For those, particularly parents who have come to believe that married life is virtually the only way to exist in service to our God, though perhaps never stating it as clearly as this, it may come as a surprise to realise that there were many parents in Scripture who had children who never married. It is notable that the reason that many did not marry was because they dedicated their lives in service to their God. One can hardly imagine Zacharias and Elisabeth suggesting to John the Baptist that “sister so-and-so is a nice girl” in a veiled way, inferring that he should marry. Yet it was not because John did not appreciate the wonder of marriage— in fact he had a perception of the significance of marriage that we would love all our young people to understand. He so wonderfully expressed his feelings about this when he said: “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled” (John 3:29). He saw himself as a servant or messenger of God with a special mission to fulfil, and thus would not allow marriage to detract from that work.

We need to come to grips with the reality that many of the faithful servants of God recorded in the Scriptures were not married. Jeremiah’s work did not allow for marriage (Jer 16:2). He lived at the end of the age when great suffering was to come upon Jerusalem, and for this reason Yahweh told him not to take a wife. One wonders if Miriam was married, or Joshua. Then there were Elijah and Elisha who likewise seem not to have married. Daniel is another who falls into this category, yet his was a life of service which endeared him to his God, for he was called “a man greatly beloved”. As we read through the Scriptures we have our attention drawn to many faithful servants who possibly never married.

The ultimate example of course is the Head of the body himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, who did not marry. Our Lord was so committed to the work that the Father had given him that marriage was not an option. Following the disciples’ reflection, “If the case of a man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry”, the Lord made a startling comment to his disciples: “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Matt 19:11,12).

It is an unwarranted assumption that because a brother or sister is not married then it is because they just could not find anyone or were never asked. It may well be that they seriously hearkened to these words of the Lord and determined that they were among those for whom this was written and so have “made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”. How many have attained this height of spiritual perception of their calling, or how many have even tried to grasp this spiritual perception of service? It may be that many young people, through the persistent pressure and assumption of their parents that all their children should marry, have never given serious thought to this concept of the Lord’s words. How tragic it would be for a brother or sister who may not be happily married to realise that there was another way of service that they could have pursued which was never presented as a serious option by their parents.

Paul’s Guidance

One could not read 1 Corinthians 7 without the appreciation that Paul seriously suggested that marriage is not necessarily an assistance in our service to our Lord—in fact it can be a distraction. Paul persistently suggested to the Corinthian brethren and sisters to consider the real option and advantage of service in the single state. We do not know whether Paul had ever married before his conversion, but this we do know—he did not have a wife when he wrote this epistle. There is no doubt that Paul was a person with like feelings to all men, and appreciated that emotions and desires for a close companion to fulfil those desires is God-given. He had no doubt that marriage was ordained by God. He gave some of the most heartfelt guidance and practical counsel for married couples. He realised that our calling in Christ is to service, whether we are married or unmarried. When we passed through the waters of baptism we entered the service of Christ—we were not guaranteed a partner for life. It may be we do share our service as “heirs together” but that was not why we were baptised. We determined on a life of service primarily to Christ.

Paul writes in that remarkably balanced statement: “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor 7:7–9). Paul was well aware that God had said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen 2:18). He was well aware that this fact had been well provided for in marriage, but he also raised the serious consideration that service to Christ can be distracted by marriage. One wonders how many have given serious thought to that concept of service before committing to marriage. How true it is: “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife” (1 Cor 7:32,33).

Not All have This Gift

Having looked at the fact that there are members of the body who have elected to remain single “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”, we need to face the reality that many who are single may dearly have desired “a partner in the Lord”. To them this may have been a cherished objective—the loving care of a companion with whom to work together in Godly activities, including the raising of children who would bring honour to God. Their desire would be kindled by the many examples of Godly parents recorded in the Bible. Yet this desire has not been realised. They genuinely felt that they did not have that “gift” that Paul spoke of, and they were not among those “to whom it is given” to be “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”.

These members of the one body grew up in our community, ever hoping that they would “find” a loving partner in the Lord, with whom all their desires would be realised. To such sisters there can be the restlessness of “the barren womb” that is not satisfied, and to such brothers there may linger the feeling, “Behold, I am a dry tree”. Those who are married should be aware of the feelings of these brethren and sisters, whilst those in this situation need to lift their mind to the larger picture of God’s great work. He is a Father. He knows our frame for He made us, and we can confidently take our trials and frustrations to Him in prayer, accepting His will in all things.

There may be other members in our body who have chosen to remain single for the present time so that they may fulfil some area of service in the Lord, free from the responsibilities that marriage brings. They realise that they may marry later in their life, if the Lord wills.

Understanding our Single Members

As a community we need to thoughtfully consider how we can identify with the needs and feelings of the single members of the body. Even those who seem fully committed in various areas of service in the Lord still need the social and fraternal association with their brethren and sisters.

Let us make some broad observations regarding this group in our community. They range in age from the late twenties and upwards. Some have strong family support, but others may have come into the Truth with no family to support them and are living in an apartment, flat or small home of their own which can be their “prison” if they are confined there thoughtlessly by the ecclesia. Generally they have outgrown young people’s activities and hence have stopped attending them. Many of those whom they grew up with and who were their close friends are now married and very preoccupied with their own busy world, not necessarily looking outside to see the needs of others.

As we continue to reflect upon this group we note that so often they arrive and leave the ecclesial halls alone, returning to their apartments while families go home to lunch on Sundays with parents and grandparents. Their special occasions such as birthdays can go unnoticed while others are smothered with kindness and company. Each evening they return to their own apartment and, though disciplined to do the readings, they are on their own. When a question arises in their mind they have no one to talk it over with; when a good point of exhortation is seen or a cross link found there is no one to share it with.

Another area that we may not have considered is that from Friday night when the week’s work is over and then through into Saturday can be a very lonely time—or on the public holidays when families often arrange to be together. How long and tedious such a day can be for one alone in the four walls of their apartment. Even walking is far more pleasant in the company of another person with whom there is a spiritual affinity.

Many in this group are sisters who have a sharp, intellectual understanding of the Scriptures. How they would often love the opportunity to have a good discussion on the Word with a brother or ask his opinion on a matter. How wrong we would be to assume that single sisters are only capable of junior Sunday School teaching or looking after children for marrieds when they want to go out together. Let us be aware that they, too, have the need for mental stimulation in the Truth, and may be more scripturally informed than many a married sister. This of course is also true of single brethren but they can mix more freely with other brethren and enjoy profitable discussion after the meetings and at other times. Many a sister would love to invite a brother home to do the readings but that is often not appropriate.

Being Positive

If you are reading this and are one of those referred to in the single state then there is the need to genuinely assess your position before God. What positive input are you really giving for the well-being of the “one body”? We are all called to service and that service will take on many different forms, depending on the abilities we have. The Lord has given “to every man according to his several ability” (Matt 25:15), and we must all give an account of our service in the end to our Master. It is only if we are “good and faithful” servants that we will be rewarded. Let us never be tempted to bemoan our situation and expect others to do everything for us whilst doing nothing to help others. We all need to take stock of our own service, and what a breadth of service there is available for each one of us!

There is plenty of work in our own area and in our own ecclesia if we have our eyes open and ears attentive to the fraternal announcements. Our enthusiasm and energy can be an example to encourage others to faithful and diligent service. There is the continual work of visiting the sick and elderly, perhaps giving a helping hand or word of encouragement to a family burdened down with troubles, and always the valuable work of the Sunday School. Then there is the never-ending work of preaching—distributing leaflets, tutoring interested friends either personally or by correspondence, or planning campaigns. We can venture further afield into mission areas on our own or with a group to carry out this very exciting work, which those married with children may not be able to do. One has only to reflect on those whom Paul thanks in his epistles for their support, to realise that there are limitless areas of service that can be entered into for the well-being of other members and prospective members of the one body.

Let us remember we are called to toil—real effort in service—not a comfortable, self-centred, relaxed existence in Christ. Even those married, who have the added task of raising children and caring for a companion, are called to the same service. We are called to follow one who had no where to lay his head. Yet how many true disciples assisted him during his tiring ministry with their loving and thoughtful care. Let us show the same care for our brethren and sisters today.

Our Care for our Single Members

Having considered the needs of our single brethren and sisters, how then can we care for them? First there is the need to appreciate their great value to the body as a whole—to see the contribution that they make, and to commend and encourage them in their work. There is the need to be selfless and share our companionship with them. What we have is of God. Some have temporal blessings that can be shared, others the warmth and joy of a happy home and family. Thus we need to be ever thoughtful to “enlarge our hearts”. To provide a meal for those on their own is valuable, but to share our time after the meal over the Word of God or in projects associated with the Truth is far more meaningful. Make Sunday lunch a fraternal meal in a real sense. Look to the one who drives off alone from the meeting, make the talk over the meal spiritually edifying—this is what is missed when you eat by yourself. You may never have thought how refreshing it is for a sister on her own to have a brother offer thanks for a meal.

One thing that we may not realise is that these single brethren and sisters are often better read in the works of the Truth than we are. They have possibly given themselves to prayer and meditation on the Word more consistently than those with families. Therefore be ready to listen to their comments over the readings or on the Word in general—you may learn quite a lot! Never imagine that they are less blessed than yourself in Christ. They are not. They are valuable members of the body for the same reason as you are, because God saw their potential just as He saw yours and called you into the “One Body”.

Meeting Together

There is one area that may be worth giving thought to in our ecclesias. “Single” brethren and sisters do need and appreciate the company of others. It is spiritually healthy that they can have opportunity to meet and enjoy that spiritual support that comes from reading and discussing the great things that belong unto us all and fraternising together. If we have Sunday Schools for our children and Youth Groups for our teenagers, then it seems that thought could be given to these brethren and sisters having gatherings that are for their mutual encouragement. Such a group could prove to be a power for good in our ecclesias.

Let us all give diligent thought to ways in which we can assist each member or group of members towards that great day when the Head of the Body shall appear and gather together in one all its members that have fitted themselves for an eternal part therein. What a blessing it will be in that day, when Christ appears to gather together all the members of his body, to hear him say: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”.