Marriage is a reflection of Christ and His Church. You know that, right? You’ve heard it a thousand times, and it’s true. What you might not have heard is that singleness is a reflection of Christ and His Glory.
I’ve been meditating on the themes of marriage as I prepare to marry the love of my life next month. The preparation for marriage brings Christ’s love into sharp focus. There is the careful presentation of our best selves to one another; the yearning and anticipation of union, of celebration among a happy throng; the desire for consummation, and the only physical act reserved by God to a specific time and setting in life. All of these contribute to a building sense of awe and excitement that reflect the excitement we feel waiting for our permanent union to the Infinite God.
To consider that the excitement I feel about marrying Lena is only a fraction of the way that Christ feels about His Church—His imperfect, fighting Church—is a thought too difficult for words. To realize, further, that Christ wants me with greater passion than I love my bride is unfathomable. What is becoming a regular ritual serves as an example: Lena nervously confesses an insecurity that she thinks I won’t like; I smile, unable to fully communicate how insignificant—how non-existent—this fear is in comparison to how deeply I love her. It’s in this moment I realize that God feels the same way about me when I fear my own inadequacies will never measure up to Him.
Marriage is a broken symbol of a perfect union, a common-place reflection of an eternal and matchless beauty. Jesus Christ—God Himself—chose to love mankind. He is altogether different than us. His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways, different than ours. Although we understand Him at an essential level, He is beyond our ability to comprehend. I can’t think of a better way to describe the relationship between a man and a woman.
But I’m not here to write about marriage. You’ve heard all about how beautiful marriage is and how all believers should honor it. I don’t disagree with that. But I can’t end my twenty-nine years of singleness without leaving a word of encouragement to the singles in the Church today, a group that is often unintentionally ignored, or worse, intentionally condescended to.
What many believers who were married young don’t know is how accusatory the questions about singleness can become. A good-looking, godly young man may wrestle night and day against a combination of his own urges and our generation’s unparalleled access to sexual sin; he may face ridicule for passing up opportunities presented to him by willing offerors; he may lie awake nights fighting the images that polite society has presented to him. Yet when this victorious, godly young man enters the church building on Sunday morning looking for a moment of peace with God and communion with the saints, he is all too often met with the question, “Why aren’t you dating?” or worse, “You mean you don’t like any of the young ladies in this church/Bible study/Christian school?”
The beautiful, godly young woman may refuse to be influenced by the idle chatter of the chick-flick; she may ignore catcalls on the way to work, and deal with the awkward and inappropriate advances of boys who have never learned to be men. Yet when this triumphant champion walks into the church’s fellowship hall to worship, she is all-too-often reduced to answering the question, “So, any young men in your life?” as though her womanhood is not complete because she has not yet been introduced to her husband.
To be sure, these questions come from a mixture of well-meant curiosity, loving interest and a desire to help. But when they predominate the single person’s interactions in the Church—and I can tell you from personal experience, they often do—the single man or woman can be forgiven for forgetting that their singleness is not a sin.
On the contrary, however, singleness is a type of Christ’s glory. Godly singleness is the exemplification of profound self-control, of pruning the body’s desires to conform to holiness, of taking thoughts captive and cultivating a healthy view of things forbidden to the desirer. An under-hyped attribute of God is His profound self-control. As we have already learned from marriage, God’s longings are deeper than our own, His passions more profound. Yet His self-control is complete, even as He seeks to draw His people to Himself. He is a perfectly restrained engine of combusting desire, a burning inferno of limitless love and raging passion, matched only by His strength and self-restraint. What a profound reflection of this Being of Infinite Desire are the single man’s years of pure singleness. What a perfect sacrifice to the focused and unrelenting God are the young woman’s years of holy patience.
Thus, it is no surprise that singleness is the state in which Christ lived His whole earthly life, or in which Paul spent his life of ministry. Paul wished all men to remain as he was (1 Cor. 7:7). Christ reminded us that those who can accept the gift of singleness should do so (Matt. 19:12). And yet, both Christ and Paul emphasized, encouraged and glorified the pursuit of marriage.
How? Because both marriage and singleness are temporary—neither is eternal. The believer who dies in singleness enters a mystical unity with God and His Church. The believer who dies in marriage will enter into the same. The paradox of singleness is most profound precisely because it is temporary. Whether it is life-long or not, it is temporary.
Hence, Christian self-control is not Eastern self-denial. It is not a nihilistic refusal to enjoy what is good. For the Christian, singleness is both an affirmation of the glory of marriage and simultaneously an exercise in the attributes of God—patience, self-control, holiness.
Are you still single? Then may your singleness reflect the corporeal Christ, the Deity who became perfectly-restrained flesh so that His Spirit could be one with ours. May your singleness be a sacrifice to the Eternal Spirit who issues His invitation and patiently waits. May your singleness prepare you for the joy of the Father as He gives us to His Son for all eternity, for of this joy, your singleness and my marriage are only a faint shadow.