This article is part of the Open Letters series.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We owe our existence as churches to God. He has put us together, by his grace and for his glory. This is not something we could have done by ourselves. We are humans, and our failings as such are everywhere evident, but we are nevertheless a supernatural presence. We exist as a church only by a miracle.
So we need to steward one another well. And an important part of that stewardship—an often-neglected part—is in making sure we are thinking biblically about the issue of singleness. The rise of singleness in our culture as well as in our churches makes this more and more pressing. All the trends indicate this part of our demographic is growing at both ends–people marrying later and marriages ending sooner. But this is not just for the singles to think about. What the Bible says about singleness concerns the whole church, for three significant reasons.
We owe our existence as churches to God. He has put us together, by his grace and for his glory.
The Bible’s teaching on singleness is given to all of God’s people.
In 1 Corinthians 7, as Paul takes us through issues of marriage and singleness he turns to different sections of the readership and addresses them directly: the unmarried and the widows (v.8); the married (v.10); “the rest” (v.12). But even as Paul addresses each of these groups specifically, he wants and expects the whole church to be listening in. I am not a widow (and can never be one), but the Scriptures addressed to them are still given to me. I must not skip over them. Similarly, though I am not a parent, passages directed to parents are still God’s word to me. The same is the case with Scriptures about singleness, even when directed to singles. God’s word to singles about singleness is something you need to know about, whatever your stage of life or marital status.
Most of us who are married will one day be single again.
This is not something we like to dwell on if we’re married. But it is very rare for a married couple to die at the same time. As I write this, it is over twenty-five years since my grandmother died. Our family was devastated, and no one more so of course than my grandfather. He has had to experience singleness for whole decades since she died and is not far off having spent more of his life unmarried than married, which is something given they were married for over fifty years (he is now over one hundred years old).
It is sobering and sad to think about, but also necessary. Bereavement will return many who are married now to singleness again. And add to that the number of marriages that will end in divorce and the proportion of those who will become single for a second time rises even higher. A ring on our finger now is no sure sign that we will not be single in the future. Better to think carefully and biblically about singleness now rather than later.
The local church is a body.
Paul tells us that each of us belongs to all the other church members (Rom. 12:4–5, NIV). We’re a body. So what happens to some of us, therefore, affects all of us. When I stub my toe, it is not just my toe that suffers, I suffer. If some of us in the church are struggling, it hurts all of us. We’re invested in one another, therefore I need to know what the Christian life is like for you in your situation, and you need to know what it’s like for me in mine.
This shows me that, as a single person, I have a stake in the marriages around me being healthy. And those who are married have a stake in me being single in a healthy way. It’s part of what belonging to each other involves. It is in the interests of all of us, the whole church, single and married, to understand the positive vision the Bible gives us of singleness.
So let’s not neglect what Scripture has to say about singleness. It may well surprise us. It will certainly bless us. And it will help us to bless one another.
Yours in him,