You sit down with your single friend who has been struggling with their singleness. They want to be married, they want to have the same kind of intimacy that you experience in marriage. They long for the day when they will be able to walk down the aisle with their new spouse. But they don’t know what to do; they don’t know how to move forward.
You want to help them and give them some hope. So you say to them “Use this time of singleness to work on preparing to be the best spouse you can be for when it finally happens” or you might tell them, “don’t try and find someone to date, try to be the kind of person someone will want to marry”
Putting the cart before the horse
On the surface these might seem like good pieces of advice to give someone. They might help your single friend stop worrying about who they are dating, and to instead focus on looking after themselves. It might help them to seek to improve themselves and change the things that they have control over. Surely it is not going to hurt for us to seek to grow as people.
The problem with this advice however is that it is wrong-headed, it is putting the cart before the horse. It is acting as if you are already engaged and are preparing to marry someone. But how can you prepare for something that you cannot be certain will happen? How can you prepare for something when you don’t even know what it’s like?
As I have spoken to my married friends and observed their lives, it has become obvious to me that you can’t fully prepare yourself for marriage. Being a husband or wife is a lifetime work
What’s more, as I have spoken to my married friends and observed their lives, it has become obvious to me that you can’t fully prepare yourself for marriage. Sure you can do a marriage preparation course, but no matter how much preparation you do you cannot be prepared for every eventuality. My friends are men and women who are constantly seeking to grow in the ways that they love their spouses.
Being a husband or wife is a lifetime work; to pretend that we can somehow prepare ourselves before we marry is getting things in the wrong order.
The wrong priority
We could easily set this kind of advice aside as being just unhelpful and wrong-headed but this would be to miss something that lies just below the surface and is far more dangerous for us. Simply put this kind of advice assumes that we will all marry, in fact it assumes that the goal of the Christian life is to be married. Marriage then becomes our number one priority and singleness becomes a matter of waiting and getting ready.
What we end up doing then is painting singleness as a second-rate life of lesser flourishing. Singleness becomes a kind of purgatory in which you have to pay your dues before you can enter the promised land of marriage. While you are waiting you are to prepare yourself to make the most of marriage when you finally get to enter into it.
Most damaging of all is that, when we make marriage the number one priority in life, it becomes an idol in our hearts. Marriage becomes something to be obtained at the expense of other parts of our lives. By giving someone this kind of advice you are creating the opportunity for sin to take root in their heart and choke out their faith.
When we make marriage the number one priority in life, it becomes an idol in our hearts.
This doesn’t just impact those who are single; it also applies to married people. Those who make marriage an idol will seek their security and comfort in their spouse rather than in Christ. Everything will depend on the success or failure of their marriage. Every single crisis in their marriage will threaten to bring their entire world crashing down around them.
This piece of advice is not just unhelpful, it is downright dangerous and has the potential to lead us away from our Lord and Saviour.
Preparing for our marriage in heaven
Nor, finally, does it address our single friend’s primary concern. They long for intimacy with another person, they long to love and be loved. This is not a problem that can be solved with a simple piece of advice, this is a deep longing which can only be truly find fulfilment in Christ. We are to point our single brothers and sisters back to Christ.
In the New Testament Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven as being like a great wedding banquet (Matt 22:1-14). Paul compares the relationship between Christ and the Church to that of a husband and wife. Finally, at the end of the book of Revelation, we see the wedding of the Lamb as the Holy City of Jerusalem descends like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Rev 21).
This is the wedding that we look forward to. This is the wedding that should capture our hearts and imaginations. This is the wedding that we should be pointing our single brothers and sisters to. This should be the wedding that we should all be preparing ourselves for. In the words of Philippians 1:9-11
And this is my prayer: that your love might abound more and more on knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and Praise of God.