Today’s blog post, on the subject of singleness, is a helpful one by Elizabeth Woodson. She’s a passionate Bible teacher who serves on staff at The Village Church writing curriculum, teaching, and developing leaders. She’s also a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary with a master’s in Christian education.
And by the way, let me again recommend Christopher Yuan’s excellent book Holy Sexuality and the Gospel. His chapters on singleness, and the church as spiritual family, are a wakeup call for local churches to rethink our unwitting assumption that marriage is God’s calling for everyone. Scripture emphatically tells us otherwise, and demonstrates it in the singleness of Jesus who was not only God, but also the most well-adjusted human being who ever lived. —Randy Alcorn
Many unmarried people in the church struggle to accept the label “single,” since churches can treat singles as second-class citizens. This treatment rests on wrong teaching about singleness. Simply put, the church can idolize marriage and make it the ultimate goal for maturity in Christ, relegating singles—no matter how old—to perpetual immaturity until they find someone to marry.
Confusing marriage with maturity has always been wrong, but it was easy when marriage was a cultural norm for the American church. At the turn of the century a large majority of the general population was married; in the 1970s the marriage rate had dropped to 70 percent; and by 2014 it had dropped to 50 percent. The inescapable reality is that countless congregations include singles of all ages. The church needs to learn how to love singles better—and the first step is repairing broken theology.
While this list isn’t exhaustive, here are four major lies that contribute to an unbalanced theology of singleness. By correcting these misguided interpretations of Scripture, we’ll be better equipped to love and serve the unmarried people in our congregations.
“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (Gen. 2:18).
Outside the companionship of animals and God, Adam was functionally alone. By default, he was also single. God declared that being on mission alone is problematic, and so he gave Adam a wife to help him.
We tend to approach Genesis 2:18 as a prescriptive text, concluding that God’s solution for lack of companionship is marriage. Yet if this is true, what does it imply about being single? It would mean God doesn’t think singleness is good. But if that were true, why were some of the major characters in Scripture single, including John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul?
To understand this text we need to widen our lens. I believe Genesis 2:18 is a descriptive text from which we can extract the prescriptive truth that living outside of community isn’t good. God created us to live in the context of relationships, and those relationships look different for different people.
For some of us, community will take the form of a spouse and kids. For others, it will look like a good network of friends and extended family members. For all of us, it will mean belonging to a local church.
“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels” (Prov. 31:10).
I’m particularly sensitive about the messages we send single women regarding their value and significance in God’s kingdom. One phrase I’ve heard consistently is that a woman’s greatest fulfillment comes from being a wife and a mother. And for many of us, Proverbs 31is the passage that springs to mind when we ponder what it means to be the epitome of a godly woman.
Yes, the Proverbs 31 woman is an example of spiritual maturity, but not simply because she was managing her home and providing for her family. It was because she embodied godly character.
Temporary life roles—like wife or mother—aren’t the ultimate markers of godliness. We should most strongly accent the godly character that will help a believer glorify God in anyseason of life. There is nothing special you need to be successful in marriage that you don’t need in singleness. No matter our marital status, we still need to confess and forgive, communicate well, and die to self every day. Let’s encourage singles to place their value not in what is temporary, but in what is ultimate: godliness.
“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).
Context is crucial here. When we don’t read Scripture in context, we can make God responsible for promises he never made. David wrote Psalm 37 to remind God’s discouraged people that God would bring justice and bless their faithfulness. David wasn’t giving a blanket guarantee that whatever they desired God would grant, simply because the desire was good.
Sometimes people conscript this verse to teach about marriage, leaving many singles angry and bitter toward a God who never promised them marriage in the first place.
Not all godly people get married.
The truth is, not all godly people get married. We need to embrace this, preach this, and celebrate this! God’s best for many will include a life without a spouse and biological children. These people will know him more deeply, serve him more powerfully, and experience greater joy than they could as a married person. Not because singleness is better, but because marriage wasn’t part of God’s perfect will for their life.
No matter how deeply we desire it, Scripture never guarantees marriage. But it does teach us to “not be anxious for anything, but with prayer, supplication, and with thanksgiving make [our] requests known to God and the peace of God will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6–7).
Scripture also teaches that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isa. 55:9). We can ask God for whatever we desire—but he reserves the right to decide what’s best for us. And his “best” is never a consolation prize.
One common perception of marriage is that it’s near-perfect bliss. Social media, movies, TV shows, and books communicate that all our “single problems” will be solved when Prince Charming swoops in on his white horse and rescues us. In reality, marriage is two deeply broken people joining their deeply broken lives to become one.
Wherever we’ve believed one of these lies, our theology of singleness needs to be revised. We need to dethrone our idol of marriage and learn to define our identity the way God does. He views singleness and marriage as equally blessed gifts to be stewarded for his glory (1 Cor. 7:7). Do we share his vision?
This article originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition and is used by permission of the author.