Holiness, not marriage

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I just pulled an old bible off my bookshelf and came across a post-it note I’d stuck in the back with this sentence on it

the goal is holiness not marriage

Honestly, I can’t remember when I wrote it. I assume it’s something I heard someone else say and wanted to remember. I have no idea who said it. 

I like it. Not because I’m against marriage (I’m not!) but because as Christians we should all be for holiness. Even, or perhaps especially, as a Christian it’s easy to feel like the goal of life is to be married, to buy into the idea that I’ll somehow be more complete if I get married. It’s also easy for other to perpetuate that belief (though probably unintentionally). But marriage is not the goal. Holiness is. 

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all do, for it written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’. 1 Peter 1:15-16

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Grow Up and Get Married

An excellent post from the Village Church on what’s wrong with preachers telling ‘singles’ to grow up and get married.

But singleness is not synonymous with immaturity, and singleness is not inherently problematic. While many singles are immature, the correlation is not direct. Many married men and women are just as immature. By and large I agree with the pastors attempting to engage the culture of “extended adolescence.” I simply disagree with their choice of language. “Grow up and get married” is too simplistic and dangerous.

First off, it sounds too easy. Anyone who wants to be married can simply do so at will?

Isn’t a spouse a gift from the Lord?

Isn’t God sovereign in the distribution of His gifts?

As a 32-year-old single male shepherding in the midst of a large church filled with singles, I know firsthand the sting of such half-truths. Some people are single because they are lazy, fearful, lustful or proud. But some singles are simply single because God, in His infinite wisdom, sovereignty and grace has not granted them a spouse. Singleness is not a curse. If singleness were the universal consequence for our sins, marriage rates would plummet to zero. Marriage is a gift, and all of God’s gifts are graciously undeserved. There are many married men and women mired in sin, and there are many singles pursuing deep holiness.

There is no direct correlation between sin and singleness.

Read the whole post here.

Making Singleness Better

Yesterday one of our lectures at College directed us to this article from The Briefing.

The author, Tim Adeney, is thinking about singleness and the church, focusing on 1 Corinthians 7. In his introduction he notes that the response of many married people to single Christian – “Singleness is better, so get on with your life and deal with it”* – is inadequate because

it locates struggles with singleness solely with the single person, not within the entire Christian community; its consideration of the depth and causes of those struggles is cursory; and it does not reflect adequately on either 1 Corinthians 7 or the wider biblical witness.

I think his observation that this struggle is within the Christian community is a helpful one. For the single person there is an element of personal struggle but there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed, which is a lack of biblical understanding of singleness in the Christian community. This lack of understand manifests in a failure to adequately love the single people within the community.

Adeney recognises the eschatological reality that singleness reflects and then adds

However, we must not run ahead and get ourselves tangled in an over-realized eschatological stupor. While Jesus has indeed ushered in a new world order, he has not yet ushered in a new creation. We live in a new age and an old creation, and this old creation was made for marriage (cf. Gen 2:18-25). If our destiny is singleness, our created design is marriage. This does not detract from the status of being single; rather, it is a comment on its experience. In this creation, the ordinary pattern for humanity is marriage and family life, and while there is no suggestion in the Old Testament that being single is a sin, neither is there any suggestion that you would choose it. Perhaps we could go so far as to say that, from the point of view of our creaturely design, singleness isn’t better, and so we should expect any long-term singleness to be accompanied by grief and temptation to a greater or lesser extent.

Our created design was for marriage and the mandate to the first married couple was to fill the earth, but something substantial has changed since then. Jesus has come, and ascended and we await his return. A return that brings judgment upon those who do not follow him. We are living in the last days – surely this is the present crisis (vs 26), this is why the time is short (vs 29). Surely then the mandate changes from filling the earth to converting it (Matt 28:19ff).

Throughout the chapter, he provides us with a worked example of how to think eschatologically. “[T]he appointed time has grown very short” (v. 29), and all of us are called to live in light of that reality. Even married people must live as though they are not. How this eschatological reality affects decisions about singleness or marriage depends on what else needs to be considered along with the return of Christ. That is, Paul holds up a number of realities like lenses, and looks through them. In particular, he holds up the shortness of time and places it next to an appraisal of the practical realities of marriage as opposed to singleness. Thus he notes that marriage is complicated, involving “worldly troubles” (v. 28), whereas singleness leaves one “free from anxieties” (v. 32). He concludes that the opportunity to be single-mindedly devoted to “the things of the Lord” (v. 32) renders singleness a better option. But it is only better when certain realities or ‘lenses’ (i.e. the shortness of time and the practicalities of marriage) are considered; as he looks through both lenses together, his overall recommendation changes, which is why the person who is already married should stay married and the person who yearns for love should get married.

The problem with this is that the person who ‘yearns for love’ cannot simple decide to get married. Because, as you may have noticed, a marriage requires 2 people. So here we have (I suspect) the biggest group of single people in our churches – those who do yearn for love, but there’s nothing they can do about it. So how do we love them well? The section of his article titled The Church and Singles is, I think, very helpful (ignoring the fact that he constantly refers to single people as ‘singles’ which I hate).

THE CHURCH AND SINGLES

1. THE HABITS OF FAMILIES

The purpose of family is not only to be a blessing to its members, but also to be a blessing beyond itself. One of the major ways a family can bless beyond itself is by treating those who are outside as though they were inside. This, more likely than not, will require initiative (i.e. it won’t happen accidentally), and that initiative needs to come from the families, not the singles. Families in our culture generally don’t feel strong, but socially we are in a position where we can invite others. Our invitations need to be extensive and habitual. For example,

  • We could invite people into our homes—not just occasionally, but regularly. I’m sure there are many who would love to share a weekly meal with a family.
  • We could invite others to come on holidays with us.
  • Perhaps we could consider whether we could have others live with us. If we can’t do that where we live now, perhaps we could consider moving somewhere else where we could.

In addition, couples need to give each other space to build quality relationships with single people. At this point, it is worth taking a small detour to talk about how to relate to single people of the opposite gender. Paul counsels Timothy to treat “younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim 5:2). Most Christian men have a predisposition to read just half this verse—that is, as either “treat younger women as sisters” or “treat younger women in all purity”. Men who do the former imagine that the distinctions of gender are no longer significant, and so relate to women as though they aren’t married, or as though the women are actually their biological sisters. Men who do the latter (which is more common in Christian culture) imagine that they can completely ignore women in the name of purity.

But both are wrong. Paul deftly avoids allowing me to deceive myself into thinking that there is no difference between my sisters in Christ and my biological sisters. But at the same time, he tells me where to get my cue for how to relate to my sisters in Christ. So I would not, in the ordinary course of events, hang out with my sisters in Christ without either my wife or their husbands, even though I would happily do this with my biological sisters. But I will offer lifts, I will have conversations, I will exchange the (occasional) email or text, I will give the (also occasional) hug, I won’t leave the house immediately if I come home and find that my wife has ducked out to the shops while a female friend minds my children, and if I could fix cars, I’d happily go over to a single friend’s place to spend an hour or two having a go. I think I can do these things without running the risk of unfaithfulness and creating a ‘hint’ of sexual immorality (Eph 5:3 NIV).

There’s 2 things I want to say from this. First: To my married friends – it is easier than you think to be a ‘blessing beyond [your]self’. Your house doesn’t need to be tidy, your cooking doesn’t need to restaurant quality, and your kids don’t need to be perfectly behaved. Being surrounded by the chaos of family life is something I love.

The second thing is that even though it sounds quite ridiculous that men would ignore women in the name of purity, it’s something I’ve been on the receiving end of. The comment from a married man that ‘I don’t know how to relate to single women’ was one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard. So I hope that men would make every effort to treat women as sisters and in all purity.

Adeney ends his article with a good aim for all our churches.

The Christian community needs to be one where the separate callings of marriage and singleness are both welcomed and honoured. Paul had a positive view of singleness, yet he also had harsh words for those who would “forbid marriage” (1 Tim 4:3). While we haven’t ‘forbidden’ singleness, Christians have allowed a culture to grow where it is ‘forbidding’. My hope is that, as a community, we can change to better look after those who are struggling with unwelcome circumstances, and that, once more, we will welcome the possibility of voluntary singleness for the sake of “the things of the Lord” as indeed “better” (1 Cor 7:32, 38).

If you are someone who struggles with singleness you can read more from me on the subject here including some links to helpful books and sermons.

I’d love to hear your thought on Adeney’s article too.

*No-one has ever said anything this harsh to me, but I get the point he is trying to make

On being childless

At the moment I’m quite enjoying being single. That’s not to say I find it easy but I really do like the freedom it gives to do pretty much whatever I want whenever I want. I like that I can drop everything and go if I need to. I like making decisions on the spot without the ‘let me just talk to *insert spouse’s name here*’ thing. It gets lonely at times and there are disadvantages (see last night’s rant) but on the whole being single does have perks.

For me right now the hardest thing is not the fact that I don’t have a husband but the fact that I don’t have children. I know that being married doesn’t necessarily mean I’d have children but there’d certainly be a much higher chance!

My nephew asked me a few days ago if an aunty is a kind of parent. I love that I’m close to my nephews. I love that I have a role in teaching them, disciplining them and teaching them about Jesus. I love conversations with my nephew about how God makes paper or how God is much more powerful even than Optimus Prime (amazing huh ;-) ).

I also love being involved in the lives of other kids and families. Unfortunately as a single person that’s not something you get the chance to do very often. At least I don’t. But when I do it’s really nice to know that even though you don’t have your own family you can still be a part of someone else’s.

How can I long to be married without obsessing about it?

From Ask Pastor John on desiringgod.org

How can I long to be married without obsessing about it?

I suppose the dynamics of that question and its answer relate not just to marriage, but to almost any strong desire that you have, especially a desire relating to people.

So my mind broadens out from the marriage issue to ask, “Why do we obsess about anything? Why do we have overweening preoccupations with anything?”

The reason is because God and his Son don’t have the place in our hearts that they should have. The human heart is a God-shaped vacuum—Pascal said that—and it’s designed for God to fill. And if we have small views of God, and inadequate perceptions of his greatness and his glory and his love for us and his sufficiency for us, then there will be big cavernous places in our souls. And they will be churning out these desires that are just huge and controlling, whether it’s a spouse or sexual things or money or praise of man or revenge.

A lot of people are just consumed. They can’t seem to shake it. And I think the answer there is not so much, “Fight, fight, fight! Stop doing that! Stop doing that!” but rather, “Devote yourself to knowing and loving God. Immerse yourself in the Word.”

So when it comes to desiring a spouse you admit, “Of course, I’d like to be married. And Lord, would you work that? Would you do that?” And then you rest in him. Delight yourself in the Lord. Get all of your desires focused on him, and then those desires will be managed in such a way that in due season God will satisfy them. That’s what we’re doing for our Fighter Verse this week. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

We were talking about that verse at our staff meeting the other day, in relation to marriage. And I forget who said it, but someone said that the problem is that we treat “Delight yourself in the Lord” like a tool. Like, “OK, I’ve done that. Why am I not married yet?” As though “Delight yourself in the Lord” is a quick little turn of the key, and you get what you want.

It isn’t like that. Delighting yourself in the Lord is an all-consuming, day-by-day quest to bring all of our desires into that one great desire, so that he does satisfy.

So you walk into a group of people, and your mindset should be, “Lord, I’m just going to be there for others, like you’ve been there for me. I’m not going to look at every person as a candidate for doing for me what my cavernous needs require right now. You’ve met those needs. I’m going to be there for others. And you do what you want. I’ll trust you.”

So the answer is to get our orientation off of our needs and onto the needs of others, and that’s only possible if God fills up that vacuum. Which means we should really devote ourselves to knowing him and being content in him.

Audio & video here.

A secular marriage??

I was having a conversation last night about marriage in which I made the claim that there is no such thing as a secular marriage.  Here’s my explanation –

The marriage relationship is the shadow of the ultimate marriage of Christ and his bride, the church. At its very essence marriage is about God and it brings into being a relationship which is a reflection of his love for his bride.

Even a marriage (including civil unions) between people who deny God take this relationship and mimic it (albeit with distortions). They may deny that marriage as an institution is rooted in who God is, but their denial doesn’t make it any less factual.

There is no marriage that is nothing to do with God, because without God, marriage does not exist.

Am I wrong??

The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage

I spent most of my afternoon reading The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage: 6 Things You Need to Know About What’s Really at Stake by Erwin W. Lutzer.

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I think this is an excellent book that encourages all Christians to think biblically about a delicate issue. But it doesn’t just encourage thought – it encourages action.

The thing that I like most about this book is that, in his intro, Lutzer first grounds us in the truths that are so often forgotten by Christians as we discuss these issues

We must lower our voices in this debate, speaking with respect and dignity. No matter how strongly we oppose the homosexual agenda, we are first of all called to be Christians who have the privilege of representing Christ to all the communities of the world, regardless of class, colour, nationality or “gender orientation”. […] We must never speak of homosexuality as if it is the one sin worthy of the eternal flames. Yes, the Bible does condemn homosexuality, but it also condemns a host of other sins that are rampant in the best of our churches. If all we do is shout at homosexuals across a chasm, be assured we will hear only the echo of our own voices ringing in the air.

Those sins are not only rampant in our churches, but in our lives as well. A point which Lutzer takes up in chapter 1.

We must repent of the double standard that sees the sin of the homosexual behaviour in a different category than adultery, premarital sex and pornography. We must plead guilty to the charge of bigotry, for we have acted as if our sins are minor in comparison to those of the homosexual  community, whose sin we think are of a different nature and category. This attitude of condemnation has caused us to lose our voice in the wider culture.

In my opinion this is our biggest problem. Why does the gay community think we are judgmental? Because often times we are!

This book is easy to read and quite short and yet covers a great deal. Lutzer discusses the effects of same-sex marriage on the tradition marriage (grounded of course in the Bible’s covenant based marriage), as well as its effect on children, the issue of adoption, the common arguments in affirming same-sex marriage, how and why the church should act and our continuous need for repentance, humility and hearts that seek God always.

At the beginning of the book Lutzer shares his motivation and thought process behind writing the book. He ends with this interesting paragraph.

Let no one say that we have to choose between loving homosexuals and opposing same-sex marriage. Biblically, love is defined not as license to legitimatize sinful behaviour of any kind, but love helps us to see there is a better way. Obviously, we must be as concerned about our own sins as we are about the sins of the homosexual community. We must be concerned enough to speak out about any action, heterosexual or homosexual, that violates God’s intended plan for marriage and the family.

Food for thought.