Sometimes I’ll take time to leaf through my old journals. When I take them down from the bookshelf by my bed I always end up finding something meaningful between the lines. It might be a humorous memory scribbled across the page, a sorrowful circumstance inked into the paper or what I had been learning and studying in the Word. Regardless, it always takes me back to something significant. Yet, the end to which I aim to write on this occasion is not an obscure paragraph among hundreds of pages but a theme which weaves its way through years of college ruled paper between the black bindings and right up to my keyboard this very minute. That is to say, it is a regular.
I could wish that I was never troubled by such a pain, indeed that I am not troubled, now, but I know the folly of such a thought. There is no trial or pain, no hurt or weakness, no infirmity of my heart, that is not given by God to grow me in holiness, wean me from the world, deepen my joy in Christ and to glorify God. On account of hardship or weakness I therefore rejoice.
To be sure, I rejoice for God’s mercy and grace that I’ve known only because I’ve had to go to the garden each day and chop this crooked tree sprouting from unbelief. But I also rejoice and cry out to God each day because apart from Christ I haven’t got an axe sharp enough or muscles strong enough to do the job––not one percent of it. He does it all. Indeed, he did it all on the cross and his same spirit accomplishes faith in me today. May we fight the fight of faith, then, with such things in mind––our utter weakness, his magnificent strength. That is, may we say with the psalmist, “My help comes from the Lord!” (Psalm 121:2).
The trouble I face and the word so often inked into journal pages is that pertaining to singleness, of being single. It itself is no infirmity, no lesser gift that of being married.
The trouble, however, comes when we desire marriage, or anything, apart from God, believe we will never be fulfilled without it, suppose we are being short-changed by God apart from it, and reason that our loneliness will never be cured while remaining unmarried.
Those four false thoughts often stand plumb in the way of our pursuit of Christ, of our giving glory to our Father. I aim to show you that the truth of the gospel obliterates them. We must fight with vigilance though, for we must put to death the deeds of the body by the spirit. Indeed, we must fight each day for the truth of the gospel, not falsity, to reign in our hearts lest we fall into sin.
I’ve separated those four thoughts below and will spend the remainder of my time unpacking them with scripture close at hand.
I desire a relationship… above all else
Desiring to be married is a right and healthy desire. God has created us male and female and clearly lays out in the early chapters of Genesis what marriage and the family is to be. Man and woman are to work in the garden together. The man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:18, 24). The creation mandate is fulfilled, God is obeyed, and sin is avoided when we believe and embrace this definition of sexuality and marriage, whether we’re presently single or married.
Not all of us will be married, though. We may seek a good thing in right way and not see it come to us. God has, in his sovereign wisdom and love gifted some with marriage and some with singleness. Perhaps singleness is a gift one stewards for a time until he is married or a gift stewarded for life. We cannot know and we must trust the sovereign hand of our Savior and friend, Jesus.
We get into trouble and sin, however, when we act on a desire, albeit a good desire, apart from the will of God. That is, we sin when we fail to trust that our heavenly Father is taking proper care of us and suppling our needs. In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus shows us exactly how to deal with this temptation. Jesus is in the wilderness and is being tempted by the devil. He has been fasting for forty days and is undoubtedly hungrier than any of us have ever been or will be in our entire lives. Satan comes to him at this time, commanding Jesus to turn the stones before his feet into bread. Jesus could do it with the snap of his fingers, he is creator God.
We don’t have such a temptation because we can’t turn stones into bread. But it’s a super-sized for temptation for a ‘superhero’. For us, it’s the ease of casting glances at our neighbor’s paper during the chemistry exam, committing sexual immorality with a couple of clicks on our phone or lying and gossiping to make ourselves look better. It’s just right there, so easy, so attainable. Indeed, the hardest temptation to resist is that of the sin easiest to commit.
But what does Jesus do with this? He doesn’t turn the stones to bread, he doesn’t give in to the glaring temptation. Rather, he quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. Jesus’ response here reveals to us that the Devil’s command is not so much a temptation to create bread, though it is, as it is a temptation to see his heavenly father as insufficient. Thus, Jesus declares to Satan that God’s word to him is more important than bread. If bread has to be gotten apart from God giving it, apart from God’s plan, Jesus is going to pass on the bread. Jesus says ‘no’, because he believes to his core that his father is good and will give him all he needs in his perfect timing.
You see, desiring bread when you’re hungry––gnawingly and devastatingly hungry––and deciding to go after it without God is really quite synonymous with desiring marriage, or a girlfriend, and deciding you’re just going to have to go get it on your own. It’s the same temptation. It’s the temptation to believe God isn’t caring for you, that your plan is better. It’s saying you know what you need most and that it’s not God.
We must ask ourselves, then, amidst temptation, two questions: Is God good? And, is God caring for me? The answers are, of course, that God is good, and he does care for his children. Therefore, we must trust his fatherly care and timing in what he gives or does not give us over and above any other. Anything else is, quite literally, doing what Satan has commanded.
There’s a sermon By Dr. Chris Miller that I’m happily indebted to for much of this section. You can find it here.
I will never be entirely fulfilled outside of marriage
It’s actually one-hundred percent true that you will be forever unsatisfied apart from what your heart truly desires. Apart from what our soul acutely longs for we’ll be left miserable, sad, and unsatisfied people. The good thing for singles is that we don’t actually truly long for marriage. Of course, we do long for marriage. We long for a lifelong companion and best friend vowed in covenant love and to live out the wonderful and holy real-life metaphor of Christ and the church. But we’re wrong if we think that’s more than an echo from something far greater.
Jesus says in John 6:35 that he is “the bread of life; whoever comes to [him] shall never hunger, and whoever believes in [him] shall never thirst”. There is nothing more satisfying than Jesus. Anything we are satisfied by in this life is totally temporary and does not last. Here on earth we long for more vacations, another date, or more home-cooked food. Yet, in Christ there is no wane of satisfaction, no welling up of hunger for something more than what we’ve had. He is the absolute end of our greatest desire and we will never thirst for anything else again. He is infinitely and forever satisfying.
Just a handful of verses earlier in John chapter six we read of how Jesus fed the five-thousand. Following his miracle, the crowds continued to come after him. They had eaten their fill of bread and desired Jesus to provide more as God had previously done for Israel in the wilderness. The irony here is that the crowds are seeking satisfaction in physical food, in temporary satisfaction, while what is fully and forever satisfying is standing right in front of them. They sought Jesus’ hand instead of Jesus and they missed, big time. They thought they needed full stomachs more than they needed atonement for their sin and peace with God. The crowd totally missed infinite satisfaction, fullness of joy, and pleasures forevermore because they were worried about what was for dinner in a couple of hours.
We must be careful not to do the same as the Jews did here––seek temporary fulfillment and miss our real need. We truly need and long for peace with God bought for us on the cross by Jesus as the Passover lamb and eternity spent with our God. We long for the complete fulfillment Jeremiah 32:38, “They shall be my people and I will be their God”.
Therefore, as we place our hope in the finished work of Christ, of him being the propitiation for our sins and bringing us to God, we must know that there is truly nothing better, more fulfilling, or anything else that is infinitely satisfying (Romans 3:21-25, 1 Peter 3:18, John 6:32). God is our greatest desire, and he is infinitely satisfying, and we have him!
Paul, in Philippians 1:21 says it well, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain… My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better”. Likewise, the psalmist cries out in Psalm 73, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”.
Yet, we must fight. For the flesh does not die by itself nor the devil tarry in his schemes. Our affections are pulled every which way by our sinful nature and we are lured into thinking we need something, even something good, more than God. We do well to pursue marriage in holiness and purity and patience, but commit evil and suicide to reach for it as our highest need or greatest desire. May our single hope be that of the apostle Paul, “My desire… is to be with Christ”, because it truly is.
Singleness is a lesser lot than marriage
If we think we are being short-changed or that we’ve been given something lesser by God in a life or season of singleness, we have a pressing question we must answer: Was Jesus deficient? Was the Son of God walking around the earth for some 30 years incomplete or lesser because he wasn’t married? The answer is, of course, and must be, a resounding no, Jesus was not deficient. The same could be said of the Apostle Paul and others.
That’s not a cliché to smack you over the head with but a profoundly wonderful and helpful truth to preach to our weak, and so often unbelieving hearts. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7 says it with utmost clarity, “…each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another”. If you are married, that’s a gift. If you are single, that’s a gift. So often we see singleness as a lesser lot than marriage. We see it as a gag gift and not a gracious and good gift from our Father. But we must see here in the words of the Apostle Paul, that being single, as opposed to being married, does not make anyone deficient. Instead, God has given both the gift of marriage and the gift of singleness.
In reality, then, we ought to be asking how we might steward our singleness instead of how we might get rid of or fix it. Indeed, we ought, but what are we to do to get there? For living with the throbbing, daily reality of singleness undergirded by even a healthy desire for marriage is riddled with struggle. So how do we get from one to the other. That is, how do we go from seeing singleness as a deficiency or hardship to seeing it as a gift we strive to steward well?
Well, by the power of the Spirit we must believe that Paul is right in his words to the Corinthian believers––singleness and marriage alike are gifts from God. We must believe that we are not incomplete without a significant other just as Jesus was not incomplete. We must believe we have a good father who loves us and does not give us gag gifts but real, good gifts.
Consider for a moment the incredible language of Isaiah 46. I shift to this passage not because it has specifically anything to do with singleness or marriage but to remind us of the booming omnipotence of God coupled with his gracious care and love. Verses 3 and 4 say this, “Listen to me O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and I will save”. Later, verses 9 and 10 read, “…I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose”.
Recall, too, the picture of thorough care painted in Matthew chapter 6. “Do not be anxious about your life… Look at the birds of the air… Your father cares for them… Are you not of more value than they?”. God provides food and shelter for birds, he takes care of even the seemingly insignificant, minute pieces of the universe. Yet, he cares for his children with greater concern. We ought not be anxious. Not because it stresses us out, isn’t healthy, or won’t do any good––even though that’s all true––but because we have a kind, all powerful and sovereign father who is taking perfect care of us. He is showing us his glory in our ordained times of suffering or difficulty or prosperity and preparing us for eternity. He is caring for us.
In this care he’s given some the gift of singleness and some the gift of marriage. God’s plan for the world was laid out in eternity past in his infinite wisdom and is being carried out now, today. We mustn’t worry whether things are spinning out of control or deviating from God’s perfect plan. He carries us and he keeps us. He has authored our salvation and adopted us as his children. He loves us perfectly. He sent his son to die for us so that we might be reconciled to him. If you are single today, God has perfectly and lovingly brought that about for his glory and for your joy.
May we not complain because it is difficult, for we were promised it would be. But rather rejoice for the gift God gives, whether of marriage or of singleness, because they are from God. May we rejoice and be glad that there is no trial or pain, no hurt or weakness, no infirmity of heart, that is not given by God to grow us in holiness, wean us from the world, deepen our joy in Christ and to glorify God.
Our fleshly, earth-calibrated eyes struggle to see the eternal plan being meticulously worked by our Father. But by the power of the spirit, we will believe, and we will see. And we will not lose heart but rejoice, knowing we have a caring father and that Jesus was without the slightest deficiency.
I will forever be lonely apart from a romantic relationship
Being single often means being lonely. It, in fact, often means we can fall into being lonely on a regular basis. Knowing this, we must be proactive and seek godly friendships and community. We ought not isolate ourselves from others, from the local church or spend undue amounts of time alone. Rather, we must engage others, serve our local church body, and spend regular time with family and friends. That takes work and that’s not always an easy task to feel up to. But we must be up to it because God has commanded us to.
But to say that we will be forever lonely without a romantic relationship is simply not true. Friendships of tremendous depth with brothers and sisters in the faith can and ought––indeed they must––be apart of our lives. Guys ought to have close intimate friendship with brothers in the faith. Girls ought to have close intimate friendships with sisters in the faith.
The inspired author of Hebrews writes in 3:18-20, “Take care brothers [and sisters] lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief causing you to fall away from the living God. Exhort one another every day as along as it is called today so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end”.
We are given a clear command there in verse 19. We are to ‘exhort one another’ everyday, to strongly encourage each other in the faith with great earnestness. That’s the job of Christian community––to keep one another believing, every day. Consider it your responsibly to exhort your friends and family every day. Consider it your responsibility to call them, write them, talk to them over coffee, to have them over for dinner, to point them to Jesus in absolutely everything––because it is. It’s their job to you, too.
We see here in this passage the clear vertical relationship with Christ for every believer. We must abide in Christ; we mustn’t fall away––that’s the main concern. The first part of these verses point us to the preeminence of our relationship with Jesus––the main goal of everything. But we should see, too, that there’s horizontal language, there’s much being said about our relationship with fellow believers. First, we are called to exhort each other every day, at all times. Second, if we hold our confidence firm to the end, we have come (right now!) to share in Christ. We are in Christ together, currently! May we exhort our brothers and sisters every day that they, through the power of the spirit, hold their confidence firm to the end. God supernaturally works in our exhortation to each other so that we will keep the faith.
Loneliness thrives and roams free outside the borders of faithful and biblical Christian friendship and community. It doesn’t fully die inside faithful and biblical community but it loses much of its power, it dulls. God has not called singles to be alone. He has called singles to faithfully serve their brothers and sisters in Christ and have intimate friendships with the golden hallmark of ‘Exhort one another in the faith every day’. Indeed, he’s called married people to do that too.
You may know all too well that seeking community and being involved isn’t a full cure of loneliness. Indeed, it’s impossible to get away from it with any true finality in this life whether you are married or not. Even though loneliness loses edge in beating on the armor of Christian community, there’s still pain that gets through. When you lay your head upon your pillow at night, even after a day full of quality time with others, loneliness may knock at your door. Or perhaps loneliness doesn’t knock anymore but instead has moved right in. It greets you as soon as you’ve returned from work or your Bible study. You watch TV together while you eat dinner and it eats you.
I say to you brother or sister, we must exhort one another every day. Encourage your friends every day and challenge them to do the same to you. I pray over the phone with one of my best friends every single week even though we live hundreds of miles away from each other. It has been a salve to the loneliness often burdening my back. We must have intimate fellowship with our fellow believers, we have our share in Christ! We cannot wallow, we have work to do. May we do it with God’s help. May we do it knowing loneliness does not die on wedding days, but dies with our very bodies. Yet, it does not rise with us. For the Father abandoned Jesus on the cross so that we might not ever be abandoned. He placed on him the iniquity of us all so that we might be pure and blameless in Christ and be with him forever.
We may have bouts of loneliness. We may be fighting systemic loneliness. But we must biblically fight it by abiding in Jesus and striving alongside our community of brothers and sisters with whom we have share in Christ. We must help them, by the power of the Spirit, persevere to the end. We must know, too, that we won’t forever fight loneliness because Christ has won the victory, he has brought us to himself where we will never be alone again. May we fight all the more reverently, then, for the victory has been won and the end is near.
May our single hope be to be glad in Jesus, to make others glad in Jesus, and to glorify him in all that we do whether we’re single or married. May our single hope be, “To be with Christ… for that is far better”!
I want to end with a prayer to help orient our minds to God’s word.
May you teach my heart to know in greater ways that you care for your children and supply their every need. May I patiently and obediently wait for your perfect will. Father, may I taste and see that you are good. Help my heart to believe that only you are truly satisfying, that I will only be full fulfilled and happy in you––my heart’s greatest longing. Thank you that in your presence there is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. May I count everything as loss because I’ve gained the most lovely and valuable and satisfying thing in the universe, namely, Jesus Christ. Thank you that Christ bore my sin and brought me to you, O God, I love you. Help me to joyfully steward what comes from your gracious and kind hand. And when it’s hard and troublesome for my soul to rejoice may I believe that in all things, because of Christ, I am more than a conqueror, that every trial is working for your glory and my joy. God, may I not wallow in loneliness but seek to make others glad in you and to show them Christ. Help your church to pursue profound, God-centered encouragment to our brothers and sisters. Help me to finish the race and die to sin knowing I will be with you forever where I’ll never be alone again. In Jesus’ name, amen.