In the south, marriage is a cultural expectation that no young person can escape.
The idea of singleness—spending a lifetime without sharing your years with someone in holy matrimony—is as odd and foreign to southern society as driving on the left side of the road. Without verbalizing it, the culture dictates an age of matrimonial expectation that is imposed upon every young adult.
Young men and young ladies are pressed on every side from a contradicting concoction of cultural claims. A father’s jovial claim that “it is perfectly fine if his little princess never finds a man” transforms into concern if that princess is still single by her late twenties. Momma begins to worry if her little boy isn’t drawn to dating and doesn’t seem interested in finding a nice young lady to settle down with. For those who are single, the joy of family gatherings is crushed by the constant questioning of when they are going to “find a keeper” or “nab Mr. right.”
Even in the church we tend to press this cultural expectation down the throats of our young people with our discipleship methods. If you survey any evangelical church for one year, you are likely to find a variety of sermons, Bible studies, and small groups aimed toward marriage, while it is deafening silent on the concept of singleness. It is startlingly apparent that we, as the church, give little credence towards the biblical calling of singleness.
It is shamefully factual that the bible belt of the south has a higher divorce rate than the rest of the country. Could our frequency of failed marriages be due to the fact that many who were called to singleness ignored God’s call? Could it be that our southern way of living has pushed many young people into marriages that were never orchestrated by God?
A Last Resort
Unfortunately, singleness is often treated as an embarrassing last resort explanation as to why a beloved child has yet to find a mate. Culture behaves as if there is something wrong with those who are single. Accordingly, if someone is not in a romantic relationship, it must mean they are unattractive, socially awkward, or even homosexual. So, well intentioned parents often use singleness as a last resort to explain why their child is none of those things. But when we observe the way the apostle Paul treated the subject; singleness is actually quite the opposite! He said to the Corinthians:
“It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband… To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion… So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 8-9, 38).
In a switch of perspective, the apostle Paul—who was also called to a life of singleness—explains marriage to the Corinthians as a last resort, not singleness. The church at Corinth was a culture that was riddled with sexual immorality. So, Paul prescribed marriage to insure they did not give into sinful passions.
This is important because though our modern culture treats singleness as an unfortunate fate for the lonely, the apostle Paul saw singleness as a superior lifestyle of self-control. According to God’s Word, those who are called to singleness are not a perpetual third wheel but a mighty instrument of the King, set apart for His purpose. They are not the socially awkward product of a strange and peculiar childhood but the
redemptive product of the cross of Calvary. They are not an unattractive embarrassment but beautiful children of God who were purposefully made in His image.
The Benefits of Singleness
The apostle Paul had a very practical reason for advising singleness and being single himself. Those who are called to singleness are free to serve and give devotion to God in a way that those of us who are married cannot. Again, Paul says,
“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
I have spent extended periods of time away from my wife, including being on the other side of the planet, serving God and His Church. And though those days are filled with wonderful experiences of His supernatural peace, love, and transforming power, they are also excruciating to two hearts that have been intimately woven together in the bonds of marriage. When you add children to the mix, the “anxieties” only escalate. Though marriage and family should not be viewed as a burden (there are a near plethora of ways a family adds to ministry possibilities), I do have single friends that enjoy a servitude and devotion to God that is free from the anxieties I am called to endure as a husband and a father.
In light of this truth, single Christians are not the misfits of God’s Kingdom. On the contrary, they have the potential to have a greater impact than those of us who are married! Those who are called to singleness, by God, are not unfortunate exceptions of society that ended up with the short straw or were the last ones to the party. Instead, they are God’s children that He intentionally freed up to powerfully fulfill His mission.
Joyfully Live as You are Called
It is important to acknowledge and adamantly teach that marriage is a God crafted and biblically based institution. A man is called to leave his parents and hold firmly to his wife (Genesis 2:24). A man who finds a wife finds a good thing (Proverbs 18:22) and she is more precious than jewels (Proverbs 31:10). A Godly and mutually submissive marriage is a representation and witness of the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33).
A frequent and in-depth teaching on the subject of bible-based marriage is essential to the family unit and the lifeblood of a church, and therefore, this is not a call for the abandonment of marriage that advocates for a monkish celibacy. However, we must stop treating those that are called by God to singleness as cultural outcasts that we are ashamed of. We must understand that God calls some to marriage and some to singleness.
As the Church, we should echo the voice of the apostle Paul:
“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17).
Those that God calls to marriage should patiently and joyfully wait for the spouse He brings to bind to their heart. Those that God calls to singleness should eagerly and joyfully live a life of unhindered devotion with a heart bound to Christ.
Author: A. C. Minor
Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.