Dear Unmarried Christian,
In autumn 2005 I entered graduate school (the first time around) to study philosophy in Amsterdam. While visiting churches, I met a woman in her mid-40s from Indonesia, studying theology. Most of her home village and her entire family had been slaughtered by Muslim militants some years earlier. Other than our faith in Christ, and dislike of Dutch weather, I can’t think of anything else we had in common.
That sobering tale isn’t the prelude to a love story. I mention it to illustrate a simple point, which is this: it’s generally true that everyone’s life and experience is particular, unique to themselves in various ways. That makes writing a generalized ‘open letter to singles’ somewhat difficult. I can only offer a perspective on my own singleness that I’ve found edifying, and pray it might be of some benefit to you.
My imagined audience, or the reader I have in mind, is an American, unmarried Christian, somewhere between the ages of 25 and 50. At the moment, I’m 46; and I’ve never married. I’m not any kind of well-known teacher or leader. If I have credentials to write this letter, I’m not sure they amount to anything other than 26 or so years of adult life as ‘single’ and as a Christian.
I’ve had at least two significant romantic relationships I expected would lead to marriage. While I ended them both, each breakup was, as you might imagine, deeply painful and not easily or quickly overcome. Nevertheless, I don’t regret ending them. And while I always expected to marry (until about the age of 36, when I adjusted my expectations), and while I don’t have any ‘principled’ objections to it, I’m not looking to marry.
It’s this “not looking to marry” perspective I’d like to communicate and recommend to you. If you want to marry, it’s probably not a perspective you’ll adopt as soon as you hear it. But, at least you’ll be aware of it, and be able to consider it. Obviously, it’s not for everyone.
No doubt you’ve read the teaching of our Lord in Matthew 19:10-12. Jesus tells us that some cannot marry by birth, some are prevented by others, and some choose to live unmarried for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. And this should be received by all who can. Jesus uses the term ‘eunuch’, but the context makes clear He’s using the term in a broader sense; not in narrow reference to castrated “bedroom guards,” but to singles; those for whom it is better to remain unmarried.
Paul elaborates this teaching in 1 Corinthians 7. In verse 38 he summarizes by telling us that the one who marries in the Lord does well, but the one who refrains from marriage does better. Here’s what I suspect you might have a hard time believing: 1) it is better not to marry, and 2) it may very well be better for you not to marry. In any case, you should seriously (re)consider these things. To do that, you need to understand why it would be better.
Jesus said that not marrying can be for the sake of God’s kingdom. And Paul elaborates on what that means. Despite this teaching in Scripture, I doubt this is the predominant message you’ve received from fellow believers. Myself, I’ve definitely experienced what you might call a level of incredulity from many fellow church members, in various congregations. There aren’t many relatively intelligent, attractive, socially adjusted “never marrieds” in their 40s in my circles. Even through my 30s I gradually sensed that fellow congregants were baffled by, if not wary of, “lone wolves.” I cannot think of one time when anyone other than a pastor spoke an affirming or encouraging word to me about remaining unmarried.
So, I enthusiastically recommend you listen to this conference talk by my friend, Matthew Cotta. He’s pastor of Pasadena Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and wonderfully expresses a biblical perspective on singleness: http://www.pasadenaopc.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/03-Singleness-and-Productivity.mp3
The fact is, Christians who are single can be less encumbered, more at liberty, to serve the Lord in the community and Christ’s body in single-minded devotion. They can be especially fruitful in service in ways that others cannot. Refraining from marriage can be a benefit to all, not only through what singles do, but by what they are. By God’s design, believers who refrain from marriage have opportunity to share with all a living sign of every believer’s everlasting goal in glory.
What more can I add to that? Any practical tips on romance? Not really, no. So many people desperately want and need practical help in the particulars of their relationships (or lack of). But Scripture, to their disappointment, is concerned to speak about marriage in terms that reveal Christ and the gospel. When you’re seeking self-help and practical life skills, etc, you should look at what’s revealed about created reality in the creation (and our experience of it) itself. You should examine reality through the reorienting “lenses” of fundamental Scriptural truth, understood through faith.
Unfortunately, being spiritually reborn doesn’t make anyone smarter or necessarily more capable in practical living. But it does give the believer the right starting-point from which to approach it all. This might seem like cold comfort to those who want shortcuts, and have an unbiblical notion of “victorious living,” and find life to be full of practical difficulties. The most practical tip I can offer is to seriously consider the perspective I’ve given here. How you might integrate that perspective in your own mind is probably very particular to you. Perhaps you would find it a benefit to also take up a challenging but readable study on the kingdom of God, such as S.M. Baugh’s The Majesty On High.
Be sure to ask yourself this: if I knew for certain that I would never marry, then how would I want to have lived for God’s glory? Then, consider whether you shouldn’t determine to live that life now.
Your brother in Christ,