The Helpmeet Shortage: Why telling Christian singles God’s love is enough, isn’t enough.
Art by Agata Endo Nowicka
Part 2 of 4
In most Christian churches, the ratio of single men and women tilts decidedly in favor of the men.1
Yet, the complaint among many single guys is the lack of eligible women from which to choose a spouse. I was baffled each time I heard a guy grumble about the challenges of finding a helpmeet.
Are our church brothers being too picky?
Are they experiencing analysis paralysis by the overwhelming gal crowd at their place of worship?
Are they just looking for an excuse not to settle down?
Though these questions ring true in some ways, after many conversations with single guys in the church another perspective surfaced. I’ve come to understand the helpmeet shortage of which they speak doesn’t stem from women not being present in numbers but rather lacking in like-mindedness towards marriage.
And I have an idea of why that is.
The Gift of Singleness
We live in a very unique moment in human history in which singles now account for 42% of the population in America.2
The faith community has slowly but steadily mirrored its secular counterparts as the singles demographic in the church body is the highest it’s ever been and growing. 3
If the struggles with sexual integrity are any indication, Christians just aren’t doing singleness well. Reports show Christian singles are following secular trends of premarital sex, pornography, and masturbation.4 5 6
Nevertheless, as singles swell the pews, we seek to ascribe special meaning and purpose to our single status. A theology has arisen to meet the demand of singles who need to understand God’s intent for this season in their lives.
Enter the “Gift of Singleness.”
The Gift of Singleness: What it is
To really grasp the gift of singleness, becoming familiar with an important rule of Biblical interpretation known as The Law of First Mention, also called the First Mention Principle, is helpful. This principle requires the student of Scripture to find where a doctrine is first mentioned in the Biblical record and to study this first occurrence in order to get the fundamental meaning of that teaching.7
In exploring the topic of singleness, we did just that when we examined the experience of the first single in human history – Adam – and God’s intent for him in Part 1 of this blog series.
Yet conversation or preaching in support of the gift of singleness regularly skips the Old Testament entirely and begins with the apostle Paul as the model to emulate.
The theme of singleness is in reality not very prevalent in Scripture as marriage was the socio-cultural norm in Biblical times. We don’t encounter the derivative of our oft-used phrase “the gift of singleness” until the first New Testament letter of Paul to the Corinthians.8
You may be surprised to learn the actual phrase “the gift of singleness” isn’t in the Bible.
The closely related phrase “the gift of the single life” can only be found in some modern English translations such as The Message – in the same verse as the comparatively seldom cited phrase “the gift of the married life."9
Here’s what the gift of singleness looks like: It’s an individual – male or female – who lives a celibate life for the following reasons:
1) For the purpose of devoting themselves to ministry that would otherwise be hindered, extraordinarily difficult, or impossible as a husband or wife (as was the case for the apostle Paul)
2) In obedience to God’s express instructions (think Jeremiah the prophet)
To thin the ranks of singles in the church, perhaps we should consider more accurately framing the gift of singleness as celibacy – the state of abstaining by vow from marriage and sexual relations.10
I believe the aim for the generalized allocation of the “gift of singleness” as taught by many in our faith communities is to give singles purpose and keep them occupied serving God in some special capacity. The truth is, however, there are very, very, very few ministry positions at your local church or abroad that absolutely require you to be single in order to effectively minister.
Our devaluation of marriage from being an inherently, deeply, purposeful ministry in and of itself is both unfortunate and harmful to the church body and its mission to society at large.
And despite our extreme busyness as singles serving God, we manage to find time to binge watch Netflix several nights a week.
We can serve God well and have a family. I desire to hear Joshua’s sentiment echoed more and more in our generation: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”11
The Gift of Singleness: What it isn't
The celibate life is not the Biblical norm but the exception to it. It is not a “blessing” blanketed upon all Christian singles by God. According to Scripture, we are not only free to choose to get married or not, but we are also free to choose whom we would like to wed. 12 13
Celibacy is not for everyone. In fact, it is a preferred way of life for a scanty few (again, the apostle Paul is a great example) and an ordained way of life for even fewer. Jeremiah’s prophetic call included the clear, indisputable, and explicit instruction from God for him “not [to] take a wife, nor shall [he] have sons or daughters in this place.” 14
Ladies, if you have to ask yourself or anyone else if you have the gift of singleness, consider yourself not gifted.
No one ever asks themselves “Do I have the gift of singleness?” when on a date with a good-looking guy and the evening is going really well. If you said yes to a date, chances are high a life of celibacy is not your thing.
We tend to ask about our “giftedness” in being single when dates are few and far between, when there are no eligible bachelors at our church, or when age milestones such as 30, 40, or 50 loom near and marriage still looms far.
The celibate life is not to be applied universally. The context of time and scope mustn’t be overlooked when examining the few texts the Bible offers about the single life. For example, Paul’s counsel to Corinthian Christians to forgo marriage, if they are able, was conditioned by “the present distress” of persecution, affliction, or famine closing in on this particular first century Christian church. Understandably, celibacy may be the ideal for such difficult or dangerous times.15 16 17 18
Hamstrung No More
As a faith culture we’ve elevated singleness (or celibacy) from the exception to the rule and have made it a spiritual rite of passage. We think if we wait patiently and manufacture contentment for the “not good” state of being “alone,” God will see our piety and grant us the gift of a husband.
This blunder hinges on our tendency to mistake our reality for God’s will. Simply because society and the church are teeming with singles doesn’t mean singleness is “God’s will.” In Jesus’ model prayer we are taught to ask “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” precisely because God’s will is often not done on this earth.19
The so-called affirmation we’ve unearthed from Scripture for protracted singleness was virtually unheard of in our parents’ generation and phenomenally rare in Biblical times.
The “gift” of singleness has served to hamstring men and women from moving towards marriage for fear of dissing the Giver of this purported gift or rejecting a spiritual calling.
Ladies, unless we understand that singleness is a choice and not an edict, we’ll forever feel timid and unsure about stepping beyond the role of daughter to walk courageously into the roles of wife and mother.
This reticence is masked by our busyness with our careers, our hobbies, our platonic social lives, church activities, and even ministry. This regimen implies to men who are seeking helpmeets that we are not interested in that title. It also doesn’t help to keep publicly declaring Jesus is your boyfriend or husband!
The irony of this perceived helpmeet shortage is that most of us want to be wives and mothers!
Yes, you can have the degree(s), the career, the ministry, and the family.
Ladies (and gents reading this), in order for us to be open to experiencing romantic love we must first get off our spiritual high horses of single “giftedness” and welcome the surprising ways love may show up.
What does a holistic narrative of singleness look like? In the Part 3 of this series, we’ll apply God’s vision for relationships to our modern context.
Thanks for reading! And of course, I would love it if you would share with your friends.
#BetterTogether | #TheHelpmeetShortage
8 1 Corinthians 7:7 (NKJV) “For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.”
9 1 Corinthians 7:7 (MSG) “Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me—a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.”
11 Joshua 24:15b (NKJV) “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
12 Proverbs 18:22 (NKJV) “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the Lord.” Emphasis added
13 1 Corinthians 7:39 (NKJV) “ A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” Emphasis added
14 Jeremiah 16:2 (NKJV) “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.”
15 1 Corinthians 7:25-28 (NKJV) “Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress — that it is good for a man to remain as he is: Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.” Emphasis added
16 B. Ward Power, First Corinthians: An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary: A Somewhat Traditional Interpretation Plus Contemporary Application. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), p146-158.
17 Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), p33.
18 John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. Vol. 20/22. Translated from the original Latin, collated with the French edition, by Reverend John Pringle (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), p. 223.
19 Matthew 6:10 (NKJV) “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”