What does the Bible have to say about singleness? Since the single state involves more than half of the population in. the United States and many people experience the single state in all age groups we need to re-evaluate how we think about singleness and the Christian faith.
Bible Insights with Wayne Conrad
The Single I
A number of statistics from Pew Research and the Barna Group are cited in numerous sources showing that the number of singles in the United States in every age group has been increasing. In 1956 just about everyone got married. A Psychology Today post reports that in the year 2020 there were 130.6 million unmarried people and 85.4 million who have never been married. The Philadelphia Observer in August, 2018 , noted that In 1960, 72 percent of adults were married. Yet among today’s growing singles population, 63 percent have never been married, 23 percent are divorced, and 13 percent are widowed. Barna Trends reported in 2017 that 23% of churchgoers are single and more than half of Americans, 54%, between 18 to 49, who never married or divorced, are single. The fact is people are experiencing singleness in increasing numbers across all age groups.
But many people both in society and the church try to convince us that single living is second rate living. Some Christian teachers and preachers go so far as to say one is not a total person unless they are married and some even add “and have at least one child.” Even some Christian mission boards require that all the missionaries they appoint are married. Single adults are sometimes singled out for discrimination and indirect insinuations that “something’s-the-matter”. As a result, many Christian singles feel cheated and carry a guilt complex. They feel like half-persons because they have been treated as half-persons.
Maybe it is time that we do some re-thinking about singleness and the Christian faith. We should never forget that Jesus was a single adult! Also the greatest missionary the Christian faith has ever known - Paul the Apostle to the Gentile - was also a single adult. Many of the early Christian leaders were single and they regarded their martial status as a gift from God. In fact, 1 Corinthians 7 teaches that singleness can be a gift of the Spirit.
“I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. 33 But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. 34 His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35 NLT)
John Yoder, a Mennonite theologian, wrote, “It needs to be taught as normative Christian truth that singleness is the first normal state for every Christian. Marriage is not wrong and existing marriages are to be nurtured. Yet there exists no Christian imperative to become married as soon as one can or to prefer marriage over singleness as a more whole or wholesome situation.”
Although in marriage two become as one in the one flesh union, nevertheless one is a whole number not a half number. Jesus and Paul both clearly preferred the single state and advised others that they would be better off to adapt to it. Here is statement from Jesus: "For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by people; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who is able to accept this, let him accept it.'" NASB Matthew 19:12
The New Living Translation reads: "Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.'"
Paul wrote: I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 1 Corinthians 7:6-8
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 1 Corinthians 7:32
Thomas Schreiner in an article for 9Marks summaries Paul on singleness in 1 Corinthians 7.
Given the cultural climate in the United States, it’s surprising to see how positively Paul speaks about being single. He wishes all people were single (1 Cor. 7:6) and counsels widows to remain single if possible (1 Cor. 7:8). Singleness is preferred because of “the present distress” (1 Cor. 7:26, CSB), and those who aren’t married are advised not to “seek a wife” (1 Cor. 7:28). Married people are “concerned about the things of the world” (1 Cor. 7:33-34), but the unmarried are “concerned about the things of the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:32, 34), and thus the single person can concentrate on pleasing the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32). Paul thinks the one who doesn’t marry his fiancé does “better” than the one who gets married (1 Cor. 7:38). Those who don’t get remarried are “happier” (1 Cor. 7:40).
Neither Jesus nor Paul had anything against marriage, which they also considered to be a precious gift from God. And the state most people would prefer. Paul and Jesus expressed the sentiment that marriage is fine, a gift to be cherished but that singleness is better. They had reference to Christian devotion and service and sometimes to the circumstances of life that do not make marriage conducive.
The point is that a single life is as much a gift and calling of God as the married life. In fact, it can be more of a gift and calling of God if the person is enabled to spend more of his or her time and concentration on the kingdom of God than he otherwise would if he or she were married.
Scripture has much to teach us with regard to a Christian single lifestyle. Jesus’ model for his own relationships was friendship, not marriage. This intimate communion of friendship relates even to the inner-life of the Triune God. Jesus said to his disciples, You are my friends - friends with whom he shared his life and trust. Friends for whom he prayed and for whom he made the ultimate sacrifice of his own life given in death. To these friends he said, “ love one another as I have loved you.” His love was a total self-giving love.
It is true that as persons we were made for love. But this does not necessarily mean sexual love. Love is found and nourished in relationships including family and close friendships. In fact, when marriage occurs it will be most fulfilling if it is based on the reality of friendship.
As persons we were made for friendship and communion which involves intimacy. Now part of intimacy is being truly known, loved and received as we are. This can happen in true friendship. But sometimes we make the mistake of equating such intimacy with sexual intercourse. Certainly, it should occur there in marriage although that is not a given fact. Intimacy is simply experienced as the need for the expression of closeness and union with another person. It can happen in the mind and soul of persons without bodily union.
Here is a biblical fact- Jesus calls all his disciples to friendship and intimacy but not all are called to marriage. In John 15:15 Jesus said I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
Jesus bases his command for Christians to love one another on his own example of giving his life for us. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." John 15:13
As Christians our sense of security is to be found in God and our relationship with him. This is the source of our love and ability to intimately relate to other people as friends. Another fact is that our sexuality does not depend on marriage. It is integral to our personhood whether we are married or single. Being single does not in any way lesson our God-given sexuality.
An authentic choice between singleness and marriage is an important New Testament emphasis in the pursuit of the priority of the kingdom of God.
The “single I” can be a fulfilling, satisfying, and useful way of life to the glory of God.
Let us each look to the Lord in how he would have us life out our lives as servants of Jesus Christ.
August 23, 2021