I get annoyed when people refer to my wife as my better half.” It’s not the comparison that bothers me. I’ll gladly admit what is obvious; Ceil is a far better person than me! It’s not even the inaccuracy in describing our proportions (my petite wife would be described more accurately as “my better third”). What annoys me is the idea that either of us, by ourselves, would somehow be only half a person.
I thank God for marriage. I, for one, couldn’t serve God as a full-time minister unless I was married to a person of Ceil’s quality. I’m sure many others would say the same of their spouses. Nevertheless, the notion that people are somehow incomplete unless they are married is wrong. Yet many accept the false notion that life begins when (or if) they marry. I don’t know if being Jewish accentuates that notion, but it certainly does not mitigate it!
In my great-grandparents’ time, a man was expected to marry—that’s all there was to it. One certainly could not be a rabbi unless he were married, and I regret to say that he wouldn’t be regarded as much of a man if he decided to remain single and, therefore, celibate. An unmarried woman stayed in her parents’ home and assisted her mother. Upon the death of her father, she then moved in with the oldest brother, and so on.
The Jewish community’s emphasis on marriage today, while not so oppressive, is still strong. It probably stems (at least in part) from a history of a minority mind-set. People married in order to bear children. Bearing children was not regarded as a mere matter of personal fulfillment; all were responsible to “be fruitful” so the Jewish people would not disappear amid the larger nations. So there was a larger responsibility to the people of Israel, but there was also a responsibility to one’s family to “raise up an inheritance,” which again meant having children. That does not mean that the Jewish people did not find personal fulfillment in marriage, and certainly the Jewish religion extolled the joy of holy matrimony.
Today some religious Jews still view marriage as a responsibility. They expect young people to find a suitable partner and bring more Jewish souls into the world. The larger and less religious portion of the Jewish community may not see things quite that way, but the idea that marriage is necessary persists. The underlying assumption is that a son will not find happiness nor a daughter security outside of marriage. Perhaps you’ve heard the joke where the Jewish mamma clutches her breast and cries out in distress, “Is there a doctor in the house? Is there a doctor in the house?” And when a young man answers, “Yes, madam, I am a doctor,” her distress gives way to joy as she purrs, “Oi, doctor, have I got a daughter for you!” We laugh, but we recognize some truth about ourselves in the joke. Finding a desirable mate is considered a great achievement.
Rarely will you hear a Jewish parent qvell (express satisfaction mingled with pride) over the single status of a son or daughter. Failure to marry is often viewed as just that—failure. One of my Jewish relatives who is not a believer in Jesus commented that his daughter had had the opportunity to marry but had “blown it.” He said this in her hearing. Perhaps it was affectionate teasing. I don’t know if that daughter felt a genuine lack of approval, but I do know that she married within the next year or two. Now she is divorced.
Unfortunately, the church hasn’t done much better. Some Christians think they are being kind to refer to those who don’t marry as “unclaimed blessings.” They might speak of a “wonderful single guy” or a “delightful single gal.” (How often do you hear someone speak of a “wonderful married guy” or a “delightful married gal”?) Others seek to affirm the single person by exclaiming that members of the opposite sex must be crazy for failing to “snap up” that single person as a husband or wife. Still others will comment on a single person’s good looks, intelligence or pleasing personality as they try to solve the mystery of why he or she is not married. They might not attribute the “failure” to the single person, but they imply that there has been a failure.
We need to communicate the truth about godly success and emphasize the nature of godly commitments, which are certainly not limited to marriage.
Scripture doesn’t say that God has one ideal for all people in terms of whether marriage is desirable. In certain instances it is right to remain single, while in others it is best to marry. There are some who choose to be single to serve God. Those who do should be especially commended. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:7-9, NKJV).
Some never chose to be single, but finding themselves not likely to marry within the faith, they choose to be content and make good use of their singleness to serve God. Others have become single because their spouses have died, or left them. No matter what the situation, whether one is single through choice or circumstance, no one in Christ should have to feel alone or be treated like a half-person. It is true that being single has its problems, but does being married have fewer problems? Let us remind one another that everyone needs Jesus, not a mate, to be whole.
In what way are single people as blessed as married people if they do not have one of the greatest rewards and responsibilities of marriage: children? Whereas the Bible makes it clear that children are to be conceived and born within the confines of marriage, there is a spiritual parallel that applies quite well to all Christians, married or not. Jesus told us to make disciples. That means we are to assist the newly born and to nurture them as they grow in grace and faith. I do not doubt that in heaven we will see that some of the greatest “matriarchs” and “patriarchs” did not conceive children of flesh and blood but fostered many children of faith.
In what way might single people have an advantage over those who are married? The greatest potential is greater freedom in serving the Lord. Single people can give and do things that married people can’t. That does not mean they should be presumed upon. Nor does it mean that single people will naturally wield themselves to render more service to God than those who are married. It takes more effort, not less, to have a servant heart.
Whether an individual is single by choice or by circumstance, it is up to each one to evaluate the potential advantages of being single and to decide how to make those advantages work to the praise and glory of God. If you are single, I would encourage you to prayerfully consider this. Some (not all) of the most effective people on our staff are unattached. They can leave home more easily and travel far with less disruption. In some cases, they can stay with a project longer, focus better and avoid distraction.
So whether you are married or not, remember that single people are not unclaimed blessings—particularly when they belong to the Lord! If they are in Christ, they are claimed indeed. Some, with Jesus as the unrivaled love of their lives, are able to give and receive wonderful blessings that others will never know. However, it takes a conscious effort, a choice to allow God to use their special circumstances to work for His glory. In fact, it takes a conscious effort for all of us, whether married or single, to use our advantages, whatever they may be, to His glory. Let us work together to find our completeness in Him.