Last year I asked Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, if he would ever consider writing a book for singles with a similar theme to his marriage books.
As you may know, the subtitle to his bestselling book is, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”
“What if you reworded your subtitle for singles?” I suggested. “For example, ‘What if God intends singleness to make us holy more than to make us happy (or unhappy)?’”
“Why don’t you write it?” he fired back.
Well, I haven’t gotten around to writing the book yet, but I was recently reminded of the importance of the message when a single woman in her 30s, whom I respect and admire, told me she refrains from reading a steady diet of Christian relationship advice (like the type found on this site). “I feel like it just feeds an unhealthy obsession,” she told me, “and makes me feel as if my life won’t be worthwhile until I’m married.”
That got me thinking about the different views of singleness out there, particularly those in evangelical Christianity. And three main views came to mind. While all of them are based on some truth, I felt as if each of them was missing the mark in some way.
Three Incomplete Views of Singleness
Singleness is a season of freedom in which you can fully pursue self-discovery and personal gratification.
This is more or less the world’s view of singleness. Being young and unmarried is viewed as a desirable thing because you’re not weighed down by responsibilities, such as marriage or children. You can spend your money and time in any way you please. If finances and education allow, you can travel, explore job opportunities and “test drive” different romantic partners.
Even though people at your church probably wouldn’t promote this version of hedonistic singleness, they may unwittingly encourage it, through the “gift of singleness” logic. When I was single, married folks sometimes gushed about the exciting life I lived and all the opportunities I had. Why would I ever want to trade that for the responsibilities of marriage and children? Now that I’m in a season of life where I am more tied down, I understand why my relatively free lifestyle held such appeal for them.
While being unmarried without children does have certain perks, according to Scripture, self-discovery and self-gratification shouldn’t be the primary focus of your single season. Paul actually spoke about the benefits of singleness in some challenging verses found in 1 Corinthians 7:
“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 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. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (32-35).
Paul wasn’t forbidding people from getting married or even saying that marriage wasn’t a good thing (read the whole chapter for context). He was pointing out that being single allows a person to pursue the Lord with an undivided heart. That is a far cry from how men and women today are encouraged to use their singleness.
Seek total contentment in Christ; don’t make marriage an idol.
Patterned after Psalm 37:4, which says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart,” this view of singleness encourages you to fill yourself up with Jesus and not be concerned about getting married. You should try not to spend too much time thinking about marriage, sex or having children, lest you make marriage an idol.
The problem with this view is that it is neither honest nor realistic. God addressed man’s loneliness in the Garden of Eden by giving him a wife. In fact, the God-ordained relationship of marriage displays His glory and even serves as an illustration of Christ’s relationship with the church. So while Jesus can meet all your needs, you are also created for human companionship. And just because you desire to be married someday (and a majority of singles do), doesn’t mean you’re making marriage an idol.
All of us have desires: love, financial security, companionship, a family, career recognition, health, etc. Desires are not idols. But any desire can become an idol when we put it before Christ. For example, if I put my relationship with Him on the back burner while I work toward a job promotion, I would be making career advancement an idol. At the same time, a healthy desire for personal development can motivate us to be proactive, exercising the courage and boldness God gives us to pursue our callings.
Marriage is a good thing God created, so seeking after it cannot be an idol.
In response to the “Don’t make marriage an idol” view, some began defending the desire for marriage. And their defense was biblical. Consider Proverbs 18:22, which says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” Some proponents of the “Get out there and find yourself a spouse — it’s biblical” crowd, me included, sort of gave the whole idolatry thing a pass.
The truth is that the desire for marriage, like any other desire, can become an idol. If you fill most of your spare time reading relationship advice, bemoaning the fact that you’re single, and agonizing over whether you’re doing everything right, your desire for marriage might be an idol.
Without intending to, this view of singleness encourages an obsession with getting married by placing the focus on the wrong thing. Paul says a single’s undivided focus should be on the Lord, not on finding a spouse.
One Alternative View of Singleness
So what is the alternative to these three incomplete views of singleness? The alternative takes the truth from each view to create a fuller picture of God’s purpose for singles.
Your singleness is intentional.
Let me explain. The fact that it’s harder than ever before for Christian singles to get married and stay married is a result of sin and brokenness in the world. Paul says that all of creation groans as in the pain of childbirth (Romans 8:22-23), waiting for when God will restore all things. The bottom line: We’ve got problems.
But if you are single today, God knows about it and it isn’t a mistake. As my friend Lisa Anderson said in her book, The Dating Manifesto, “Singleness is not a waiting room for marriage.” Your singleness has a purpose. Consider the following possibilities:
- Your singleness is not for your pleasure, but for His glory.
- Your singleness is not for denying your desires, but for submitting them to His loving care.
- Your singleness is not for working hard and performing well to get what you want, but for allowing Him to shape you into the person He intends you to be.
What if the purpose of your singleness is to make you holy and to do you good all the days of your life? How would you live today differently?
Hidden within that controversial chapter containing Paul’s thoughts on marriage is this little gem: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17).
Lead the life the Lord has assigned to you. Whether single or married, God has a purpose for you right now. Sometimes the assignment is difficult, heartbreaking even. But knowing that your singleness is sacred — a specific season dedicated to the service and worship of God — should embolden you. What if your singleness isn’t the problem, but it’s the point? That truth alone could change everything.
Copyright Suzanne Hadley Gosselin 2015. All rights reserved.