Marriage, Singleness, and Self-Sacrifice


Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 2:3-5

Most churches are married-people-centric. Whether intentionally or not, churches tend to create polished and fine sounding arguments for why marriage is a prerequisite for leadership opportunities. After all, married people are more stable, right? Because marriage is a sanctifying commitment, they are more mature. Because marriage gives a beautiful God-ordained opportunity for sex, married people are less likely to be tempted sexually. In fact, marriage requires self-sacrifice, and singles just don't experience the giving of themselves to others.

... Right?

Wrong. I'm calling BS on all counts.

Have you ever noticed that these arguments only come from married people?

It's right to value and celebrate marriage in the church. In fact, one of the most counter-cultural gospel opportunities Christians have is to show the beauty of marriage and biblical sexuality. It's also true that for many who get married, they do experience maturation, sanctification, and self-sacrifice. I know because I have. However, it's never helpful to try to normalize our experience and apply it to the whole of the church, as if the means God used in our own lives are universal. Setting up systems that clearly show that a person has to graduate from a life stage of singleness to marriage in order to have opportunities to lead in the church not only flies in the face of the New Testament, it illustrates arrogance, even idolatry.

Marriage Guarantees Nothing

Praise God that He uses marriage to help some of us along the way, but being married does not make someone mature. That marriage can be sanctifying doesn't guarantee that a married person will be more holy. The foolishness of believing that marriage prevents sexual temptation can only come from someone who hasn't counseled seemingly unending streams of married couples struggling with sexual issues. The one that is most frustrating in this list, to me, is the issue of self-sacrifice.

Some of the most selfish people I know are married. I have a great marriage, mostly because I have a great wife. We have had way more ups than downs. Most of the downs, though, are because of my own selfishness and unwillingness to live sacrificially. I can't buy that singles are more selfish and self-interested. If for no other reason, my own heart can't make that claim with any shred of integrity.

The call in Philippians 2, at the top of the page, is to all Christians. Singleness is not an excuse for selfishness, we are all called to count others more significant than ourselves. Marriage is not the answer to attain a posture of self-sacrifice, even if it can be a tool along the way. The only answer we have is Jesus. Praise God that the call is not, Have this mind among yourselves, which you can gain by getting married. The ability to love others sacrificially and selflessly is given to us. In fact, if you're in Christ, it is already yours in Christ Jesus. Jesus, in His singleness, seemed to understand the concept of self-sacrifice.

Whether This Gift or That

1 Corinthians 7 is a beautiful passage to lay out marriage and singleness in the church. Being single gives unique opportunities for whole-hearted commitment to the work of the gospel, while being married actually adds anxieties that can distract (1 Cor. 7:32ff). Marriage is clearly a gift from God. Singleness is also a gift from God (1 Cor. 7:7). Whatever station a person finds themselves in ought to be leveraged for the sake of the gospel. As a church, we need to open opportunities for everyone to be engaged in the work of the gospel together.

As a pastor of a church that ranges between 65-70% singles, I LOVE finding ways to equip and send them into ministry. After all, it's actually my job description to "equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:12-13). Granted, we're not likely to have a single 20-something teach a class on marriage communication. However, I want to equip singles who exhibit the necessary character, competency, and calling to step into a wide variety of leadership opportunities within the church. Some of our singles are among the most mature, holy, and self-sacrificing members of our church.

Don't worry, though, we equip and appoint married people, too.

Wrapping Up

Neither marriage nor singleness guarantees anything. We need to be careful not to see one as better than the other, nor to see marriage as some kind of graduation to actual adulthood. That's silly. It's not biblical. It's deeply damaging and offensive, and doesn't recognize the unique grace of God working in and through great diversity of people who are gathered by Jesus and filled with the Spirit to engage in unity on the mission of God in His world.