Anyone who has been blindsided by a breakup has wondered whether singleness might be better than marriage after all.
The impact — so foreign, so violent, so unexpected — rips your stomach out of your body, leaving you disoriented and insecure. You step out of the car, and survey the damage. You’re no mechanic, but you fear your heart might be totaled. Repairs may take weeks, maybe longer. What will it all cost?
For a few minutes, or days, or longer, you’re not even sure you want the car back, not sure if you’ll ready to pull out onto the road again and put yourself at risk. Maybe I’ll just take the bus to work from now on. Surely a lifetime of loneliness would be better than a lifetime of brokenness — of more almost-marriages and devastating disappointments. Maybe I’ll cut my losses, and just settle for singleness.
I sat on that side of the road a half a dozen nights or more, paralyzed by my failures in dating and ready to give up on my dreams for marriage.
The Other Side
Others of us, though, never got our license. We’ve wanted to find someone — someone to call and text and date, and maybe marry. But there’s never been an opportunity — never a “he” or “she” for me. A breakup begins to sound like paradise compared to always wanting, always waiting, always missing out. At least you had someone to lose. If I stopped trying to get married, maybe not being married wouldn’t hurt so much. Maybe I should just settle for singleness.
Whether you are worn out by dating, or desperately wanting to date, you never have to “settle” for singleness. If your heart is God’s first — despite what you might feel and despite what society might say — you never need to settle for singleness, because singleness is never second-best. Marriage is very good, but singleness may be even better. Is your view of God big enough to believe that could possibly be true? Do you trust him enough to learn to love your singleness, even while you want to be married?
What Does God Say?
First, what does God have to say about singleness? He inspired the apostle Paul to write this:
Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. (1 Corinthians 7:25–26)
The word for “betrothed” here is actually closer to “unmarried” than to “engaged” and can refer both to men and women. Paul is speaking to single Christians (not necessarily fianceés), just like he did earlier in 1 Corinthians 7: “Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:6–8).
It seems the believers in Corinth were like many believers today. They wanted to be married, and may have dreaded the prospect of having to “settle” for singleness. Paul works hard to turn their hearts over. He wants them, and us, to prize and maximize singleness — and get married if we have to.
Christian Life to the Full
Most of us today have been conditioned to think of marriage as the ideal, and wonder whether we could ever survive singleness. Paul thinks it should be the other way around. In his mind, there is a simplicity, and freedom, and unity to an unmarried heart in love with Jesus that every Christian should envy.
And as beautiful and indispensable as marriage might be in the church, Paul sees that it does not make following Jesus any easier or more complete. In fact, it puts some distance between us and Christ — a necessary distance, a God-ordained distance, a Christ-exalting, gospel-declaring distance — but a distance. Much of the time and attention and energy we would have spent alone with our Lord, or evangelizing the lost, or discipling younger believers, is now spent caring for a spouse, or for a family.
Paul loves that kind of ministry — husbands caring for wives, wives caring for husbands, parents caring for children — we see that all throughout his letters. But here in 1 Corinthians 7, he’s correcting a common misconception: that the fullest Christian life happens only in marriage. No, the fullest Christian life happens only in Christ.
And singleness allows us to focus and invest ourselves in Christ and his mission in some ways marriage will not.
Do You Trust Me?
Because of the series of controversial things Paul says about singleness and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, we might pass over one of the most important verses. Paul writes, “Now concerning the betrothed” — the unmarried, the single — “I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 7:25).
Paul goes out of his way in 1 Corinthians 7 to make it clear that it is not sin to marry — meaning men and women in love with Jesus can make much of Jesus by marrying a husband or a wife in love with Jesus. His counsel is not about right or wrong, but about good and better. He says later in this chapter, “He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Corinthians 7:38).
Now, you can choose to believe that or not. Because Paul says it’s not “a command from the Lord,” we may be tempted to hear, “Take it or leave it.” But Paul is not saying, “Take it or leave it.” Rather, he is saying, in effect, You can trust me. You really can. It may not seem like it right now, but I know what is best for you.
Best Book on Singleness
So, do you trust him? Do you trust him about singleness? Do you trust him about your singleness?
Do you trust him about marriage? Do you trust him about work, and sexuality, and truth-telling, and money, and the local church, and evangelism, and forgiveness, and heaven, and happiness? The question underneath all of our questions about singleness, dating, and marriage really is, What role does God’s word play in your life?
Is the Bible a library of really good ideas that may or may not apply to you? Or is it the foundation under and conscious guide for all your life, hope, and happiness? Do you really want God’s word to inform and shape and direct absolutely everything you think, say, and do?
When Paul says, “He who marries does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better,” he wasn’t writing an opinion piece. Those were words breathed out by God and profitable for you — for your singleness, for your marriage, for your ministry — that you may be complete, 2 Timothy 3:16–17 says, equipped for every good work.
Single After God’s Heart
I want you to want to think about singleness the way God thinks about singleness — no matter what anyone else thinks about singleness.
And I want you to want to feel about singleness the way God feels about singleness — no matter what you or anyone else feels about singleness.
If we thought and felt about singleness the way God thinks and feels about singleness, none of us would ever “settle” for singleness. We might long to be married, and pray for God to bring us a husband or a wife, and pursue a godly person God puts in our path, but we also will prize every precious second of singleness God gives us, because it’s filled with its own unique joys and purpose and blessings.
If your life is mainly about Christ, and not marriage, refuse to settle for singleness, and choose instead to dive deeper in your love for him and wider in your love for others.