Church: Don’t set up your “singles”

Here’s the problem with teh interwebz. For every great article/blog post/comment you read, there are a million not-great ones that you have to sift through to get there.

Sometimes you don’t even have to go looking for them. More often than not it appears in your Facebook feed. That’s what happened a few days ago. This article was shared by a fb friend, as despite knowing their good intentions in sharing it, this article is so wrong it’s not even funny.

Before I tell you why, let me be up front and say as soon as I saw the title of this article (Church: set up your singles) I knew I was going to hate it for 2 reasons – 1) a ‘single’ is an individually wrapped piece of cheese. I am a person. The whole Christian world should STOP. CALLING. ME. A. SINGLE. 2) The article wasn’t called “Church: encourage all people to follow Jesus, regardless of their marital status”.

There’s too many things wrong with the theology of this article to possibly mention all of them, but let me tell the 3 most discouraging and dangerous errors.

1. Is singleness good?

A friend asked me recently, “If God said it is not good for man to be alone, but all he does is good, is my singleness actually good?” Sometimes the best answer to difficult questions is to just say, “I don’t know but he is good,” and so I did.

If someone asks you if their singleness is good the correct answer is yes! I know this because God has told us it is good.

1 Corinthians 7:7 says

I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

The 2 gifts Paul is talking about are marriage and singleness. (see the comments on this post for more detail on the Greek of this verse). Singleness is a gift. The Greek word used is charisma (literally ‘grace gift’) and is the same word used in chapter 12 about spiritual gifts. Singleness is a good gift from a good God. Of course, sometimes it feels like the kind of gift you get and give a fake smile in response, while inwardly thinking ‘what do I want this for? Can I exchange it for what she has, please?”

That’s exactly the reason I need to be reminded it’s good. When I’m finding it hard, and sad, and bitter I need my Christian family to remind me that God is good and he wants good things for me, and that even when I hate it, yes, my singleness is good.

(For those who are single, this what I want you to know about your gift.)

2. Is marriage a glimpse of the eternal marriage?

Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by helping them get married.

Yes, it is. But in the same way singleness is itself a glimpse into eternity.

Andrew Cameron says it best

Jesus’ new teaching arises from the new future. It turns out that human marriages are not reinstated in the new future, because they point to the ultimate ‘marriage’ – a final union between Christ and his people (Eph 5:29-32; Rev 19:6-8; 21:2, 9-11; cf 22:17). But we need a little more theological detective work to determine how chaste singleness points to the new future.

In the new future, John looks and sees ‘a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the lamb’ (Rev 7:9). The significance of normal social identity markers (nation, tribe, people and language) has melted away. The markers remain visible – but people now gather on a new basis other than ties of culture genes or kinship. These structure social life now, but not then. As theologian Oliver O’Donovan puts it ‘Humanity in the presence of God will know a community in which the fidelity of love which marriage makes possibly will be extended beyond the limits of marriage.’

Single people offer a glimpse of this kind of society. They’re harbingers of an aspect of heavenly community, because they’re not constrained by family boundaries of genetics and kinship. They know how care and intimacy can go beyond family boundaries. They nudge members of families out of the introverted obsession with family life that becomes its dark side. They remind families that God calls everyone into the ‘great multitude’, and they call couples and families to attend to the wider community, and t0 point to heaven. (Joined-up Life, 234-235)

If I was to rewrite this sentence in the article it would say ‘Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by sharing your life with them. Likewise, you too can taste a glimpse of eternal community by sharing in their life.’

3. What’s missing from a single person’s life?

It is not good for a man to be alone and he who finds a wife finds goodness, but it takes the beauty of a family to see the goodness far below the surface and in the crevices of these clay jars. Church, be that family, be the mothers and father, the sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honorable in marriage, and then, please, help them get there.

It is true, it’s not good for anyone to be alone but as Christians we must recognise that our loneliness is only fully met in Jesus. Earthly marriage is but a shadow of this, and it’s a shadow that, no matter how good, will never completely satisfy our need. Jesus is the one who does that. The answer to the lonely single person is not simple ‘get married’ (though of course they may) but to enjoy Jesus and his people.

This paragraph should say “It is not good for anyone to be lonely. Church, to those who are lonely, be their family. Be their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honourable in following Jesus and run the race beside them.”

(Here’s more stuff I’ve written about singleness)

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Really, it’s okay to be single

It’s also ok to read articles on singleness and disagree with them. Which happens often.

But this week I’ve read 2 excellent articles on singleness.

Sex and the Single Woman. I love everything about this article. This is particularly helpful

There are pieces of my testimony that I hate; that I might wish to rewrite. But even in my failure, God has written my life with his divine grace. Perhaps this struggle more than any other has made me more like Christ by forcing me to bank on his resume instead of my own.

Today, in order to worship God, my body needs to be hungry. Today, he is giving me the blessed pain of hunger, because it’s the only way I’m going to make it home. He has promised to do whatever it takes to get me home to him.

If you are ashamed, if you have failed, rest your heart in the fact that the gospel was made for just such a time. We don’t have a great high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. Praise God that we have Jesus, who has walked in singleness; he was tempted in every way, yet he never succumbed. So draw near to im in repentance and faith, and receive mercy and find grace to help in your time of trouble.

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Really, It’s Okay To Be Single. Usually I wouldn’t read, let alone recommend, an article on singleness written by a married man. But this one is too good not to read. He ends by saying this

And so on the occasion of my 10 year wedding anniversary, I’d like to say this: it’s okay to not be married, really. God is not mad at you because you are single, and you have my permission to scoff at anyone who says otherwise, that marriage is God’s universal will for all people. There are plenty of passages in Scripture that talk about singleness and celibacy with deep honor and respect.

Moreover, marriage is good, even great, but it’s not perfect. There are things that you can do as a single person that I cannot. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians, as a married person with kids, my attention and energy is inherently divided among many concerns, but yours need not be. You can live fully for the Kingdom in a way that I simply cannot. Not to mention that you can also stay up late, making a ruckus while drinking beer with your friends, while I tiptoe around my house like a ninja and struggle to stay awake past 9 pm.

But on a more sober note, I know that you worry about being alone. But frankly, so do I, because marriage will not bulletproof your life from pain or loneliness or tragedy. People can be married and still feel desperately alone, or misunderstood, or even hated/hateful, all at the same time. Marriage can be like living with your best friend, but at times, it also can be like living with your worst enemy. In fact, fear, loss, and mourning take on terrifying new dimensions when you are married, because you will be faced with the prospect of losing part of yourself.

No, the antidote to loneliness is not found in marriage, at least not by itself. It is found in our relationship to a God who is always with us, the true Lover of our soul. If is found in friends and family. And it is found in the family of faith, the eternal community of the church.

So tomorrow I’m going to have a wonderful ten year anniversary with my wife, but that doesn’t mean you have to as well. Because REALLY…it’s okay to be single.

Both great articles, worth reading no matter what your marital status.

Traditional Sexuality, Radical Community

From the Gospel Coalition 

I looked nervously across the table, fidgeting with my coffee cup. Do you realize what you’re asking of me? he questioned. We’d been meeting for more than an hour, talking about his struggle with same-sex attraction and his decision about whether to enter into a more intentional relationship with his boyfriend. He’d been part of our church and community group for a couple of years, always intelligent and effervescent, exhibiting many marks of a mature Christian. Yet my friend’s dark internal struggle had finally reached its culmination, and here we were together in a coffee shop, grappling with the reality of his decision.

Do you realize what you’re asking of me? I did. I was asking him not to act on his same-sex desires, to commit to a celibate lifestyle, and to turn away from an important romantic relationship. Yet as I reflect on that discussion, I now realize I didn’t fully understand what I was asking of him. I was asking him to do something our church community wasn’t prepared to support. I was asking him to make some astonishing and countercultural decisions that would put him out of step with those around him. In many ways, I was asking him to live as a misfit in a community that couldn’t yet provide the social support to make such a decision tenable, much less desirable. No wonder he walked away.

Several years have passed since that conversation, but it’s convinced me of the vital relationship between sexuality and ecclesiology. There are many churches like ours that believe there are two possible paths for followers of Jesus to live obedient sexual lives: heterosexual marriage and sexual abstinence. But among churches that are committed to a biblical sexual ethic, there are few, I’m afraid, that make living out that ethic possible for the average person dealing with same-sex attraction.

I’m now convinced any church that holds a traditional view of sexuality must also foster a radical practice of Christian community in which living out a biblical sexual ethic becomes possible and even attractive.

This is a great article on the need for Christian community to a place where living a godly, counter-cultural life plausible, practical and attractive. While it focuses on Christians who have same-sex attraction, there’s lots in here that is true of all single Christians. Though this is an important distinction to remember

Those of us who are heterosexual must realize, however, that even though God is calling us to the same thing (chastity), our LGBTQ friends will experience this calling differently. When heterosexuals commit to chastity, they do so knowing they may meet someone, get married, and be able to have sex. When those tempted by same-sex attraction commit to chastity, though, they’re doing so knowing that unless God changes their sexual desires, they may never know the intimacy of a sexual relationship.

Of course for those of us who are still single in our mid-thirties, the possibility that we may never marry is very real. And, speaking on behalf of women, we live every day with the unforgettable sadness that every day that passes brings us closer to the possibility of never having kids. It does often feel like I have to bear this burden on my own. But Christian community should provide a better way.

Now picture the other scenario. Bob’s been introduced to Jesus by a community group at the invitation of a colleague. The group shares deeply and vulnerably, confessing sin and praying for one another. As Bob struggles with the prospect of chastity, he looks around the group and sees ways others in the group have embraced hard things because of the gospel. At least two other singles in the group are straight and have also embraced chastity. There’s a married couple who are honest about their struggles and failings but committed to not leaving each other despite the immense pain. Another person wasn’t willing to participate in the fraudulent activities of her company, and lost her job because of it.

In this scenario the demands of Jesus don’t lessen for Bob, but he does look around and see he’s not the only one being asked to lose certain things for the gospel. He sees a mixed community of married and single, same-sex attracted and straight, all bearing their crosses together and helping one another bear those heavy burdens. Our gay friends must see a church community in which all of us—not just those who battle same-sex attraction—are facing the demands of the gospel and the struggle against sin.

This is so important. I’m thankful for my married friends who are honest enough to share their struggles with me. Because it reminds me that the grass on their side of the fence has just as many muddy puddles as the grass I’m standing on. When I see the hardships that come with marriage, I’m much more likely to see the goodness of singleness. This is how I persevere.

But here is the most important challenge for churches.  Honour singleness & demystify marriage.

Another way we can create healthy countercultural plausibility structures is by removing marriage from the idolatrous pedestal on which it’s often placed. At times marriage, and the presumed sexual joy therein, is cast as such an objective for Christians that it starts sounding like the supreme goal, surpassing Jesus himself. Talk about “family values” cements this idea, suggesting God’s basic desire for human flourishing is for you to be married and start a family and, if you’re not experiencing that, then hurry up and try.

But the great chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, isn’t describing love between husbands and wives or parents and kids but love between Christians in a church community. The Bible sees the church, not the nuclear family, as the primary level of relationships in our new kingdom life.

Further, we must return the New Testament’s high honoring of the single life. Whenever we treat singleness as a “second tier” calling or minor league to marriage we’re communicating to our single brothers and sisters that they’re experiencing less of the full human experience. This is obviously not the case. Jesus was single, and he was the perfect human. Paul advocated for singleness and even dubbed it a “higher calling” than marriage: “He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor. 7:38).

Imagine a community in which many celibate singles, both same-sex attracted and straight, are taking full advantage of their singleness as they live the life of the kingdom together. Imagine a community in which sex and marriage are seen as good gifts but not ultimate gifts—indeed, things a follower of Jesus can live without. In such a community, the possibility of a single life of chastity wouldn’t be the fate worse than death it’s sometimes portrayed to be.

In short, we should not call our single friends to sexual abstinence until we create the social environments (plausibility structures) that make such a life meaningful and viable.

Spot on. Read the whole article here.

How the gospel shapes my life as a single woman

Katie writes …

I don’t know what your circumstance is but I’m almost positive that if you’re single you’ve been on the receiving end of someone who is married taking pity on you in some way (I don’t believe that this is ever intentional). Most people argue that it is the world’s media & culture that has caused us to feel that being single is a type of incompleteness – which is definitely true, but I also think that the church has been involved… controversial I know!

I agree. Read her article here. It’s a good read.

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.

Counting down…

There’s a few things I’m counting down till at the moment.

25 days – till BON JOVI!!! can’t wait! Last time I saw them I was 15. This time it’s a 30th birthday present from my sisters. Me, 2 of my sisters, their husbands, my oldest nephew (he’s 12 – gonna LOVE it!), Jon, Richie, David and my favourite drummer in the world – Tico. There may be some other people there. For the next 25 days I’m dedicating all of my facebook status updates to lyrics from my fav Bon Jovi songs. Here’s some classic Bon Jovi for you to enjoy! (I wouldn’t mind if he sang this at the concert but I’m glad that those pants won’t be making an appearance)

35 days – till I hit 30. I’m counting this down by planning a party and trying hard to NOT freak out about being 30 and single.

1 year (ish) – till I finish college for good. Much excitement. Very much looking forward to 4th year. And even more looking forward to what comes after that. Of course I wish I knew what that was ;-)

These are exciting things to be counting down till. Knowing that they are coming affects things I do now – I’m getting ready and preparing for exciting days.

I was reminded last night of something much bigger and more exciting that I should be counting down till.

This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels …  (2 Thessalonians 1:7)

It will be exciting but there is a harsh truth that comes with it

… taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction, away from the Lord’s presence and from his glorious strength, in that day when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be admired by those who have believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10)

We don’t know when the day we are counting down to will happen. But we know it will. So I pray that while we wait we will be getting ready for it and counting down by telling as many people as we can.

Want to know how to be on the good side? Find out here.