The Dilemma of Singleness

(These are some rough notes from a Sunday School I taught a few years back…)

Singleness is not bad. Everyone is single for a portion of their life. And, on occasion, some people are single for their entire life. That being said, there is growing dilemma in the church and society associated with exploding rates of singleness.

There is a trend towards delaying of marriage. The trend isn’t nearly as steep as some would have you believe. However, it is noticeable and currently on a major uptick.

The data for the median age of marriage:

England, 1700s; Women: 25-26; Men: 30

New England, early 1600s; Women: Teens; Men: 26

New England, late 1600s; Women: 20; Men: 25

Pennsylvania Quakers, 1600s; Women: 22; Men: 26

Pennsylvania Quakers, 1700s; Women: 23; Men: 26

Rural South Carolina, 1700s; Women: 19; Men: 22

For comparison, here is the U.S. census data showing the median age of marriage for selected years in the more recent past:

1900 Women: 21.9; Men: 25.9

1950 Women: 20.3; Men: 22.8

1975 Women: 21.1; Men: 23.5

2000 Women: 25.1; Men: 26.8

The newest data from the Census:

2013 Women: 26.6; Men: 29.0

Overall marriage rates have significantly declined in the last 70% years:

In 2012, one-in-five adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data. In 1960, only about one-in-ten adults (9%) in that age range had never been married.

So in a nutshell, fewer people are getting married and those that are getting married later in life. That doesn’t mean people are living a sexual chaste life.

Cohabitation rates are on a sharp increase:

For example, nearly half of women in what researchers call “first unions” with men — 48 percent — moved in with no wedding vows according to interviews conducted between 2006 and 2010, up from 43 percent in 2002 and 34 percent in 1995.

According to a Barna survey, roughly 65% of Americans believe cohabitation is a good idea. When the same question is asked of millennial the percentage rises to 72%.

The use of pornography is widespread. Let me give you some very conservatives stats that demonstrate this:

12 percent of all Internet websites are pornographic.

25 percent of all online search engine requests are related to sex. That’s about 68 million requests per day.

35 percent of all Internet downloads are pornographic.

40 million Americans are regular visitors (in their own estimation) to porn sites.

70 percent of men aged 18 to 24 visit a porn site at least once per month.

The average age of first exposure to Internet porn is 11.

The largest consumer group of Internet porn is men aged 35 to 49.

One-third of all Internet porn users are female.

The rates of birth out of wedlock have also increased. In 2012, overall 41% of births were out of wedlock. That stat rises to around 57% is you isolate it down to mothers that are consider millennials (26 – 31). This is a sharp increase. In 1970, about 11 percent of all births were to unmarried parents; by 1990, that figure rose to 28 percent.

So, what have is a society that in general is rejecting the biblical teaching that marriage, sex, and children exist as a sort of trinity. These things normally go together and when one is missing there are real consequences.

For example, a marriage that is sexless is an exceedingly difficult marriage. Sex is one of the chief benefits of marriage. It helps alleviate sexual temptation and is source of comfort in a fallen world. That is the teaching of Scripture and the confession.

Sex that is marriage-less is destructive. It leads to children growing up in homes with a single parent and is a major cause for both chemical and surgical abortions. Moreover, there are just the improper emotional bonds that it creates between two people with no covenantal commitment made to each other.

And a marriage that is childless is often very destructive and difficult. For those that purposely live a childless life, it is usually destructive. Nothing helps you die to yourself and be other-centered like children. Those that forgo children often do for quality of life reasons. Now, there are those that simply are unable to have children because of God’s providence. And yet that still is very hard on a marriage.

So this is the climate we are in. The trinity of marriage, sex, and children is under attack. Faithful churches are seeking to address it by preaching the Scripture’s emphasis. And in the middle of it all there are more singles than ever.

Some of those singles get married and, to a degree, exit the tension between the society and the church on this issue. But there are others that are having a difficult time doing that.

They have dated all the eligible people in their church, go on blind dates, eharmony, etc. And yet they haven’t been able to find a suitable mate. Some times it is an issue of unrealistic standards, other times it is just the legitimate inability to find a scripturally acceptable mate.

It can be very difficult for this people to be in a church that emphasizes what Scripture emphasizes.

There are other factors but I think this enough to illustrate the dilemma.

Some churches are seeking to address this problem by applying passage on celibacy to this growing population of singles. However, I think it is a misapplication.

Matthew 19

10 The disciples *said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.

Celibacy differs from a temporary state of singleness in that it is a life long commitment to non-romantic and non-erotic relationships. Moreover, it is a gift that is given by God not chosen by man. It is clear from the words of Christ in Matthew 19:11-12 that it is rare gift. Calvin rightly argues, “If any man thinks it advantageous for him to want a wife, and, without making any inquiry, lays upon himself an obligation to celibacy, he is widely mistaken.” In other words, marriage is the normative calling for most people and most should pursue it.

“I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” 1 Corinthians 7:7-9

What does it mean to be single in the sense that the Apostle Paul was single? It means an sustained ability to be single without any sexual frustration. Paul refers to this station as a gift that not all possess. In other words, Paul is referring to the gift of celibacy as taught by Christ in Matthew 19:10-12. Celibacy isn’t just the cessation of sexual actions. It also includes the cessation of normal sexual desire.

Thus, this passage isn’t commending “singleness” in the modern sense. The modern use of “single” or “singleness” makes no claim on sexual desire. Paul is speaking of the gift of celibacy.

In 1 Corinthians 7:25-38, Paul explains his reasons for commending the celibate life. First, he says

So what is the answer? The answer isn’t to normalize life-long singleness without the gift of celibacy. That just isn’t normative. The answer isn’t to denigrate marriage and parenthood. Those are wonderful blessings of God meant for the majority of people.

The answer is to emphasize self-control, contentment, and service.

First, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality..” Sex is reserved for the marriage bed. Singles must exercise self-control as the internal struggle is normal to most and the outside temptations are more intense than almost ever in history.

Second, it is right to grieve missing out on a blessing but God is in control. Every situation and circumstances has a purpose, even the trials you brought on yourself. Singleness without the gift of celibacy is difficult. However, God is using that difficult situation to mature and perfect you (James 1:2-3). Be content where God has you. Today’s trouble are enough for today.

Third, singleness opens the door to a greater devotion to service opportunities. The responsibilities of a family are a necessary and noble distraction. Those that are single and can exercise self-control are immensely valuable to the expansion of the kingdom of God as they are “freer” in a sense. Plus, giving yourself to others in service greatly hampers discontentment because it keeps your eyes off yourself.

Churches must be cognizant of their singles and look for ways to encourage them to serve the Lord. Singles must be cognizant of the emphasis of Scripture and not resent a church for emphasizing them. Both must happen.

How comfortable was the Apostle Paul with his singleness? He was so comfortable with it that he constantly taught on sex, marriage, and children. Think about it. A “single” gives us the bulk of our New Testament teaching on sex, marriage, and children.

The relevance here is that singles often find themselves resenting churches that give emphasis to sex, marriage, and children. It is noteworthy that it isn’t an issue for Paul (a “single”). Quite to the contrary, the bulk of that teaching came through the apostle.

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