There’s been a lot of buzz recently about singleness, especially in church circles. I’ve read a lot of articles on singleness in the past few months from wonderful blogs that have encouraged my heart. And sometimes I wonder if more needs to be said on the topic or if perhaps we’ve had our fill of encouraging those without spouses in the church.
And then I walk into church – and see all the couples with their arms around each other (whom I love very dearly) – and my heart sinks again at the reminder of what I don’t have. And I need the encouragement more than ever.
Just like we never cease having marriage conferences or marriage classes, we must never cease encouraging those in the opposite stage of life, because we are forgetful people. We are prone to temptations, to question where we are at, and to grumble against it – and we need to be reminded time and again of the reason for our stage in life.
For while I am unmarried, I have a specific role to play in the church, and if I spend too much time pining away for what I don’t have, I will be unfaithful to what God wants me to be doing with my time. And those who are married need to remember that singleness isn’t just a placeholder until the “real” gift comes along – that of a lifelong spouse. Both stages need to be celebrated as given from God for specific purposes – and neither one should be looked at as more important than the other.
Because truly – neither getting married nor staying single are the ultimate goals of life. The ultimate goal in life is to become more like Christ and make disciples of all men (and women).
Despite that caveat, however, I do believe that God designed a place for single people in His church – just as He designed marriage in His church. And I believe that we must not forget these key truths about the role of single people in God’s body of believers.
1. Single People Have More Time to Focus on Ministry
Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34:
“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.”
When you get married, you rightly agree to put your spouse before all over earthly relationships. Nurturing that relationship is important to best display God’s glory through marriage. And when you have children, they become your primary ministry and you must be dedicated to training them in the Lord.
But an unmarried man or woman has the unique opportunity to be devoted to the Lord “in both body and spirit.” If they need to stay up late counseling someone, they can, without worrying about needing to put kids to bed. If they need to have college students stay at their place or go on a missions trip or do activities with those in their ministry, it’s much easier to do so since they are on their own.
Married people can potentially do all of those things, too, but again – their interests are divided. There are certain things in ministry that single people are needed for due to their stage of life, and we must honor their gifts and services appropriately.
2. Single People Depend on the Lord in a Unique Way
Every person who has been saved must depend on the Lord for daily sustenance. Yet for those who do not have a lifelong partner in a spouse, they have a certain intimacy to their relationship with God that is unique to their situation.
It is difficult as a single person to not have a daily partner who walks through life’s struggles with them. Certainly single people are not alone if they are immersed in a church with fellow brothers and sisters who encourage and uplift them. This community is essential for the health of all involved.
But at the end of the day, when it’s just you by yourself in bed, the “aloneness” never seems more real. And that’s when the comfort of God – especially in the Psalms – becomes more powerful than it ever has been. The verses take on new meaning as you realize how vital they are to your soul – like:
“I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy. Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live … For You, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 116:1-2, 8-9)
This active, daily dependence on the almighty God strengthens the single person’s relationship with Him and allows for him or her to minister to others who may also be facing similar circumstances.
The tears of loneliness are never wasted – for when they are wept into the hands of God, He covers our heart with His love and gives us strength we never dreamed of.
3. Single People Support and Encourage Married People … and Vice Versa
I won’t lie to you – sometimes it’s easy to let bitterness and jealousy creep into my heart when I look at my married friends and their happy relationships. But when I have repented of this and asked God to change my attitude, He reveals the beautiful reciprocity that can take place between them and me.
What better way to demonstrate my support of godly marriages than by offering to babysit a couple’s kids so they can go have a date night? Not only does it give them a break, but it gives me the opportunity to build relationships with their kids – especially when I might be feeling lonely for some kids of my own (and then I can go home and be thankful I don’t have a crying baby keeping me up all night! Haha … kidding! Only sort of …).
By choosing to be involved in my married friends’ lives, I am choosing to not be bitter about my stage in life or try to elevate it over theirs as somehow more holy. I am choosing to support God’s design of marriage and help them to have a healthy one so they can glorify Him with it.
These relationships are also necessary for married people so that they can be aware of including single people in their lives. They can give singles a chance to have dinner with a family instead of on their own all the time or to have a game night or movie night – to basically give them the opportunity to participate in doing life together and remind them that they are valued and never alone.
4. Single People Demonstrate Purity to a Watching World
We live in a world where purity is not exactly a celebrated thing. The fact that there is a movie called “The 40-Year Old Virgin” shows you what a mockery the world makes of those who are virgins past a certain age. As if losing your virginity was somehow a mark of adulthood.
Newsflash, world: it’s not.
But the only way that I can stay pure as an unmarried person – and celebrate it – is through the power of Christ working in me. He shows me the beauty of purity by giving me something far better than temporary pleasures – which is Himself.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20:
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
Sexual immorality is such a prevalent, dangerous beast that we are commanded to flee from it to save ourselves from giving in. And those who do – those who are obedient to Christ’s call to keep his temple pure – are brightly shining beacons to the Gospel.
If an unbelieving world were to peek in at our church, would they be drawn to the beauty of the Gospel by how radically our singles celebrate and walk in their purity as a testimony to God’s grace? We should hope so – and we should strive for such a thing.
5. Single People Are Christ’s Parable of Waiting for His Return
This beautiful article on singleness from the Gospel Coalition opened my eyes to the fact that singleness is every bit a picture of the church as marriage is. While marriage is a living parable of Christ the bridegroom and the church the bride, singleness demonstrates how we need to live our lives while waiting for Christ’s return.
In fact, Christ used this very picture of virgins waiting for the bridegroom in Matthew 25:
“The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ … The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet … Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
If I live my single life (or stage of life) selfishly or discontentedly, angrily lashing out at God for not giving me a husband, then I am not portraying well the picture of waiting for Christ’s return. I might as well be the foolish virgin who didn’t bring enough oil along to light her lamp. But if I am vigilant in this season of my life – serving Christ with dedication and living out the Gospel in my life – then I will be portraying the parable of waiting for His return to earth just as He designed it. No year, no month, no day is ever wasted – married or single – if we live it out in submission and reverence to God.
Church, we have a job to do. That job is to declare the Gospel and make disciples. We need to celebrate all life stages and how they are uniquely designed to do that job like none other. We must encourage each other as every life stage hits rough patches, and remind one another of our purpose on earth. While we should honor marriage as a gift from God, we should also honor singleness as a gift from God – and as we do, we will make His name more gloriously known.
For God is the creator of relationships, and when we participate in the various forms of them, we are making all facets of Him beautifully known and enjoyed. And in the end, that will bring us the most joy.