Single, Satisfied, and Sent: Mission for the Not-Yet Married
If you’re single, Satan is after you.
Okay, he’s after all of us, but there are some unique dangers in singleness — especially in unwanted singleness. He loves to deceive and discourage single people in the church and derail our devotion and ministry. But God intends to use you, your faith, your time, and your singleness in radical ways right now, as you are.
You might come away from a reading of 1 Corinthians 7 with two categories in mind: those who will live, serve, and die single and those who must marry. Paul sings singleness’s praises, listing the spiritual benefits of being spouse-free. The single life can be (relatively) free from relational anxieties (7:32), worldly distractions (7:33), and wide open for worship, devotion, and ministry (7:35). So, Paul concludes, skip the ceremony, literally, and enjoy “your undivided devotion to the Lord.”
Most say, “More power to you, Paul… but I’m getting married.” Maybe temptation overwhelms you, and you need a God-honoring way to satisfy that longing (7:2). Maybe it’s abundantly clear that you need a helper to carry out God’s call on your life (or it’s abundantly clear to others that you do). Maybe you want to have kids and realized that you need help with that. Maybe you just have a deep, undeniable desire for a loving, committed companion. In each case, it is good for you to get married.
While it may seem like two categories at first, we soon discover in application that there are three: the single, the married, and the not-yet married. After all, as any single person knows, a desire for marriage does not a marriage make. My hope in reflecting on Paul’s words is to restore hope and ambition in the hearts of the not-yet married and set them solidly on mission in their singleness.
All Dressed Up and Everywhere to Go
Perhaps the greatest temptation in singleness is to assume marriage will meet our unmet needs, solve our weaknesses, organize our lives, and unleash our gifts. Far from the solution, Paul makes marriage out to be a kind of problematic Plan B of Christian life and ministry. Marry if you must, but be warned, following Jesus is not easier when you join yourself to another sinner in a fallen world.
While marriage may bring joy, help, and relief in certain areas, it immediately multiplies your distractions because you’re intimately responsible for this other person, his or her needs, dreams, and growth. It’s a high calling and a good calling, but a demanding one that will keep you from all kinds of other good things.
Therefore, for the not-yet married, our (temporary) singleness is a gift. It really is. If God leads you to marriage, you may never again know a time like the one you’re in right now. A season of singleness is not merely the minor leagues of marriage. It has the potential to be a unique period of undivided devotion to Christ and undistracted ministry to others.
With the Spirit in you and the calendar clear, God has given you the means to make a lasting difference for his kingdom. You’re all dressed up, having every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), with literally everywhere to go.
With God’s help and leading, you have the freedom to invest yourself, your time, your resources, your youth, and your flexibility in relationships, ministries, and causes that can bear unbelievable fruit.
So, here are eight suggestions for making the most of your not-yet married life.
1. Avoid Trading Marital Distractions for Other Distractions
Paul may have been right about our freedom from spousal concerns, but in an iPhone, iPad, iPod, whatever iWant world, single people never have trouble finding their share of diversions. In fact, if you’re like me, you crave diversion and tend to default there, whether it’s SportsCenter, Downton Abbey, working out, fancy eating, endless blogging and blog-reading, surveying social media, or conquering the latest game. We might call it resting, but too often it looks, smells, and sounds a lot like we’re wasting our singleness.
“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Everything just mentioned can be done for God’s glory, and it all can be a dangerous distraction from it. If you deny the latter, you may need to put down the smartphone, controller, or treadmill.
Look for ways Satan might be undermining your mission with short and simple pleasures. You may not need to eliminate it, but limit it and look for ways to welcome others into your life through it. Be creative and make disciples over college basketball, cooking, or Call of Duty, rather than going AWOL from God’s mission because of them.
2. Say “Yes” to the Spontaneous
It’s just a fact, marriage murders spontaneity — not entirely, but massively. If you haven’t learned this yet, I doubt any of your (formerly spontaneous) friends have gotten married.
One of your greatest spiritual gifts as a single person is your “Yes.” Yes to a random phone conversation. Yes to coffee. Yes to help with the move. Yes to stepping in when someone’s sick. Yes to a late-night movie or the special event downtown. You have the unbelievable freedom to say yes when married people can’t even ask the question. When the spouse doesn’t exist, you can’t hurt them with your selfless, impulsive decisions. Be willing to say Yes! and bless others, even when you don’t always feel like it.
3. Practice Selflessness While You’re Still Alone
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3–4 will only get harder in marriage, so practice now.
Think of a couple people or families for whom you could lay down your single life. No one is expecting you to care and provide for others right now — no one, that is, except for God. So be mindful of the needs of others, especially those in the church, and consider contributing. It could be money or food or just time and energy. Maybe especially time and energy. Regardless of your paycheck, you have been given much. Spend it wisely and liberally on the needs of others.
Financially, you’re supporting just one person. Sure, save modestly for days when you’ll need more, but while you wait, look for ways to provide for others. While you’re not buying groceries for five, dinner for two, and endless diapers, budget to bless and develop attitudes and habits of sacrifice for others. It will serve your future spouse immensely and make Jesus shine beautifully to those around you in the meantime.
4. Do Radical, Time-Consuming Things for God
Just as you are free to say yes to more spontaneous things, you’re also able to say yes to things that require more of you than a married person can afford. Dream bigger, more costly dreams. Start a daily prayer meeting or some regular outreach. Commit to multiple discipleship relationships. Organize a new Christ-centered community service project. Do all of the above. You’d be surprised, with God’s Spirit in you and a resolve to spend your singleness well, how much you and your single friends are truly capable of, especially when you dream and work together.
Be radical, but not reckless. The idea is not to spread yourself dangerously thin, so make decisions prayerfully and in community with people who love you and can tell you, “No.” My perception, however, is that most not-yet-married believers can afford to give or do more than they are.
5. Spend Time with Married People
The longer you’re not-yet-married, the more time you have to learn about marriage from other people’s successes and failures. While you can’t avoid your own set of marital missteps and sins, you certainly can increase the odds of successes, small and large, by being a good student beforehand.
Look for opportunities to be a regular part of a married person’s life and family. If you’re not around enough to see any ugliness or messiness, perhaps you’re not around enough. Don’t impose on people, but don’t be afraid to initiate the conversation, either. It could be as simple as having lunch with them after church on Sundays. Make it easy for them to say yes by being a willing and eager servant. Offer to babysit on date night or help with yard work or bring a meal when one of the kids goes down sick.
Then be a student. Watch carefully. Ask questions. Take notes on what to imitate. In all your observations, be humble and gracious (if you could see your future marriage, this would be less of an issue). As our minds and hearts are being shaped by Scripture for marriage, we need examples of flawed but faithful marriages. These kinds of ongoing relationships make the principles and lessons real and repeatable.
6. Spend Time with Not-Yet Married People
While married people provide an important perspective and example, you need people in your life who are experiencing the same feelings, longings, and temptations you are. You should find and invest in people who are asking the same questions as you and also seeking to make the most of this unique season of singleness for Jesus’s sake.
Think about it, though he was never married, Paul did most of his ministry with someone. Find the trusted, gifted, and mission-minded friends in your life and be accountable to one another to make your not-yet married life matter for the kingdom. Following Christ was never meant to be done alone, even when you’re single.
7. Find a Fiancé on the Front Lines
Instead of making it your mission to get married, make your mission God’s global cause and the advance of the gospel where you are, and look for someone pursuing the same. If you’re hoping to marry someone who passionately loves Jesus and makes him known, it’s probably best to put yourself in a community of people committed to that.
Join a small group, not just a group of single Christians, but one actively on mission together. Get plugged into a ministry in your church that’s engaging the lost in the local community. Focus on the harvest, and you’re bound to find a helper.
8. While You Wait, Hope in Jesus More Than Marriage
Make it true first. Spend lots of time satisfying your soul in all that God has become for you in Jesus. Then be bold to say it when all anyone wants to talk about is your love life. “So, any women in your life these days?” “Are the two of you an item?” “She’s a really great girl. What do you think about her?” “Would you be willing to go on a date with my wife’s cousin’s roommate’s brother?” Married people have lines, too.
Use the awkward small talk as an opportunity to point them to the Groom who purchased your eternal happiness whether in life or in death, in sickness or in health, whether in matrimony or “on the market.”
So when you feel lonely or discouraged in your singleness, remember that if you’re saved, you’re sent. Instead of waiting until your wedding day to get about the work, make the most of this not-yet-married life.