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  • Writer's picturePastor Hans Fiene

Matins Devotion: September 22, 2023

These days, I often hear people say that the church needs to do a better job of supporting those who are single. And I get why people say this. Marriage rates are crumbling, childlessness is skyrocketing. There are plenty of faithful Christians who want to find a godly spouse but have been unsuccessful in doing so and often feel out of place and forgotten in their congregations. I understand their struggles and I encourage all Christians on an individual level to be better friends to their unmarried brothers and sisters.

But still, I think this idea that the church needs to do a better job ministering to the single is not quite right. The church on a corporate level doesn’t need to do a better job ministering to the single. It needs to do a better job ministering to the celibate and to widows.

This is something Paul addresses in our reading from 1 Timothy today. We aren’t made to belong to ourselves. We’re made to belong to each other. So those who are married belong to their spouses and together belong to Christ, serving Him by serving each other. The unmarried can belong to Christ in a more unique and unencumbered way. Widows, Paul tells us, can commit themselves to serving the church in ways that married women can’t, so the church has the responsibility to support them and care for them in this holy vocation.

Young widows, however, may well not be content to be celibate. They might not be able to make that unique commitment to serving Christ that older widows can. And they may well scandalize the church if they stumble into sin or abandon those who rely on them while pursuing marriage. Likewise, if they don’t live uniquely for Christ in their unmarried status, they may well become busybodies and gossips. So when you have limited resources, give them to true pious widows devoted to Christ, not currently unmarried women seeking marriage.

In all of this, Paul is offering us a very helpful distinction. “Singleness” is not a thing. “Celibacy” is. The church should praise and aid the unmarried who commit themselves to serving the church in ways that only the celibate can. Especially in the case of widows, the church should provide for them, clothe them and care for them if they don’t have believing family members.

But for those who are living alone while they seek marriage, the church’s job is not to confer a sacred status upon a status that is not sacred. The church’s job is to proclaim the Bridegroom who purchased His bride out of condemnation with His precious blood. Likewise, the church’s job is to aid all Christians in serving Christ in their vocations as husbands and wives, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. Let us care for the single who desire marriage by befriending them and helping them find godly spouses. Let the church care for the truly celibate and for true widows more directly by helping them serve Christ in the unique ways only they can.

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