With all the important emphasis on marriage and the family in the church we should not neglect those who are single among us. As much as it is true that most of us have the calling of God and in-created need to marry, not all are married. There are several situations in which Christians are single, either by their own choice or by providential circumstances of their life. There are those who are not able to marry because of the special way the Lord made them. There are those who are single because the Lord does not lead someone into their life who is interested in marrying them. There are those who are single in life after the treachery of a spouse divorcing them. Many are left alone after the Lord takes a beloved spouse from them to glory. We must also recognize that there are those who are single by their own choice. These simply do not have the strong desire to be married and are quite content with being single.
Some of the above-mentioned circumstances in life can be the cause of pain and anguish for those in them. For some young people who never experience the excitement and joy of dating, there can be a feeling of being left out and rejected. They can develop very negative feelings about themselves. They can descend into the depths of despair and even become bitter and angry with God. They see their friends one after another getting married. After these friends are married, even long-time friendships tend to change, and times for fellowship and enjoyment of these friendships become less and less. Those who are not married feel even more alone. In some families younger siblings marry and older ones who remain unmarried might even feel ashamed and bitter and envious. Parents are sometimes greatly concerned about children who are not married, and they may put undue pressure on them to marry at all costs.
More and more divorces are taking place, even within the church. Divorce is often a life-shattering experience. Divorce sometimes takes place among the young who still have much of their lives before them. Some of these enjoyed what seemed at first to be such a happy and exciting marriage, only to have it come to a tragic end in the deep sorrow and anguish of divorce. They may strongly desire to find another partner to fill the void and overcome the pain and rejection of divorce. Often children have to be cared for in a one-parent household, and this can be very difficult and discouraging. Divorced singles often long to find a good father or mother for their children. The world, in most cases, strongly encourages remarriage after the dust settles from a divorce. There are churches that preach very loudly that God does not want any of His people to live for a long time in sorrow. Everyone has the right to be happy, and certainly God wants His children to be happy in life. Our churches believe that remarriage after divorce, as long as the original spouse is still living, is contrary to the Word of God. For divorced Christians, to remain single can be very difficult and attended by many great temptations.
In the church there are also those who must live alone for a long time after the death of a spouse. These are faced with tremendous changes in their life. It is not easy to come home to an empty house. It is not easy to be left with no partner with whom to have fellowship and friendship, with none to serve as a sounding board for discussions of the great issues of life or to give advice, counsel, and support in trials and hardships. The depths of sorrow for some Christians in such circumstances are the evidence of the great joys and blessings experienced in good and faithful marriages. To be left suddenly alone can be almost unbearable to endure. For some there may be opportunity still to enjoy years of life with another special person that the Lord brings into their life. Others, either because of advanced age or for other reasons, do not, or ought not, consider establishing another marriage.
Some of the above scenarios can lead to sinful responses and courses of action. Young people can become desperate, and in their desperation establish a relationship with someone who just happens to come along in life, even though such a person may be a very poor prospective life partner. These can end up very soon in a situation of trouble and anguish because they are married to the wrong kind of person. It is better not to marry at all than to be married to a worldly and wicked and irresponsible person. An unequal yoke in marriage is not only forbidden by God but also can be the reason for continual strife and division in marriage and the family.
Being single is not something to be discouraged or ashamed about. The Lord has His good and wise purpose for it in the church. The inspired apostle of the Lord teaches us to honor marriage highly, even teaching in Ephesians 5 that it is a beautiful picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. But this same apostle, in I Corinthians 7, teaches us that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” In this chapter of the Word of God the apostle evidently responds to a question posed to him that asked whether it was legitimate and holy to remain single in life. The apostle of the Lord teaches us that, for some, life without marriage can be good. Paul asserted his own right to “lead about a sister, a wife” (see), but, by a conscious choice and in God-given wisdom, he decided to remain single all of his life. He even says that he wished that all could be as he was. He considered being single to be an advantage because of the special calling of God and the unusual circumstances he would have to face as a missionary.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was unmarried during all of His earthly ministry. There were of course reasons for this. The deepest reasons were related to His work to be the Redeemer of His people. On the other hand, Jesus was made like unto us in all things. May we assume that He had the same human nature concerning which God said at the time of the creation of man, “it is not good for a man to be alone”? Whatever might be the answer to this question, those who find living as single persons difficult have a sympathetic high priest to go to in prayer, one who can be touched with all the feelings of our infirmities and who was tempted in all points even as we are and yet without sin.
It is important to maintain in the church that it can be and is holy for a person to remain single either for part of his or her life or even for all of life. God gives grace to those who are called to live the single life. This grace makes living as a single Christian possible. None who find themselves in this circumstance of life have any reason to despair or to be discouraged. They must not imagine that they have no calling and significance in the church or in life simply because they are not married.
Members of the church must treat single Christians with honor and respect and love. They must be deeply sympathetic to the unique problems and trials of those who are single.
There is no reason for someone to go about in the church attempting to arrange marriages for every single person in the church. Though this can be motivated by good intentions, it can also be very distressing to some who simply do not have the strong desire even to be married and who are quite content with being single even all their life long.
The whole of the above discussion indicates the need for the church and every pastor of the church to address occasionally issues facing single Christian living.
For some of life’s circumstances, living as a single person can be the occasion even for more single-hearted devoted service in the kingdom of Christ. All of us, whether married or single, must make the kingdom central in our lives.
In our next article we want to discuss some practical and spiritual questions related to living as a single Christian.