On Singles in the church

Singleness and Marriage a Christian Calling

JP: While this article is perhaps aimed at older singles, it is a worthwhile read.

Making singleness better


Is singleness better? I know what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, and I know Jesus, the ultimate human, was single, but I can’t help noticing that, however much this ought to be the case, it just isn’t the experience of many long-term single people. Singleness was thrust upon them because of social barriers to getting married (e.g. it’s hard to meet people and there are no protocols for proceeding) and demographic barriers (e.g. there are more Christian women than Christian men). In addition, long-term singleness brings with it extreme loneliness and dislocation; it often not only means not being married, but also not having any friends who are married. Singles did not choose singleness for the sake of the gospel; it was chosen for them. And they are unhappy.1

How should Christians respond? Many (who are usually married with children, and therefore no longer single) look in 1 Corinthians 7 and note that “the appointed time has grown very short” (v. 29), that marriage can be really difficult, that singleness offers lots of advantages and that singles should rejoice in the opportunities God has given them. Then they say to singles, “Singleness is better, so get on with your life and deal with it”.

I would like to offer singles two brief encouragements that, at first glance, might seem contradictory.

Firstly, don’t take advantage of all the freedoms of being single. In Paul’s day, everyone was embedded in a community. These days, no-one is. Marriages and children force this kind of settling upon us to some extent. So if you are single, I think your life will be more rich and joyful relationally if you can manage to welcome some of this settling—for example, by finding long-term accommodation, by making long-term financial plans, by committing to a few relationships (including relationships with families), by committing to a community group, by finding a few ways to serve, and so on. Such measures won’t be forced on you, and even though, in your 20s, they may seem restrictive and redundant, by your 30s, they may be lifesaving.

Secondly, do take advantage of the freedoms of being single. Certainly get more done if you can, but don’t just get more done; get stuff done that couldn’t be done if you were married with children. For example, one of my friends works in Australia, but has family in the US, so every Christmas, she relocates to New York for a couple of months and works from there. However painful singleness may be, it still has its discrete advantages. Utilize them. If a friend in another city needs help, get on a plane and visit them. If you have a passion for serving the poor, run and live in a boarding house. If you don’t like cooking and can afford it, don’t cook; catch up with a different friend each night for dinner. And married people: please don’t be jealous.

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