Why do people stay in troubled relationships for far too long? As a teenager, it was simple: I was afraid of being alone. Unfortunately, the church only confirmed my fears.
Perhaps you’ve heard this unfortunate gossip:
- “She’s still single? How old is she now?”
- “At some point, he is going to have to stop being so picky.”
- “I feel so bad for her. She is 30 and still hasn’t found anyone.”
- “I’ll never understand why he didn’t marry. Poor guy—must be lonely.”
I thought, “Singleness is awful! I don’t want to be single!” I was afraid I’d end up being that lonely person who was “too picky.” I convinced myself that unacceptable problems were normal because I didn’t want to be alone—after all, everyone has problems, right?
In the CHM, we hear countless exhortations about worldliness. But worldliness is just as much about how we think as it is about what we wear or how we entertain ourselves (Romans 12:2). If we view single people as second-rate, we miss the overwhelming testimony of Scripture.
Singleness is not a problem to be solved.
Singleness Is A Gift
While the world views singleness as a curse, Scripture views singleness as a gift.
In 1 Corinthians 7:6-9, Paul writes,
I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself [celibate]. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I [celibate]. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn [with sexual passion].
We should not think for a moment that this is just Paul’s opinion, or that it is in any way less divinely inspired because Paul says, “I speak this by permission.” He is taking precautions to ensure that the Corinthians do not perceive this point of wisdom as a command to be celibate. The key phrase that reveals Paul’s attitude towards singleness is in verse 7: “But every man hath his proper gift of God.”
As Christians, we draw our identity from being in Christ, not in a relationship.
Some are single and want to marry. But marriage is not a right. We are not entitled to a spouse. Marriage is not even something that we earn. It’s not a prize for being a blameless person. While it is true that the not-yet-married should “focus on being the kind of spouse someone else would want to marry,” they sometimes hear, “the reason you are alone is because you aren’t good enough. Nobody wants you.” In 1 Corinthians 7, however, Paul says that both married life and single life are gifts from God’s good hand.
Some are celibate and have accepted that God may be calling them to remain as they are. God gives special grace to those whom He has called to be celibate or to those who have chosen to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom. While this lifestyle has its challenges, so does married life — and we don’t usually pity married people! We should view them as having a unique gift and affirm them as fellow heirs.
Singleness Is An Opportunity
While the world views singleness as a problem, Scripture views singleness as an opportunity.
In 1 Corinthians 7:32–34, Paul writes,
But I would have you without [anxieties]. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
Christ’s impressive single-mindedness for accomplishing the Father’s will on earth did not allow him to be entangled in a romantic relationship. For traveling apostles such as Paul, a wife and children were a huge liability as he was “in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11:26).
But even if you aren’t called to a dangerous life as a missionary, singleness is an opportunity for a special level of single-mindedness. Singleness is not a problem to be solved. While it is possible to be live with a single-minded focus on God and still be a good husband and father, it is not without its challenges. It is no coincidence that many of our spiritual heroes—upon closer inspection—have advanced the kingdom at the cost of strained marriages.
Young people should take advantage of their unmarried years to drive deep stakes before being encumbered with the cares of life.
Young people should take advantage of their unmarried years to drive deep stakes, spend a considerable amount of time in God’s Word, and delve into the things of God before being encumbered with the cares of life. Fear of being alone is a huge motivator for seeking a spouse; this fear is impossible to overcome unless we are absorbed with the Person of Jesus and the glory of God in the gospel.
Celibacy Is Honorable
While the world views celibacy as laughable, Scripture views celibacy as honorable.
The world is vicious in the way it deals with celibate people. Some best-selling comedies center around the idea that someone could be in his or her thirties and forties and still be a virgin.
In Matthew 19:12, Jesus shatters these ideas from fallen minds: “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
You won’t find that on a greeting card. Nevertheless, these words are just as true as all of the other words in red. The world does not think that a person can be whole without sexual intimacy. Even sincere Christians easily buy the lie, overlooking that the most whole person to ever live never had sex and was never in a romantic relationship. That person is Jesus.
Celibacy was a central virtue in the monastic communities that helped to preserve the gospel during one of the darkest periods in church history. Monks were convinced that even in celibacy and simplicity of life, “my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:9).
The most whole person to ever live never had sex and was never in a romantic relationship. That person is Jesus.
This is especially key for engaging a culture that is grappling with questions of gender and sexuality. We have failed to speak grace into the lives of men and women who are confused about their sexual tendencies and, thus, many have wholeheartedly embraced the popular mantras. God’s Word is a good word on every subject. If we really believed that celibacy was honorable and fulfilling, we would be less afraid to come alongside those who live in fear of loneliness.
Christ is Supreme
While the world views marriage as supreme, Scripture views Christ as supreme.
Marriage is a good thing, but marriage is not eternal. In Mark 12:25, Jesus said, “When they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.” We are not ready for marriage until we are ready for heaven. We are not ready to treasure a spouse until we treasure the Lamb. Matthew 6:33 is a key verse for those seeking a mate: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
When we honor celibacy, we show Christ’s supremacy by refusing to worship marriage as supreme.
As Christians, we draw our identity from being in Christ, not in a relationship. If a celibate brother or sister is conscious of the fact that God has called him or her to that life, it may be helpful to simply say, “I respect and admire your decision to stay single. That is very admirable.” Or, it may be best to say nothing.
Like most people who fall outside our cookie cutters, single people do not want special attention. They want to be recognized for who they are: brothers and sisters in the Lord. When we respect these wishes, we share in showing Christ’s supremacy because we refuse to worship marriage as supreme.
Romans 12:2 tells us to “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Have we been transformed in the way we think about singleness and celibacy? Or are we worldly?