On Singleness

Kevin Steyer

On Singleness

The Church needs to recover the value placed on singleness which is so obviously revealed both in the Bible and in the majority of the history of the Church. First, the witness of the Bible. Consider Paul, and feel the full weight of these verses:

“To the unmarried and widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:8)

“Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife” (7:27)

“He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (7:38)

And take Jesus:

“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:12)

(Of course, Jesus is not here speaking of self-mutilation but of voluntary celibacy. But, it is not insignificant that Jesus uses such stark imagery here. It is as is Jesus were saying, “Even if lifelong celibacy were that painful, it would still be virtuous to live it.)

And consider that Augustine, without a doubt the most influential theologian in the history of the Western Church, celebrated the single life in his treatise, “Of Holy Virginity.” Gregory of Nyssa, another giant of the early church, did the same in his “On Virginity.” Ambrose did the same in his, “Concerning Virginity.” These three treatises are all easily available online. The Catholic Church so esteemed the single life that it even made celibacy compulsory for anyone who took orders or was ordained. That was a mistake, but behind it rests an important truth that evangelicals have largely forgotten.

For a variety of reasons, most of which are shallow and unthinking, evangelicals today seem to prize marriage as the highest human joy and the right goal of every Christian. But neither Jesus nor Paul did so. Singleness (celibacy) was not only a tolerable option for those who failed to find a spouse, but a glorious choice even for those who could have had a spouse. The Church needs to understand this.

I, for one, as a single 24-year-old, get quite aggravated (although I may not show it) whenever people (especially Christians) simply assume that one day I will marry. That might happen, but it might not. And why should the possibility that it does be any more exciting than the possibility that it does not? Why is it that whenever I reveal that I am single I never hear someone say, “Good for you. You have more time to serve the Lord that way,” which, incidentally, is exactly what Paul would say (c.f. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35)?

And, while I am on this rant, let me also say that even worse is when churches or ministries or summer camps put on events “for singles.” The absolute worst is a “single’s group,” which, even when framed as a Bible study, is, really (and everybody knows this), nothing more than a glorified Christian match-making institution. This needs to stop.

(By the way, this is one way that we can help those brothers and sisters who may be same sex attracted. Same sex attracted Christians are tired of being told how great it is to get married by people who do not know their inner struggle. But if value is placed on the single life, the same sex attracted Christian can more easily feel valued as a member of Christ’s Church because he or she does not feel the pressure to marry either against his or her desires or in violation of the law of God. After all, if marriage so great, what is to stop the same sex attracted Christian from thinking he or she is better off leaving the Church and marrying in line with their desires?)  

Now, I am not writing this so that people will stop saying these things to me. I get aggravated at all this, but I do not decline into frustration (or worse) because of what people say or propose. But I know many who do. I know many Christians who either want to remain single or who want to be married but who sadly cannot find a mate. And in the latter case, consistently praising marriage in their presence is very unkind. And so the Church needs to be better at dignifying the single life. The single person does not in every case need the “solution” of marriage (the only exception being those who “cannot exercise self-control” – 1 Corinthians 7:9).

One final point: Throughout history, girls have too often been raised – I could say groomed – with no other objective than one day to be a suitable wife. This, to the extent that it still happens, needs also to stop. Girls should be encouraged to live for God to their fullest potential, and whether they end up marrying or not has at most to be a secondary consideration.

 

Ardsley Bible Church