When I began Bible college and was working part-time at a local church, I was 20 years old and single.
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Very early, there was an unspoken expectation in the air that I would marry.
(To be honest, the “unspoken” expectation was also sometimes spoken very clearly).
I was teased in my singleness constantly.
I was told regularly, “I know a nice single Christian girl!”
Most people I met for the first time asked if I was seeing anyone, and expressed surprise if I said no.
More then one person asked if I was gay – apparently the only possible explanation for some as to why a pastor would be single in a church setting.
I dated from time to time, and had a couple of serious girlfriends in my early years of ministry.
It wasn’t until I was 27 that I met my now-wife.
At that time, in our Christian world, this made me an old man to be marrying for the first time.
Not so much today, as people are generally getting married later.
I met my wife-to-be, we dated and were married, and it was quickly clear that she was worth the wait! She was all that I had been praying for, and much more.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized how unhealthy and unbiblical and truly toxic the church culture was concerning marriage and singleness.
Marriage and family is typically held up as the ideal.
“From the very beginning, back in Genesis 1, God established marriage as the first human relationship….”
This of course is very true. And Scripture holds a very high view of marriage.
But for the single person, there can be a constant push towards marriage and family.
Churches target their identity and their ministries towards families.
Singles are bombarded with questions on their prospects, and often feel left out when church things are constantly geared towards married couples and kids and youth.
There is an unspoken (and sometimes very clearly spoken) expectation that marriage is God’s best and God’s will for everyone.
This inevitably leaves single people feeling like they are “less than.”
I lived this reality for many years.
And interestingly, followers of the bachelor Saviour in essence say, “Don’t be like Jesus in this particular way – follow Him, but not in His singleness!”
Paul brings some correction to the over-emphasis on marriage:
32 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. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 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. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better. (1Cor 7.32-38)
And with this, Paul gives a beautiful gift to every single person out there!
And he says the exact opposite of much modern Church emphasis: singleness is actually better than marriage for the Christ-follower, if you can bear it, and if you are using your singleness for the pursuit of Christ.
Paul knows what he’s talking about, as he was a single man.
As such, he could be devoted fully to Christ without distraction.
He did not struggle with the pull between work and ministry and marriage and family.
He was free to go anywhere and do anything without being concerned about a family back home.
Jesus, too, enjoyed all of these blessings of singleness.
Singleness has challenges, so be certain.
So does marriage.
A friend of mine who had been recently married once said to me, “Getting married didn’t solve my problems, it just solved my ‘single’ problems. So now I have companionship, partnership, support, intimacy, future children, etc. But I also just traded my ‘single’ problems for ‘marriage’ problems. Now I need to decide everything in partnership, I rarely have any alone time, I don’t have the freedom I once did, I have fights sometimes…there’s just new and different challenges.”
These were wise words.
With retrospect, I can appreciate the wonderful blessings of my single years.
And also the challenges.
And I can appreciate the wonderful blessings of my marriage.
And also the challenges.
And we should by no means biblically elevate one over the other.
One of things I appreciate about my current Mennonite Brethren church family is that our faith statement specifically celebrates both marriage and singleness.
If I could go back to my younger single self, I would tell myself to enjoy the blessings of singleness while I had them.
In my desire for marriage, I wanted to fast-forward through singleness, and I fear that I missed some good stuff that God was blessing me with because I was so focused on what I hoped was next, or what I thought I was missing.
The Church needs to let single people off the hook. If they bring up their singleness, by all means talk about it, but for goodness’ sake, let’s take the pressure off of them. Leave them alone. Some of them like being single, others don’t, but either way they don’t need to be reminded of it all the time.
We can equally celebrate marriage and celebrate singleness, as both come with blessings, both are biblical, and both bring glory to God.
As we do this, we free our single people from pressure and from feeling “less-than,” instead releasing them to the fullness of what God is doing in them, even if the season of singleness is temporary.
And we can still hold a high view of marriage, celebrating two becoming one and uniting in covenant, even if it is biblically clear that this life is not meant for everyone, as evidenced by our Saviour.
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