I want to make a statement that may surprise you. Here it is: Marriage is good, but singleness is better.
Many might disagree, but the Apostle Paul asserts, “So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor. 7:38). How can Paul make such a claim when God commanded mankind to be fruitful and multiply? For one, you must understand the basis for his claim. Paul suggests the Christian’s primary purpose for existence (raison d’etre) is “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:35). If that is the starting point, then his claim stands. Not only does it stand, it clashes with culture–which is why my original statement sounds so provocative.
Some people will read this and think I’m suggesting marriage is bad. No, marriage is a beautiful, biblical blessing from God designed to be a picture of the gospel. Singleness is a beautiful, biblical blessing from God, too. Both are good.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not asking anyone to stay single. I am asking you at least to “consider” it. Here’s why.
Perhaps the reason this sounds strange to our ears is because we’ve been conditioned by our culture more than we realize. Society has conditioned us to believe marriage is a command, not a concession. The Apostle Paul says the opposite: Marriage is “a concession, not a command” (1 Cor. 7:6).
Look at the world’s playground, Disneyworld. What is the iconic centerpiece of that grand park? Cinderella’s castle, where Prince Charming brought her to marry and to live happily ever after. The assumption is: Everyone will find their Prince Charming someday. “Those who don’t,” we are told, “must be strange or high-maintenance or ‘have issues.’”
We teach little girls from infancy to dream of their Prince Charming and base most of their life-decisions as if he is “already, but not yet” here. We teach them to dream of their wedding day, to plan for it, to choose colleges which will enhance the prospects of it, to join sororities to create opportunity for it, to choose their church based on the greatest pool of eligible candidates, and to rush into marriage before they grow too old.
Why do we put such implicit pressure on young women? Why aren’t we creating a Christian culture in which it’s normal for young women to fall in love with Jesus, to devote their life to Him, to become a missionary for His Majesty (whether on the mission field or in society), and to serve His pleasures and His Kingdom all the days of their life . . . unhindered by the demands a marriage places on them? Why haven’t we made that the norm? And after at least “considering” that, if they desire to marry: That’s wonderful, too.
The same goes for young men. If you hear of a single Christian man in his 30’s, the first thought that leaps into your mind is, “I wonder if he is gay?” Why? Where does that idea come from? Why have we made marriage the “norm” and singleness “abnormal?” I think I know why. We become so obsessed with the world’s expectations, we don’t think our sons and daughters could be satisfied with Jesus alone. Or worse, because we’re more interested in having children and grandchildren to carry on our “namesake” rather than His.
What about the biblical mandate in Genesis 9:1, “Be fruitful and multiply?” Think about Paul’s frame of reference. To him, that mandate was given not only as a means of procreation, but also as the means of bringing forth the Messiah into the world. God promised through the woman’s offspring to destroy the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). To Paul, the command “be fruitful and multiply” was fulfilled in Christ. You are free to marry and are free-in-Christ to be fruitful and multiply, but bringing forth the Messiah Who will defeat Satan is complete. That is why Paul makes comments like these: it is good for a person to remain as he is [i.e., single] (1 Cor. 7:26); do not seek a wife (1 Cor. 7:27); and, he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better (1 Cor. 7:38).
But didn’t Paul tell younger widows to remarry? He did (1 Tim. 5;14), but even there he hints it is not the ideal. Rather, it is a concession: to prevent sexual immorality and idle gossip because they don’t have undivided devotion to the Lord. Even in the 1st century, their culture had conditioned them moreso than their pure devotion to Him.
Let me iterate once again: Marriage is good. Marriage is wholesome. Marriage is biblical. Marriage mirrors the gospel.
John Stott’s Counsel
One of the greatest theologians of our age remained single his entire life, John Stott. He died in 2011 at the age of 90. Listen to his perspective:
In spite of rumors to the contrary, I have never taken a solemn vow or heroic decision to remain single! On the contrary, during my 20s and 30s, like most people, I was expecting to marry one day. In fact, during this period I twice began to develop a relationship with a lady who I thought might be God’s choice of life-partner for me. But when the time came to make a decision, I can best explain it by saying that I lacked an assurance from God that he meant me to go forward. So I drew back. And when that had happened twice, I naturally began to believe that God meant me to remain single.
Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, I think I know why. I could never have traveled or written as extensively as I have done if I had had the responsibilities of a wife and family.“John Stott on Singleness,” Christianity Today, 8/17/2011
To anyone who is single: Jesus loves you. Jesus loves the fact that He has you all to Himself. You are not strange. You are exactly where God wants you to be. You are in a wonderful place. Perhaps He will bring a soul-mate to you soon enough. Use this time. Maximize every minute for His Name’s sake. Use every single day you are single to serve Him with all of your might. Seek Him first, and then He will add the other things in His time.