It’s true – most people will get married.
In fact, I’d even go so far as to say it’s conventional to be married.
We are communal beings, created for unity with one another, and in our very origins, we were made as two beings to be made one in the first covenantal marriage. However, the original and conventional story is not the only one, and in this first marriage, God was not saying that marriage is the end goal. He was starting the human race and granting us this gift of marriage as a means to reflect Him as images of Himself.
One could argue marriage is ideal and the intent from this, but in the New Testament, Jesus does away with this notion: “…in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22:30.) The New Earth, the perfect ideal restored, has no marriage. We are individuals, glorified, in perfect unity and community with one another. In Christ’s death and resurrection, He declared the end goal to be new life, this new earth filled with a body of believers wed to their Bridegroom.
As a result, we ought to have a view granting equal dignity and enthusiasm for those who are single and those who are married. If we truly believe God is sovereign in all things, and that all things are used for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), then seasons – or even lifetimes – of singleness are not only intentional but purposed. That is, they are not merely caused, but are granted as channels for specific graces to be made manifest.
With that in mind, we must view singleness as a gift and an opportunity – an opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission and exemplify Christ in a greater fashion. As it is, I fear, in some circles, that singleness is viewed as a season of waiting for marriage. There are good things to wait for – the birth of a child, the change of the seasons, the return of Christ – but unlike these examples, the danger in treating singleness as a season of waiting is that marriage is never a promise made to us by God. The attitude of waiting for a gift not promised creates a future-oriented vision, which can detract from a present-oriented living – the kind of living that is encouraged and even commanded all through Scripture (see Romans 12:2, James 4:14, Matthew 6:34, Ephesians 5:5-16, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Psalm 90:12…).
Therefore, let us explore the ways that singleness is more than a season, but a beautiful and even fulfilling gift.
Singles are being refined in a specific way
God’s goal for us is restoration through sanctification into glorification. And as a Father who gives good gifts His children, sovereignly orchestrating everything with specific purpose, a person who is single is only single because, by it, God has determined they will be most conformed into the likeness of Christ than if they were not single.
I once had someone say to me something along the lines of, “You simply can’t be as mature as someone who is married.” I squinted. They made their case: “When you’re married, you have a mirror to your flaws and shortcomings. Someone is constantly there and you find yourself screwing up over and over again and needing forgiveness and growth.”
While I’m sure that’s true, that marriage brings a particular refinement, it would be foolishness to say singleness doesn’t bring its own particular refinement by other means. Being single removes the ability to depend on another person for support and companionship. It forces a different set of skills and characteristics to be tested and grown. Specifically, singleness allows for particular refinement through the means of service to the church and community, and on the mission field.
Married people certainly gain strength in areas singles don’t, but likewise, singles gain strength in areas married people don’t, and this is a good thing. We can learn from each other. Just as older people can learn from younger and younger ought to learn from older, just as women can learn from men and men can learn from women, married people can and ought to learn from single people just as single people can and ought to learn from married ones. Just as the eye needs the hand and the head needs the feet (1 Corinthians 12:21-27). (See also Galatian 3:28, there is no “higher calling” of one life over another in the kingdom, another notion of marriage and parenthood that needs to be done away with.)
In a culture where singleness is seen a season of awaiting marriage and one viewed as not-as-mature as the season of marriage, singles are often found in this limbo of not yet having a place or purpose in the church. And this is incredibly tragic because being single makes one incredibly versatile. Singles, when viewed this way and wandering among the body, seen as people to be only taught and held in the waiting room, become the most underused resource of great potential in the church.
Singles are mobile and multifunctional
Marriage and family are beautiful, and one of the reasons they are beautiful is because, when as God intends, they display a unified network of people living and operating together, bound together by name and blood, exemplifying the design of God for humanity. Schedules are coordinated, needs are served, and a rich intimacy is formed.
With this blessing comes some limitations. Not every ministry opportunity can be taken and spare moments are rare. Familial relationships are priority, as they ought to be, so friendships and evangelistic relationships need to take a secondary place when push comes to shove.
There is nothing wrong with this; this is how it ought to be for a family. However, consider the single person by contrast. Paul sums up the reality of their status perfectly:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Without dedicated responsibility to a particular individual, singles can move about with more freedom. They can use their gifts more fully and diversely. Because they are unmarried, they are mobile and multifunctional, two traits that are rare and offer a wealth of opportunities for fulfilling service to the church and the lost.
Singles are needing service purpose, and are focused when serving
And that wealth of opportunity is not simply beneficial to the church, but to the single person as well. While marriage and children provide immediate and ready opportunity to serve sacrificially and practice the gospel, singleness requires a little more intention and discernment. But when those opportunities are filled, the single person finds fulfillment and a deeper relationship with Christ in sharing in His suffering and washing the feet of His beloved.
If there is no earthly marriage to serve, the covenant to Christ is fulfilled in serving His bride.
It can be dangerous for a single person to be without purpose, too. Worldly matters and temptations – opportunities to serve self – are close at hand. Boredom breeds contempt, as the saying goes, and boredom in service to Christ can make the world look that much more appealing. This boredom does not have to be.
Let’s address the often abused part of 1 Corinthians 7, the part where it says “those who burn with passion ought to marry.” There is much to be said on this passage, but it has all been said before. However, burning with passion beyond self control is far more likely when not otherwise preoccupied in service to Christ. To share personal experience here, my own struggles with “passion” have arisen when I am not active in serving the church and the lost. When I am pursuing self-interest, I find those struggles much more close at hand.
Something I wish to add, when considering this “burns with passion” passage – Paul makes this qualification of “beyond self control”. Self control is a fruit of the Spirit, and relinquished is immorality. If your passion is burning “beyond self control” and you are thus partaking in immorality, your problems perhaps run deeper than your lack of a spouse.
Singles as a resource
Now speaking to the singles here – there is often some resistance and pushback to the notion that you are a resource to be put to use. But why? Is your life your own? Is your desired use of time contributing to the kingdom and of eternal value? Do you wish to maintain independence from the body, from the great commission, and from service?
The term “resource” seems to be one that implies a diminishing of value to some, but if anything, it is an increase in value. Just as the sick found a healer in Jesus, the feet of the disciples found cleansing, and the world He ruled found a servant in Him, you, too, can be a resource of Christlikeness to a world in need, with greater capacity than one who is married. Why would you deny that opportunity? And who are you to do so? Shouldn’t your priority be to your first love and your first identity?
When your church’s children ministry is struggling because married couples are preoccupied with their own children or spending time with extended families on both sides, or when your church is in need of help cleaning each week but the parents of children have hungry mouths to feed at home, or most importantly, when your church’s mission field is bare, where are you? Are you not a resource?
Singles, I challenge you to prayerfully consider where you might harbor a fear of humility and service, and how you can aid the other members of your body in the calling of the church.
Remember Paul, a man who was single for his entire life, and sought to serve His Lord first. He had all the reason to say, “I’ve served immensely, now I will retire and find a wife and the church can help me.” Instead, this was his response:
“If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?1 Corinthians 9:12
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”
(Do not merely reap from your church, serve sacrificially trusting you will be rewarded spiritually. You will be.)
See also how he writes in 1 Thessalonians 2. No, you are not Paul, you may not be single for life, but do you have this adoration of your Savior that delights to serve His church whilst you are single?
And we see this attitude again in Philippians:
“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”Philippians 2:17
I will leave you with these verses to ponder:
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ… And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”Galatian 6:2, 9-10
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”Philippians 2:3-5
(Remember, your own Savior set an example in a life of singleness.)
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”Galatians 2:20
Singles are plentiful
We know this and treat it as a problem to be solved – singles are plentiful in the church these days, and increasingly so, and so are the books and articles attempting to diagnose why.
It doesn’t take much effort to find a post claiming it’s a lack of manhood, or lack of femininity, or poor theology of marriage, or an abundance of selfishness, an unwillingness to serve… You name it, it’s been claimed as the source of singleness. Rarely will you see an article attribute this perceived epidemic as the sovereignty of God. Could it be singles are plentiful because the world is in a season where the need is plentiful?
If singles are plentiful, and able, and available, and needing to serve, why are we not putting them – putting us – to use?
An anecdotal example, in my own walk of ministry, although the notion of a relationship has its appeal, I find myself more and more feeling turned off to the idea. Why? Because if I were to take up the ministry of marriage, it would require me to lay down the ministries God has allotted me now. I simply could not serve women and community in the way I do, to the extent I do, or be ready to be called overseas like I am willing to be at a moment’s notice, if I were married.
As it is, I am able to have single, vulnerable, emotionally susceptible young women in my home. Having a husband would limit and complicate this. Having children, this would endanger their upbringing and safety. I am able to leave my house in a heartbeat to tend to an emergency for someone I am not related to. I am able to meet someone who is lost for coffee and not worry about running home, letting conversation continue until it naturally expires. I am able to be more involved in the coordination of the music portion of worship at our church.
Please don’t take this as bragging – this is a grace, developed over many years. This singleness is truly a gift. Beginning a marital relationship would be a sacrifice of outpourings I have come to love and be incredibly fulfilled by. This doesn’t mean I am unwilling to marry, but that if marriage is to happen, I have become much more selective and careful in deciding to pursue it with someone.
Given that “the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few”, church, I urge you to seek and challenge the singles in your church. Edify and call them to fill their duty as a servant of Christ. If they are single, it is for a purpose, and they ought to live as though their days are numbered.
Singles, if you are single, you are called to singleness. No, not necessarily for life, but you are called to the life you have. As Paul emphasizes, “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.” (1 Corinthians 7:26.) Continue reading after that verse, and he presses this – pursue a life of singleness if you are single; pursue excellence in your marriage if you are married; preferably, by Paul’s judgment, singleness is better. So, if you are single, you do not know what tomorrow brings (James 4:14). You have no guarantee of marriage. Time is fleeting. Don’t let time be wasting. Serve your Lord, and in your service, you will know Him and find yourself delighting in Him in a way you never thought possible.