January 2010 - Vol. 36
Jesus’ Teaching on Singleness 
by Barry Danylak, continued

Paul’s teaching on marriage and singleness
Paul’s statements about marriage and singleness in 1 Corinthians 7 are consistent with the teaching of Jesus in the gospels. He too affirms that it is good for the unmarried to remain single (1 Cor. 7:8). His reasons seem to describe the eunuch type dedicated service that Jesus suggests when he argues that the single person is “free from anxieties” and “anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32).” 

The benefits of singleness are clear. One is able to cultivate an “undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:35)” and dedicate one’s energy to how he or she might please and serve him. But there were specific aspects of the situation of the church in Corinth that also serve to shape Paul’s response. Most notably the church had a history of problems with illicit sexual activity (1 Cor 5:1-11; 6:12-20; 7:2; 10:8, etc.) Thus Paul wishes to make clear to his Corinthian audience that marriage is a provision of God given for legitimate sexual expression.  He goes so far as to direct the Corinthians that within marriage partners should not deprive each other (1 Cor 7:5)! While Paul stipulates that the inability to control one’s sexual passion is a valid (and good) reason to marry, thus providing a category of those to whom Jesus’ teaching on eunuchs is not given, he does not indicate that sexual passion is the exclusive reason that one should marry. Rather his answer appears shaped by the Corinthian situation and still leaves open other legitimate motivations for marriage consistent with Matthew 19:12. 

Jesus’ single life
Though the gospels give no indication of Jesus being married, did Jesus consider himself to be a eunuch for the kingdom of God? Was he fulfilled and satisfied as a single man in first century Jewish Palestine? The former question seems evident from Jesus’ statements of his own lifestyle.  In Jesus’ statement, “the Son of Man has no where to lay his head (Matt 8:20; Luke 9:58),” the gospel writers indicate that he had no home or family of his own. Jesus also declares that the purpose for which he was sent is to “preach the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43).” As an itinerant single man preaching the kingdom Jesus fits the sense of one who sets himself apart for dedicated service to the kingdom of God. 

Jesus didn’t have sons and daughters but he did leave a legacy though those who became his disciples and followers. He uses maternal language to express his desire to gather all the children of Jerusalem as a hen gathers her brood (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34), although they would not be gathered. Instead he turns to calling selective individuals to follow him as his disciples. These become members of Jesus’ kingdom family which supersede the importance of his own nuclear family. He refers to his disciples as his mother and brothers over and against his physical family (Matthew 12:48-49). His disciples likewise recognise this tension between their nuclear families and their commitment to Jesus; Peter acknowledges that “we have left our own homes and followed you (Luke 18:28)”. 

The Last Supper as a Passover meal would have been a family occasion in which the father was to instruct the children in the significance of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:24-27). But here instead we see Jesus gathered with his disciples and instructing them regarding the details of his impending betrayal and death. The culmination of the occasion occurs when Jesus proclaims the new covenant, offered to them in the cup of his blood (Luke 22:20). 

Thus the legacy Jesus leaves is not in physical progeny, but in forming disciples in his image and in commissioning them also to be disciple-makers (Matthew 28:19-20).  The apostle Paul sees himself within Jesus’ legacy of discipleship when he exhorts the Corinthians to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Cor 11:1).”

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[This article is excerpted from A Biblical Theology of Singleness, copyright  © Barry Danylak 2007, published by Grove Books Limited, Cambridge, UK. Used with permission.]

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