When I was a little girl I wanted to be married by the time I turned 18. At that age, it seemed a bit too early so I thought maybe after I finish my studies and a few years of work, but surely by the time I was 25. It was not like I was in a relationship or that I was under a lot of pressure to get married. I just wanted to be married by a certain age.
As I began to grow in my faith, my reasons for wanting to be married turned spiritual. In my teens and young adult years, I was regular in church, our youth group, and quite involved in ministry. I was growing in my love for God and serving him. But deep down I felt with all the good things I was doing for God, surely he would give me a husband—someone with whom I could serve Christ, and with whom I could live happily ever after.
At every church camp, we had sessions on marriage and were encouraged to make lists of the qualities we wanted in a spouse. I had my list of all the things I wanted in a partner with lots of spiritual qualities. So I assumed it would only be a matter of time before my prayer would be answered.
As I saw couples serving together, I believed it was extremely important to be married to reach the next level of spiritual maturity and fruitfulness in ministry.
Soon I was 30 and not yet married. I was feeling betrayed by God and passed over. I wrestled with questions from all sides, wondering what I was doing wrong or if there was anything else I needed to do. I found myself in somewhat of a crisis about my identity.
It was a very personal situation that drove me to ask the question, “How is the gospel good news for the single person?”
The church in India needs to engage with the pressing issue of singleness. According to the 2011 census, there has been a 39 percent increase in the number of single women—a reality all too visible in the demographics of the church in India.
As I saw couples serving together, I believed it was extremely important to be married to reach the “next level“ of spiritual maturity and fruitfulness in ministry.
The whole church needs to be engaged with this question because singleness is a reality for all of us—sometimes for a season, sometimes for life. Even if we are married now, the painful and unfortunate realities of death or separation will leave one spouse in every marriage single again.
Journeying with this question for over ten years, I have now come to rest on three reasons why the gospel is indeed good news for the single person—gospel identity, gospel community, and gospel sufficiency.
Singleness and Gospel Identity
As a Christian, I was never prepared to face singleness. The church was heavily invested in preparing young single adults for a future that would surely involve marriage and children. While there was a lot of material and teaching around dating, relationships and marriage, I cannot remember hearing anything about singleness.
In marriage, we can complement one another but we do not complete each other.
This is unusual because the Bible has a high view of singleness. It is even considered preferable to marriage (1 Cor. 7). Marriage does not complete us, even though many preachers of wedding sermons may have told us so. Only Christ completes us.
The gospel gives us our primary identity that transcends all other identities. It is an identity through which we live out all our other sub-identities. The gospel is good news for the single person and the married person because our identity is rooted in who we are in Christ. In marriage, we can complement one another but we do not complete each other.
Singleness and Gospel Community
In the gospel, we are adopted into a new community—the church—the family of God. For Jesus, family is bigger than those we are bound to biologically. Responding to his mother and brothers who were looking for him, Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35).
The New Testament is constantly identifying the church as a family. The early church behaved like a family—sharing their possessions, meeting each other’s needs as they arose, eating, praying, and worshipping together (Acts 2:42-47).
The church is referred to as the household of God (1 Tim. 3:15). The apostle Paul urges Timothy to consider older men as fathers, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters (1 Tim. 5:1-2).
In the church, we all need to expand our definition of family. For those with their own biological family, this comes with its responsibilities and calling but this is not our only family. For the single person without some or any of these biological relationships, it does not mean we do not have a family.
There can be a tendency in the church to stick with people who are like us. We turn to people in a similar life situation and disconnect from others who are different from us. Couples only hang out with other couples. Singles only hang out with other singles. People of the same age group stick together.
Building gospel community means we intentionally build friendships within the church family with people from across the spectrum. It means we create safe spaces to hear each other’s stories and struggles. What we have is the potential for deep friendships within our communities of faith.
In them, we can be vulnerable about our brokenness, reveal ourselves honestly, confess our sins, and also celebrate life, God’s good creation, and beauty. We can eat together, cry together, pray together, and serve together.
In his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis says, “Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.” I love this picture of the deep intimacy, possible in godly friendships.
Friendships in the church family are an antidote to loneliness, both for the single and the married person. As Stanley Hauerwas says in A Community of Character, “The church is composed of the single and the married. Both are called to a life of faithfulness. All are called to be friends, defying the loneliness that threatens anyone. . . .”
Singleness and Gospel Sufficiency
In the Gospel of Matthew, the Sadducees come to Jesus with a strange scenario and a testing question (Matt. 22:23-33). Their question assumed marriage would continue in the resurrection and Jesus tells them there is no marriage in the resurrection.
Earthly marriage is temporary, not eternal. Marriage is a sign that points to the relationship between Christ and the church. There will be no marriage relationship in the new creation because we will no longer need the symbol of earthly marriage to point to our union with Christ in eternal marriage.
In the Gospels, Jesus refers to himself as a bridegroom. It is an ironic term for someone who lived on the earth as a single person.
But in the church (and in culture) we can so easily make an idol of marriage and turn a good thing into an ultimate thing. We can expect marriage to give us the ultimate affirmation, security, satisfaction, and belonging we are meant to receive only in our relationship with Christ.
In the Gospels, Jesus refers to himself as a bridegroom. It is an ironic term for someone who lived on the earth as a single person. But it points to the marriage that will ultimately take place.
Jesus is the perfect bridegroom who pursued and loved a bride who was not faithful to him. He chose to give himself sacrificially and willingly for his bride—whom he loves, nourishes, cherishes, sanctifies, and transforms.
There is good news for all who have been hurt in marriage or have never been married. An “out-of-this-world” marriage is waiting for us, in which we will be united with our true bridegroom.
For those of us who are single—for a season or a lifetime—we can live today resting in the true hope of this future marriage. Even now we can testify to the sufficiency of Christ in our singleness. As Sam Allberry says, “Marriage shows us the shape of the gospel and singleness shows us its sufficiency.”