Undivided (1 Corinthians 7:6-9; 25-35)

April 16, 2023

Series: 1 Corinthians

There’s something about getting the last word on a Sunday, isn’t there, Eddie? Whoever’s on the microphone last, no just kidding, brother. I love you, bro. Let’s turn our Bibles to 1 Corinthians, chapter seven. I do want to thank Dante, Michelle, Audrey, thank you so much, not just for today and what you shared, but what you mean to this church. We love our singles. We want to thank Alia as well, and her team that are working so feverishly in the back, getting together a luncheon today for all of our single moms and single dads. Thank you. We’re really grateful to all of you. And I know I can speak for Amy. Really, one of the best years of our life was when we had the opportunity to serve in the singles ministry about ten years ago in Broward. It was a difficult year for us as Amy’s mother was dying of cancer, but we were serving in the singles and it was exhilarating. It was fun. We had friendships and built friendships and saw new people become Christians like never before. It was the time of our lives. We love the singles. I’m so grateful that we can highlight them today and really look at our sermon text here in 1 Corinithians Seven, which focuses on the single life as a Christian.

The title of our lesson today is Undivided. And as a married man, I always get a little nervous about preaching on the single life for obvious reasons. It reminds me of the classic exchange in the old comedy movie that I don’t recommend called airplane. There’s an exchange on the airplane as it’s getting ready to take off. The lady says you nervous. He said yes. First time? No, I’ve been nervous lots of times. It’s a dad joke. Thanks for laughing. Don’t watch the movie. I can explain it to you later if you don’t get it. But as a preacher, I’ve been nervous lots of times. So here we go. It should be noted 1 Corinthians Seven is not just for singles. There are vital instructions for both the marrieds and the singles in this chapter. Today, I’m going to focus on the singles. Next week, Eddie Francis will zoom in on the marrieds. But bottom line, first Corinthians Seven is for everyone. It’s the word of God. But also, not everyone gets married, but everyone will be single in this lifetime. And for some of us, more than once, that’s just how life works.

So the other thing I’d share with you as well is we’re all family here. So it’s important to know together God’s expectations for one another, for all seasons of our lives, both married and single. This is how we can best love one another and help one another become more like Jesus in our current life stage. So the context here, in 1 Corinithians Seven first six chapters, paul is already responding to matters that are brought to his attention from multiple sources. This continues in chapter seven. Paul addresses the issues of the single life and the married life. Now, keep in mind, the cancer of Corinthian culture had infiltrated this church. The Christians there were enmeshed in a culture listen carefully, they were enmeshed in a culture that normalized and celebrated an anything goes lifestyle in sexual relationships. That was normal. So in response to that, the church had to wrestle with this. And you get the feel from this letter and what Paul is correcting and responding to and inspiring here, specifically in chapter seven, you see this response. The Christians in Corinth, they were going in different directions in this. Some adopted society’s ethic of sex. I do put that in quotation, society’s ethic of sex. And so that’s why Paul warns them to repent of their immorality in chapters five and six. And then others in response to what’s happening in the church specific to sex and those types of relationships, you had married Christians perhaps responding by creating this peer pressure for the singles in the church to get married. Get married in order to have real life, in order to be fulfilled, to feel like they belong, or marriage as the way to be pure. Okay, so these things, these forces are coming in that Paul’s having to correct. You could imagine this. You also have the other extreme, others in the church perhaps promoting that the only way for someone to be truly spiritual was to choose a life of celibacy, no sex at all. And you could see the extremes to where this can go. Men and women, maybe you get so far as to, well, men and women then should not even be in regular fellowship with one another because of the fear of lust and impurity, and let’s now enforce this monk like existence on one another. So all of this is kind of going on in the sense, and it gives you some flavor and some context.

Paul writes in chapter seven. You guessed it. What’s happening here is there’s division brewing in the church over sexual ethics. And how are we supposed to live as Christians, especially when we can be very different and at very different life stages? So with this context in mind, let’s start reading first corinthians seven. And we’ll look at verse six. We’ll look at 1 Corinthians seven, verse six and the verses following. Paul writes now, as a concession, not a command, I, Paul, say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows, I say it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

So we’ll stop right there. There’s much packed here into these four verses. First of all, Paul states in verse six, and it’s very important he prefaces what he’s about to say by saying, hey, this is not a command, all right? And that’s not a reason for us to all of a sudden go, well, not even going to read this. No, this is the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul, all right? It may not be a direct command, but what this is, it’s more of a spiritual ethos. And it’s what they were looking for in the church, because sometimes there are gray areas and everyone’s different. So he’s like, okay, here is a spiritual ethos for you. This is a way of thinking that will keep you away from committing the sexual sins of your culture. And right away, Paul says in verse seven, he tells us how he says, hey, I wish everyone had my gift. And what is that gift? The gift of celibacy, the gift of joyfully, living single without any kind of sexual attachments. It’s the gift of not needing a sexual relationship to fulfill your life. Make sure you hear this. It’s the gift of not simply enduring life as a single until you can finally get to the next stage. No, it’s thriving as a single. It’s embracing life as a single. So it’s interesting that Paul just says, hey, I wish everyone had my gift. This would be a great solution. All right, again, not a command, but I’m offering this to you as a concession, as a way of life, a way of thinking.

And I don’t know about you, but this gets my attention. The greatest, most influential Christian perhaps to ever live has a supremely high view of living single. In fact, Paul wishes every person enjoyed the gift from God of being single. He wants this for everyone. He’s promoting it. He’s like, hey, this is great. I love it. I love life as a single. I wish everyone was like, I am. And notice how celibacy here is described. Just as we often will say that marriage is a gift, living single is equally a gift from God. And the word of God tells us this. And it’s not a message we hear very often, but it does get my attention. The word of God tells us this, and I don’t think we say it enough in the church. Living single is a gift from God. Whether for a season of your life or for the entirety of your life, living single is a gift from God. And I want to say this, I’m probably speaking to the choir here, but I want it to be said today as we look at this text, and I don’t think it could be any more appropriate than saying it today. Singles are not defective. Singles are not second class citizens. Singles are not a black hole ministry in the church. Those who’ve been single long time or short, are not missing out on some secret blessings from the Lord. These men and women whose calling it is to be single for whatever reason, are gifted by the Almighty God. And let’s be honest about this, we often don’t view it this way. This may even strike you kind of strange today. We don’t often view being single as a gift from God. It’s countercultural. But not only that, it seems to go against our church culture. We got to watch out for that. How much of this is Jesus and the Lord and God? And how much of this is the world influencing us on what’s most important? And yet Paul appeals to the single Christians in the church, and I think he wants all the marrieds to hear this as well. In verse eight, to the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. I don’t know about you, and I definitely share the blame of this. I don’t hear of enough of us married people advising our single Christian friends to remain single, to advance the kingdom of God.

And maybe I’m missing it. I don’t hear a lot of our singles preaching this to the other singles. I think it’s a shame, because many times we may not even be giving our singles a chance to even consider if they have the gift of celibacy, if even for a season of their life. Instead, let’s just push them into the direction of marriage. God has created all of us different. And this, in case you’ve been missing it, this is a huge emphasis in our culture today. They’re just responding to it the wrong way, as they always have. Okay? God has created all of us different. It’s not one size fits all here. Marriage is not for everyone, for every season of our lives. Marriage is not whenever and however we want it. It’s not something owed to us, and neither is sexual intimacy. We’re not owed this. God never promised this. Sex and marriage it’s not something that’s owed to us or promised to every person God has ever created. I can’t explain it. All I know is it’s God’s design, not mine.

And I say this to say. I woke up this morning as I was finalizing this lesson. I go to the bedroom and I give Amy a big kiss and I say, I am so thankful to be married to you. I love you. I love our marriage. We’ll celebrate 20 years of marriage this year. We’re taking a whole year to celebrate this. I love our marriage. I said, Amy, I’m going to be talking about the gift of singleness today. And she says, Amen. Do it. It’s the word of God. It’s the truth. Our marriage is a gift of God, and I love Amy with all my heart. But brothers and sisters, marriage is not the finish line. Marriage is never, ever what defines you as a man or woman made in the image of God, no matter if you’re married, single, a widow, divorced, same sex, attracted, not sexually attracted to anyone, whatever, please hear this. You are a child of God. I want our teens to hear this, our preteens to hear this, our campus students, our singles. I hope you’re hearing this because the world will tell you, follow your heart, follow your emotions, live your truth, find your soulmate. And once you’re done with that soul mate, find the new soulmate.

But Jesus proves to us, without a shadow of a doubt on the cross, I am your soul mate. There is no other. Marriage is a gift from God to glorify this church, but on equal footing, living single is also a gift from God to glorify this church.

Same sex attraction is not a new phenomenon to this generation. I think sometimes we can view it and our culture can make it seem like, yeah, we’ve got this figured out, and we’re the first one that’s really understanding identity and sex, and we know how to do this. It’s not new. It may be new to some of us, but it was not new even to the first century church in Corinth. That’s part of the reason this letter was written, specifically, chapter seven. In that very advanced society, sexual freedom of all kinds, including the gay lifestyle, that was very acceptable in Greek and Roman culture. It’s normal. We didn’t start this in our enlightened culture, in our advanced society today. So that’s why Paul, as we already read in previous weeks, in 1 Corinithians, that’s why Paul addressed homosexuality in the previous chapter 1 Corinithians six, verses nine through eleven, this is not new.

So let’s not be naive. Maybe, just maybe, this is why Paul not only lifts up marriage in this chapter, he’s like, hey, don’t forget about the single life. He elevates God’s gift of living as a pure, unattached single instead of giving in to our desires. I wish everyone were like me, Paul says, and our culture tells us we all deserve it, right? We deserve to satisfy how we feel, and we deserve to satisfy our sexual desires. I was made this way. Love is love, man. But Jesus says in Luke 923, not so fast, my friends, if you follow me, you must deny yourself. Since the beginning of time, and I think you know this, but I think we need a reminder. Since the beginning of time, the sexual ethic of our culture has always opposed God’s design for sex and intimacy in our relationships. They’ve always been against one another. That’s not new today. I have good friends. I’ve been around the church more than 20 years. I have good friends who’ve been faithful Christians in our family of churches for decades. And these are men, good friends of mine, who simply aren’t attracted to women.

That’s okay. That’s fine. So for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, they’ve remained single. And instead of viewing that as a restriction, they see it as a gift from God. And that’s totally upside down to the way our world thinks. Completely different. It may even blow your mind, and you feel some type of way about that today. It’s the word of God. More on that in a moment because Jesus spoke to this issue. But first, let’s read verse nine again. Verse nine says, but if they, they being the singles, cannot exercise self control, they should marry. It won’t. It’s not the magic cure. In fact, it’s really sad, because when we do that, we’re just bringing another person into our dumpster fire, and they get hurt. And second of all, marriage is sacred. Marriage is a sacred, supernatural covenant. You mess with marriage, you’re messing with the universe. You have to count the cost. Do not rush into a marriage. Here’s what I mean. Here’s what Jesus taught about marriage, and it left people dumbfounded. Okay, here’s what Jesus taught about the vital decision of getting married or staying single. Here we go. Matthew nine, verse eight.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, it’s because of your hardness of heart that Moses even allowed you to divorce your wives. But from the beginning, it was not so. It was not this way in the beginning. As I say to you, whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality and marries another commits adultery. Now, the disciples then said to him, well, if such is the case with a man and his wife, it is better not to marry. That’s the reaction and that’s the response. And this is countercultural. That’s what Jesus is wanting from us. Whoa. Marriage is awesome, but, oh, my, it is sacred. And it may be better I wait on this. I may need to hold off. I may need to just let this go.

In verse eleven, Jesus says not everyone can receive this saying not everyone’s going to be able to take this in. This is not for everyone, but only for those to whom it is given. Verse twelve for there are eunuchs who have been so from birth and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who’ve made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it. This is a hard teaching if our heart is soft. It’s an important teaching from Jesus. When you’re deciding to stay single, get married or even, God forbid, consider divorce, get lots of advice and input, but above all else, heed these words of Jesus, the son of God. Jesus very clearly states in the eyes of God, marriage is sacred. In fact, he goes so far here to say marriage is so completely sacred and holy, some will choose to be single.

And to underscore this, Jesus uses the example of eunuchs. Now, if you don’t know what a eunuch is, I’m going to show you some pictures. No, i’m just kidding. I debated charts, graphs, pictures about what a eunuch is today. Decided wouldn’t be best. Yeah, I’m growing, but basically for one reason or another, eunuchs, I don’t know else how to say it they have no sexual organs, all right? So their sexual desires are completely under control. There’s no need for them. There’s no need for a eunuch to have sexual intimacy. So to be clear, I’m not advocating this practice and neither is Jesus, but I want you to leave here with the heart of this. It is shocking and it’s meant to be shocking. It’s meant to get our attention. And as culture just tries to throw their ethics at us in what seems to be the enlightened way, no, it catch the heart here of making sure our sexual desires always bow at the lordship of Jesus and the kingdom of heaven. In the Old Testament, one of the only conversions that the prophet Jeremiah had was a eunuch. A man who would never have a sexual relationship with another human being.

And yet he’s an unsung hero. I don’t know if you’ve even heard of him. I’m sure you’ve heard of probably the eunuch in Acts chapter eight. One of the first conversions in the early church was a eunuch. He’s a man who would live his entire life as a single. He’s reading from the prophet Isaiah, who can speak of his descendants. We don’t know if it was his choice to live this way or it was forced upon him, but church history does tell us he went back to Ethiopia and started a multiplying church there. This lifetime single is lifted up as a hero. He’s the prototype for us today of what it looks like to become a follower of Jesus. How many times have we read this scripture? For many of us we know it.

So I’ll echo what Jesus says in verse twelve there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. And let the one who’s able to receive this receive it. Let’s not forget Jesus practiced what he preached in this area.

Let’s continue reading first Corinthians seven, verse 25. Here’s the why. Why this is a gift. Why singleness is a gift. 1 Corinthians seven, verse 25. Now, concerning the betrothed or concerning the unmarried or single people, I have no command from the Lord. Again, keep paying attention here. I have no command from the Lord. But I do give judgment as one who, by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. So I’m giving you something that you can trust, something you can live by. I think that in view of the present distress, it’s good for a person to remain where he is. 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 do marry, you have not sinned. Amen. And if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Amen. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I’d like to spare you of that. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles. I’d like to spare you of that. Let’s keep reading. Verse 29. What I mean, brothers and sisters, is this the time is short. From now on, those who have wives should live as if they had none. Okay, this is rhetorical hyperbole, all right? But it is meant for shock value. Those who mourn, as if they did not. Those who are happy, as if they were not, those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep, those who use the things of this world as if not engrossed in them. For this world and its present form is passing away. That’s the big point here. Time is short. The world in its present form is passing away. So we need to live this way. Verse 32. I would like you to be free from concern. I want you to be free from anxiety. That’s what Paul is saying. I want to release you from this anxiety you’re feeling about your life. An unmarried man or woman is concerned about the Lord’s affairs, how he or she can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world, how he can please his wife and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or a single is concerned about the Lord’s affairs. Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world, how she can please her husband.

I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way, an undivided devotion to the Lord. That’s where we get the theme of today’s lesson undivided. And this really answers the question of why. Why is being single a gift from God? It’s right here in this paragraph. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where our sexual desires intersect with the lordship of Jesus. So Paul just appeals to us, and he states his motivation in verse 35. I’m doing this for you. I’m saying this for your own good. I love you. I’m not trying to restrict you. Stop listening to the world and the pressure they’re putting on you of how to live your life and how to define your life and your worth in life. I want you to live in a right way, an undivided devotion to the Lord.

Again, I want to be clear. You’re going to hear a lot more about marriage next week. So Paul is not condemning God’s wonderful gift of marriage. I’m not either. I’m married with three amazing kids. Marriage is an institution created by God in Genesis two, long before the Ten Commandments. And if it’s God’s will, and it’s not done or under compulsion, I’d love to see many of my single friends get married one day. I’d love to see my own children get married one day. If it’s God’s will, if. Paul emphatically warns us, he counts the cost with us about the pressures and the distractions that marriage will bring. He says in verse 28, hey, those who marry will face many troubles in this life. I want to spare you this. Can I get an amen from my marrieds out here? Don’t worry. You both feel the same way, right? I’m not trying to cause any tension between you guys. Let’s face the reality. You ever wonder why we have so many marriage classes around here? We have one marriage class, and then, like a couple of months later, when’s the last, we need a marriage class. We haven’t had one in a few days. I need some help. Marriage retreat. I need a marriage workshop. I need to go to the shop and work on this marriage. Right? Marriage is hard work. I love it. It’s a gift from God. But it is hard work. It is constant. It is distracting. It is responsibility.

And we didn’t read this this morning, but verses 17 through 24, Paul uses the word calling seven times. Nowhere in Paul’s writing do we hear the word calling on so many occasions, all clumped together. And the Bible goes out of its way to appeal to us here, to remain in our calling, to remain in our God given, God gifted situation where we can best impact the world for Jesus. Paul’s like, man, stop swimming against the current, right? Wear yourself out with anxiety. Remain in your calling. I think we all have to wrestle with this. We have to wrestle with our calling from the Lord. It will change from season to season in our life, whether your calling is for a season of being a single or a lifetime as a single. I like it that Paul says this here and I said amen to it.

It’s not a sin to marry. You can imagine Paul going, yeah, the gift of singleness. I wish everyone was like this, but, you know, it’s not a sin to marry. I see Paul doing that. But it is a sin to obsess over marriage. That’s a dead end road. You may get what you want, but it’s not going to be what you want. It’s a sin to obsess over marriage. That’s idolatry. God can’t deal with that. Like he can’t work with that, right? So think about what is your season or what is your calling for this season of your life. I do have some questions for the single men and women here specific to you, and I hesitate for a second to even ask this because we don’t talk about this much, but if you’re single, is it possible, just possible, that God has called you to lifelong celibacy? Is it possible? Hey, thank you. Amen. Some bold souls. I’ll even take the temperature down a little bit. Is it possible that God is expecting seasons of celibacy from you? Now, this one’s more of how we interact with others. But if you’re truly called to be single, if you embrace this teaching we’re looking at today, do you feel it will be accepted and embraced by others?

It is going against the current, sometimes even in our own church. I also have some questions for my married friends, people like me, and these are things I have to consider. Is it my habit? Is it your habit to push singles to get married so they can be complete, to fix them? I’ll tell you what, you may not say it or I may not say it, but if the singles at all sense this from us, that is deeply hurtful. I’m sorry if you’ve sensed that from me. I think as marrieds, we got to help singles understand the blessing of marriage, but also in our own children as well, but understand the realities of marriage and not romanticize it. To read this scripture from Matthew 19 and Jesus telling us, here’s what you got to think about when deciding whether to be single or to be married. Think about it. We’re reaching the home stretch here. In verses 29 through 31, Paul uses, as I mentioned, rhetorical hyperbole. He wants to make a critical point. The time is short. Jesus is coming. This world in its current form is passing away. We have to be steady, flexible and single minded in the face of a spiritual war that we encounter in this world.

It’s so easy to get caught up in so many different things, and then they become our idol and we lose sight of Jesus. The time is short. That means we must live with urgency, both for ourselves and for the people around us. We must actively focus our eyes on eternity, not on our marital status. The time is short. Never plant your roots in the soil of this world too deeply, even when it comes to the extreme blessings of marriage and family. Marriage, mourning pleasures, possessions, shopping, business. Paul warns us, hold loosely to those things. Do not allow them to become bigger than Jesus. Then Paul sums it up in verses 32 through 35. Again with the fact that this world rejects, and we often can reject with a Godly perspective and a Godly mindset. Being single is a gift from God. And Paul’s not making any moral judgments here. It’s quite the opposite, and I’m not either. He’s just stating the facts. Verse 32. I hit on this just a few minutes ago. Paul wants you to be free from anxiety. I dare say that’s a problem in our world today. Anxiety, mental health. If you could be free from my anxiety, or at least have less anxiety, how’s that sound for you today?

That’s what Paul’s teaching here. As a culture, we’re filled with anxiety, mental health issues, in part because our culture has set these unbearable expectations on us to define and pursue our own identity, to buy into it. We’re filled with anxiety. Our children can be filled with anxiety. It’s nearly impossible to get a mental health appointment, in part because we built this. We have rejected God’s plan for our most intimate relationships. And Paul’s like, Slow down a second, simplify. I want you to be free from anxiety. And I’m saying this for your own good, not to restrict you. I’m trying to help you to have undivided devotion to the Lord. So I’d encourage us today, let’s enjoy who we are, as Marshall shared with us a couple of weeks ago. Enjoy the ride. Enjoy this season of your life. Don’t be that person. I just can’t wait till I’m let’s embrace the gifts God has given us to build his church for works of service that will impact this community. And I believe this. God has set us up to have a dynamic, undivided singles ministry in Orlando. Dynamic singles. Dynamic message, dynamic mission. Half the population is single.

I propose that our church should have a vision to look like that demographic. Let’s meet people where they’re at and embrace it. Undistracted. Our singles here, I believe, can teach and model to our community what it means to be truly successful and single as a Christian. I think we need to have the same vision for our singles as God does undivided devotion to the Lord. On average, singles will have more disposable time. They can provide undivided maturity to the church. They can give our church, a fountain of leadership and service. Our singles are game changers for the Orlando Church of Christ. So to conclude, singles, I want to tell you you can offer something to this church that’s invaluable. You can offer something to this church that no one else can, including me. Your undivided devotion to Jesus. And if you really believe this, it will pave the way for you to preach the message to Orlando that Jesus is Lord, not a people belonging to God. Single, married, it makes no difference. In view of eternity in heaven. Today, moving forward, embrace your calling in the kingdom of heaven. You are a child of God and our best days as Christians are right in front of us.

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