If you had told me when I was 21 that I would still be unmarried at 33, I may have actually died. I have always wanted to get married and have children. By God’s grace, I’ve truly enjoyed much of my single years, but the desire for marriage has always been there. I know I’m not the only person who desires marriage and children but is still single. It’s a strange path to walk when you’re 22 and all your friends are getting married; it’s stranger when you’re 33 and the kids you used to babysit start getting married before you do!
Walking through unwanted singleness into my thirties has forced me to think more carefully about the Bible’s teaching on marriage, singleness, and disappointment in general. Over the years, I’ve come across biblical resources that have put the desire for marriage in its proper place and encouraged me to live my single years with an eternal perspective. But what would the whole counsel of God’s Word say to the person who desires a God-glorifying marriage, is committed to finding a spouse with biblical wisdom, and yet, marriage does not come?
It has been helpful for me to think through unwanted singleness in three biblical categories: gift, trial, and loss (each will be covered in this 3-part series). Recognizing the different dimensions of unwanted singleness helps pinpoint how the Bible speaks to each aspect – and as always, God’s Word is sufficient and equips us for faithfulness.
The most popular passage about singleness is found in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul says, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” – referring to either the gift of singleness or the gift of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:7). There has been much debate surrounding what exactly the “gift of singleness” is, but if we stick close to scripture, we can clear up a lot of confusion.
According to the Bible, the gift of singleness is an external circumstance, not an internal disposition. The word “gift” is mentioned one time in 1 Corinthians 7, and it is in reference to the state of being single or the state of being married. Paul says people either have the gift of marriage or the gift of singleness – a marital circumstance given from God. So, if we are single, we currently have that gift. If we are married, we currently have that gift.
Later in the chapter, Paul points out some advantages of being single:
“The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:32b-34).
Sam Allberry provides helpful insight on these verses: “Paul is not saying that singleness is spiritual and marriage is unspiritual. Nor is he saying that singleness is easy but marriage is hard. No, the contrast is between complexity and simplicity. Married life is more complicated; singleness is more straightforward.” Paul observes that single people do not have the built-in complexity that married people do and are generally free – in their less-complex lives – to engage in the things of the Lord in a unique, focused way. According to Paul, and the witness of the rest of scripture, singleness is a great advantage in the kingdom of God. It is an opportune situation to be about the things of the Lord.
Because there is often so much baggage surrounding the term “gift of singleness,” it may be helpful to see how a biblical definition corrects some common ways of misunderstanding it. Here are a few things singleness is not.
1) Singleness is not permanent. Because the gift of singleness is simply our current situation, it can change. If a single person desires to get married, it is not wrong to date or pursue marriage. Paul encourages those who desire to get married to get married (1 Corinthians 7:9), and the Bible affirms a high view of marriage. While marriage can be idolized just like anything else, those who want to get married desire something God created, instituted, and said is good. Whether or not a person ever gets married on earth is ultimately in the Lord’s hands. But singleness, just like marriage, is temporary. In the new heavens and the new earth, believers will all be “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9).
2) Singleness is not our master. Having the gift of singleness does not mean that a single person should be a frantic ministry machine. Singleness is not our master – God is. Single people are still image bearers to whom the rest of God’s Word applies. Singles should use their unique margin and flexibility for kingdom building, but they should also engage in biblical rest and deeply enjoy life to the glory of God (Exodus 20:8-11, Ecclesiastes 6:18-20). Single people are also not paying their singleness dues and once they’ve served enough, then they’ll get the gift of marriage. Both marital statuses are gifts given – or taken away – based on God’s wisdom and prerogative, not performance.
3) Singleness is not a spiritual gift. Lifelong singleness, or a season of it, is not a spiritual gift to be exercised, but simply a circumstance in which to be faithful to God:
“Spiritual gifts are meant to build up the body of Christ. Obviously, singles are to strengthen the church too—but not by virtue of being single. Rather, singles do it by exercising their spiritual gifts, just like everyone else. Your singleness isn’t a spiritual gift then, but it is a gift from God, one He wants you to receive and enjoy with thanksgiving. If you’re single, your singleness is a gift; if you’re married, your marriage is a gift. If your marital status changes, God has given you a different situation within which to follow Him.” 
Single people should be using their spiritual gifts while they are unmarried, knowing that if God chooses to provide a spouse for them, they will be using those same gifts in a different setting.
Singleness is our gift if it is the current situation God has for us. We do well to thank Him for it, enjoy it worshipfully, and leverage its advantages for the kingdom of God. But unwanted singleness is a gift in another sense as well. Christians believe that everything in our lives come to us from the hand of God, including the things we don’t want. So, if we have singleness when what we actually desire is marriage, we have a trial – a particular kind of gift. Thankfully, the Bible has a lot to say about these kinds of gifts.
 Sam Allberry, 7 Myths About Singleness (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), p. 37.
 Ephesians 5:31-32;
Continued in Singleness as a Trial (Part 2).