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8 Pieces of Advice for Single Christians from Tim Keller

I was surprised yet delighted to see an entire chapter dedicated to Christian singleness in Tim and Kathy Keller’s excellent book on marriage. In a section entitled “Some Practical Counsel for Marriage Seekers,” Keller provides lots of helpful tidbits for singles. I’ve listed the counsel below along with some of Keller’s secondary points in a sub-bullet format for increased readability. 1

Tim Keller singleness

1. Recognize that there are seasons for not seeking marriage.

-There are many times or “seasons” in which active dating and seeking marriage do not have to occur.

-Anyone who always needs to “have somebody” is probably into marriage idolatry.

-When you are going through a significant transition — starting a new job, starting a new school, dealing with the death of a parent, or some other absorbing time or event — it might not be a good time to begin a relationship.

-During times of healing or regrouping, you probably need deep Christian friendship more than dates and ideas of marriage.

2. Understand the gift of singleness.

-Paul calls singleness a gift (1 Corinthians 7:7).

-In his writings, Paul always uses the word “gift” to mean an ability God gives to build up others.

-Paul is not speaking, then, of some kind of elusive, stress-free state. The “giftedness” of being single for Paul lay in the freedom it gave him to concentrate on ministry in ways that a married man could not.

-He (Paul) not only found an ability to live a life of service to God and others . . . he discovered (and capitalized on) the unique features of single life (such as time flexibility) to minister with great effectiveness.

-The “single calling” Paul speaks of is neither a condition without any struggle nor on the other hand an experience of misery . . . When you have this gift, there may indeed be struggles, but the main thing is that God is helping you to grow spiritually and be fruitful in the lives of others despite them.

3. Get more serious about seeking marriage as you get older.

-As we get older, there is a tendency for most people more and more to think, “if you are going out with me, you are thinking about a serious relationship or marriage.”

-One of the most painful situations you can be in is when one of you thinks the dating is to consider a serious relationship and the other person thinks it is just for social fun and entertainment.

-Act your age . . .If you are single and in your thirties, you should recognize that if you insist on trying to continue the entertainment category of dating with others your age, you will often be playing with people’s emotions.

-The older you are, and the more often you go out, the quicker both people must be to acknowledge that you are seeking marriage.

4. Do not allow yourself deep emotional involvement with a non-believing person.

-The Bible everywhere assumes that Christians will marry Christians.

-God’s concern is not about marrying outside of one’s race but outside of one’s faith.

-If your partner doesn’t understand your Christian faith, then he or she doesn’t truly understand it as you do, from the inside. And if Jesus is central to you, then that means your partner doesn’t truly understand you.

-If you marry someone who doesn’t share your most deeply held and core beliefs, then you will repeatedly make decisions that your partner won’t be able to fathom at all. That part of your life— and it is the most important part — will forever be opaque and mysterious to your spouse.

-You should not deliberately marry someone who does not share your Christian faith.

5. Feel “attraction” in the most comprehensive sense.

-Paul teaches that attraction is an important factor in choosing to be married (1 Cor. 7:9). But let us go a step further … call it “comprehensive attraction.” What is it? Partly it is being attracted to someone’s character or spiritual fruit (Gal. 5:22).

-Marriage partners can say, “I see what you are becoming and what you will be (even though, frankly, you aren’t there yet). The flashes of your future attract me.

-Your marriage partner should be part of what can be called your “mythos.” C.S. Lewis spoke of a “secret thread” that unites every person’s favorite books, music, places, or pastimes. Sometimes you will meet a person who so shares the same mythos thread with you that he or she becomes part of the thread itself. This is the kind of comprehensive attraction you should be looking for in a future partner.

6. Don’t let things get too passionate too quickly.

Modern dating and hook-ups get sexual quickly, and when that happens a romantic obsession can arise immediately. That sort of experience tends to preclude a realistic assessment of who the person really is.

-The kind of love that lasts a lifetime is not only a matter of the emotions. It has to be a commitment strong enough to move us to glad, non-begrudging, sacrificial service of another person even during the inevitable seasons when the emotions are dry or cold. That kind of love grows out of this comprehensive attraction to the person’s character, future, and mission in life.

-One of the ways you can judge whether you have moved past the infatuation stage is to ask a set of questions: Have you been through and solved a few sharp conflicts? Have you been through a cycle of repenting and forgiving? Have you shown the other that you can make changes out of love for one another?

-One crucial way for you to to avoid the blindness and mood swings of becoming too passionate quickly is to refuse to have sex before marriage. The practical fact is that sexual activity triggers deep passions in you for the other person you have gotten a good look at him or her.

-Put friendship development over character development.

7. However, also don’t become a faux spouse for someone who won’t commit to you.

-While some couples may get too serious too quickly, there are other couples in which one member in particular has a deep reluctance to move forward or to commit to marriage.

-If a relationship has dragged on for years with no signs of deepening or progressing toward marriage, it may be that one person has found a level of relationship (short of marriage) in which he or she is receiving all that is wanted and feels no need to go to the final stage of commitment.

8. Get and submit to lots of community input.

-The basic principle is right and important. Marriage should not be a strictly individual, unilateral decision. It is too important, and our personal perspective is too easily skewed.

-The community has many married people in it who have much wisdom for single people to hear. Singles should get community input at every step of the way when seeking marriage.

-In fact, I would suggest something further. Christian marriage should be communal. That is, married Christians should look for ways to share their marriages with the singles and other married couples in their community.

-Think about what an impact that would have! Singles must see how hard and glorious marriage is, not just how satisfying it is. The only way that happens is if married couples share their lives with singles so they can understand what marriage is really like.

[share-quote author=”Tim Keller” via=”DavidQaoud”] “If single Christians don’t develop a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Jesus, then they will put too much pressure on their dream of marriage.”[/share-quote]
Singleness might be a waiting season, but it doesn’t need to be a wasted season. By God’s grace, you should work hard to develop your character and take advantage of this time of flexibility. As Keller says, “If single Christians don’t develop a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Jesus, then they will put too much pressure on their dream of marriage.”

[callout]Key Takeaways: Some seasons are better to be single. Singleness is a gift. As you get older, get more serious about marriage. Do not date/marry a non-Christian. Feel attraction in the right way. Take things slowly, but don’t be one who can’t commit. Get and stay in community.[/callout]

More Resources on Singleness: 

5 Lies Every Single Christian Believes 

9 Diagnostic Questions Every Single Christian Should Ask

11 Things Every Single Christian Should Know

More articles on Tim Keller or Singleness


  1. I got the content of this post from chapter seven (Singleness and Marriage) of Tim and Kathy Keller’s book on marriage. As you can tell, I did not copy every word of the chapter. Instead, I picked several sentences that I thought were most prominent. I also edited some of those sentences for better readability on this blog, but in no way did I change or add to Keller’s thought. See chapter 7 in The Meaning of Marriage for more helpful content on Christian singleness.

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