The Single’s Tug of War

Single believers are caught in the middle of a game of tug of war.

On one side, Team Culture pulls and yells, “Forget marriage, at least for a little while! You do not need a spouse; go pursue your dreams and be your best self!”

The opposing Team Church yanks back, “No, getting married should be your #1 priority! Come visit the meat market…I mean the singles ministry and check out all the available options!”

Who wants to volunteer to be the flag on that rope?

Unfortunately, many single believers experience these constant pressures from the voices talking in their ears every day. In the last year, I realized that I myself have been stuck on the rope as a ministry project allowed me to study, research, and challenge my own thinking on singleness and marriage.  So, what exactly is each side saying?

The Culture

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of unmarried Americans has steadily increased since the 1950s (source). A 2022 Pew Research Center study revealed that 30% of U.S. adults are not married, living with a partner, or in a committed relationship (source). In addition, 34% of women and 63% of men in the young adult population are single.

Why these continually growing percentages? Here’s two significant contributing factors:

The culture tells singles they do not need marriage. Instead, culture contends that it provides plenty of easy ways for singles to fulfill their “needs.” Living with a partner has become a socially acceptable norm. Sexual interactions can happen with any individual at any time no matter how long people have known each other. A quick Internet search opens a world of porn and graphic movies to fulfill sexual fantasies from home. A single can have “fun” without commitment.

The culture tells them they as an individual are enough. A single does not need anyone else, but is self-sufficient.. They need to value and love themselves unconditionally. Singles have the freedom to do whatever they want with their lives and should take advantage of it. What they think matters and deserves a platform. It is all about image and climbing the ladder of success and popularity.

Girls, especially, are being fed these messages right now. Last winter, Miley Cyrus’ record-breaking song “Flowers” played three times in one Spotify ad break, telling girls they could love themselves better than a guy ever could. Since it’s not 1937, the upcoming Disney live-action Snow White won’t feature a girl saved by the prince, but instead “dreaming of the leader she knows she can be…if she’s fearless, brave, and true” (source).

Sadly, the church has started giving in to the culture’s whispers. Singles constitute 23% of the church (source), getting married later or not at all to pursue their own goals and independence. They judge potential mates according to the standards of Hollywood and their personal preferences, creating the “perfect spouse” that does not exist. A 2022 Ligonier study showed 27% of American Christians who participated strongly disagree sex outside of marriage is sinful (source). Ultimately, singles in the church have allowed marriage and singleness to become about them.

The Church

Faithful, Bible-believing churches seek to come against these messages and give a biblical view of marriage. Genesis 1-2 describe how God’s very good creation included marriage between one man and one woman for life as the only context for enjoying sexual intimacy. Ephesians 5:22-33 teaches that marriage reflects the relationship between Christ and His church and thus glorifies Him as the couple seeks to love and submit to each other.

And rightly so. Praise the Lord for such faithful teaching and correcting the single believer’s view of marriage!

But how often does the church talk about singleness?

(My caveat: What follows is true more often than not, but it does not described every church)

Sermons on marriage abound, but finding sermons on singleness requires a treasure hunt. Messages on biblical manhood and womanhood often give applications in the context of and preparation for marriage yet neglect the daily realities of striving toward Christlikeness as a single. Marriage is implied as a “when,” not an “if.” Not understanding why they are not married and hoping to help them down the aisle, well-meaning church members quickly bring a single person’s attention to the new guy or girl who walks in the door and asks if they find them attractive.

But guess what? Nowhere in Scripture does God promise marriage to every believer. He promised the Marriage Supper of the Lamb when Christ will gather His bride, the church, to Himself (Rev. 19:7-10). He promised eternal salvation through Christ (Rom 1:16; Jn 3:16), every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies (Eph. 1:3), the Spirit’s indwelling (John 14:16-17; 1 Cor. 6:19-20), comfort in trials (2 Cor. 1:3), an abundant life (John 10:10), sanctification (Phil. 1:6), and eternity with Him (John 4:14, 10:28; 1 John 5:11). This list could go on and on, but it does not include a promise of marriage here on this earth.

Sadly, in its efforts to fight the culture, the church has unintentionally led many singles to view marriage as an idol and their highest goal. Suddenly, the singles ministry starts to feel like a meat market where everyone that walks into the room is seen as a potential spouse rather than a brother or sister in Christ. Their life becomes about getting married rather than pursuing Christlikeness.

So, believer, can I challenge you to stop and honestly consider why you think the way you do about singleness? In the tug of war between culture and church, is the flag on the rope being pulled more toward one side?

And how do we keep ourselves from being pulled towards the culture’s selfish attitude, but also not allow marriage to become an idol? We need to understand what the Bible says about how we should view singleness and most importantly, how the gospel informs and transforms that understanding. That’s what we will talk about next time.

Madelyn Moses serves as the producer of Side by Side Productions, currently working on a docuseries on a biblical view of singleness, launching Fall 2023. She earned her MA in Biblical Studies from The Master’s University (Santa Clarita, CA). She resides in Bucks County, PA and attends The Master’s Church of Bucks County in Richboro, PA.