If any chapter in “The Meaning of Marriage” seems oddly placed in the book, it’s Chapter 7: Singleness and Marriage. After 6 chapters of information on marriage as friendship, marriage as the gospel, marriage as – you name it – the next to last chapter in the book is about being single.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s great information. While we were not able to cover it in our own small group study, it really does contain insights that will benefit both the single person as well as couples who wish to encourage those who are single.
The Keller’s begin by noting that when they began Redeemer Church, they discovered that 80% of their congregation was single. 80%. Even with that ratio, Tim Keller decided to teach a 9-week series on the subject of marriage. He did so because he believed singles, too, need a “balanced, informed view of marriage.” This message series was so successful that is continues to be the top selling sermon-series Redeemer has available on their website. That series was also the foundation for this book, “The Meaning of Marriage”.
One of the passages Tim Keller focuses on is 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (HCSB)
And I say this, brothers: The time is limited, so from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it. For this world in its current form is passing away.
Tim Keller notes several things about this passage, but summarizes by stating:
“We should be neither over elated by getting married nor overly
disappointed by not being so — because Christ is the only spouse that can truly fulfill us and God’s family the only family that will truly embrace and satisfy us.” (p.185 kindle)
Think about that for a second. How many people have you known in your lifetime who thought that they’ll be happier once they’re married? But once they’re married, they discover that’s not true. So they then decide they’ll be happier once they have children. (Yeah, like that’s going to happen.) And, of course they soon realize that their first child doesn’t make them happy either. Well maybe they’ll be happy when that child is no longer an infant? Or perhaps they’ll be happy when they find some friends who are of the same life-phase? Or perhaps when…
The list goes on and on, but that happiness never truly comes. They’re stuck in the cycle of believing that what they possess or do will make them happy. This cycle likely began well before marriage. But after marriage, they’ve now brought other human being into their own perpetual cycle of discontentment!
In an attempt to try to stop single people from entering (or continuing) in this cycle, Tim Keller writes about the goodness of singleness. He’s sure to note two notable single people – Jesus and the Apostle Paul – both whom lived a life dedicated to God’s calling their lives and who weren’t looking for something else to make them happy. Their relationship with God was all they really needed.
Not only can a single person keep more attention on their relationship with God, but they also have an opportunity to have MORE relationships with people of each sex than those who are married.
“Marriage does and should somewhat limit the extent of friendships you have with others of the opposite sex. In Christian community, however, singles can have a greater range of friendships among both sexes.” (p.192 kindle)
With all of this said, however, Tim Keller still notes that it’s OK, perhaps even good, to seek marriage. A single person still runs the risk of buying into our culture that is shaped by individualism (p.192). Therefore, it is important for one who is single to seek marriage, not as an idol in their life, but as an avenue to pursue deep friendship, oneness, and holiness with a member of the opposite sex.
Some brief advice for those who are single, and how they may seek marriage:
1) Only date individuals you could see yourself being married to one day.
Far too often, people look for a dating partner who is attractive first, and has the possibility of being a good friend second. This should happen in the reverse order. Good marriages are based off of good friendship. If you begin dating and quickly discover that your friendship is going nowhere, but your physical relationship is going everywhere, get out.
2) Assuming you’re a Christian, only date other Christians.
Is it possible for two individuals of opposite faiths to have a successful marriage? Yes. In fact, we know a number of couples who are happily married to somebody of an opposite (or no) faith. However, while there are a handful of success stories, the number of negative examples far outweighs them. Some statistics indicate that the divorce rate is much higher for couples of opposite faiths. One other individual we know (who is a Christian married to a non-Christian for over 20 years), would readily admit that their marriage has been extremely challenging.
When you date somebody of the same Christian faith, you’re going to be on the same page regarding where God is taking your relationship. You’re not going to have different ideas. God will use each one of you to help you grow in holiness. Knowing that will make your dating relationship, and your possible future marriage relationship, a prime example of biblical marriage.
3) Get input from others, especially those who have extensive marriage experience.
Have a grandparent who’s been married a long time? Ask them what has made their marriage successful, and then think through whether your current relationship contains those qualities. While pre-marriage counseling is certainly helpful, it may also be beneficial to ask for pre-pre-marriage counseling. Just having a 3rd person sitting in the room to discuss ideas, ensuring your motives are pure, and making recommendations as to how your friendship can go to the next level can help ensure your dating relationship is on the right path.
In summary, being single isn’t anything to be ashamed of, and should even be encouraged in some situations. At the same time, singles should not idolize marriage, nor should they fear it. Instead, singles should look to God as their primary relationship, and marriage can be viewed as something that will enhance their relationship with God. The grass may actually be greener on the other side, but only when a godly understand of marriage is in view, and God will be the centerpiece of the relationship.
1. The Keller’s list 4 ways Christian churches often try to “explain” singleness. (p.188 kindle, or 196 hard copy). Which of these reasons have you heard the most?
2. Have you given up any friendships for the sake of your marriage? How easy or difficult was this for you to do?
3. What are some dangers of a dating relationship becoming too passionate early on?