“Singleness in the Church”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

As Bible students, one of our greatest challenges is separating what the Bible says from what we think the Bible says because of 200 years of Restoration tradition.  Often, the problem is not so much one of doctrine as one of emphasis.  Because we focus on one aspect of truth over another, we distort the overall picture.

This is particularly obvious when it comes to familial relationships.  Marriage and the family is not a major theme of Scripture.  You have the divorce passages in the gospels, the early part of 1 Corinthians 7, and instructions on Christian submission in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter.  That’s about it.

Nonetheless, marriage and the family is one of the major themes of preaching and teaching in churches of Christ.  We have gospel meetings, marriage-enrichment classes, books, and outside seminars galore!  With the aid of pop psychology, those few texts are inflated into one of the most important themes of the faith. 

By contrast, we take the opposite approach to 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, a text about singleness that is longer than any of those texts about marriage.  The way most brethren teach it, the most important thing in the context is the three words, “the present distress”.  They allow us to gloss over Paul’s comments about the spiritual advantages that the unmarried have, perhaps because we’re worried about sounding like we’re endorsing a celibate priesthood.

However, all of this creates in the minds of brethren the misconception that to be a Christian, you really ought to be married, and if you aren’t married (especially if you’re a woman), you’re a second-class Christian.  This has pernicious effects.  It certainly makes single Christians (a numerous tribe) feel inadequate, and it most likely pushes people into marriage who should not be getting married.  Would there be so many troubled marriages in the church if we spent more time emphasizing singleness as an acceptable alternative?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am pro-marriage and indeed happily married.  However, I’m pro-single Christians too.  There are many reasons why they are where they are.  Some haven’t gotten married yet.  Others have been widowed.  Others have gotten divorced.  Still others don’t want to get married.  All of those states can be every bit as valid for the child of God as marriage is.

What’s more, as Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, single Christians are able to serve God with their undivided attention in a way that married Christians aren’t.  I love my wife and children, but being a godly husband and father takes a lot of time and effort!  Without those obligations, there are many ways in which I could serve my God, my brother, and my neighbor that I now can’t contemplate.

To my single brothers and sisters, then, I say:  Don’t regard singleness as the unhappy waiting room you sit in before your real life as a Christian begins.  Don’t feel like it condemns you to second-class Christianity. 

Instead, serve the Lord where you are with what you have.  Use your precious gift of time to glorify God.  Be eager to help in the church.  Be active in your community.  Seek God diligently by yourself.  Study.  Pray.  If you doubt the value of such quiet moments, ask a Christian mother with children under the age of five!

Most of all, trust God.  He did not create you to have a meaningless, pointless, empty existence.  Though it is not good for man to be alone, our greatest need is not for marriage.  It is for Him, and only He can fill that need.  I know people who have tried to make marriage fill the God-shaped hole.  On the other hand, I also know those who never married and dedicated themselves to Christ instead.  Guess who has lived a happier, more fulfilled life? 

In time, all marriages come to an end, but the Christian’s walk with God does not.  What matters most is not whether we are married or will be married or anything of the sort.  What matters most is whether we seek completion in Him.