The joy of singleness
Susan Duc draws our attention to the good things about being single.
The joy of singleness
by Susan Duc
I know what you’re thinking: how can you rejoice in being single? Isn’t being single sad, lonely and depressing? Isn’t the single life hard and difficult? Don’t all single people long to be married?
But in that famous passage on marriage and singleness in 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul encourages believers to “remain” as they are—married or unmarried—for God (1 Cor 7:8-24). In addition, Paul goes further, stating that not only is it good to remain single, it is betterthan being married (1 Cor 7:8, 38). Paul championed the cause of singleness for God; we need to do the same. As those who have been redeemed by God—whose identities are found in Christ—we need to celebrate singleness and exhort those who are single to remain as they are for God. We need to resist cultural norms (both secular and church) that tell us marriage is the better—or the only—way, and instead, rejoice in the single life.
But what makes singleness a joy? And how can we encourage our single brothers and sisters to rejoice in their singleness? Many single Christians find singleness hard, sad, lonely and depressing. Many marriedChristians think singleness is hard, sad, lonely and depressing. What does the Bible say to these people, and to all of us?
1. Single-minded devotion
Firstly, single believers can be single-mindedly devoted to God in a way that married people cannot. Paul explains: a single person is spared the concerns of married life, and has no spouse to please. This means he or she can focus purely on pleasing God and living out his or her holy status in the world (1 Cor 7:28, 32-34). Singleness provides the freedom to experience a rich and fulfilling life in a different way, as the believer has scope to pursue opportunities to serve God and grow his kingdom without regard to a spouse or children.
The single believer can head to a café every Saturday morning, read the Bible over endless cups of coffee and share his or her life and faith with the barista. The single believer can go on a week-long hike with a group of non-Christian friends, and/or invite the newcomer at church over for dinner on short notice. He or she can do these things without interfering with spousal plans for an early night or throwing out their children’s sleep schedules. The single life offers incredible scope for the pursuit of deep and intimate God-focused relationships. We should rejoice and encourage our single friends to maximise their potential in this area.
2. Single-minded intimacy
Secondly, singleness expresses the intimacy uniquely reflective of our status in Christ. Yes, single believers live with the reality of unmet sexual and physical longings found in marriage and family. It is a hard and painful deprivation—made worse by cultural norms that equate true intimacy with sexual expression and fulfilment.
How remarkable, then, are the words of Jesus, the greatest single person who ever lived, who said that love in its greatest form exists not between spouses or even sexual partners, but between friends (John 15:13)! We experience the richer dimensions of intimacy in spiritual unity with fellow believers, who share in our eternal hope and mission to proclaim Christ and make disciples. We can joyfully partake in this deeper intimacy in our gathering as God’s family, in prayer and worship of our Lord and Saviour.
God has given us spiritual mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to teach, help, exhort, build up, comfort, confess to, mourn with, and walk alongside all the days of our lives. It is truly a blessing to be part of God’s holy elect, and we can rejoice in the outrageous intimacy we share by showing each other the love that distinguishes us as disciples of Jesus Christ (John 13:35).
3. Single-minded theology
Thirdly, God has given single believers the ministry of displaying the Bible’s positive theology of singleness. Singles are well-positioned to encourage other singles to fulfil their calling joyfully: to love God and serve him with their marital status. They can use their singleness to speak into a youth group teen’s longing for a boyfriend or a single man’s desire for children. They can spur other singles on to be intentional and disciplined with how they use their time to grow the kingdom—for example, by signing up for touch footy to broaden their circle of non-Christian friends; engaging in community outreach to demonstrate in both word and deed the love of Christ to the needy; or enrolling in theological study or seeking further ministry training from church to equip themselves further to teach and serve others from God’s Word.
While singles should seek to avoid grumbling or complaining, they can and should be open and honest about any (or many) moments of grief about being single, lonely or childless. As believers, we can rejoice in our blessings and struggles, for it is our joyful perseverance that bears witness to the goodness of God’s promises in Christ and the sweetness of knowing Christ in all circumstances, even the bad ones.
Singles can also live out this theology among their married friends, and there are many ways in which singles can pursue intimacy with them thoughtfully. Singles can enlist marrieds to encourage and pray for them to “remain” single for the Lord (1 Cor 7:8). Singles can seek their support and love to help them rejoice in their circumstances and to consider creative opportunities to grow in their relationship with God and his people. Singles can learn from marrieds about how to manage their time and competing demands in a godly manner.
In fact, both singles and marrieds can give thanks for the different ways God has blessed them through their marital status to care for each other. And as those who have been brought together into the fellowship of believers and share in the same hope of redemption, each must carry the other’s burdens.
This means that married believers must also work proactively to incorporate singles into their lives, using their marriage and family to serve those who lack those blessings. Here are a few suggestions: organise regular standing dinner dates with your single friends. Invite them to join your family camping trips. Ask them to be part of your kids’ lives—but not just as babysitters; take them with you to the local playground or museum. It undermines the biblical vision to confine the goodness of marriage and family to the self-sustaining biological unit. God’s expansive vision of these human “goods” contemplates their modelling within the church and to the world of the ultimate marriage of Christ and his bride, the church. The “family”, which the biological unit reflects, is the eternal family that collectively reigns in the kingdom of God. Time is short and life is busy, but consider ways in which you can love your single brothers and sisters, and rejoice with them in your God-given marriage and their God-given singleness.
The basis of Paul’s call for believers to “remain” as they are is our personal and corporate identity in Christ. Because of this singular truth, we can rejoice. Single or married, we have the joy and privilege of using our marital status to serve God and those around us. In particular, singles are free to serve and love others without the concerns of marriage. They are called to live uniquely holy, intimate and countercultural lives for Christ. They do this in perfect unity in mind and thought with their married counterparts, demonstrating God’s perfect vision for humanity in their singleness. And that is something truly wonderful in which all believers can rejoice.