We regularly hear opposing voices regarding singleness and marriage. Culture tends to dismiss marriage—usually to promote carefree living characterized by cohabitation, non-commitment and selfishness. Conversely, the Church tends to promote marriage over singleness to the point where anyone is inferior if he or she is not married by the end of college.
There are problems with both of these views. Singleness is neither a disease that needs to be cured, nor is it a carpe diem season of life. From the proper perspective, singleness is very strategic in God’s economy—whether for a season or for a lifetime.
Singleness is a blessing; not a curse.
Although they do it in different ways, both marriage and singleness display the glory of God by portraying a picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In marriage, a husband sacrificially loves his wife, thus personifying Jesus’ sacrificial love for His Church. A wife, on the other hand, yields to the shepherding leadership of her husband, thus giving a picture of the Church submitting to the lordship of Jesus[i].
It may surprise you, but the Christian single also gives a picture of the Gospel. Here’s how. Jesus tells us that there will be no marriage in Heaven[ii]. Paul tells us that the ultimate purpose of earthly marriage is to point us to Christ and the Church[iii]. And, the book of Revelation calls the culmination of the eternal union between Christ and His Church the marriage supper of the Lamb[iv]. All of this demonstrates the eternal reality that Jesus is our ultimate spouse. Since singles are to live as those who find their satisfaction in Christ apart from a spouse, they display a foretaste of that eternal reality now. This is why both Jesus[v] and the Apostle Paul[vi] overwhelmingly affirm the single life—which is a good thing since both men were single themselves!
Both, however, also affirm marriage. Paul calls both states of life “gifts from God”[vii]. Did you catch that? Singleness is a gift from God! Not in the do you think you have the gift? kind of way, but in that single people are a gift to God’s Church. Although the general expectation of humanity is marriage, the Bible simply does not tell a narrative that downplays the single life. Singleness is just as much a gift to the Church as marriage. When students understand the blessing of singleness, they will be far less likely to waste it.
Be content in this season of your life.
When reading 1 Corinthians 7, it is clear that there were those who were single for a season and those who remained that way for life. But, the exhortation is the same to both: only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him (v. 17). The same is true today. Most college students will one day be married. Others may never be. Some will be single for a few more years. Others will be single for decades. Regardless, be content in the Lord. Find your ultimate satisfaction in Jesus Christ. He is the only one who will never leave you thirsting for something or someone more (just ask the Samaritan woman in John 4).
In order to do this, we must caution against viewing our single years solely as the pre-cursor to marriage. This is where the churched-culture of the West fails college students and singles. A simple book-search yields almost 1,700 books on marriage while only offering about 200 on singleness[viii]—and, almost all of those are geared towards finding the right spouse. This constant obsession with finding Mr. or Mrs. Right can cause college students to waste their singleness. It fuels discontentment rather than contentment in Christ. Additionally, students focus so much on “what could be” that they miss out on opportunities right in front of them now. Don’t waste singleness. Be content in Christ.
Serve the Lord without distraction.
The ultimate goal of life is devotion to the Lord—not marriage, possessions, careers, etc. The Bible cautions us from viewing any of these good things too highly because they are only temporary[ix]. Singles can uniquely demonstrate this in a way that the married cannot. Paul goes on to say that the single 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[x]. This does not demean marriage, but rather shows that singleness carries a singular devotion (to the Lord) where marriage carries a shared devotion (to the Lord and a spouse).
During your single years, there are unique opportunities to demonstrate this reality. Don’t be distracted by viewing these years solely as a precursor to marriage; rather, maximize these years for the glory of God. Grow your affections and desires for Jesus through the spiritual disciplines. Leverage your free time for the sake of the Kingdom rather than wasting it on selfish trivialities. Use your money and possessions to resource Great Commission-work and to care for others. Immerse yourself in the Body of Christ and learn from mothers and fathers in the faith[xi]. Go on mission trips abroad while also investing your life into younger believers here at home. And, make yourself vulnerable by growing in deep bonds with same-gendered believers who can encourage you in your faith.
In other words, live a life that is personified by intentional service and wisdom, rather than careless self-consumption and folly. Don’t waste singleness. Serve the Lord without distraction.
So, how do we strategically use these years? Reject culture’s low bar of singleness, with its bad examples of sin and selfishness. Ignore the church’s unintentional notion that singles are the junior varsity team and can only hope to be called up to the major leagues of adulthood on their wedding day. Don’t feel incomplete or useless without marriage. Walk the biblical path that reveals singles as a strategic group of people who are a gift to God’s church. Content singles serving the Lord without distraction won’t waste their singleness.
[i] See Ephesians 5:22-33.[ii] Matthew 22:30[iii] Ephesians 5:32[iv] Revelation 19:6-9[v] Matthew 19:10-12[vi] 1 Corinthians 7:6-8[vii] 1 Corinthians 7:6[viii] http://www.christianbook.com[ix] 1 Corinthians 7:29-31[x] 1 Corinthians 7:32-33[xi] Titus 2:2-8
Chris James is pastor of Mill City Church in Lowell, MA. This article was originally published in Collegiate Magazine.