This post is part of a series on marriage, sex and celibacy. You can read the previous posts via the links below:
Chaste singles in a self-obsessed, hyper-sexualised society
Sexually chaste Christian singles are such an important resource for the church today. As contemporary Western culture drifts further and further from its Christian past, sexual self-satisfaction has become the goal of life. Culture battles over same-sex “marriage”, issues of gender and transgender identity, and even the ruckus about the aggressive promotion of gender fluidity by the Safe Schools Coalition, all stem from one source: the assumption that that in order to be a complete, whole, healthy human being, we need to be sexually satisfied.
But this sexual satisfaction has been completely divorced from any form of personal commitment. If you enjoy being with the person you’re having sex with, you might move in with them. If you feel like dressing up and throwing a party in your own honour, then you might have a wedding ceremony. But these days, no-one really believes in shackling yourself to another person “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health.” That would require me to commit the unforgivable sin of the 21st century: cutting down my lifestyle options. People these days think of themselves as self-sufficient, self-interested singles, who happen to be in a romantic or sexual relationship with someone. Sexually active singleness is socially normal.
In this context, sexually chaste Christian singles are backwards and upside-down. Simply by existing, we demonstrate how there’s more to life than sex, and that experiencing God’s love in Christ really is enough to be happy and whole – in this life as well as the next. In today’s hyper-sexualised society, chaste Christian singles are an embodied testimony to the gospel.
Chaste singles and the gospel
All Christians believe God loves us, not because he gives us what our hearts desire, but because Jesus died and rose to reconcile us to a holy God. We also believe that this holy God, who is now our heavenly father, gives us a fruitful, productive life on earth. But we don’t define what it means to be “fruitful” and “productive” – God does.
Christian singles dare to believe that God knows us better than we do. Therefore, what he says about healthy sexuality is more accurate than our feelings. If he says that romance and sexuality are good (Gen 2:23-25; Song of Songs; 1 Cor 7:3-5; etc.) but belong in marriage (Matt 19:4-6; Eph 5:22-33; etc.), we believe him. Therefore, if he hasn’t given us a marriage partner (yet), then he thinks that it’s better for us, and for everyone around us, that we serve him as unmarried people – at least for the time being. And to serve God and others as an unmarried person, we need to avoid what the Bible calls “sexual immorality”. So we do.
Chaste Christian singles exercise sexual self-control. We’re not ashamed of our feelings. We don’t hide or “repress” our yearnings. But we don’t act on them. We don’t stoke the flames of our passions, we hose them down instead – not because they’re bad, but because they’re not appropriate for the relational situation God has placed us in at the moment. Basically, we dare to believe that it’s healthier to obey God than feed our greed.
Chaste singleness and marriage
A proper view of chaste Christian singleness holds together two seemingly contradictory poles of the Biblical story arc. On the one hand, marriage is a creation ordinance rooted in our created nature as male and female. On the other hand, we worship the single saviour.
God created humanity in his image male and female (Gen 1:26-28, cf. Jesus in Matt 19:4-6). In Genesis 2:18, when God says that “it is not good for the man to be alone,” we should understand “alone” not as “lonely” but as “solitary”. To image the Triune God who is love, humanity could not be a bare, independent individual, but needed to have relationality built into our very being. Whatever our marital status, this longing for completion in the other – this yearning to be “one flesh” – is a good aspect of our created human being.
This makes sense of the griefs of chaste singleness. Unmarried people miss out on at least three genuinely good elements of life which God places within the institution of marriage: depth of intimacy; romance; and sexual pleasure. Unmarried people can have genuinely intimate, non-sexual friendships, and, in these non-sexual friendships, can give and receive love, and feel emotionally attached to people of both the same and opposite genders. These intimate, affectionate friendships can truly satisfy. But they’re not the same as being married. Sexually chaste singles genuinely miss out on good experiences in this life, and we do so precisely because we believe God locates those particular good experiences in marriage. It’s good for us to recognise these losses, and, if and when they deeply strike our emotions, to grieve them.
Jesus, Paul, and the healthy single life
And this is why Jesus is so important. Jesus is fully human. In fact, he’s the one true human, because he fulfilled the mission that God gave to humanity. That mission is to relate rightly to God as our Father and Lord, by conforming our life to God’s will. Jesus did that on our behalf (John 4:34; 8:26-29), and he did so as a single man.
This means it’s possible to be single, restrain our sexuality, and still be happy and mature. In fact, the Bible expects those who exercise such restraint to be happier, and more mature, than those who indulge their sexual desires (1 Thess 4:3-5). Chaste singleness is more fully human than unrestrained sexual self-indulgence.
Jesus, while unmarried, was not a completely independent, self-reliant hero. He lived with a group of disciples for three years. Some of them were wealthy women who supported the whole team (Luke 8:2-3). While Jesus was single, he wasn’t solitary. He lived in a deep network of caring relationships. And so should we.
Paul was also rarely solitary. He usually travelled with a team – Barnabas (Acts 13:2-4, 42, 46; 14:1, 3, etc.), John Mark (Acts 12:25; 13:5, cf. 15:36-41), Silas (Acts 15:22; 16:19-17:15; cf. 1 Thess 1:1 and 2 Thess 1:1), Timothy (Acts 16:1-3, etc.). In the last few lines of many of his letters, he greets people by name, and talks about his relationship with them in ways that indicate they cared about each other deeply.
Chaste singles in the church
This is why the local church is the place where chaste singles – like every other Christian – flourish. Chaste Christian singles will flourish in the deep, rich network of relationships that characterise a healthy church.
It’s not wrong to attend a church which has people who are in the same age and stage of life as you. If we’re single Christians who want to get married one day, we have to marry another Christian, of the opposite sex, who is of legal age and not already married to someone else. So it’s a good idea to attend a church with a number of people like this. As we get to know them, we can work out which of them, if any, we trust enough to contemplate spending the rest of our lives with them.
But we mustn’t let our horizons be limited to looking for a marriage partner. It’s good for singles to move out of our comfort zone, and deliberately relate to people who are different to us – older and younger, from different social backgrounds, different ethnicities, etc. If we do this, church will become a “family”, where we enjoy deep relationships with mums, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, sons, daughters – but we share these relationships not because we share the same biology, but because we share Christ, by his Holy Spirit. Belonging to this kind of family in Christ, while not replacing the genuine joys of marriage, should be well sufficient to allow chaste singles to live a happy, fulfilled life.
Chaste singleness and ministry
The joys of marriage come with a kind of cost. The responsibilities of marriage require married people to invest more heavily in this world than single people need to. This is probably what the Apostle Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 7, when he said marriage involves getting bogged down in “the affairs of this world” (33-34) while the single person can live in “undivided devotion to the Lord” (35). Chaste Christian singles can use the fact they’re not burdened by the domestic responsibilities of marriage to minister the gospel in creative ways.
For example, we could:
· Hang out with single non-Christians, build non-sexual relationships with them, and speak the gospel to them. We have the time, because we don’t have to worry about rushing home to the family. And we have the credibility, because we share the life situation of singleness.
· Spend time with the members of our biological family who aren’t Christian – especially those that the rest of the family don’t get on with. We could model Christ-like forgiveness and patience to them, and see what the Lord does through that.
· Instead of attending a big church with lots of people just like us, we could make our home church one where the ministry is faithful, but which doesn’t have the resources to support a full range of ministries – e.g. enough people to run Sunday School, lead Bible studies, run youth group etc. – and volunteer to lead some of those ministries.
· Even better: we move to a region of Australia where churches are struggling – e.g., country NSW, or south-west Sydney – and get involved in a church there.
· Because we can live relatively cheaply, we could work part-time, and in our free time during the week teach school scripture, visit house-bound people, run a crèche so mums can attend a daytime Bible study… or whatever.
Chaste singles and the future
Marriage is good because it expresses the outward-oriented relationality that God created humans to be. But, no human-based relationships can actually satisfy us completely, forever. Only the Triune God can do that. And we will only properly enjoy that kind of close, unhindered relationship with him in the glorious new creation. Chaste singles can remind everyone else of this twin reality: God alone will really truly satisfy; and that divine satisfaction lies in the future, not in this world but the next.
Chaste singleness involves some grief, because we really do miss out on the delights of marriage. But chaste Christian singles live in hope – in joyful expectation of union with Christ. Both the joys and sorrows of this created order are temporary. Our real home is the glorious new creation. Chaste singles are an embodied testimony of this future hope, this forward yearning, as we wait for the day when the divine husband will come leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills, to take his whole church with him to his mansions in glory.
 The requirement that Christians marry Christians is explicit in 1 Cor 7:39, and implied in 2 Cor 6:14-18.