So, you haven’t yet found Mr. or Mrs. Right. Maybe you're not even looking. You’re tired of parents, or grandparents, or well-meaning friends at church asking you if you’ve found “that special someone yet?” It’s not an easy place to be. Marriage has lost some of its shine in the eyes of our culture as more couples choose to live together rather than tie the knot. Still, social expectations exert a strong pressure to be a part of a relationship, or to at least date casually. Those who aren’t currently seeing someone may be judged as being incomplete.
Unfortunately, the church doesn’t always help. Sermons might address the challenges and the joys of marriage, but rarely mention singleness. Fellowship groups might invite married couples while inadvertently excluding the single individuals. In short, churches (like our broader society) often behave as if singles exist only in the shadows, in a brief window between finishing school and starting a family, and that a person’s adult identity is only complete when they are in a relationship with someone else.
But what does the bible say about singleness?
In Genesis 2:18, God notices that his creation is incomplete because the person that he has created is alone--and that wasn’t good. No one wants to be lonely. We often use this text to highlight the importance of marriage, but quickly forget that marriage isn't the only kind of friendship out there. Single people need companionship and friendship every bit as much as married people. Everyone is wired for relationship, and we all need to know and be known by others. If you feel lonely, loneliness doesn’t flow out of something being wrong with us, but with something being right with us. God made us all for relationship.
The church should be a good place to connect, but sometimes does a disservice when it caters only to married couples. Does your church expect young adults to marry quickly after graduation? Do they assume marriage is on the top of your list of things to do next in life? Are the small groups, for example, organized by married couples for married couples, or are single people asked to participate, host, and lead? As a single person, you may have to seek out ways to participate in the fellowship of the church, developing relationships in which you can both give and receive of the goodness of friendship.
Everyone needs affirmation and connection, but our value and worth are not tied to our relationship status. You don't need a spouse to be complete. Well-meaning individuals might work to set you up with their cousin’s neighbor’s sister, but they risk acting as though unmarried people are inferior to married people.
In Genesis 29-30, we read of two women who were both married to the same man. One of them, Leah, felt ignored and unloved by her husband. Perhaps she felt more like a single person than a married woman. She came to believe that if she could conceive and bear his child, finally, she would have the affection of her spouse. In other words, she longed for the personal affirmation and social status that came with being a wife and mother; she bought into the lie that her life would be complete once she had the love of her husband. God gently and graciously taught her that our worth and identity are not tied to our marital or parental status, leading her to conclude, “This time, I will praise the Lord!” (Gen. 29:35).
Single people are not broken, and they are not incomplete; they are not projects to work on, or problems to fix. The gospel shows us that our identity and our worth is defined by our relationship with God, and in Christ we are his children, loved and accepted, and complete.
Those of us who are married must be careful not to treat single people as though they are inferior or incomplete until they find a husband or a wife. Those of us who are single need to be careful that we don’t buy into the idea that we are partial until we are loved by a spouse. Instead, we (married or not) need to continually draw our identity from our relationship in Christ.
Finally, single people are in good company in the New Testament.Jesus wasn’t married, and neither was the Apostle Paul. Little mention is made if the other apostles had wives (save for Peter, who we know had a mother-in-law).
In fact, Paul claimed to the Corinthians that singleness put him at an advantage--a surprising statement, given the dominant place of marriage in the first century. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul addresses questions over whether marriage or singleness are better options. While this chapter is too in-depth to cover fully here, Paul’s main point seems to be that all Christians, married or single, have a purpose from God. Those who are unmarried shouldn’t assume that marriage is necessary before a person can be of use in God’s kingdom. And, those who are married shouldn’t assume that they have an advantage over unmarried people. To put it differently, single people need the church (as we’ve stated above), and the church needs single people as well. God calls them to serve in ways that can equip the church and build up the saints for service. In fact, single people may have opportunities to seek the advance of God’s kingdom that married people do not have because of their family obligations.
Let all hold singleness in high esteem. Perhaps you are content in singleness, living your life until such time as marriage becomes interesting. Perhaps you're actively seeking a romantic relationship. Perhaps you're committed already. In any case, what matters most is not when and to whom you will get married, but rather your identity in Christ. What matters more than anything is that you have been given an name and purpose from God that far surpasses your marital status. Let that define who you are and how you serve.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Deb Koster