If you read the last post, you’re probably worried that this one will be another essay of outrageous length. Well, don’t worry! This one is more straightforward. I won’t devote quite as much space to this particular “lens” through which the single life comes into focus. That’s not because this perspective is less important; it’s because this one is easier to explain.
First of all, if you are single, you have a unique opportunity to serve the Lord. This is the reason that Paul praises the single life in 1 Corinthians 7. He explains:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. (vv. 32–34)
Like I said—pretty straightforward! While there’s no denying that married people can serve the Lord by behaving appropriately toward their spouses (Eph 5:22–33), single people have much more free time and energy to serve the Lord in other ways. For example, an unmarried man or woman may have more time to help out with child care at the church, or volunteer at a local animal shelter, or visit church members in the hospital, or pray for the salvation of friends who are not believers. He or she doesn’t have the pressing concern of pleasing a spouse or taking care of a child. If you are single, you are flexible and free to serve the Lord in many ways that a married person is not! What a great privilege this is!
Here’s the problem, though. It’s really easy to become self-indulgent as a single person. It’s really easy to spend your money on yourself, to buy things that offer a fleeting sense of pleasure, to waste hours on mere entertainment, to spend time only with people whose company you enjoy, or to pour all of your energy into hobbies that don’t contribute to the well-being of others and demonstrate the supremacy of Jesus Christ. Paul warns, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Everything we do should be done because we want God to be seen as great by ourselves and by others. For example, this means that we only take time to relax because we want to regain the energy needed to serve the Lord and serve other people! In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul warns believers who are freed from slavery to the law of Moses, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (5:13). We are not bound to the law; we are not required to keep it in order to be declared righteous by God. But we were not set free just so that we can indulge ourselves however we please. We were set free to “walk by the Spirit” (v. 16). Don’t waste this opportunity as a single person to serve the Lord!
Now, what about those who would rather not remain single? Paul recognizes that not everyone has been given the spiritual gifting necessary to go without marriage (1 Corinthians 7:7–8). To those whom God has not given this gift, he says, “If they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (v. 9). This truly is a counter-cultural solution to sexual temptation! In my Ask the Pastors article on sex and the single person, I argued that sexual desire should encourage a single person to seek marriage, which should in turn encourage him or her to become the kind of person who can get married. This, I believe, is the second opportunity presented by the single life—the opportunity to grow up. If you are single but want to be married, take full advantage of this time to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Grow up to salvation through the pure spiritual milk of the gospel (1 Peter 2:2). Grow up as part of a church community (Ephesians 4:15–16). Grow up to become the kind of man or woman who is a faithful servant and friend of God. In particular, train yourself for marriage: learn how to forgive, how to communicate, how to manage your money responsibly, how to use your time well, how to raise children. It’s pretty ridiculous that we spend twelve years of schooling plus college to train ourselves for our careers, but we think six hours of premarital counseling will be enough to train us for our marriages. Attach yourself to a godly family in your church; watch and learn from them. Volunteer in the church nursery, teach a Sunday School class, or offer to babysit for families in the church. Prepare for marriage with more earnestness than you would prepare for your career. After all, who would be bold enough to insist that your career is more important than your family?
The single life is a time of great opportunity. It is not a time to spend hours in front of the TV or computer, to spend money selfishly, to pour oneself into activities of no lasting value. It is a time to glorify the Lord by serving him and by growing up to be a mature man or woman.