It may seem out of place to include an article on singleness in a series on Marriage and Family. Every marriage, however, was entered into by two people who were single at the time. Every child born to that marriage will be single for at least the first 18 years. So “single” is the common denominator for all; we are either single now or we once were. The emphasis on marriage may obscure the reality of the worth and significance of believers who are single – some because they are too young to contemplate marriage, and others who have not found a partner in the will of the Lord.
Assembly life frequently centers around family. We do not, however, appear in the assembly as families. We actually come as individual believers, as priests functioning in a holy priesthood. But family ties are still present. The prominence of families can make a single person feel very isolated, alone and forgotten. If we add to this burden the well-intentioned but awkward remarks about when are they going to find someone, we do not help them. Tragically, single people may also become the subject of someone’s humor. It is cruel to joke about what may be a huge heartache in another believer’s life.
We need to heighten our sensitivity to the feelings of those who are single. If we stand on the platform and preach about the unequal yoke (2Co 6:14), and then question why that brother or sister cannot find a spouse, we are undermining our teaching. If we are constantly stressing the value of the will of God for a believer’s life, and then find it unbelievable that a believer would remain single, we are being inconsistent. Labeling them as unclaimed treasures or similar expressions does not help them.
Single believers have made one of the greatest sacrifices in life for the sake of faithfulness to the Lord Jesus and His Word. We should be honoring them for this, not making them feel as though they are second-class Christians. For most of them, marriage would have been an easy accomplishment. Most of our single sisters have known the pain of rejecting the attention of an unsaved man, of saying “no” to a potential date. Others have been involved with a Christian young man only to discover he is more attracted by the next attractive face. Some of our brethren have known disappointment from Christian girls in whom they have expressed interest when that interest was not reciprocated.
These single sisters and brothers have paid a great price and known a unique and painful trial. They deserve and need our understanding and support. It is thrilling to know that God does not have a plan “B” in His will for those believers who sacrifice in obedience to Him. He will always give them the most fulfilling and God-honoring life. But it is difficult to tell this to a young woman through her tears. Only the Spirit of God can apply this kind of truth to a broken heart. These single believers have been asked by God to walk a lonely path, but not a path bereft of His fellowship. He has a work for them and is fitting them for that work, a work which only a single person can accomplish. Many single believers, both men and women, have been able to be useful in the local assembly or farther afield. An unmarried believer must never put life on hold waiting for marriage. If that is in God’s will, He will bring it to pass in His time. Meanwhile, seek to find a niche of usefulness where you are.
The single saints who march across the pages of Scripture and have brought honor to the Lord Jesus include Lazarus, Mary, Martha, Paul, possibly the Apostle John and Dorcas. And what of many of the prophets in the Old Testament? While we cannot be dogmatic, there is nothing to suggest that men such as Elijah and Elisha were married; and we know that Jeremiah was not permitted to marry. All of these were called to walk a very special path. Would you question whether any of them will stand on eternity’s shore with regret for following God’s will?
Unmarried Christians need the support of the assembly. If we are truly “body” in character, then we must strengthen every member of that body. This may entail including single people along with married couples in gatherings in the home after meeting or for fellowship. It certainly involves care in how we speak to them and about them. Everything said to them and about them should validate their completeness as a person in the eyes of God (Col 2:10). Their service for the Lord in connection with the assembly should be appreciated and recognized. Many single believers engage in children’s work and outreach. Support both verbally and financially should be expressed to confirm the importance of what they are doing.
Paul spends almost an entire chapter (1Co 7) expounding some of the benefits of the single state. While the context of the chapter may have in mind times of persecution, the advantages mentioned would embrace all times. Being single does not mean you have nothing to do; it does mean you can schedule your time without having to consider someone else. This may afford more time for reading, prayer and service for the Lord. Shepherds should seek to encourage these Christians in their personal spiritual lives; getting to know God is the ultimate goal for all of us, whether single or married.
Those who serve as mentors in the assembly, whether older sisters or brethren, need to reinforce for single believers that, if this is the will of God for them, they have value and can be effective for God. The goal of life is not marriage but bringing glory to God – by married people and single believers. For many Christians, their usefulness for God is multiplied by marriage. For others, the single state is the circumstance which God has chosen to employ to reveal Himself to them in a unique way and to channel them into the sphere of service that He, in His wisdom, has planned for them.