By Amy Hauptman

Marriage: The Holy Grail?

Last March, I had the honor of being a bridesmaid for one of my dear friends from work. The other bridesmaids and I decided to put together an amazing bridal shower a couple weeks before the wedding. As the guests arrived, I started talking with one of the guests, who proceeded to ask me, “Are you dating anyone?” 

When I replied with a ‘no,’ her facial response was mixed with shock and horror. She immediately informed me: “Besides Jesus, marriage should be a person’s highest goal.”

I will be the first to admit that anytime someone starts with, ‘I knew he was the one…,’ or ‘I first met her at…,’ I get a twinkle in my eye, a smile on my face, and join the collective sigh that communicates: Don’t you love love?

But when I have encounters with other Christians like the one I described above, I have to ask – how did marriage become the holy grail of Christianity? Is marriage truly the ideal for the Christian life?

According to Greg Carey, Professor at Lancaster Seminary, the Bible actually talks very little about marriage. In a Huffpost Religion article, Carey examines the fact that most Bible verses read during wedding ceremonies are not in reference to marriage at all, but are instead in reference to conflict resolution, declaration of loyalty between family members, and even divorce.

He goes even further to talk about the fact that there are more verses in the Bible that explicitly teach on singleness. (Do I detect a collective cringe?) When’s the last time you’ve heard a sermon or a talk on “Remain single! It’s better that way!”  or “Singleness: Following Jesus and Paul’s example”?  Probably never. 

While I agree that marriage is good—I honestly do love love and would love to get married one day—it is refreshing to know that our cultural ideal of marriage may not be the holy ideal of Christianity. That what the Bible actually says and what our culture adheres to is different. That despite whether we are married, single, divorced, or have lost loved ones, the Bible explicitly gives us an ideal worthy of chasing after with our entire being:

“So let us throw off everything that stands in our way. Let us throw off any sin that holds on to us so tightly. Let us keep on running the race marked out for us. Let us keep looking to Jesus. He is the author of faith. He also makes it perfect. He paid no attention to the shame of the cross. He suffered there because of the joy he was looking forward to. Then he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”   Hebrews 12: 1-2

Amy Hauptman is an InterVarsity Campus Leader at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, NV, and a part-time Campus Staff Member at the University of Nevada, Reno. She graduated from UC Davis in 2006 with a BA in Comparative Literature. She has a heart for the ‘towns’ and ‘villages’ of college ministry (the junior and community colleges). She would also say that the three driving forces in her life, besides her love for coffee, are to see, learn and enjoy as much as possible.

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Hi Amy! I love your writing and I'm so glad and proud that you're now writing for the IV Blog! Myself and many others are looking forward to many of your writings. -Burt

BURT!! Thanks for identifying yourself =) (we're still working on changing the 'anonymous' to people's names). THANKS! I am SO GLAD that you're enjoying the blog posts.

Thanks! Whoever you are! =)

As a former single adult director I used to often speak to this topic. I think it is more challenging in the church than it is outside the church. It seems to have become an "idol" in Christian culture. A book that I've found to be particularly helpful on this topic is The Christian Family in Changing Times. Sorta destroys the "myth" of the biblical marriage and family. Keep up the good work! Vicki

Thanks Vicki for your comment and the excellent resource! I am intrigued!

I know we were discussing this article while watching The Bachelorette (of all things), but I wanted to let you know I really enjoyed this post and second Burt's sentiments that I look forward to many more to come! Jen :)

Thank you for your article. I was wondering if you could clarify on the part about the Bible talking very little about marriage... I thought there is so much imagery between Christ as the Groom and the Church as his Bride, that even culminates in descriptions of a wedding at his second coming. The constructs of a physical marriage is the reflection of the relationship Christ wants to have with each individual. However, it is very interesting the part about verses that teach on singleness- I'm going to look into that more. Thanks!

I was referring to Greg Carey's article in the Huffington post, article found here: Greg Carey was pointing out in his article, that there are few Biblical teachings on marriage (he cites a lot of Bible passages that are read in weddings, that ultimately are not referring to marriage). I agree with you- Marriage IS indeed one of the great illustrations that God uses to teach us about our relationship to Him. But there are others as well: He is the Good Shepherd and we are His sheep. He is the Master, and we are his servants. He is the Father and we are his prodigal sons and daughters. He is our commander, and we are his soldiers. In the end, I think the main point I took away from Greg Carey's article that I agree with is that our culture's ideal of marriage is not the ultimate goal of Christianity. No matter what situation we find ourselves in, whether married, divorced, single, widowed, remarried, God's call for us is the same- to share the good news of Jesus Christ and teach others how to follow Him.

So glad to see someone write on this. I am a married Christian, but believe we should be hearing WAY more about staying single in Christ-thanks for sharing!

Some people are called to be single, and some are called to marriage. Thank you for reminding us that both paths are viable ways to serve and praise God! And has anyone else noticed that sometimes God does not send you a marriage partner until you learn to accept your singleness? Just a thought to point out.

Thank you so much for your comments about singleness versus marriage. As a single divorced man who has been that way since June of 2005-(whew!) I am finding out that there is life outside of marriage. I still miss the "perks" of having a life-partner, but God is pruning me for his service by allowing me to be single. I think he does want me to be content as I am, content with him as my soul-mate, eventually. My faith has grown so much since I have had virtually no one but him as my life-partner. I still hope to be married some day, but his will be done. John

“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1 John 5:12 I think this verse is for you John (you do have the ultimate life-partner). Learning to be content is HARD. That's how we know it's God's work in us. Your attitude and desire to be content... do you know how much that pleases God?? may God bless you as he continues to lead you and guide you, and may you continue on with the hope and life that only Jesus provides.

<P>It's actually interesting to look at the Biblical examples of marriage--a lot I wouldn't want to emulate. Sarah gives Abraham her handmaid to bed; Isaac &amp; Rebekah play favorites among their sons; Rachel &amp; Leah are constantly fighting with each other (too bad the Levitical prohibition on marrying sisters wasn't yet in effect); David has multiple wives whose children fight with each other (and him); Timothy is the product of a mixed-faith marriage.</P> <P>Not that none of them are good. Priscilla and Aquilla are a great example of partners in ministry (but, um, why is the wife named first the majority of times?). Boaz &amp; Ruth have a great story (though it's the woman who is the initiator). Mary &amp; Joseph seem to have provided a good home for Jesus amid a lot of upheaval; Joseph covers for his not-yet-wife's inconvenient pregnancy. Moses' parents work together to protect him as long as they can. But it is, perhaps, yet another sign of the Bible's authenticity that the historical record shows family life warts and all.</P> <P>I think perhaps the biggest problem with discussing marriage and singleness is that we find it difficult to affirm both; we think affirming one inevitably means denigrating the other. That's certainly not Paul's approach in 1 Cor 7. Speaking as someone who married for the first time in my mid-40s, I'm very aware of the critical attitude that some marrieds have toward the single, as well as the cluelessness of many singles about married life. I served as an elder while I was single, and had a few question whether I was Biblically qualified (because I was not "the husband of one wife," never mind that the author of that statement was himself both an appointer of elders and not a husband). I got annoyed when people asked me when I'd "settle down" as a euphemism for getting married, when in many respects I was more settled than a lot of the married couples.</P> <P>At the same time, it is true that many young adults, particularly men, avoid marriage for selfish reasons, allowing themselves an unending adolescence. Living that way for an extended time can make it more difficult to make the transition to marriage. And having two preschoolers as I approach 50 makes me very aware of the physical advantages of having kids at a younger age. To be sure, not everyone will marry, by choice or by happenstance. (The unaddressed issue in many church discussions is the fact that there are far more marriageable Christian women than men.) And my experience is that those most scared of being alone were the most likely to make poor choices in mates. Yet at the same time, marriage is the norm, and it is for most people the best way to meet their needs and desires for relationships, family, and (let's be honest) sex. But rarely does it just happen, and even if obsessing over it is unhealthy, passivity is unwise as well.</P> <P>It can certainly be appropriate to set aside romantic pursuits for a season to be able to focus on "how to please the Lord," as Paul puts it--and some, like John Stott, may profitably choose to do so for a lifetime. But know what you're doing and why you're doing it, and realize that the years can slip by quickly... - Kelvin Smith (sorry I'm so verbose!)</P>

<p><strong>The early church valued singleness over marriage.</strong> Many of the early church leaders were convinced that the only way you could serve Christ wholeheartedly was to be single. They went so far as to view people who married as second-class Christians (at best) and not Christians at all (at worst). Marriage was a cop-out for people who bowed to society's pressure or their own lack of self-control. The church father Tertullian was especially brutal, seeing marriage as legal fornication. Singleness put Christ first. Marriage didn't.</p> <p>Demographics alone suggest that Christians must embrace celibacy and life-long singleness. Single women outnumber single men, and no amount of prayer will change that.</p> <p><strong>We need a new Christian "monasticism"</strong>--a way of helping singles find a home and an identity. Singles who don't capitulate and marry outside the faith still need a "family." Having been married and now single again for more than a decade, <strong>I believe that singleness has these advantages: </strong></p> <ul> <li>1. Looking outward to the needs of society, rather than inward at your own family's concerns.</li> <li>2. Ability to drop everything and care for the needs of hurting people.</li> <li>3. More time to use for Christ.</li> <li>4. Ability to empathize with the pain of single parents, single Christians, and those struggling with sexual identity issues.</li> <li>5. Money to help those in poverty. (Latest studies all say that the number of children living is poverty is over 40% now.)</li> <li>6. Time to help tutor "at risk" children and help their parents with resumes, interviewing skills and job hunting techniques.</li> <li>7. Time to spend with unbelievers. They are attracted to celibate single Christians, and mystified by our self-control especially when combined with our deep love and loyalty to them. They want to be with us, even if they don't want our God. Give God time.</li> </ul> <p></p> <p>A very good and encouraging book on the history of singleness in Church is Dr. Christine Colón's book, <em>Singled Out. </em></p>

Maybe I'm writing this just so that the comments aren't completely one-sided, but in general it is my belief that marriage should be the norm, and lifelong singleness the exception. It must be said that I agree with much in Amy's post. There is some idolatry in some Christians' hearts when it comes to marriage, and we often greatly disrespect people who are older and single (and women at a greater rate than men). Actually, the idolatry is likely related to our desiring permission to have sex, as well as our culture's (and our Christian sub-culture's) ridiculous distortions of what a marriage is about and what it looks like. But I digress. While there is much to be said in the way of Christians needing to respect the post-25-and-somehow-still-single crowd, and noting that we can never ignore Paul's words in respect to the loss of ministry impact that marriage brings, I think that what we need more than a New Monasticism is a Restored Masculinity in our men. All of the evidence points to a generation of self-centered young people who put off marriage until later (or altogether) in pursuit of their earthly joys. This is just as prevalent in Christians as in the culture at large. And why are the single women looked down upon more than the single men whose responsibility it is to be the initiators, the ones in pursuit? It was the man who was called to first account in the garden, should it not be the same here? I know I will not make many friends here, but these are my thoughts. We desperately need to repent of our ostracism of the post-25-singles, and I thank you, Amy, for pointing that out, as well as hinting at our idolatry and misunderstanding of our identity in Christ. But along with this charge I think we must consider whether marriage is to be the rule or the exception, and believing that it is generally the rule, we must call our men (in particular, but not completely) to be men, to own the responsibility of our call to be covanentally faithful husbands and fathers and brothers. We do not need a generation of eunuchs, we need a generation of true Ephesians 5 husbands and fathers. Non-committal boys-that-can-shave will not do, we need men. P.S. Turtullian is often helpful, but I think the Scriptures would find him in dreadfully obvious error in his sentiments quoted below. Sola Scriptura

Hi Amy, I liked your comments above. I too have dreamed of marriage, but God had other plans. so after being 30 years single, I wonder why Christians are so shocked when someone is single. However, my insight in listening to women, particularly Christian women over years has led to some insight. The women focus more on trying to catch a man instead of focusing on the ease of serving Christ while single. When you are single, you have the freedom to go on short term mission trips, teach in the church, be involved in ministries in the church without worrying about baby sitters, husbands wanting you at home etc. While I have kept busy serving the Lord in many ways, I wasted a lot of the early years pining for something I didn't have. It wasn't until I looked around at what I DID have that the reality of your statement above hit home. Thanks for putting it into words. I put this site on my facebook so I can share it with my friends. Janet

Thanks Janet.... would this perhaps be the one and only Janet Singleterry? Your story sounded a little familiar, so I had to ask. =) Those are some great words of wisdom! I think you basically quoted one of my favorite Bible verses as well: Matthew 6:33 "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

As a single guy, I agree with what Janet and Amy have said. I feel internal pressures to look for a relationship and wonder is so and so is "the one" and have wasted more energy than I like to admit in trying and worry. We need to shake off ALL of the things that hinder us (Hebrews 11) so that we can run the race God has laid out for us, instead of keeping some of them. Right now I am finding that being single forces me to rely on God for completeness and fulfillment and has shown me how easy it is to look elsewhere than God for these things. Jonathan

I have to echo Mr. Gambarella's comments below and applaud his call to men to be men vs. boys who can shave. As someone who did not find her husband until I was 36, I had to sift through a lot of Christian boys who could shave to find a real man who loved the Lord and was mature enough for a committed relationship. I had a rich ministry life as a single, but wasted a lot of time wondering if this man or that was the one God had for me instead of focusing on my relationship with the Lord and cherishing the alone time that I had with Him. At times, I did feel like a "freak" when the majority of those around me were married but I don't think staying single is a goal we should push on others as being more pious a state than being married. Our relationships to the Lord should be our focus regardless of what state we are in. We should not make someone feel badly or exalt them because they are married or single. Comments like the person Amy (the writer) encountered at that bridal shower are the kind that should make us all cringe. It is none of our business if someone is single or married unless they want to share that information. Get to know them as an individual, defined by their identity in Christ and their service to others. I can also agree with other comments about the ease at which we can serve in the Church as a single vs. when married and with other obligations i.e. children, etc. I also have to caution my older Christian single sisters to not grab hold of thoughts of singleness as being superior as it is not helpful to your walk nor your service. It is the same stronghold as radical feminism that puts down men vs. truly serving women. God has given us women strength in many areas, whether married or single. Rejoice in those strengths. (As a side note, being married for three years and with a little girl now, I can honestly say that if you do wish to be married, it IS worth the wait for that godly man. I just wish I could take back all that time I wasted pining over this guy or that one that was not who God had for me and instead focused on the person who God wanted ME to be and more on the things I could do to improve myself and focused more on the ministry before me. It could be that your man is not ready for you yet!)

Thank you for sharing. It is an encouragement to me. I am almost 27 years old, and have gotten the whole " you are getting older, its time to get married" thing from others. I feel like I can relate to you when you said you wasted your time wondering if "this guy or that guy is it". I am getting others trying to do the whole "hook me up" thing (with Christian men of course), but I don't feel at peace about any of them. I do hope to get married some day, but I want to be wise and truly wait for the LORD to bring him, instead of me jumping ahead of things, and then regretting it later. I am happy that you are happily married now, and with a child. thank you again for sharing .

Eric Gambardella here again, too lazy to log in. Just wanted to point you all to Kevin DeYoung's fabulous book "Just Do Something." It is very helpful in many a way, but one of the most profound things he highlights is that we really have bad theology when it comes to God's will. Basically, he argues that we have God's revealed will (what he has told us clearly in Scripture), we ignore that, and then pray "God, if this is your will, just write it on the wall so I know and I'll do it," meaning "God, I'm too chicken to walk into something without a guarantee for success." When it comes to marriage, we have invented this idea of "the one," while in the sense of God's sovereign will is true (God does know the one you will marry--or two or three given the possibility of early deaths or infidelity), but in the sense of something that we are responsible to figure out and "have peace about" before we say I do is completely bogus. Marriage is about keeping the covenant once made, not about stressing out about whether this person is the one. The Bible's mandates for marriage are actually quite few, but we have added a new law to it, and this is quite unhealthy. Anyway, Kevin's thoughts proved Biblical and wise, and very life giving both to me (years after marriage) and to my students (I'm an IV staff). Again, the way I understand things this may give a swifter kick in the pants to men than women, but is still very helpful in realizing that we're called to be faithful, not called to figure out some secret will that God's keeping from us before we move.

I have had a few talks with my previous staff worker about this! I agree with you. Thanks for posting this!

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