“The Meaning of Marriage” – Chapter 7 – Singleness and Marriage

Forgive me while I jump ahead a couple chapters to present a summary of chapter 7, “Singleness and Marriage” from Tim Keller’s book, “The Meaning of Marriage.”

I wanted to post a picture of me as a single, so here ya go. HAHA!

Well, not quite. I was twelve when I had my first boyfriend, and then maintained a steady stream of boyfriends until getting married when I was 21. Welcome to our Western society’s modern dating practices.

Keller explains that, “Somewhere after the turn of the century, modern dating developed. The word first appeared in print in this context in 1914. … As dating spread throughout society, it not only individualized the whole process, removing the couple from family context, but it also changed the focus of romance from friendship and character assessment to spending money, being seen, and having fun.” (pg 234) Yep. Pretty much.

To fully understand the context of Christian marriage, you must likewise understand the value of Christian singlehood. Have you ever considered the fact that Jesus Christ himself was never married? Clearly, marriage is not a prerequisite for a fulfilling Christian life. As Keller writes, “We should be neither overly elated by getting married nor overly disappointed by not doing 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.” (pg 222)

Christianity is unique in its consistent affirmation of singlehood. “Single adult Christians were bearing testimony that God, not family, was their hope. God would guarantee their future, first by giving them their truest family – the church – so that they never lacked for brothers and sisters, father and mothers, in Christ. But ultimately, Christians’ inheritance is nothing less than the fullness of the kingdom of God in the new heavens and new earth. … The Christian church in the West, unfortunately, does not seem to have maintained its grasp on the goodness of singleness.” (pg 224)

Keller encourages singles to learn to rest and rejoice in their marriage to Christ, because “the same idolatry of marriage that is distorting their single lives will eventually distort their married live if they find a partner. … Demote marriage and family in your heart, put God first, and begin to enjoy the goodness of single life.” (pg 227)

One blessing of singleness that Keller points out is the opportunity to grow in wisdom about the opposite gender. As singles, you can learn more about the unique strengths, communication styles, decision-making skills, life priorities and leadership styles of both men and women. Make cross-gender friendships and grow in wisdom. This will help you whether you someday get married, or never get married. God has created both male and female on purpose. Don’t wait until you’re married to learn what you can about the opposite sex.

But Keller is in no way minimizing the value of marriage. He isn’t. Rather, he wants to encourage a proper Christian worldview of marriage, different than the “traditional view of marriage” that life doesn’t begin until you get married, or the “Western society’s” sex-and-romance view of marriage.

Keller warns that modern “adults in Western society are deeply shaped by individualism, a fear and even hatred of limiting options for the sake of others. Many people are living single lives today not in the conscious, lonely misery of wanting marriage too much, but rather in the largely unconscious, lonely misery of wanting marriage too little, out of fear of it. While traditional societies tend to make an idol out of marriage (because they make an idol out of the family and tribe), contemporary societies tend to make an idol of independence (because they make an idol out of individual choice and happiness).” (pg 231) PREACH IT.

As a single, I fell into both of these traps. I have both made an idol of marriage, and of independence. To be totally honest, I wanted to get married, so I could have a husband and children to love me. I didn’t think I could live a fulfilled life without being married. Ultimately, marriage was all about me. I made an idol of family. Having a husband and children was the key to my own happiness.

What have I learned after almost 25 years of marriage? Rather than bringing me happiness, this idol-making, in fact, made me unhappy.

A husband is a really poor imitation of Almighty God. So are kids. Every husband, no matter how good, will fall short. Every child, no matter how terrific, will fall short.

No one can fulfill me like Jesus. No one can love me like Jesus.

In the process of revealing my idol-making self, God has taught me so many good lessons. Patiently and lovingly, God is stripping me of my own self-sufficiency and selfishness.

As Keller writes, “How different seeking marriage would be if … we were to view marriage as a vehicle for spouses helping each other become their glorious future-selves through sacrificial service and spiritual friendship. What happens if we see the mission of marriage to teach us about our sins in unique and profound ways and to grow us out of them through providing someone who speaks the truth in love to us? … Ironically, this view of marriage eventually does provide unbelievable personal fulfillment, but not in the sacrifice-free and superficial way that contemporary people want it to come. Instead, it gives the unique, breathtaking fulfillment of visible character growth.” (pg 232)

Keller wraps us this chapter on Singleness with twelve pages of “practical counsel for marriage seekers.”

  • Recognize that there are seasons for not seeking marriage.
  • Understand the “gift of singleness.”
  • Get more serious about seeking marriage as you get older.
  • Do not allow yourself deep emotional involvement with a nonbelieving person.
  • Feel attraction in the most comprehensive sense. (rather than just physical attraction to someone’s outward appearance)
  • Don’t let things get too passionate too quickly.
  • Don’t become a “faux spouse” for someone who won’t commit to you.
  • Get and submit to lots of community input.

If you are single, or are counseling someone who is single, there is such great depth in each of these points which I can’t cover in this brief summary. Please get the book and spend the necessary time to consider each of them.

Friends, God is good if you’re married. God is good if you’re single. God is good all the time. All the time God is good. He is working for your best in your singleness and He is working for your best in your marriage. We can trust Him in every season and in every circumstance. God is totally good and totally sovereign and totally good. All the time.