In the second of this two-part article, we will continue to explore thebiblical teachings surrounding singleness. The important point we will look at is the idea that the Bible never places single people into a single category. When we remember this, we can avoid unintentionally hurting people, and make everyone feel more included in our churches.
The reason for this post is to try and help us understand what the Bible teaches about singleness, and how this can help us in our lives, in our churches, in our discipleship, and in our Christian contexts.
In my last post, I outlined that singleness and marriage are both valued in the New Testament and upheld as being equally good. (Read Part 1 here)
I want to dig a bit deeper in this post, because the Bible talks about six key categories that can help us understand singleness in the light of Scripture.
These categories would have referred to adults of marital age when the Bible was written, and we must remember that people would have been pledged or married very young. So a very small percentage of adults would have been single and/or never married, which is different to the modern context we find ourselves in. Nevertheless, these categories can help guide us today.
The categories talked about in the Bibleare: Death, Desertion, Divorce, Desire, Disadvantage, Default.
The Bible talks about adults who are single because their marital spouse has died. They are therefore widows or widowers. The Bible talks about the need to look after them as they can face economic hardships, especially in the culture the Bible was written in. (E.g. James 1:27; 1 Timothy 5:4-5)
If two non-Christians get married, and then one becomes a Christian later and the other person leaves them because of it, this would cause singleness in adult life. The Bible talks about this scenario too. (E.g. 1 Corinthians 7:12-16)
This is spoken about in several places in the Bible. Some argue divorce is acceptable in some circumstances, others say it never is. Either way, the Bible says this is a reason for singleness in adult life among the people of God. (E.g. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11; Matthew 19:1-9)
Some people want to remain single their whole life because God has called them to be. Some people just don’t want to get married. Jeremiah and Jesus had this call. (Jeremiah 16:1-2; Matthew 19:10-12)
Sometimes people cannot marry and sustain an intimate, sexual, and emotional romantic relationship because of a disadvantage. For example, in the Bible eunuchs don’t have any genitals, and therefore would not have married in that culture. (E.g. Matthew 19:12)
This refers to Christians who want to get married, but they haven’t found a suitable partner yet. This may be, for example,because they want to marry a Christian but can’t find one. They have a desire for marriage but are unable to find a suitable partner.
This final category isn’t really addressed in the Bible. It does sometimes talk about virgins/unmarried people who should get married if their ‘passions’ and sexual desire is too strong (E.g. 1 Corinthians 7:36.) So these people aren’t married, but deep down they want to be.
However, not all single people are balls of uncontrollable hormones. So while the Bible addresses some (potential) aspects of the ‘default’ category, it doesn’t address every aspect.
So how does all this help us today?
The Default Is Growing
To begin with, I want to focus on this ‘default’ category, because I believe this is the issue Christians and the churches need to really think about today.
Firstly, the growing number of women compared to men in the church is high, and this trend is set to continue, and many Christians wish to marry another Christian. This means that there are lots of women in our churches who want to get married, but simply can’t because there aren’t enough single christian men. So they remain single indefinitely.
Also, both men and women are finding it harder to find and date other single people. This is for many reasons, such as: their church isn’t attracting other people their age, they don’t meet other christians at work or in their day to day lives, they feel overwhelmed and don’t know what to do on a date, etc. (Read What Should We Do On A First Date? Part 1)
This means that by ‘default,’ a growing group of people find themselves single. This isn’t meant to make them sound bad or be patronising, but they don’t foresee an option other than singleness, because there are no suitable partners around.
More and more Christians need or will need support, advice, and help in this areabecause this category is real and growing in our churches. People will be faced with tough decisions, and we need to be able to respond biblically, graciously, and authentically.
Single People Aren’t A Single Category
I also think this biblical teaching highlights that single people can’t be seen as a single category.
I remember a church leader saying: ‘We put on a singles night and no one came, so why bother?’ But a 65-year-old widow is different to the young 20 something single person who’s never been married. And a divorced person is different from someone who feels called to be single for their whole life.
I find that most single Christians don’t want a ‘singles night,’ what they really want is to be part of the family. They want church and friends to include them no matter what their relationship status is. We need to emphasise and practice inclusivity.
Also, saying cliches like ‘God is preparing someone for you,’ can be really hurtful to someone who is divorced or someone who feels called to singleness for life. Or saying: ‘singleness is a blessing,’ while true, isn’t helpful if someone wants to get married and can’t because there aren’t enough single Christians in the church.
People in different categories face different challenges, and no two single people are the same. Single people can’t be grouped into a single category, and the Bible shows we need a pastoral and realistic appreciation of single people’s different situations.
Imagine if, we stopped assuming the single people in our church have the same problems we had or have as a single person, and started to ask about each other’s concerns and struggles, and built an inclusive, understanding and bible centred church culture, for all people especially for singles. (Read 5 Clichés Said To Singles, Have You Heard Them All?)
(This article was originally published on the Naked Truth Relationship website, and has been updated for this discipleship website.)