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How Should We Understand Modern Christian Singleness?
When someone asks you a theological question, there are usually personal reasons beneath it. I do want to answer whether singleness is a gift, but I also must address the real reason people ask.
The following is a guest post by Ben Mordecai, one of our essay contest winners. (Writing Prompt: “Is singleness a gift?”) The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Dominion Dating.
Have you ever faced the introvert’s dilemma? The introvert’s dilemma is when you do not actually want to go to a party, but you want to have been invited. The modern single is faced with a similar dilemma: on the one hand, they are told to celebrate how free they are, bombarded with messages from magazines and Instagram about how great it is to not be tied down so they can seek the things that would give their lives meaning. On the other hand, they are reminded by countless songs and movies about how finding the love of their life is the key to happiness, or how hopeless life is after losing out on that special person.
Outside of the messages from popular culture, singleness is also treated as a benchmark for how big of a loser you are. If you are single that must mean that you are not wanted, unloved, and unvalued. Even the word “virgin” has come to mean “loser.” This is probably why young couples are known for over-the-top infatuation when they do pair up. They feel like being wanted and chosen by another serves as a validation that they are not weird. In other words, it satisfies their ego.
In the church, the situation is perhaps barely better. Christian singles are still facing the same issues as the broader culture except, perhaps, feeling pressure to forego extramarital sex. Even the Christian singles with a robust worldview and a strong, guiding faith still find that many sermons, lessons, and church activities carry the expectation that people of a certain age will automatically be married. This leads many to feel overlooked, or worse like they have a substandard calling as a Christian.
“Why hasn’t God given me a spouse?” some ask. The answers usually given are intended to be encouraging but rarely land that way, and they usually amount to some variation of the claim that singleness is a gift.
They are told how free they are to serve in ministry, and sometimes that is true, but often the types of service they already do would be unhindered or even enhanced by being married. They are told God is teaching them patience, but they feel like they have been patient for a while. They do not want to contradict their pastor but they are left unsatisfied with the answers they are getting. Eventually, they wonder, “Is singleness really a gift?”
A wise pastor once told me that when someone asks you a theological question, you should pry in and find the personal reasons beneath it. When I consider whether singleness is a gift, I do want to answer the question, but I also want to address the real reason it was asked. They are rarely truly asking, “Is singleness a gift,” as much as they are asking, “Why hasn’t God given me a husband when I want a family so badly?” Let’s start with the basic question of whether singleness is a gift.
Technically, everything in the Christian life is a gift since God works together all things for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes. While this is a profound truth and blessing, under this definition you could call getting a flat tire or getting fired from your job a gift. When Paul describes the spiritual gifts, he highlights the importance of desiring the higher gifts.
Though we may have good things to say about singleness, we would not exhort Christians to seek to cultivate singleness because it is a gift. It would be more accurate to call singleness a providence that affords benefits and drawbacks depending on the situation. Most Christians have heard many lessons on the benefits, but little about the drawbacks which weigh on them heavier.
Marriage is normative. Before sin even existed, it was not good for man to be alone. When sin was introduced it only added strain to the relationship. It did not eliminate God’s original purpose. He still intends to fill the earth and subdue it. Before God created the world, he was planning a second wedding, the marriage of Christ to the Church, which is the ultimate meaning of marriage. Practically speaking, most people want families, have sexual desire, want companionship, and would benefit from having the help or provision that a spouse could provide. Even spiritually speaking, a good spouse will encourage, lead, submit, instruct, learn from, support, pray for, meditate with, and enjoy their partner in the various ways that husbands and wives are called to do so. When compared to a good marriage, it seems deluded to think that singleness is preferable.
The single Christian has grounds for hope in their singleness. We are not Mormons who wrap up salvation with marriage. The Christian single possesses all of the ordinary promises that Christ offers in the gospel: justification, adoption, sanctification, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance to the end. They also have promises that God can cause the “barren” to bear fruit, to restore lost years that have seemed wasted, and that nothing sacrificed for the kingdom will go unrewarded.
Nevertheless, just as Paul encourages a Christian slave with the assurance that slavery does not hinder his Christian calling, he recognizes the value of seeking freedom when given the opportunity. In the same way, the single person has the same assurance but benefits from seeking the opportunity to marry.
How then should Christians seek to marry? They should ask, seek, and knock. That is, they should become increasingly persistent in prayer, intensifying the request as time passes.
The Christian must seek to confirm or cultivate their own maturity. This requires humility and willingness to consider and act upon wise advice. For men, maturity involves demonstrating strength, workmanship, and wisdom along with other godly virtues. For women it involves, cultivating feminine beauty, gentleness, nurturing attitudes and skills, and general pleasantness. This maturity takes work, whether it is in the gym, the office, the workshop, the kitchen, or the living room. To put it bluntly, most men are looking for a beautiful and gentle woman who can cook, and most women are looking for a strong man with good chances of career success who is kind to them. If Christians are to count others more significant than themselves, they ought to consider what kind of man or woman the person they would want to marry would want to marry.
They ought to look for opportunities to meet the kind of person they would want to marry. This involves practical activities like going to events, joining groups, and polishing their social media. They should also deliberately tell their friends, family, and church that they are interested in getting set up and they should practice making casual small talk and learning to be friendly with strangers. This is a learning process. Finding and forming healthy relationships takes time and attention. This improves with experience.
In this short essay, we explored the confused state of modern relationships: celebrating independence, fear of being alone, and the ego validation of finding a partner. We saw that most of these problems affect the church and are met with unsatisfying answers. We asked whether singleness was a gift but decided it should instead be called a providence. We saw some benefits of singleness and put them into their proper context, but recognized that most of the blessings of singleness are general Christian blessings that apply to all. We saw that that marriage is normative and we discussed practical approaches to finding a husband or a wife by focusing on prayer, maturity, and the golden rule.
At its heart, the introvert’s dilemma is self-sabotage. People who decline invitations generally stop getting them. Those who accept the invitations even when they are not excited usually realize that the real party was far better than the one they imagined. In their hearts, Christian singles know that they want marriage and that singleness is not especially a gift for them. By doing some work and enduring some discomfort they may just enjoy it nonetheless.
1 Corinthians 12:31
Genesis 9:1. The same mandate given to Adam before sin was given to Noah after.
Mark 10:29-30. Jesus specifically includes temporal rewards, perhaps because he is considering these blessings in light of those gained in union with the Church.
1 Corinthians 7:21. There is also 1 Corinthians 7:32–35 which seems to put preference on singleness for the sake of undivided devotion, but the context suggests that this recommendation was influenced by the circumstances of the day (v. 26) and not necessarily for ordinary situations. Paul also celebrated his own singleness because of the liberty it gave him for his missionary journeys and since his calling more than the other apostles involved suffering.