“I can’t believe Mary’s daughter still isn’t married. She’s 32, has a great job, loves the Lord and nice looking. You’d think there would be all kinds of guys interested in her. I wonder what the problem is.”
Have you ever heard a conversation like this? Of course you have! The question is where in the world did we get the idea that marriage is to be valued above singleness?
Most of us think of singleness as an interim stage, a period of life that you get through like standing in the line, waiting for a ride at Disney World. No one wants to be there, but we just have to grin and bear it if we want the thrill of riding Space Mountain. Singleness is rarely viewed in a positive light in the U.S. and especially among Christians. We don’t quite say it, but the implication in the opening conversation is that singleness is bad. Not morally wrong – just a shame they can’t find the right one.
Where did we get that notion? Not from the Bible. Just read 1 Corinthians 7 and try to make a case for valuing marriage over singleness. The right kind of singleness.
A Momentary Marriage What’s the “right kind” of singleness? I’ll get to that in a minute. First, marriage is a small blip in our eternal life. We’re all born single and called to steward our singleness for the first 20-30 years of our life. Most of us will be called out of singleness into marriage. But most of us married people will be single again whether through divorce, or death, and finally will spend eternity with God as single persons once again. Singleness is the norm.
Humans flourishing doesn’t depend on marriage and it certainly doesn’t depend on sex. Although marriage will end your loneliness and provide an outlet for us sexually, marriage is not without it’s frustrations and trials.
Biblical Singleness Simply being single is not a virtue. There are singles who remain single because they love their jobs, their personal freedom or they came from homes where they observed a bad marriage, up front and personal. Many are either legitimately afraid of marriage, or they just don’t want to give up what they have. That rationale on singleness is not the kind the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul, is encouraging.
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Biblical singleness is the decision to live with devotion to God as your first priority. That doesn’t mean you need to become a priest or a nun. It means that as a single person, you are free to use your spare time to serve the kingdom, not yourself or your spouses. In that sense, singleness is a gift God has given you, until, or if, you feel called out of it into marriage.
Sitting around night after night, playing video games with your friends, or spending endless hours on social media, is a sin for Christians. It robs Jesus of your service in his kingdom. It’s exactly what Jesus warned against in the parable of the seed.
“The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” Luke 8:14
So what’s a parent to do? Rather than try to find a “good Christian girl” for your son, try inspiring him or her to live for God. Begin with your teenage children or grandchildren. Give them a vision for biblical singleness. Encourage them to go with you on a mission trip or get engaged in Bible study or some service in the church. Show them how to be devoted to God and not view singleness as a “waiting room” for marriage. In a thousand ways we can send out signals to “look for a good Christian girl, or guy.” To counter that, we’ll have to be intentional about inspiring our single children or grandchildren to biblical singleness. Don’t let your desire to have grandchildren, hinder what the Holy Spirit may have in mind for your adult child. Inspire them to holy singleness!
(I gratefully acknowledge my friend Dr. Preston Sprinkle for many of these thoughts.)
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