Welcome to a new week on the podcast. Today’s question comes from a listener named Caitlin. “Pastor John, thank you for the podcast. I recently listened to Francis Chan’s response to the question ‘Why are Christian singles marrying later?’ I have been deeply impacted by the writings and teachings of Francis Chan in the past and have profound respect for him. But his reasoning that singles in the church are engaging in sexual immorality and therefore marrying later felt dismissive for a lot of us. I cannot name a single Christian couple that is in the situation he describes and is therefore delaying marriage. His response felt like it skimmed over a topic with so much more depth to it.
“I know many godly, unmarried Christian women in particular who desire marriage, yet there seems to be so few unmarried Christian men around interested in pursuing any of them. These women fight daily for purity and joy in the Lord. This is not a fight we take lightly. So to be told that the reason we are not married is because we are engaging in sex before marriage makes us feel profoundly misunderstood and swept to the side.
“I also happen to know that the majority of these women carry moderate to large loads of student-loan debt that they are working diligently to pay off. This means the majority of our time is spent working long hours, often at multiple jobs. As you can imagine, this leaves little time for socialization. This job situation is likely going to be a reality for many of us well into our thirties. I would love to hear your response to this same question. What encouragement can you offer us single women who are pursuing the Lord with all our hearts and functioning in this world the best we can?”
A Complex Situation
First, I know Francis Chan, and I am sure if he were with me here, he would say that the reasons people are marrying later are indeed much more diverse and complex than the fact that lots of couples are substituting sex for marriage. I’m starting with the assumption that Francis was emphasizing a particular factor rather than stating it as the only factor. Though I know, because of the way people have taken my kind of communication, that it would be easy for Caitlin to feel the way she felt, so I’m going to start there.
“God is sovereign over your life, and God is good.”
The real question here is not so much that we have to figure out why, since 1970, the median age for women to get married has increased by four or five years (to 25 plus), while for men, it increased a little less — up to 26.8.
There are lots of factors feeding that phenomenon:
- Twice as many women go to college today as thirty years ago.
- Careers are often a priority.
- Fear of marriage commitments for both men and women: half of those young people have divorced parents and therefore are terrified because they don’t want to do that — they don’t want to do it the way their parents did it.
- Loss of community is a big one, I think; finding a spouse isn’t as natural and communal as it used to be in the way the world was once upon a time.
- Changes in expectation about what makes a good spouse, largely owing, I think, to entertainment and media.
- Delays in maturity for men and women factor in. Adolescence just gets longer and longer so that whole books are being written on adultolescence and so on.
It’s a very complex setting, situation, and cluster of factors that make things harder today — just really harder for young people.
A Sun and a Shield
What Caitlin points out here (and I’m really happy to hear it) is that there are thousands of young women (and men I think) who would like to be married who are not having sex before marriage. Believe it or not, there are people like that — lots of them. They have to work full time for no other reason, she says, than to pay back student loans, which puts a good deal of pressure on their energy for being active and flexible in social relationships.
This is the question that I think she wants me to address: “What encouragement can you offer us single women who are pursuing the Lord with all our hearts and functioning in this world the best we can?” I like that question because that’s what the Bible is for. It is to help us where we are, not to say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be in another world?”
My encouragement, Caitlin, is this (I’ll put it just in a simple phrase, and then I’ll unpack it): God is sovereign over your life, and God is good. If you are his child, and — just like you say you are — pursuing the Lord with all your heart, we have it on God’s authority that he will withhold from you no good thing. Nothing that is good for you.
The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)
I’m going to suggest, with that promise as the background, that you linger over two stories in the Bible for your encouragement. One is the story of Ruth, and the second is Anna in Luke 2.
Ruth’s Unexpected Marriage
Ruth resolved as a young widow to leave her homeland, Moab, and to be faithful to Naomi, her mother-in-law, with these words:
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16–17)
Now, that meant that as a Moabite woman in Israel, the prospects for marriage were zero. I mean, apart from an extraordinary work of God, what godly Jew would marry a Moabite who ended up a widow, and all the other circumstances surrounding this?
“Marriage is not the greatest good. Faithfulness to Christ and his people around you is the greatest good.”
“But God” — I like that phrase. But God rewarded her faithfulness — her faithfulness to God and to her human relations. He rewarded her with a total surprise. His name was Boaz.
You cannot plan things like this. You can’t. You can’t strategize as a young woman and say, “I’m going to have a Boaz.”
You can’t act like, “I know what to do. I know what fields to go to. I know a country to go to.” You can’t. You can’t strategize for this kind of matchmaking. You can only do your work with joy in the Lord and watch the sovereign God work for you.
That’s the first suggestion: Meditate and linger over the book of Ruth.
Single and Satisfied
Lest you think, Caitlin, that I’m a hopeless romantic with only happily-ever-after marriage endings, my second suggestion is that you linger over the story of Anna in Luke 2:36–37:
There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin [so I guess from maybe age seventeen to twenty four], and then as a widow until she was eighty-four [that would be sixty years]. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.
What is that? That’s a seven-year marriage as a young girl and then a widow, probably from her mid-twenties until she was 84. But she was faithful to what the Lord called her to do, and he rewarded her with the sight of the Messiah. He was pleased with Anna. That’s what matters ultimately.
In other words, your sovereign, good God is able to stun you with a Boaz out of nowhere, and he is able to keep you chaste and fruitful and happily unmarried until you are 84.
The Greatest Good
Now, in conclusion, hear four simple pieces of counsel.
“God is able to stun you with a Boaz out of nowhere, and he is able to keep you chaste and happily unmarried.”
1. Don’t look twice at an unspiritual man. Yes, spiritual men are far too rare. That’s one of the biggest problems of the day. But they do exist, and God is guiding their lives.
2. Be an integral member of a doctrinally solid, loving church. It may have sixty people in it and no twentysomethings, while the church with all the hip singles and weak doctrines has thousands. But guess where Boaz may choose to go to church.
3. Find your joy in knowing Jesus and serving others. Marriage is not the greatest good. Faithfulness to Christ and his people around you is the greatest good.
4. In your prayers, tell the Lord your heart’s desire, and then make him your supreme treasure.