7-10-4 Spiritual Dangers of the Single Life
Having said all that we have above, the single life is deceptively spiritually dangerous. Many in the world are increasingly opting against marriage- for selfish motives. There's nothing like living alone for bringing out the animal selfishness in daily life which we should utterly shun. Yet singleness not only tempts one to be selfish in practical ways. It can breed a despicable focus on self to the exclusion of sensitivity to all others. For some, there is the sense that everyone else is somehow OK, and they are the only person in the world suffering as they are. Much of the world's advice to singles is hopelessly self-centred. One 'Christian' strategy for singles includes: " On paper, describe your ideal mate...consider your best interests...God wants you to have a great future...appraise your needs" (1). This is exactly the opposite, it seems to me, of where our emphasis should be. The stress is all on self, self-benefit, and the idea that God wants to give us an easy ride now as well as future salvation. This kind of advice is sadly not absent from the brotherhood. The emphasis is all on self, and the idea that one day marriage will come. This inculcates a mind-set dominated by the " When I get married..." syndrome, a looking forward to that day rather than the Kingdom.
Single believers can become so absorbed in themselves that the selfless spirit of the cross is lost. Perhaps this is one of the greatest spiritual dangers of the single life. This is why 1 Cor. 7 doesn't advocate singleness in itself; it suggests a rejection of marriage in order that the subsequent energies can be directed into a relationship with the Lord Jesus. If we don't do this, then the single person will be consumed by their own sexual and emotional energy; they will become so obsessed with their single state that they fail to hear the call of service. Of course, Abraham wasn't single. But he had no seed, and his relationship with Sarah seems to have been in some ways rocky. And yet his energy to serve shines through the Genesis records. Perhaps one reason for this was because of the way in which he didn't fix his mind upon (Gk.) the fact his body was dead (i.e. impotent) and unable to produce seed (Rom. 4:19). He wasn't obsessed with his state, yet he lived a life of faith that ultimately God's Kingdom would come, he rejoiced at the contemplation of Christ his Lord; and he filled his life with practical service. He wasn't obsessed with the fact that in his marital position he personally couldn't have children when it seemed this was what God wanted him to do; and this was very pleasing to God.
If single believers do 'fix their mind upon' getting married, their thinking will tend to revolve around one ideal person. And that person will not be the Lord Jesus. Their mentality will be dominated by 'getting', rather than growing in realization that we are here to give, give and give, not to receive. They become prone to allow their horizons to be filled with the possibility of finding this one person, and therefore their commitment to the rest of the body becomes minimal. Thus a wife-hunting brother might eagerly travel any distance to a church gathering where he knows there will be some eligible sisters; but not make the effort to attend Bible Class in his own church, comprised of elderly believers [purely fictitious example]. Single believers in this state will not be living life; they'll be living with the feeling that they've just got to hold on a bit longer, and then the glorious day of marriage will come. But living in this state of uncertainty takes away from real life; they are living in a state of temporary, half-conscious suspension until their dream comes true. And yet we ought to be running a race towards that moment when we will " win Christ" - not towards some short term objective like marriage. The spiritual dangers of the single life are really complex.
Beauty And The Beast
I've left until last what is perhaps the most evident of the spiritual dangers of the single life. We are built as sexual creatures. There is that desire, as explained in Gen. 2:24, for man and woman to come together, to become one flesh. It's no use denying the energy that is within us to that end. The Biblical way of expressing this energy in a sexual way is through marriage. If human beings don't express that energy, they become angry and bitter. And yet the great change in society over the past 200 years means that now many people live alone. The result of this is that they express their sexual energy in ways other than marriage. The world has become adept at providing a quick fix to sink that energy. But of course the quick fix syndrome has always been with us. Throughout Old and New Testament times, the quick fix was provided by temple prostitutes, their popularity so much the greater because they left men with the sense that they had been participating in something divine rather than carnal. So many of the warnings against adultery and fornication are in this context. Indeed, the Greek word translated " fornication" is porneia, from whence " porn" . In most cases it doesn't refer to going too far with your girlfriend (not that we are condoning that); it refers to the use of temple prostitutes. Israel's endless fascination with the groves, idols and asherah poles of the Canaanite tribes was the Old Testament equivalent. So the repeated message is: 'Don't take the quick fix, reject expresso-love, build up relationships, see sexuality in its intended context, not isolated as it is in pornography'. It seems that there were some in the first century who reasoned: " Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats" , implying that satisfying our sexual needs was just the same as satisfying our physical hunger. Hence Paul's response: " [No...] the body is not for fornication" (1 Cor. 6:13).
It's possible that sometimes " fornication" refers to a way of life and thinking rather than just the specific physical actions. Thus 1 Pet. 4:3 speaks of how before conversion " we walked (lived day by day) in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine..." (10). It doesn't mean that all day every day Peter and those brethren had committed fornication; but it was a way of life that got a grip on their personality. And so it is today, although made much worse by the ingenuity of man. That sexual impurity is a state of mind was of course taught by the Lord Himself (Mt. 5:28). The temptation for many Christian singles is to be clever enough to keep their nose clean in terms of actual relationships, but to allow the mind to dissipate the sexual energy of our natures. Of course, sexual attraction and arousal is to some degree spontaneous, and there is therefore nothing sinful about it in itself. But the age old question arises: how far can we go? To answer this in physical terms would be inappropriate. It's the state of mind that is important.
So, we have strong sexual energy. It is difficult to live in this world without expressing it. This is obviously one of the spiritual dangers of the single life. God's intended way of our expressing it is through marriage. And yet marriage is fraught with problems, and seems not advisable in the last days, according to 1 Cor. 7. The single life is also extremely difficult, if by " single" we mean single as the world understands it; living without a partner. It's difficult to be spiritual if we are single, and it's very hard to keep in all our sexual energy. We almost must express it. When Jepthah's daughter realized she couldn't ever have sex because of her father's vow, she wept for two months (Jud. 11:37 GNB). This was some of that energy coming out another way. So from where we have reached, both Biblically and psychoanalytically, it seems God is putting us in these last days into a no-win situation. He's given us this sexual energy, which almost has to come out. But He suggests that in the last days, marriage will bring its share of problems too. Yet the single life has its great problems and temptations. But God wants our good, both now and eternally. He has provided a way of escape. Sorry for the cliff-hanger. But we'll consider it in the next two sections.
(1) Helena Wilkinson, op cit pp. 72-74.