Single - Through Circumstances, not Choice
A magazine on marriage might not be considered complete if it did not mention the fact that some people do not marry early in life. They have, perhaps, to wait quite a long time before they are married or to realise that God’s will for them does not include marriage. This article does not deal with the special case of a believer who has chosen not to marry for the Lord’s sake and who has the gift needed to live this way. Rather, we are talking about Christians who are unmarried (so far) not because they have chosen this but because of the circumstances of their lives up to now. This may apply to brothers and sisters alike but it is something that perhaps is a little more concerning to sisters. We would like to deal with some questions and problems connected with this situation in life.
Satan’s lies about being unmarried
When I am in a situation I may consider — at least from time to time — as difficult, I am particularly vulnerable to the lies the enemy whispers into my ears.
Lie 1: you are unmarried, because you ...
You can complete the sentence for yourself. There are a variety of options. You are not married because you are not pretty enough, not smart enough, not spiritual enough, too spiritual (carnal and worldly-minded young men and women all have a partner, it seems), too introverted … or too extroverted … No, in the vast majority of cases the fact that someone is not married has nothing to do with his or her personality. That would give room for the illusion that if I change this or that I will be married ‘the day after tomorrow’.
The fact that someone is married, unmarried or widowed is in the first place to do with God’s sovereignty and the way He leads a person through life. ‘As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, how the bones grow in the womb of her that is with child, even so thou knowest not the work of God who maketh all’ (Eccl. 11:5).
Lie 2: if you are (still) unmarried, it is because God does not love you.
Of course you know this is not true. God is love (1 John 4:8). He gave His Son for you on the cross. Yes, you know that God loves you but do you really believe it? This world is characterised by the consequences of sin: sickness, tragedy, poverty, death. There would be a lot of reasons to doubt the love of God if we only looked at the circumstances in which we find ourselves. God’s love was (and is) revealed at Calvary. There He gave His only Son unto suffering and death to save us and to have a relationship with me us His children. There is no greater proof of God’s love than the cross of Calvary. Even a marriage partner would not be a greater proof of His love to me. The enemy wants to use our desires, needs and sorrows to cause us to doubt God’s love. As such they are ‘the fiery darts of the wicked’. Let us take the ‘shield of faith’ that is able to extinguish these darts (Eph. 6:16).
Lie 3: if you are not married, you have no real value.
The enemy may tell you: if no one has taken an interest in you yet as a marriage partner you cannot be worth very much — you have nothing to offer. Maybe other believers have suggested — explicitly or implicitly — that only married Christians ‘count’ in the assembly.
Behind this lies the old error that my value depends on what others think of me. I could mention without hesitation a number of unmarried brothers and sisters whose faith and service is of great value for the saints. And while it is certainly good to mention our appreciation of this to those Christians, this is again on the level of how I value other believers. We do not become valuable by what we do (even if it is to marry), but are valuable because God has created us and we are precious in His eyes (see Ps. 139:12–16).
Lie 4: better marry an unbeliever than stay unmarried for the rest of your life.
The situation of being without a partner can be painful, and the experience of loneliness can become overwhelming. At such times marriage to an unbeliever can seem like a solution, but that is not the case! Scripture condemns this ‘unequal yoke’ as sin. Do you really think such a relationship will satisfy your deepest longings? Even if your partner is exemplary on the human level and ‘lets you follow your faith’ it will very likely be the case that you will worship alone and read your Bible alone. You will not be able to talk with your partner about the most important things in life. And think of the coming of the Lord, the rapture — you will go to heaven alone! Your partner will be on their way to another destination — an unbearable thought. Yes, God in His grace can save your husband or wife. But there is no promise this will be so when we are disobedient.
The unmarried Christian and sexuality
We are dealing here with a problem that only exists for an unmarried believer in this form: a life of sexual purity and abstinence. Of course, all Christians are called to a life of (sexual) purity, but for the married Christian this means being faithful to his or her marriage partner and to have sexual intercourse only with her or him, whereas for someone who is unmarried it means a life of permanent sexual abstinence. In a completely sexualised society this can be a hard thing for a teenage Christian, but it may not be much easier for a 30-year-old unmarried Christian either.
In today’s society self-denial is seen as a negative idea. The view most people around us take today is that you have a right to live out all your wishes and desires. But the life of a Christian is often connected with sacrifice. In a Christian marriage each partner makes sacrifices out of love. Living out your desires in an egoistic way is unthinkable in this context. Therefore, the unmarried believer should be willing to deny himself or herself in order to live a life of sexual abstinence for the Lord’s sake and His honour.
Sexual desire may become very strong so the requirement to live in this way may be considered a hard imposition. In such a case it is helpful if the young Christian concerned talks confidentially to a mature Christian of the same sex or a couple to find the help, support and prayer he or she needs. Beware of any ‘alternative solution’ (masturbation, pornography, films, etc.)! This will only make you unhappy and increase your burdens, and it will bring you into spiritual free fall. ‘For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are amiable, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if any praise, think on these things’ (Phil. 4:8).
‘If it is God’s will for me not to marry why does He not take the desire for a marriage partner out of my heart?’
For creatures to ask why God does something or does not do something is problematic. And very often we will not get an answer to such a question. The desire to marry is normal and good — even when God does not (or has not yet) granted this desire. Paul says in Philippians 4:11–13: ‘Not that I speak as regards privation, for as to me I have learnt in those circumstances in which I am, to be satisfied in myself. I know both how to be abased and I know how to abound. In everything and in all things I am initiated both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer privation. I have strength for all things in him that gives me power’. He also had to learn lessons that are not easy for us naturally. A lot of things in the life of faith are part of a learning process. Perhaps you find it difficult to be satisfied with your situation of singleness because your desire for a marriage partner is still strong. But the Lord can help you to live a meaningful, blessed life with the opportunities He gives you to serve Him as a single Christian.
Mourning and bitterness — and how to deal with them
In a certain way the condition of singleness (maybe for life) can be a form of suffering, loss and deprivation. Therefore, it is natural and not a sign of being ‘unspiritual’ to feel this and to mourn about it. Jephthah’s daughter said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go and descend to the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my companions’ (Jdg. 11:37). She wanted time to mourn her situation and then she would surrender to God’s ways. There is a time for everything — also for mourning. Whether this is two months (as with Jephthah’s daughter) or longer depends on the individual case. But sooner or later the time must come when we surrender to God’s ways. We have to be ‘watching lest there be any one who lacks the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and many be defiled by it’ (Heb. 12:15). This often leads to accusations against God. But not only does this dishonour God; it also harms our life of faith.
‘My times are in thy hand’ (Ps. 31:15)
The following sentence is an encouragement for every Christian including every unmarried or widowed Christian. ‘I don’t know what my future holds, but I do know who holds my future.’ And the Lord Jesus not only holds the future but the present also — your years of singleness included. A life with and for the Saviour brings blessing, fulfilment and deep joy to the lives of all Christians — unmarried as well as married.