A Theology of Singleness
What does the Bible have to say about the season of singleness? Whether you are single or not, I hope you will take time to make sure your point of view on this stage of life is Biblical, and not influenced by the culture around you. And remember, those of us who are married may again enter this season. We are not promised forever with our spouses, and any one of us might be widowed one day. So let's look at a few verses first that might not seem immediately to apply to singleness, but have direct implications.
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:27-28
“And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts 2:44
ALL THINGS IN COMMON
Unfortunately, we tend to categorize ourselves and others by our relational status. Looking around we subconsciously see those within our church walls in groups of singles, married people, married-with-kids, and so on. This type of division should not exist in the body of Christ. As the above verses state, there are no divisions for those who are clothed with Christ and all those who believe should have all things in common. This division of married and single is unnecessary and unhelpful to the unity in the body of Christ.
On top of that, the lie is often believed that those in the married category are automatically more mature than singles simply because they are married. Biblically, there is no precedent for singleness being a less-than state. There is also no Biblical pattern for married people being automatically more mature than single people. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, not with marriage. (Psalm 111:10, Prov 9:10)
Married people have often contributed to this problem of division as much if not more than singles. If you, as a married person, don’t find that you can be friends with or relate to a single person, then you have based too much of your own identity in your marriage and not in Christ.
THE GIFT OF SINGLENESS
"But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but the one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord." 1 Corin 7:32-35
Singleness is a gift. It should be a season for us to learn what pleases the Lord and devote our attention to him alone. The Bible gives us no other way to view this season of life. That means in all our conversations about singleness and marriage, we need to speak and act as though this is an absolute truth.
Marshall Segal makes this point on desiringgod.org:
“Paul makes marriage out to be a kind of problematic Plan B of Christian life and ministry. Marry if you must, but be warned, following Jesus is not easier when you join yourself to another sinner in a fallen world. While marriage may bring joy, help, and relief in certain areas, it immediately multiplies your distractions because you’re intimately responsible for this other person, his or her needs, dreams, and growth. It’s a high calling and a good calling, but a demanding one that will keep you from all kinds of other good things. Therefore, for the not-yet married, our (temporary) singleness is a gift. It really is. If God leads you to marriage, you may never again know a time like the one you’re in right now. A season of singleness is not merely the minor leagues of marriage. It has the potential to be a unique period of undivided devotion to Christ and undistracted ministry to others.”
Whether single or married, let’s all cast a bigger vision for the temporary season of singleness! Let us speak of what is true: it is a gift. Let’s dream together about what it could look like to use the advantage of singleness to advance the Kingdom of God with the time and influence they are given in this season.
WE SHARE THE SAME STRUGGLE
What does it mean to have all things in common despite our relational statuses? First of all, I think it means not identifying ourselves primarily by our relationships, but rather our spiritual status as children of God. As redeemed sinners, we are all in the same boat: We all wake up each day with a desperate need to believe that Jesus is enough.
We share the same struggle, whether married or single. It’s just the consequences of our lack of faith look different. For an unmarried woman, failing to look to Jesus as savior may mean obsessing over fictional guys through chick flicks or actual guys in their lives, moving from boyfriend to boyfriend. For a married woman, failing to look to Jesus as savior usually means placing inordinate expectations on her husband, looking to him for things he is neither able to nor called to give her. But each one of us needs to daily answer the question, “Is Jesus truly enough for me?” Let's fight together, whether married or single, as sisters in Christ for a deep, abiding faith in Christ.
SINGLES IN LEADERSHIP
Most single Christians sense the subtle hierarchy that they are below married Christians concerning whose lives they can speak into. Let’s not allow this! Any student of the Word is capable to speak truth in love, whether single or married. We need to encourage mature singles in our churches to speak up! Encourage them to speak into marriage and parenting issues. When an issue comes up related to these, ask them what they think. Often times they have a more objective perspective and truth-telling opinion anyway.
Remember, wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Some singles are more mature and wise than married people of the same age. If so, treat them as such and invite unmarried believers into leadership roles. Invite them to speak into others lives. To speak truth in love.
VALUE THEIR SUFFERING
Elisabeth Elliot (who has been widowed twice), defined suffering broadly as "having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.” This means that for an unmarried woman who wants to be married, she is experiencing a measure of suffering.
Unfortunately, many people belittle this form of suffering with trite comments like, “just think of all the free time you have” or by diminishing their own current life experience, “it’s really not that great.” But rarely would anyone dream of saying these things to a woman in the throes of infertility or miscarriages. We need to give proper weight to the suffering of those with unfulfilled longings for marriage. And like the barren woman, we should value her longings, hear her heart, pray with her for those desires to be filled, and yet always be pointing her to Jesus as the only place where there is fullness of joy.
UNITY IN DIVERSITY
We’re not a church of married people with a few singles thrown in. We are a church of Christians. We should have all things in common and be unified in Christ. And because our unity is based on so strong an object as Jesus, there can be great diversity as well! This means all kinds of diversity: racial, economic, educational, generational, and relational. Let’s promote this kind of unity in our churches through having all things in common in Christ as married and unmarried Christians.