Marriage Good, Singleness Bad?

Completeness in Jesus

“Why is such a nice person like you still single?”

 “Once you learn to be content, God will bring you a spouse.”

“She’s so pretty, I wonder why she’s not dating?”

“There’s no question why he’s not married!”

Have you heard some of these comments before, or perhaps even made them yourself? A subtle but clear message runs through them: marriage is for the worthy and deserving, and those who don’t make the cut will end up single. Behind such thinking is the assumption that marriage is better than singleness.

Much of the inner struggle for singles comes from these and other assumptions about marriage and singleness, which is why it’s important to discover if they are based on truth. If they’re not, perhaps the elevation of marriage and family over singleness is not biblical, and the stigma singles carry is needless. Let’s take a look at what the Bible really does have to say.

Is Marriage Better?

If we dig into the whole of Scripture, we discover that both marriage and singleness are equally good. One is not a blessing, and the other a curse. One is not a reward, and the other a punishment. And one is not more honorable than the other. Both are ordained of God for His purposes, and He chooses who He will for both roles.

The idea that marriage trumps singleness can be gleaned from the Bible, but only by cherry-picking here and there from the whole of Scripture, or by focusing mainly on the Old Testament which does support the belief that marriage is better than singleness. If we don’t step back and see the whole picture, and the transition that takes place from the Old Covenant to the New through Jesus,  we are bound to make wrong conclusions.

At the very beginning of creation God made a man and a woman and told them to “be fruitful and multiply.” God proceeded to build His earthly Kingdom through marriage and procreation. In His covenant with His people, God said He would bless them through prolific offspring, and would bring judgment through barrenness and childlessness. He also made it clear that the greatest of all His promises – a Messiah – would come through the marrying and procreating of couples, and would be a descendant of Adam, Abraham, and David.

God did indeed fulfill His promise of a Messiah and Jesus came, born of a woman, to live, die, and rise to life again. And here is where a radical shift takes place.

Jesus Shakes Things Up

Instead of following in His ancestors’ steps and marrying and having children, Jesus remained single and childless. He also spoke strange things to His followers, like, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple.” [i]

Jesus also redefined familial terms. When someone told Him His mother and brothers wanted to see Him, He asked, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” Gesturing to His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.” [ii]

And, just before He went back to heaven, Jesus gave a new mandate as the focus and purpose of our lives as Christians. Instead of “Be fruitful and multiply,” He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” [iii] indicating a shift in priority from reproducing physically to reproducing spiritually.

Why Such a Major Shift?

Throughout the Old Testament, God made promises and covenants with His people. Among them were His promises to Adam, Abraham, and David:

To Adam and Eve, God promised a descendent who would defeat the serpent Satan who had deceived them. That descendent was Jesus.

To Abraham, God promised that through his offspring all the world would be blessed, hinting that Gentiles would be included in the promise. That offspring was Jesus.

To David, God promised to raise up offspring after him who would establish an eternal kingdom. That offspring was Jesus.

It wasn’t that Jesus shook things up; to be accurate, He fulfilled them. Through Jesus’ coming to earth and His death and resurrection, God fulfilled His promises to Adam, Abraham, and David, as well as His mandate to marry and procreate, as Jesus ushered in a heavenly kingdom in place of the earthly one. This heavenly kingdom is not dependent on physical procreation, but rather on spiritual procreation.

As we continue to read through the New Testament, however, we see that although Jesus removed the mandate to marry and have children, He did not eradicate them. Marriage and family continue to be ordained and blessed by God, and the New Testament mandate to “go and make disciples” includes parents who teach their children to follow Jesus. We also see in Ephesians 5 that marriage as God designed it is an example to the world of the faithful love Christ has for His bride, the church, in a covenant relationship.

But Jesus also made it clear that marriage and family relationships are temporary – for this world only. He said, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven.” [iv] The fact that Jesus did not need marriage to complete Him, and that in Heaven neither will we, indicate that marriage is not the essential or even ultimate experience God has for us. There is something greater awaiting us.

Those Who Can, Should

As we dig even deeper into New Testament texts, we notice that both Jesus and the Apostle Paul, who also remained single and childless, indicate there is rich benefit and purpose in singleness. Jesus in Matthew 19, and Paul in 1 Corinthains 7, both encourage those who are not married to remain single for the sake of being fully devoted without distraction to God and the work of His Kingdom. Both point to the concerns and troubles inherent in human and family relationships and the divided focus they cause. We tend to dance around the fact that both Jesus and Paul indicate that, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, singleness is better.

But neither Jesus nor Paul make singleness a mandate. They both acknowledge that singleness is not for everyone, only to whom it is given, and that marriage is God’s provision for maintaining sexual purity (among other things). They both also allude that singleness is a spiritual gift, given by God to whom He chooses.

Of course, the follow-up question to such a statement is, how do we know if we’ve been given the gift of singleness?

There is no clear answer to this in Scripture. My personal belief is that if you are single this moment, singleness is God’s gift and plan for you for today. It may be lifelong, but it may not. But for however long He gives you the gift of singleness, He will also give you the gift of grace to live without the physical intimacies and other benefits of marriage. Some teach that along with the gift of singleness God removes all desire for marriage and raising a family, and that if you still desire them, you don’t have the gift of singleness. I don’t see any support for this teaching in Scripture, or evidence of it in any single Christian I know. These desires are inherent in all normal, healthy human beings to some degree or another. But to the single Christian God gives grace to live a fulfilled life for Him even in the presence of those unfulfilled desires.

The Gif t of Singleness

If singleness is a gift, why doesn’t it seem like one? Probably because we haven’t yet learned to recognize the benefit and blessings in singleness, and because the stigma that surrounds singleness casts shadows on the benefits and blessings we do see and experience.

In his excellent book, Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life, Barry Danylak describes the gift of singleness as having three characteristics:

  1. A life of simplicity free from the stresses of spouse and family
  2. A life that finds sufficiency in the blessings of Christ alone apart from the experiences of sexual intimacy, marital companionship, and physical family
  3. A life ready and free for service to the King in whatever way he should call [v]

It is easy to see from this description that the gift of singleness truly is a gift, and not only an asset and blessing to the unmarried follower of Jesus, but ultimately to the church, both locally and globally. A person who does not need the roles of spouse and parent to feel complete, but rather finds that completeness in Christ alone, is free to serve God within and beyond the walls of the local church in ways those tied down with a family can’t. These blessings apply not only to the never-married single, but also to the widowed and divorced, especially those whose children are grown and on their own.

A Witness to the World

Marriage and family are often touted as the means for providing fulfillment and meaning in life, and for meeting one’s needs for significance, love, affection, and admiration, as well as the more practical needs for physical and domestic support. This is all true to the limited extent imperfect humans can provide them.

But the only relationship that can completely satisfy is a relationship with Jesus, and as singles, we play an important role in exemplifying this to the world.

A single who finds his or her completeness in God alone in the absence of all that marriage provides, exemplifies how all-sufficient and all-satisfying is a relationship with Jesus Christ. A single who trusts God to provide all his or her needs also exemplifies that He is trustworthy and a loving and faithful Provider.

Both marriage and singleness exemplify a greater spiritual concept beyond their earthly roles, and both are needed to form a complete testimony of Christ and His relationship with His people. Earthly marriage points us to a time when Jesus will be fully united with His Bride, the church. In that day earthly marriage will no longer be necessary as we, His bride, find our completeness in Him. And it is to that completeness in Christ that singleness points as we live as faithful witnesses to the all-sufficiency of Jesus!

Recommended Reading

A number of years ago I had done a study on the shift between the Old and New Testaments from reproducing physically to reproducing spiritually. The results of that you can read in the article I wrote then, Better Than Sons and Daughters.

Redeeming SinglenessMore recently, a good friend gave me the book Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life by Barry Danylak, which takes this study much further in depth and which I relied on heavily for writing this blog post. If you, too, would like to dig deeper, I highly recommend getting a copy and reading it.

 

[i] Luke 14:26 (HCSB)

[ii] Matthew 12:48-50 (HCSB)

[iii] Matthew 28:19 (HCSB)

[iv] Matthew 22:30 (HCSB)

[v] Danylak, Barry (2010-09-01). Redeeming Singleness (Foreword by John Piper): How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life (p. 212). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Related posts:

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS POST, SUBSCRIBE TO RECEIVE REGULAR UPDATES:

Comments

  1. Michelle says

    It is refreshing to hear what I have known. This is rarely preached from pulpit.

    I dislike the attitude of mainstream Christian school toward singles.

    I find humor in the wives how think we are after their husbands. It is offensive to my moral character.

    I have been around long enough to know that there is no need to envy married people.

    I dislike the way married couples are Held up at services for long marriages.

    Single people should be equally acknowledged. Not a day goes by when I am keenly aware that God has provided for me without a husband.

    • Fern Horst says

      I agree with you, Michelle, I would also like to hear this preached and taught. Maybe we can help change the erroneous thinking among Christians a little at a time? In the meantime, believing it ourselves and living it out is one way to help others see the truth. Thanks for your comments!

  2. CRS says

    I noticed one comment, Fern, in what you wrote that I think could be interpreted differently from what you meant it. You said: “He also made it clear that the greatest of all His promises – a Messiah – would come through the marrying and procreating of couples all the way from Adam and Eve to Mary and Joseph.
    ‘God did indeed fulfill His promise of a Messiah, and to Mary and Joseph was born Jesus who would live, die, and rise to life again.”
    It is true that Mary was married to Joseph when Jesus was born, and Jesus grew up with them as His parents. But He was born to Mary, not to Mary and Joseph, wasn’t He?
    I agree that living in God’s will for us today is the way to happiness and fulfillment, whether that is in marriage or in singleness. His blessing is rich for His children, even if they are not married.

    • Fern Horst says

      Thanks, CRS, you’re right — I certainly didn’t mean to write that Jesus was born to Joseph. I’ve reworded it to a hopefully more accurate meaning!

      • CRS says

        I just came back to this today and saw how you changed it. Yes, I think the wording now is more accurate. And I felt sure that is what you intended all along.

        I read once that writers should write so they can’t be misunderstood. That is a tall order, and I don’t think anybody accomplishes it all the time. That is where friends (or editors) can help each other. 🙂

        God bless you today.

  3. Karen says

    Another great post. You articulated many things that everyone needs to hear and sadly these things are not talked about that much. As someone who had a 32 year marriage that ended when my husband died, I can say without reservation that marriage will break your heart, one way or the other. Even the best marriage will end in heartbreak when one or the other of you passes away. I would advise singles to not be so quick to enter into this state, especially these days when things are so uncertain in our country and in the world. I totally agree that if you can live honorably as a single, you should stay single. There is a wedding reception coming for all of us that is out of this world!

    • Fern Horst says

      Thanks for your comments, Karen. It’s good to hear the perspective from someone who has been on both sides of the fence. Blessings to you!

  4. Daniela says

    Thank you for this post Fern. Indeed, it’s not shameful to be single, and I’m thankful that I hardly get any unpleasant comments (be it in the church or at work or in my family) even though I’m already in my 40s and still unmarried. However, the fact that I can live a productive and fulfilled life even as a single woman doesn’t mean that I have come to terms with this deep heart desire for companionship and intimacy. Sometimes it’s really hard not being able to enjoy what God has given mankind as a gift – something that has been ordained by Him from the creation of mankind.

    • Fern Horst says

      Yes, God ordained marriage, but for His purposes. He also ordained singleness, also for His purposes. I pray you will be able to come to terms with the one He has give you right now. That place of acceptance is a journey, Daniela, and it doesn’t always happen overnight. Enjoy the journey and all that God has in store for you along the way! Blessings!

  5. Ruud says

    This article assumes that anyone who marries will or even must have children as well. This is not the current reality.

    Quite some married couples don’t have any children. Some couples would love to have children but can’t, but many other couples don’t have any children by choice, for example to serve God in ways married couples with kids can’t.

    I don’t see what a married couple without kids can’t do what only a single person can. Such a couple has the opportunity to have companionship, physical intimacy, etc. and they can also travel the world together and serve in God’s Kingdom anywhere in exactly the same way as a single person and sometimes even better, because they don’t have to figure things out on their own. They have two brains to think things through instead of only one. So why is singleness better than being a married couple without kids together with all these advantages?

    Besides that, married couples with or without children also will have the heavenly wedding reception and all these other nice things, just as the single person. What’s the difference?

    Will singles get something extra as a compensation for all the missed companionship, physical intimacy, etc, that married couples with or without kids won’t get? Where can I find that in the Bible?

    Why are only singles expected to find their completeness in God alone while married couples apparently don’t need to? Or do they? Aren’t married couples also expected to trust God to provide for all their needs? What’s the difference?

    All the theory in the article sounds wonderful. The practical situation today for many singles is very different and definitely not wonderful. If it were, then why are there so many Christian singles subscribed to dating sites or try by other ways to find a partner? Apparently they don’t have enough trust in God? Apparently they feel God doesn’t provide for all their needs or desires? Apparently there are desires that God doesn’t fulfill that they want fulfilled?

    Yes, good friendships and a nice (church) family are nice things to have and a blessing, but they cannot ever compensate for being happily married and are not even meant to.

    • Fern Horst says

      Ruud,

      Thanks for your sincere, honest comments. I’d like to respond to some of them.

      I apologize that the article seems to assume those who marry will or must have children, and that it didn’t show a clear difference between singles and childless couples. Perhaps as you read my response it will become more clear.

      My intent for this article was to look at what the whole of Scripture says in answer to the question: is marriage or singleness better for the follower of Jesus? It wasn’t meant to compare blessings of one to the other. Rather, I wanted to show what God says about the two and how they fit into His purpose and plan for His Kingdom here on earth.

      I want to comment on two of your questions:

      1. (paraphrased) “What’s the difference between the blessings married people and singles receive in the next life, and will singles be compensated for what we didn’t experience here?”

      There is no difference. The difference between the two is here on earth. We both stand as witnesses to the future day when Christ will marry His Bride, the church. Married couples stand as witnesses to the covenant relationship Jesus will seal with His Bride in heaven. Singles stand as witnesses to the all-sufficiency of Jesus when in heaven the only marriage will be between Christ and His Bride. If He is all-sufficient there in the absence of (other) marriage, He is all-sufficient here, and we get to show that to the world !

      There is no greater reward than our future marriage to Jesus. No earthly blessing (whether it be marriage, good health, financial abundance, etc.) can compare, and they aren’t “rewards,” anyway. I appreciate the response Rich Mullins made to a similar question about his singleness: “God doesn’t have to be good to anybody. He doesn’t owe us the breath we breathe. I figure if God has given us salvation, that’s way more than we deserve, and I won’t judge Him for not giving me something else.”

      2. “Why are only singles expected to find their completeness in God alone while married couples apparently don’t need to? Or do they? Aren’t married couples also expected to trust God to provide for all their needs? What’s the difference?”

      It’s not just singles who are expected to find their completeness in God alone. However, singles — who live the abundant life in Jesus *in the absence of the blessings of marriage* — prove that He truly is all-sufficient and all-satisfying.

      God expects both married people and singles to trust Him to meet their needs. The difference for those who are married is that God often useses their spouse to meet some needs. For singles, God uses other means to meet our needs. For both, God gives us grace when our needs aren’t met as we’d prefer.

      When we as singles trust God to meet our needs in the absence of a spouse, we become powerful witnesses not just to the world, but also to our fellow believers, to what a wonderful Provider He truly is. God is enough. That’s what we get to exemplify through our lives!

      When we realize what an awesome role God gave us, the abundant life in Jesus takes on a whole new level. Because then we also realize ALL that He wants to be for us, and that launches a whole new awareness of what He’s doing in our lives! Yes, it does make me excited, and I pray you and other readers can catch that excitement, too!

      But first, remember: we walk by faith, not by sight, and sometimes that means believing Him before we see it or feel it. My intent with this article was to show God’s truth through Scripture, because truth always sets us free to live more abundantly when we accept it and act on it.

      • Ruud says

        The main issue is still the lack of companionship and physical intimacy that singles have to cope with. Indeed quite some singles don’t mind about that, but many others do have problems with accepting it, especially when there seems to be no other choice and nothing to look forward to.

        Having nice friends or (church) family helps a bit, but it’s no compensation.

          • Ruud says

            There isn’t any. Life is broken and definitely not fair. Just accept it, do whatever you can to be a blessing to others nevertheless – just as married couples should do. After all, other people can’t do anything about it either, even if they wished they could.

            Finally, just hope Jesus will return really soon. When that happens, rejoice in the fact that even if you were never able to get married in the earthly life, you’ll be a bride anyway. This is obviously far more attractive to women than to men, but as I said, life is not fair. 😉

            • Fern Horst says

              Yes, I get that. 🙂 The Christ/Bride analogy doesn’t speak as well to men as it does to women, but I’m certain when that day comes we won’t be thinking in terms of gender, anyway.

              I certainly agree with you that life isn’t fair, especially from a human/earthly perspective. I do believe, though, that Jesus’ promise of life “in abundance” is for everyone, and comes from an ever deeper relationship with Him and in living out the purpose for which He created us.

              The point of the article wasn’t so much about what we get out of marriage or singleness, but what God does. And when God’s purpose for something is fulfilled (in this case through marriage and singleness) we in turn find our greatest fulfillment way beyond the blessings of marriage or singleness.

              Blessings of abundance to you, Ruud. Glad you’ve stuck with PS all these years. 🙂

              • Ruud says

                You’re welcome!

                I think the core of the problem is that singles often don’t get a chance to make a choice.

                If you have a boy- or girlfriend, you can choose whether to ask him/her to marry you or not.

                If you’re the one being asked, you can choose to say Yes or No.

                It’s interesting that it only rarely happens that people choose No, because 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 says that it’s easier for singles to be concerned only about the Lord’s affairs than for married people.

                Nevertheless, most people choose to marry their partner than to be concerned without distraction with the Lord’s affairs. They accept that their interests will be divided.

                Also, when you’re married, in many cases the 2 of you can choose whether to have children or not.

                The Bible doesn’t say so explicitly, but I think having children distracts even more than just being married.

                I know it’s not really so black-and-white, but I put it like this, because it happens too often that singles get the above-mentioned verses thrown at them if they express their desire to marry.

                Singles don’t get any of these choices to make and have to accept life as it is while people with boy- or girlfriend often get to make 2 choices.

                That’s life.

  6. Otho says

    Very well said, Fern. Thanks for not putting singlenes above marriage or marriage above singleness. We are each who God made us to be and He has a plan and work for each one of us. I thank God that He gave me 28 years of singleness, nearly 51 years of marrage and now the past 4 years as a single. I can still hear the voice of God speaking to me on July, 5, 1952 the morning after my employer age 34 died, when I ask God, “Why did you take Raymond, his wife and childern need him.” I heard a clear voice saying to me, “Raymond’s work is finished, but I still have work for you to do.” That took away my anger and gave me peace. I am still committed to be where God want me to be and do what He wants me to do. Yes, I miss my wife every day, but I choose “JOY”. She is safe in the arms of Jesus and some day I plan to be there to.

    Until God calls us home let us continue to be who God made us to be and do what He called us to do. Shining for Jesus! God Bless you.

    • Fern Horst says

      Thanks for being a wonderful example of living in the all-sufficiency of Jesus both before you were married to Mother, and now in the years since she went Home to be with Jesus. I also treasure the wonderful example of the covenant love of Jesus you and Mother lived out and showed the world during your 51 years together.

  7. Only_The_Lonely says

    Fern–

    This article’s given me a lot of things I can agree on. Singleness is way too often ignored in churches–whether in sermons, or on ‘special’ Sundays, when long-term marriages are publicly recognized.

    When I was visiting Christian friends in Germany in 1990, they took me to their church service, in the city of Kaiserslautern (the husband was in the US Air Force). Near the end of the service, the visiting minister asked all the married couples up front, so they could be prayed over, and receive a ‘special blessing’. Of course, my friends went forward. But I, and the other singles in the congregation, were pretty much treated as ‘invisible’.

    As my friends and I traveled home, I made the mistake of speaking up, and saying how I felt ignored as a single person. In response, the wife rebuked me, saying that ‘this was how the Holy Spirit was working’ that day. I was definitely ‘put in my place’. Little did I know then, but that day was the beginning of the end of our friendship, which happened around three years later.

    Fast-forward to 2016. After many years of not attending a church weekly, I was led to attend a tiny ‘orthodox Anglican’ congregation in my area. (I started attending in mid-March, just before Easter.) The vicar is a young man from Scotland; he is married, with a nearly-two-year-old son. The average attendance is around 12-15 per Sunday, and there are three other singles besides me (a never-married man and woman, and the widow of the previous pastor).

    On this past Mother’s Day, the vicar handed out one long-stemmed rose to ALL the women in the congregation–whether married or not. It was a wonderfully thought-out gesture; he said this was being done to honor ‘actual’ mothers, AND recognize the influence that even we single women had, through our respective lives.

    I found it to be a marvelous antidote, to the over-emphasis on marriage and family that many Bible-based churches have today. And when I look at that rose, I will remember this gesture.

    The contrasts between that congregation in Germany, and the one today, are remarkable. It’s been a long journey for me. I believe that God is using this new church, to help me feel not-quite-so-alone, as a single. Time will tell, if this continues.

    • Ruud says

      I’m visiting an Evangelical independent church and for Mother’s Day, the children had made something for all women present in the congregation , not just for their own mothers.

      The same is done on Father’s Day for all men in the congregation, not just only their own fathers.

      I think more churches have this good habit.

      Overemphasizing marriage is definitely not Bible-based.

      • Only_The_Lonely says

        I agree, Ruud. The marriage overemphasis is one reason so many singles are leaving the church.

  8. Sabella says

    Hi Fern,

    Singleness can be a challenge, but I don’t believe that I am single by accident. I trust that God knows what is best for me. I truly believe that if marriage was the best life for me right now, then I would be married. I recently asked God to give me a clean heart, and the Lord has answered my prayer by revealing so much to me that needs correcting in my life. I can honestly say that I am not ready for marriage at this time. I wouldn’t be a good wife to a Godly man right now.

    I must honesty say that living the remainder of my life as a single woman is not my first choice, and I am learning to accept that it may not be the Lord’s will for me to ever marry. I pray that I learn to live a second best life with contentment. I’d rather live a second best life under the care of God, then to be outside of His will for me. Yes, I view my singleness as a second best life for now, because it is not my choice. Maybe one day, my thoughts will change, but this is how I feel today.

What do you think? Tell us below:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *