The gospel defines every area of our lives, including our relationship status. Therefore, when we talk about singleness we have much more to offer than mere advice on dating and tips on how to deal with the struggles of being single. The narrative arc of the Scriptures gives us a much deeper understanding of what it means to be a single person. If we properly understand what the Bible has to say about singleness, those who are single can have freedom from anxiety in this stage of life. And those who are not single can better appreciate the vital role single people play in the Kingdom of God.
The Old Testament was marked by a number of covenants, including the Adamic Covenant, Abrahamic Covenant, Mosaic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant. Each of these covenants included a component of offspring (which implies marriage and familial relations). In fact, continued offspring was the primary promise of these covenants. Physical procreation was the primary mechanism God used to build up the covenant people. In the Old Testament marriage was assumed for everyone; almost every person ended up marrying. Starting a family, raising children, continuing a lineage and gaining honor for a family name was of utmost importance to those living in the days of the Old Testament. If a person was married and able to procreate, he was considered blessed (in accord with the Mosaic covenant). Those that did not marry or were unable to produce children were considered cursed by God. While this seems harsh to modern minds, we must remember that these things were assumed in light of the covenants Israel lived under.
The book of Jeremiah introduces another covenant that fulfills and supersedes all previous covenants. The New Covenant is first given to Israel and ultimately to all mankind. In this covenant, God promises to forgive sin and open up a whole new relationship with people that is marked by deep acceptance and intimacy. This relationship is not brought about by keeping the rules, but by the work of God alone. The book of Isaiah speaks of a man who has no family but will have offspring (Isaiah 53:8-10). How is this possible? The man the prophet speaks about is Jesus the Messiah, and it is Jesus who sheds his blood to make the New Covenant possible. He fulfills the law of Moses (Matthew 5:17) by perfectly obeying God’s commandments and living the life that we could not live. And we find in the New Testament that the promises of offspring in the Old Testament covenants are finally and fully fulfilled in Jesus. It is ultimately Jesus who the covenants were promising when they promised offspring.
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)
And it is no longer physical offspring that make up the covenant people of God, but the Church.
And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:29)
Marriage and children are no longer necessary to continue God’s work in creating a covenant people as it was in the Old Testament. The implications of these truths for the single life are many:
• It means that we are all children of God’s promise and that all the blessings of God fall on us. It means that our season (or life) of singleness are not an indication of God’s curse upon us. In fact, the apostle Paul tells us something incredible: singleness is a good thing (1 Corinthians 7). Christianity is the only religion that affirms both marriage and singleness as good. That is because the gospel says we are already blessed and already have everything we need because of what Christ has done for us.
• It means that even in our moments of deep sorrow and loneliness as single people we never have to wonder if God has forgotten us.
• It means that the family we long for is found in the Church, whether or not we ever have a biological family of our own.
• It means that because we are free to be single, we are free to direct our time and energies toward serving the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 7:32-35) rather than be anxious about our relational status. The command to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) is much easier for someone who does not have the responsibility of caring for a boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife.
• It means that while our desire for relational intimacy in a romantic relationship may go unfulfilled, our deeper desire for relational intimacy with a better and truer Lover will never go unfulfilled.
In the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, Jerry Maguire tells his romantic interest, Dorothy Boyd, how much she means to him and caps off his mini-speech with the famous phrase “you complete me.” That phrase articulates what so many people want someone else to do for them. They hope for someone who will complete them. But the gospel tells us that we are already complete if we are in Christ (Colossians 2:10).
It is not wrong to want and actively seek a romantic relationship. This is a good and godly desire. But while we wait for God to intersect our lives with those of whom we will eventually end up with, we can know that we already have everything that we need. For the believer, every relational stage in life is an opportunity to showcase the goodness of God. For those that are waiting for the right person to come along, we can use our season of singleness to tell people that even though the loneliness of singleness hurts deeply, Jesus is enough. And even though we are unsure if we will ever find marital bliss, we know for certain that we will one day know an eternal joy that even the best romantic partner cannot compare to.
You can listen to Pastor Wade’s two-part Sunday School series here.
For an extensive yet accessible exegetical treatment on the topic of singleness, check out Redeeming Singleness by Barry Danylak (Crossway, 2010).