Why Being Unmarried is Such a Good Thing
Introduction: Unmarried people comprise more than 45% of the adult population in the U.S. and half the workforce. These are people who have never been married; or have been widowed; or divorced; or in relationships that didn’t last. They span all ages and stages. In America, about 36 million people live in single-person households. Part of this is because of a reaction to the personal devastation caused by the sexual revolution. More people are choosing to remain celibate (not sexually active with another person) unless in a married relationship. A recent study analyzed four decades’ worth of data on the sex and dating experiences of 8 million teens. The percentage teens who have never been on a date is higher than ever, and the percentage who have had sex is at an all-time low. Our society is recognizing there are advantages to being unmarried and celibate; and the Bible says the same thing. Many heroes of the Bible were unmarried, and one of them, the apostle Paul, gave us an entire chapter on the subject—1 Corinthians 7. This chapter contains three biblical principles that, to me, are wonderfully woven into this passage.
1. The Principle of Personal Holiness – A Relationship with Christ Demands Purity (1 Corinthians 5:1 – 7:7)
Paul was writing to the church in Corinth, a city known for depravity. His message is that Christ-followers must live differently. He opened chapter 5 saying: It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you. Paul was disturbed by believers still engaged in sex outside of marriage. Verses 9-11 say: I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral…
In the next chapter he said: Neither the sexually immoral or idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves or the greedy nor drunkards not slanders nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
He went on in verse 18: Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
Then we come this great chapter 7, and it opens with a surprising sentence: Now for the matters you wrote about: It I good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.
What a strange verse! I think the Lord is telling us here it’s good to be single and celibate. As we keep reading, the emphasis on personal holiness continues: But since sexual immorality us is occurring, each man should have sexual relation with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her on body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not a command. I wish that all of you were a I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
If you are married that is a gift from God, and you must be physically active in this relationship. If you are single, that’s also God’s special gift to you. The apostle Paul was so happy being unmarried that he called it a gift. But he stressed throughout the chapter the necessity for purity.
Dr. J. I. Packer wrote about what he called, “the sidelining of personal holiness that has been a general trend among Bible-centered Western Christians during my years of ministry.” He said, “It is not a trend that one would have expected, since Scripture insists so strongly that Christians are called to holiness, and that without holiness none will see the Lord. But the shift of Christian interest away from the pursuit of holiness to focus on fun and fulfillment, ego massage and techniques for present success…is a fact. To my mind it is a sad and scandalous fact, and one that needs to be reversed.”
One of the hardest aspects of being unmarried is that it requires a celibate life, which requires the grace of God plus self-discipline.
Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, began dating Grammy-award-winner Ciara, and everyone assumed they were sleeping together. But Wilson spoke at a church event and told people the couple had decided not to have sex while dating. He said, “God spoke to me and said, ‘I need you to lead her’…and I told her right then and there, what would you do if we took all that extra stuff off the table, and just did it Jesus’ way? For me, I knew God had brought me into her life to bless her, and for her to bless me.” The media couldn’t believe it, but the couple evidently remained true to that commitment.
At some level, they understood this principle—a relationship with Christ demands purity. We’ve got to do things Jesus’ way. Perhaps you’re saying, “Well, it’s too late for me. I’ve ready violated everything you’re talking about.” Then start where you are and as you are. There’s room for that in the Gospel. In fact, that’s what the Gospel is all about. But start today.
2. The Principle of Perilous Times – These are Difficult Times in Which to Raise a Family, and There Are Advantages to Being Exempt from This Burden (1 Corinthians 7:25-31)
The second principle is found in 1 Corinthians 7:25: Now about virgins, I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. As you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in life, and I want to spare you from this.
What was the present crisis? We don’t know, but perhaps Paul was thinking of looming persecution. Others believe Greece was suffering riots caused by a terrible drought and famine and that the city of Corinth was being torn apart by violence. In terms of the application today, I’ll just say it’s a difficult time in which to raise children. There may be terrible times of persecution ahead. The nature of the times have something to do with the advantages of being unmarried.
This is exactly what God said in Jeremiah 16. Jeremiah’s nation was collapsing around him, and the Lord told him it would be a grave disadvantage to try to sustain a family during the crisis.
Paul continued in verse 29: Time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as though they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For the world in this present form is passing away.
The last days will be difficult. We will have to base all we do on our commitment to Christ, and the cost is high. If you’re married, don’t let it dilute your focus on the Lord. If you’re sad, get over it. If you’re happy, don’t be carried away. If you buy something, remember that it’s not yours for long. Christ is coming and the world is fading. It’s easier for a single person than those responsible for a family.
3. The Principle of Passionate Service – Nothing is More Fulfilling Than Making a Difference in this World for Christ (1 Corinthians 7:32-40)
That leads to the last emphasis—passionate service. Verse 32 continues: I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
If anyone is worried he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.
A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
Marriage is a sacred relationship, established by God as the place for sexual intimacy. But marriage takes a lot of time, work, energy, and emotion. Unmarried adults can pour their time and energy into the Lord’s affairs and devote themselves completely to what God wants them to do.
John Piper wrote, “I would just encourage Christian single people to ask, ‘For this chapter in my life, while I am single, what is it about my singleness that could make me especially fruitful for Christ?’ And then I would encourage them to give themselves to that.”
Conclusion: As a young adult, I was introverted and never dated much. During my freshman in college, I asked a girl on a date and we went to see Love Story, the most depressing movie ever made. My date was so depressed she never wanted to see me again.
My senior year of college, I walked into an office and there a new secretary there. I remember that moment like yesterday because Katrina had a nice smile. That year we worked together on the itinerary for our traveling teams. I was in her office nearly every day, but we never dated. I moved to Chicago for graduate school, and there was little way to stay in touch.
One day as I drove through the Illinois countryside, I had this thought. What if God doesn’t want me to be married? What if He wants me to be single all my life? There behind the wheel, I said something like this: “Lord, I would like to get married, but if You don’t want me to have a wife, then… well, I’m not sure I’m willing; but I’m willing to be willing if You will help me.” That seemed to settle it and I had peace. I enjoyed my years of unmarried-ness.
Meanwhile Katrina and I kept writing to each other. Our letters weren’t love letters; they were friendship letters. I was pretty lonely at Wheaton, and Katrina wrote and kept my spirits up. Finally one day I stumbled into the most awkward proposal ever. I said something about needing to marry Katrina to be able to spend enough time with her to get to know her. Surprised, she said, “Is that a proposal?” I said, “I guess.” She said, “Well, it’s the funniest proposal I’ve ever had! When do you want an answer?” I said, “Expeditiously.” She laughed and said, “Well, the answer is yes.”
My point is that God has a plan for each of us. Most of us will, at some point, be married; but all of us will spend time unmarried. Marriage is wonderful, but marriage is not God. Sex is not God. It isn’t our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to know Jesus Christ. God is God, and He is best able to guide us when we commit ourselves to personal holiness, follow Him through perilous times, and devote ourselves to Him in passionate service.
If you are unmarried or married, it’s a gift from God to be received with dignity and enjoyed with thanksgiving.