In the Church, sometimes we make people who aren’t married feel like the JV team. Like they never really “made it.”
If you’re in your twenties and single, the odds are people ask you all the time, “Are you dating anybody? Do you like anybody? Know anybody?” And people are well meaning, but the subliminal message is, “When are you going to get married and actually start life like the rest of us?”
But life doesn’t start when you get married. It starts the second you fold your story into the larger story of the Kingdom of God, and follow Jesus forward. And Jesus was single! So was Paul, the leading theologian in the New Testament. And both of these men saw singleness as a gift.
If you’re wrestling with whether you should (or should not) pursue marriage, you might want to know that there’s an entire chapter in the New Testament about singleness. It’s in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7. And embedded in this chapter are a few questions that every person should ask before they even think about getting married:
1. Will Marriage Help Me or Hold Me Back From God’s Calling on My Life?
For followers of Jesus, the point to singleness isn’t freedom from responsibility; it’s freedom for more responsibility. To Paul, the point of singleness is to serve God in ways you can’t if you’re married.
Paul writes, “A married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided … I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”
All healthy marriages are centered around a calling, a mission, a job, a task. The point of marriage isn’t marriage itself. There’s an urgency to life—to see the Kingdom come to bear on our world.
That’s why you need to ask these questions: What has God put in your heart? What are you called to? What’s your mission in life? And ideally you should ask these questions before you get married, because you have to be on the same page.
What has God put in front of you? And will marriage help you do that, or make it harder? If God’s calling you to live for the Gospel in Libya, where you could face torture and even death, then maybe marriage isn’t a smart idea. I’m not sure you should drag a family into that. But if God’s called you to, say, live for the Gospel in your city, then maybe marriage will fuel you. I couldn’t do what I do without my wife. I need her wisdom, her insight, her help.
If marriage pulls you away from God’s calling on your life, then slow down. You may be on the wrong trajectory.
2. Is Now the Right Time?
At one point in the chapter, Paul says, “Because of the present crisis, I think that is good for a man to remain as he is … those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you.”
This is really hard to interpret because we’re not sure what the “present crisis” is, but something in Paul’s world was unnerving.
There are times when it’s really not a good idea to get involved with someone, much less get married.
If you’re in the middle of a “crisis.” If you live in Syria right now.
If you’re in college. You can get married in college. I did. It’s not sin, it’s just hard. You will start off dirt poor and unsure of what’s coming.
If you’re new in your career and you’re working a hundred hours a week, just trying to keep your head above water. It’s probably not a smart time to plunge into marriage.
You’re free to get married at any time. But make sure it’s not the right thing at the wrong time.
3. Can You See Yourself With Him/Her For The Rest of Your Life?
Toward the end of the chapter, Paul writes, “A woman is bound to her husband as long as she lives …”
Not for the near future. Not for a decade. Not as “long as I’m happy” and not, “Well, we have the pre-nup …”
Marriage is “as long as you both shall live.” That’s a long time. Fifty or 60 years if all goes well. Can you see yourself together at 70, 80, 90 years old? When all the euphoria of young love has faded? When you can’t even see or hear each other anymore? And if so, does that idea excite you? Do you want to grow old together?
Marriage is for life.
4. Does He/She “Belong to the Lord”?
The last thing Paul says is, “If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39)
He must belong to the Lord.
This one isn’t hard to understand, but it is hard to swallow. God is at the center of every healthy marriage.
And remember, happiness in life or joy—or whatever we want to call it—is about so much more than romance. So many romantic movies end with marriage, and that’s fine, but marriage isn’t the end goal of life. The point of living is to do what you were made to do. Living in “undivided devotion to the Lord,” doing what God made us to do—that’s where it’s at.
This article is adapted with permission from Loveology.
John Mark Comer is Lead Pastor of Bridgetown; A Jesus Church in Portland, Oregon, and author of Garden City and Loveology: God. Love. Marriage. Sex. And the Never-Ending Story of Male and Female.