Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.
Last summer I attended an event where the keynote speaker spoke of ‘those who are not married yet’. As a lifelong single person who has mostly seen marriage as something that might, rather than certainly will, be part of my life story, I found this assertion shocking!
In the Reformed tradition marriage is seen as ‘an honourable estate’ but that does not mean that it is the only possible lifestyle that is available to the Christian disciple. There is a view in some quarters that the fully adult person is a person who is (or has been) married. It is not unusual to hear the parents of an adult child marrying their partner describe their progeny as being ‘off their hands’. Maturity and marriage are seen to belong together like the proverbial horse and carriage. On the other hand, one of the fastest growing demographics in Britain today is the rise in single person households. Some of these will be formed of divorced or widowed people but a very significant number also consist of the never-married.
There is evidence that some churches discriminate negatively against the unmarried. In some cases this is direct and blatant. But this can occur in other ways too. If most ministers and preachers are (or have been) married, many of their sermon illustrations will come from a partnered perspective. Naturally all anyone can do is to speak out of their own experience. What about asking someone whose life experience is different to comment on how they might apply a particular text or idea in their life that isn’t grounded in romantic partnership?
When we read texts like this one, we might wonder how the Church has got to the place it has in respect of amplifying the experience of the partnered? How might the Good News of the Gospel be presented or heard differently depending on preacher’s or disciple’s relational experience?
Holy One, we pray today for the single people among us; in our churches, in our families, in our workplaces, in our social spaces. Singleness comes in many forms: never partnered, separated or divorced, widowed. Help us to let go of our assumptions about singleness, and about partnership and marriage. Show us how you call us to build up your Body, and to be your people.
The Rev’d Sarah Moore, serving as Transitional Champion for the National Synod of Scotland, and member of Carver Uniting Church, Windermere