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 ignored serious problems in my relationships because I didn’t want to be alone. After all, every relationship has problems, right?
We have all heard an exhortation about worldliness. But worldliness is just as much about how we think as it is about what we wear or how we entertain ourselves (Rom. 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,
6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am [single]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with 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 it “as a concession” or “by permission.” He is taking precautions to ensure that the Corinthians do not perceive this point of wisdom as a divine command to be celibate. The key phrase that reveals Paul’s attitude towards singleness is in verse 7: “each has his own gift from 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. No one is entitled to a spouse. Nor is marriage something that we earn or deserve. 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 yet. Nobody wants you. Be better.” 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 singles 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,
32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to 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 “on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers” (2 Cor. 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.
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 Scripture. 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” (Php. 4:9).
This is especially key for engaging with a culture that is confused about gender and sexuality. We must speak grace into the lives of men and women who are confused about their sexual tendencies. 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 if they follow Christ.
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 and simply be a friend.
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?