By Sam Allberry
Certain misconceptions never seem to go away: The Great Wall of China is visible from space (it isn’t), or shaving makes your hair grow back thicker (it doesn’t).
A significant misconception that has been around for many years is that singleness is a bad thing.
This is partly due to a confluence of our culture’s focus on romantic fulfillment as key to being whole with common Christian thinking that marriage itself is the goal of the Christian life.
Singleness hasn’t been getting good press. And yet the Bible repeatedly surprises us with overwhelmingly positive things to say about it. So let’s delve a little deeper into aspects of this misconception.
Here are seven lies the Church tends to believe about singleness:
1. Singleness is bad for you.
Not fulfilling your romantic or sexual desires is increasingly seen as repressive and harmful. Christian celibacy is therefore to be avoided at all costs. Yet Paul had a very different perspective:
Those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that… 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. (1 Corinthians 7:28, 32-33)
This is the same Paul who has some of the most exalted things to say about marriage anywhere in the Bible.
It’s easy for us to compare the downs of singleness with the ups of marriage, and not to realize that there are downs of marriage (“worldly troubles”) and ups of singleness (freedom to be devoted to the Lord in a way that is undivided).
2. Singleness requires a special calling.
Because we think it is intrinsically bad, we assume that the only people who can cope with singleness must do so through some special spiritual endowment.
And so we think when Paul talks about the “gift of singleness” we imagine he’s referring to this rare God-given capacity. But this is to assume singleness is itself bad and requiring a gift, rather than seeing singleness as good and itself constituting a gift.
3. Singleness means no intimacy.
Our culture (and often the church) has so conflated sex and intimacy that we find it hard to conceive of any forms of intimacy that are not ultimately about sex.
But the Bible shows us it’s possible to have lots of sex with no intimacy, and also to have lots of intimacy that has nothing to do with sex (think, for example, of Jesus’ closeness with some of his disciples).
The Bible has much broader categories of intimacy than we typically do, and we need to rediscover them.
4. Singleness means no family.
Being unmarried without children seems to indicate a family-less existence. But this is to overlook what the Bible has to say about how the gospel creates spiritual family.
We find ourselves with an abundance of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters (Mark 10:29-30). Paul—the single apostle—even did some spiritual begetting: Timothy, Titus, and many others were his “true children” in Christ (e.g. Titus 1:4).
The gospel puts us into a family, and its work through us increases that family.
5. Singleness is a hindrance to ministry.
How could a single person effectively serve as a pastor? Don’t we need to be married with kids in order to minister to those who are married with kids?
Paul expects pastors to be faithfully married (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:2) but that doesn’t mean marriage is required of them.
In fact, being single can provide unique opportunities to objectively speak into some issues of family life that might not be the case if one was married. Paul assumes singleness will actually be an advantage in Christian ministry, rather than a hindrance (1 Corinthians 7:32-33 above).
The single person has a freedom and capacity they wouldn’t have if they were married.
6. Singleness is a waste of sexuality.
If someone remains celibate their whole life, isn’t that a waste of a huge dimension of their humanity? Doesn’t it neglect the fact God made us as sexual beings?
The Bible provides a far loftier vision for human sexuality than anything our culture offers. It points ultimately to Christ’s union with his people.
That’s the ultimate marriage for which we’re all designed. Marriage shows us its shape; singleness its sufficiency.
We don’t have to satisfy our sexual desires in this life in order to fulfill their purpose: They point us to a deeper yearning, a closer union, and a greater consummation.
7. Singleness is easy.
Perhaps those struggling through tough seasons of marriage, or those overwhelmed by the busyness of life with children at home look wistfully at the single person and imagine how much easier life must be without a family.
There are unique advantages to singleness. There are also unique trials, not least in a cultural context where so much in life—and even church—revolves around couples and nuclear families. Loneliness can be a huge battle, as can not knowing who to vacation with, or who will be there for you in old age.
But life in this world will always have uncertainty. Neither marriage nor singleness will ultimately fix our problems. All of us will only find real contentment and satisfaction in Christ.
Sam is a writer, pastor, and Christian ministry speaker.