husband. But this I am saying for your personal advantage, not that I may cast a noose upon you, but to move you to that which is becoming and that which means constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction.”—1 Corinthians 7:32-35.
14 A single Christian who uses his unmarried state to pursue selfish goals is not doing “better” than married Christians. He is remaining single, not “on account of the kingdom,” but for personal reasons. (Matthew 19:12) The unmarried man or woman should be “anxious for the things of the Lord,” be anxious to “gain the Lord’s approval,” and be in “constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction.” This means devoting undivided attention to serving Jehovah and Christ Jesus. Only by so doing are unmarried Christian men and women doing “better” than married Christians.
15. What is the crux of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians chapter 7?
15 Paul’s whole argument in this chapter is this: While marriage is legitimate and, under certain circumstances, advisable for some, singleness is undeniably advantageous for the Christian man or woman who wants to serve Jehovah with minimum distraction. Whereas the married person is “divided,” the unmarried Christian is free to concentrate attention on “the things of the Lord.”
16, 17. How can a single Christian better concentrate attention on “the things of the Lord”?
16 What are the Lord’s things to which an unmarried Christian can give attention more freely than people who are married? In another context, Jesus spoke of “God’s things”—things that a Christian cannot give to Caesar. (Matthew 22:21) These things essentially concern a Christian’s life, worship, and ministry.—Matthew 4:10; Romans 14:8; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 3:5, 6; 4:1.
17 Single persons are generally freer to devote time to Jehovah’s service, which can benefit their spirituality and the extent of their ministry. They can spend more time on personal study and meditation. Single Christians can often fit their Bible reading into their schedule more easily than those who are married can. They may prepare better for meetings and field service. All of this is to their “personal advantage.”—1 Corinthians 7:35.
18. How can many single brothers show that they want to serve Jehovah “without distraction”?
18 Many single brothers who are already serving as ministerial servants are free to say to Jehovah: “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) They can apply to attend the Ministerial Training School, which is reserved for single ministerial servants and elders who are free to serve where the need is greater. Even brothers who are not free to leave their congregation can make themselves available to serve their brothers as ministerial servants or elders.—Philippians 2:20-23.
19. How are many single sisters blessed, and what is one way in which they can be a blessing to the congregations?
19 Single sisters, not having a human head to consult with and confide in, may be more apt to ‘throw their burdens upon Jehovah.’ (Psalm 55:22; 1 Corinthians 11:3) This is particularly important for sisters who out of love for Jehovah are single. If in time they do marry, it would be “only in the Lord,” that is, only to someone dedicated to Jehovah. (1 Corinthians 7:39) Elders are thankful to have unmarried sisters in their congregations; these often visit and help the sick and the elderly. This brings happiness to all concerned.—Acts 20:35.
20. How are many Christians showing that they are in “constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction”?
20 Many young Christians have arranged their affairs so as to be in “constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction.” (1 Corinthians 7:35) They are serving Jehovah as full-time pioneer ministers, missionaries, or at one of the Watch Tower Society’s branch offices. And what a happy group they are! How refreshing their presence is! Why, in Jehovah’s and Jesus’ eyes, they are “just like dewdrops.”—Psalm 110:3.
No Vow of Perpetual Celibacy
21. (a) Why is it plain that Paul did not encourage the taking of a vow of celibacy? (b) What did he imply when he spoke of being “past the bloom of youth”?
21 A key point in Paul’s counsel is that Christians would do “well” to make room in their lives for singleness. (1 Corinthians 7:1, 8, 26, 37) In no way, however, does he invite them to take a vow of celibacy. On the contrary, he wrote: “If anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virginity, if that is past the bloom of youth, and this is the way it should take place, let him do what he wants; he does not sin. Let them marry.” (1 Corinthians 7:36) The one Greek word (hy·peʹra·kmos) translated “past the bloom of youth” literally means “beyond the highest point” and refers to passing the peak surge of sexual desire. So those who have spent several years in the single state and who eventually feel they should marry are completely free to marry a fellow believer.—2 Corinthians 6:14.
22. Why is it advantageous from every standpoint for a Christian not to marry too young?
22 The years that a young Christian spends serving Jehovah without distraction are a wise investment. They allow him or her to acquire practical wisdom, experience, and insight. (Proverbs 1:3, 4) A person who has remained single on account of the Kingdom is in a far better position later, if he so decides, to assume the responsibilities of married life and perhaps parenthood.
23. What might some who contemplate marriage have in mind, but what question will be considered in the following articles?
23 Some Christians who have spent several years serving Jehovah full-time in the single state carefully choose their future mate with a view to continuing in some form of full-time service. This is certainly most commendable. Some might even envisage getting married with the idea of not allowing their marriage to impede their service in any way. But should a married Christian feel as free to concentrate on his service of Jehovah as when he or she was single? This question will be considered in the following articles.
By Way of Review
□ Why did the apostle Paul feel the need to write to the congregation in Corinth?
□ Why do we know that Paul was not recommending a monastic life-style?
□ How can a person “make room” for singleness?
□ How can single sisters profit from their single state?
□ In what ways can single brothers take advantage of their freedom to serve Jehovah “without distraction”?