26 August 2014

Dear single Christian sister

by Dan Phillips

Dear single Christian sister,

Probably you, like most single Christians, dream of getting married. Your ideas of marital bliss are fed by the high regard the Bible holds for the institution, by your friends, and probably by your church culture. It's easy to feel like the "odd man (or woman) out" in a church built around the assumption that most or all of its members — or, at least, the ones who count — are married.

But I wanted to be a good brother to you and put some thoughts before you that any Christian who loves and cares for you would want you to consider. I'll be brief and pointed; my aim isn't to detain you, but to help you, and perhaps even to save you a great deal of heartache. So here are cautionary thoughts on marriage:

Firstthere are worse things than dying a virgin. That I even have to say this is a reflection of our culture, most of whom would hoot with derision at the suggestion. But as Christians, while we see marriage as a sacred and blessed institution, and a wonderful opportunity to serve and glorify God, we should know better (1 Cor. 10:31). Paul either never married, or was unmarried through his apostolic labors. Wouldn't you agree that he had a meaningful life? He saw singleness as having its own advantages for the service of God (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 32-35).

"But I want to get married!" you say? That's absolutely fine, and I say "go for it." But I also say "—don't go for it at all costs." Remember: there are worse things than being single.

Secondyou don't owe marriage to any man you're not married to. What seems obvious to you may not be obvious to all, so I stress this: perhaps you've been dating for a year, seven years, whatever; perhaps you've talked about this and that. Perhaps you know he's got his heart set on marrying you, and he's counting on it. Yet, if you haven't married him, you needn't marry him. Particularly if one of the next considerations persuades you that it'd be unwise.

Thirdmaster everything the Bible says about marriage, particularly about the wife's obligations. Study Genesis 1—2, 1 Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, all the passages. I'd recommend to you my series on marriage, where I try to help single (and married) people to do just that. Also use chapter seven, "Skill in Godly Marriage," in my book on Proverbs.

"But I'm not even engaged yet," you say? Perfect! There is no more strategically-vital time to get this understood. Because once you are married to a man, you are morally obligated before God to perform and be everything the Bible calls you to do and be, to do so heartily as unto the Lord, and to do so as long as you are married. You are obligated to respect him from the heart (not just externally), to subordinate yourself to his leadership, and to back his plays unless doing so requires you to sin. You are obliged to do all this if he turns out to be a wise, godly, loving, caring saint; and you are equally obliged if he turns out to be a fickle, surly, selfish, childish, uncaring, hypocritical jerk.

"Yikes," you say. "You're scaring me." Terrific. I mean to. See #1, above.

This leads me to...

Fourthif he wasn't already showing a years-long pattern of Christian commitment and involvement in a local church you could gladly attend before you met him, you probably shouldn't marry him. I say "probably" because there will be exceptions — but be very slow to claim to have found one.

What I mean is: do they all know him at his church? Has he served, faithfully and a lot? (Best training for being a leader is being a follower.) Has he invested his greater energy and free time as a single to serve to further the ministry of the church and help the needy within it?

Does the pastor know him well? Would he vouch for this man? Is your fella a once-a-week-at-best-skimmer, barely known or unknown to most of the pillars and doers, or is he deeply committed and involved? Has he read his Bible through? Can he explain the Gospel well, from the Bible? Ask him to read TWTG, and tell you his thoughts — you'll be able to tell a lot by that (his view of the nature of God, of man, of Christ, of the Gospel, of the sovereignty of God, of sanctification; his worldview, etc.). Can he explain his own convictions and values and aspirations in Biblical terms — that is, does he show signs that he's gotten it from Scripture, or vetted it by Scripture, before he set his heart on it?

Can he demonstrate the ability to think things through, and make decisions, Biblically?

You see, this man is going to be making the decisions for your family. If he's wise and godly, you'll get truckloads of input — but the final call will be his. You will need not only to accept his final decision, but to dive in and do your best to make it work. Under God, your life will hang on his judgment. Can you trust him? With the rest of your life, and with your children's lives, can you trust him?

Now you see my point.

(If you and he attend different churches, be sure to let your pastor meet and get to know him, interrogate him, put him under the hot white lights. He's the man who has care for your soul, so he will be motivated to care for you and go the extra mile to be sure you're making as wise a decision as a person can make.)

Now, if we're talking about a man who is not a Christian at all, then he's not even a candidate, and you shouldn't be involved with him anywhere near this level, for his sake and yours.

But if he says he's a Christian but isn't much involved in a local church, then he doesn't much have the heart of Christ. Particularly if he's got "reasons" and excuses and rationales, he's not the man for you. He doesn't follow Christ. And you want obligate yourself to follow him?

"But he says he's a Christian!" one might sob. Yes, sister, if he's interested in you and knows you have this Jesus-thingie going on, I'm sure he does. I could train a parakeet to say he's a Christian. In fact, I've known parakeets who would make better Christians than some of the guys who've assured their girlfriends that they're Christians until they got what they wanted. It's just words. I could say I'm a MMA champion. Talk's cheap.

I just gave you ways to weigh that talk, and that's what you really need to do.

Remember, dating is the selling phase. All the best is put on display, to sink the deal. You should assume that marriage will not instantly make him a better man. If he is godly, it will; but you need to be convinced of that now. I can't tell you how many heart-wrenching stories I've heard about men who made this and that religious gesture, and then once the trout is in the creel, everything changes.

If you're a believer in Christ, you're a precious treasure to God, and your life is a stewardship. You need to make this decision slowly and carefully. If I may indulge my imagination in order to engage yours, your unborn kids are begging you to pick their dad v-e-r-y  c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y.

Too much is at stake to risk everything on a maybe-sorta lip-service until-the-deal-is-closed-and-the-deed-is-done sort of "Christian" male.

There are plenty of good godly men out there. Why haven't you seen them? They're probably going to smaller churches than your mega-church, because they prize Biblical preaching and look for opportunities to serve, and not simply be served. That's the sort of man you want to join yourself to in marriage.

Don't settle. Really, truly: don't. You'll be so sorry, and I'll be so sad.

PostScript: for the "But I know someone who [did a really stupid, un-Biblical, lamebrained thing] and it turned out just fine!" retort, see the "Real-Live Final Thought" at the end of this.

Dan Phillips's signature


Even So... said...

Well said, Dan.

We are currently traveling through Ephesians 5:22ff on Wednesday evenings, and this goes well with what we have been teaching in that study. Accordingly, as I like to give our folks other voices who "say the same things with a fresh sound", I will place this in our "appendices" to the study notes.

It will also be put up on our "Ministry Board" where we place paper copies of articles for people to pick up.

This will also be used with our youth group very soon.

Be encouraged, my brother.

Grace and peace.

DJP said...

Always so glad to hear from you, J.D. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Good post, brother! Well-said.

When you have time (if you have not done so previously), you should put together a similar post for single guys.

I know that the points will not all be the same, but the stuff about involvement in the church will no doubt be very similar & similarly helpful.

Thanks, Andy

Jim Pemberton said...

Good admonitions. I'll add another thing to check for: Is his ministerial goals compatible with yours? All Christians are called to ministry. Very few are meant to do it vocationally. Now if your ministerial goals allow you both to stay at home and you end up serving in different programs of the same church, fine. But if one person has a heart for missions and the other has a natural opening to be on a speaking circuit, it's likely to make for a frustrated marriage.

Michael Coughlin said...

Thanks. I'm passing this on to several young ladies now.

Unknown said...

How many parakeets have you known?

Otherwise, excellent! Thank you.

Jim Pemberton said...

A separate comment from my first one here:

It's good to look for all the right qualities in a spouse. But there's a balance in recognizing that no one is perfect. The things that most people usually look for are not the things they should be looking for and the things that most people usually don't look for are the more important things to look for.

Dan, you give women some great things to look for here. The reason you have to say it is because they usually aren't looking for these things, or their standards for these things are set too high. For example, single women looking to get married should look for a godly Christian man, but this comes with the realization that he will sometimes sin and make bad choices. A woman dealing with that in a godly way will recognize that she likewise occasionally sins and makes bad choices.

But too often people look for the wrong things. One examples is physical attractiveness. What happens in 20 years when that person is 40 or 100 pounds overweight or 40 years when grey hair and wrinkles overtake them? What happens when cancer strikes and your spouse is waxy, puffy, bald, and weak from the treatments? Women often look for good breadwinners also. But it may not be wise to go for the jerk with a nice car while there's a hard-working man living within his means in an economy car. When the rubber meets the economic road, you'll be better off with a frugal guy. I married a low-maintenance woman who knows how to makes each dollar count and today she manages our funds for doing various ministries and I couldn't be happier.

DJP said...

Linda, I was allergic to any fur as a child, so what I got to have was fish, reptiles, amphibians... and parakeets. So I had several, usually named "Peanuts." And they all talked.

So ha.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Yes. There's so much more to picking a spouse or dealing with singleness that goes beyond the physical relationship. I'll be sharing this post.

(Now that school is starting back up, I'm looking forward to becoming a regular here again! I've gotten a bit rusty in my reading.)

Christina said...

Wonderful counsel for young women. I plan on sharing. Thank you.

DJP said...

Thanks so much, Christina. May your tribe increase.

David Regier said...

I've had Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" stuck in my head all day, thanks to Facebook's "related posts".

Sharon said...

As a card-carrying, lifelong member of the Never Been Married Club, I can vouch for your first point. In fact, sometimes I love to quote Paul from 1 Cor. 7:8 just to justify my singleness.

But Seriously, Folks, there are many aspects of my ministry that I could not do if I had a family schedule to juggle, and I love the flexibility. Singleness is a gift . . . even if I sometimes look for the receipt so I could return it.

Unknown said...


This is excellent. I am trying to pound this into the heads of my kids even now in these early grade school years.

We are not defined by any relationship, but one. If God choses to place us in certain roles, that is just another of His good gifts. But, after Christ, it's all gravy.

Gabrielle said...

Interesting point of view

Zac Dredge said...

Single, but not a sister; read it anyway... Slightly embarrassed now.

Single guy version would be appreciated.
I read something relating to 1 Corinthians 7 recently, but then I got in an argument about the difference between circumstances of singleness and a healthy mindset of singleness(the latter of which I consider to be the 'gift' Paul refers to, as differentiated from mawwiage). I didn't agree with their definitions so I wasn't sure how much to take from it. Those who commented were all encouraging, but I came out of it questioning the article's validity due to the writer's refusal to acknowledge the clarification I put forth or interact with my statements in a genuine way.