“What are you doing with your singleness?”

This is a question I’ve been mulling over recently. Two weeks ago I was best man for my friend Dan, and various people at the wedding were jokingly matching me up with the single bridesmaids. (If you’re reading this, bridesmaids, now you know what the ushers were talking about…)

My friends were both well-meaning and (thankfully) not serious. But it made the sermon I heard a week later all the more striking, where the preacher pointed out that both Jesus (in Matthew 19) and Paul (in 1 Corinthians 7) say that – for some people – singleness is better.

There’s a certain cultural narrative that would agree – at least for men. Marriage is limiting; singleness means freedom. Wives are the “old ball and chain”, tying you down. “Bachelors” are lively, fun and sociable. (Contrast this with the associations of “spinster”… but that’s a whole other article.)

Singleness offers freedom to indulge yourself. You don’t have to think about your spouse, so you’re free to do what you want.

Except that’s not what Jesus or Paul have in mind. Singleness is better because your freedom enables whole-hearted service, not cold-hearted selfishness.

There are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. (Matthew 19:12b)

Some choose to live like eunuchs (i.e. remain single) “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”—and those who can… should.

Now, clearly both Jesus and Paul have lots of positive things to say about marriage, but my guess is that readers of this blog will have heard much of this already. What they say about singleness, however, is a different story. However positive we are about singleness before marriage, our assumption is still that eventually people will get married. Might we have lost something of the Bible’s radical call here? When was the last time you heard young people encouraged to “grow up… and remain single”?

So I return to the question, “what are you doing with your singleness?” I’ve often frittered it away. I’ve not considered things like overseas mission because it might stop me from finding a wife. I’ve used my time selfishly, rather than using it to serve. I’ve been jealous of friends who are married, rather than seeking to be family to those around me.

If you’re single, what about you?

I have a friend who uses his evenings, weekends and holidays to run a summer camp for teenagers. I have another friend who serves meals to homeless people every Tuesday night. Another is pioneering student ministry in a predominantly Muslim country. Another travels round Europe as an itinerant evangelist. None of them could do half as much if they were married. They’ve stayed single “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”.

So then, he who marries does right, but he who does not marry does better. (1 Cor 7:38)

Better? Really? For the sake of the kingdom, for some people… yes, really.

If you’re single… what about you?