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An Undistracted Missionary

      By Fern Horst

"Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ." (I Corinthians 9:5, 12b)

The Apostle Paul is the only single in the Bible that wrote about singleness. What a blessing for singles today that God inspired Paul to write about the benefits of singleness from someone who could give personal testimony to its positive aspects! While the seventh chapter of the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians addresses marriage, a bulk of the chapter also addresses those who are not married. The emphasis that God gave through Paul is that singleness is His strategy to provide a greater freedom for those whose calling requires an undistracted focus on the task at hand.

In the same letter in which Paul lauds the benefits of singleness in Christ's Kingdom, he also asks the question, "Do [Barnabas and I] not have the right to have a wife as do the other apostles and brothers?" I catch a bit of wistfulness here, as he recognizes the benefits of having a wife at his side. He likely saw the asset a godly wife was to some of his brothers in Christ as they served the Lord, and as a normal human being, likely wished at times that he had that, too.

But then he goes on to say that he and Barnabas did not pursue marriage because in the work God had called them to, it would have hindered the gospel of Christ. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul listed the following experiences that he had in his missionary journeys:

" in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." (II Corinthians 11:23b-27)

It's not difficult to see that dragging a family through those experiences would not have been a good thing. Rather than forging ahead through all kinds of dangers to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, as was his calling, he would likely have held back for the sake of protecting his family. And if he had left his family at home, they would have spent vast amounts of time with their husband and father absent, worried for his safety.

When I read about Paul I often think of a single missionary man I know who has served the Lord for years in a number of different third world countries. One of his roles was to travel into remote villages and stay there for weeks at a time while he trained local Christian men to be pastors and leaders in their churches. In an interview a number of years ago, he acknowledged the loneliness of being single on the mission field, but at the same time also acknowledge the freedom that singleness gave him to successfully do the work God had given him to do, without the responsibilities of a wife and children.

I also think of a single teacher I know who has ministered to many children from nonchristian homes throughout the years - children who are now adults and come back to thank her for the role she played in their lives. She, too, recognizes that if she had had children at home, that she would not have invested as heavily in the lives of her students.

God's call to each one of us is different. For some callings, marriage is the better asset. For other callings, singleness is the best. I thank God that He has given us excellent examples of both in the Bible, so that we can all be encouraged in whatever role He has determined is best for what He has called us to.

" neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah 56:3b-5)

© 2007 Fern Horst

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