Sex and Sexuality #13: What Jesus Means for Single People
Every day this week, we are exploring in greater depth some of the massive claims that Andrew Bunt made in his message at Everyday Church last Sunday. In the third message of our Sex and Sexuality series, Andrew spoke about what following Jesus means for same-sex attraction, what it means for singleness and what it means for divorce and remarriage. We have spent the past three blogs exploring questions around same-sex attraction, so in this blog we’ll explore what following Jesus means for singleness. We’re reproducing a really helpful blog by Greg Morse on the Desiring God blog, based in the USA. He points out that in first-century Jewish society singleness was a curse – at least, it was until the 30-year-old singleton Jesus came along…
Singleness Was a Curse
Your singleness is more noticeable since you left college. You say that you stick out, as an awkward tooth does in an otherwise pleasant smile. You feel inconvenient. Crooked. Left out.
You have developed a habit of diverting your eyes when asked whether you have a family. You hear a world of commentary hidden behind their bashful reply, “Oh, okay!” You go there, and return home, alone. You say you don’t think that the other believers mean to exclude you. They are busy with baseball practices, birthday parties, dance recitals, and anniversaries. They have other responsibilities, you understand that. But for some reason, that doesn’t ease the ache on lonely nights. You watch more television. You remember having more friends once.
Even on Sundays
Sunday comes. You both love and fear it. As you enter the doorway, you feel like you did when you used to wait to be picked for recess. Will everyone watch as you stand there alone, the only unchosen on the team? You search the crowd to find someone you know. You can only eat so many pastries and refill your coffee cup so many times without drawing attention. You start coming to church late and leaving early.
No one means to say that the single life is second-class. But the pastor is married. The elders are all married. Few to none of the small group leaders are single. The Sunday school teacher has six kids. Sermon illustrations usually reference quirky aspects of family life. You assume that the married life is the godly life while you fear that people assume that because you’re single, you’re unstable, defected, or addicted to porn. You wonder if mature biblical manhood and womanhood is largely displayed on one’s ring finger.
I know you hear a lot of clichés about how wonderful your singleness really is. You have grown a bitter aversion to married men and women offering you unsolicited advice or encouraging you that the perfect spouse is just around the corner. You’ve looked around those corners. Hearing counsel from those who’ve escaped the loneliness of singleness tempts your eye to twitch. I know. But please permit me to share some things God has said about singleness that you may not have realized. I hope it ignites a greater vision for how you use your life while single.
Is Singleness a Curse?
Allow me to begin in an unexpected place: the Old Testament. And with a surprising truth: singleness was despised by God’s people of old. In the garden, God gave Adam a command and blessing that the Jews would come to take very seriously: “And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:22, 28; 9:1; 35:11). Childbearing was a sign of God’s blessing (Deuteronomy 7:11–14). Whereas barrenness was a sign of curse (Deuteronomy 28:15–18). To remain single was to disobey this command to be fruitful and to undermine God’s blessing.
You are not alone in your late-night frustrations. Singleness was labelled a curse for many in the Old Testament. Singleness was seen as a dead end. To be single was to functionally blot out one’s own name from under heaven because you wouldn’t continue your lineage through your children. The prophet Jeremiah, one of the few singles mentioned in the Old Testament, was commanded to be single — as a sign of impending doom for Israel (Jeremiah 16:1–4). Encouraging, right?
But consider what the unmarried Messiah did to singleness. Jesus comes and challenges how God’s people then — and now — think about the single life devoted to his kingdom. Where previously singles were benched from God’s kingdom expansion (from physically going forth and multiplying), now, his cross changes everything. Biblically, singleness is not weird, second-class, or an afterthought to God.
In an encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus spoke of singles who embrace their singleness for the glory of God. He called such men and women “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12). Jesus, in answering a question about who should remain single (Matthew 19:10), replied first with two groups that didn’t have the option to marry. But then, Jesus does something unusual: he makes up this third group of voluntary eunuchs (something extremely reprehensible to the Jews, who saw the command to go forth and multiply as a primary command).
A theologian of the third century, Origen, took Jesus’s words literally and castrated himself. This, I argue, was an unfortunate misunderstanding of the text. What Jesus creates here is a group of people who are single for his kingdom.
A Mission for Singles
What we take for granted, the Jews would not have. How can singleness, an undermining of God’s cultural mandate, be used for the kingdom? The answer is that Jesus redeems singleness. Jesus, by his cross work, changes the mission of God’s people to include married and unmarried alike:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)
The expansion plan of God’s kingdom in the Old Testament was through physical multiplication, something that excluded singles. Now, God’s people march towards glory in the New Testament age through spiritual multiplication by disciple-making (2 Timothy 2:1–2). The procreation mandate given to Adam is reissued through the coming of Christ: Go forth and multiply spiritual children.
We see the great, unmarried apostle doing this all across the Roman world. Although childless, Paul had many children, calling the churches (like those in Corinth and Galatia) his beloved children (1 Corinthians 4:14; Galatians 4:19), and also individual men like Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 10). Although unmarried, his spiritual offspring would be his hope and joy and crown before the Lord on that day (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
I write to encourage you that you are not without amazing purpose. You are not a mistake. You are not overlooked in the grand plan of subduing the world to Christ’s reign. There is work for you to do. The grand mission of life is not marriage. It is to love him with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves. And you have such a sweet opportunity for both.
Wielded properly, you can be one of the greatest tools in the hands of God for his kingdom. You are fit to be a glorious sniper in the Master’s regiment. Whereas the married person is divided between a spouse and the Lord, the content single person can wholeheartedly serve him (1 Corinthians 7:25–35). What a glory. Those single saints now resting in glory — John the Baptist, Martha, Nehemiah, and Paul (to name a few) — do not look down from heaven and envy me because I am married.
Single and Complete
The single life, instead of being an agony of incompleteness, can be one of the most joyful under all of heaven. You have a chance to stride past many marrieds in your knowledge of God and service to him. While many of us scurry off to put out fires in our homes, concerned about this world’s affairs, you can more undistractedly gaze upon him and remain seated at his feet. If we saw things rightly, more would envy, not pity you.
Despite how some may treat you, and I am grieved to hear some stories you had to share, your singleness is not a shameful thing or a waiting room before real life and ministry begin. It is no longer a curse for the follower of Jesus. It can be a gift for those who are willing to pursue the Lord and fish for souls.
Because of the cross, the married life is not better than the single. Both can be blessings from God (1 Corinthians 7:7) and each can be deployed to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 7:17). I pray that you can forgive your brothers and sisters in Christ when we make insensitive comments or consume ourselves with family concerns and neglect you. You are an indispensable part of the family.
Tomorrow, we’ll try to answer your questions about what the Bible teaches on divorce and remarriage. On Sunday, we will finish our Sex and Sexuality series at Everyday Church by looking at questions around Gender and Transgender.