“Single like me.” — Paul the apostle (1 Corinthians 7:8)
I believe unmarried men and women are vital to the kingdom of God.
Much of the society I’m in is "single." This is new. Recent research has revealed that half the United States adult population is unmarried.
This hasn't always been the case. A trend towards singleness has increased in recent years. Various factors - the belief marriage is becoming obsolete, longer life spans, prolonged adolescence - are cited.
My aim in this series is to provide encouragement to my unmarried brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe you will be vital to revival in the church. I believe a great move of God’s Spirit is impossible without you. You are an integral part of God’s kingdom, a force for His glory.
Secondarily, I hope to provide perspective to the married portion of the church. It is good for us to have a vision broader than our current experience.
The Indirect Word Of God To Singleness And Marriage
Various Bible passages address singleness, though not as many as marriage. I will attempt to deal with those passages, but first want to address a potential misnomer.
Sometimes the Bible includes only a little information on a subject we're interested in. This might frustrate us. Disappointment might come upon us if we find only a handful of verses on a subject of interest.
We ought not forget that the entire Bible can edify. In other words, the verses about marriage aren’t the only verses that apply to marriage. The passages about singleness aren’t the only passages about singleness. We are told to trust in the Lord, for instance. This is a repeated theme throughout all of the Bible. To trust Him has major application in marriage and singleness, as well as every area of life. We must remember this. Let’s call this God’s indirect word to marriage and singleness.
The Direct Word Of God To Singleness And Marriage
Still, the Bible does have a bit to say directly to singleness, but a bit more to say directly to marriage. Why is it weighted in this way?
Is it because the Bible couldn’t anticipate a society with a higher percentage of singles than marrieds? I don’t think so. I think the reason is three-fold.
For one, many of the passages dealing with marriage deal with problems in marriage. In other words, people are sinners, and we bring sin into our relationships. This includes marriage. When two sinners marry, problems can arise. Marriage often exacerbates sin, making it more obvious. A young man who is lazy will be exposed after marriage. Marriage confronts it head on.
Secondly, the church and societies are jeopardized by unhealth in the family structure. Family begins with marriage. Perhaps you can think of brokenness in your own family. Remember how it has effected you, and apply that on a grand scale. If there is widespread marital brokenness in the church, the negative impact runs deep. Knowing this, God goes to great lengths to teach directly about marriage and family.
Lastly, the Bible often speaks to singleness indirectly. For instance, in a few of Paul’s epistles he takes time to address the household. Husbands, wives, and children are all mentioned. But where are his words for those who are single? The answer, usually, is in the rest of the letter. The whole letter is for the whole church, including singles. Paul, himself a single man, didn’t forget anyone. In his mind, the entire Bible is for the entire church.
Healthy And Unhealthy Church Emphasis On Marriage
Perhaps this help us understand why time is given to marriage issues during church services. Generationally devastating sins occur in the context of marriage and family. The marital chaos in our society has impacted the church.
Why do I have to hear so much about marriage at my local church? For the sake of the church or society you are in, be glad. The community needs that health in a bad way. We are a body, and if the marriages suffer the body is handicapped.
In the Old Testament era, many times marital unhealth crippled the work of God. So this might be part of the reason marriage receives air time. In other words, pastors often get crushed with loads of devastating marriage counseling. They feel inclined to address the subject.
Additionally, we have to think a bit about what drives a person to God and His word in the first place. So often, it is disaster and turmoil. I cannot count the times I’ve met someone who has come to church because their marriage is falling apart. That might not be ideal, but we welcome anyone who comes at any stage and for any reason. For folks like these, marriage must be addressed.
Still, I think it can be the case that churches make an idol of marriage and family. Many believers have swapped out the great commission for a mission to family. We are called to fight for the kingdom of God, inside and outside of our family structure. At times, however, individual local churches almost make marriage and family ministry their strategy. You can see this in churches that have included the word “family” into their church name.
Additionally, teaching pastors are often married, “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2). We are prone to self-focus like anyone else. We must work hard to think about the whole body and teach accordingly. This is often a challenge, one I haven’t always succeeded at. How can a pastor speak to a widow if he’s never been widowed? How can he talk well to singles when his single life is a distant memory from a distant time? How can he speak to all the various groups within the body?
Only the Holy Spirit is able to do this through him. I believe this is one of the benefits of expositional teaching. At least exposition provides the safety of addressing what God addresses, rather than my 7 part series on priorities. I think exposition has kept me from completely teaching my vantagepoint.
Categories Singleness In The Bible
There are six categories of singleness mentioned in the Bible. They are as follows:
Men and women, often young, prior to their first marriage.
Widows (and by implication, widowers)
Eunuchs, forced or volunteered.
Those who shouldn’t marry due to a specific time of trouble (sickness, persecution, economic disaster).
Divorcees, both at fault and not at fault.
Those called by God to life without marriage.
Marital Status Is Not Our Identity
I think it is important to remind you that your marital status is not your identity. As a believer, you will be married or unmarried for a little while, but you will be in Christ forever. Jesus indicated that our eternal state will not include marriage. This helps us emphasize this point: you are in Christ forever.
Being in Him is your truest identity, your strongest position. To be married or single does not define you. Christ does.
Again, this is important to remember for various reasons. For one, if you are in Christ you should be engaged in a local church. That local church should love marriage more than the culture. God gave it to mankind, and we know God. We understand the deeper meaning behind marriage, an image of the love of Christ for His church. We submit to God’s sex ethic. This means we embrace the truth that covenantal marriage is the only place for sexual fulfillment. These are some of the reasons your local church should love marriage.
That said, it is in a local church you might be pressured towards marriage. This might be pressure that is real or only perceived, but it is pressure nonetheless. Others might bring that pressure with awkward questions or insinuations. You heart might create that pressure by looking around at some of the nice couples around you. Either way, pressure.
Remember, you are complete in Christ! He loves you, shed His blood for you, and you are in Him. Your strongest and truest identity is in Christ. You will be in Him forever.
The Gift and Calling Of Singleness
Singleness can be a lifelong calling. For everyone, it is at least a temporary calling. If you aren’t called to a lifetime of singleness, you will at least have a call to a season of singleness.
Before writing about how to tackle this calling, I want to remind you that many heroes of the faith were not married. Paul used his singleness well. He is a classic example. He seems to have chosen and embraced a single life. Of course, Jesus was also single.
The important thing to remember in the case of Paul and Jesus is how they used their singleness. It was not for them, but for others. The absence of a wedding made them a weapon for the kingdom of God. This is part of the reason I believe revival will come through the unmarried within the church. You can be a mighty weapon in God’s hand.
Adolescence is a recent invention of our society. A long time between childhood and adulthood is unnecessary. This is not a biblical concept. Are you young and single? Be the man or the woman God has called you to be. Know this isn’t an extension of your childhood. These are your grown man years where you can make a difference in God’s kingdom. To be unmarried makes you no less a man or a woman. Embrace this calling.
Your Singleness Is Not For You
This leads me to my final thought for today. As I said, adolescence is a new idea. In Biblical times they would’ve hated the never ending boyhood of Peter Pan. No, they looked forward to leaving childhood and becoming mature. Like Jesus who took responsibility for others, believers long for the same. We want responsibility. We want to serve. We want to make a difference.
This helps us. Our singleness is not for us. Our singleness is for God and others. Singleness is for us in that we have an opportunity to lose our lives, finding them in the process. But our singleness is not for us in the sense that these are the selfish years. No. We reject that concept. I applaud you if you have.
Give your life away! Like Paul, I believe you can be the special forces of the faith. I believe you can impact missions, youth, children, art, culture, hospitality, and community.
I have so enjoyed watching our small groups that are mostly unmarried. They are powerful. The way they throw themselves into their church family is remarkable. Marrieds with small children often struggle to make it to even half their group meetings. The unmarrieds do life together.
Embrace the body of Christ. Embrace the mission of the gospel. There are churches to plant, people to reach, disciples to make. Your singleness might not be permanent, but what you do with these years will be.
There are things I cannot do now that I used to do as a single man. At that stage of my life I was with believers five nights a week. I embraced the mission. My life was full of God’s kingdom. I was full. It was a joy working with youth, with college students, with other people my age. I enjoyed going for it.
I still go for it today, but as a married man with three children it looks different. I cannot be out five nights a week anymore. That's not the season I’m in. I have to be more selective. Looking back, I am glad I gave my single years to evangelism, discipleship, and Christian community. I am still all in on those pursuits, but the avenues have changed.
Again, spend your life for God. You are so important to the body of Christ. Your impact can be massive.
I hope I am able to communicate this. This subject can be delicate. A comprehensive study is impossible, and there are sensitivities I am not aware of. Foot in mouth moments seem inevitable when writing about anything. I especially fear them writing on something personal like singleness. My intention is help, not harm, so I pray this comes through.