I’m married. My wife has the gift of marriage.
What does that mean? We could take it two ways. Perhaps it means she has the amazing gift of the privilege of being married to me with all the possibilities for joy and excitement that this opens up! Or perhaps it means that she has the gift of being able to endure and survive the married state even if the person to whom she is married is me.
Paul talks of two gifts: we might call them “the gift of marriage” and “the gift of singleness”. In 1Corinthians 7:7 he tells us that each one of us has his own gift from God; some have one kind and some have the other kind. And with that verse in mind, people speak of “the gift of singleness”. But paradoxically, most single people say that they don’t have the gift of singleness.
We tend to assume that “the gift of singleness” is a kind of special enabling that makes it easy for a few unusual people to enjoy a life of celibacy. And because it really is hard to be alone, most single people say “I’m not cut out for this! There’s no way I have the gift of singleness.”
But notice what we are doing here. When we talk of marriage, we see the state of marriage as a gift – the blessing of God that enables us to enjoy certain privileges and opportunities. We rarely talk of the gift of marriage as a special anointing to enable us to endure an essentially unpleasant state. So why do we reverse that thinking in relation to singleness? With singleness we see the so-called gift as a special enabling to endure a difficult life, and the state of singleness as more of a curse than a gift with which God has blessed us. But Paul sees the two gifts as parallel to one another, so we need to think about each of them in the same way.
I suggest Paul is saying that the state in which we find ourselves is always the gift. If I’m married – that’s God’s gift; if I’m single – that too is God’s gift. In either state we need the gift of his grace to endure the hard times, but that’s not the gift Paul has in mind. For a number of years I had the gift of singleness, and now for many years I have been enjoying the gift of marriage. It is likely that, sooner or later, either my wife or I will be given the gift of singleness again, for marriage is not eternal and one of us will leave our marriage to go to be with the Lord. The question then will be whether we receive that as God’s gift with fresh opportunities, or as a curse for which we need a fresh “gift” of enabling to endure.
Paul had settled the question. His current state was singleness. So he received that as a gift from God – and set out to discover the unique possibilities that this gift opened up for him in his desire to live for the glory of God. And to those, like Paul, who are single, he would say, “Don’t treat your singleness as an unwanted gift! Don’t waste the opportunities it affords by bemoaning the fact that you don’t feel you have the ‘gift of enabling singleness’. You don’t need that as a special gift, because he has promised grace for whatever state we find ourselves in. It’s the state of singleness itself that is his gift at this time in your life. Use your freedom to the full for the glory of God!”