In an English class my senior year of high school, I proudly claimed I would never marry.
A short six months after, I dated a girl. A year later, I dated another girl. And a year after that, another girl.
I see so many people either following or lusting after this pattern. It’s normal. That’s what you do – you talk, you date, you get engaged, and you get married. That’s how it goes – both in the church and in most of the world. The thing is, that’s not how it goes. The Bible actually advocates for and encourages the exact opposite.
“But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Corinthians 7:37-38).
If Scripture treats singleness in this manner, then why do we idolize marriage? Marriage seems second-best – you can marry and do well, or you can remain single and do even better. Paul emphasizes self-control, a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), in regard to our desires. Our desires often rule us. But, if we walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), then our desires cannot rule us.
Why then do we champion self-control in every other aspect of faith but celebrate the lack of it in our relationships and pursuit of marriage? I think our idolatry towards sex and marriage, which stems from our culture’s infatuation with romance, triumphs over our capacity to live in self-control and warps our view of dating. We created a semi-biblical space within the cultural realm of dating, where we draw arbitrary lines and boundaries rather than treat simply obey Scripture and treat “older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2).
It is important to remember that Paul wrote all of this for our own benefit. He aims “not to lay any restraint upon us.” He wants us to be free from anxieties (1 Corinthians 7:32). He wants to “secure your undivided attention to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). Singleness is not dreary or burdensome or lamentable. Rather, Paul says, it ought to free us up! Even if we do aim to marry and desire it in a healthy fashion, we must be able to function independent of anyone else with self control, and rest in the security and sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
“I wish that all were as I myself am” (1 Corinthians 7:7). I sense Paul follows that sentence with a sigh, because he knows that few will take up their cross and live a life fully devoted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all things. He knows that the appeals of marriage and love and sex and children and relationship and intimacy will sway many. And in marrying, they “do well.” Marriage is good and of great gain to believers.
But, he knows that some will rejoice in their singleness, and they will “do even better” because they have found their complete fulfillment in Jesus Christ. So, rather than go from relationship to relationship and desire to desire, I will take my insecurity to the one in whom I am secure and lay it all on the table. Rather than fantasize about the future, along with Charles Spurgeon “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” Those who have treasure and long for nothing else, for they understand nothing is greater.