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Single, but Never Alone
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 7:1-40
Track 1 of 7 in the A Transforming Church . . . Produces Transforming Families series
Running time: 30 minutes, 43 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

"Single and Serving"

I wish you could have seen the look on Trevor's face. I was in the library picking up books to use for our new series of sermons. I mentioned the "pairs and spares" classes we used to have in our churches. The look was one of complete disbelief.

But it's true . . . lots of churches had classes for married couples (pairs) and singles (spares). Amazing isn't it? We actually called singles "spares" -- extras, left-overs. The favorite term of an acquaintance of mine was "unclaimed blessings." Think about that one . . .

It's true, God did say, "It's not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). It was the only part of creation He said that about. Marriage is the norm. It's the basis of society. But Paul (under God's inspiration) said, "It is good for them to stay unmarried" (1 Corinthians 7:8). Singleness is also good.

Either choice is obviously good. For most, marriage is the norm. For some, being single is the appropriate life choice. No one should presume to make that choice for another. That's a decision left to an individual in their relationship with God.

Several peole throughout recent history have chosen singleness and have used that as an opportunity for service. John R. W. Stott, great British Christian writer and speaker, used his single status as an opportunity for world-wide influence for the Kingdom.

Jeff Colleen (who served as our interim worship leader) has chosen to be single. He's spent over twenty-five years serving the Kingdom through Lincoln Christian College. It has enabled him to travel extensively, write and arrange music, and direct programming for LCC. Others serve on the mission field, aid in poverty, teach in inner cities. The list is endless.

Whatever one's choice about marriage or singleness, several principles are obvious:
- We are all called to be faithful.
- We are all called to serve.
- We are all called to sexual purity.
- We are all called to support and encourage one another.
- We are all called to use our circumstances to honor God.

The speed-dating seminar is in the fellowship hall right after service is over. I guess if you didn't figure it out from that, we're shifting gears and we're just letting you know we're about to change what we're doing. We're going to spend the next six or seven weeks talking about family issues. We're going to start by talking about what it means to be single. Next week we'll talk about what it means to be single again. And we're going to head in that direction talking about parenting and marriage, topics that we think that are appropriate, things that you ought to hear about. I'm trying to figure out, ya know, what kind of terminology you use. Itís been 37 years since I've been single so I wasn't really sure how to get at this. I do know some terms; along the way I stopped at the library last week and picked up some books on singles. I set them up on the counter and the librarian looked at me with this quizzical puzzled look on my face and I knew he was thinking something so I said, "Listen, I'm getting a divorce, I just need to know whatís next.Ē And there was complete silence. Finally I said, "I'm kidding, I'm kidding, really!Ē And I looked around to make sure there was nobody else in the room because I was afraid that rumor might spread all over. He was from Canada, he'd never heard of this, maybe you haven't either, but lots of churches used to have a class during Bible school called, "The Pairs and Spares.Ē Now, it doesn't take a long time to figure that one out, ya know, pairs and spares. The look on his face was absolutely dumbfounded, like he'd never heard of such a thing, so I decided I would check up on it. Do you know that there are still lots of churches who have "Pairs and SparesĒ classes? So if you're looking for one we don't have one but I'm sure if you go online you'll find one Ďcause they're everywhere. I mean, what do ya say?

I used to have a friend that used to politely talk about unclaimed blessings. You can wrestle with that one. The term of choice for a long time was the term "spinster.Ē That was not particularly well received. It actually had a root meaning in women who stayed at home in order to spin yarn, and it was for those unclaimed blessings that had to be worth something around the house. I mean after all you're still eating our food. I decided that probably was not the best of terms so I went out and looked it up. Did you know that thereís actually a literal definition for the word "spinsterĒ. Now itís a bit more polite than that. This particular dictionary says itís an offensive term for a woman, one especially who is no longer young. Now howís that for politically correct? Or is of advanced years who chose not to marry.

One particular preacher was called to do the wedding for a 94 year old spinster who had passed away and had left very specific instructions, she said there will be no male pallbearers, they wouldn't take me out when I was alive, they're not taking me out when I'm dead. I doubt that thatís a true story but it probably could be.

Part of the difficulty when you're preaching about a topic like this is that, quite frankly, we're only talking to part of you, although itís a very large part anymore. We crossed the threshold just a few years ago, the last two or three years, it is now true in America that 51% of all females are single. Thatís the first time in the history of the United States that more than half of the women have remained single. That can be because they've chosen to be single, it can be because they've been widowed, it can be because of divorce. But it means that all of us interact with single people. And so while you may decide that you want to check out on the particular message you certainly have the freedom to do that any Sunday you want, it may be that you need to hear this even though you're married, because you deal with single people all the time. You have them in your household, you have them in your extended family, you have them in your work place, and you certainly have them in this community of faith that we call Madison Park. And so this becomes an important topic for of us to wrestle with if we're, in fact, going to be the church, Ďcause thereís all kinds of questions that get surfaced when you start talking about being single. Not just for those who are single, there are lots of questions for them, but there are questions for those of us who are not. How do we relate to single people? Do we match-make? How do we enter into a safe relationship? Is it possible to become close friends? All of that becomes important information for us as a community.

Weíre going to look at a Biblical text, 1 Corinthians 7. Itís where Paul chooses to address this question. Now, there are lots and lots of issues in 1 Corinthians 7 that we're not going to get to today or next week, I'll leave those to you. Yes, there are some hard things about that text that I am purposely avoiding because I just frankly just donít want to have to deal with them and I donít think that theyíre particularly pertinent to today. But I want to read some selected sections of 1 Corinthians 7 to set this in a Biblical context. 1 Corinthians 7 is the first answer to the questions that are being raised by the Corinthian Christians. Youíre going to find in the center section of 1 Corinthians five questions. They're all introduced with the phrase, "now concerningĒ or "now aboutĒ this is the first one. So Paul says in chapter 7 verse 1, "Now for the matters you wrote about; it is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.Ē Come down just a bit further into this text to verse number 7. "I wish that all men were as I am.Ē Paul, by the way, was a single person. "But each man has his own gift from God.Ē That becomes critically important language in understanding either marriage or singleness. We need to understand that the state that we are in of being single or being married is a gift from God and needs to be viewed as a gift. It is not a right, nor a responsibility. It is a gift.

Now, he says, "One has this gift. Another has that. Now, to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, even as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn.Ē And the NIV adds, " with passion.Ē Which is one possible translation of that particular text. And then you come down a bit further in the text to verse 27. He says, "Are you married? Donít seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life.Ē I wondered which of your marriages he was looking at when he wrote that. "And I want,Ē he says, "to spare you this.Ē Verse number 32 he says, "I would like for you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lordís affairs-how he can please the Lord.Ē And verse 35, "I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.Ē

The Corinthian situation was a situation not entirely unlike the situation that we find ourselves in American culture, with very strange and very opposite kinds of attitudes and values about marriage, and particularly about sexual relationships. There was, in the Greek culture, a body of people who believe that there was a very distinct separation between the person and the physical body in which they lived. And so for them whatever you did with the body was absolutely meaningless, it didnít make any difference. So you could, with abandon, practice and be involved in sexual activity and it really reflected not at all on your person. And then there was another group, and that other group seems to be the group that has shown up in the church and that Paul is addressing. And that is a group that said, "Because you are a disciple of Jesus, because youíve decided to be a Christian, all sexual activity is out the window. You have to separate yourself from all physical gratification.Ē What Paul recognizes is thatís crazy. Itís not natural. It doesnít fit in the human condition.

One of the things that weíre going to say in a few minutes is this; Iíll repeat it later. One thing the church and particularly Christian families have to address is a Biblical view of sexuality. Weíve allowed the world to dictate to us what sexual values are and where sexual activity is a part of the life, of a person, and we have to shift that. Now itís clear we need to understand that sexuality, marriage, singleness, are Biblical issues. And we need to stop avoiding them. Now, can we answer all the questions? No, but the one thing that we want to say right upfront from the very outset looking at this text is that being single is more than just okay. It is not a state that you somehow figure out how to get out of. It is a legitimate choice. And unfortunately the church has never presented that side or at least most churches have not presented that side of the picture, that being single is a choice that you have the privilege of making in the presence of God. And since Iím not single, and therefore have a very hard time representing single people, we were able to get a testimony from a single man.

You who have been here for a little while know Jeff Colleen, he came a couple of years ago as our interim worship minister and Jeff has allowed us to share this particular testimony. It occurs in a chapel service at the college so youíll understand that context in which heís speaking, but I want you to hear him talk about his own choices about marriage.

Jeff: "Iím here at the request of the chapel committee to speak, express my views on the process of dating and choosing a mate from the perspective of one who is obviously single. And I guess Iím here for two reasons. First of all, as a 36 year old having spent 12 years, a third of my life, approximately from the time I was about 20 until I was 32, dating. And going through the process of looking for and choosing a partner for life. And 10 years of that 12 years, the last 10 years I dated primarily one girl. We did not date continually for 10 years. We dated, and we broke up, dated other people, got back together again and dated and broke up, dated other people, got back together again and dated, and finally broke up for the last time. And going through that process I came to the conclusion at that time and still believe that if I were to get married that that one girl probably was, came as close to being a perfect match for me as I was going to find. But every time it got to the logical point of popping the proverbial question it did not seem to me to be the right choice for me to make. And so I would assume at that point that there must be somebody else out there that would be better. And that happened two or three times until I finally realized that I was asking myself the wrong questions, that I was not allowing myself the option to choose to be single. It just had not entered into my thinking. I had grown up with the give in that when you reached a certain age you begin to date, and begin to look, and you find someone and you get married and you live happily ever after. And within that universe of thought there was not the option to choose to be single, to choose not to get married. And when I finally figured it out and allowed myself to think in that way it became quickly apparent to me that indeed for me that option and that choice was the best choice for me. Now let me hasten to say that I am certain that for most of you, the majority of you that is not the best choice to make. But it is a choice, and it is a choice that you should at least consider, and for some of you it may very well be for various reasons the best choice. And you should not allow yourself to be blinded by the myth that it is not a choice."

That chapel service took place 15 years ago. He has been a productive Christian single now for another 15 years allowing himself to be used by God to do things unencumbered by family. And I donít use that negatively, itís just that those of us who have families have responsibilities that do dictate some of the things that we can and cannot get involved in. And what he said I think you need to hear and that is that being single is a legitimate choice, itís a gift that Paul talks about in this particular text, and some people have been gifted with the ability to live the single life. And that opens up doors and avenues where by that life can be expressed in a variety of ways. It opens up freedoms that are not available to those who have the gift of being married. That, I think, has to be given some consideration.

Beings that Iím not singe and havenít been for a long time I thought it would be helpful if I could get the words of somebody who is, and so I found this article by a young lady who has made a choice at this point in her life to remain single. And one of the things that she talks about is the celebration of life as a single and what that might do for her and I want you to hear her words. It comes in a category she simply calls "freedom". "Spontaneity, freedom, flexibility. These are some of the best things about being single. Theyíve allowed Karen, a middle school teacher, to spend her summers off teaching day camp to inner city kids. Theyíve allowed my friend Cheryl to travel to Russia and share her faith with college students. Theyíve allowed my friend Julie the time to create the most beautiful garden in the suburb. And theyíve allowed me to visit my friend Christa in Germany and take in the European experience without missing a husband or kids back home."

One of the things that Paul is very clear about is that those who are single who are fully devoted to Christ have opportunities that other people simply donít have in order to serve because theyíre not encumbered by the responsibilities of family. And it is a legitimate choice that we need to offer to one another and to offer to our children, to our friends, that this is a legitimate option. Itís not something imposed on you because you canít find a mate, itís an option that you, under Godís direction and in a prayerful experience, I think, in the context of a Christian community, choose as an act of Godís grace in your life. You choose to be single, and you do it in order to serve him in a way that you might not be able to do in exactly the same way if your gift happens to be the gift of marriage. And we need to be able to affirm to one another that neither life, married nor single, is less desirable that the other. That those are both gifts from God that we celebrate in our life.

But there is a second thing that comes out of this text and comes out of this particular topic that just is absolutely mandatory that the church and Christian people like yourself address. And that while we celebrate the life of God as he has given it to us what whether married or single those categories come with some certain boundaries. One of the things that you and I have to address as Christian people is what weíre going to do within the boundaries of our particular life choice. If you have chosen to be a married person you have chosen to be married for life. And you have chosen to be married to a particular person with whom you will share physical intimacy and you will share it with no one else. If you choose to be single youíre choosing to run against our entire cultureís sexual values, and that we have to be willing to address openly and honestly as the body of Christ.

Scripture is abundantly clear. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 starts an entire paragraph where Paul starts this way. "This is the will of God, that no sexual immorality take place among you." Now thatís contrary to absolutely everything you read and experience in our culture because our culture is all about having friends with benefits. For those of you who are too old to understand that, what that means is I have friendships I have acquaintances with whom we have recreational and/or casual sexual activity but there are no commitments involved. Itís just our way of meeting one anotherís physical needs. That has been presented to us in every form of media.

This week as I was researching this particular topic I went on to several single websites and that was the primary topic of every discussion. This is okay, donít let those peopleóIím going to paraphraseóthe prudes among us tell you that you should have sexual expression. Iím not trying to tell you that, God is. And until we understand that one of the issues that comes with being single is being willing to grapple with those boundaries that we place upon ourselves, weíre going to have trouble in our community of faith. Because that is the choice that we make. We make the choice to be sexually inactive until we marry. Exactly the same choice that a married couple makes to say we will only be sexually active within the confines of this relationship. Same set of boundaries has to exist. And, of course, one of the things that we have to figure out in a Christian community is how we talk about that openly, how we do not slide that under the rug. Because the difficulty is weíre allowing the movies, and television and the internet, to dictate to us what God has already shared with us, and that is His view of sexuality.

One of the things the church has to address is who we are as sexual creatures. That was Godís choice, not ours. We didnít make this thing up. God made us male and female and He said that that part of our life was good and to be enjoyed. If you havenít found it yet, high school people, Song of Solomon, thatís all of what itís about.

But weíve got to tame it and put it in its boundaries, which means that in a Christian community like this one, there has to be room for relationship outside of the physical connections. And thatís one of the great challenges for all of us, and that is to provide, in a Christian community, safe relationships, to be able to engage in a physical relationship, in a friendship with someone without that having to have all of the difficulty of the physical side.

So I come back to this article and I really do appreciate the honesty with which this young lady writes. She says, "We all have our opinions on this age old question, ĎCan men and women be just friends?í In my own life I found the answer to be yes, and Iím really glad, too. Because without guys like Ray and Max in my life right now, the lack of a husband or boyfriend would seem even more pronounced. Ray, whom I met at my Bible study, offers spiritual enthusiasm, prayer support, and a zest for life. Once he even lent his wood working skills when I was trying to take apart a bookshelf and strip the paint. I met Max through a work connection. We talk often on the phone, exchange creative energy, accountability for our writing projects, and valuable insights on the opposite gender. I fully believe Godís brought these friends into my life. And if I were married right now Iím not sure weíd even be able to be friends. I certainly know we wouldnít be as close as we are. And so for now, in the husbandless season of my life, Iím savoring these male friendships."

That has to be possible. For us to have relationship with other people of the opposite gender in a safe context without worry that theyíre going to take advantage of us. One of the stories that every parent and every single person must deal with is the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. Where fraught with sexual temptation he had the courage to run, because thatís whatís going to come in our lives, sexual temptation. Now we have to create a community of faith where by there are places to run to. And people in whom to have relationship where we can find that kind of safe haven and still have friendship and still have intimacy without having that physical sexuality.

So what does the Bible tell us? Well, the Bible tells us that it's a gift from God and it's okay for you to be single; it's okay for you to be married. Now, for those of you who are married, you've made you're choice. We'll talk about that in two or three weeks, and frankly, you're stuck with him. But if you're single, you've made a choice, or a choice has been made for you at this point, that may change. Paul's very clear that marriage is the norm, otherwise there's no future to the planet. But he's also clear that you can choose for a season of your life to be single but that could change. And those of us in the Christian community need to allow for that possibility without our interference, to be a place where it's okay to go from single to married in safety.

There's one other thing that I think this text hints at, and certainly the rest of scripture, and the whole emphasis on our worship this morning comes to, and that is the place for redemption. Because of the culture in which we live there are a lot of people who get tripped up before the come to know Jesus, or who, even who after they have known Jesus, get tripped up by what the world speaks as its lies. And they've made some choices that they're just really ashamed of or if they're not yet ashamed of they should be. And for some it's been choices other people have made that you have suffered from, because of their choices. And what I need for you to hear is that this is a redemptive world that God has given us, and that nothing you have ever done nor anything that has ever been done to you is irrecoverable.

I remember the first time that I was ever confronted with this language and how much it meant to me as I dealt with particularly college students who, in the course of their early years, had just made some really bad choices. I remember this topic coming up in a conversation, "recovered virginity". And the presentation of the grace of God, that if you choose to start again, you come to your marriage pure. That's grace. And it doesn't matter whether it is a choice that's been made for you, that somebody else has abused you, or it's a bad choice that you've made along the way to get things out of order in your life, if you choose to live before God as a pure person, grace says you start over. If we don't have that, then we don't really have grace. There is no unpardonable sin outside of turning your back on God, and so we have to offer that always to people as an alternative.

So where do we go? Can we solve every problem of marriage and remarriage and singleness and being single again in a sermon or two? No, we can't, it's not going to happen. But I do imagine myself wanting for you to hear very clearly these things. One of the things that ought to happen in the life of a single person is that you use that additional time and energy for service. That one of the best ways to fill your life and one of the ways to give your life purpose and meaning is to know that my choice to be single at this point in my life frees me to do things that other people cannot do and I'm going to give myself in that kind of service. Now, that doesn't mean that those of us who are married don't spend our time serving Christ but it does mean that there are some things that you can do that others can't, and you should do it. As long as God has that door open for you, you should take advantage of it.

I am convinced that a second thing that we have to decide is that we're going to learn to create healthy, safe, relationships. We need to live in a community where you know that when you engage another person in a relationship that will be kept sacred and safe. And if a married man befriends another woman in the church the context of his marriage ought to be strong and his heart ought to be guarded so that that can happen in a legitimate, safe, healthy environment. Single men, single women ought to know that they can join in relationship with other families and other people without that having any hint of any impropriety. We have to create that kind of community. If that's not who we are, we're not the church. And so I should never have to fear about any relationship that we engage in. It ought to be held in its sacred context at all times. And we have to constantly be reminded that we are opening this body into the sacred territory of redemption. That what we're about is being redeemed people. And in that context of being redeemed people, no matter what you've done or what's been done to you, it's okay, there is recovery, there is redemption. We want you to experience that, that's what we want to be, is that kind of community of faith.

We're getting ready to sing. It's a song that really does capture the heart of what we're trying to get you to think about. That Christ and you is enough. One of the things that you need to hear is that that is the message of scripture, that though loneliness, which may be the major issue that single people deal with is true. It's hard to be alone. You are never fully alone because Christ is present with you at all times. We're going to sing this song, let it express for you that sense that you and Christ have that kind of relationship that is filling and fulfilling in your life. Let's stand.

[Transcribed by SL1]