What does the Bible say about singleness / being single?
Stop Shaming Single Christians: The strand of three chords in Ecclesiastes has nothing to do with marriage
I recently attended a wedding where the pastor used Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 as his text to describe marriage. “Two are better than one…If either of them falls down, one can help the other up…But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” This text is not about marriage. The laying down together is not sexual, it is simply practical in an era where there was no indoor heating. You would lay down together so you didn’t freeze! And the third strand of the cord is not referring to God; it’s referring to a third human (The entire context of the list in these four verses is humans helping humans…God isn’t going to lay down with you in bed and keep you warm…). When we read these things about marriage into the text (as the pastor did), it not only belittles singles (“oh pity them!”), it also gives an unbiblical emphasis on marriage, which shames singles like they are second class Christians or are Christians God is holding out on.
If you want to use the “cord of three strands” imagery in your marriage ceremony to depict you, your spouse and God, that’s fine. But don’t preach a sermon saying that the meaning of Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 is for married people in a way that directly rejects it applying to single people. The meaning of the text has to do with friendship and community, things that singles are uniquely positioned (much better than married people) to excel in. Fan the flame of this great teaching into the lives of Christian singles, don’t douse it by reading marriage into the text, glorying marriage to a pedestal the Bible never puts it on.
Is marriage good?
Is it better than singleness?
Is it more holy than singleness?
Is it commanded by God in the Bible over singleness?
In fact, the more I study what Jesus and Paul say about singleness, the more I am convinced that singleness is the ideal presented by the Bible and marriage is the concession (heyo!), not the other way around. Don’t take my word for it, take Paul’s:
1 Corinthians 7:7 I wish that all of you were (single) as I am . But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
1Corinthians 7:32-35 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 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.
1 Corinthians 7:38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.
Put those phrases together, “I wish that all of you were (single) as I am…I would like you to be free…live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord…he who does not marry does better.”
Have you ever heard that sermon preached?
I don’t mean that singleness is an option, but that it’s the prescribed ideal biblical option for discipleship, and that marriage is a concession given but far from an ideal.
We need to stop shaming singles and stop pitying singles in the Church. We also need to stop misreading and mis-teaching the Bible.
Marriage is not to be worshiped.
Sex is not to be worshiped. (That includes sex within marriage)
Jesus is to be worshiped.
We should be looking to singles to blaze the trail on this, not shaming them as incomplete or second class Christians.
- Ep. 87: Dr. Peter Sung on the Post-Church Church - September 20, 2023
- Ep. 86: Cameron Horner on Disability in the Church and if God Still Heals - August 25, 2023
- Ep. 85: Dr. Terence Lester on how confronting buried racial history can build racial solidarity - August 9, 2023