I often tell my people that marriage is war. Not because two spouses are destined for a lifetime of arguing and fighting. Not at all—I tell them this because of something deeper. Marriage is warfare on your “self” because you must prioritize another’s interests rather than yours alone. It’s a battle against your pride, because it’s no longer about “me” but “we.” It’s a fight against selfishness because marriage means involving someone else in the valuable commodities of time, money, and relationships. That’s why I say that marriage is war. It’s a war for the sanctification of your soul—to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23) in the most important relationship in your life.
Since marriage is such spiritual warfare, why do those of us who desire marriage so strongly easily pursue relationships as if it’s not? Why do we enter in and out of dating relationships hoping to finally get it right when we’ve done little to prepare ourselves for the maturity required to thrive relationally? Why do we pretend that preparation isn’t needed? Why do we think we can enter the battlefield without first going through boot camp?
I believe singleness is God’s gift to those who desire marriage. Our single years are a time of spiritual and relational boot camp where we mature into disciples ready to sacrifice for the sake of another. It’s in this season of not being married that we learn to live out intentional biblical truths that will go with us if we are married.
Here are some biblical truths for life to learn now in relational boot camp:
- Marriage is not ultimately about your happiness. Marriage is about the glory of God and displaying a picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. You will be happiest in marriage when God’s purposes for it are known and treasured (see Ephesians 5:23-33).
- Romance will never ultimately satisfy you. Romance is a great gift from God, but it’s not God. Some of us drink from the gift more than we do the Giver. We’ve bought into the lie that says that a spouse will “complete” me; but only Jesus can do that (see John 4:13-14). If Jesus isn’t your sufficiency, then another person will easily fill that void.
- You were designed for multiple relationships—not solely for a spouse. God says we need a lot more than a spouse. He has designed us to be in close relationships with mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters in the faith. The more you commit yourself to a local church, the greater opportunity you’ll have of growing in all these important relationships (see 1 Timothy 5:1-2). I have found that the healthiest married couples I know can draw from multiple relationships in their lives rather than placing an undue burden on one person to be their everything. Singleness is the boot camp where you can learn this.
- You’re not supposed to leave when things get hard. We’re all sinners. That means that in every relationship, each person is going to sin and be sinned against. Translation? Relationships are difficult. But, rather than immediately bolting when things get hard, the Bible commands us to “bear with one another,” “confess to one another,” and “forgive one another” (Colossians 3:13, James 5:16). The quicker we learn this now, the better the prospects are for long marriages later. So, learn how to have awkward, difficult conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ who have wronged you and whom you have wronged.
- Generally, you will attract what you are becoming. Do you want to marry someone who loves Jesus? Then, grow deeper in your love for Jesus. Do you want to marry a prayer warrior? Then, be a prayer warrior? Do you want to have a spouse who personifies purity and modesty? Then, make pure and modest choices in your own life. In this season of spiritual and relational boot camp, be growing into the kind of person you would like to one day marry.
Now, go do hard things today for the sake of tackling hard things tomorrow.
Chris James serves as Boston Collegiate Coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England where he serves as Pastor of Mill City Church & Christian Student Fellowship, a multi-site ministry reaching students at UMASS Lowell. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi (BA) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv).