No one likes to be lonely. Some handle it better than others, but nobody, absolutely nobody, likes the feeling of loneliness. It violates our deeply human need for connection. Yet the American church seems to have an unhealthy view of marriage. Being a single person in the church can be a strange experience. We divide "singles" and "marrieds," as if singles don't need married mentorship, and sometimes, visa versa. Let's take a closer look at the state of the church, a short theology of marriage, and what the church should do about it.
The State of the Church
What is the state of singleness within the conservative American church? This is an easy question to answer, just look at any Christian bookstore. How many books exist on living through marriage well? Innumerable. How many exist on living the single life well? I don’t know that I’ve seen one. It is too often the case that the single life is considered “pre-marriage.” We have books on dating, on who to look for and what to do when you’re married but very little on what to do if you’re not in any of those stages. It is simply assumed that you are.
But this is not always the case. There are a great number of Christians who are simply single. Perhaps they are looking, perhaps waiting, perhaps neither. But this is too often not considered normal, and certainly not celebrated. But this is not as it should be. Singleness should be celebrated! And Christians young and old need to learn how to do it well.
The Purpose of Marriage
Marriage is neither the end nor an end. The church needs a proper perspective on what marriage is, and what it is not. Marriage is not eternal. Jesus explicitly states in Mark 12:25 that we will not be married to other human beings in heaven. Our eternal marriage is to one person: the Lamb of God (Revelation 19:7).
This is not the place for a comprehensive theology of marriage, but we can certainly recognize it as an important creation of God, a temporal good, and one for which we humans were certainly built (Genesis 2:18). But too often interpretations of this verse take this as the calling for all peoples at all times, and it's not.
Being Single Well
Many are aware of the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 7 detailing Paul’s singleness and desire that others would remain single for the glory of God, but how many Christian churches preach on it? How many churches recognize the duty and dignity inherent to a single life dedicated to God?
Permanent or temporary singleness is not a curse, it is a calling, and it's something that every human does. I married in my late twenties, and I love my wife. But in my singleness, my primary focus and goal was to serve my God, not to find a wife. If that meant I was single for 10 more days, 10 more months, 10 more years, or my lifetime, that would have been very difficult, but God would have provided the grace.
The rich young ruler was unable to follow Jesus because he loved money too much (Luke 18:18–23), but the root of his problem was idolatry. We can imagine a situation in which a man was told by Jesus that instead of giving up money, the man is called to give up marriage for the kingdom of God. If, like the rich young ruler, we are not willing to remain single for the kingdom of God, we are likewise idolaters.
If the church makes someone who is making that sacrifice feel lesser, so much the worse for the church. The single man or woman has as much, or more, to offer the church than the married. The married have a duty to each other and their children, a duty to put their marital health above most else. The single has no such duty, and they can put their sole duty upon God and their own spiritual formation (1 Corinthians 7:32–35).
To single men and women: if you are living your single life for the hope of future marriage instead of the hope of eternity, if you are living day to day without regard for your personal and spiritual formation, if you are not living for the spread and strength of the church, if you are not living to bring justice and mercy to the world, you are missing the purpose of your life. Please hear me. Single life devoted to building yourself upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and working for the kingdom of God is a single life done well.
Too many in the church seem to be afraid that single people are incapable of living a spiritual life outside of marriage. As if married life somehow is the sole path to being a solid, stable member of the church. Jesus was unmarried. Paul was unmarried. Marriage will not make it easier to work for the kingdom of God, as any married person will tell you. So why does the church act as if it does?
Being Single Well, and What the Church Can Do About It
Is the single life lonely? It can be, at times, lonely. Should it be? No. The single life built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ is a life built upon a relationship with Jesus Christ. If the church respects singleness and does it well, there will be a wealth of friendship between single people and married people to build and sustain them in the body of Christ. Young men and women should not feel they have to run to pornography to fill the loneliness in their hearts (which, by the way, marriage is not a fix for). Young women should not feel they have to run to the arms of a man to feel complete. The church has failed them.
We must refocus our eyes upon eternity.
What should the church do? The church must preach not only on married life but also on single life. The church must embrace and encourage single people’s freedom to support the church in ways that married people cannot. The church must build relationships between single people and married people, not just single and single, although that can be important as well.
The church must support and embrace those within our communities who are attracted homosexually, yet wish to pursue the kingdom of God as a single man or woman without making them feel like they’re second-class members. Even if it’s just for a season, single men and women have a lot to offer the church, yet the church has too often made it a mission to pair them off. There is nothing wrong with marriage; marriage is an important part of God’s good creation. But there is nothing wrong with singleness either, even if it’s only temporary. Please church, embrace singleness.