Friday, April 10, 2015

Joy in Singleness, part 2: Gifted to live singly for Jesus

Joy in Singleness part 1 
Joy in Singleness, part 3: Famous biblical singles
Joy in Singleness part 4 conclusion: Personal Note and Opinion 

While some singles are waiting impatiently for God to change their circumstance,
other singles are not walking in a fog of depression but joyfully serve from His gift
Singleness in the church today. Singleness in the Body Christ is forming for His glory. Though there is a heavy focus on married couples in preaching, ministering, and fellowship life, there are single people in the church. We know this by the data the Census and the Christian church demographics. Yet as the number of singles in the church increases, churches are increasingly either unable or unwilling to minister effectively to this normal segment of the family of Christ.

Many single people report that they feel left out, overlooked, or worse, are treated as second-class citizens in church life.

This is part two of a three part series on being single in today's Christian church. I'd said yesterday in part one that we can drill down even further into examining what the Bible has to say about being single. In my view, there are two branches of singles. Some people are single because they are going through a life phase in God's timing where marriage hasn't happened for them yet, or they were married and are now widows or widowers, perhaps to marry again. Others are temporarily single as spouses serve in the military, work far away, or are incarcerated. I'm not discussing these singles, these precious folks who know that God will provide a mate for them.


The other type of single today are men and women Jesus calls and ordains as single permanently. It's the divinely ordained singles I'll discuss. These are modern-day 'eunuchs', as Matthew 19:12 illustrates. The Bible directly teaches the gift of singleness, the status whereupon Jesus is forming people for His glory who will never marry, or if they were married, will never marry again. Rarely does preaching, ministry, or church fellowship reflect this biblical reality.


In this part I'll look at what the scriptures have to say generally about singleness. In part 3, the last part, I'll look at specifically named single individuals in the Bible and their work for the glory of Jesus.

In dividing singles into the two branches, the temporarily single as a phase of life and the sovereignly, ordained single as a permanent status, it allows churches to edify each by uniquely focusing on their special gift or need. Teaching about the gift of singleness also honors the Word of God as we preach or teach about this segment of our family demographic from scripture. The Bible specifically addresses the ordained single- but these verses seem to be invisible in today's preaching and as a result, these folks are often invisible also.

But this demographic certainly was not invisible in the Bible! Yet with article titles like these,
--Why So Many Singles?
--Surviving Church as a Single
--Are Singles the Lepers of Today?

Is it any wonder many permanent singles wonder where and how to minister to the Body and honor Jesus in church?

Julia Stager at Randy Alcorn's Eternal Perspective Ministries wrote,
I’ve always felt encouraged by how singleness is addressed from the pulpit. I hear how, being single, I have the opportunity to love and serve God in a way that’s undivided and different from how I can do it when I’m married. But things get a little more challenging in the foyer. It’s there I hear things like, “So, have you started dating anyone?” Or, “Whatever happened with you and that guy?” Or, “You’re so great. I can’t believe you’re not married!” These questions, though well-meaning, can come across as invalidating my singleness or as insinuating that the only goal of singleness is to end it.

John Stott, Wikipedia photo
The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 7 focuses on marriage, singleness, lust, celibacy, and the duties of each person whether married at the time or not. Above all, one should understand that some people today in the body of Christ have been gifted with singleness. God has given a gift to the person and by extension to His Son's Body. Acknowledging this is paramount, an important step in puncturing church conceptions about permanent singles. Not to say some singles are better than anyone else, but simply to say that their lifestyle has been given them by Holy God and that ministering through this gift will bring blessing to His body of believers that seems uncommon today.

The great preacher John Stott was single for 90 years. His period in office was 1945–2010. He was interviewed specifically about singleness, in this article appearing just after his death in 2011.
We must never exalt singleness (as some early church fathers did, notably Tertullian) as if it were a higher and holier vocation than marriage. We must reject the ascetic tradition which disparages sex as legalized lust, and marriage as legalized fornication. No, no. Sex is the good gift of a good Creator, and marriage is his own institution.

If marriage is good, singleness is also good. It's an example of the balance of Scripture that, although Genesis 2:18 indicates that it is good to marry, 1 Corinthians 7:1 (in answer to a question posed by the Corinthians) says that "it is good for a man not to marry." So both the married and the single states are "good"; neither is in itself better or worse than the other.
We know marriage is a gift from God. In 1 Corinthians 7:6-7, Paul specifically addresses singleness as a gift for some.

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

John MacArthur said in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:6-7,
His comments were not meant as a command for every believer to be married. Marriage was instituted by God and is the norm for man-woman relationships, and it is a great blessing to mankind. But it is not required for believers or anyone else. His point was, if you are single, that is good, if you are married or get married, stay married and retain normal marital relations for that is of God. Spirituality is not determined by marital status.
This biblical truth is countered and overshadowed by "Christian" writers who unfortunately have much influence, especially over young women. Mommy bloggers like Glennon Melton who claim to be a 'truth teller and hope spreader' wrote in her oddly titled "Ways to Secure your Happyish Ever After",
"Marriage is still the best chance we have to become evolved, loving people."
Source
Of course it is not true, as we see in the scripture above. Sadly, Melton's insinuation is not uncommon, that if one is not married, one cannot become "evolved" or become loving. Yet it is the Spirit Who grows us (if that is what is meant by 'evolved'). Further, it is the Spirit Who delivers the spiritual fruit of love. (Ephesians 5:9, Galatians 5:22). Marriage is a God-given institution but it is not the marriage itself that grows a Christian into maturity. MacArthur commentary continues,
The attitude among Christians today about singleness, however, is often like that of the Jewish tradition in Paul's day. It is looked upon as a second class condition. "Not so," says the apostle. If singleness is God's gift to a person, it is God's will for that person to accept and exercise the gift. If that person is submissive to God, he can live in singleness all his life in perfect contentment and happiness.
Yet sadly it's often other believers who seem discontent for the content single, a concern that deepens the more the contented single asserts his or her state of unmarried peace. Jesus spoke acceptance of singleness in Matthew 19:12.

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.

Here, Jesus classifies the 3 kinds of single/celibate persons. There is the one who was born with congenital deformities or other diseases which make marital relations impossible and conceiving children nonviable. Others have been made that way by men. In the Bible times, men were purposely castrated if they were destined to work in a harem, for instance, or as a court administrator, as we read in 2 Kings 20:18, Esther 2:3, or Acts 8:27. The Lord's care for those who were born or made eunuchs was stated in Isaiah 56:3b-5, where God welcomes all believers, without distinction of persons, under the new economy of salvation-

Philip & the Ethiopian Eunuch. Source
and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
dry tree—barren (compare Lu 23:31); not admissible into the congregation of Israel (De 23:1–3). Under the Gospel the eunuch and stranger should be released from religious and civil disabilities. (Source: Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Commentary)
How comforting God is when announcing that those who are not by their own choice unmarried, childless, celibate eunuchs will be given a monument and a name. Their marital and family status were a lament to them but they still sought God's glory and chose the things that pleased Him. What comfort and care He gives to the person who is made eunuch through no act of their own. What a Godly example given to show that no matter what the physical state of a person or their marital status, one can and should seek the things that please the LORD.

Singleness is not my identity. I don’t want to be separated from the Body of Christ based on my marital status.” SourceThe New Testament verse in Matthew 19:12, Jesus said there was a third kind of eunuch, "and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it."

What kind of single/celibate person is this? MacArthur explains in his commentary,
Unlike the other two forms, this one is not physical...Jesus is speaking of voluntary celibacy of those to whom the gift has been granted by God (v. 11). In that case, celibacy should be used for the sake of the kingdom of God and be pleasing to Him and used by Him. Paul had the gift of celibacy and strongly exhorted others who had the gift to be content with it and use its obvious advantages for Gods glory. (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

You may have noticed I shifted from discussing divinely given permanent singleness to the topic of celibacy. That is because the two are entwined. One cannot be without the other. If you are single, you are to be celibate. Outside of marriage, celibacy is a mandate from God. We are NOT to be fornicators. (1 Corinthians 6:9, Hebrews 13:4, 1 Corinthians 5:9, 1 Timothy 1:10, 1 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 21:8). Whether young or old, virgin or widowed or divorced, we are to be chaste. (1 Timothy 2:2, 1 Timothy 5:2, 1 Timothy 4:12, Galatians 5:23, 2 Corinthians 6:6

God provides. God sustains. If He gives to some the gift of singleness, would He not also provide the strength to refrain from lust and remain chaste for His name? MacArthur's commentary again,
Although celibacy us good for Christians who are not married, it is a gift from God that is not given to every believer. Just as it is wrong to misuse a gift we have, it is wrong to try to use a gift we do not have. For a person who does not have the gift of celibacy, trying to practice it brings moral and spiritual frustration. But for those who have it as God's gift, singleness, like all His gifts, brings great blessing.
Both Jesus and Paul make it clear that the celibate life is not required by God for all believers and that it can be satisfactorily lived only by those to whom God has given it.
These folks are a great blessing to the church. I don't say that because I am one, lol. I am single, childless and have a job where I have time to focus on kingdom work to a degree other church members may not be able to. This is both my choice and God's ordination. It's a chicken and egg situation. Yet my married brethren are rearing children for His name and leading and teaching us, so their kingdom work is equally valuable as mine or anybody else's! We are a body, each formed uniquely as a snowflake, spiritually given gifts in unique hues to benefit each other and most importantly, Jesus.

God's care for the celibate, permanent single is obvious from scripture. Singles of any kind are not second class citizens, nor are they in a waiting room for marriage (read: maturity and acceptance). Jesus does not look at us that way and nor should the church. Celebrate His diversity in installing people in the Body from all demographics to labor for His good and glory.

Final part: looking at named and unnamed singles in the Bible and their work for God. And lots of quotes from S. Lewis Johnson!


Joy in Singleness part 1 
Joy in Singleness, part 3: Famous biblical singles
Joyful in Singleness part 4 conclusion: Personal Note and Opinion

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Further Reading

Though this article still makes the assumption that all singles are going to be married, I can forgive it because many singles ARE going to be married. However for the permanent single, there is good advice for you here too--
Desiring God: Single, Satisfied, and Sent: Mission for the Not-Yet Married

Christianity Today: John Stott on Singleness 

Biblical Christian Counseling Coalition: Single in the Church

GotQuestions: Does the Bible teach that there is a gift of celibacy/singleness?

Singled Out: Does the Church Ignore Singles?
Life does not begin at marriage. Life begins in the exact moment when we submit ourselves to Christ and make Him Lord, when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us and take residence within us.

6 comments :

  1. Is part 3 going to be about 'contentedness while single' for those who are not 'eunuchs for the Kingdom's sake?'

    :D I feel like that's sometimes missed. I don't think you disparaged anyone here, but it's easy, in looking at
    * singles who whine about being single, and
    * singles who don't want to be married/have kids,
    and miss the
    * singles who want to be married but are endeavoring to be content in the meanwhile

    . I think you mentioned them, but I dunno if you were particularly interested in writing about them, if it isn't spoken about as much in prominent articles on the subject.

    Not saying you have to.

    My whole blog, after all, is in essence an exercise in being contented while single and trying to encourage others in the same, while I find myself in this capacity.

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    Replies
    1. Hello H.A.,

      No, I am not going to write about the temporarily single in part 3. I did mention them briefly in part 1 but said the focus was going to be on the permanent single person.

      I don't envy anyone who seeks marriage and is learning to wait for God's timing and in so doing dealing with celibacy in this sexually lascivious world. I know it's difficult and frustrating.

      I have great respect for all people of all stripes who inhabit the Body, especially teens and widows. I can't imagine the pressures on married couples today and how lonely it must be for many widows or widowers, never mind those who are separated due to military service, incarceration, or employment. And much as been said about the single person who is struggling with same-sex attraction.

      But my focus was on only one demographic this time. The Desiring God article is good for a person in your current status. You might want to check it out.

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    2. I find it amazing in an encouraging sort of way, how some people can be totally unaffected by romantic desires, and I think, in the same way that you can learn from a married couple, how to be a good husband or wife, you can be edified by such a (dare I say 'asexual?') person in learning how to live in a way that eschews temptation and keeps you busy for the Kingdom's sake.

      It's difficult to comprehend what it must be like, because save for when I was very young, I've never been totally without desires and affections (not using those terms as categorically sinful notions, here). I can 'get' the freedom of being able to avoid the complications of relationship -- for me, that's been buttressed by horrifying anecdotes of a countless number of worldly people that tells me I'm not missing anything by waiting until I'm ready -- the only thing I'll have to wait til old age/eternity to understand is what it's like to not even have the desire for intimacy, in the first place.

      Or maybe instead of desiring intimacy with another person, it will be purified into a desire to be with my King -- or perhaps, if yearning is like faith, then when perfect knowledge comes, there will be no yearning because of how fully satisfied we'll be in Him.

      [[This is what I appreciate about my singleness. It gives me plenty of time to reason things out and have a very well-developed comprehension of human relationship before I enter into a courtship.]]

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  2. You mentioned many names in your article - Julia Stagner, Randy Alcorn, John Stott, John McArthur, Glennon Melton, etc. And you talked a lot about identifying and dividing singles into appropriate groups so churches can edify them according to their gifts and needs. Of the 528,700,000 people in North America, can you name three of these "divinely ordained" celibate folks who are eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In reference to your "scare quotes", does your Bible not have "1 Corinthians 7:6-7"?

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    2. I have claimed those verses for 54 years. I think there's a big difference in churches quoting them and theoritically speculating about the existence of eunuchs today and those that actually identify and edify them. I think your article is excellent and it makes a lot of critical points.

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