John Piper has recently finished a sermon series called Marriage, Christ, and Covenant: One Flesh for the Glory of God that comprised 8 sermons on marriage and 1 sermon on a biblical theology of singleness, based on this. In the latter he says,
My main point is that God promises those of you who remain single in Christ blessings that are better than the blessings of marriage and children, and he calls you to display, by the Christ-exalting devotion of your singleness, the truths about Christ and his kingdom that shine more clearly through singleness than through marriage and childrearing. The truths, namely,
- That the family of God grows not by propagation through sexual intercourse, but by regeneration through faith in Christ;
- That relationships in Christ are more permanent, and more precious, than relationships in families (and, of course, it is wonderful when relationships in families are also relationships in Christ; but we know that is often not the case);
- That marriage is temporary, and finally gives way to the relationship to which it was pointing all along: Christ and the church—the way a picture is no longer needed when you see face to face;
- That faithfulness to Christ defines the value of life; all other relationships get their final significance from this. No family relationship is ultimate; relationship to Christ is.
To say the main point more briefly: God promises spectacular blessings to those of you who remain single in Christ, and he gives you an extraordinary calling for your life. To be single in Christ is, therefore, not a falling short of God’s best, but a path of Christ-exalting, covenant-keeping obedience that many are called to walk.
This sermon elicited the question “If what you say about the blessing of singleness is true, then why would one even want to be married?” with his response here. He explains that both marriage and singleness work out God’s design in different ways, and says of both “That is a high calling, but it is only compelling if it meets with internal longings for God that lean strongly into these designs.” He sets out God’s design for marriage as
- To display his covenant keeping love between Christ and the church,
- To sanctify the couple with the peculiar pains and pleasures of marriage,
- To beget and rear a generation of white-hot worshippers, and
- And to channel good sexual desire into holy paths and transpose it into worshipful foretastes of heaven’s pleasures.
While he similarly sets out God’s design for marriage as,
- To display the spiritual nature of God’s family that grows from regeneration and faith, not procreation and sex,
- To sanctify the single with the peculiar pains and pleasures of singleness,
- To capture more of the single’s life for non-domestic ministry that is so desperately needed in the world,
- And to magnify the all-satisfying worth of Christ that sustains life-long chastity.
While previously he interpreted 1 Cor7:7 to refer to singleness and marriage as gifts he now says
neither I nor the Bible means to say that either [marriage or singleness] is compelling in and of themselves. That is why Paul says, “One has one gift and one another” (1 Corinthians 7:7). I think he means: The internal reality of one person finds one of these powerfully compelling and the internal reality of another finds another powerfully compelling. And I would add: This can change from one season to another…Objectively, we cannot know ahead of time whether marriage or singleness will sanctify us more or honor God more. Does the internal reality of our heart lean us into the designs of marriage or the designs of singleness? That is a huge question and one that only the heart can answer. But it should be a heart well-formed with much Bible and much prayer and much maturity through life and counsel of friends and family.
I really like Piper’s balanced view of marriage and singleness. He promotes them both, focusing on their God glorifying nature, rather than taking a more man-centred approach of promoting singleness to make single people feel good or promoting marriage to reduce the suffering of unwanted singleness. I have some more thoughts, but they will need to wait for another post.