Let’s pretend that there is a young man who God, in His grand plan, has willed to be single for his whole life. This young man does not yet know that particular side of the plan, but He is sure of one thing: He wants to honor His Savior no matter what the cost. Sure, he likes the idea of meeting a like-minded woman and settling down with a family, but he also knows that serving God with the gifts he’s been given might mean remaining single for a time and quite possibly for his entire life on earth. In his weak moments of desiring companionship, he is caused to turn to his Savior for comfort and as His relationship with Christ deepens, the desire for a wife conversely fades to the background of what God is doing in him and through him.
Now picture this young man, perhaps possessing good qualities even from a superficial standpoint, walking into church on Sunday to worship with his fellow brothers and sisters. I’m afraid that his singleness would stand out more as something to be “fixed” rather than encouraged or understood as something God has ordained. Well-meaning older women would take it upon themselves to become his matchmaker, hinting about their gem of a granddaughter or the single young lady that helps out with them in nursery. Young women would make note of where he tends to sit and casually put themselves in his path to at least get a handshake in during “welcome” time. After a time, some of these women may become frustrated at the abundance of quality single women in his sphere and his apparent lack of concern manifested in his dateless existence.
I have begun this chapter in the hypothetical because I think that the story of this young man is very real in many churches today, and reflects attitudes that I myself have been guilty of. In order to interact with and even counsel singles well, there is a need to understand how well meaning comments or attitudes can become missed opportunities and even hindrances to the flourishing of singles in our communities. The church of all places should be a home in which the spouse-less can thrive, finding rest and shelter from the world’s deceptive perspectives on love and relationships.
In this chapter, I hope to answer the following question: How can churches allow singles the freedom to serve and exist as God has called them? It is a question that is not easily answered, as singles range on the marriage scale from “Woe is me!” all the way past a balanced view to “Dodging that bullet!” Additionally, most singles will probably at one point get married, so how do we balance our discussions with that possibility? In the spirit of Paul’s “put on” and “put off” principle, I will offer 4 do’s and don’ts of interacting with single believers, emphasizing how to best encourage them in their walk with Christ without assuming God’s plan regarding matrimony. Many scenarios come from personal experiences as well as those that single friends have relayed, so consider this chapter an insider’s guide for how to offer grace and truth to the growing single believer in your sphere of influence.
Being Burdened for Their Singleness
This one mainly goes out to parents with single sons and daughters of a marriageable age, but it can be applied more broadly as well. I am reminded of a line from a classic movie called My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the main character’s father mourns her singleness in her early 30’s. In a memorable line, he says pathetically, “Get married, make babies, you’re starting to look so OLD!” While this dramatic line might never cross the mind of someone heavily invested in the life of a young single person, traces of it might be found in certain attitudes or even prayer requests. I knew a mother who had two unmarried daughters, and finding husbands seemed to be a preoccupation with their family. The attitude seemed to effect how their daughters saw themselves, and slightly twisted their view on God’s plan.
Let me say something that needs to be said. Single people do not need other people to be burdened by their singleness! “Wait a second!”, you may say. “What about Galatians 6:2 where it says to ‘bear one another’s burdens’? Is it not our duty to help carry the weight of those emotions and feelings that plague our loved ones?” While it is true that helping fellow Believers in their time of trial is a command of Scripture, the bearing typically occurring in this kind of scenario hurts rather than actually helps the situation. They are in essence, reaching for the wrong luggage at the baggage claim. While the intention may be out of a desire to help, this will only make matters worse. I will offer a better way to bear this particular burden.
The issue in this scenario is a misunderstanding of singleness itself. We need to understand the purpose of singleness and the importance of God’s overarching plan before we can accurately support a single Believer. That way, when given the opportunity to counsel and support, we aren’t encouraging their distorted view, but are instead helping build a more truthful one. Singleness is not the enemy. If we treat singleness like the villain in someone’s story, then we paint the inaccurate picture that marriage is the answer to all his or her problems. Unfortunately, whether your single friend ends up married or remains single for a while longer, you have done nothing to help fix their problem and quite possibly have been part of what is holding them back from living as God intends them to.
If a believer is truly struggling with being single, their issue more often than not is much deeper than their status. As I have mentioned in the previous chapter, it is probably an illegitimate fear or possibly an issue of trying to find treasure on earth instead of treasuring Christ. In my experience, it is usually a mixture of those two. Either way, a better method to counsel is by offering the Gospel itself. Us singles need to be reminded of who we are and what we have in Christ. We need to be served a gracious dose of truth in love, that even if marriage came our way, it would not satisfy our deepest longings. If any burdens are carried on behalf of a single believer, it should be these deeper encumbrances of believing half-truths and the need to learn to value Christ above anything this world has to offer. Do not make the mistake of picking up the wrong luggage!
The Sunday Fish Market
It is said that to tell a quality sushi restaurant from a subpar one, you need to find out if they are open on Sundays. Apparently, fish markets are typically closed on that particular day of the week, so in order for a sushi restaurant to serve their delicacies on Sundays, they must have a willingness to serve day-old products, thereby revealing a lack of culinary integrity. I am not sure how much truth is in this bit of hearsay and it has not really changed my sushi-eating habits, but I think the concept offers a valuable tip to church members. I feel the need to present this matter carefully, because I do not want to draw any hard and fast lines regarding church matchmaking, but I do want to provide some insight on how these schemes can be perceived on the receiving end.
A quality church that allows singles to flourish should not sell fish on Sunday. I think this goes without saying, but the focus during church gatherings should not be pairing off, no matter how many fish are on hand. Ideally, the church atmosphere is the place one hopes to find a future spouse if there is one to be found, but when that becomes the goal of singles or those they interact with, there is potential for negative albeit unintended implications. First of all, when singles are seen as projects to “fix”, the subtle message underlying the matchmaking attempts is that they are somehow incomplete or missing out. Additionally, church members need to recognize the value of the presence of unmarried adults in the body. Why trade what is arguably the best ministry resource for a preoccupied newlywed? That process should not be hurried along if the church knows what is good for it!
Christian matchmaking is not wrong in and of itself, and can be a welcome gesture for many singles, but there is a need to tread these waters more lightly. It is important to invest time into getting to know singles on a deeper level. Invite them into your life. Be family to them. Give them opportunities to serve and use their God-given time. Then, after making sure they are in a place where they have an accurate take on marriage, humbly breach the topic and find out if that is even something they desire. Additionally, if you plan on mentioning any kind of potential set up, make sure you intend on carrying it out. Statements about perfect matches with your husband’s friend’s cousin’s coach are not helpful to share if you do not really intend on seeing it through.
Wasted on Singleness
If I had a quarter for every time I have heard the words “You are too good to stay single,” I would be rich. Well okay, I might have enough to buy a vanilla latte at Starbucks. Make it a tall. Anyways, I understand that these comments are well-intentioned, but I bring it up because I think there is a tendency for married folks to jump into flattery mode when a single person opens up about their desire for marriage and the seeming lack of willing candidates. While it is nice to want to dissolve potential insecurities, the underlying assumption of the flattery is false. It basically says that singleness is only for some kind of less optimal person, but marriage is a higher calling that selects from the cream of the crop.
The reality is that marriage and singleness are two paths that God uses for His purposes, and in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul implies that singleness is potentially better for the Kingdom because of its “undivided” nature. The nicest, most sincere complement I have ever received in regards to my singleness came from an older friend. She said that she had been observing me in conversation, and her initial thoughts were of what man I could end up with in our circle of acquaintances. “But then,” she exclaimed, “I decided that I really like you as a single person!” We work in ministry together, and I think she realized all the friendships and mentoring opportunities I am able to pursue because I do not have the responsibilities associated with being someone’s wife.
So instead of jumping into flattery mode the next time a single brother or sister openly bemoans their empty ring finger, look to what God has for them right where they are to encourage them. Are they in ministry? Point out the freedom they have to spontaneously take a younger Believer to coffee or the blessings they have in being able to wholeheartedly serve the Lord. What does their social life look like? There is adventure to be had outside of dating that is not as much of an option for married folks! What are they gifted in or passionate about? Chances are, God wants them to use those gifts and passions in ways that might be stretching but joyful. Truth might not be what they want to hear, but don’t let that stop you from trading what is nice but fleeting for that which is more meaningful and lasting.
The Purity Talk
It was Valentines Day, of all days. I was in a youthful audience, listening to a message that was all too familiar. Growing up in youth group, I had heard several messages addressing the issue of sexual purity, but this time was different. The script was the same, but I felt like I was hearing it with fresh ears, having become passionate about the topic of singleness since my hike up and out of adolescence. It had nothing to do with what was said, as there was a lot of truth in what was spoken. Instead, a chord was struck in what was left unsaid, what was not emphasized. There was a knot in my stomach as I wrestled with how to respond. That evening, I went home and picked up a pen. My working title to the piece that I planned on keeping hidden in between the pages of my journal was “A Letter to the Church.” In it, I expressed a critique on how marriage is often presented to young believers, and how much of a disservice it can be to those whom God does not will to marry. That letter would eventually inspire this blog!
Somewhere along the course of church history, possibly in the more recent past, purity talks have taken on a common script. This script does not have anything necessarily wrong in it, but I will show how it is unbalanced in what it emphasizes and how it contains underlying assumptions that are unsupported by Scripture.
The “purity talk” goes something like this: It will start out in Scripture, possibly in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, where it says that God’s will is for us to “abstain from sexual immorality” or maybe Hebrews 13:4, which says “Let the marriage bed be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Then after some discussion on how sex outside of marriage is not part of God’s plan and how it is technically adultery, the talk will finish with an emphasis on how sex outside of marriage has a negative effect on future marital relationships. True stories of regret may be employed, real-life accounts of couples who did not wait for marriage and the resulting distrust, dissatisfaction, or guilt they had to work through as a result. Another part of this conversation may include vivid imagery of how two become one in acting out the physical side of marriage. Sex is shown as more than just an act or a hunger, but painted as the deeper, soul-connecting way in which God intended life-long partners to bond. Young men are told to hold out for their future wives because sex is more fulfilling in marriage, and young women are encouraged to start praying for their future husbands and their purity. While many of these points are good to mention to a youthful audience in our sex-saturated culture, I am afraid that the purity talk is deficient in how it takes additional support for an argument made in Scripture and makes it the main point.
If you were to read through God’s Word, asking the question “Why should a Believer remain sexually pure?”, what answer would it give? 1 Corinthians 6:18 says to “flee from sexual immorality” because it is a sin committed against your own body. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says to abstain from sexual immorality because “it is the will of God.” Colossians 3:5 says that we are to put to death that which is earthly, and gives a list that includes sexual immorality. 1 Corinthians 6:13 says that “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says to glorify God in your body because “you were bought with a price.” Notice how God’s answers to the question of “Why abstinence?” do not have much to do with a future earthly marital relationship. The reasons He does give have to do with how He made us to function as our Creator, how He rescued us from our slavery to fleshly desires, and how He simply wills it. If God did use earthly marriage as a reason for purity, it would neglect the fact that marriage is not a guarantee made by Scripture, and that is why the cookie-cutter purity message is so inefficient in churches today. Singles need a more solid foundation to base their purity on then something that may or may not be granted to them.
If you are a youth pastor preparing sermons that encourage purity in the lives of church-going youth or if you are a discipler of single believers who struggle to fight for purity in their culture, do not make an earthly marriage the main point of your encouragement. This will only serve to fuel the distorted view that marriage is some kind of warranty for Christ followers. Instead, focus on the pursuit of purity as something God uses to bring them closer with Christ, knowing that He “has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Let the eternal marriage between Christ and His church have more emphasis than something that is merely a tool God uses for some to reflect the better more lasting relationship.
In conclusion, singles are in need of all kinds of encouragement from their fellow brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, I am afraid many of them are not provided with the correct kind of encouragement. Pointing them towards a local singles group or telling them that God’s best will come if they are patient does not get to the root of the issue or even represent the truths of Scripture accurately. You want to be an encouragement to the single person in your Church? Begin by rewiring how you view earthly marriage, if need be, aligning your stance with God’s timeless truths. I fear that many of today’s Christian marriages have bought into the lies of our culture, and so they are unable to be an encouragement to singles because their actions speak louder than words. If your happiness and fulfillment is rooted in your marriages and families instead of Christ, the singles in your sphere will pick up on that message. Seek God’s help in adjusting your spiritual priorities and then invite single brothers and sisters into your life. Be family to them. Show them how singleness does not have to be equated with loneliness, bitterness, monotony, or a spot on the sidelines of real life.
Thanks, as always for reading these little pieces of my heart. Next week, I’ll be writing a message of encouragement and advice to my single sisters. Praying for you all, that some part of this blog will strike a chord in your hearts and help you seek Christ more faithfully.
–>LINK FOR NEXT POST IN SERIES: https://notsingledout.com/category/6-week-singleness-series/week-6/
 Constantine, Michael, perf. My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Dir. Joel Zwick. 2002. Film.