Singles and Self-Sacrifice

Most churches are married-people-centric. Whether intentionally or not, churches tend to create polished and fine sounding arguments for why marriage is a prerequisite for leadership opportunities.

After all, married people are more stable, right? Because marriage is a sanctifying commitment, they are more mature. Because marriage gives a beautiful God-ordained opportunity for sex, married people are less likely to be tempted sexually. In fact, marriage requires self-sacrifice, and singles just don’t experience the giving of themselves to others.

Right?

Wrong.

Marriage is Good but Not Ultimate

It’s right to value and celebrate marriage in the church. One of the most counter-cultural opportunities Christians have to show the beauty of the gospel is through marriage and biblical sexuality. As some have pointed out, though, Christians also show the sufficiency of the gospel through singleness.

Praise God that He uses marriage to help some of us along the way, but being married does not make someone mature. That marriage can be sanctifying doesn’t guarantee that a married person will be more holy. Marriage certainly doesn’t guarantee maturity and self-sacrifice.

I have a great marriage, mostly because I have a great wife. We have had way more ups than downs. Most of the downs are because of my own selfishness and unwillingness to live sacrificially. I can’t buy that singles are more selfish and self-interested because I know my own heart.

A Call to a Self-Sacrificial Life

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Philippians 2:3

This is the call to ALL Christians.

Singleness is not an excuse for selfishness.

Marriage is not the answer to attain a posture of self-sacrifice.

The only answer we have is Jesus. Jesus is the most self-sacrificial person in all of history. He gave Himself up in our place, for our sin. And He was never married. The ability to love others sacrificially and selflessly is given to us by His Spirit.

Whether This Gift or That

1 Corinthians 7 is a beautiful passage to lay out marriage and singleness in the church. Being single gives unique opportunities for whole-hearted commitment to the work of the gospel, while being married actually adds anxieties that can distract (1 Cor. 7:32 ff).

Marriage is clearly a gift from God.

Singleness is also a gift from God (1 Cor. 7:7).

Whatever station a person finds themselves in ought to be leveraged for the sake of the gospel. Our churches need to open opportunities for everyone to be engaged in the work of the gospel together.

As a pastor of a church that is made up of 60% singles, I LOVE finding ways to equip and send them into ministry. After all, it’s my job description to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13).

Granted, we’re not likely to have a single 20-something teach a class on marriage communication. However, we will equip singles who exhibit the necessary character, competency, and calling to step into a wide variety of leadership opportunities within the church. Some of our singles are among the most mature, holy, and self-sacrificial members of our church.

Wrapping Up

Neither marriage nor singleness guarantees spiritual maturity. We need to be careful not to see one as better than the other, nor to see marriage as some kind of graduation to actual adulthood.

That’s silly. It’s not biblical.

It’s deeply damaging and doesn’t recognize the unique grace of God working in and through a great diversity of people who are gathered by Jesus and filled with the Spirit to engage in unity on the mission of God in His world. Our churches need to find ways to maximize the gifts of singles and celebrate their unique contributions.

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Bill Riedel
Bill lives on Capitol Hill in DC with his amazing wife Alissa and three kids. He is the founding and lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church in Washington, DC. He was formally trained at Trinity International University (BA) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (MDiv), and has served in ministry since 1998. He serves the Acts 29 Network as the DC Area Director and on the A29 North Atlantic Leadership Team.
Bill Riedel

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