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The Single Life as God Intended
By Lina AbuJamra, Bailey Utecht
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2013 Lina AbuJamra
All rights reserved.
No Exchanges, No Returns: The Gift of Singleness
It's Christmas morning. Everyone in the family can't wait to open their presents. There's cheering and there's laughing until my turn comes. I can feel every eye on me. I need a moment of privacy. It happens every Christmas, and I know it's going to happen again. I'm going to get another gift I absolutely can't stand. This time, I refuse to let my expression be captured on video. I refuse to make my gift-loathing known for generations to come. I will win the battle of the undesirable gift and learn to receive it with grace.
Ask anyone in my family. I'm the worst person in the world to buy gifts for. I never know what I want, and no matter what I get, I typically hate it.
If you're single, you know exactly what I mean when I start talking about unwanted and undesirable gifts. Every single Christian has had to sit through a conversation that sounds a little bit like this:
"So, tell me, are you dating anyone?"
"Nope. I'm not," you answer quickly, hoping to get the conversation over with.
"Really. How old are you now? Shouldn't you be settling down by now?" the questioner persists, oblivious to the hideous nature of the question.
"I don't know," you mumble. "I mean, I know I'm getting older, but I seem to be doing okay."
"Oh. I see. You have the gift of singleness. That's it, isn't it?"
While I'm sure that most people really mean well when they grant you the gift of singleness in a sentence, I can assure you that nothing bothers the single Christian more than the assumption that God has given you this "special" gift of singleness. Singleness, a gift? Where in the world would anyone come up with such a grotesque idea? And if singleness is a gift, can someone please point me to the return counter?
IF SINGLENESS is a gift, can someone please point me to the return counter?
Further inquiry into the idea of singleness as a gift reveals that it was not an idea made up by your great-aunt Midge, but by none other than the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church. I've already alluded to the passage in the introduction, but over the course of this book, we're going to spend a big portion of our time in 1 Corinthians 7, so you may as well go ahead and get familiar with its content right now. It's Paul's treatise on singleness and marriage.
But let me start by giving you a little background on the church in Corinth.
THE CHURCH IN CORINTH
In Paul's day, Corinth was the most important city in all of Greece. It was wealthy. It was luxurious. And it was chock-full of immorality. The people of Corinth spent their days attending tournaments and speeches. In other words, they loved sports and politics. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? They liked to have fun much like most Americans do in our modern-day world.
In Acts 18, we're given the account of how the gospel reached the people of Corinth. It was during Paul's second missionary journey that it happened. He was about fifty years old at the time and single, a tentmaker by trade. As soon as he got to Corinth he met a nice couple, Priscilla and Aquila, also tentmakers, and the three of them set up shop. Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth, making tents by day and preaching the gospel by night. By the time Paul was ready to move on, a church had been birthed.
Sadly, the church in Corinth had no sooner taken off than it started sputtering along without the strong leadership of Paul. Unable to break from the carnality of the culture, the worldliness of the city soon infected the fellowship of believers. Cliques were formed. Lawsuits started flying around between believers. Women abandoned modesty. Arguments broke out over marriage, spiritual gifts, and life as a follower of Jesus Christ.
The church, unsure of what to do, wrote to the apostle Paul and asked for advice. Paul was on his third missionary journey by now, and while in Ephesus, he sat down and wrote the two letters to the church in Corinth known to us today as First and Second Corinthians.
The first letter to the Corinthian church began with Paul's usual greeting, but Paul then quickly narrowed in on the heart of the matter. He was quick to warn the church that its greatest danger came not from the outside, but from within, in the form of divisions and cliques in the church (1 Corinthians 1:11). He reminded the church that its only leader and center ought to be Christ. Apart from His leadership, there would be no church. Paul reminded the Corinthian church of the meaning of salvation and reviewed the basics of the gospel on which everything else in the Christian life hinges.
By the time Paul reached chapter 5, he was ready to discuss in greater detail the specific point of immorality that was going on in the Corinthian church: a man was having an incestuous affair with his stepmother. That's bad no matter how you look at it. Paul admonished the church to clean things up and refused to condone this man's sinful behavior. Paul wrote one of the strongest passages on immorality in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 6:9–20. Paul then drove home the point that in Christ, our bodies are not our own. God owns us. He paid for us with a price—the precious blood of Jesus Christ, God's own Son. Because we've been purchased by Christ's death, we can no longer live as we choose. We must now live as God desires, no matter the context of our closest relationships, single or married.
To further expound on how the Christian life ought to look, Paul moved into 1 Corinthians 7 and broke down the who/what/when/where/why of marriage and singleness.
By now you have a clearer picture of the culture in which 1 Corinthians was written. It was a culture of moral decay and corruption. It was a culture that was affecting the church in Corinth. It was a culture very much like our own.
Have you ever wondered whether God understands the stress and temptation that single Christians face today? Have you ever wondered if you as a single Christian immersed in a culture of great sensuality can live a holy life that thrives? The answer is a resounding yes. Just ask Paul as we embark on his teachings on singleness and sex to a church caught in the midst of a morally corrupt world and culture.
But I digress. We'll talk about sex and singleness later on in the book. Right now I'd like to introduce you to the concept of singleness as the gift that God has lovingly and purposefully given you in order to thrive.
SINGLENESS AS A GIFT
I once wanted a blender for Christmas really, really badly. Every time I came across a recipe, even though I don't cook, I seemed to think that it absolutely needed this particular stainless steel and glass blender. Every time I felt thirsty, I dreamed of the wonderful drinks I could make with that specific blender. So I did what every smart woman would do: I made sure I told the right people what I wanted, and when Christmas morning finally came around, I acted delighted and appropriately surprised when I unwrapped the package and saw the beautiful blender that was everything I thought it would be and more. My dream had come true.
Two years have gone by since I received that perfect gift, and I'd like you to take a moment and try to guess how many times I've used my blender so far. Go ahead. Write it down. Are you ready for the answer? If you guessed twice, you are correct.
Now allow me to tell you about another Christmas gift on a different Christmas. It was finally my turn to open my present. I held the package and wondered what could be so big and so fluffy. I hadn't asked for anything that year, and certainly for nothing so big and quite so fluffy. I tentatively opened the package, carefully watching my facial expressions. By the time I processed that what I held in my hands was a big and fluffy red blanket, it was too late to hide my dismay. A blanket for Christmas? Who would give such a—how can I say this politely—useful gift to anyone? I took my blanket home with no plans to use it and started making up a list of folks I could regift it to.
Little did I know that the red blanket would become a family and personal favorite, and the saving grace to my very cold basement for years to come. I can't keep track of the friends who have snuggled beneath its warmth and wondered as to its softness. The blanket that I would have never chosen turned out to be this girl's best friend and the best Christmas gift I have ever received.
It's a funny thing about gifts. The gift you think you can't live without ends up sitting unused on a shelf somewhere in your home, while the gift you initially can't stand turns out to be the one item you can't live without.
The truth is that, most of the time, you and I have very little concept as to what we truly need in our lives. Our desires are affected by what we see on television, what advertisers tell us we need, or by what our friends have. Our wants are often molded by our backgrounds, upbringing, and culture. They are influenced by the last movie we watched or the latest book we read. Most of us give only a passing regard to what God deeply desires for our lives.
It shouldn't surprise us then that we apply the same rules when it comes to our singleness.
Singleness, a gift? The very idea is appalling. Who would ever give anyone such a—how can I say it politely—useless gift? Weren't we made for marriage and sex and kids and car seats?
If you're single, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Singleness is the gift that you never wanted, never planned on, and wish you'd never opened. Surely there's been a mistake. Surely this is not your gift to keep forever and happily ever after?
But a careful look at God's Word reveals that your gift is no mistake. We've been talking about 1 Corinthians 7, and if you'll read verse 7 you'll see that it was Paul who brought up the concept of singleness as a gift. Here is what he says in 1 Corinthians 7:7: "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another,"
YOU AND I have very little concept as to what we truly need in our lives.
Wait—say that again? Singleness—a gift? Why in the world would anyone consider singleness a gift? It sounds more like a curse to most people. And if it is a gift, who is "lucky" enough to have it? Or if I may make it even more personal: Do you have the gift of singleness?
I believe the best way to answer this question is to consider some basic characteristics of this so-called gift.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GIFT
When discussing the gift of singleness, there are three characteristics of the gift that you must observe from 1 Corinthians 7:7.
First, it is a personal gift. The word each insinuates the idea that this gift is personal. God gives each person a gift. It is the perfect gift because it's given personally to each individual with great thought and care.
Second, it is a unique gift. To further emphasize his point, Paul reminds us that this isn't a grab bag, white elephant gift exchange. The Word of God says that each person has his own gift. This gift has been uniquely given to each person by the Lord. It is a unique gift.
Third, it is a gift from God. The most amazing thing about this gift of singleness isn't just that it was designed specifically with you in mind, but that the giver of the gift is God Himself. He fashioned the gift. He made it perfectly and uniquely and personally for you. God gave you the best gift possible, knowing everything there is to know about you and your life. That's pretty amazing.
Your gift is not an accident. It's not a mistake. It's not a joke. It is for real. It doesn't get much better than that!
You may be thinking to yourself, But that doesn't seem fair. Why in the world would God give me the gift of singleness? Doesn't He know me at all? Or you may be thinking, What if I don't want this gift? Can I return it? Is it too late to exchange it?
These are great questions, and by the time you finish this book, I hope you will have the answers you're looking for. For now, let's consider the gift of singleness from God's perspective. Is the gift of singleness yours permanently, or only for a season? And do you have any choice in the matter of your giftedness?
SINGLE BY GIFTING
So far in my life, I've met two people who believe they actually have the spiritual gift of singleness. In other words, they genuinely believe that God has called them to be single for the rest of their lives and have no desire to ever be married. I cynically glaze over when they start talking, because deep down, I believe that they are likely to change their minds if the right six-foot tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed, washboard ab'ed guy showed up at their doorstep.
Maybe you're not as cynical as I am, but the truth is that only a small number of people reading this book believe that the gift of singleness is the most natural and desirable gift ever given to them by God.
The "single-by-gifting" Christian makes me think of Matthew 19:12. In this passage, Jesus is having a very interesting conversation with the people about divorce. The disciples, puzzled over Jesus' statement about divorce, make the conclusion that people would be better off remaining single. To that, Jesus acknowledges that indeed some people have been given the gift of singleness and as such, are very happy to remain single, and thus avoid divorce. Look at Jesus' words in Matthew 19:12: "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it."
You probably haven't used the word eunuch in a conversation today, so I looked it up for you. According to Wikipedia, a eunuch is a person who may have been castrated and who often worked as a harem guard or palace official. Wikipedia goes on to say that according to ancient texts, a eunuch may also refer to a man who is not castrated but who is impotent, celibate, or otherwise not inclined to marry and reproduce2 Regardless of Wikipedia's definition, Christ used the term, not in a derogatory fashion, but in quite a positive way.
What Jesus was saying is that a single-by-gifting person is like the eunuch whose sexual urges do not control him and who is happy to remain single.
If you're reading this and realize that you fit the description of single by gifting—good for you. You're probably the exception to the rule in our sexually charged culture, and you can consider yourself blessed. You're happily single by gifting, and nothing would push you over to the other side.
Before you close this book and figure you're good to go, let me warn you that just because you're single by gifting doesn't mean that your life is necessarily thriving for the Lord. If you have the gift of singleness, the challenge for you is to think carefully about why God has given you this gift and how you will use it for His kingdom-building purposes. So resist the urge to stop reading and make sure you finish the book.
SINGLE BY YOUR CHOOSING
The second category of the gift of singleness is the "single by your choosing" group. You fall in this group if you're one of those "who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:12). I remember reading the story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. They had dated for a while and felt that they had found their soul mate in each other. However, Jim Elliot had other plans. He felt called to be a missionary to the Auca Indians. Elisabeth did not. So Jim became a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of God. He ended his relationship with Elisabeth with no hopes of ever marrying the love of his life. He was determined not to let anything stand in the way of God's call for his life. Eventually God did change both Jim and Elisabeth's plans and they did get married, but not until both of them had fully surrendered their dreams of love and marriage to the Lord.
Excerpted from Thrive by Lina AbuJamra. Copyright © 2013 by Lina AbuJamra. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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