Much of Western Evangelical Christianity has gotten the topic of “singleness” wrong in recent years. I know this because I’ve been a part of it for approximately 10 years now. Whether you’re single or married, I hope that this post is relevant for you.
I should say that this post comes out of recent conversations with numerous single Christians (I apologise for the length, but I/they had a lot to say). I am not writing to question or undermine marriage in any way. As a matter of fact, I write this post as a married man… but I think we’ve got a blind spot here that needs addressing.
What Does The Bible Say About Singleness?
Perhaps the leading chapter which talks about “singleness” or being “unmarried” is found in 1 Corinthians 7. A single man named Paul (the Apostle) writes a letter in response to the church in Corinth addressing a whole host of issues. He talks about marriage, divorce, and unchangeable circumstances. He also says a few things about those who are unmarried. Here are some key verses from that chapter:
1 Corinthians 7:6-9. Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 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.
Paul believes that both singleness & marriage are gifts from God. He’s not commanding people to live one way or the other; however, he is pretty clear on what to do if one cannot exercise self-control (celibacy) in sexual purity. He’s certainly not negative towards those who choose to remain single.
1 Corinthians 7:25-28. Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.
The word “betrothed” is most often translated to mean virgins who have never been married (hence Paul does not advocate sleeping around outside of marriage just because you’re single). Throughout this letter, Paul encourages Christians to live as if Jesus is coming back any day now; therefore, he writes to address very specific matters of daily life. That is the best way to understand the verses above. Also, married couples can definitely identify with the “worldly troubles” comment that he wishes to spare single people from.
1 Corinthians 7:32-34, 38. 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. . . So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.
Simply put, Paul is letting people know that married life is not easy and does bring up stress, anxiety, and worldly troubles. The single person is free to focus on pleasing the Lord in holiness. Married couples have to think about pleasing the Lord as well as their spouse.
This language does not accurately reflect the view of many Christians in churches today. It almost comes as a shock when people read that view. To deal with the problem, they try to do hermeneutical origami and make excuses for Paul that he didn’t really mean what he said there. So what is the view of many Christians today?
Where Does The Church Get This Wrong?
I admit that the title “singleness is not sinfulness” is a bit of cheekiness on my part. I’ve never met a Christian who has actually said that singleness is sinful (though I wouldn’t be surprised if they are out there). However, I have met many Christians who treat single Christians as if they are sinful for not having a spouse. It’s unhealthy.
It starts with jokes, doesn’t it? I’ve done it. I’ve seen/heard it done often. Someone sees two single Christians talking to each other at church or an event & then makes the comments that they are all too used to hearing. “SO, who’s that?” “You two seemed to get on well, could be your future husband/wife!” “I saw you talking to ____!” “You’re how old & still haven’t found a husband/wife!?!” Or simply asking them straight out if they like the person they were just chatting with.
Couples that are dating don’t get it any easier. I’ve personally been around couples who have been dating for 2 weeks or a month and people already start joking around about when the wedding is going to be. As a result of this, many Christians have been reluctant to publicly identify as a couple for the first few months in case it doesn’t work out.
“Yeah, but those are just jokes. Just a bit of fun. What’s the big deal?” Unfortunately, the undertone of those “jokes” is that one begins to make single Christians feel as second-class Christians because they haven’t found a spouse yet. They make them feel like it’s not okay to be single. Somehow their life with God is going to be less fulfilling because they don’t have a spouse (which could actually come from a place of idolising marriage as the pinnacle of the Christian life).
People begin to pressure couples who are dating and getting to know each other to jump into marriage before they’re ready. “You’ve been dating for a full 2 weeks now, don’t you think it’s time to start thinking about marriage? I mean, what are your intentions here!?!” It’s awkward having to break if off during the engagement, and even more awkward breaking it off during marriage because they rushed into something before they really knew each other. I’m not advocating refusal to commit to marriage; however, it’s probably not wise for the Church to pressure these people into a marriage where they’ll be miserable for the rest of their lives simply because they believe “marriage is everything” (even if it’s an unhappy/unhealthy one).
Yet, many people in the Church still want to play “matchmaker” and pressure singles into moving towards marriage as the pinnacle of Christian living. Imagine an event for single Christians that didn’t have the intention of matchmaking (I can’t). Countless books have been written for married couples, but I struggle to think of many written to encourage single Christians that doesn’t take pity on them in a transitional phase before they get to the “real living” of being married.
Churches run events for couples, point them out during services as somehow holier lifestyles, and rarely mentions the struggles of married life. Sermons often assume that majority of the listeners are married or should be married. Single Christians are made to feel that they are less of a Christian until they find a spouse. What hope is offered to them then?
Encouragement For Single Christians
Good news: There are many people in the Bible who were single & God used them powerfully. Jesus was single, Paul was single. The list could go on & on. Single Christians are not second-class Christians. God can use them and may even be calling them to singleness for a reason. They may accomplish greater things for the Lord as a single person than they would as a married person.
Again, 1 Corinthians 7:17 gives some direction on how to live as a single person. “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.”
This is not explicitly about singleness; however, it is sandwiched in there for a reason. Paul talks about God calling people from different backgrounds to live the life that God has called them to live. What if the single Christian stopped directing all their focus on finding a spouse & just committed to “leading the life that the Lord has assigned you”? They would have immense freedom to chat with other singles, not feeling like they need to marry them after a conversation.
They wouldn’t need to spend every Sunday at church thinking “I need to find a wife,” or “I need to find a husband.” If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, still great. How? Because they will still be living the life God wants them to live. Paul says they will be free from anxiety & worldly troubles (at least in this area of their life). Singleness will be seen as a gift which frees them to pour out their whole self to God.
Sacrifice Is Required of Singles & Couples
Some will object: singleness requires a sacrifice! Majority of Christians want single people to be happy (as if they can’t be happy as a single). Singleness means that they might be sacrificing having a spouse to come home to and may deal with feelings of loneliness. They may be excluded out of certain “couples events.” Singleness means celibacy and sacrificing sex. Is there a sacrifice on the part of the single person? It would be dishonest to say no.
However, it’s not as though married couples have somehow managed to avoid sacrifice. Some might argue that they have to make more sacrifices than the single person. Married couples sacrifice things like their freedom, their own living space, their rights, their own time, etc. They quickly become aware of their selfishness. Not to mention the married couples with kids and the kinds of sacrifices they make too.
So whether a person is single, dating, or married, they will make a sacrifice in some area. There is no relationship status which is exempt from making a sacrifice in some fashion.
Conclusion: Singleness Is Not Sinfulness
The Church ought to consider how they treat single Christians. They should to stop making them feel like less of a Christian because they don’t have a spouse. Maybe they should reconsider the jokes or comments that they make at single peoples expense.
In fact, there may be good reasons why God might call someone to singleness & will use them greatly in a way that they might not be used if they were in a marriage relationship. There are many people for whom this was the case in the Bible & that should be encouraging to single Christians.
Single Christians are urged to put more of their focus/energy/faith on following God in all circumstances, over and above finding a spouse in all circumstances. Paul encourages to be content in whatever situation (Philippians 4:11), including singleness.
The important thing for all Christians to remember is that singleness is not sinfulness and it may be time they stopped acting like it.
– Tyson Bradley