“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. Or does he? Well in the original language, the word “single” is nowhere to be found. Paul simply says people should remain as he is. He does not say they should remain single or that they should remain alone. He simply says that they should stay unmarried (assuming the have the gift of being content with celibacy). The English Standard Version here places our cultural assumptions right in the middle of their translation of this verse.
Let me ask a question? When does one become single? If you have a single’s group in church or just in the community, who is it targeting? Is the four year old boy a single? Is the thirteen year old girl who has hit puberty? Or how about the 19 year old off at college?
It seems that we most often use the term for those who could in a culturally acceptable way be married but for whatever reason are not. But should we use the term?
It seems to be that the term single is synonymous in our mind with alone. And I would contend that almost no one is really single in that sense. First, one is and always remains a part of one nuclear family. Either you are part of the family you were born into (or adopted into) or you are a part of the new family you have by virtue of marriage.
We have created a space in between these two that I would argue does not really exist. One does not leave behind their family when they turn 18. One does not leave them behind because they go to school. No, they do not leave them when they move out into their own place. God intends everyone to know that they are part of one family. They are never single, never alone. They may be unmarried but not alone.
The Scriptures never say, “And one will grow up, leave their family, and then be bound to themselves alone.” It only says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
And this should be food for thought both for those who consider themselves single and those parents who have children who think of themselves in this way. Those who consider themselves single should take comfort in knowing that they are not truly alone for they still have a family. They should also remember that they owe to that family everything they always did. Parents should take joy knowing that their nest may not really be as empty as they had supposed. But they must also take seriously the responsibility they have towards people who may not necessarily live with them.
There maybe a few people who rightly might be called single. Orphans, widows, and people who have lost their parents and have no spouse. In those cases, when no other family is truly present, the church is supposed to become family to them in very practical ways. And if we take up this work, then we might be able to say, “No one is actually single. Everybody has a family. Either you are part of the family you were born into (or adopted into), you are a part of the new family you have by virtue of marriage, or your are part of the family of the Church.