Does God in any way, on any level look down upon or think lesser of those who are not married in the body of Christ?
I ask this because it seems that in the Bible, a lot of emphasis is put on people getting married. (Understandable, because marriage is a positive thing.) But as a single person who struggles to even get a date with someone, it is somewhat painful and becoming more so the more I hear about the joys of marriage and the more I read these wonderful articles on it.
In the Old Testament, marriage and childbearing were essential to God's plan of redemption. The faithful continuation of the Jewish people by means of getting married and having babies, particularly the line of David, was inextricably linked to the birth of Jesus. However, the New Testament adds a new category of faithfulness: singleness devoted to God. Paul says there are benefits to remaining unmarried that are so great, he wishes more were unmarried like him.
I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:7-9).
Singleness is not less in God's eyes than marriage, whether there is the biblical gift of lifelong singleness or an unmarried Christian who desires marriage and uses his/her single season for devoted service to the Lord.
The Bible does emphasize marriage but not merely because it is, as you say, "a positive thing." The Bible emphasizes marriage because it is God's design for human flourishing, His plan for sanctified sexual expression, His place for the making and nurturing of new life, and His pointer beyond husband and wife to an eternal, spiritual reality.
Before the cross, the only way to extend the kingdom of God was by having biological offspring. Each baby was a new member of the covenant community. After Christ's ascension, however, beginning with the Great Commission (Matthew 28), believers were commanded to share the Good News of Jesus' perfect obedience, death for the sin of the world, and resurrection from the dead. They (and we) were commissioned to make disciples of every people group. Suddenly there was a new way to be fruitful and multiply: by making disciples, spiritual offspring.
Paul exhorts believers in Christ to consider being like he was: unmarried and undistracted by the cares of family life for the purpose of dedicated service to the Lord. It is not only OK to remain single for this purpose, Paul suggests it is even better when one has the gift — evidenced by the grace to joyfully live it out without regret — to do so.
But that is not all he writes. Most do not have this gift. To be able to joyfully embrace lifelong celibacy, forgo the companionship of marriage and the blessing of children, all without feeling left-out or bitter, is a gift of grace. It is not a road most people are called to (Matthew 19:1-12).
Marriage is still the norm for most people, in part because, as God said in the garden, "It is not good for man to be alone." Your hope for marriage is consistent with your God-given design. Paul exhorts those who desire a sexual relationship to marry. "But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:7-9).
Where does this leave you? Does the fact that you (or anyone) are unmarried, even for a long time, mean you have the gift of singleness? I used to worry that it did. To me, the thought of a gift of lifelong celibacy felt like a gift I'd rather return. That should have clued me in to the fact that I didn't have the gift. For many, extended singleness is a trial. Just last Wednesday our pastor was teaching a class on "biblical dating, desire and singleness." He said, "If you have a strong desire for marriage, you probably don't have the gift." It's that simple. What then are you to make of the pain of singleness? And even more related to day-to-day life, what should you make of the season of singleness, however long it lasts?
First Peter 4 warns us not to be surprised by trials: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (12-13).
As our pastor reminded us, "The Bible has a lot to say about how we relate to God in trials" — that includes the disappointment of not having dates as well as the pain of longing for marriage with not prospects yet in sight. He said:
- God calls us to trust Him in the midst of our suffering, "casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). He instructs us saying, "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good" (4:12).
- The Lord himself is sufficient for all our circumstances. "The desire to be married honors the Lord." But marriage is not better than the Lord. David said, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strengths of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:25-26).
- You are not alone in your trials. You are not singularly tempted to despair in loneliness. Scripture urges us to persevere, saying, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world" (1 Peter 5:8-9).
- Take action in faith and in dependence on God, what John Piper calls "strategies of righteousness." What might that look like? "Focus on being the type of person who can serve and bless a future spouse, to the glory of Christ," our pastor said.
Whether you're single with the gift Paul talks about or suffering singleness as a trial, God has not forgotten you. Your life, every detail about it, is in His hands and under His control. God calls all of His children to live every day in His strength and for His glory.
Rest assured that your value in God's eyes doesn't depend on you. Every person is made in God's image — that is the source of their value. The cross of Christ reminds us just how valuable we are: Christ suffered in our place, for our sin, so that we might be made right with God. God commands everyone, everywhere to repent and believe. He loves us that much, no matter our marital status.
Copyright 2015 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.