Of every three students on our Dallas campus, one is single. Single people comprise a growing group in our world, and consequently in our churches. By some counts, those who are widowed, divorced, and never married actually outnumber the married among us as we gather for worship.
Yet today’s church can feel like an unfriendly place for these brothers and sisters in Christ. Our laser-like focus on the ideal family unit can shape the perception of others into feeling “they have no need of me”— or perhaps “they want me—but only if I get a spouse.” Not everyone wants to marry; some believe God would have them not to marry; but many do wish to marry—as evidenced by the fact that online dating is the third highest income-generator on the Internet. While marriage may be hurting or waning in the census numbers, romance is still certainly popular.
Longings to be married, when added to external pressure to “tie the knot,” can make for a miserable existence. And the church should address this stress, not inadvertently increase it. The church needs God’s wisdom!
One family in Christ
God’s ideal is not for every person to be married. Consider Hosea, whom God told to wed a prostitute, Gomer—whom he knew would later leave Hosea for other men—to illustrate God’s one-sided love for Israel. Or Ezekiel, whom God told not to mourn when his wife died, which pictured Israel’s hardness of heart (Ezek. 24:17). Or especially Jesus Christ. The description of him in Isaiah evoked the curiosity of an Ethiopian eunuch when he read, “Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth” (Acts 8:33, citing Isaiah 53:8). Perhaps the eunuch identified with this One who left no biological legacy. Add to the list Miriam; Anna; John the Baptist; Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany; and Paul. All of these were single or single again, as far as we know. And all are presented to us in the pages of Scripture as believers desiring to walk with God.
Marriage is not superior; nor is singleness. And Christian truth and love beckon us to remember this. There’s a danger in putting forth the idea that singleness is the sole ideal, just as there is danger in saying the same of marriage. Whether single or married, we are one family and equally valued members of one body in Christ. Parallel to the differing spiritual gifts God has given us for the good of the Body (1 Cor. 12:21–27), each person is also a gift God gives to every other person. We all belong. And we need each other.