Written By Adriel Yeo, Singapore
When I was in my teenage years, one of the signs of our coming of age was being able to buy liquor, and drink in bars or pubs. But as time went by and the guys completed their time in National Service and the girls entered their final year of university, drinking lost its novelty.
We had eased into a new phase of growing up and a new sign had emerged as a significant mark of adulthood. I first noticed this change on my Facebook news feed. Yes, I’m talking about Relationship Status.
I recall quite vividly one Valentine’s Day about two years ago, when at least four of my friends got engaged. Within a year, I found myself attending weddings. While I knew that this day was going to come, I just didn’t realize it was going to be this soon.
As I celebrated the matrimony of my friends, however, I realized there was a common thought pattern among many of the Christian youth I spoke to as a youth worker. Many had the perception that it was only through marriage that one could fully experience what Christians call “agape”, or God’s unconditional love. And that if they were somehow unable to find a partner, they would never get to experience this love.
But I disagree.
Let me be clear first: I do believe that Christian marriage ought to have the sacrificial, unconditional love that Christ showed the church (Ephesians 5:25) and for that reason, one can certainly experience and practise the love of Christ within marriage. What I do not believe, however, is that the love of Christ can only be experienced in marriage.
Jesus told His disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). The imperative is straightforward: the Christian community is told to show a love that reflects Christ’s love for his people, the same love that took Him to the cross.
This is both challenging and comforting. It is challenging because it instructs us to show sacrificial, unconditional love to everyone, just as God first extended His love to us even when we didn’t deserve it.
But it is also comforting because it reminds us that the love of Christ can be experienced regardless of whether we are single or married. The instruction was meant not just for spouses, but to one another. In the same vein, 1 John 4:19—“We love because he first loved us”—doesn’t just address married couples, nor does it talk about a love that can be found only in marriage. Rather, it is addressed to anyone who professes belief in God.
This understanding of what love is and where it is found can help us be confident in our identity. Imagine if one can experience unconditional love only as a married person. Wouldn’t that suggest that singles are less important in the sight of God than married individuals? A person could certainly experience God’s love within marriage in the form of the love between husband and wife that ought to reflect Christ’s love for the church. But it is also true that one can experience God’s love as a single, between fellow believers in the church.
While the sad reality is that many of us fail to show this sort of love among friends and fellow believers, the solution isn’t to find it in marriage or to think that it exists only in marriage. Instead, the solution is to go back to the source of love—God Himself. For it is only in God that we see true and perfect love, manifested in the person of Jesus Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us.