To All My Single Ladies (and Men)
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To All My Single Ladies (and Men)
1 Corinthians 7:25-40
In 2008 Beyonce released “All My Single Ladies” and the song became an anthem. If you’ve ever been to a wedding, you then you know the song. It was a big deal for a lot of reasons, but one reason it became so popular is that there just aren’t a lot of songs about being single. Turn on the radio right now or open Spotify, and I bet the songs that pop up are talking about a relationship. This isn’t just the case for music, it seems that every corner of culture is captivated by the idea of romantic love and the Church is no exception.
I know that Beyonce’s song has a sentiment that is very different from the passage we read a moment ago, but it stands out to me as a song that carries an affirmation of singleness. So, to follow the lead of Queen Bey, I wanted to dedicate a sermon to all the Single Ladies and Men. Put your hands up! I’ve been in church a long time, and I know that the church, whether deliberately or not, tends to favour families. I was in a course a few months and we had to come up with a definition for Christian Education, and one of my classmates described it as something for “Families”. When I asked him, what about the singles, he laughed and said, Oh right, I guess I should include them too. If you’ve been single in the church, then I know that there were times when you may have felt like an afterthought, or even ignored. That’s not right, it’s not the way the Church is meant to be.
I reached out for some help on this sermon, and the response was somewhat overwhelming. I want to thank everyone who took the time to email, text, call and leaves me voice messages to share your own experiences of being single in the Church. I heard from people in their 20s, all the way to people in the 80s. I heard from people in different denominations and from different parts of Canada. And I heard from people all across the spectrum of singleness – those who are waiting to meet the right person, those who have chosen to be single, those who are single after a divorce or single after being widowed, single moms and single pastors.
The stories and experiences that you shared with me were so meaningful and insightful and showed me that there are many facets to being single in the Church. I know I can’t do justice to all the stories that I heard in the short time we have this morning. So I want to start by saying what this sermon is not about. I am not going to talk to about a theology of singleness. Christianity is unique in that it is the only Abrahamic religion to view singleness as a calling and a gift. While this is important to recognize in the Church, of everyone that I’ve spoken with, there were only a handful told me that they felt that calling on their lives. What I want to do today, is affirm the place of singles in the body of Christ and talk about how the Church can better love and support them. This is important because the Kingdom of God is realized when all members of the body are loved and growing and fully embraced into the life of the Church. I see this as a matter of critical importance for the strength and flourishing of the body of Christ. I also want to talk about family and what it means to be the family of God.
One theme that emerged from my conversations was that of loneliness. I heard good stories of singles who found that their church really was a family to them, and other stories of people feeling even more isolated by their church’s focus on family ministries and couples serving together and of course, during COVID, not being allowed to sit with or go near others because of the household bubbles. One of the harder things I heard, is that the Church can make you feel like a second class citizen if you are single. Some other challenges that people shared with me about being single, were these:
- People can treat singleness like it’s a disease that needs to be cured
- Being excluded from church retreats or events, because they are for families or couples (if we’re holding an event that Jesus couldn’t come to…. Maybe we should rethink the event)
- Financial challenges that come with living on a single income, especially in the city
- The lack of physical touch from another person, especially during COVID
- Feeling used by the Church because everyone assumes they have a lot of extra time
- Having people tell them that they are “extra blessed” to be single or “so strong” to be able to be single and ignoring the pain and struggles that come with singleness
- Feeling invisible in the Church
It’s hard to say where this elevation of marriage in the Church came from. When we read the Bible, we have so many examples of single people doing great things for God. We have Naomi, and Jeremiah, and Paul, and Jesus himself. The latter two both had things to say about marriage and singleness. Paul is writing about sexuality and relationships in 1 Corinthians, and he gets to these verses on being single. This is a time in history when the Corinthian church is facing a crisis. Believers are being persecuted and they believe that Jesus will return any day. Suddenly, they are re-evaluating their plans, specifically for those who were committed to be married, but aren’t yet married. As we all know, a crisis, causes you to step back and question your priorities. A crisis causes you to ask, what is necessary and what is not. And so this group of believers is asking, should we go through with our plans to marry? Even the married people are asking, should we leave our spouses so we can focus on spreading the gospel? These questions are generating a lot of anxiety for this community and Paul wants to address this anxiety.
He wants his hearers to know that marriage is not superior to singleness and that singleness is not superior to marriage. Now, if he has to choose, Paul believes that it is better to remain single. It’s not about choosing between bad and good, but choosing between good and better. His reasoning for singleness being better is that your priority will be for the Lord’s work. We have the example of Jesus as a single man. Jesus was the epitome of human perfection. And when we are in our perfect states, when this world passes away and we live on the new earth, there won’t be any marriage. But what does this mean for singles today? Are singles to be celebrated and rejoiced over? Are singles the ones who will play a critical role in helping to grow the Kingdom of God on earth? Well, I think the answer is yes, but we have to acknowledge that we are not yet in that perfect state. There is no need for marriage in the new earth because believers will live in perfect intimacy with each other and with God. But given that we live in a fallen world, as fallen people, we’re not there yet. Paul’s passage is a confusing one. Toward the end, he talks about marriage as something for those who burn with passion and singleness as something for those who have self-discipline. And I don’t know what Paul’s deal was, but I’ve heard how this has been twisted in the Church to equate marriage with sex. What I mean by this, is that the hardest part of being single is not the lack of sex, but the lack of companionship. When God saw Adam alone in the garden, he didn’t say, It’s not good for man to be celibate. He said it’s not good for a man to be alone. He said I will make a kenegdo, a Hebrew phrase that means one who corresponds to him, one who is equal. God made us to be in relationship with one another. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extravert, or what your marital status, you need deep and meaningful human connection. There are even studies that show that you need 7 affirming touches per day from another human, to be a healthy and whole person. We have this desire for intimacy because that is how God created us. Yearning for that intimacy doesn’t mean that God is not enough for you; it means that you are who God says you are. It means that God created us for companionship. It means that God knows what you need and he provided this family, we call the Church, to meet that need for deep, intimate connection.
Which brings us to this concept of the family of God.
The FAMILY of God and Adoption
As we think about singlehood in the church and we think about marriage in the church, we should keep in mind that we need each other. In the early church, when people coming to Christ, they weren’t converting from one religion to another. It was understood that they were converting from one family to another. Back in Genesis, we see that God made a covenant with Abraham, and the blessings of this covenant were to be passed on to his descendants. In Genesis 17, God tells Abraham that he and his descendants must keep his covenant and that through his line, the whole world will be blessed. The sign of that covenant will be circumcision, so, from now on, all the males in the line of Abraham are required to be circumcised and this sets them apart.
When Jesus dies on the cross not quite 2,000 later, the covenant that God made with Abraham is fulfilled. This blessing that was once reserved for the descendants of Abraham is now available for everyone. So, while we may not be direct descendants of Abraham, we have been adopted into the family of God because of the blood that was shed on the cross for our salvation. This is why Paul before he starts talking about being single, tells the believers not to worry about circumcision, it doesn’t matter anymore! Paul is asking the believers to reimagine family. The family of God is no longer defined by their ancestry or by a physical marking, but by their obedience to the commandments of God. And if you are saved, if you are a disciple of Christ, then you are a part of that family. You’ve heard the phrase “blood is thicker than water”. I always thought this referred to family ties being stronger than anything else but the full quote actually has the opposite meaning. It says “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”. It’s referring to soldiers who get wounded in battle and means that blood shed will bond you more strongly than genetics ever will. For those of us living under the blood of Jesus, under the covenant, we may not have the same genetics, but we have the same Spirit and it is this common Spirit that unites us, family.
We see this widening of the family begin with Jesus during his earthly ministry. As Jesus is doing miracles, a woman calls out that his mother Mary is blessed and Jesus says, those even more blessed are those who hear his word and keep it. As Jesus hangs on the cross dying, we see him bring Mary and John together and say this is your new family, take care of each other. This covenant family is our new priority. This doesn’t mean that you abandon your nuclear family, but it does mean that you prioritize the people in your church family. It means that you practice adoption in your church. I’m not talking about adopting children, although that is something I support, but we need to adopt each other into our families.
What does that support look like for singles?
1) Encourage and support them to grow in their relationship with Christ and to find their calling. We need to be careful that we encourage intimacy with Christ as the most important thing, rather than finding a spouse.
2) Celebrate them. One of my dear friends pointed out that there is no occasion when a single person can ask others to gift her a Cuisinart standing mixer. Why do we only gather to celebrate marriages and babies? What about new jobs and new apartments? What about baptism anniversaries and other milestones that don’t revolve around the family?
3) Make sure that you have opportunities for them to serve
4) If you have kids, invite a single person into your family to be an auntie or uncle. Everyone benefits from this!
5) See each person for who they are, not who they are or aren’t attached too.
6) And finally, the best way to know how to support someone is by walking alongside them. Invite them over for dinner so they aren’t eating alone every night. Uphold them in prayer and ask God how you can love them well.
No matter your status, it’s important to remember where your identity lies. As one young woman pointed out, you can be satisfied or dissatisfied if you are single, you can be satisfied or dissatisfied if you are married. The only one who can satisfy our deepest longings is Jesus. So if you are romantically entangled, focus on cultivating that intimacy with Christ and stepping into your identity as a child of God. And if you are single, focus on cultivating that intimacy with Christ and stepping into your identity as a child of God. As we grow in intimacy with our Creator, we become Christ to one another, and our focus shifts away from our anxieties to how we can serve one another. So to all the single ladies and men out there; we see you, we love you and we are grateful for you. May God by his Spirit, unite us and enable us to fully live out our identity as the Family of God.