How many times have you heard someone say, “He’s such a great guy, how is he still single?” Or, “She’s such a catch. When will she get married off?” The implication behind such questions is that great men and women get married, and those who are not great do not. For many, being single imprints upon them a meaning that touches their very identities: They are defective, second-rate, somehow less than others who marry. In response to this message, Scripture teaches that single Christians are not defined by their singleness, but by their union with Jesus Christ. Singleness, like marriage, is a God-given calling, not an identity. The calling of singleness does not stamp upon the single person an identity any different from a married person. It does, however, imprint a meaning. That meaning communicates a message not about the single person, though, but about God himself. Uncovering the meaning that God ascribes to singleness, singles will experience greater joy in their calling, and those who minister to them will be better prepared to encourage them to live that calling out.

The Meaning of Singleness

In order to get at the meaning of singleness, one should also understand the true meaning of marriage. Paul reveals the ultimate meaning of marriage when he writes: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). The bombshell Paul drops here is that marriage is not ultimately about the relationship between a man and a woman at all, but is about Christ’s relationship to his church. Marriage was patterned, from the beginning, after the relationship between Christ and the church. The eternal relationship between Christ and the people he would save existed in the mind of God before creation, and marriage was designed to display that relationship. This is incredibly significant, for it shows us that the meaning of marriage is, and always has been, about something that is just as true for single people as for married people. Marriage is not the eternal norm, without which a person is abnormal. Rather, Christ and the church is the norm. The love and devotion of a husband and wife to one another in marriage illustrates the supreme love and devotion of Christ to the church. Marriage is what the Bible calls a “type.” It is like an imprint in wax made by the seal of a ring. The design imprinted on the wax is not the ring itself; it only reflects the design of the ring. Marriage, as a type, reflects a reality greater than itself. It reflects a heavenly reality, and it foreshadows that same reality when it will come in its fullness to earth.[1] Marriage reflects the heavenly reality of Christ’s loving and devoted union with the church. It foreshadows the day when that union will be an earthly reality forever. Once the reality has arrived, however, the image is no longer needed. This is why human marriage will not exist upon Christ’s return.

Now, where does singleness fit into all of this? If marriage was designed to show off Christ’s love and devotion to the church, then singleness was designed to show off the church’s love and devotion to Christ. You see, as marriage seems to uniquely highlight the love and devotion of Christ to his church, seen in the love and devotion between a husband and wife, singleness seems to uniquely highlight the church’s love and devotion to Christ, seen in the single person’s exclusive devotion to Christ. This is likely why Scripture is replete with imagery of singleness and virginity as a metaphor for the love and devotion of God’s people. One example of this is Revelation 14:4, which describes the devoted church using the imagery of singles: “It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb” (Rev 14:4).[2] Through the single person’s commitment to follow Christ “wherever he goes,” especially through the suffering of refraining from marital and sexual intimacy, the commitment to Christ that the whole church is called to is clearly illustrated.

The single calling, then, bears great meaning. Singleness, like marriage, bears a meaningful imprint by God. As marriage highlights what is not yet in our relationship with Christ, namely, that it has not yet been consummated with face-to-face fellowship, singleness highlights what is already in that relationship. When Paul writes to encourage singles towards “undivided devotion to the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 7, for instance, he reminds them of the transient nature of their earthly callings. Paul writes: “the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none . . . for the present form of this world is passing away” (7:29, 31). It is in light of the temporary nature of this present world, including the marriage calling, that believers in Christ are to strive towards that which is eternal—devotion to Christ. While all Christians are called to this devotion, it is the calling of singleness that puts on display the eternal nature of this devotion. Singleness demonstrates, in the present, the future reality of the church’s union with Christ, for in the age to come all will be as single Christians are now. Christ will be united to his people in marriage forever, and his people will all be single—devoted to him alone. Singleness glorifies God by communicating the message that love and devotion to Christ is primary and eternal. It says to the watching world: God is enough. God is sufficient. God is better than anything, or anyone, else. God is worth all the pain of following him. This is the meaning of singleness. It is high calling. And the message it communicates is not about the single person, but about God himself.

Show the Meaning of Your Singleness

For singles to live purposefully in their calling, God’s meaning to singleness must be kept clearly in view. Knowing, then, that God intends the calling of singleness to communicate a message about his own superiority and sufficiency, and the love and devotion that the church should have towards him, here are three suggestions for how those who are single can let this message show through their lives.

First, we must remember that Christians are not defined ultimately by their calling. Singleness is a calling, not an identity. A Christian’s identity, that which defines him at his core, is firmly rooted, never to be moved, in his union with Jesus Christ. The love that God has for him is what defines him. He is loved, valued, forgiven, accepted, purposed, and empowered in Christ. This is who he is and will always be. Whether your calling is to singleness or marriage, your identity in Christ is the same. The callings of singleness and marriage are both temporary, and may change through life, but a Christian’s identity will not. A woman’s calling may change from single to married, or from married back to single, but what will never change is her identity in Christ as God’s beloved child, heir to all the precious and great promises of God (2 Pet 1:4).

Second, the meaning of singleness will be seen in the struggle for contentment in God. Singleness is uniquely designed to showcase the sufficiency and superiority of God, because singles are called to find in God what those who are married often find in one another. Those who are called to marriage often find in their spouses love, affirmation, security, comfort, companionship, and intimacy, among other things. For those who are single, however, having a sense of these things is often less certain or immediate, and this requires them to depend on God in a greater way for the fulfillment of such needs and desires. Singleness points in a unique way to the truth that all our needs and desires are found ultimately in Christ alone. Singles must seek to be so content with all that Christ is for them, that they could say with Paul that they have learned in whatever situation they are to be content (Phil 4:11).

Finally, the meaning of singleness is seen when the single Christian is actively involved in service to Christ and the church. Too many single Christians go through life as if their time of singleness is just a parenthesis before their real life begins in marriage. As a result, they delay active involvement in serving Christ, believing that such full-scale participation in the church can wait until they are married. This way of living sends a distorted message about God, and subordinates Christ and the church to marriage, rather than the other way around. In order to show the meaning of singleness that God desires—namely, that devotion to Christ is primary—singles must prioritize serving Christ over looking for a spouse. Let those who are single show that Jesus is truly enough for them by actively serving his church.

In order for singles to live out the meaning of their callings, they will need to be aware of the meaning God has ascribed to singleness. Singleness is not about the single; it’s about God. So the next time it gets leaked that you are single, or you find yourself counseling a single Christian, reject the implication that singleness says anything about one’s identity. It doesn’t. Single Christians are children of God, loved and valued by him, and united to Jesus Christ forever. Don’t be ashamed of the single calling. Instead, be confident that singleness is intended by God to say something glorious about him, about his supreme sufficiency to satisfy every need, and his supreme worth to be loved and devoted to exclusively by all. The calling of singleness is uniquely tailored to communicate this message. So let the true meaning of singleness show.

[1] Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Nutley, N.J.: P&R, 1975), 56-57.

[2] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. Page 267.