In May of 2008 I began a blog series called “Why Marriage Is A Priority.” It was born out of the angst of my own struggle with singleness, a class I was taking called “Christian Life Issues” and a young man I was interested in who had no interest in being married or having a family. Those three separate events came together in my life to totally transform the way I viewed marriage.
God did a really good work in my mind and heart to enable me to think through why marriage and the family is important and to view the call to marriage as a high and worthy call. That was a radical change in my mindset. I went from a young single person who was very afraid of commitment and marriage (and even more scared that I would never get married so I would just tell people I didn’t want to just in case it didn’t ever happen) to a young single person who can affirm the goodness of marriage and is engaged in pursuing and preparing for marriage as best I can.
But this past Sunday night I had the chance to sit down and talk with a brother I really admire and respect who helped me rethink my view a bit (if you want to know what my view is, you can check out Why Marriage Is A Priority, Brother You’re Like A Six, and The Gift of Celibacy?).
There were two things I took away from that talk that I need to readjust in my thinking on marriage and singleness:
- I need to have an equally high view of both marriage and singleness. I can’t hold one as better than the other or that one or the other is “preferred” by Scripture.
- I need to speak in a more balanced way about marriage and singleness because what I choose not to say says a lot about what I believe and what those who follow me end up believing as well.
Let me explain. At one point in my post on “Why Marriage Is A Priority” I wrote,
I don’t think singleness is a punishment, a burden, or an indicator that there is something wrong or missing in someone. That’s why I say that marriage should be a priority for “most” because I don’t hold marriage as a standard that all people must attain to- some people are called and have a passion to display Christ in singleness and if that’s the case they should do it with everything they’ve got. And so long as I am not married, my goal is to put Christ on display in my singleness right along with those who are called to a lifetime of singleness.
During our discussion on Sunday night, this brother pointed out that I don’t really say that any more. I don’t emphasize the goodness of singleness because I am so convinced that so many are pursuing it wrongly. I have come to see singleness as a way that so many have used to escape the discomfort and difficulties that marriage hold. What this brother pointed out is that I have taken up the cause of marriage and yet neglected to see that there are plenty of people who pursue marriage for the wrong reasons, too.
How could I forget how many girls I’ve talked to that want to be married so that they can have a man to provide for them, have a man to love them, be able to stay at home and still pay the bills? Just because these people exist, that doesn’t make the pursuit of marriage wrong. And just because there are people who are pursuing singleness for the wrong reasons doesn’t make biblical celibacy wrong. Both are valid options for the believer. What is not a valid option for Christ-followers is self-protection or self-centeredness, which are rooted in selfishness and pride. Just like sex isn’t the problem (lust is), so also singleness isn’t the problem (selfishness is.)
The second thing I saw through my conversation on Sunday night was that the way I speak about marriage and about singleness conveys a not-so-subtle disapproval of singleness (or at least for those who don’t have a plan to get out of it!) Even though I would never say singleness is wrong if I’m pressed on it, this is what comes across by the way I speak about it and the unbalanced way I present marriage. I couldn’t have said singleness is good without adding a caveat about its dangers. See, I try to speak about marriage in a way that holds it in high regard (as we are commanded to in Hebrews 13:4) and reorients others to the way we ought to be looking at marriage: it’s a means of sanctification, a portrait of the gospel to an unbelieving world, an answer to the “alone” problem in Genesis 2, and a foundational building block in training up future generations of Christ-followers. But if that’s all I say, I am neglecting massive truths about the goodness of singleness! I’m robbing people of knowing that union with Christ is far more satisfying than any human union can ever be, that anything we sacrifice in this life for the sake of the Kingdom will be paid back 100 fold so certainly giving up the pleasures and comforts of marriage and family will be well worth it, that this life is short and eternity is long and so if we can endure it for the sake of the gospel, the chance to further the Kingdom of God as an unfettered single is a high and radical call, that the family we have through Christ is more secure than families who are bound by marriage and blood, that God is our husband and Christ is the Bridegroom who we wait for in anticipation, and that singleness does not have to be a pursuit of sex and money and freedom but can instead be a pursuit of such greater pleasures like carrying out the Great Commission to the farthest corners of the earth and setting captives free from their slavery to sin and bringing Shalom to a broken world that can’t even dream of the kind of peace Christ has in store for us!
Somewhere in the last 3 years I’ve swung from one extreme to the other (who me? extreme?! never!) so much so that I would never actually say those kinds of things about singleness out loud. It came through watching John Piper’s recent interview with Rick Warren that I was reminded of how dangerous this can be.
As I watched the interview I realized that, when pressed, Rick Warren sounds like he has pretty great doctrine. He clearly articulated deep truths of Scripture and defended his stance on various topics and it seemed that he and J. Pipe were in agreement on just about all of it (and we all know J. Pipe and I are in agreement on pretty much everything from the color shirt he wears to his redrafting of the chief end of man) Yet, I know that this isn’t the way he talks all the time. So while he may be able to articulate his doctrine well while being interviewed by John Piper, if he doesn’t clearly articulate the same truths in his writing or to his congregation week after week, they will be malnourished at best and possibly even led astray. What he doesn’t say affects his people in a big way.
The same is true for me, although on a much smaller scale. Still, I have girls following me and listening to what I teach and what I don’t say will affect them in a big way.
I’m thankful for this conversation because it brought to my attention something that I need to constantly be aware of. There’s this part of me that just loves fixating on one thing to the neglect of other equally important things (like why I play a song I like on repeat until I’m sick of it) and another part that loves making up rules that the Bible doesn’t make and making the Bible say more than it actually does (this is why I used to call myself a 7-point Calvinist but have since stopped, and it’s why I used to believe there was nothing wrong with requiring complete abstinence from alcohol but have since reconsidered.) The problem is, Scripture is too precious to do that. It’s too precious to neglect precious truths and too precious to add to.
All that to say, now I’m stuck having to live with this balance of holding both marriage and singleness in high honor. It’s tricky for me, but something I want to strive for because I want to think and speak in a way that is bibline — that reflects the way the Bible reasons & speaks in a distinct way. I want my mind to be renewed by the Word of God and I don’t want to just believe what I want to believe because it appeals to me in some way, but to really submit myself to God in areas that are hard and uncomfortable for me.
So here’s to singleness! And a new season of thinking differently about it.