The Challenge and Blessing of Singleness
How should we view singleness? Pastor Oliver shares the challenges and blessings of being single and how we as a church can respond.
“Singleness glorifies God by communicating the message that love and devotion to Christ is primary and eternal. It says to the watching world: God is enough. God is sufficient. God is better than anything, or anyone, else. God is worth all the pain of following him. This is the meaning of singleness. It is high calling. And the message it communicates is not about the single person, but about God himself.”
– Brooks Waldron
I want to let you in on a secret. Being single over the festive holidays is a challenge spiritually. Already during the rest of the year, we see couples together, and we rejoice with them that God has brought them together. However, we then go home alone. The challenge of being single is made larger over the festive season when friends and relatives ask about your dating life and when will the wedding bells ring. Even well-meaning Christian friends, in seeking to encourage you say "don't worry. Trust God. God will bring someone into your life." Their words somehow hint that you being single, are incomplete and lacking something. Can the challenge of singleness really be a blessing?
Pastor John Piper understands the challenges and pain facing singles. With pastoral sensitivity, he writes, "The disappointments of singleness are a unique blessing. In other words, not to be able to have sexual relations is a huge challenge spiritually, for men and women. Not to be able to be hugged at night, to go home to an empty apartment, to have a holiday sneak up on you and nobody thinks to invite you over – that's painful. And I'm saying that unique challenge is a unique blessing if you will let it be. Just like every other pain in life is a unique blessing if you let it be. God doesn't want you to waste any of your pain. Married pain…and there will be; single pain…and there will be." He reminds us that these challenges and disappointments can be a unique blessing.
Singleness was a curse, but Jesus Christ has redeemed singleness
In Genesis, God blessed Adam and gave a command to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it..." (Gen 1:28). In the Old Testament, childbearing was considered a sign of God's blessing (Deut 7:11-14) and barrenness was thought to be a sign of curse (Deut 28:15-19). Therefore to remain single was to disobey this command to be fruitful and to undermine God's blessing. But Jesus Christ came and transformed the idea of singleness. As Greg Morse writes, "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 a New Testament 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" (Matt 19:12). Jesus redeems singleness. Jesus, by His work on the cross, transforms God's mission for His people. We see in Matthew 28:18-20, the command Jesus gave to His disciples, "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."
As Morse writes, "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." And this mission involves all of God's people – singles and marrieds alike.
Singleness with purpose
How then should we view singleness? Timothy Keller encourages us to view singleness with a purpose. He writes,
"Paul's assessment in 1 Corinthians 7 is that singleness is a good condition blessed by God, and in many circumstances, it is actually better than marriage. As a result of this revolutionary attitude, the early church did not pressure people to marry (as we see in Paul's letter) and institutionally supported poor widows, so they did not have to remarry…Single adult Christians were bearing testimony that God, not family, was their hope. God would guarantee their future, first by giving them their truest family – the church – so they never lacked for brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, in Christ. But ultimately, Christians' inheritance is nothing less than the fullness of the kingdom of God in the new heavens and new earth." (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage)
Singles are to display that God is their hope and satisfaction. For further reflection on how we can show the meaning of our singleness, I commend the article "Singleness with Purpose" by Brooks Waldron.
How can we, as a church, respond?
For the singles in church, I urge you (as I constantly remind myself) to remember the following:
1. Our identity is rooted in Christ. Who I am is defined by my union with Christ when I trusted in the gospel. I am complete and beloved child of God. I am forgiven, redeemed and can look forward to resurrection glory, when we, as a church, will be married to Jesus Christ, our bridegroom.
2. Our purpose is to display that God is our real hope and satisfaction. We will face challenges (and pain), but in the midst of it, we turn to Jesus Christ. By doing so, we bear testimony that Jesus is enough.
3. Our ministry is making spiritual children – we make disciples who follow Jesus Christ, our older brother. We have the privilege of fewer familial responsibilities and greater freedom to love and serve the church, our spiritual family, in various ways.
For us as church, I encourage us to remember the following:
1. Our understanding of singleness. Singles are not incomplete, lacking and waiting for the bliss of couplehood. Their identity is rooted in Christ. In our conversations, remind and encourage singles that who we are is rooted in Jesus Christ and not by our relationship status.
2. Our privilege as a church. Jesus Christ has created a new spiritual family – the church. Both singles and marrieds are part of God's new family. Remember that as family, we have the privilege, responsibility and joy of caring and discipling the singles in our family.
3. Our ministry to singles. As a church family, one of the things you can do is to invite singles to join in your families' activities. Allow singles to be part of the joy and messiness of families. (One of my personal joys is to spend time with children of families who invite me over.) Also, remember to reach out to singles over the festive holidays and give the gift of hospitality and your company. Understand some of the unique challenges facing singles and encourage us.
May we as a church and spiritual family embrace and disciple the singles (and marrieds too!) in our midst. Have a wonderful Chinese New Year and a blessed time with family and friends!
1. Keen to find out more about joining the GBC community? We have a membership class called "Church Matters" which teaches through what we believe and what it means to be a church member. The next class will be held over three sessions on Sunday, Feb 2, 9 & 16 2020, 11am–12.30pm. If you would like more information, please contact Pastor Eugene (email@example.com).
2. Join us this coming Sunday over the Chinese New Year for Service at 9am before continuing with your CNY visitations. We will be looking at Luke 4:14-30. Pray that God will prepare our hearts to receive God's Word. Do also read the passage 2-3 times before Sunday!
3. The Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is now found in Singapore. We ask church members and visitors to take the precautions listed in this infographic from MOH. Please take care and stay safe.