“Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”
I remember talking with a colleague when the conversation turned to the topic of singleness. “Well, that’s me,” John said, quieting his voice. “Forty-two years old and still a virgin.” There was a note of shame in his words.
I once stayed at a lovely old hotel with classic drapes and sweeping staircases. For breakfast, guests were assigned to large tables, and I ended up eating with a girl in her 30s. “This is a birthday present,” Amy said of her stay. I wished her a happy birthday, then asked if anyone was celebrating with her. “No,” she said, her face sullen. “I’m here alone.”
In 2013, I wrote a book about broken dreams and as a result, readers contact me regularly to share their stories. They tell me about career dreams that never eventuated, or dashed hopes for having children. Many share how they want to marry, but remain single, and feel out of place in a couples’ world.
Jesus talks about marriage in his Sermon on the Mount. But he does so as a 30-year-old single man — one who is no doubt feeling the pressure of his culture to marry. “Any man who has no wife is not a proper man,” wrote the first-century rabbi Eleazar. “He who is 20 years of age and is not married spends all his days in sin,” states Rabbi Huna in the Talmud. Marriage and children was the expected path of every Jew. And yet the Jesus teaching on those Galilean slopes is walking a much different road. He will never marry. He will never experience sexual pleasure. He will die without producing an heir.
And in the process he will redefine singleness forever.
Through his life and teaching, Jesus raises singleness to a new level. Singleness isn’t a curse to be pitied or a condition to be cured, but a status touched by the holy. When God visits earth He comes as a single man. That alone blesses singleness with divine dignity.
But Jesus goes further, presenting singleness as a viable vocational choice “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 19:12. Paul follows suit, elevating singleness to a “gift” — he wishes others would take up singleness because of its unparalleled opportunity for devotion to God (1 Corinthians 7:7, 32–35). Saint Thomas Aquinas described celibacy as “vacancy for God” — a state of being free, open, and available for God’s service. Henri Nouwen said celibate singles could play a prophetic role in society. As no human can complete us, God-focused singleness can remind the world that “relationship with God is the beginning, the source, and the goal of all human relationships.”
Jesus affirms the importance of marriage in his Sermon. But he doesn’t idolise it.
Marriage is not the cure for all loneliness; singleness is not some valley to be endured until the pinnacle of marriage is reached. Singleness can be a calling, a gift, and a powerful witness to the world.
So raise your voice loud, John. Amy, lift up your head. Your single Lord has plans for you.