Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Some incomplete exegetical notes on the "gift of singleness"

At this link, Tim Challies asks and provides an answer to the question, "What is the gift of singleness?", referring to the single verse in the Bible where this terminology is explicitly used (1 Corinthians 7:7).

One reason I find this discussion interesting is, before the last few years, I had been accustomed to hearing a different explanation as the "usual" one. But in more recent years, I think I pretty much only hear the explanation that Challies gives.

In short, Challies (referring to Vaughan Roberts, and John Stott), explains thus: the gift of singleness is being single. People who are single are those who have been (for the present; for however long it lasts) been gifted with singleness. And people who are not single have been gifted with the gift of being married.

The alternative explanation is that the "gift of singleness" is a special endowment from God, enabling a person to remain single indefinitely, for the gospel's sake. The background to that idea is that human beings are sexual, and the "normal" (please understand that word in the proper sense) state for an adult is to be in a complementary sexual relationship, i.e. Biblical marriage - and that it is "not good for man to be alone" - that it is unhealthy, given human imperfection (even leaving aside sinful imperfection; remember that God spoke these words concerning unfallen Adam). The "gift of singleness", under this view, is an extra gift, enabling someone called to kingdom service to persist in this state without the normal attendant struggles that it causes, or not to the same degree, etc. That is to say, it is a spiritual gift like the others that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians - given to a particular believer (but not every believer in the same situation) for the gospel's sake.

Challies' purpose in his piece doesn't seem to be to argue between the views, but just to present the one he sees as correct. That's fine, of course. And of course, if you want to see the arguments weighed and considered properly, you should use a commentary. I'd like to make a few observations that seem to favour the alternative explanation.

- Firstly, the use of "gift" (charisma) in 1 Corinthians, as noted above. If this is a different kind of "gift", and particular a different kind of gift to the one he talks about a few paragraphs later, then this is mightily confusing. The language of spiritual gift is not used anywhere in the Bible in this way (as a general substitute for "blessing"), as far as I can see.

- In context, Paul has just addressed the subject of the necessity of regular sexual relations for married people, because of the dangers of doing otherwise. If he were then read to say "I wish you were all single (i.e. all had the gift that I have)", that seems incoherent. How does being single help one to deal with sexual temptation, compared to being married? To infer that all single Christians have a special assistance from God to resist sexual temptation which is not given to married people seems to have no support from the passage, and is explicitly contradicted by verse 9 (which, of course, gives no licence or excuse for fornication).

- Again, verse 9 envisages that for some single people, they have sufficient control over their sexual desires to be able to pass on marriage; and some do not (again note - they do not then fornicate and find that they have a convenient excuse for it; rather, as described by Paul they carry a particular ongoing psychological struggle and burden, described by Paul as "burning with passion"). This dovetails exactly with the view of the "gift" as a special ability given by the Spirit of God to a particular Christian, rather than something experienced by all unmarried Christians.

Much more could be said on the subject. Some sensitive souls are upset when reading about a sensitive subject unless all that could be said on that subject is actually said, all in the correct proportions. To such, I can only ask that they do not read what is not written, and try to see what spiritual profit there is in weighing up what is written.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me, and drink

A recently preached sermon on John 7:37-40. It's been a long time since I uploaded any, but I'm going to try...

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.