Recently, a friend asked me a question that has popped up occasionally in my time in ministry: Should I stay single or should I settle down to serve Christ in a life-long commitment to another? To both singles and married folks alike, I’d love to share this exchange with you in the hopes that it would encourage you all to keep Christ the focus of not only your relationships, but your lives:
From: xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2011 11:01 AM
Subject: I’d like to hear your thoughts…
I’d like to hear what you have to say about this since you are a Godly married man seeking after Christ. This past semester in my local ministry our Bible study was over 1 Corinthians. As an unmarried man I have been wrestling with/considering 1 Corinthians 7 (primarily vs 7-9). I certainly know that Paul does not forbid marriage and that there are many benefits of it, spiritual and non-spiritual. What initially caught my attention was that Paul says that he wishes more people were like him (single)…and elsewhere in the book that married men are focused on things of the world whereas single men are focused on the things of the Lord. (Obviously only disciplined and Godly single men are focused on the things of the Lord and being single does not automatically make one focused on the Lord…I also take the statement about married men being focused on things of the world as Godly men being focused on the world only to the extent that is necessary for them to take care of their families…not a sin just a non spiritual necessity).
I believe that Paul talks of marriage and celibacy as different spiritual gifts, that one is not necessarily better than the other. I know that God calls people to different lives and that marriage and singleness are both callings that he equips people for. Perhaps part of the reason I have been wrestling with this passage is because I had not really studied it or heard it preached on in the past. I also feel that most Christians and churches in America do not take singleness seriously because it is counter culture and seeing that might also be why I have been wrestling with it. (Obviously I have not been to most of the churches in America so I can not necessarily make that statement with evidence).
You may have already discerned that the reason for this email is that I am a single man who wants to pursue the Lord and righteousness above all else, who is nearing life decision points in his life, and I have been weighing and evaluating these scriptures and God’s will for my life. I have been dating the same girl since high school. I certainly believe that God has blessed our relationship and that it has often been used to glorify him (and of course we have had our struggles and hard times). My girlfriend has been and become a wonderful, Godly woman who I would be incredibly blessed to be married to. And this has certainly been my (and our) thought for a while.
However, there are a few reasons why I have been searching to see if God has called me to singleness ever since I my 1 Corinthians Bible study. For one, I feel called to work in a demanding/non family friendly and dangerous career. However, my girlfriend has sincerely expressed willingness and desire to go wherever the Lord sends me be it dangerous or not, so that is not that big of a reason anymore. I am concerned about my career as I know I will be a workaholic. This is a blessing and a curse because if God gave me a family I do not want to be an absent father, so I know there would be conflict between being the father that is needed and performing the career I feel called to serve in. I can see how the Lord has equipped me to be single more so than most people I know. For one, I enjoy solitude (though I never consider myself alone, but I enjoy being free of distraction and the world) and I believe that I grow the most spiritually when I am away by myself or my girlfriend and I are away from each other. The biggest reason I have been weighing this is certainly the scriptures. I know that God made marriage and gives it as a blessing. But I feel Paul is also saying that God has made some to be single and it is better for them to be singularly devoted to the Lord. I certainly take scripture as the authoritative message of God and will do (try to do) what it says.
I have talked to my dad about this and he brought up the point that marriage can provide the support and encouragement to better serve the Lord. I agree with him and appreciated that input. I can easily see how the scripture would encourage singleness. So going back to my main point I would like to know what you feel led to share with me on the matter as you are a married man that is serving the Lord. As I have told my girlfriend when discussing this, I do not yet know what God is calling me to in this situation. But I am seeking His will so that I can say/act/live with certainty that I am doing the right thing and that I have carefully considered the scripture and the truth.
I am very sorry for the length and density of this email. I know that ultimately God will guide me according to his will if I seek after him. If anything this has helped me filter my thoughts. I appreciate anything you might have to say. Of course I would appreciate your prayers that God will give me direction and boldness to go where he calls me to and to serve wholeheartedly in all aspects of my life.
Sent: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 4:17 PM
To: xxxxxx xxxxxxx
Subject: RE: I’d like to hear your thoughts…
Sorry to just now be getting back to you as I have been out of town for a few days. Unsurprisingly I am very encouraged with the way you have been processing this and searching through what God would have in store for you next. Love how have been unpacking 1 Corinthians 7 to see how it applies to you.
A few thoughts…and I’d love for you to share this with your dad and the other guys from your Bible study as they know you/your relationship best and can counsel your situation consistently. For starters, while marriage is a largely important part of most people’s adult lives, we weren’t created to eventually get married…we were created to know Christ and make Him known. We were created to “not be alone”….but that doesn’t require marriage and sadly many married folks don’t pursue oneness with each other or with others in biblical community as Christ intends. Marriage is required for us to biologically “be fruitful and multiply” but we certainly can (and should) do that spiritually as single Christ followers. Check out a message I did many years ago called, “The Complete Single: Oxymoron or Option”.
The first question I would have you ask yourself (which it sounds like you done to some degree) is what circumstances will allow you to do that best? Will marriage be a place where you can partner with another to serve the Lord, understand your own struggles more intimately, and grow in your faith, or will it hinder you from following Christ in any way that He is asking you to do?
Tommy Nelson did a good job with this topic even longer ago when he gave a message titled something like “The Monkey of Marriage and How It Can Grow To Be the Gorilla of Distraction”. He talks about 1 Corinthians 7 and I think I refer to it some in my message. You might enjoy both.
On another note, I would caution you some against giving too much weight to your future job pursuits (while they deserve some consideration and certainly are something you should be communicating with your girlfriend about). I would encourage you to live fully in light of today instead of making decisions based on an uncertain future. I am fully confident that you can achieve these high goals that you have set for yourself, but only God knows exactly what our future is (James 4:13-15). He will take care of you and your hopes and dreams whether you are married or single….keep seeking him like you have so far, with ALL your heart soul and mind and marriage/career/future will be a joy. I would also encourage you to think through your implication (resignation?) to be a “workaholic”. You know God is glorified when we work hard in all we do (Colossians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31), but that doesn’t have to look like a role that puts you in a position to trump family and your relationship with Him. Our first calling is to be a follower of Christ, and if we are married, our second calling is to care for our spouse…I would never counsel anyone to decide early on in life that they would put themselves in a job function that elevates the day-to-day of that ahead of either of the things above. I understand your concern about bringing a family into the jobs you want to pursue, and that is valid as those industries need devoted followers of Christ ministering/serving in them…but above all set yourself up for success in a vocation that gives you room to abide with Him….and to Paul’s point, single soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3-4/1 Corinthians 7) have less homeland concerns so they can be less distracted/encumbered/responsible for/concerned by/obligated to other things than the war at hand. BUT…don’t underestimate marriage as a gift from God….for more than kids or sex. It is a great place to learn things that can only be learned in the furnace of trial and commitment. Luther once said, “l learned more about spirituality and surrender in marriage than I ever did in the monastery”. Frances de Sales (17th century Christian writer) replied to a young woman asking him what he thought about her friend’s advice that she should not get married because it was “more holy” to remain single, care for her father and to devote herself as celibate to God by saying, “The state of marriage is one that requires more virtue and constancy than any other. It is a perpetual exercise of mortification…from this thyme plant, in spite of the bitter nature of its juice, you may be able to draw and make the honey of a holy life.”
So not only have you not sinned if you marry….you are set up to be sanctified in great ways if you stay committed to your commitment.
As you know, marriage has been a blessing to me as it has grown me in ways nothing else has (worldly speaking) and certainly given me the blessing and encouragement of my kids as well…whether you choose to pursue marriage, to remain single for a time, or to remain single for your time on earth, your #1 priority is your relationship with the Lord.
Bottom line…be faithful where you are. Whether married or single. Be a faithful student of the word, friend, son, boyfriend, and servant. Honor your girlfriend in dating by continuing to pursue her as long as with her, and by guarding her heart if you feel led to step away from that relationship. Given that y’all have been together as long as you have been….it is getting REALLY close to the time to release her to pursue others who have the desire to enter into a covenantal relationship or let her know you are pursuing that with her. It is not as if y’all need to get to know each other better…and keeping her around in case you do want to get married someday is not exactly putting her interests ahead of your own. Be free….but be considerate and willing to live with your indecision or decision;that is what Godly men do. Philippians 2:3-5.
Praying for you…may you be devoted to Christ and center all of your relationship around Him. May He bless you as you serve Him as a single man today. I am proud of you and rejoice with you at God’s kindness in your life. This email back is not complete….use it to get the conversation going with your guys/Dad/Lord…don’t use it as dogma.
Todd Wagner | firstname.lastname@example.org