Singleness, What is it Good For?
There is a song that emerged in 1970 during the Vietnam War with a catchy hook that becomes a singable anthem. The hook simply goes, “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” The songwriter goes on to highlight that war brings nothing to benefit those involved but destruction, loss of life, and tears to mother’s eyes. In essence, the singer declares that war only ever brings pain, that war is incapable of bringing joy.
I can easily confess that there have been several dozen times throughout my singleness when I’ve tinkered with the lyrics in my mind to express my internal struggle to the tune of “Singleness, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Rather than a gift from God, I’ve too often perceived singleness as incapable of bringing joy; as that which only ever brings pain.
However, what I’ve learned – especially over the past two years – is that there is a peculiar joy and beauty to singleness. I’ve again tinkered with the lyrics in my mind and shifted them to the melody of “Singleness, what is it good for? Absolutely everything!”
Good For Killing Sin and Savoring Christ
So what is singleness good for? There are a multiplicity of answers. One, singleness displays that Christ truly does completely satisfy and fulfill us. That our hymnal singing is not vain when we cry out that Christ is enough. Second, and being rooted in the first, singleness opposes our culture’s belief that sex is the apex of human experience and that sex qualifies the genuineness of one’s own personhood and autonomy. Singleness raises high the banner that to be truly human is to be united with Christ, not sexually united with a partner. Finally, as Paul emphatically highlights, singleness is a treasure because it allows us to pursue the Lord single-mindedly with an undivided devotion (1 Cor. 7:35). Is our view of God big enough to believe these? Do we need to repent of our idolatry of relationships?
In the midst of the bursting garden of reasons why singleness is in fact good, there are two specific fruits that singleness provides us with that I want to press hard on: (1) singleness as a time for systematically killing sin in our lives, and (2) a time for growing a deeper satisfaction in God – a real treasuring of Christ above all things.
In his book, Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating, Marshall Segal writes, “We’re so focused on finding love that we get distracted from killing sin” (85). In an American church culture that seems to play timid when addressing sin on a personal level, we need to take Segal’s words, read them several times over, and really examine ourselves with soberness.
Brothers and sisters, have we wasted years of our singleness preoccupied with scanning the horizons for a ship to tether ourselves to not seeing that there are gaping holes in the hull of our own ship that will sink us? Have we left weeds unattended to in the garden of our souls? Have we given a blind eye to the sin that ravages our lives like a malignant form of cancer? Know that indwelling sin makes cancer look like a runny nose in Autumn. Do not be deceived, the sin that you leave unattended in your singleness will be the same sin that decimates your marriage in the future. Do not throw away your singleness, employ it as God would have you. Throw yourself upon Christ and, by his grace and power, put sin to death in your singleness before it puts your future marriage to death.
The second fruit of singleness is complementary to the first, for the two go hand in hand. Our singleness provides us with an opportunity to root out sin and our singleness also provides us with an opportunity to deepen the well of our satisfaction and delight in Christ; to grow in savoring Christ.
Delighting yourself in Christ, esteeming him as the treasure that you gladly give up all of life for (Matt. 13:44) and as that which makes all else look like rubbish (Phil. 3:7-8) will be the well from which you draw from in marriage. So now, in your singleness, is the time to start excavating a deep well of joy in Christ. Know that you will not be able to properly love and serve your wife or husband until you have first fallen head over heels in love with Christ. As Segal notes, your spouse “cannot love you well unless you are not [their] first love” (143). A deep well of delight and love for Christ will be that which you draw from in killing sin and in loving your spouse.
Perceiving Marriage Rightly
For too long I perceived marriage as an end in of itself. I thought that marriage would satisfy my emotional needs, my desire for an intimate best friend to share life with, my sexual desires, as well as my desire to start a family and raise up mini-me’s and mini-her’s. I perceived marriage as a finish line to cross to the reception of prizes and medals for finishing the marathon of my singleness.
My small view of marriage was grounded in a small view of the gospel and ultimately a small view of God. My lens for marriage was man-centered. In fact, I had placed myself at the center.
The reason marriage is beautiful is not because you and I become fulfilled in our emotional and sexual desires. Marriage isn’t about you and it’s not about me. Marriage isn’t even about your spouse. Marriage is a mirror for God’s glory to explode forth from. Marriage is a canvas to display the beauty of the gospel on. If we do not understand this, we simply are not ready for marriage. Why? Because God created marriage as a means to glorifying himself by displaying the beauty of his love for his Bride, us, the church (Eph. 5:25, Rev. 19:7). Marriage is a small glimpse of the eternal union we will have with Christ.
And this is where Segal hits the nail on the head when he states, “Marriage is worth having because you get God in your lifelong commitment to one another. Marriage is about knowing God, worshiping God, depending on God, displaying God, and being made like God… if you’re not experiencing that with your boyfriend, break up with him.” (108)
There are times in our singleness when we feel like a bird trapped in a cage. We wait for a beautiful songbird to come along, pick the lock to the cage of our singleness, and fly away with us. But there is a sweet and soft pillow to lay our heads upon in our singleness. A truth that melts the tension, fear, and stress we fight in the waiting. It’s the pillow of God’s sovereignty over and in our singleness and our marriage.
When we perceive that it is the Lord who brings a man and a woman together (Matthew 19:6), that we labor in vain unless the Lord builds the house (Psalm 127:1), the bolts on our imaginary cage fall to the ground. God’s sovereignty does not lead us to some antinomian lens of marriage where we idly sit by twiddling our thumbs waiting for God to drop our spouse before our eyes with a banner over their head reading “The One.” By no means! Comprehending God’s sovereignty in our singleness and marriage releases the shackles that we imagine our singleness is placing upon our hearts.
I want to conclude with another nugget from Segal:
Worship is the goal of all Christian Dating, because worship is the goal of the Christian life. God did not make us to be married but to make much of him. Marriage is about knowing God, worshiping God, depending on God, displaying God, and being made like God. If our dating – any given night out or a decade of trying – ends in marriage and not worship, it will ultimately be empty and unsatisfying. Date for more than marriage.Marshall Segal, Not Yet Married: The Pursue of Joy in Singleness & Dating. 124
What is singleness good for? Absolutely everything! In our singleness, may we make it our aim to treasure Christ richly and kill sin vigorously. May we perceive marriage rightly in our anticipation of it: marriage being a canvas – a mirror – for the gospel to explode forth from.