NOTE: If you missed last weeks post, you can find it here–> https://notsingledout.com/2015/01/04/door-number-three/ Welcome to the conversation!
Since the church began, much emphasis has been placed on marriage and family. Jesus Himself taught on the topic as did Paul and others. This is rightly so, given that the majority of brothers and sisters do experience those things and given the weight of the issues that come up when you become one flesh with another sinner and continue Adam’s line of sin-tainted offspring. Symptomatic of divorce rates, gender-role confusion and the trend of fatherless homes, if the church were to go to the doctor’s office for a checkup, the prescription would most likely be even more of an emphasis on marriage and family doctrine from the pulpit and from disciplers.
But what about the singles? Should they just twiddle their thumbs during messages that do not seem to pertain to their status? Should they plan ahead and just help out in nursery during those Sunday mornings? I often hear singles in church, and I will admit to having had similar sentiments myself in the past, lamenting about the lack of single-focused sermons or the abundance of marriage conferences. Well singles, the choice is clear. Singles should take advice from certain California legislators and split off into their own group. Or better yet, singles should start their own church. Ya! We could call it The Singles Rule and Marrieds Drool Church. It would be a place with no “boring” sermons on raising kids or secretly bothersome sermons about marriage that jab at my lack of a love life. We could invite singles from all over the world to just congregate in the same area of the globe and forget about all the other people. Somewhere tropical would be preferable. Of course we will need a police force trained in nuptial-detection so that if someone so much as looks at a wedding page on Pinterest or peruses a ring shop, the perpetrator(s) will promptly be sent back to the congregation from which they came.
I hope by now that you have caught onto my sarcasm, and maybe I carried the ridiculous picture a little too far, but I hope we understand at some level that we all need each other. Christ’s body, the Church, needs every member to function properly. So what does this mean for single people in a sea of plus ones during church gatherings? In this chapter, I will argue that there is much more to be done than simply “tolerating” the topics that do not seem to directly apply to our state for two reasons. First of all, singleness can be a temporary category for some, and there is a need to prepare long before you exchange vows. Secondly, the truth for Believers is that we are actually all married.
I will expand on that last point in a bit, but for singles reading this section, I feel the need to take a couple paragraphs to make sure you are ready to hear what Scripture has to say about the most epic marriage there is. Whether due to bitterness or immaturity, we singles can sometimes be a little sensitive and quick to blame our issues on what is external rather than what is in our hearts. When well-meaning married friends or pastors do try to discuss the issue of singleness, we can be quick to point at the “M” on their foreheads, as if that somehow justifies rejecting what they have to offer us in the way of encouragement or even correction. Let us not forget that married people were at one point single, and if they are brothers and sisters in Christ, honest, Scripture-filled words do not even require experience. James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” All you need is asking, not experiencing. However, today, you are hearing from someone in your class, someone who is as single as they come, so maybe you will listen a little more closely.
On our road, the biggest adversaries we will battle as singles will not be material things, but ideas and other immaterial enemies that oppose truth. There are some ways of thinking that we have adopted from the world, ways no doubt constructed by the enemy to oppose unity within the body. If you think that marriage does not apply to you as a single person, then some rewiring needs to happen. God could have chosen for the church to operate that way. He could have decided to allow marriage to only be of use to the Christians with spouses, but He has been extremely kind to all believers, married and single alike, in allowing us all to participate in one form or another. Before you read any further, may I suggest that you check in with the Spirit and ask for guidance so that we get this next part right.
When I say that we are all married, I am talking about the primary everlasting relationship between the church collectively and its groom, Jesus Christ. Now if you are like me, there is a temptation to shut down when you hear talk of the church bride and her groom, Jesus. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why this can be an uninviting topic for some. It could be that we are uncomfortable with the analogy given the physical side of marriage. Additionally, I could see this as an odd topic for male believers to approach, not keen on thinking of themselves as a bride. It could also just be that it is often heard at weddings and so we are inclined to automatically tune it out. Whatever the reason may be, we need to climb past our reservations because we will get at some really good fruit at the top of the tree if we do.
Now, I said “primary” marriage because any other God-ordained marital relationship is just a picture of the timeless one. Every other marriage has an expiration date. Every other marriage is flawed. Every other marriage is a faint echo of that original one. When Paul points out the picture of marriage in Ephesians 5 and says that he is referring to Christ and the Church[i], he is not coming up with a new, convenient analogy. He is pointing to a connection that God always intended. In a message on gender construction in Genesis, author/speaker Mary Kassian points out that for the important stuff, God decidedly gave us pictures to help us know and understand Him better. “When God set about to create male and female in the beginning, He created male and female with a plan in mind.”[ii] This plan becomes clearer in Ephesians 5, which shows us that marriage is something God chose to use to tell the story of salvation for all His children, married and not. So, if you are a member of the body, guess what? You are wedded to your Savior Jesus Christ in an eternal bond and as the recipient of merciful, forgiving, perfectly sacrificial, unfailing love.
This love story is far from over. In Jewish tradition, there are two parts to a wedding ceremony, the “kiddushin”[iii], or betrothal, and the “nissuin”[iv], or nuptial ceremony. When Christ comes on the scene to start His three-year ministry, John the Baptist says to the crowd, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28-30). John is essentially calling himself the best man, preparing the way for the Bridegroom who will claim His bride. This initiation begins the acquisition, or betrothal segment of our collective marriage to Christ.
A betrothal is different from what we understand an engagement to be today. Engagements can be broken off easily, but a betrothal in historic Jewish culture involved a contract that required an actual divorce to dissolve[v]. The couple was wedded, but not yet living together, and the time frame was usually specified in the contract as to what needed to happen before the ceremony and wedding feast could take place. We see a similar occurrence in the Bible with Jacob working for his uncle Laban seven years to accidentally acquire Leah and then seven more years to marry Rachel. The contract in this case was done between the bridegroom and the bride’s father, but Talmud expert Maurice Lamm says that the consent of the bride was always required in Jewish custom[vi]. We see this in the love story between Rebecca and Isaac when Rebecca’s consent was requested before she went with Abraham’s servant to meet her betrothed. Lamm also remarks on the importance of the exclusivity and the totality of the Betrothal[vii]. The exclusivity clause forbids either spouse to be with anyone else and the totality basically sums up “till death do us part.” It is also important to note that the only spouse who signs the Betrothal contract in the presence of witnesses is the bridegroom, and his contract displays how he will provide for her[viii]. There are some amazing correlations that you may have already picked up on in all this, but I will state them anyways.
Christ came to earth on a mission of betrothal. He wooed His bride during His earthly ministry, and you could even argue that it began as early as creation in putting His majesty on display constantly for all time. He then paid a high price on the cross and supplied a verbal contract, saying in John 14, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”[ix] Notice how Christ is the one doing all the work. He does not require us to sign the contract; He only requires our consent “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Additionally, Ephesians 2:8 makes it clear that we do not do any of the saving, but it is “by grace [we] have been saved through faith.” Then when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus reiterates the first commandment, saying “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22: 36) This speaks to the exclusivity of our relationship to Christ. As His betrothed, no other gods should vie for our devotion. In Acts 1:8, He promises to seal the disciples with an engagement ring, the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 adds that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit “until the day of redemption.”
So listen up, church! We have a contract, a seal, and a promise of an eventual wedding ceremony as our groom prepares a place for us to dwell with Him for eternity. I hear from married friends that engagements can be a rough business, and our time of betrothal on earth is no piece of cake either. Our groom told us it would be difficult, but He also promises a beautiful homecoming to His Father’s house that will terminate the betrothal era and begin part two, the “nissuin”. During a Jewish nuptial ceremony, there is much celebration and feasting. Lamm remarks that the blessings of this stage “speak of rejoicing, of God and paradise, and the idyllic first marriage of Adam and Eve.”[x] In the same way, Christ will be together with His bride to enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb. Indeed, it is what He refers to during the last supper with His disciples, saying, “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18) In Revelation 19:7-8, we see a glimpse of what is to come as all of heaven says, “ ‘Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”
Let these beautiful truths wash over your heart and mind for a moment. If the God of the universe has invited us into this covenant relationship and chooses in His love to provide an earthly picture for all eyes to gaze at, how could we ever decide that marriage does not apply to us? God did not create marriage to cause despair. When marriage is discussed as believers gather, it should cause us to instead marvel at the beauty of the Gospel, and spur us on towards becoming a better betrothed. I do not know about you, but I am often guilty of breaking the exclusivity clause with idols that fight for my attention. Ironically, marriage itself can even be an idol! At the end of Mary Kassian’s message on gender roles, she addresses the topic of singleness and says that for the single person, they should not feel like they are missing out on anything. If they truly understand God’s story, instead of despairing about their singleness, they will have the mindset of: “I don’t have to be married because I get to participate in the real thing!”[xi] My prayer is that Christian singles will fight for that mindset, because I truly believe that a proper view of our marriage to Christ will make other pursuits fade to their rightful place underneath our Savior’s sovereign hand.
Singleness does not need to be a hindrance to gaining applicable wisdom during church gatherings, especially on topics surrounding marriage and family. These themes, when preached on, should cause us to marvel at the Gospel. They should cause us to think on ways to be a better follower of Christ as part of His bride, the church. They should cause us to pray for our fellow married brothers and sisters, that they would mirror Christ’s redemptive plan to the world. Lastly, instead of allowing those kinds of messages to fuel insecurities, they should bolster the confidence we have in Christ’s signed, sealed, and delivered betrothal.
Thanks for stopping by! Hope you have found it encouraging so far.
This journey continues next week with a discussion about cultural influence on our concept of love, so stay tuned!!!
–> LINK FOR NEXT POST IN SERIES: https://notsingledout.com/category/6-week-singleness-series/week-3/
[i] Ephesians 5:32
[ii] Kassian, Mary. “The Genesis of Gender.” The Gospel Coalition 2011 National Conference. McCormick Place. Chicago, IL. 13 April 2013. Workshop Session.
[iii] Lamm, Maurice. The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage. New York: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc. 1980. pp. 148-160.
[iv] Lamm, pp. 160-168
[v] Lamm, p. 154
[vi] Lamm, p. 153
[vii] Lamm, p. 161
[viii] Lamm, p. 154, 158
[ix] John 14:2-3
[x] Lamm, p. 161
[xi] Kassian, in answering questions from the audience after her message.