Is singleness a gift?
Who’s actually asking this question? The pastor who sees the dramatic demographic shift toward singleness and wants to keep the most people happy so that he keeps a good wallet growth rate? The seminary student who wants to be John Piper? The young man, zealous for the Lord, wanting to be the best he can be, who goes to a trash church whose trash pastor keeps telling him trash things about singleness and now he’s confused as to what to do about his feelings for Sally? The young woman desperate for a husband who reads from TGC to find comfort in her extraordinary “gift” of a lonely, clean, empty-wombed life?
Over the years, I’ve migrated from the A29 world through the Together for the Gospel world and have landed in a Reformed Baptist church that knows marriage and children are best and actually listens to what Tim Bayly says about the family. So I don’t hear about the “gift of singleness” so much anymore. When I am asked about it, it’s generally from a guy on the tail end of college who isn’t yet viscerally aware of the suffering of singleness. He’s got every opportunity in front of him. Many of those opportunities are legitimately easier to pursue without the slowness and layers of domesticity. He’s heard from platformed voices that singleness is either better or just as good as marriage and it gives him just enough to justify putting marriage off until he’s done other things. He honors the Lord, wants to obey the Word, and thinks he’s found a way to still be a good Christian guy and have a normal 21st century post-college decade.
“Dave, you’re telling me to marry my girlfriend and start having kids. But what about the gift of singleness?”
With this guy, if I’m confident in his attitude to the Lord and His Word, I find the conversation generally takes care of itself when the focus is first on what we know about marriage. If I can get him, if I can get you, on board with a biblical take on marriage, you’ll probably marry your girlfriend or sign up for Dominion Dating without me having to do much philosophizing on the goodness of asceticism.
What is marriage?
1. Marriage is the one thing that undoes the world’s first bad.
Before Eve was deceived and Adam ate, the world knew bad. Everything was good, very good, except…God made man and man was very good. But there was something wrong. There was a bad. Man was single. Adam was alone. No glorious mission, no animal companionship could undo the bad of his singleness. The one thing to undo it was the fashioning of the woman. God made her from him and gave her to him in marriage. God took away singleness from Adam to make him and his state better. He addressed an affliction with a woman.
2. Marriage is the institution that brings man the greatest intimacy.
Yes, men need ride or die homies. But that fellowship is obviously distinct from intimacy, which God gives us maximally through sexual union with a wife. Just like no brotherhood can compare to that which is forged by men together in war, no intimacy can compare to that which is born from the covenantally built marriage bed. We are made to have the fellowship of the homies and the intimacy of the wife.
3. Other than the right administration of Word and sacrament, nothing “pictures the gospel” more than marriage.
I put “pictures the gospel” in quotes because it’s an overused phrase to refer to any and all obedience. That’s stupid. But, in spite of stupid and confusing-at-best cliches, some things really do picture the gospel. God sends his Word to His people through the Holy Spirit superintended preaching. Those who repent and believe the gospel state that by joining with Christ publicly in his death, going down into the watery tomb, and in his resurrection, coming out of the water and into new life. We fellowship with Christ as those reconciled by his broken body and spilled blood. Word and sacrament uniquely picture the gospel.
As does marriage.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33
4. Marriage is the first soil for all art.
No marriage, no art. All art is a development of the first form of art, song. Why do I say this?
Adam was alone. That’s bad. God puts him into a deep sleep. God takes his rib. God makes that rib into a woman; and what a woman she was. Adam wakes up. God presents Eve to him. He is over the moon. And he sings. “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
If you like art, know where it comes from: man’s response of gratitude to God for woman in marriage.
5. Marriage is the reason for civilization.
Just north of Boise, there are mountain men. Them and their dogs. Off the grid. Just living. Every man hears of this and feels something stir within. There is poetry, majesty, in surviving in the wilderness, proving to yourself and your dog that you can conquer the elements with your own two hands, independent from all others. We see the lone cowboy riding the horizon and we want to chase after him. It’s not good for man to be alone, but something from that stuck with us and remains our dream, our fascination, our challenge.
What forces man to settle, to build, to develop? Marriage. Marriage means family, woman and children. And that means immobility. Think about it. When it’s only men in combat, they can lean into mobility, never being where the enemy thinks they are. Think Francis Marion and Stonewall Jackson. As soon as women and children enter the picture, they have to fortify. Healthy women and children can’t move like healthy men. They aren’t as hard, impervious to the elements. They have a greater need for shelter. And though in war that’s a vulnerability, in peace it is a context for the wandering energy of man to be channeled into the construction of culture. The greatest civilizations have only ever been built by men who were settled, who went beyond mere survival and into development. And that is, by the kindness of God, forced upon them by marriage.
6. Marriage is the primary defense institution in the world.
Before anyone else comes to help, the husband is there to protect the weak, his wife and children. He is family defense. So he is national defense.
7. Marriage is the primary economic institution in the world.
An individual man can labor and create wealth, but, as far as institutions go, marriage is the primary, the foundational economic institution, wherein man and woman give labor and innovation for one another, to build mutual wealth.
8. Marriage protects from sexual immorality.
There is an almost non-existent number of men who live at peace with their God-given manhood, have all the God-given testosterone, and none of the expected libido. Low libido in a man normally comes from sexual rebellion, refusing to think, act, and be hard. A firm man with no libido is a man who only exists by miracle, by special grace. Reality is, if you’re reading this, you’re not that guy.
Your libido isn’t a curse. It isn’t a punishment. God built you with it so that you’d get married and be fruitful and multiply. He gave it to you so that you would be driven to the greatest obediences through the deepest pleasures. But, being a sinner, if you aren’t married, your hard charging libido will still want to take you somewhere. It will want to haul you into sin, into the harlot’s bed and the fires of hell.
Be like Jacob, who fled from Potiphar’s wife. Take the way of escape from sexual sin. Paul tells us it is marriage.
“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband…But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:2, 9).
9. Marriage is our duty.
In light of marriage being our protection from sexual immorality, the Westminster Larger Catechism calls marriage a Christian duty, integral to obeying the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
The WLC reads,
“What are the duties of required in the seventh commandment?”
“The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency, conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labor in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto.”
10. Second only to the right administration of Word and sacrament, marriage is the primary way the Great Commission successfully unfolds across the world.
“Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it. Disciple the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe all I have commanded you. For all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me”, thus saith the Lord.
For every individual Christian, for every Christian family and every Christian church, Christ has given us our mission statement, the purpose to drive and direct all the days.
The soul of our obedience to this Commission is the preaching of the gospel, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. The hands and feet of our obedience is marriage, baby making, child rearing, conquerors and mothers of conquerors sending.
Peter preaches the gospel. He puts forward the promise of salvation. And he makes clear how that promise will go forward. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). What does my baptism have to do with the baptism of a man generations in the future from a hometown I will never hear of? What does my baptism have to do with the kings of the earth bringing treasures from distant lands to Christ?
Here’s how it plays out, in terms of the normal pattern: I get baptized. I get married to a baptized woman. We have kids. We raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Along the way they repent and believe and are baptized. They go out in the name of Jesus. Repeat. Eventually the world is teeming with the redeemed. We are an irresistible force of righteousness in the name of Jesus. The earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God. The end.
Those are my assertions about marriage. The fact that I made 10 was simply a product of finger magic.
If a young man hears and agrees with these assertions, I happen to know that he won’t be able to present the case for why singleness is better. If marriage is all these things, how could it be anything but best?
So what is singleness?
Being the absence of marriage, which is all the above, which is best, singleness, for such a majority of people that we could functionally say for all people, is an affliction, a trial, a lack, a form of suffering.
And, as Christians, we know how to process affliction. Afflictions and trials are indeed gifts from the Lord. They cause us to rely with focus on Jehovah Jireh, our provider. They detoxify us of graspings and self-importance. They build within us patience and experience and hope that is not put to shame.
Singleness is suffering. Suffering is a gift from our Father in Heaven who knows what is best for us and only gives good gifts.