Timothy Keller, in his book The Meaning of Marriage, mentions how when he and wife Kathy first came to Manhattan in the early 90s where Keller would serve as pastor, they were surprised to find themselves surrounded by so many single people. Keller planted a congregation that was 80% single…not, he says, because that was a conscious decision, but because that was the demographic of the neighborhood. The trend for single people to favor city dwelling has only increased in recent years, but the number of single adults is increasing everywhere. An article in the Washington Post from a year or so ago estimated 45% of the population of the United States 18 years of age and up were “divorced, widowed, or had always been single.” There are many reasons for this trend. But it begs the question: if so many of us are single, how are we to understand that status in the light of our Christian faith?
Last week we saw from St. Paul’s reliance on Genesis 2 in chapter 6 of 1 Corinthians that the Corinthians were to understand sex as a gift to be enjoyed in the context of marriage, between a man and a woman, for life. We also saw that all Christians fail to measure up to the perfect standard for sexual purity that God requires (cf. Matt 5:28) and must lean on God’s abundant grace, as a result. It might therefore seem that marriage is to be strongly encouraged and the single life just as strongly DIScouraged. Yet St. Paul doesn’t go that route. Arguing that “the time was shortened” and “the world is passing away,” Paul argues that neither the married nor the single life are ends in themselves. Even Paul does not shy away from describing the sexual passion that can bring husbands and wives together (7:9), but he and other Christ followers of the first century also elevated the single life in a way it had never been before. To quote Keller, they “de-idolized” marriage (Meaning, p. 223). Single adults were in a unique position to declare God, not family, was their hope. And so whether married, or single, Christians could take pride that their primary identity was that they were called by Jesus and empowered for life by him, eternally.
Do you desire marriage? That is not wrong. While elevating the contribution that single people can make, the Christian faith does not fear or try to avoid marriage, as a result. Christian author and speaker Paige Brown expresses the balance of affirming the single life this way: “Singleness is not an inherently inferior state of affairs. But I want to be married. I pray to that end every day. I may meet someone and walk down the aisle in the next couple of years because God is so good to me. [Or] … I may never have another date…because God is so good to me.” Jesus’ arrival in our lives means that every variety of love we experience now…as wonderful as it can be…is not all there is. Let’s all accept one another (and ourselves) for whatever status God has in mind for our present season of life. Married…or not…we rejoice that we are disciples of one who calls us into community together. We are brothers and sisters of the Lord of Life.