Family – The One with Me, Myself and God with Amber Andrade

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series on the Family of God.

Singleness is a gift to embrace and enjoy, not a season to rush or avoid.

DIGGING DEEPER:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Discussion Questions

Message Video:

Message Notes:

We’ve been in this series we’re calling Family, where we’re taking a closer look at our relationships as they fit into the larger context of our church family. We’re exploring what it looks like to pursue things like wholeness, accountability, healing, and love—according to God—so that all of our relationships actually have a shot at getting better instead of remaining like they are, and have been, for so many of us: stuck, stagnant, on life support, or just nonexistent. 

And as we’ve begun the conversation over the last couple of weeks talking about the need for our individual identities being rooted in Christ and our need to unlearn unhealthy patterns we saw or experienced when it comes to relating to others, today we’re talking about Singleness

Now, immediate timeout. Let me take a guess at what just happened for many people the second I said that word, singleness. For the single person in the room, I wonder if you’re thinking or feeling a variety of things. 

Maybe the voice in your head goes like this, “Great, here we go…I’ve heard this talk before, and now all eyes are on me…” Maybe you’re preparing yourself for the guilt, and the shame, and the frustration of past relationships (or lack thereof), or what you’re inevitably going to feel when someone like me [a married man, with kids, so how am I going to speak into your singleness??] stands on a stage like this and tells you all of the things you have to look forward to when you’re married, or shouldn’t be doing until you’re married, which, either way, starts to make it sound like marriage is ultimately the ideal version of your life, and that there must be something wrong with you because you don’t have that (marriage). And maybe the feeling is one of hopelessness, or skepticism because you’re content in your singleness but you’ve seen the church historically fumble the issue.  

As one of your pastors, I don’t want to move past that without first saying this: I’m really sorry. As a leader in the church, we, I, can project a narrative based on my own experience that goes like this: Marriage is the goal, and married life comes with a premium. While I firmly believe in the sanctity of marriage, and will always look for ways to point to the goodness of God in the midst of my marriage, in doing so, when that’s my focus, I can miss your experience as a single person altogether. And for that, I am sorry. Thank you for the grace you give me without my even knowing it—it makes me want to get this conversation right. 

Now, as an unmarried person maybe your response to this conversation isn’t hopelessness or skepticism, but I wonder if the second thought you might be thinking goes like this, “That word, singleness, this entire conversation—it just makes me sad.” Because for you, you didn’t get a choice in the matter. Maybe you came home and he said, “I don’t want to be married anymore.” She said, “I’m leaving.” The cancer, the car wreck, the suicide—it hit your marriage like a Mack truck out of nowhere and, whether all at once or slowly over time, you found yourself alone. And you never planned for your life to look like it does now.  

That’s heavy, isn’t it? (Aren’t you glad you came to church today?) Now, all that in mind, let me talk to the married people in the room for a minute. Married people, if you think this conversation doesn’t apply to you, and that you can just tune me out or sneak out of here and get to brunch early, with all due respect, you’re not paying attention. 

[US Surgeon General stat] Did you know that on May 2nd of last year (2023), the US surgeon general declared loneliness an epidemic? A lack of social connection, according to a corresponding study, has been found to be as dangerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. And that’s a nationwide finding—look at our own backyard. 

  • ACCOMPANYING SLIDE: May 2, 2023: Loneliness is declared an epidemic as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
[Unmarried stat] Austin consistently ranks in the top 25 for loneliest cities in the country (the stats are “worse” for men, who are more likely to live alone than women). Austin is also currently 58% unmarried—that’s the majority! (This includes never married, divorced, separated, and widowed). 

  • ACCOMPANYING SLIDE: Austin, Texas is 58% unmarried and ranks in the top 25 loneliest cities in America.  
[Singles in Church stat] Additionally, Table for One ministries published an article calling out the reality that with 47% of the American population being single (Austin, by contrast, being significantly higher), only 23% of those singles are engaging with the church. They call single adults “the largest unreached people group in our communities.” 

  • ACCOMPANYING SLIDE: Only 23% of single adults are engaging with the church. 

So, married people, listen: All of this means that even if you aren’t currently single or unmarried, one, you’re statistically in the minority, which means, two, you probably know someone who is. That, and there is no promise that marriage will solve the deep longings we all have to belong—many of us married people never learned how to be single, and now carry an unhealthy co-dependence on our spouse or kids—and there is no promise you won’t one day be single again. This means that if you’re at all interested in being able to relate to and love the single or unmarried person in your life, you benefit from growing in your awareness and learning some helpful language here. 

When it comes to how we, the church, the family of God, approach one another, and engage one another—married or unmarried—we have some learning to do when it comes to upholding the dignity, or inherent value, of singleness and marriage in a way that doesn’t diminish one or the other. So, let’s commit to learning together, and to do that we’re going straight to God’s Word [potential callback to the wisdom series].

If you have a Bible or a Bible app, we’re going to be in 1 Corinthians, chapter 7. For context, 1 Corinthians is the first of two letters written to a church in Corinth by a guy named Paul (who was single, by the way). Paul wrote most of what we find in the New Testament, and much of his writing is to churches like this one to offer instruction, correction, and encouragement. 

We see Paul doing a lot of that in these letters to the Corinthians, because the church in Corinth had found itself in a very unique situation. Right up the mountain from the city sat the temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. And this temple was famous for its alleged cult prostitution. Why is that important? Well, imagine you’re a new follower of Jesus, and you’re trying to align more and more of your life to what Jesus would say is right, and true, and best when it comes to your relationships, your sexuality, and how you operate within this family of God—exactly what we’re talking about—yet at the very same time you are literally immersed in a culture that screams for sexual liberation, relational promiscuity, and moral compromise. 

Here’s the thing—that’s 2,000 years ago in Corinth, but has anything really changed? There will always be a cultural narrative that will try to promise you more than what Jesus promises you. Paul’s listeners had to wrestle with that, and so do we. So, everything we’re about to look at not only applied to Paul’s listeners, but to us today. 

Now, fair warning, the passage we’re going to look at is a bit dense. That said, we’re going to read the whole thing together, then break it down piece by piece to learn as much as we can from what Paul has to say. So, here we go—1 Corinthians 7, starting in verse 6: 

6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. 8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 

Jump ahead to verse 32: 

32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin 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. 35 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. (1 Corinthians 7:6-9, 32-35 NIV)

Now, there’s a lot here. And I get it, there’s quite a bit of language here that feels strange, maybe even outdated: “Burning with passion,” “the Lord’s affairs,” “pleasing her husband.” And sometimes what can happen when we come across Scripture like this that feels off or confusing is that we can become dismissive or skeptical. And in both cases we risk missing or misunderstanding what God might want to show us. 

So, let’s slow down for a second and work through this together. When it comes to a Biblical take on singleness, what can we learn from this passage of Scripture? I see three things—there are probably more than that, but let’s look at these three. 

Number one: Singleness is a gift.

Go back to verse 7: 

7 But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Corinthians 7:7 NIV, emphasis added)

We’re going to nerd-out here for a minute, you ready? The Greek word for gift in this passage is the word charisma—it’s where we get our identical English word. But, there’s a huge, and frankly ironic, difference between how we understand and use the word charisma today and how Paul’s audience would have understood it in this context. 

See, our English definition of charisma would go something like this: compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others. If your sixteen-year-old tells you that someone has rizz, this is what she means! It’s a palpable charm, it’s an obvious attractiveness—and it’s one-hundred-percent about that person. Our version of charisma is all about the gift I have to offer you. As in, my personality, my charisma, is a gift to the world! 

And that’s not at all how Paul’s audience would have understood it. For them, charisma by definition is a favor that someone receives without any merit of his or her own. So it has nothing to do with the best or worst things about you, or the value you have to offer—it has everything to do with the one who’s giving the gift. Charisma is the same word, by the way, Paul uses to describe the gift of grace we receive through what Jesus accomplished for us (Romans 6:23), and that gift of grace is totally unmerited

So, based on that understanding of gift (charisma) in this context, here’s where we can land when it comes to singleness: Singleness is a divinely appointed gift that God Himself chooses to give based on the grace and favor He wants to show in someone’s life. 

And if that is true, it leads us to the second thing we can learn from this passage: Singleness is good.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, says that every good and perfect gift is from God (James 1:17)—if God gives us a gift, then, there can only be goodness in it. And go back to what Paul says in verse 8 of our passage: 

8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. (1 Corinthians 7:8 NIV, emphasis added) 

A couple quick things here. Notice that Paul is specifically addressing singleness. Previously he’s addressed all relational dynamics by saying “each of you has your own gift,” (and, like we’ve talked about, this includes singleness) but here he’s specifically calling attention to the unmarried and widows. This is Paul casting a wide net to include various kinds of singleness: never married and not married anymore.  

And to this group of people he says quite bluntly: Your singleness is good. Here’s a question: Why though? Because for some in the room, your singleness doesn’t feel good, it feels isolating, it feels lonely, it feels cruel—anything but good. Why would Paul, why would God, say this is a good thing?  

To answer that, we have to go back to verses 32-34: 

32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin 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. (1 Corinthians 7:32-34 NIV) 

Now, I get it. This part of the passage can seem pedantic because it sort of feels like Paul is both bashing the married people and making the single people out to be super pious, but what Paul is trying to communicate here is simply fact. Married people, your focus has to be split. Why? Because God wants you to care for your spouse! Ohhhhh. Your divided interest, married people, is necessary. God is not shocked by that. But single people, listen—you have the capacity for a super power that married people don’t have, they can’t have: laser focus. What do I mean by that? 

Paul says your attention can be focused on “pleasing the Lord,” which sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing: A person would only really ever want to please the Lord if that person first came to know how good he is. And you already believe this based on any other meaningful relationship you’ve ever had! Your desire to please anybody, to truly make that person happy, comes from your belief that there is something inherently good about him or her. 

So, here’s the takeaway: The goodness of singleness is that it leaves room for an undivided, uninhibited focus on the goodness of God. 

This is so important—when was the last time you let yourself focus on the goodness of God, or let his goodness invade your circumstances? See, when we sit in, when we focus on, when we immerse ourselves in the goodness of God, we experience him and our circumstances differently

Which means this, leaning number three: Singleness carries with it immense purpose. 

And listen, that purpose can be wasted! Track with this: God does not give accidental gifts, which means that if singleness is a gift, God has not designed it to be haphazard, accidental, unintentional, or without purpose. That would make God a liar for saying things like “I have good plans for you, even if they don’t feel good right now,” (paraphrase of Jeremiah 29:11).

See, God has not designed singleness to be a waiting room. Singleness is not the waiting room that comes before your purpose—singleness carries purpose right now IF the choice is made to embrace it [repeat]. Look at the last verse in the passage, verse 35: 

35 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. (1 Corinthians 7:35 NIV)

Paul says, “Everything we’re talking about when it comes to living a single, unmarried life is not to put you in this restrictive cage of atrophy, or stagnation, or waiting—it’s to encourage you and cheer you on in what can be an ultra-focused relationship with God, purpose from God, right now. I’m so glad Jesus didn’t wait to begin his ministry until the day came when he was no longer single. No, what did he model? Laser focus. Daily purpose. Deep connection to the Father. 

See, what if the purpose in your singleness starts to sound something like this: To use the time I’ve been given right now to know God and make Him known, in a way nobody else can. 

Talk about a compelling answer the next time you’re sitting around the dinner table with your family for the holidays, and your awkward aunt will just not let it go: “You’re so nice—why are you still single??” “Well, Aunt Karen, I’m choosing purpose! I’m choosing to use the time I’ve been given to know God and make him known, in a way nobody else can. And it’s changing the way I think about and live my life.” That’s a powerful perspective, isn’t it?! 

Now, I know that’s a lot. What can we do with it practically? What’s the application? 

Before we get to any major doing, what if we just gave ourselves some time to sit in the processing? I have a few questions for us, and obviously I want to address the single person in the room, but I also want to go after those who are currently married. Nobody is getting off the hook here.

So, to those who are unmarried, to those who are single, I’m not going to sugar-coat this: Do you believe your singleness is good? Do you see it as a gift? Do you see purpose in it? And it’s okay if the answer right now is no. Especially in a church culture that tends to elevate marriage, I understand why that might be the case. I get why you might not believe any of that. Here’s what I believe. I believe God loves you exactly where you are and has a purpose for your life that can start today. I believe you have a story that has the potential to be used by God to transform lives. I believe our church family benefits because you’re in it. 

I won’t ask you to believe it, but I will ask you this: What could change in your life if you did, and it was true? 

Plug for the upcoming Singles Gathering (the only “doing” we might ask of you) 

  • Friday night, May 3rd, North campus
  • This is NOT Christian Mingle meets speed dating—listen, if the only reason you’d come to this event is in hopes of not leaving single, you probably shouldn’t come. 
  • But if you’re currently unmarried or single, and really just wanting more conversation around Biblical singleness and living with purpose right now, I’m telling you—rearrange your schedule to be there. 

Now, single people, you can take a break. Let me talk to the married people in the room. Married people, let me ask you this. If for the last however many minutes you’ve been listening to me talk to the unmarried people in the room, and you’ve been silently agreeing with me, like, “Yes! This is all so true! God loves you and has a purpose for you—yay!” If that’s you, then here’s my question: when was the last time you and your spouse invited your unmarried or single friend to coffee or dinner and told them how much you love them and are thankful for them yourself? How can you make space for the single person in your life?

[If time permits here, this is an opportunity to share how YOU have done this recently, or how you’re being challenged to]

For Carley and me, we’ve felt convicted by this since Zander has been born. Our biggest fear in moving to Austin was that we’d be alone and have no family—now we’re seeing more and more opportunities to make sure we’re inviting the people we really love, many of whom are single, to surround Zander as this big circle of aunties and uncles. And we get the benefit of the countless ways they bless our son. 

Theological researcher, author, and speaker Dani (Danielle) Treweek said it way better than I can, so we’ll end with this:  

“The ultimate issue is not where singles (or indeed married Christians) sit in church but whether their experience of relational belonging within that church reflects the truth that this place, these people, are truly their family.” -Dani Treweek 

That’s the goal. And every single one of us has a part to play in creating that kind of relational belonging. It will happen on our watch, and not by accident. The good news is that Jesus has already gone ahead of us. His entire mission on earth was to bring us, God’s sons and daughters, back into the family where God wanted us all along. May the same be said of us, that we would do whatever it takes to bring everyone into the family. 

Setup song, Costly 

  • It could be good to point back to the two reflection questions above for people to consider during the song.
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