Positively Single-Minded: Five great reasons to remain unmarried
I need to make a declaration right at the outset, for transparency. I’m an unmarried man. There, I’ve said it. Not an easy thing to admit to as a Christian in your early fifties. Particularly in a social media-driven culture where your ‘relationship status’ is considered to be a key aspect of your identity.
Not the gift I would have chosen
I’m unmarried not by choice, but rather by circumstance. When I came to faith in Christ over twenty years ago, I was involved in a same-sex relationship. I immediately left that relationship out of love for and obedience to Jesus. To leave my long-term partner was tough. But I have never once regretted that decision.
Despite much prayer over the years, I still battle against same-sex temptations today. Again, I should stress that I don’t find people of the same sex attractive by choice. Believe me, I’ve tried to muster up opposite-sex attractions! I even had a lovely friendship with a Christian girl in my late twenties, which I hoped and prayed might lead to marriage. But it didn’t. I simply wasn’t convinced that I could make that commitment to love her “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
So yes, I have a vested interest in being positive about the single life. But that said, I genuinely do consider it to be a great thing. Not that I’m against marriage - far from it. I just believe that being unmarried is a gift too. And the reason I believe that is because the Word of God tells me so. In 1 Corinthians 7 - the one chapter in the Bible that deals extensively with both marriage and singleness - the Apostle Paul (an unmarried man) says this:
“I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”
(1 Corinthians 7:7)
The gift I’ve come to appreciate
My aim in this article is not to tackle the singleness ‘issue’ in full. Instead, I will outline five positive aspects of the unmarried life. In doing so, I fully acknowledge that there are some negative aspects of being unmarried as well. Those reading this who, like me, are unmarried will undoubtedly be aware of those. But here are some positive truths that I’ve discovered in the Bible and found personally helpful:
I can sometimes cope better in a crisis
Really? This might seem counter-intuitive. To face a crisis at all is difficult enough: the loss of a job, caring for a sick relative, financial worries, a stressful situation at work and so on. To face such things as an unmarried person, with no spouse to support, encourage, or counsel me – well, how is that better? As the saying goes, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved.’
Well, the saying does go like that. But is it always true? Paul certainly didn’t think so in writing to Christians in 1st Century Corinth. He doesn’t believe they would be better off married to enable them to face their crisis. It is quite the opposite. “Because of the present crisis”, he writes, “I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is” (1 Corinthians 7:26). He then writes that those who haven’t made a pledge, or commitment, to marry should “not look for a wife” (verse 27).
Now it’s difficult to know for sure what crisis Paul has in mind here. Some commentators suggest that he’s referring to the crisis associated with the imminent return of Christ. Others believe he’s referring to famines in Greece, or the persecution that the Corinthians were facing. Still others that he’s thinking about the marriage crisis, i.e. the sexual immorality that was rife in the Corinthian Church. This is not the place to discuss the various merits of each theory and, in any event, minds much greater than mine don’t agree!
Whatever crisis Paul has in mind, he believes that it is good for unmarried believers in Corinth to remain as they are. Should we then take this is a general principle for all Christians in all ages? Well, not necessarily, no. But I can certainly think of some personal crises in my life where being married would not have halved my problems. Instead, it could have multiplied them.
Some years ago, for example, I was signed off work for nearly a year with anxiety and depression. I was the Pastor of a London Church at the time and eventually recognised that I needed to step down from this role and take a complete break from pastoral ministry.
That was certainly a time of great crisis for me. Different to the Corinthian crisis, of course; but, as I look back on what was a very difficult period in my life, I can see that being married at that time would probably have doubled the trouble, rather than alleviated it.
Imagine if I’d had a wife and children to consider and if I had been the sole earner in my household. Suddenly the pressure would really have been on. Not being able to work for a long period would have had a significant impact on others. It could have added to my sense of anxiety: Where would we live? How would we pay the bills? Would we have to move to a less expensive city? If we did, what about the children’s schools? How would my wife cope with moving away from her network of friends?
So yes, being unmarried does sometimes enable me to cope better in a crisis. Not always. But sometimes.
I’m spared the “many troubles” of marriage
Let’s be clear that Paul is not laying down the law in 1 Corinthians 7. He’s not telling the Corinthian Christians that they mustn’t get married. Far from it. He writes, “if you do marry, you have not sinned” (verse 26). That said, marriage does come with a warning in the very same verse: “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.”
Paul’s concern, then, is to spare these believers facing “many troubles in this life.” Now, again, we should perhaps be cautious about assuming this to be a general principle for all Christians in all generations. Quite possibly the “many troubles” are directly related to “the present crisis” Paul mentions earlier.
But with that word of caution in mind, it doesn’t take much observation to recognise that married people do face many troubles in this life. All kinds of troubles. Financial, relational, parental, to name but a few. And then there’s the likely trouble of how to cope with bereavement when your spouse passes away.
Now yes, as an unmarried man, I face troubles too - of course, I do. But sometimes unmarried people can be tempted to believe that getting married would be the solution to all our problems. The problem of loneliness, for example, or the problem of lust.
The stark reality, though, is often quite different. One psychologist has coined the term ‘living together loneliness’ or LTL. I’m sure many of us will have witnessed a married couple eating together in a restaurant, but not saying a word to each other. No conversation. Just awkward silence. So even within marriage, people can experience loneliness and isolation, or lose that sense of closeness and intimacy.
As for lust, well it is true that Paul gives this as a valid reason for getting married in 1 Corinthians 7 – “if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (verse 9).
Marriage doesn’t ‘solve’ lust, though. When I served as a church pastor, a number of married Christians confessed to me that they still struggled with lust. One friend of mine, recently married, tells me that he now struggles more with lust than when he was single!
Personally, I’ve learnt to thank God that I am spared the “many troubles” of marriage. True, I have to deal with the troubles of not being married. But these are different. And in dealing with them and working them through, I don’t have to consider the needs of my spouse. I only have to concern myself with pleasing the Lord.
I’m free from the anxieties of how to please a spouse
“I would like you to be free from anxieties. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided"
(1 Corinthians 7:32-34).
Christian marriage involves three parties. There’s the husband, the wife and the Lord. But let’s be quite clear - this is not a relationship of three equal partners. Oh, husband and wife are certainly equal. Equal in value, albeit different in God-given role and function. But the Lord is not equal. Not equal because, well, He’s the Lord. He’s God. He reigns over both husband and wife and demands to be number one on the throne of each of their hearts.
Add to this the truth that the Lord is a jealous God – indeed his name is “Jealous” according to Exodus 34:14 - and we can perhaps begin to understand one of the “many troubles” of marriage. Christian marriage brings together two people who, although gloriously redeemed, still have a sinful nature. A nature that, when it rises up, causes each spouse to want to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5).
But in reality, of course, neither can be like God. Because the Lord named Jealous is God. So each marriage partner will (or ought to) face a continual tussle. Will I let my husband or wife be God? Will I worship him or her and put them first? Or will I learn instead to worship the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) and consistently make love for my spouse subservient to this first and greater love? What a challenge!
This explains why, by very nature, the married person “is anxious about worldly things” and why their “interests are divided.” If you love someone, then, of course, you’ll want to make them happy. But even the godliest of spouses will struggle to keep that desire to be like God chained and under control. Even in subtle and unintentional ways, a spouse can demand to be number one and expect their own personal happiness to take priority in the marriage.
Thank you, Lord, that as an unmarried man, I am free from this concern of how to keep my (non-existent) wife happy. Isn’t this a fantastic reason to remain unmarried? Less anxiety! Praise God!
I can live in undivided devotion to the Lord
The flipside of being free from the anxieties of pleasing a wife is that I have no excuse for not being completely devoted to the Lord. The single life can so very easily become the selfish life. I find myself having to constantly battle against the temptation to devote myself to the world of me! But that is not what God intends for those of us who are unmarried.
Let’s put this more positively. I’m blessed with the freedom to be able to devote myself to the Lord. My interests are not divided between pleasing him and pleasing my spouse. This is a privilege that married people, however much they love the Lord, simply do not have. They have to consider how to please both the Lord and their spouse.
Now many married couples do, of course, manage to do both things well consistently, and throughout the history of the church, many married Christians have accomplished incredible things in the service of God. But the tension is always there.
By contrast, single people can focus all their attention on being “anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit” (1 Corinthians 7:34) or “devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit”, as the NIV puts it.
Now, of course, there are other interests that might compete for my attention as an unmarried person: caring for a sick parent or another relative, responsibilities at work or church, the needs of my friends and my brothers and sisters in Christ. But let’s not underestimate the incredible freedom that not being married can give. Freedom to be completely devoted to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Freedom to do gospel work.
Just think for a moment about the life of the Apostle Paul, the writer of 1 Corinthians 7. As an unmarried man, he evidently knew what he was talking about. He used his unmarried freedom to preach and teach the gospel, to plant churches, to train younger ministers, to serve and encourage others, to write letters and so on.
In reading Paul’s writings, you don’t get the impression of a man who was sad, lonely and frustrated. Far from it! His writings ooze with evidence of love for and devotion to the Lord. In another letter, he writes of desiring “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23) and of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8).
If you’re currently unmarried, here’s a question to ponder and pray through. And it applies even to those reading this who are hoping, planning or longing to get married in the future: What am I doing with my unmarried freedom?
I ought to be using it to devote myself to the Lord’s affairs. To constantly look for ways to please the Lord. Can there really be anything more satisfying and rewarding than unbridled devotion to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords?
I can look forward to the wedding supper of the Lamb
My intention in this article has been to set out some positive aspects of the single life. In doing so, I want to avoid giving an impression of the unmarried life as one of perfect, uninterrupted bliss. It isn’t. Staying single in a relationship-obsessed culture - whether through circumstance or out of love for Jesus, and for the sake of the kingdom of heaven - will prove tough at times.
I imagine that the first two reasons to remain unmarried, outlined earlier, will have left some readers unconvinced. Being “often” able to cope better in a crisis is all well and good, but can that outweigh the burden and stress of having to face some crises alone? Because there are obviously situations where having a spouse could help. So, when I’m ill and in need of someone to care for me, for example. Or when I’m desperate to come home and unburden myself at the end of a stressful day at work.
In a similar vein, the joy of being spared the “many troubles” of marriage may seem insufficient to combat the heartache of dealing with the various troubles of the single life. We could perhaps debate with which troubles are harder to cope. But the simple fact is, each marital state does bring its own set of troubles.
In addition, the single life is also great preparation for the future. Because, according to Jesus himself, “at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
And whatever we might miss out on by not being married in this life, it will be made up for countless times over in the life to come. Because if we’re trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our personal sins, we’re destined for something far greater. Every one of us, single or married, is betrothed to Christ. And we can look forward to that day when we will finally be presented as his bride. John recounts in Revelation how a great multitude in heaven shouts about this day:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)
Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”
This article is an edited version of two previously published blog posts