A Word to Christian Singles

By Andrew E. Courtis

The Internet is filled with various "helps" for singles meeting singles. Among many in society and the church there appears to be this false notion that there is something wrong with being single. This false notion leads to an obsession where people try to mix and match people while disregarding their situation. Sadly, there are a number of silly expectations placed on those who are single and strange conclusions concerning their singleness. It doesn't help when people look at those who are single and ask questions like, "I wonder what is wrong with that person?" Granted, being single means different things for different people. For some, the condition of being single is satisfying whereas for others it is a struggle.

When it comes to being single, there are different kinds of singleness. There are those who are gifted and called to be single (1 Cor. 7:7). There are those who are single but desire to marry. There are those who are single because they have lost their spouse through death or even divorce (1 Cor. 7:8-9). Then there is an additional category where people are single because they elevate celibacy as being the most spiritual of states. This final category is unbiblical and is to be completely rejected.

Does the Bible address the issue of singleness? Yes it does! In this article, I would like to look at what Scripture has to say on this topic of singleness. We will consider the advantages and challenges of being single. Then we will examine some biblical principles for the satisfied singles and the struggling singles. But for now, let us briefly consider the condition of singleness and provide some biblical understanding for those who are single.

Many view the single as a poor, miserable and pitied group. Is this fair? I don't think so. Being single is a valid status, as long as it is in conformity to the principles found in God's Word. In response to a particular question in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul stated, "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman" (1 Cor. 7:1). Here Paul is simply making the point that being single is a valid and commendable option for an individual (cf. 1 Cor. 7:7-9, 25-40). Of course, this state must be marked by purity ("not to have sexual relations"). This does not mean Paul viewed marriage as inferior to being single. In the very next verse (1 Cor. 7:2) Paul argues that if someone is not able to remain in the state of celibacy because of sexual temptation, it is better for him or her to marry (see also 1 Cor. 7:8-9). Furthermore, Paul taught that those who forbid marriage are apostates (1 Tim. 4:1) and in his letter to the Ephesians he upheld the importance of marriage by identifying it as a picture of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Paul had a high view of marriage but he did not relegate singles to second-class citizens. Both states are honourable if they are in conformity to the Word of God.

Being single is not to be placed in the category of a person with some problem. No, being single is a commendable and valid state whether it is temporary or permanent depending on the situation. History is filled with examples of believers who were single and yet faithful in their service to the Lord, like the Apostle Paul, David Brainerd, Amy Carmichael and Mary Slessor. We could also form a long list of those who were single due to the death of their spouse and rendered exemplary service to the Lord. Of course, the greatest of all examples of an individual Who was single and most faithful is the Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot improve on that!

If you are a Christian and single, don't despair. Know and understand that your current status can be used to the glory of God. Perhaps you may be someone who desires to marry or you may be content in the situation you are in. In either situation, do not waste your current state on "what ifs" and activities that are meaningless! Right now you have a providential opportunity to live your life in accordance to the Word of God in a way that a married person can't. In this article, it is my intention to provide sensitive encouragement and strong exhortation to singles.

ADVANTAGES OF BEING SINGLE

Though being single is not superior to being married (nor is being married superior to being single), singleness does contain certain advantages that marriage doesn't have. In 1 Corinthians 7:25-40 Paul has a lengthy discussion that provides the advantages of being single. This passage can be summarized by two advantages: Less Distress and Unbroken Devotion.

Less Distress

First, being single will contain less distress than those who are married (1 Cor. 7:25-31). Paul states, "I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is" (1 Cor. 7:26). What is the "present distress" Paul spoke of? It has been suggested that this may be a reference to a particular famine the Corinthians were experiencing, others see this as an anticipation for difficult events occurring before the Second Coming or to other anticipated events of distress. Others like John Calvin interpret this as the incessant harassments believers experience in the present life.[1] Either way, the principle to be drawn from this text is that in the midst of hard times, being single will have certain advantages. However, this does not mean married people should seek to be released from their commitment to one another during tough times - they must remain together (1 Cor. 7:27).

The fact that singleness carries the advantage of less distress, this of course does not imply marriage is wrong. Paul goes on to say, "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" (1 Cor. 7:28). Again, his point is that those who marry will carry additional pressures that a single person won't. John MacArthur observes,

"Marriage involves conflicts, demands, hardships, sacrifices, and adjustments that singleness does not. Marriage is ordained of God, good, holy, and fulfilling; but it does not solve all problems. It brings more."[2]

So if you are single, you have a particular advantage in your service to the Lord that a married person does not have. Because you are caring and looking after yourself, you are more able and free to serve the Lord without the distress and pressures of looking after a spouse. While you are single, make use of this providential advantage.

Unbroken Devotion

A second advantage of being single provides the individual with the opportunity to display unbroken devotion in their service to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32-35). It is easier for single people to give themselves to undistracted service to the Lord because they don't have the same responsibilities as a married person in caring for their spouse and children. You are able to assist with church events more readily than a married person. You can meet with others for prayer and study more readily than a married person can.

These two advantages don't suggest that singles don't experience distress and that married people can't be devoted to the Lord's service. The main point here is that there is a huge difference in degree. A single person will experience pressure and distress but the individual is only dealing with their own life. Whereas those that are married are dealing with two lives (and more if there are children).

If you are single, you have a unique opportunity to be free to engage and serve in activities in the Lord's service without neglecting a spouse or children. You are able to give of your time more freely to the glory of God and the benefit of the church. Whether you are a satisfied single or a struggling single, this season is a providential opportunity for faithful service to the glory of God. Don't waste your time asking "what if" questions or spending all your spare hours in immature activities that don't profit the kingdom of God. Use your singleness to the glory of God! In my next section, we will consider the challenges of being single.

CHALLENGES OF BEING SINGLE

Sure, being single has its advantages, but it also has its challenges. Those that aren't single can tend to think that because people are not married they are carefree and don't have a worry in the world. It certainly is true that singles don't have the same responsibilities or concerns as married people, but there are unique challenges for those who are single. I believe we all need to be sensitive to this and provide support and prayer for those who are single.

What are the challenges of being single? I think there could be many answers to this practical question, but I will confine myself to two broad challenges that cover many issues.

Sexual Desire

Firstly, there is the temptation of sexual desire (1 Cor. 7:2, 9). Sexual temptation is not limited to those who are single, but the temptation singles face is particular to their situation. Sexual desire is natural; however it is God's will that it take place in the confines of marriage as defined and regulated by God's Word (Gen. 2:24; Heb. 13:4). Let's be frank, sex is a gift from God. But sex that occurs outside of the marriage between one man and one woman is sin (sexual immorality). Now all singles (satisfied and struggling) will face the temptation of sexual desire. However, if this temptation becomes too much it is clear that the individual is not gifted to remain single and they should prepare to marry. Here is what Paul said on this matter,

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband (1 Cor. 7:1-2).

A few verses later Paul again commends the state of being single (1 Cor. 7:8), however, he is quick to say, "But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Cor. 7:9). Paul is not saying that marriage is to be viewed simply as an outlet for sexual passion - it is far more than that. Marriage is an arena for procreation (Gen. 1:28), pleasure (Proverbs 5:18-19), partnership (Gen. 2:18) and productivity (Gen. 1:28). What Paul is saying in this text is that if you are not gifted to be single you should marry. The sexual desires you have are to be fulfilled within the confines of marriage. This does not mean that Christian singles should marry the next available person they find! Discernment and biblical principles need to be applied (more on the criteria of finding a future spouse in a forthcoming chapter). Furthermore, struggling singles must also deal with their desires biblically (1 Thess. 4:3). Sin is never to be excused because of one's state. This means you are to be pure in thought and deed.

Loneliness

Secondly, there is the issue of feeling lonely. A married couple has each other to support, encourage, build up, care for and protect. When you are single, it is just you. The reality is, at times being single can be a very lonely experience. For some singles, loneliness is not too much of an issue and they are quite content in not joining their lives with another individual in marriage. If you are single and content in not getting married, don't allow this to become an excuse to become a hermit and neglect fellowship with God's people. On the other hand, if you are feeling lonely, make sure you surround yourself with the people of God. One of the gifts that God gives to His people is that He has made them a part of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). You are not the only believer! This is why it is important to be part of a local church that is committed to the Word of God and loves the fellowship of God's people (Acts 2:42). But when you are alone, understand that God knows your struggle (Psalm 139:1-6; 1 John 3:20). Look to Him and seek His comfort knowing that He loves you (1 John 4:10), is with you (Matt. 28:20) and has you on the appointed pathway for His purpose and your final good (Rom. 8:28).

Knowing then that being single has certain challenges, if you are considering the option of remaining single, it is important that you discern if this is indeed God's calling on your life. Remaining single is a gift from God (1 Cor. 7:7-9) and though it is a valid state it is not the norm. It is the clear teaching of Scripture that if you are not gifted in this area then you ought to marry (1 Cor. 7:2, 9). In the next two sections, I will look at how both satisfied and struggling singles should be living their lives now. Also, the issue of desiring to marry (even though there may not be any options) will also be addressed.

SATISFIED SINGLES

What does God require of those who are single? Whether you are a satisfied or struggling single it is God's will that you be the person He desires you to be for His glory. This means that you submit your life and desires to the Lordship of Christ and walk according to the will of God. When it comes to those who are single, it was said under the first heading in this chapter "being single means different things for different people. For some, the condition of being single is satisfying whereas for others it is a struggle".

I call them satisfied not because they experience spiritual satisfaction and other singles don't or can't. I use this designation because they are satisfied with being single and don't desire to marry. Granted, someone who will one day marry may for a time be a satisfied single, but their singleness clearly is not a permanent state. Those who are single and desire to remain single are the satisfied singles. They are individuals that the Lord has granted the gift of singleness. What is the gift of singleness? The Lord Jesus Christ spoke of individuals with this gift as those "who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:12). This describes an individual who voluntarily remains single and abstains from sexual activity by virtue of their gifting from the Lord. The purpose of this is "for the sake of the kingdom". The apostle Paul stated,

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 (1 Cor. 7:7-8).

Satisfied singles, you have a gift from the Lord. It is essential that you know how to use it and not waste it. Don't allow your satisfied state to lead you down a path that wastes and destroys your productivity for the glory of God. Being gifted in singleness is not an excuse to be unproductive for the kingdom of God. Here are three things to keep in mind if you are a satisfied single:

Firstly, don't let your singleness lead to a life of being a hermit or a recluse. You will naturally be alone a lot of your time, but don't avoid Christian fellowship, godly friendships and relationships with others. Make it your determined plan to be a faithful contributor to the life of the local church. Faithfully be a part of Sunday worship, make use of the ability to stay longer and chat with folk after Sunday services. Long to be a part of fellowship during the week in Bible studies or prayer meetings. Don't remain alone but seek genuine fellowship.

Second, don't allow your singleness to allow you to behave like a child. In other words, be mature and behave like a responsible adult. Yes you can have fun, but be productive to the glory of God. Being single is not a license to behave with immaturity; rather it is a providential opportunity for extended service.

Thirdly, don't allow your singleness to lead you in becoming completely independent of others. The temptation of someone who is single is that they learn to get through life by themselves. Yes, you are responsible for your own life, but don't forget that as a Christian you belong to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12). You need others to build you up. Single ladies, learn from godly older women and single men learn from godly older men. Don't function separately from the body, but be a part of it. Remember, your ability to be a satisfied single is a gift from the Lord (1 Cor. 7:7). Your gift is given so as to contribute and benefit the body (1 Cor. 12:14-26) and that can be reciprocated.

 STRUGGLING SINGLES

What is a struggling single? This is a single person who desires to marry but hasn't found any prospects. Know and understand that the desire to marry is good because marriage is good (cf. Gen. 2:18). Marriage is the oldest institution in the history of the world and is a Divinely established institution.

Why is it then that some who desire to marry remain single? There are a number of possible reasons. Sometimes those who desire to marry but can't find anyone may have unrealistic expectations. Sadly, a single believer may have a certain expectation in their mind that isn't grounded in Scripture but is simply worldly. These expectations tend to be focused on outward appearance and ignore the importance of godly Christian character.

Another reason why some might still be single is due to immaturity. I am amazed at how many people who are single desire to marry but still behave like juveniles. Living a life of parties, video games, and an all-consuming social life is not living a single life to the glory of God. If these things mark your single life, you need to grow up.

But what about the single person who is honouring the Lord, has realistic expectations and is living with maturity? The struggling single believer needs to know that this is due to God's plan. For a reason unknown to you and me, God has provided you with a providential opportunity in being single. When it comes to God's providence I am referring to the work of God, in which He sustains (Heb. 1:3), directs (Psalm 148:8) and governs (Psalm 103:19) all things. "God's providence" says Thomas Watson, "reaches to all places, persons, and occurrences."[3] What is the purpose of God's providence? It is His glory (Rom. 11:36) and our good (Rom. 8:28).

If you are single and struggling, know that God has not forgotten nor neglected you. In His wisdom (Rom. 11:33), He would have you be single at this time for His glory and your good. Allow the providence of God to be an encouragement to you. Because of the providence of God, struggling single you ought not to fear (Isaiah 41:10) or worry (Phil. 4:6), your Heavenly Father knows what you need (Matt. 6:32) and He cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7).

To finish off this chapter, here are three practical points to keep in mind if you are a struggling single:

Look to Jesus Christ

Whatever state we are in, we must set before us our Lord and Saviour. He is our Master and we are His slaves. As a struggling single, remember that we have a compassionate High Priest. The writer to the Hebrews said, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). He is aware of your situation and cares for you. We are to look to Him and treasure Him in all situations. Mark Dever noted, "Ultimately, our object of satisfaction - whether single or married - should not be our spouse; it should be Christ".[4] We would be wise to heed that advice!

Give yourself to Faithful Service

While you wait upon the Lord, certainly pray for your future spouse, but make use of this providential opportunity. Single Christian, you have an opportunity to be faithful in the Lord's service with great freedom. With great dedication, discipline and delight immerse yourself in the Lord's service. Honour the Lord with faithfulness with the stewardship of time He has sovereignly granted you. If you are to marry, this can be a time in which you grow in your character and even learn from mature Christian couples concerning roles in marriage and parenthood. Christian single, don't waste your singleness!

Don't Marry an Unbeliever!

A temptation many Christian singles face is the issue of dating or marrying an unbeliever. With great wisdom Steve Cole writes,

 "Burn it into your thinking: It is never God's will for a Christian to become unequally yoked with a non-Christian in marriage (7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). For some reason, it is usually Christian women who get tangled up with nice (they're always nice!) unbelieving men, rather than the other way around. I don't care how nice he is to you, if he is not committed to Jesus Christ and if he is not denying self daily to follow Christ, then he's living for self. You're going to be miserable married to such a person. Your children will suffer. Your devotion to Christ will be hindered. Don't do it!"[5]

If you are a Christian, understand that dating or marrying an unbeliever is not an option.

If you are single, use this status as an opportunity to glorify God and be a training ground for what God has for you in the future. If you are not single, don't look down on those who are. Spend time praying for them and being an encouragement.

[1] John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries, Volume XX, Baker Books, 2003, p. 253

[2] John F. MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians, Moody Press, 1984, p. 181.

[3] Thomas Watson. A Body of Divinity, Banner of Truth, 1978, p. 120

[4] Mark Dever, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, Crossway Books, 2005, p. 135

[5] Steven J. Cole, "Practical Advice for Singles" http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/112298CollegeGroup.pdf