The subject of marriage versus singleness for many men and women of the church is an important one. Trying to find where one fits within God’s plan for life and God’s plan for His church can sometimes be really difficult. It gets particularly hard and sometimes especially painful, when there is a culture in the church, friends or school that emphasizes one’s marital status – married or single – to the detriment of the other.
How many people have been in a group presentation at an event and quickly found out that they were the “other” involved. An event focused on one general topic that includes you, but as addressed it is to the young singles of the church and you are the older married person. Or one addressed to the married couples with kids and you are the single person or the married couple who decided not to have kids. I still remember my college graduation ceremony where the speaker addressed the women in the graduating class exclusively the entire 30 minute speech. Feeling left out at your own graduation was a strange experience – though I have always tried to be the strongest woman I could be since that time.
It can be very disheartening and can make you feel like less than the ideal Christian…for something completely out of your control. If it gets really bad you wind up feeling like a failure as a Christian, that the church failed you or even worse that God has let you down.
This can be particularly difficult to deal with as a single Christian or a Christian couple without children in the middle of the culture that surrounds many Christian churches. There can be a focus on marriage and kids that can make it seem like these believers are missing out on something or are second class citizens. Look at those shiny, happy Christians who have 10 children, they must be the perfect Christians – I wish I was them. Culture can make it seem like getting married and having kids is the highest goal for all growing Christian boys and girls.
The truth though is very different.
God does not hold marriage or singleness out to be “the blessing” in this life. Marriage can be a blessing. Singleness can be a blessing. Each is simply reflective of that believer’s call in this life – that believer, not anyone else. Some of us are called to be married and that is an awesome blessing. Some of us are called to be single and that is an awesome blessing. Both states are equal according to the Bible if they are God’s plan for us. The same applies to children – if God calls us to have children that is awesome, if not then also Bravo! keep being blessed and have no children.
Interestingly though when comparing the two general states, marriage and singleness, Paul the Apostle gives some surprising advice to his readers – the Corinthian Church and ultimately us.
Though our Christian culture tends to elevate marriage and the pursuit thereof as the best path for a Christian, Paul appears to hold the exact opposite opinion. In 1 Corinthians he says on multiple occasions that singleness is the more desired calling for your life. He goes so far as to say that he wishes everyone could have the gift of singleness like he does. Singleness in his life is stated to be a gift from God. Interesting, isn’t it? I love it when God challenges comfortable assumptions.
Paul does not just say this in a vacuum but as part of his statements about holiness in this life. In order to understand why he says this, we need to look at our purpose in this life as a Christian.
What is it?
It is not to get married and have kids. Marriage and kids are great but nothing by themselves.
It is not to grow up and live on a solitary island sipping coconut milk in solitary bliss every day. Singleness and solitary life is nothing by itself.
At its simplest, our purpose it is to bring glory to God through serving God. Our purpose is to build the Kingdom of God.
According to Jesus, the criteria for success or failure in this purpose is not a bunch of children or a happy marriage. Jesus says that the greatest in the Kingdom is the one that serves everyone else. The King of Kings says the greatest is the slave to everyone else. The one who puts himself last every time. The greatest is the one who is just like Jesus, giving up everything to serve God.
In John 13, when Jesus makes the point to wash the disciples feet at the Last Supper after girding Himself, making Himself look like a slave, He then points out what He just did. He tells the disciples that He just took the job of a slave and washed poop off of their feet to give them an example of what they are supposed to do. Serve God completely by putting themselves in the lowest position in order to serve everyone else.
The person who does that is the greatest in God’s Kingdom according to Jesus.
Paul’s point is simple regarding Jesus’ criterion for greatness as it applies to marriage. If you really, really want to be the greatest in the Kingdom, it is just easier to do if you are single. Not required, not inherently better or worse, just streamlined.
Radical, undivided service to God and to others is just less complicated if you don’t have a spouse or kids to clothe, feed and diaper. Following God’s call is just clearer if we don’t have our kids calling for more fruit snacks every five minutes – an exaggeration but I think you understand.
Whether married or single, God wants every single part of us and our lives devoted to Him and willing to serve Him for every moment of the day. Married people are expected to serve as if they were not married. It is just easier to do that if not actually married – it is hard not to fall for the temptations to serve spouses and kids to the detriment of God.
If God calls me to Afghanistan to serve as a missionary, I might think about my physical safety but would likely jump right in. The Dad in me says though that there ain’t no way I am going with my kids if God calls us all – they can be more valuable to me than following God.
In the old World War II B movies that I used to watch as a kid, there would come a moment where the dangerous but extremely vital mission was laid out and the commander asks for volunteers from the assembled soldiers. A murmur goes through the crowd and there was usually the character who was willing and even eager to jump in, but who couldn’t on account of having a wife/husband and kids waiting for them at home. “You stay here Joe, Betty and the twins need you too much back at the farm to go” – I just wrote that in a Humphrey Bogart voice if you did not notice. They couldn’t commit wholeheartedly to the mission because their mind was divided.
It was the ones who understood the desperateness of the mission and were totally abandoned to completing it that always went and carried it to the end.
Our mission is clear, go therefore and make disciples of all nations – we all are expected to carry out that mission. God just puts some people in better position to be part of it and in better position to be greatest in the Kingdom while doing it.
I certainly understand how painful this subject can be for Christians in all relationship status – unmet desires can be heartbreaking and it can seem like God is not answering prayers.
But look at your situation through Jesus’ eyes and you may see that He has a dangerous but vital mission laid out for you that others may not be mature enough and dedicated to the King alone to handle. Our call ultimately is to be the greatest in the Kingdom of God – a title given out by the One who gave up everything, even His own blood to save us. He desired that the cup of suffering would be taken away after all in the Garden of Gethsemane but ultimately gave all that we could live.
So like the Captain of the Lord’s Army said to Joshua, is it better to be single or married as a Christian – the answer is No – but if you wish to have an easier path to greatness according to Paul, singleness if a gift from God.