Before you click onto another one of those “20 Things Not to Say to Singles” links, we need to stop and think about singleness. These are sometimes good for a laugh, but they really aren’t helping anyone. And you married people, before you start to “counsel” those who are single, you (myself included) also need to pause and meditate on what godly counsel in this area looks like.
Because let’s face it. Singleness and relationships are tricky topics. Some people are single because they want to be. Others are as content being single as Smeagol is content to be without his ring. Because of this, our questions need to shift from “Why are you single?” to “For what purpose are you single?”
God’s sovereignty doesn’t stop when it comes to your relational life. He isn’t hoping that you overcome your personality quirks and meet the charming, once in a lifetime, other half. God doesn’t make chick flicks. He makes worshippers. Inside of that salvation and worship we have the possibility to find the person who God sovereignly planned for us to marry. But our joy and purpose in singleness comes from understanding and cherishing the objects of first importance first.
There are some core principles which we need to address before we examine the issue of singleness. Well, to be exact, there are two: The Gospel, and Gospel based liberty.
This changes everything. Because Christ has so ransomed us as sinners, we now have a new identity. Paul aptly says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Ok, so we’ve all heard that passage before, and that’s good. But what about passages like: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Jesus isn’t promoting hate here, but he is promoting a right hierarchy. The gospel, in one fell swoop, both minimizes our human relationships, and maximizes them.
They are minimized because all our relationships are secondary to our relationship and identity we find in Christ. They are maximized because as we learn to interact with one another through Christ we find a greater joy and satisfaction in our human relationships. When Christ is our object of worship, relationships (in any sense) become more fulfilling because we no longer need them for identity and satisfaction.
Gospel Based Liberty:
Contrary to some early sects of Judaism which required marriage, or early Gnostic streams which rejected it, Biblical Christianity offers us a freedom in our relationships. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). Because our primary joy, satisfaction and identity is tied up in Christ, we are free to relate accordingly because we are under no relational void.
Some people reference Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that man should be alone,” and prescribe marriage for all people. But that’s not what God was saying in that text. God looked at Adam, God weighed his redemptive purposes, and he decided that it was not good for Adam, this Adam, to be alone and that he be provided a helper. Paul wasn’t married, he did ok. Jesus wasn’t married, and he was the only man who didn’t sin. In fact Paul refers to marriage and singleness as a gift. To be married is a gift, to be single is a gift (1 Cor 7:7).
The important thing to remember is that singleness wasn’t idolized (“I don’t need a spouse,” “I like the freedom,” “I’m a self-contained unit of awesome and married people are weak”), nor was marriage (“I need to be married by yesterday,” “If I’m not married I will never find joy,” “If I’m not married I will never get to have sex”). Rather those who were single and those who were married were free to worship Christ, and fulfill his mission through either mode of living.
Don’t Waste Your Singleness
From my experience singles have three mindsets (predominantly): 1.) They are zealous in their singleness because it allows them to do what they want when they want to do it. 2.) They are mindless in their singleness. It is what it is. 3.) They are hyper vigilant on getting married, and typically this only further frustrates their attempts towards their goals.
I started with the gospel and gospel based liberty because it corrects all three of these. If we are making much of our singleness (for the better or for the worse) it becomes harder to make much of Christ. If we are mindless in any portion of our lives, it is more difficult to live for Christ, and therefore less satisfying.
Paul offers three benefits of being single when it comes to serving Christ. The first is that singleness is spared the suffering that can accompany marriage relationships. Living with a fellows Christian is still living with a recovering sinner, we can hurt each other. Inside of marriage we also have to feel the pain of losing a loved one or burying a child. Paul says, “Those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that” (1 Cor 7:28). Single people, you have less to lose, so risk for the gospel comes at less of a price. Risk more.
Secondly, Paul points out the temporary nature of earthly things: “This is what I mean brothers, the appointed time has grown very short…” (1 Cor 7:29). He goes on to say that those who are married should live as if they are not, those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing. What Paul is pointing out is not pessimism, but perspective. In heaven we will be so enraptured by the person of Christ that our earthly relations and affections will simply prove…insignificant. Single people, because your heart is free from spouses and children, it is easier for eternal things to weight chiefly on your hearts. Married folks, you aren’t given a hall pass, but you are given the joyful burden of loving your family with all your heart, while loving Christ even more.
Lastly, Paul calls singles to live carelessly for the Lord: “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord” (1 Cor 7:32). Paul counters this with the married man being concerned with his own family. Paul isn’t saying we shouldn’t be concerned with our families, but he is pointing out the freedom single people have in their relational responsibilities. I have to deal with my corporate responsibility towards Christ, and my local, and Biblical, responsibility to my family. Singles can live with passion, time, and more energy for the things of Christ because they are free from the responsibility of family. Your singleness shouldn’t be marked by trivial and empty things “because you have the time.” It should be marked by the unique opportunity you have to make much of Christ with the whole of your time and person.
Your position as single is a gift. And it is unique. You don’t need anything more than Christ to serve Christ. So stop sitting, stop wasting, and start using your singleness to the glory of God and the expansion of his church.
Just a note in closing, those who are married need not preach the “niceness” of marriage. God has wired men and women to be attracted towards each other. Our singles know that. What we need to do instead is preach Christ through our marriage. Ultimately this is the sustainable and attractive portion of marriage. It is also a view of marriage framed in worship, not cultural norms. We don’t want people to marry because they can, we want people to marry because marriage is innately worship filled and evangelistic, and it offers a natural place to birth and raise more Christians (also evangelistic).