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1. Introduction: Cultural Changes 8
2. Love 17
3. Celibacy and Chastity 23
4. Loneliness 29
5. Identity 35
6. Sexual Fantasy 41
7. The Ticking Clock 47
8. Housing 53
9. Matchmakers 59
10. Contentment and Comparison 65
11. Safety and Security 71
12. Finding Community 76
Appendix A: The New Singleness 83
Appendix B: Is Singleness OK? 89
Appendix C: Single Again 95
Appendix D: Arranged Marriage 101
Appendix E: Masturbation 107
Best Sources 113
About the Author 115
Modern Western Culture presents serious challenges related to maturity, marriage, and family. Changes in the culture during the last couple of centuries have produced disturbing trends which relate to the singles (unmarried individuals) growing up in it. I am most familiar with the facts in the USA where I live, so I focus here on current results occurring during relatively recent years.
During the last half of the 20th century in the USA and continuing on into the 21st century, the number of divorces equaled about 50% of the number of marriages. This did not mean that half of all those married for the first time divorced that year, but that the total number of divorces was about half the number of marriages. For every 100 single people who decided to marry there were about 50 married people who decided to become single again.
During the last half of the 20th century and continuing on into the 21st century, the percentage of babies born to single women increased. By a decade into the 21st century, more than 40% of babies born in the USA were born to single (unmarried at the time of giving birth) women. That is, out of every 100 babies born, more than 40 were born to single women. This is not to condemn single women more than single men—many of those single men impregnated those women.
These facts are not from surveys in which people can lie, but from counting the actual numbers of marriages and divorces and the actual number of babies born. This many babies were actually born to unmarried women, even when people tried to avoid pregnancy by using birth control, or avoid pregnancy by using oral sex, or terminated pregnancy through abortion. These disturbing facts are not cited to criticize single people and make them feel depressed or discouraged. Nor do they blame single individuals in Western society, but the culture into which they were born presents challenges to those who are attempting to live holy lives. To understand these developments one has to know what changes took place in the culture.
A brief history of the “invention” of the concept of adolescence and other major changes over the past couple of centuries is in Chapter 1. For those not familiar with these changes, the appendices at the end of the book elaborate on them. This history is given to help singles realize that one major cause of behaviors such as those above is their culture. Of course, this is not to simply blame the culture for everything, but to reassure singles that they are not alone, that their culture has created conditions making some behaviors far more prevalent and more accepted than they were in the past. It pushes them toward failing marriages if and when they marry and for children out of wedlock if they do not. The rest of the book is to help missionary singles understand why particular issues have surfaced, see what the Bible has to say about the issues, and suggest practical ways to face them.
Why write this book? Soon after I wrote a book about issues in missionary marriages I began receiving email asking why I did not have anything available about issues single missionaries faced. I had no answer except that I had not gotten around to it yet. About that time important books about singleness came out each year.
2008: Jeannie Lockerbie Stephenson published her excellent book, By Ones & By Twos: Building Successful Relationships between Marrieds and Singles in Ministry (ABWE Publishing, Harrisburg, PA). She had written the first edition in 1983 when she was single. More than a decade later she married, and after a decade of marriage Jeanne and her husband updated the book. It is an excellent resource for missionaries both married and single.
2009: Barry Danylak published his great book, Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life (Crossway, Wheaton, IL). This work develops a Biblical theology of singleness through both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
2010: Christine Colon and Bonnie Field published their thoughtful book, Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today’s Church (Brazos Press, division of Baker Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI). Celibacy has taken on negative connotations in both secular and Christian circles. This book promotes a positive concept of celibacy, not as “second best,” but as a way of life in service to God.
However, I kept being asked when I was going to write something for singles, so I have done so. This book neither duplicates what is in the three books mentioned above nor does it cover all the issues singles face. It does cover those issues which are unique to or heightened by those individuals who live in a culture other than their passport culture. I write it, not as one who has lived as a single missionary, but as someone who has talked about singles issues with single missionaries.
This book is written in short, independent chapters, not in any particular order except that Chapter1, “Introduction: Cultural Changes,” should be read first. After that, just pick chapters in any order that interests you. The appendices primarily elaborate on Chapter 1 for people who are not aware of the changes in Western culture during the past two centuries. They contain much more factual material and much less practical material. As with the other e-books on this website, new chapters will be added to this book in the future as they are written, so check back occasionally.
Finally, I could not have written this book without the help of others. Several singles reviewed a few chapters each and the following people critiqued or edited the entire book: Art Nonneman, Bob Moore, Yvonne Moulton, Nancy Stephens and CC (who serves in a restricted country). They each made many wonderful suggestions, and I accepted most of them. Of course, any errors in the book are not theirs, but mine.
Introduction: Cultural Changes The major reason you are single is because you are living at about the year 2000 AD (or CE). If you had lived 4000 years ago in Old Testament times when Abraham was born, you would probably be married. If you had lived 2000 years ago in New Testament times when Jesus was born, you would probably be married. If you had lived 200 years ago in the USA or Europe, you would probably be married.
Marriages took place at a different time in individuals’ lives, and spouses were chosen very differently more than 200 years ago. Trying to translate what happened into contemporary English may lead to confusion, and the meanings of words continue to change. For example, in Matthew 1:18 the King James Version (KJV) says that Mary was “espoused” to Joseph; the New King James Version says that Mary was “betrothed” to Joseph; and the New International Version (NIV) says that Mary was “pledged to be married” to Joseph. Looking up these words in the 1975 Webster’s New 20th Century Dictionary Unabridged resulted in these definitions.
Espouse: to betroth; as, the king espoused his daughter to a foreign prince.
Betroth: to pledge in marriage; as, the father betroths his daughter.
Pledge: to promise. The NIV does not tell who made the agreement, but it probably was between Joseph’s and Mary’s parents.
On-line definitions of espouse and betroth today do not give examples of parents being involved. This aspect, so common previously, is ignored today.
Today’s readers are often further confused when in the next verse (Matthew 1:19) Joseph is called “her husband” in all three translations. The Greek word “aner” is the word translated “husband” as it is in 49 other places in the New Testament, but “aner” is also translated “man” in another156 places in the New Testament! Joseph was “her man.” The Message says that Mary was “engaged to be married” and does not give any label (husband or man) to Joseph. To understand better, we need to consider changes in our own culture.
Cross-cultural workers are keenly aware of how one culture varies from another because they have to learn the differences between their passport cultures and their host cultures to serve effectively. Those same workers may not be aware of how their own cultures have changed over the years so that concepts, such as “singleness,” may mean something quite different today from what they meant many years ago.
Most Cultures until the 19th Century In Bible times, like today, singleness meant that the person was unmarried; however, who was single and why they were single were quite different from today. To understand who was single and why they were single, we must look at marriage customs and laws of the day.
Marriage at Puberty In most cultures, including that of the Hebrews in the Old Testament, people expected to marry at about the age of sexual maturity, the age of puberty. Many passages in the Talmud contain comments about the expected age of marriage, and those comments indicate that the ideal age of marriage was the age of puberty. In fact, not marrying daughters at puberty was viewed by some rabbis in the Talmud as making her a prostitute (Leviticus 19:29). The minimum legal age of marriage was 12 for women and 13 for men. This became more formalized with the advent of the Bat Mitzvah for women and the Bar Mitzvah for men.
In New Testament times the Roman law allowed women to marry at 12 and men at 14. English law from a thousand years ago also allowed women to marry at 12 and men at 14. USA laws 200 years ago allowed women to marry at 12 and men at 14. Of course, most people did not marry at those ages because they did not go through puberty until later. However, most of them apparently married at about the age of puberty. Therefore, at that time most singles were children because many people married as soon as they became adults (i.e. sexually mature).
Marriage Arranged by the Parents
In most cultures, including the Hebrews of the Old Testament, marriages were arranged by the parents. Abraham asked a trusted servant to go find a wife for Isaac, giving explicit instructions for what she was to be like and how to go about doing it (Genesis 24). Isaac gave Jacob explicit instructions about whose daughter to marry (Laban’s), and Jacob obeyed (Genesis 28). After Jacob picked out Rachel and agreed with Laban, he found that Laban had tricked him into marrying Leah, Rachel’s older sister (Genesis 29). When Jacob confronted him about switching daughters, Laban explained that it “is not our custom here” to give a younger daughter in marriage before the older one was married.
As with marriage at puberty, the Roman, English, and colonial American cultures followed the same pattern of arranged marriages. Early Puritans in the USA did not “ensnare” their children in vows of virginity but married them as soon as possible. In these cultures, if a person was single beyond puberty, it was because of the parents. Isaac was 40 before he married, but that was because Abraham had not found him a wife. Apparently Leah had some problem with her eyes that made finding a husband more difficult, so she had not yet married, but Laban insisted on carrying out his duty to find her a husband, even if he had to be deceitful (Genesis 29:25-26).
For thousands of years single people were those younger than puberty and those whose parents had not found them a mate. Note that these are arranged marriages, not forced marriages. If either the prospective bride or the prospective groom did not want that marriage, it did not occur. The prospective bride or groom (or the parents) could choose not to go through with the marriage. Then the “search” began again.
(For more information see Appendix D)
Mostly Single Missionaries From the time of Christ until the 19th century the Good News was spread to different cultures primarily by singles, and most of those were men. The apostle Paul was not married, and he advised against it in 1 Corinthians 7. He said that it was not wrong to marry if people needed to, but people could be more effective in serving God if they were not concerned with pleasing their spouses.
After New Testament times unmarried Roman Catholic priests and nuns spread Christianity around the world. They literally “renounced marriage for the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:12). The majority of these Catholic missionaries traveling all over the world were men, and they had chosen to remain single so that they could better please God.
Nuns may be considered “brides of Christ” because of this ceremony referred to in the Catholic Catechism: “923. Virgins who, committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.” Some nuns consider this a marriage ceremony and wear wedding rings.
Western Culture since the 19th Century During the 19th century changes in the minimum legal age of marriage and the age of puberty began to take place in Europe and North America. At the same time the prevalence of arranged marriages declined.
Marriage Illegal at Puberty
Between the middle of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th century the age of puberty in both men and women decreased by three or four years in Western countries. The ages of puberty in women dropped from about 16 to about 12, and in men dropped from about 17 to about 14. Although no one is sure why it happened, the decrease is well documented by hundreds of studies over a couple centuries.
During the same time period countries increased the minimum legal ages of marriages by about six years. By the middle of the twentieth century the most common minimum legal ages for marriage were 18 for women and 21 for men. This difference in age for women and men, like that of earlier laws, showed an awareness that women matured earlier than men. However, in the 1960s in nearly every state the ages were changed to eighteen for both men and women.
Figure 1 shows visually how these factors changed singleness. For thousands of years people were able to marry when they reached puberty. Now it is illegal for them to marry until several years later. This is forced singleness, a new kind of singleness. By law everyone is required to live at least five or six years as a single. This “forced” singleness is difficult for individuals who would like to marry.
Figure 1. Major changes in average age of puberty and minimum legal age for marriage for women during the last 3000 years. The ages for men would be about two years later (except in the case of marriage since the 1960s).
Marriage Arranged by the Couple During the same time period, the last couple of centuries, parental arranged marriages also declined. At first the young couples began making their own arrangements and then getting the blessing of their parents. However, today many couples do not even consult their parents and marry even if their parents disapprove.
Before the 19th century people could “blame” their parents if their spouses were not to their liking (if married) or if they were still single (if unmarried) because their parents had not found them a spouse. Of course, as God did for thousands of years, he still calls some individuals to lives of singleness, and others make that choice on their own. However, if other people today are single beyond the minimum legal age of marriage, they do not have their parents to hold responsible for their spouse or for their singleness.
Most individuals in the 21st century still find a spouse among people they know well or at least have met personally at some time. However, an increasing number are using the help of matchmakers online to recommend possible spouses. Just as Abraham asked his trusted servant to recommend a spouse for Isaac, today more and more people who have not found a suitable spouse among their acquaintances ask on-line dating services to recommend possible spouses. If one recommendation is not satisfactory, the person asks the service for another.
In the 19th and much of the 20th centuries once people married they could never become single again. Although they had no spouse, they were classified as divorced or widowed. However as divorcees rapidly increased and widows or widowers were looking for spouses, such people began to be classified as singles. With this change in terminology, “singles” (any currently unmarried person) are a rapidly increasing segment of Western society. In fact, in 2007 in England and Wales for the first time there were more single adults than there were married adults. Although this is not yet the case in the USA, the trends show that it will soon be. An interesting note is that the US Census Bureau now seldom uses the term “single.” It classifies people as married and unmarried. Then it divides the unmarried ones into three categories: never married, divorced, and widowed.
Mostly Married Missionaries Since the beginning of the 19th century, when Protestant William Carey became the “father of modern missions,” the majority of long-term missionaries have been married. Leadership among these Protestant missionaries was primarily married men, most of whom took their wives and children with them as they took the Good News about Jesus Christ first along the coasts of the continents and then inland to places that had little access to the outside world.
Today only about a quarter of these Protestant evangelical missionaries are single, and the majority of these single missionaries are women. Some of these single women have been passed over for positions of leadership because agencies did not approve of women in leadership over men. However, some of them still have emerged as leaders in service and have been so outstanding that books and movies have featured their lives.
During the last two centuries singleness has changed as Western culture forced everyone to go through several years of singleness after puberty. In addition, the choice of marriage partner is no longer the responsibility of parents but of the young adults themselves, so they remain unmarried until they find a spouse. This is not a call to return to arranged marriages of teenagers as was common until two centuries ago. It would be nice if that were possible, but few children reared in Western culture today are ready to play adult roles at the age of puberty. They have not been prepared for adult roles in life, are required to attend school, and are forbidden to work. They are often not responsible, and virtually no one expects them to act responsibly.
Single people have always been vital to the missionary enterprise. If there had been no single missionaries, Christianity would be much less a world-wide religion than it is today. Imagine the world without the apostle Paul, without any Roman Catholic priests or nuns in other cultures, and without a quarter of the missionary force today.
If you would like to know more about the changes in Western culture during the last couple of centuries please read Appendix A: “The New Singleness,” Appendix B: “Is Singleness OK?” Appendix C: Single Again, and Appendix D: “Arranged Marriage” at the end of this book. For further information about the forced singleness of adolescence, please see Understanding Adolescence at http://www.missionarycare.com/ebook.htm#adolescence.
Love The conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 21:15-17 goes something like this:
Jesus: “Peter, do you love me?”
Peter: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus: “Peter, do you love me?”
Peter: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus: “Peter, do you love me?”
Peter: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
What is going on in this conversation? It seems like Jesus and Peter are repeating the same thing over and over without really communicating. This is not the case.
Lost in Translation Who would know more about things getting lost in translation than missionaries serving in places other than their passport culture? Such missionaries are keenly aware of trying to explain the concepts of Christianity in cultures which may not even have the concept, much less have words for the concept.
The problem in understanding what is taking place between Jesus and Peter is that English has only one word for love. Jesus and Peter in this case begin the conversation using different words for love, and only on the third time do they use the same word.
In English we may say “I love hamburgers,” “I love you,” and “I love God.” We use the same word for quite different kinds of love. Other cultures often have a richer vocabulary when it comes to love. To understand the different aspects of love for single and married people we need to at least realize that there are different kinds of love.
Three Dimensions of Love
In the 1980s Psychologist Robert Sternberg used factor analysis, a complicated statistical procedure, to study different kinds of love. After analyzing many different ways that love was used in sentences, he concluded that there were primarily three different dimensions of love. He called them decision/commitment, intimacy, and passion.
The Greek language in which John records the conversation between Peter has a variety of words for different kinds of love. That is what Peter and Jesus were disagreeing over. The three Greek words describing what Sternberg “discovered” a few years ago are agape, phileo, and eros. Peter and John were using agape and phileo 2000 years ago talking about different dimensions of love.
Agape (Decision/Commitment) In John 21:15 the first time Jesus asked, “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus used the Greek word “agape.” Considering scripture passages that use agape is the best way to learn what agape love is.
God loves (agape). John 3:16, “God so loved the world…”
Jesus loves (agape). John 15:9, “As the father has loved (agape) me, so have I loved (agape) you.”
God commands us to love (agape). John 13:34, “As I have loved (agape) you, so you must love (agape) one another.”
Sinners can love (agape). Luke 6:32, “Even sinners love (agape) those who love (agape) them.”
Evil people love (agape). John 3:9, “Men loved (agape) darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
Demas loved (agape). 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas, because he loved (agape) this world has deserted me.”
Agape love is best defined in the “love” chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. “Love (agape) is patient, love (agape) is kind…”
Of course, agape occurs many more times in the New Testament, but these passages illustrate its meaning. Agape love involves making a choice and a making a commitment to that choice. The traditional marriage vows were all about agape love. They include commitment to the other person “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, until death do us part.” There is no mention of only as long as you arouse me sexually or as long as I like you.
Descriptions of agape love include such words as unconditional, thinking, fidelity, caring, decision, faithful, cognitive, and mental. This is the cognitive part of love in which individuals make decisions to commit themselves to another person for life. Single missionaries are encouraged to love people with agape love.