“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?
Here’s what are probably the best Christian books I’ve read this year. Honourable mentions go to Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho and Steve Levy’s Bible Overview for getting me thinking about the Old Testament more.
- The Good God – Michael Reeves. This seems to have been many people’s pick of the year, and with good reason. Mike’s introduction to the Trinity shows clearly how the life of God as Father, Son and Spirit is an overflowing goodness that brings light and life to us and the whole world. He writes such lively prose that you can’t help but imagine him chuckling to himself with joy as he writes. It’s a book about delighting in the Trinity that is itself delightful.
- The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness – Tim Keller. I reviewed this for 10ofthose back in January, where I said it left me convicted about my pride, convinced of the joy that “thinking of ourselves less” brings, and rejoicing in the power of the gospel to transform lives. My small group are getting copies of this as (belated) Christmas presents. It’s short, cheap, and packs a gospelicious punch far above its size and price.
- A New Name – Emma Scrivener. Emma’s wonderfully honest and witty blog has probably given me more articles to email to friends than any other website, so I was very excited to get hold of this book. Her auto-biography is a remarkable testimony to the grace of God through the ordeal of anorexia, and should be required reading for anyone whose friends struggle with eating disorders, negative body image, depression, OCD, or sin (so that’s everyone, then).
- Thoughts for Young Men – J. C. Ryle. Ryle was a bishop in the 19th century, but he could have written this book directly to young men in the 21st. A sterling call for young men to turn to Christ, and not be ensnared by the world. I want to study this book with other young men so that we can exhort each other as Ryle exhorts his readers. Short, simple and wonderful to read.
- The Meaning of Marriage – Tim and Kathy Keller. There are many books on marriage that single people either shouldn’t or don’t need to read. This is not one of them. I can’t speak for marrieds, but this is highly recommended for singles – particularly those who view marriage with rose-tinted glasses, or who are looking for a perfect partner, or simply wondering what marriage is all about.
Fiction and other books here.
Who can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace? Christ, that rich and pious Husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her from all her evils and supplying her with all His good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since she has in her Husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine,” as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am His”.