How do we talk about singleness in a way that honors God and values all stages of life? A person might be single, because of never marrying, being divorced, or being widowed. Sometimes the church and Christian colleges give the impression that marriage is the goal of life. This is disconcerting, because it could instill an idolatrous view of marriage and the perception that life is incomplete without a spouse. Unintentionally, we discourage single adults who are trying to serve God well or might not be single by choice. Here are some biblical principles to frame our thinking about singleness and marriage.
- Marriage is good but not the purpose of life. If marriage is the goal of life, then Jesus and Paul didn’t live purposefully, which is far from the truth. It’s also interesting that marriage is not a reality in heaven (Matt 22:30). Please know that I have a high view of marriage and believe it is a blessing from God. Sometimes, however, I think we can exalt marriage as “the” goal of the Christian life. Once that goal is achieved, we might be tempted to forget God’s greater purpose for our lives and the meaning of life. If marriage (or any other ideal) is our ultimate goal in life, then we are probably not living for God’s glory. For instance, I’ve met husbands and wives who seem more interested in pleasing their spouse or receiving their approval.
- Both singleness and marriage are good (1 Cor. 7:17-24). The single life is not an inferior status or a waiting zone for a more satisfying life. If we’re not careful, marriage becomes a form of self-actualization (“I’m complete”) that the Bible doesn’t support. When marriage becomes the highest desire, our lives revolve around getting married. “If only I was more thin, successful, or funny.” It never ends. Marriage is not our identity. Yes, it often changes the last name for women and adds new roles and responsibilities for both spouses, but marriage doesn’t change our fundamental being as children of God. It doesn’t change who we are as people. We’re also not less worthy as a Christian if we’re divorced.
- God created us to glorify him, whether single or married. The Bible focuses more on our relationship with God than on human relationships (Matt. 22:37-40). God didn’t redeem us for the purpose of earthly marriage, but marriage is a part of God’s plan for most individuals. How one glorifies God will look different as a single or married person because of different priorities and responsibilities, but bearing fruit is not an option for a Christian (John 15:8). With this understanding, we are exhorted to be faithful in following Christ and becoming more like him (Col. 2:6-7).
- Marriage is not about me but God’s glory. That’s why marriage is not the solution for loneliness, discontentment, or instability. Discontentment is a spiritual problem, not a lack-of-spouse problem. It basically says to God, “My way, my timing!” If a person is discontent as a single, he or she will find something else to be discontent about as a married person. “I want a bigger house.” “I want a child.” “I want more respect.” “I want more love.”
Getting married is not difficult, but marrying God’s way is a conviction. It includes no “missionary dating” (2 Cor. 6:14) or shortcuts. A person’s salvation and relationship with God are essential conversations for a budding relationships; so is spending quality time together and in groups. Also, it helps to think about how the relationship displays belief in God. Does the interaction stand out because Christlikeness is evident? How does the relationship with God affect the relationship?
- Single or married, let’s make the most of our days in living for God. I’ve been inspired by both single and married individuals. For example, I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, of William Wilberforce and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth (both married at a later age), of John Stott and so many others who live purposefully. On the other hand, I sometimes meet single women who plan to start serving the church or pursue some passion after marriage. Why not now?
Join the Conversation
Have you addressed this type of discontent with singles in your ministry? How did you do it?