October/November 2014 - Vol. 76

 group discussion
New Testament Affirmation of Singleness

by Dr. Barry Danylak

In our modern multicultural climate, orthodox Christians who affirm a high value for biblically-based “family values”, such as sexual chastity, heterosexual marriage, life beginning at conception, and the discouragement of divorce, often find allies in those from other faith traditions including Judaism, Islam and Mormonism.

But the New Testament’s surprising additional affirmation of singleness as something “good” (1 Cor 7:1), on the other hand, generally breaks with these other traditions and raises the possibility that the distinction itself points to something fundamentally different in Christian theology. 

What is it that makes Christianity different, and why is it that Christianity positively affirms a positive role and purpose for singles within the community of faith, while these other traditions also rooted in the creation account in Genesis do not?  The answer is not a simple one, but intersects how we understand the person and work of Christ, the nature of Christian discipleship and the household of faith.  

Genesis is the foundational beginning of how we are to understand marriage, singleness and offspring, but it is not the end of the story.  As theologically astute Christians we are compelled to follow these themes as they develop through the full canon of the Word of God culminating in the person work of Jesus Christ and the nature of the new community that he inaugurates.

The theological question of singleness is worth exploring not simply because we may find ourselves or someone dear to us in the single state, but because in exploring it we gain greater understanding of the larger macro-theological themes of Scripture. The payoff is not primarily therapeutic, but transformative in what it has to teach us about the nature of God and the grandeur of his plan for humanity.  The upshot is that this is a topic worth exploring because the journey has much to teach us beyond the topic itself.

For though we begin with a theological question about singleness, we soon find ourselves standing before the grand and comprehensive plan of God purposed in Christ for all creation.  From there we return, blessed and enriched in our understanding not only of singleness, but also of marriage, offspring, family and everything else in God’s created order.

The topic is also important because it does touch so many of us, either at present, or in the past, or possibly in the future. We all begin our life as single and we all will exit it single.

The majority of us find ourselves unmarried as we approach death’s door.  Even those in long and very blessed marriages recognize that circumstances can suddenly tear us from our spouses with no advanced warning.  So it is perhaps the stark reality of life in this age that compels us to take fresh comfort in this distinctive New Testament teaching.  And it is reason enough that we should seek to understand the deeper theological truths to which it points.  


The Corporate Joy of Singleness

I am persuaded that there is a type of corporate joy in celibate Christian singleness that is seldom appreciated or talked about.  In Luke 20:34-36 Jesus tells us that those who attain to the new age of the resurrection will neither marry nor be given in marriage because they cannot die anymore.  Rather, they shall be “like the angels”.  With death and marriage (in the traditional sense) passé in the age to come, we can also infer the disappearance of few other things such as old age, childhood (assuming we are all resurrected as adults), spousal and parental relationships, and most likely sexual union.   

Former familial relationships (spouses, parents, children, etc.) may be recognizable, but they will not function as they formerly did.  On the other hand the reality of being brothers and sisters in our new family in Christ may well be the best sense of what does continue in our eternal state.   

Part of the excitement and joy of being single in Christ here and now is that it can serve as an anticipatory glimpse of our eternal community.  This is because Christian singleness is not meant to be a singleness lived in isolation, but lived within a larger family of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Christian singles have greater availability for sharing in and strengthening the lives of one another in a range of different ways.  Singleness brings more flexibility to spontaneously make time to encourage someone else’s spiritual journey over a meal or coffee.  It can serve to spur each another in existing or new opportunities for service within the kingdom of God.

There can be a genuine buzz of excitement in the anticipation of wondering how and where God might choose to move us next in his global operations.  There is continual opportunity to create time to drink deeply of the well of life experiences of others around us, and there are many opportunities to meet and share in the lives of an enormous range of persons of both sexes within the global family of Christ. 

 Though in some degree these things are also experienced in our fellowship as the broader corporate church, Christian singles that cultivate community together often find an intensification of this unique joy insofar as they are less distracted with traditional familial responsibilities of the present age. This is the joy of singleness that rightly serves as a prophetic token of the age to come.  It is something to be savored and shared.

For more resources on the topic of “redeeming singleness” visit Dr. Barry Danylak’s blog at: http://redeemingsingleness.com/

Dr. Barry Danylak is author of the 2010 book Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the single life He completed his Ph.D. with the University of Cambridge with the title of his thesis: "Secular Singleness and Paul's Response in 1 Corinthians 7".  Barry is a never-married single man currently serving as the community leader for single adults at Centre Street Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  Barry resides in High River, Alberta, Canada.

 copyright © 2014 The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom