“I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.” –1 Corinthians 7:8
The Challenge of Singleness
When I think of what it is like to be in my twenties and single there is a real measure of pain that initially comes to mind. This pain is often associated with my own longings to be married, the hurt I’ve experienced relationally (due to my sin and the sins of others), or the longings and pain of my single brothers and sisters who walk with the Lord and want to preserve their contentment and purity. I have asked myself if this pain is the result of social expectations for marriage, or whether or not there’s some reason for me to be single that I need to figure out and change. After many years of going through a cycle of shame and guilt over the things that I may or may not have done wrong to contribute to my status as a single man, I’ve come away with a few thoughts about the nature of Christian singleness and its contexts in the Church and the world. Firstly, I’ve concluded that the idea of living as a single person sustained by the joy of the Lord is a culturally unfamiliar notion. It is not uncommon that single people experience a lack of placement or accommodation in the family life of their fellow Church members. Singleness is not procreational and so it comes without the problems and stresses natural to family life which bind communities together. Isolation then can become a normal routine leaving much to be desired. As a result, singles can be often perceived as odd and unfamiliar because their way of life is not normal. The Providence of a life of singleness is hard, and there becomes a real risk of isolation that can lead people into negative choices. A reaction to this that results in inattentiveness to a person’s struggle, and unaccounted for loneliness is not the interest of Christ. Therefore, single people have to be willing to reach out to families and develop friendships with their brothers and sisters in Christ, and married folks ought to pay attention to those who live alone and love them. It’s also worth considering that some who remain single as time goes on experience the possibility of marriage as a fading prospect. This is a hard reality that involves deep emotional conflict and the willingness to confine oneself in such a way as to not fall into sexual sin. The longevity of this pain is not a relatable status for most people in the Church. Even though this is the case, single people have to be able to depend on the Church for compassion, community, accountability, and opportunities for service. Conversely, the single Christian engages a world where there is a definite level of exclusion because to be sexually abstinent is to swim against the prevailing current of sexual libertinism. Single Christians do not pursue sexual experiences because they willingly go against their natural urges; they eagerly run towards the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. They do this in their context by confessing past or present sexual sin to God, by seeking promised forgiveness with the strength of repentance, and by actively maintaining a stance against sexual immorality. Nothing short of this is involved in God’s approach towards a Christian who is weak but held by the mercy of Jesus Christ. The end of our confession and repentance is to know the words, “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Those who are Christ’s long to see God above all else and so keep themselves freshly in the expectation of His appearing. This is not poetry, but purgation. What occurs here is a an active life that is critical of mind and body in order to reject sexual experience from Christian life while in an unmarried state. Nothing about this is sharpness is without pain and all pain which accompanies sanctification yields to the promised joy of being established by God (1 Peter 5:10).
Unless You Die
Jesus speaks of bearing much fruit through his sacrifice by illustrating the death of a grain which yields much fruit (John 12:24). Immediately after this, he establishes this same pattern for his disciples to follow: If you love your life, you will lose it, but if you hate your life, you will keep it everlastingly (John 12:24). The paradox of self-preservation and self-denial is apart of the Christian life. It’s not easy to be a Christian. We give up our patterns of sin by the grace of God and should we fail in the process of yielding to God, we must thrust ourselves upon God’s mercy with a hope rooted in grace which teaches us by repentance no matter how painful it is. Also, we give up all attempts to redeem ourselves because we have the comfort of knowing Jesus’s death on the cross in this life and His glory in the next. This universally normative experience is what unites people who are married and who are single to the same Christ in life and work. His command is irrespective of our status whether single or married because we are all slaves of Jesus Christ and desire to love him by keeping His commandments regardless of the state we are in (John 14:23). Either way, we are called to sacrifice our hopes and dreams; our comforts, our luxuries, and – perhaps most the most difficult of all things to sacrifice – our expectations. We exchange what this world offers us for the will of God because His love transcends the love of the world. We are to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) who are always yielding the forces of their lives to God in hope.
Hope in Jesus Christ and Act Wisely
For some single people, the best option for purity is the pursuit of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:9). Do not deny yourself this if you are struggling. Looking for a godly spouse and focus on being godly yourself is key to pleasing the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9). For some people, due to adverse circumstances, the option of marriage is unavailable. If you are called to remain single in this way, know that you are free to serve the Lord. Use your time and energy to give yourself to the fruitful work of the ministry. Through all durations of singleness exclude yourself from places and stimulation that compromises your holiness. Don’t watch questionable shows on Netflix that contain sexual content, or go to places where you’ll be tempted on the internet or in the world. Be accountable in your relationships with your relationships with others. If you fail, confess your sins to Christ (1 John 1:9), then confess your sins to your brothers for healing (James 5:16) and trust that you have an Advocate with the Father who has satisfied God by removing your sin (1 John 2:1-2). Trust that God is a merciful Father and has more to offer in wholistic joy than the world has to offer in the fleeting moments of sexual gratification (Psalm 16:11). Faith is simple to understand but it requires perseverance to live in a way that moves towards hope (Romans 5:4).
The Just Shall Live By Faith
The great challenge that is universal to all people living in the hope of mercy is to keep their faith. No matter what our station in life is, we are called to build ourselves up in the structure of our faith, and keep ourselves in the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus (Jude 1:20-22). Suffering tests this in every way. When a person longs to be married there are several dangers to guard against: The first is a lack of contentment with the work of Christ; the second is the risk of sexual immorality; the third is wasting the time God has given unmarried people to glorify Him. It takes faith to remain content in what God has done and to look to Him for love that never fails even when we do. The longing for intimacy can be so great that the temptation to complain against the Lord can be very present. Instead of complaining, consider the love of God and how He has blessed you through your life. Thank Him for the relationships He has given you and choose to be grateful for the limitations of intimacy as well as its increase within those relationships. Jesus poured Himself out for those whom He loved as one who came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). Look to Jesus’ example in this text and His life of singleness as a pattern for internal focus. Serve others by it. As for sexual immorality, be aware that it is a dead end. Know the warnings of God as well as His assurances that those who remain practitioners of sexual sin will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). Be motivated by this warning to flee from desires and opportunities to sin by drawing near to God by faith no matter how hard it is (James 3:7-10). Scripture is very clear about this subject. It is better to deny yourself in this way and go to heaven than to not deny your lust and go to hell (Matthew 5:27-3). Don’t devalue your singleness through wasted time. The cause for our confidence is the fact that God is with us and He has promised never to leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). Christians have a great call to redeem the time given to them in evil days as those who know what God’s will is (Ephesians 5:16-17). They are people who constantly build themselves up in the gift of faith longing to know the God who has died and been raised from the dead. Whether single or married, we long to please the Lord and have our lives conformed to His love (2 Corinthians 5:9). This call to conformity is not just for a person in one state or the other, but for all who are the Lord’s. These uniting themes within Christian life should join us together more than whether or not our lives look the same so that in the end, we may together glorify Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb forever with the Lord (Revelation 19:7-9). This universal call to live by faith is a call to be holy and to know God presently and in eternity; that we may, in the end, know these blessed words: “well done thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).