Quite often it is a difficult thing to be a Christian and single.
In the church emphasis is most often placed on marriage and relationships for understandable reasons: most people in the church are married or would like to be married one day. Most young people will find marriage partners and will begin families. It is important for Christians to be continually reminded of God’s purposes in and for marriage (Matthew 19:1-9, Ephesians 5:22-33); there is a powerful need in every generation for godly men and women to marry, have children, and grow and mature in the faith so as to be able serve as elders and their wives (1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:5-8). This is right and good; it is good for people to marry, and it is no sin to get married, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:38.
Yet in the midst of encouraging young people to make wise decisions in terms of getting married and developing so as to become elders it proves very easy to go beyond what is written in Scripture and to miss the important truths made evident in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 17-40: marriage and the consummation thereof is a good thing, but is not necessarily the best thing. The Corinthians had many questions about relationships and sexuality; Paul told them that each should remain in the condition they were called, to not separate if they were already married, that they could get married and consummate that marriage without sin, but suggested that it would be better, if they were able, to remain as he was and to refrain from marriage. The married Christian has divided interests; the single Christian can serve God wholeheartedly (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Thus, despite popular expectations and opinions, the New Testament allows for marriage but prizes those who remain single and fully devote themselves to the Lord!
Modern Western culture is very different from the ancient world in terms of the relationship and marriage process. The situation Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 would be unheard of today: two people engaged to be married but who have decided to maintain celibate lives. It proved necessary since the Corinthian Christians had not chosen whom they would marry; their parents decided that for them in advance. They could not be forced into consummating the relationship; it was the only choice they could exercise in those circumstances. A person in the ancient world would only be truly single if the family could not find a suitable spouse for whatever reason or if the person had been widowed (e.g. 2 Samuel 13:20, 1 Corinthians 7:39). The situation in which young people find themselves today—spending between 5 and 15 years after sexual maturity in studies and in work, looking to marry for love–would have been unthinkable in the ancient world.
Nevertheless, a Christian can serve the Lord and serve Him well as a single person. A single Christian is not less of a person because he or she is not part of a marriage unit. While single Christians no doubt struggle with the temptations of lust and fornication, no one has the right to question the sexual integrity or purity of a Christian just because he or she is single or has been single for many years. After all, temptations to commit sexual immorality continue to exist for married Christians as well (Matthew 5:27-28, 1 Corinthians 6:13-20)! No passage of Scripture declares that a single young man is rendered unfit for the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of evangelism because he is not married; let us never forget that Jesus and Paul were single and yet preached the Gospel, and even discussed issues of marriage and family (Matthew 19:1-9, 1 Corinthians 7:1-40, Ephesians 5:22-6:4)! Single Christians are not incomplete “projects”; single Christians have the opportunity to serve the Lord fully and can devote time and energy to the advancement of the Kingdom in ways which married Christians, especially married Christians with children, cannot (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Married Christians do well to remember that single Christians are as much part of the Body of Christ as they are and ought to be incorporated into the community of God’s people so they do not have to feel alone (1 Corinthians 12:12-28).
Single Christians do well to recognize the particular challenges and temptations that come to those who are single. Even if they feel as if they are in a holding or waiting pattern they do well to devote themselves fully to the Lord and His purposes. Being single is not an excuse for being a loner, isolated from the fellow people of God, or to live so independently as to be unable to effectively serve others and considering the good of one’s neighbor above one’s own (Philippians 2:1-4). Paul is not commending the single life as a testament to independence but as an opportunity to fully devote oneself to the service of others (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
Let none be deceived: marriage is honorable and good, and it is not a sin to marry (1 Corinthians 7:38, Hebrews 13:4). Yet on account of the resurrection it is better to refrain from marriage (1 Corinthians 7:32-40). Our hope as Christians is not in the generative power of sex or the passing down of genetic material in children but in Jesus’ resurrection and the belief that we will rise with Him one day (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). A Christian who is single should not be seen as an aberration; a single Christian is an affirmation of the power of the hope of the resurrection and the importance of the church as the family of the people of God, providing a place to belong and in which to share in life. May single Christians be honored for the place they fulfill in God’s Kingdom, and may we all obtain a share in the resurrection of life!
Ethan R. Longhenry