As Reformed churches we (rightly) emphasize the importance of the family. In light of Genesis 2:18—“It is not good that the man should be alone”—we believe that in general it is best that a man finds a wife and marries (and vice versa). In harmony with passages such as Psalm 127:3—“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward”—as well as our understanding that God establishes his covenant with believers and their seed, we encourage couples to have children and raise them in the fear of the Lord.
But all this emphasis on the family can sometimes leave the single members of the church wondering, “Is there a place for me in the church?” I certainly pondered that question at times. I married later in life than most of my classmates and occasionally felt as though I did not really count or matter—that there was no place for me in the church unless I got married and had children.
Thankfully, scripture addresses such thinking. It does so by clearly teaching that the Christian single life is good and honorable. Specifically in 1 Corinthians 7:8, the apostle Paul writes as one who never married: “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide [remain] even as I.” Paul by inspiration says it is good for some to remain unmarried. And that word “good” refers to that which is honorable, even excellent. The single life is useful for worthwhile purposes. This holds true whether one remains single because in God’s providence he or she has not been given a spouse or remains single willingly.
In writing this, Paul is not contradicting Genesis 2:18. But rather, 1 Corinthians 7 adds a level of balance and clarity by indicating that there are some exceptions to the general principle that men and women should seek a spouse. In other words, this text shows that not everyone has to get married. For while the married state is good and honorable, so too is the single life.
This has application for you who are single: you are not a second-rate, inferior Christian simply because you are unmarried. The Spirit’s evaluation of your relationship status is that it is honorable. Therefore, you must not believe the discouraging lie of the devil that you are less important because you are single. For it is written: it is good for them if they remain single.
This also has application for us who are married and, perhaps, also have children. We must not be guilty of disparaging the single life and thereby leave the impression that single members are somehow second-class citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Instead we must recognize the essential place they have in the body of Christ and appreciate them. Rather than neglecting the single members of the church so that they feel like misfits, we must include them in the life and fellowship of the church. If the single life is good in God’s eyes, it must be viewed as something good in the eyes of the church. Do we view it as good?
Thus far, we have asserted the goodness of the Christian life. Now we need to explain it. In other words, we need to answer the question: what specifically makes the Christian single life good and honorable? The answer of scripture is that single members are able to devote themselves more fully to the service of Christ and his kingdom.
In 1 Corinthians 7:32–33, we read: “But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” According to these verses, Paul’s purpose in recommending the single life is that one might be free from “carefulness,” that is, the anxieties and concerns that come with family life. Being married and having children brings with it certain cares that belong to this earthly life (“the things that are of the world”). In contrast, the single member is able to focus on the things that belong to the Lord.
And now we must understand that the difference is not an absolute difference, but a matter of degrees. In other words, it is not as though married persons are under no obligation to devote themselves to spiritual matters. Nor is the point that unmarried individuals have absolutely no earthly responsibilities. But rather, in general, those who are married and have families have more earthly cares and responsibilities than the single members. Thus, as we said, single members are able to devote themselves more fully to the things belonging to Christ and his kingdom. That makes the single life good and honorable.
This also implies a calling for the single members of the church: use your time as a single individual in devotion to the Lord.
To put it negatively, the single life is not a time for self. That is how the wicked world views the single life. For them, being single means being free—being able to do whatever I want, whenever I want. For them, being single means I can use my extra time, energy, and resources for myself, specifically, for my own pleasure. This, according to the world, is what makes the single life good. However, this mentality is antithetical to the teachings of scripture and God’s own purpose for the single members of the church.
Instead of serving ourselves as single individuals, we are to devote ourselves to the Lord. Being single means one has an opportunity for greater service in the church, exactly because he or she has more time and energy. As Rev. Josh Engelsma put it so well in his book Dating Differently, “Singleness is not for enhanced selfishness, but for enhanced service.”
Now to be more specific, devoting ourselves to the Lord includes both studying and serving. First, the Christian single life is an opportunity for studying God’s word more closely and carefully. Single members, this is the time for making your devotions a time in which you truly study God’s word, diving into it. It is a time for reading good Reformed literature (like Beacon Lights!). It is a time for being involved in Bible studies, coming prepared and then exercising your prophetic voice there, rather than always deferring to the married persons.
Second, the Christian single life is an opportunity for service in the church. Rather than frittering away one’s time, energy, gifts, and resources, these things should be used for the advantage and salvation of the other members of the church. The calling of the Christian single, therefore, is to be involved in the life of the congregation, finding ways to help out. The single members of the church should be right in the thick of things, rather than on the fringes in the church.
Perhaps you object: “But I am so busy with schoolwork, a job, and sports.” To that I say, “Good! Throw yourself into your studies and the other aspects of your station and calling; do them heartily unto the Lord.” But at the same time, be careful and ask, “Am I starting a trend right now of always putting my vocation first, ahead of serving the Lord?” Singleness is not first and foremost a time for self, but for service.
Originally published June 2021, Vol 80 No 6
 In this article “single” refers to anyone who is not married, whether dating or not.
 Due to space limits, I pass over the prerequisite for willingly remaining single, which according to vv. 7, 9 is the gift of continence: the God-given ability to contain oneself sexually.
 Joshua Engelsma, Dating Differently (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2019), 118.