In an era when many people are delaying marriage until they are well into their 30s—and filling up their single years with casual sex and temporary relationships—some Christian writers are urging young Christians to consider earlier marriage. The idea is that if they view marriage as an immediate goal, they will have less trouble staying chaste until they exchange their vows. Lee Wilson, for example, contests the traditional Christian view that singleness can be a "gift" from God, as Paul maintained in his first letter to the Corinthians. The problem with this view is that by focusing on marriage as a means of avoiding sexual sin, Wilson and others fail to offer a view of marriage that flows out of the reality of who God is..

Wilson argues that rather than focusing on Paul's praise of the single life (1 Cor. 7:7-8), we ought to take more heed of his warning in the same letter that "it is better to marry than burn" (1 Cor. 7:9). To prove his point, Wilson cites the decline in virgin-to-virgin marriage in this era of delayed matrimony and argues that God made us with libidos, meant for use. That means that most of us should put our libidos to the use that God approves via marriage and thus avoid the sexual temptations of the single life.

This might all sound fine and biblical, but why does Wilson encourage people to think of marrying younger only because it's so hard to be celibate? He does acknowledge that marriage also fulfills our "God-given need for intimacy, expression and vulnerability," but if this is the case, why does he imply that the biggest problem with delayed marriage is the sexual sin it may encourage?

Wilson almost seems to be saying that marriage was created solely for the purpose of giving people a "legitimate" outlet for sex—that sex is what matters most to us, and marriage is God's way of keeping us animals under control. Wilson's reasoning implies that if marriage is mainly about sex, those who remain unmarried are either cheating the system or living unfulfilled lives.

Put that way, this is a fairly troubling idea, but consider it for a moment. If it were true that God created marriage to create a "legitimate" outlet for sex, what would the purpose of such a safeguard be — to keep folks from giving too much to each other, or from trying to take too much?

Let's be honest with ourselves: few of us who are not already married are concerned about finding a spouse whom we can serve the best in bed. How ludicrous! We want (if we're like most folks, motivated primarily by self-interest) to find "sexually compatible" spouses or lovers— in other words, people whose ways of getting their needs met are most suited to our ways of getting our needs met.

The Bible, however, sets a different standard for how we ought to relate to others. "Regard one another as more important than himself," Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians. And no, there is no "pass" on this standard for married people with respect to their spouses. Indeed, Paul says husbands ought to love their wives "as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph. 5:25). Interesting metaphor, this—marriage should be like the cross and like God's redemption of mankind.

Why not? As one of my pastors once pointed out, the Bible begins and ends with a marriage (Adam's, in the book of Genesis, and the marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation). It's no coincidence that Jesus' first miracle was to make wine at a wedding. Marriage and weddings hold a special place in God's heart, this suggests that marital sex is not an end in itself, but points to something beyond itself — to a wholly self-giving love between husband and wife as they become "one flesh."

Such a love mirrors God's wholly self-giving love, what the Trinity shared even before the creation, and what will be restored to all people in full with Jesus' return — utter, complete self-donation, the opposite of the selfish posture that led to Adam's fall.

This is why I struggle with the approach to sex and marriage that Wilson and others have taken. While I commend Wilson's emphasis on the importance of marriage and premarital chastity, he seems to have bought into the secular culture's view that sexual fulfillment is crucial to human happiness and that getting married so as to enjoy sex should be one of life's goals.

Trying to find a marriage partner has been my own greatest struggle. I'm not a single woman on the cusp of my thirties because I put career first or dumped early boyfriends in order to experience more of life and men; I've panted for marriage since childhood. And perhaps, because of that idolatry, it's been withheld all this time.

When I still thought sex was at the center of life — the apex of human experience — the call to follow God as an unmarried woman seemed pretty grim. Although Jesus said that he came into this world that we might "have life to the full," I feared that singleness for me meant a lifelong curse of unfulfillment. Only as I have come to see that my real purpose in life is not marriage or career but the seeking of God's kingdom have I discovered how to have life to the full as Jesus intended, regardless of whether I ever wed.

Finding that fullness of life may take place through the community I build with both the easy- and the hard-to-love people the church always tends to bring our way—and it may also take place through the community of my own marriage and family if that is what God wishes for me. Either way, I know that the means of my sanctification and the specific forms of obedience to God's will that I will be called upon to exercise are largely in the hands of God.

Whatever state of life God wills for me, I know that it will mean daily taking up my cross in self-sacrifice, giving up control, and remembering that we who follow Christ are no longer our own. "You have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:20). Whether we are married or single, young or old, we are created to be image-bearers, and our lives ought to—and can—show the overflowing love of God.
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