Living the Single Life

Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.

A little over a year ago we wrote an article that addressed the fear of single life (Vol. 70, No. 11, March 1, 1994). It was an article aimed at those young people who are afraid that marriage might pass them by. Out of panic, these young people might resort to some desperate and sinful means to solve their perceived problem. For that reason we encouraged our young people to rely on God in faith. If it is His will that we marry, He will guide the events of our lives that we will meet and marry that young man or woman He has chosen for us. We need not fear or force the issue. We must simply in faith follow the Lord’s guiding.

In connection with this we were also reminded that it is the Lord’s will for some that they remain single their whole life. In these instances God has a purpose for these individuals as single persons in His church. Singles also are a valuable and necessary part of the church of Jesus Christ. When we trust in God, He will make us realize that single life also can be as fulfilling as married life and can bring us great reward.

We review all this because I received a fair amount of response to this article—not so much from young people, however, as from younger and older single adults. They appreciated the encouragement the article gave to them. One wrote: “I really appreciated your article in the S.B. It not only pointed out the dangers of marrying foolishly, but it helped me to realize that as a single, I fear it. In order to fight the battle of faith, we must realize who the enemy is.” This response and others like it serve to remind us as God’s people of the various needs that exist among the members of the church. There are those who are beyond fearing the single life. They are resigned toliving the single life.

But this raises an important question: what is the place of the single person in the life of the church and covenant? All of us must be sensitive to that question. As churches we stress the covenant fellowship and friendship that God establishes with us and with our children in the line of our generations. This blessed truth has been a great comfort to us in all of life’s difficulties. There is not one individual in the church of Jesus Christ who does not benefit from this truth. There is nothing more encouraging to a believer than to know that in every circumstance of life God is our sovereign Friend who will always be there for us, to uphold and strengthen us. The comfort God’s covenant affords us has been our mainstay as Reformed believers. Never, therefore, would we want to forsake this glorious truth of God’s covenant.

Yet, as with all truth, there follows life. Our covenant theology has shaped and molded our world and life view. Since God has established His covenant in the line of continued generations, we place much stress on the need for covenant homes and marriages. That is only natural. We hear many sermons and read many an article and book on the subject of marriage. We emphasize the need to establish a good marriage, since there is no room for divorce and remarriage. We are taught the duties of husbands and wives toward each other in that marriage bond. We are taught that this relationship reflects the intimate bond of fellowship that exists between Christ and the church. Not only are we taught repeatedly of marriage, but we are constantly reminded as well of our calling as covenant parents. No doubt the baptism sermons in our denomination dealing with this subject can be numbered in the thousands! Covenant marriages, covenant children, covenant homes and families—we hear it all the time! The very life of the church quite naturally centers in and revolves around the family.

But, where does the single person fit in all of this? What is his or her role in the covenant life of the church? It is true: “God setteth the solitary in families” (Ps. 68:6). But God does not set all the solitary in families. What function does the single person serve in the church and covenant? That question is a real one—especially when singles find themselves standing on the fringes of the life of the church. Here is how one single person expressed it to me:

Your article (“The Fear of Single Life”) concludes that the church would be incomplete without us…. I believe that. However, experience often makes me feel otherwise…. It is my experience that many members of our churches look at the single (especially the never married) as not fitting. This accounts for the pressure people put upon their teenagers to marry. It also accounts for the fact that while people may greet the single in the vestibule of church, the fellowship often ends there…. For the person who already feels “inferior, worthless, and undesirable” such exclusion compounds the problem. The fear of single life (which is inherent in us) increases because there is very little if any support from our fellow saints.

This thought has been expressed by several to whom I have spoken. Now, whether that is real or imagined on their part makes little difference. It places all of us as members of the church (whether single or married) before the question: where does the single believer “fit” in the sphere of God’s covenant and church? If the church is incomplete without them, how, in fact, do they fill out that body of Jesus Christ?

That is a difficult question to answer, of course, because there are so many varying circumstances in the life of every single person in the church. For example, some may be single, yet fully involved with the families of their own brothers and sisters. These feel their life complete. Other singles would just as soon be left alone and on their own. They enjoy their independence, and are involved in the church as much as possible. On the other hand, however, there are certain singles that are alone, away from family, and wanting so much to be a part of the covenant life of the church. The church and her members must be sensitive to the varying needs of these brothers and sisters in the church.

Still, where do singles fit in the sphere of the church? The answer lies in large part with the single saint himself. I can answer theoretically, of course. The Bible teaches us clearly that all have a place and function in the body of Christ. Paul instructs us of this in I Corinthians 12:12-27. There he teaches us that the body is made up of many different members. Some of these members we may think to be more important than others, but in reality they cannot function well without the other members. Every member has his proper function and part in that body. Even those members that may seem more feeble or uncomely, on these we bestow, quite often, the greatest honor. The single saint may think of himself as one of those uncomely members of the church, but this is far from true. God has tempered the body together in such a way that He gives more abundant honor to that part which lacks.

What more really can we say? With that in mind the single person in Christ’s church must set himself to the task of discovering what is his particular calling in the church. To do this requires of him, first of all, contentment. He must learn what each of God’s people must learn, “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” We all must learn that our value as a person does not consist in whether we are married or not. Our joy and satisfaction in life are found in belonging to Christ. Christ is our all! He has taken away our sin and guilt and has incorporated us into the body of the church. He has called us and separated us unto Himself that we might be His servants in all of life—no matter if we are a married person or a single. That is what is all important to us! And in that we can find contentment too!

With that joy in our hearts we then can set ourselves to discover what our function as an individual is in the body of the church. As we do, we bear in mind the Word of God in I Corinthians 7:32-34: the single saint “careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” This simply means that the child of God who is “unencumbered” with marriage and a family is able to devote much more time to the things of the Lord. A minister I listened to recently stated it well: “We must view single life not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity.” What talents has God given me in particular? How can I use them in the service of the church? How can I be involved in the labor of the church in order that God’s covenant might be carried on in the generations of believers I know and love? Can I be a school teacher? Can I be a Dorcas who is known for her almsdeeds? Can I serve on committees of the church that require the time and effort that a married man cannot give? How can I find my particular niche in the body of Jesus Christ? With that positive attitude, we will find our function in the church, and understand that we are as much a part of the body of Christ as those who are married.

There remains, however, another side to this whole question. Perhaps the single saint does discover this for himself. Yet, what about the feeling (whether perceived or actual it does not matter) left by others that despite all the single does, he or she simply does not fit. How sensitive are we to the need of the single person in our midst? It is true that those with similar interests often seek each other out. When we are married, it is natural to seek another married couple. When we have an infant, it is natural to talk to another person who has a baby. When we are raising teenage children, it is quite natural that we seek out others who have teenagers at home. But what room does this leave for the single man or woman of our congregation to be a part of our lives? With some singles, as we said, this may not be a problem. With others it certainly is. (By way of an aside, the same difficulty often exists with couples who cannot have children, or widows and widowers in the church. They feel like a fifth wheel.) As fellow saints we must be sensitive to these needs.

What can be done to aid these brothers and sisters, to make them feel like they fit? Simple inclusion in our activities as families. When I visited one of our churches in the West I noticed a particular family that included a single woman of the congregation in all of their family’s activities. She was a natural part in many functions; even meals of that family. She fit! And she felt like she fit too! Who can withhold their “bowels of mercy” to that single person who states: “The message needs to be told that it is so helpful to me when people invite me over for coffee after church.” Is there scriptural warrant for this? There surely is warrant! I Corinthians 12:24-26: “…God hath tempered the body together . . . that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.” Galatians 6:2: “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Matthew 25:40: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

By busying ourselves in the church as single members, and by including our single brothers and sisters in the Lord in the events of our families, we help alleviate the stigma that may belong to living the single life. In turn, this will assist in alleviating much of the fear of living single. Then, the blessed fellowship we experience together in the family of God will extend to all the members of God’s household.