Is It Really “A Gift?”

Hello Friends!
Today, we’re peeling back the layers of a phrase deeply entrenched in church culture, yet often shrouded in mystery: the “Gift of Singleness.”
We recently discussed this at length in season 2 of my podcast series Snacks & Good Company. And believe it or not we had a lot of fun with it! 
This blog will just cover a portion of what we talked about. If you want the full discussion, make sure you subscribed to the blog here.
When I was growing up in the church, I remember the phrase “Gift of Singleness” being tossed around. No one really defined it well. In fact, I think anytime it was brought up in a sermon I heard, it was given about 9 seconds of airtime before the preacher moved on to his life and his “smokin’ hot wife.”
“The Gift of Singleness” is a phrase that seemingly originates from 1 Corinthians Chapter 7 though Paul never really refers to it as such. In the passage he’s touching on the virtues of being single. He doesn’t seem to indicate that it’s a special gift for a special few people. So how did it come to be discussed that way in general Western Evangelical Culture?
Let’s see…

The History of The Gift of Singleness
Danielle Treweek, author of the book “The Meaning of Singleness”, joined us on the podcast and helped us delve into the history of this ‘so-called gift.”
She said In the quest to understand the origins and evolution of the concept of ‘The Gift of Singleness’ within Christian theology, our discussion takes us back to the period of the Reformation. Notably, the reformers, including figures like Martin Luther, played a significant role in shaping views on singleness. As Dani unpacked for us, they were mostly reacting to a context where celibacy was imposed on clergy and religious vows often fell short in practice, leading to complex social dynamics. In other words, the men of God were going buck wild and something had to be done. (That’s my persona interpretation, of course)
So with all the freakiness in the church, the men lovingly referred to as ‘the reformers’, deduced that men HAD to get married. It was the only way for them to stay sexually pure. Luther, for instance, argued that sexual activity was as fundamental to human nature as eating or sleeping, thus necessitating marriage for its legitimate expression. 
Sadly, this stance inadvertently led to the conceptualization of singleness as requiring a special, almost divine, empowerment or as Dani referred to it on the podcast: “a special booster shot of the Holy Spirit.” This booster shot was thought to only be given to a a very select few people and would help these chosen individuals to live contentedly without sexual relations. 
Contrasting this with early Christian interpretations of 1 Corinthians 7, where singleness wasn’t seen as a rare spiritual gift but rather as a life choice equally valid as marriage, highlights a significant shift in theological understanding. 
This reformist view, which again was what some would say an overreaction to a legitimate issue (freakiness) laid the groundwork for the modern interpretation of singleness as a distinctive, divinely endowed state, rather than a natural variation of human existence.

The Dangers of it
“The problem with this interpretation of the ‘Gift of Singleness’ is that it inadvertently undervalues marriage.”
Whew. Dani said that and I wasn’t ready! But my goodness, it’s so true.
By framing marriage as merely a remedy for lust, it simplifies and misrepresents the true essence of marital union. (Of course I’m not married so I have no idea what the essence of the marital union is. But I gotta believe it’s better than ‘lust repellent.”
This perspective also often misguides single Christians. Many single believers, desiring marriage and grappling with sexual temptation, find themselves in a perplexing limbo. They don’t feel endowed with the ‘Booster Shot’ but they’re also not ‘blessed with a spouse.’ In all of my interviews for this podcast I found this really can lead to deep existential and spiritual dilemmas about God’s goodness and their relationship with Him. It really can end in utter despair which, call me crazy, doesn’t seem like something Christ would author.

What it actually means
The true essence of the ‘Gift of Singleness’ lies in thriving within a state that society often deems undesirable.
This concept aligns with Apostle Paul’s teachings on contentment in all circumstances, as he emphasizes the strength provided by Christ. 
Singleness isn’t a deficit or a condition to be remedied but an opportunity to grow and find fulfillment. 
It seems as if Paul isn’t saying marriage is better than singleness. It isn’t better than it’s just different than. (Shout out to Lisa Anderson from Focus on the Family. She gave me that gem).
Paul’s view equates singleness with marriage, treating both as gifts enabling individuals to live for Jesus, supported by God’s grace. This perspective shifts the focus from singleness being a special spiritual state to an equal, valuable life situation, parallel to marriage.

Conclusion: There’s HOPE.
The church can have a vital role in reshaping the narrative around singleness. I hope they accept it. 
By moving beyond stereotypes and integrating singles fully into the community, the church can foster a more inclusive and empowering environment. This involves valuing single individuals for their unique contributions and involving them in various aspects of church life, from leadership to planning and ministry initiatives. Or as Lisa put it: “Stop sitting us at the kiddie table…”
The church has an awesome opportunity. We can be such a contrast to the sex saturated culture we find ourselves in. How would our lives, churches, and eventually communities change if the church not only acknowledged the equal worth of singleness and marriage but also reinforce the idea that every life situation, married or single, is a valuable and purposeful part of God’s plan? 
I think the result would be we would look a lot more like Jesus…who was single, by the way.