Singles are confronted with unique trials and tests, yet they also have unique opportunities for serving God's people and exemplifying Christ's way.
Not married yet? Why not?" "How can you single fellows let those girls pass you by? You need some wheat germ!" "It's hard for a single person to have much impact In the Church." To the thousands of God's people without mates (Gen. 2:18), these barbs are familiar. They've heard even crueler taunts. Just ask them. Single Christians — the eligible men and women in God's Church — form a large part of many congregations. Sometimes a talented, affluent part, as well. Yet so many are just not living the abundant life God intended (John 10:10). Why? In part it stems from the effects upon young and old, marrieds and singles alike, of the changing role of the family in our society. A growing number are choosing singlehood, marrying later in life or, some, not at all. We need to understand this trend because God is calling many singles into His Church. They are our brethren. They must be understood (Prov. 11:12).
A growing trend
Many factors created the "singles scene" that hit in the 1970s. One of the most important was the sad state of many marriages, especially in the affluent Western world. Young teens, perhaps experiencing a rotten home situation, if not actual abuse, said: "Count me out. If that's home and family life, forget it!" Also, rising affluence meant that the old adage "Two can live as cheaply as one" was not as pertinent in a time when competent singles were paid well. Today many successful singles in some large cities own their own houses. Then, too, alternate life-styles blared from the mass media. For the past 15 years marriage has been eroded, bombarded, subtly undermined. The singles life-style has been glamorized. No wonder singlehood gained ground in the past few years. No wonder so many eligible young men and women ended up in God's Church. Not surprisingly, however. Because God always has had effective servants who were single.
God's single servants
Remember? The list is actually quite impressive: The top two members of the Godhead never married in the physical sense. Righteous Abel had no family. Boaz married quite late in life (Ruth 4:13), while Anna the prophetess lived 84 years unmarried (Luke 2:37). Mary, Christ's mother, was called when still single (Matt. 1:18). Did Timothy ever marry (I Tim. 4:12)? John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, the two greatest men who ever lived (Matt. 11:11), were singles. On the other hand, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines and ended up a suicide candidate (I Kings 11:3). Let's not misunderstand. God does not glamorize celibacy (Prov. 18:22). The point is that single men and women are not somehow second-class Christians (Acts 10:28). Neither are they fair game in the Church for the obtuse, unthinking, calloused insults that come their way from those who feel they must make a display of their "superior" status (Phil. 2:3). Actually, many Christians are single for quite honorable reasons. Often, they simply weren't desperate for the first chance that came along! They had too high a respect for marriage for that. Others had the insight to resist the naive dreams to which young people often succumb. This takes savvy, wisdom, self-discipline. Many are single because they are members of smaller congregations, and the right opportunities have not presented themselves. How many marriage problems have resulted when people were married after whirlwind courtships at the Feast of Tabernacles? One single wrote: "About singles in God's Church you can only say two things for certain. First, we are single, and second, we know God's truth. Beyond that you can't categorize." Of course, categorizing people runs the risk of judging them, something God blazes against (Matt. 7:1-5). True Christians try to respect and understand all people. Sometimes God tests our conversion on how we feel about those we regard as beneath us (Matt. 5:22). So how can single Christians serve God more effectively? How can they, while they wait for God to provide them with a life partner (Prov. 19:14), live the abundant life God intended? The answers are not so different for them as for everyone else God calls, but those answers do require a special emphasis. Here are four points to study.
1) Remember why you were called
Advancing the great commission, preparing for rulership under Christ, getting ready to straighten this world out — this is our calling (Rev. 2:26). Singlehood is no barrier in helping God's Church. As a matter of fact, sometimes it can even be a plus factor. Surprised? "He who is unmarried cares for the things that belong to the Lord — how he may please the Lord" (I Cor. 7:32). Why do singles have this potential? They usually don't believe it, but in general they may have a little more time and money on their hands than the average married person. They usually have fewer binding commitments. Knowing this, some energetic and dedicated singles zealously volunteer for tasks that free the hands of the married leaders in the congregation. Newsstand outlets need monitoring; teen activities need chaperones; set-up and clean-up crews for church socials and services are always appreciated; chorales can always use talented singers; sports events are snappier with competent referees, coaches and officials; even bulletin boards need tending and sound systems sometimes require a lot of lugging and hauling. Some singles plunge in zealously to help. After all, singles are every bit as much a part of the Church as deacons and evangelists: "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34, Authorized Version). Singles, you can help! Get to know the church leaders. Be tactful when you volunteer for a job, and don't crawl back into the woodwork if your offer isn't immediately accepted (Heb. 10:38). Ask the minister for a visit. Let him know that you'd like to help; you may be surprised at how he'll remember you at a crucial time in the future. Be a known quantity in your area. Participate. The Church is always in need of capable help (Gal. 6:9).
2) Respect your fellow singles
What about that other single you dream about as Mister or Miss Right? Stop and think: He or she is first and foremost a brother or sister in Christ, called to advance God's great commission in this age (I Cor. 15:58), qualifying for a key role in the government of God. This is bedrock! This should be your operating premise in dealing with all members of Christ's Body, but especially other singles (Col. 3:12-15). Why? Because some of the cruelest comments and barbs surface from the criticisms and evaluations single Christians make about each other (Gal. 5:15). Girls decry the slovenliness, laziness and selfishness of the fellows: "They don't date. They're rude. Unmannered." Sometimes, alas, this is all too true, but discord can be sown by tactlessly telling the raw truth as well as by relating falsehood (Prov. 6:16, 19). Some of the same girls refuse dates with "undesirables" among the bachelors. That is their prerogative, but be careful of violating the principle of Hebrews 2:11! Bachelors sit around in too many bull sessions discussing the girls and how they rate. Every attribute is considered fair game, it seems. Some fellows become obnoxious minor prophets, confident that it's their ordained role in life to set the single girls straight on doctrine, example and personal conduct. God thunders, "Who are you to judge another's servant?" (Rom. 14:4). Let's all remember the slogan: "Don't be too hard on me; God isn't finished with me yet." We can be thankful that God's Spirit predominates in His Church (II Tim. 1:6). When appealed to, most singles quite quickly shelve their hang-ups and grudges and get down to the tough core of real Christianity — loving all men as brothers (I Thess. 4:9-10). One of the ennobling traits of single Christians as a group is their eagerness to follow government, their sincere appreciation for any efforts made in their direction. There is a good reason for this. They are, in a sense, poor in some of the things those with the middle-class-station-wagon-split-level-two-children background sometimes take for granted — things like companionship, moral support and a sense of belonging. Singles, in some ways, are out of the mainstream of society. This is why so many respond to God's calling. He specifically seeks recruits among the deprived, the left-out, the unfulfilled, the emotionally wounded. They enlist in His Church (Luke 14:21).
3) Don't over-romanticize marriage
Don't misunderstand! This is neither an appeal for celibacy, nor in any way a slight of God's sacred institution (Heb. 13:4). Not at all. A happy marriage is an intense delight (Eccl. 9:9). Looking forward eagerly to spending the evening with your husband or wife is a precious feeling, savored by only a few in our society. But the plain truth is that in most nations today marriage is a risky proposition. The chances of your marriage ending in divorce in the Western world are almost 50-50. Dead even! Loneliness drives many singles to distort one of the truisms about life and marriage — the simple fact that if you are a reasonably contented and well-adjusted single to begin with, you will probably make someone a wonderful life partner. There are no magic personality changes after you say "I do." The opposite is often true. Some men go from "the best" to "the beast" very quickly while (we joke) many brides don't make a man complete, they "finish" him! Be as balanced and as successful as you can while single. Imitate Jesus, the strongest person who ever lived (Luke 2:52). Don't fall for the quasimarried state of going steady or pairing off too early. Often the steady-dating rut leads many young people to settle for a second-best life partner out of sheer habit and familiarity. Their personality, character and social experience are stunted at an early age. There are so many alternatives in our day and age. Travel. Study. Solidify a career. Sharpen your talents. Date widely. While dating, strive to build friendships or boost others who need a lift. This is the wisest use of your single years. It is the way of give. You'll be surprised how Mister or Miss Right has a way of turning up when least expected (Acts 20:35). Reread our book The Missing Dimension in Sex. especially the chapter on the best age for marriage. If you do not have it, you may request a free copy by writing to our address nearest you. Does it really take much self-discipline and maturity to go the easy route, the way of the crowd? Resisting second-best impulses takes a sense of purpose and commitment, and that, interestingly enough, makes us more attractive to other high-minded and principled singles (Prov. 27:17). It's a wise old saying: "Marry in haste, repent at leisure." Study the book of Ruth to see how God brought two eligible people together in spite of distance, tragedy and widely different backgrounds. These principles reflect the best and noblest that singles can aspire to. And why settle for anything else (Prov. 12:26)? For a lot of people marriage is something like the proverbial butterfly, which eludes the feverish pursuer but alights on his shoulder when he's become immersed in another interest. Marriage is indeed wonderful. It is an intensely enjoyable source of emotional sustenance and recuperation, at its best. But be well advised: It is much more preferable to endure the sometimes frustrating pangs of the single life than to end up trapped in a miserable marriage.
4) Cherish your family
I remember when I was first accepted into the Church of God. I was a young single. It seemed that some of Christ's boldest statements applied directly to my situation: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit everlasting life" (Matt. 19:29). "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). The Savior of humanity, the Head of God's Church (Eph. 1:22), did not marry in the strict physical sense of the word. Yet there was never a more effective, more confident person (John 12:19). He pioneered the abundant life for us. How? First, by honoring His own parents (Luke 2:51). Then by setting the example and giving a strong lead to His own brothers and sisters. Charity begins at home, after all. We all have some family, however distant, to nurture and cherish. Yet even Jesus, our example, was mistreated by close relations (Mark 3:21). He knew the pain of rejection, the uneasy feeling of impermanence that many singles feel in the Church today. Yet Christ loved His own fervently, even in their carnality and blindness (John 15:15). Single Christians sometimes get resentful that their new spiritual family, the Church, doesn't seem to have time for them often enough. Such is often the case because God's Church is still flawed with human weakness (Eccl. 7:20). What is the answer? The answer is to love others even more fervently, as Christ taught us. Launch a spiritual offensive! Do members ignore you for invitations to their houses? Invite them to your place (Rom. 12:17)! It was Abraham Lincoln who wisely stated, "I can destroy my enemies by making them my friends." Are families turning inward, weighted down by daily cares? Offer to baby-sit for free; urge them to get out for a movie or a concert. Serve. Help. Build up, without ulterior motives (Rom. 12:10). Are some Christians negative, aloof, reserved? Overpower them with kindness, heal with hospitality, shower them with thoughtfulness. Be balanced, but let your light shine (Matt. 5:16). "I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one.... I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you... We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren" (I John 2:13-14, 3:14). How true! Rather than selfishly bemoaning your fate, you should actively take the offensive (Phil. 3:14). Don't be overcome by rebuffs or lack of appreciation (Prov. 24:10). This is the love Jesus had (I John 4:4), the love that conquers the world. As a single Christian you have some unique opportunities that others do not have to be a goodwill ambassador, an ambassador of peace (Rom. 12:18). Be wakeful! Be zealous! Be open to your opportunities. None of us, married or single, has yet reached the highest peaks of real Christianity. Why not rise to the occasion? You'll never regret it (I Cor. 15:58).