Singleness is underrated and marriage is overrated.
That was Paul’s big idea at the end of 1 Corinthians 7. Singleness was a bit of a new cultural phenomenon in his day. In the Old Testament, marriage was the norm and singleness was rare. But, in the New Testament, marriage remained the norm but singleness was taught as something very positive.
According to a Pew Research Center study, 61% of adults today under the age of 35 are single. This means that If you are 30 years old and still single in today’s culture you are no longer in the minority.
Because singles make up such a large percentage of our congregations, we must ask: How do we need to rethink singleness? Paul gives us six helpful truths:
1) Singleness is a gift.
Singleness is not a curse, but a “gift” (1 Cor 7:7). Do we really believe that? Do we believe that singleness is just as valuable as the gift of marriage or are we sending a different message with our words and actions? Are we calling out greatness in those who are stewarding their gift well or are we putting undue pressure on them to hurry up and find a spouse?
God has convicted me of this. I tend to get overly-excited in our church when two godly people meet and decide to get married. There’s nothing wrong with getting excited about marriage, but I think I’ve unintentionally sent a message that marriage is “the thing” I get most excited about. For that, I have to ask for forgiveness.
2) Singleness is eternal.
Imagine with me a world without marriage ceremonies, wedding dresses, romance novels, and dating web sites and apps. If you are able to imagine a world like that then you’d be imagining… heaven.
Jesus made the shocking statement, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25). In heaven, from what we can tell, the gift of marriage will cease to exist. That’s why Paul encourages us not to get bogged down by the things that will “pass away” such as possessions, business deals, and marriage. He goes so far as to say that those who have spouses should live as though they had none (1 Cor. 7:29-31). He doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t sacrificially love our spouses. He doesn’t mean that we won’t carry on a deep friendship with our spouse in heaven. His main point is that we shouldn’t make our spouse an idol or be overly consumed with them because marriage as we know it will pass away.
Pastor Tim Keller told his church, “Don’t be too depressed if you’re not married right now and don’t be too elated if you are.” Why is that? Because the destination for every Christian is not marriage, but Jesus. Marriage was never intended to be the end of the road, but rather a road sign pointing to our ultimate relationship. Paul says in Ephesian 5:32 that earthly marriage refers to Christ and the church. Marriage was never meant to terminate on itself, but point people to a God who does love us in an ultimate way.
In light of that truth, married couples must ask themselves: Are we using our marriage to point people to Christ or draw attention to ourselves? Do we use social media to present a realistic picture of marriage or craft an image that says, “If you just had my spouse… if you found a love like mine… then you wouldn’t need anything else in the world.” We must be intentional not to publicize our marriage in such a way that reinforces the prevailing cultural view that finding ultimate fulfillment is dependent upon finding “the one.”
3) Singleness is fulfilling.
It’s common to hear, “I get that singleness is a gift but I don’t want to be lonely” or “I feel like I’d be missing out if I don’t get to enjoy the gift of sex.” As a married man, I’m not going to lie and say that marriage does’t help with loneliness or that sex isn’t a great gift. But, I will say that when I was single I had a very distorted and unrealistic picture of how those gifts would fulfill me. The problem was not the gifts themselves, by the “hype” surrounding those gifts. Every fellow Nebraska football fan knows exactly what I’m talking about. Scott Frost is a gift to the program, but our expectations of him being able to completely turn the football program around his first year was a bit unrealistic.
The reality is that sometimes marriage is more lonely than being single. Whenever you put two sinners in close proximity with each other there is going to be conflict. Sure marriage helps initially with loneliness, but it also leads to other problems that you wouldn’t have if you were single.
Another reality check that we must remind ourselves of is that sex is not the highest form of pleasure there is. Being in the presence of God is a more transcendent and sustaining pleasure than sex (Psalm 16:11). The incredible lives of single men like Paul and Jesus prove that the gift of sex is not needed to live a pleasurable life.
Therefore, if you are single, you can take a deep breath right now. You can take your foot off of the gas though the culture may be telling you to “put the pedal to the metal” in pursuing a spouse. Knowing that you are not dependent on romance and sex for your ultimate fulfillment, you can slow down, build great friendships, travel, and invest in your relationship with Jesus as you keep your dating options open.
4) Singleness is freedom.
Paul exhorts the singles in Corinth, “I want you to be free from anxieties” (1 Cor. 7:32). In other words, singleness will allow you to have an unrestrained, undivided devotion to the Lord (7:35).
Marshall Segal of Bethlehem College & Seminary explains,
“You may never again know a time like the one you’re in right now. A season of singleness is not the minor leagues of marriage. It has the potential to be a unique period of undivided devotion to Christ and undistracted ministry to others. With the Spirit in you and the calendar clear, God has given you the means to make a lasting difference for his kingdom. You’re all dressed up, having every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3), with literally everywhere to go.”
We’ve seen what happens when a man or woman with undivided devotion to the Lord decides to use their freedom for good:
- Diedrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who used his free time to disciple and train single men before becoming part of the resistance against Hitler during WWII.
- Mother Theresa used her freedom to bring relief to thousands of kids in the slums of Calcutta, India.
- C.S. Lewis, who didn’t get married till his late 50’s, used his freedom to write fiction and non-fiction books that will continue to influence Christians centuries from now.
- The Apostle Paul, arguably the best missionary to ever live, used his freedom to take three missionary journeys throughout the Roman Empire planting and strengthening churches. He is credited as the author of nearly half of our New Testament!
These men and women did not waste their singleness. No one is wishing that these men and women would have settled down and raised a family in the suburbs. They used their unrestrained freedom to make a dent in eternity.
Therefore, if you are single and still have full control of your schedule and aren’t getting text messages like, “Honey, the kids are burning the house down right now. Get home now!” then exercise your freedom today to run after your God-given dreams because you never know when your season of singleness will come to an end. It could be five years from now or five months from now.
5) Singleness is completeness.
In the popular 1996 movie Jerry McGuire, actor Tom Cruise uttered one of the most famous lines in Hollywood history when he said: “You complete me.” That is the prevailing view of our day. If you are single, you are pressured to think that you are “incomplete” without a spouse. However, Paul preached a different message. He said that he too had the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 7:40). He wasn’t lacking in any way because he knew he was complete in Christ. He didn’t let the culture tell him that he was Junior Varsity or that something was wrong with him. Neither should you!
If you are married like me, the commitment should be to not exert pressure on singles to “get in the dating game” or “hurry up and get married” because that just reinforces the idea that we need another human being to feel complete.
Jesus did not come all the way down from heaven to save us from singleness. Singleness is not a disease. Singleness is not our main problem. If it were, then Jesus sure missed the mark because our Savior was single! No, our main problem is the spiritual adultery we’ve committed against God, the one who is willing and able to fulfill all of our deepest longings. That’s what Jesus came to restore – our marriage to Him.
6) Singleness is suffering.
Paul makes it clear that the desire to want the gift of marriage is not a sin. Therefore, married couples must also commit to comfort, not belittle the singles who have the desire for a spouse. Blogger Kelly Needham put it best:
Unfortunately, many people belittle this form of suffering with trite comments like, “just think of all the free time you have” or by diminishing their own current life experience, “it’s really not that great.” But rarely would anyone dream of saying these things to a woman in the throes of infertility or miscarriages. We need to give proper weight to the suffering of those with unfulfilled longings for marriage. And like the barren woman, we should value her longings, hear her heart, pray with her for those desires to be filled, and yet always be pointing her to Jesus as the only place where there is fullness of joy.
Needham insightfully points out that we must come alongside singles who are suffering in similar fashion to how we weep with, pray for, or encourage women longing to experience the gift of motherhood. We wouldn’t belittle them by downplaying the gift of parenting and pretending like having kids isn’t that big of a deal. Likewise, we as married couples shouldn’t downplay the gift of marriage. It’s no help to singles when someone who is married post pics on social media proclaiming that their marriage is the best thing that every happened to them only to turn around and say to the single friend, “You got turned down again? Don’t worry, Jesus is enough.” We can’t shepherd people like that. We have to do better. Singleness is suffering too.
Every church has an amazing opportunity to bring both married couples and singles together. What makes God’s heart sing is when both as one body reject the idolatry of marriage and point people to the marriage to come. Every earthly marriage will pale in comparison to the one Jesus is preparing for us right now in heaven when he returns again for his bride, the church.
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