David writes in to asks: “Dear Pastor John, I am a 22-year-old single Christian in Singapore. How does a Christian single see and savor Christ as his all and ultimate satisfaction, yet have desires to be married? How do I reconcile my desires for marriage with my satisfaction in Christ?”
The first thing I want to say to David is that the desire to be married — a good desire — is one of hundreds of desires that might compete with satisfaction in Christ: a desire to have a job if you don’t have one, a desire to be free from cancer when you are sick, a desire to no longer be blind or disabled if you are disabled, a desire to have enough money to go to college when you don’t, a desire to be tall instead of short. In other words, the desire for marriage is not unique. It is not a unique challenge. I just don’t want David to feel isolated like he has got a battle to fight that I don’t have. We all have desires that put us in the same battle for how contentment or satisfaction in Christ relates to the intensity of those desires from time to time.
“Contentment in Jesus is not paralyzing. It is energizing.”
The second thing I would say is that we should probably remind ourselves that there are good desires and bad desires. The desire to be married is a good desire. The desire for adultery is a bad desire. The desire for food is a good desire. Gluttony is a bad desire. David is not dealing with the conflict between evil desire and good contentment in Jesus. He knows that, but I am just making it clear for all the rest of us. The question is: How do contentment and satisfaction in Jesus relate to good desires that tug at us and make us feel some measure of discontent? Are we contradicting our desire for, and our delight in, Jesus?
It might be good to put a text on this issue of contentment or satisfaction, because he is just kind of assuming it and not everybody even knows or thinks in those categories. So here is Philippians 3:8: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” So Paul seems to have such a sweet experience of knowing Jesus that everything else pales by comparison. He is just lost. He is so happy in his fellowship with Jesus. Another one would be at the end of Philippians in chapter four. He says: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content [or satisfied]. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things” — I can be satisfied in all circumstances — “through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11–13).
Clearly, Jesus gave Paul an amazing contentment. Those are amazing verses. We all just long to be like that. I do. But here is something crucial. Paul’s contentment in Jesus in every circumstance did not make him passive as though there was nothing in the world to change or nothing to pursue. Remember his incredible passion to preach the gospel to every place and person that didn’t have Christ named: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Romans 15:20). He said, “I no longer have any room for work in these regions.… I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you (Romans 15:23–24).
Here is a man that seems driven. I mean he wants to go to Spain. So why wouldn’t we say: Paul, you don’t sound very, you know, content in Jesus. Why wouldn’t we say that? Jesus doesn’t make him passive in his satisfaction in Jesus. He doesn’t say, “I have Jesus, I don’t need to go to Spain. I don’t need to risk my life to get the gospel to other people because I have Jesus. I have sweet fellowship. I will sit under a tree, cross my legs like a Buddha and let the world go to hell in a hand basket and I will be satisfied in Jesus.” Satisfaction in Jesus doesn’t work that way. Contentment in Jesus is not paralyzing. It is energizing. A person who is so content in Jesus they have no desires to change anything in the world or to extend that contentment to others, they are not content in Jesus, not the Jesus of the Bible. The contentment Jesus gives is meant in this fallen world, and probably for eternity, to grow and grow and grow, to increase by expressing it in risk-taking acts of love and by drawing others into it. It is the sort of contentment that gets bigger when it expands to include other people.
“The contentment Jesus gives is the sort of contentment that gets bigger when it expands to include other people.”
So now back to marriage. What about marriage? That is all kind of foundation. Here is my question: Do you want this for the sake of savoring and showing more of Christ? Will your enjoyment of a wife be an enlargement of your enjoyment of Christ? Will your enjoyment of Christ be enlarged by drawing a wife into it? Will her enjoyment of Christ be enlarged by drawing you into hers? Those are some of the ways that I would try to relate our contentment in Christ, as a single person, to marriage.
In reality — and this is where the rubber meets the road, I suppose for him — in reality, the day-to-day experience will be a battle to rest in Christ and act for joy. Rest in Christ and act for joy. They feel intention often. There is no quantification for this. I don’t know how to give a quantity. Like how much do you rest and how much to you quest? You know? You discover it in actually walking with Christ and telling him all you feel, asking him for all his help and all his wisdom and asking him about when to rest and when to act and how to be restful in him even while acting. So I think the last thing I could say is: God is going to show you. If you embrace that kind of understanding of contentment in Jesus, he will show you how to weigh out the longings you have for marriage and how appropriate they are in expressing your loneliness for Christ.