All the Single Ladies…

According to a US Congregational Life Survey from 2008-2009, the gender gap of churchgoing evangelical Protestants is the highest compared to other church denominations. Out of 18-29 year old never-marrieds, 59% are female and 41% are male. In the 30-39 category, the difference jumps to 73% female with 27% male![1] Note that the survey does not touch the topic of true salvation or spiritual maturity, but it still offers us a glimpse of a very sad reality. If every single woman in evangelical churches made a hard and fast vow against being unequally yoked, our generation is a time where God has chosen to give the gift of singleness to a much higher percentage of women than men. To the single church-going female reading that, I probably just said something you would rather remain ignorant of. Yet, I am guessing these statistics serve to confirm something you already suspicioned. The gloomy truth, not just for females, but for the Church in general, is that more and more men are choosing not to attend church.

This scenario can have several outcomes. Christian women who desire marriage may feel the need to settle for nominal Christians or worse, settle for spouses outside the church. Also, much like several dramas that unfolded at my 2 to 3 ratio Christian college, disunity can easily erupt among young women who compete to land the limited single godly men in their sphere. Additionally, many solid, Christ-following females feel they are overlooked, since the quality men seem too distracted to see the quiet old-fashioned pearls that refuse to assume the role of the pursuer. Okay, so that last point was a personal feeling that may have spontaneously jumped onto the page, but I think it is nevertheless a sentiment shared by many.

So, what is a single gal to do? How do we prepare ourselves for the earthly future that most of us want, while also not setting ourselves up for discontentment should perpetual singleness and virginity be our God-ordained lot? I think acceptance of the answer to this question is going to first require an understanding of our calling in the Kingdom, a reality check on what earthly marriage is, as well as some benefits of singleness.

The Kingdom Call

I think a lot of us live and do ministry in such a way that even though we are single, we pretend to be divided. The decisions we make, the careers we take on, and the spiritual growth we pursue can all be more influenced by the possibility of Mr. Right coming along than the possibilities of what we can do for God’s Kingdom. Have you ever been tempted to not gain too much spiritual knowledge because you are worried your spiritual growth could be intimidating to a potential suitor? Have you found yourself thinking in terms of plan A and plan B: marriage being plan A and plan B being the lesser, unappealing alternative? Have you ever thought about death and subconsciously pleaded with God to let you experience marriage before He calls you home? In order to be effective for the Kingdom, we need to understand that whether or not God provides a male partner-in-crime, our highest joy will be working for God, not alongside a spouse or as a soccer mom. We are so conditioned to the deceitful concept that earthly marriage is the only highlight in life, and it is holding a lot of us singles back from what we could be doing for the Kingdom. Sisters, we must fight against this fallacy!

Now, I realize that I just said that the highest joy will not be found in getting married or having kids, but I am going to completely contradict myself and say that it absolutely is! God’s kingdom is all about marriage and expanding your family. Before you think I have completely lost my mind, let me explain. Earthly marriage is not the point, but eternal marriage between Christ and His Church is. In the same way, earthly child-bearing is not the main point, but growing God’s eternal family with spiritual re-birth is. Our attraction toward these earthly kinds of relationships is supposed to point us to the heavenly kind, and any participation or exposure to the earthly kind should help us to relish and pursue the timeless kind more. In the second chapter of this book, you might remember the defense I made for saying that we are all technically married as Believers, but I will address the part about having spiritual kids now.

Something that really helped me think through the Kingdom call for singles was a sermon by John Piper titled “Singleness in Christ: A Name Better Than Sons and Daughters.” His sermon was based on a book by Barry Dunylak, called Redeeming Singleness. I highly recommend either, but I will do my best to summarize them in this paragraph. The premise of these two resources is that singleness is a more valuable status in the New Covenant. If you look at the Old Testament, you see marriage and child-bearing as a must for building God’s Kingdom within His chosen people group, Israel. However, you also see glimpses of a future method in places like Isaiah 54:1, where it says “the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married”. This prophecy would not have made any sense to the Israelites at the time, but makes perfect sense in light of the new covenant, in which God’s kingdom grows by regeneration through faith. Married Christian women nowadays are not guaranteed that their children will join the Kingdom, but all Believers can make disciples and have spiritual children. Since a single woman’s time is not divided by a husband and biological kids, she is freer to make more disciples and have more children than a married woman with a full house![2]

Does that truth bring joy to your heart? There are thousands of unsaved kids of all ages in your city and around the world waiting to be adopted into God’s family. They need a spiritual mother to tell them the Gospel and then disciple them. If you do not have any spiritual children yet, start in your church with a younger age-group. There is an abundance of opportunities in youth ministry, with today’s confusing culture and overwhelming abundance of broken homes. Or perhaps you have been called to missions. Plenty of missionaries like David Brainerd or Gladys Alyward or Apostle Paul himself were able to answer God’s call to make disciples effectively, in part due to the fact that they were single. Disciple-making parenthood does not need to start with a marriage license, and I hope this is something we can become passionate about, whether we are single for a season or an epoch.

Reality Check

Sanctification is no easy task, as it involves a lot of pruning. In God’s toolshed, marriage is arguably the sharpest tool available, since it involves not just your issues, but your spouse’s as well, owing to the unique vulnerability of sharing life with a sin-tainted human. Poll anyone who has exited the honeymoon phase of their marriage, and they will tell you that marriage can be pretty difficult at times. There are a lot of blessings in being able to share life with someone, and Proverbs even says that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” However, later on, in Proverbs 21:9 and Proverbs 25:24, it basically says that it is better to live in a corner of the roof than inside a house with a quarrelsome wife.

What is needed, especially for single women, is a balanced view of marriage. I said it before in the chapter on fear, but singles do not have the monopoly on loneliness and misery. Tony Evans, in his book Living Single, says “The only thing more painful than being single and miserable is being married and miserable.[3]” A couple pages later, he makes a striking analogy: “Let me ask you a question by first making a statement. Statistics tell us that roughly 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce in America. A large part of that other 50 percent stay together for convenience, finances, or the children. Here is my question: If 50 percent of all airplanes crashed, wouldn’t you be extra careful about flying? If you knew that one out of every two airplanes was going to go down in flames, don’t you think that you would do a real careful investigation before getting in a plane, simply because you wouldn’t want to be one of those casualties? The same answer should hold true for how you approach the potential of marriage.[4]” As outrageous as this parallel may be, it does put things in perspective. If marriage is such a minefield, then why do we line up like it’s Black Friday, and sulk if we can’t get in?

We are in desperate need of a reality check. Marriage is not the only club with bouncers. Believe it or not, married people have moments where they wish they were single again. Married women with kids do not get as many lazy days as we do. Think about those Saturdays where we can sleep in, stay in our pajamas, and curl up with a book, undisturbed as long as we want. No early-riser children to tend to, no husband to serve by stepping up your hygiene practices a bit, and no other schedules to worry about. We have freedoms in this phase that we may or may not always have, and I think it’s important to contemplate them in times of longing for something else.

Consider, also, the spiritual ramifications of marriage. Friends of mine who married young have a bigger uphill battle, and will talk about how much more difficult it is to find time and the will to make Christ their priority. One of the most amazing gifts that singleness has offered me is a chance to get to know Christ and make Him my foundation without the temptation of idolizing a husband and trying to find my satisfaction and ultimate comfort in him. There is something so sweet about confronting each new trial or decision with an attitude that can say, “Ok God, just you and me…let’s do this!” If you are single, relish those moments where it’s just you and God enjoying a sunset, watching ocean waves, or even wrestling with a decision or trial in the middle of a sleepless night. A day may come when these luxuries come at a higher cost.

My goal with this “reality check” is not to taint your view of marriage and join the modern cynics movement but to simply show that the grass isn’t always greener. Marriage is a good thing to desire and is one of God’s most beautiful creations, especially when lived out in a real Gospel-centered way. But the benefits it offers come at a cost to some underrated freedoms that we possess as singles. In her book, Passion and Purity, Elisabeth Elliot said, “If you are married, then accept that. Accept the husband that God has given you. If you are single, accept your singleness and take it as if today was the last day of your life. Don’t be looking constantly to the future. I remember what Jim [her husband, missionary, and eventual martyr] wrote to me in one of his letters: ‘Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.’ And I think there are a lot of single women who are allowing their longing to slay the appetite of their living. They are not throwing their heart and soul into the will of God for today, because they are simply dying inside for something that God has not given them.[5]” May we seek to live faithfully and joyfully in the status God has us in now!

Two Birds, One Stone

Ladies, I feel the need to just have a little heart to heart for a bit. I have had many conversations with single women who are so burdened by their singleness that it casts shadows over everything else in their life. And I have been there; from time to time, I still dip into that mindset. We have been told sentiments all their lives like “If God put that desire in your heart, then He will make it happen!” or “Just find contentment where you are and when you least expect it, God will bring you your missing man.” And I think that at least on some level, we understand that these are extra-biblical sentiments constructed to make us feel better, but are not grounded in reality. Yet, we hold on to them, hoping they will be the case for us. We think that even if our view of singleness is a little flawed, it will be okay as long as we eventually get married.

The problem with that line of thinking is, well, everything. If your view of singleness is flawed, then your view of marriage will be equally as flawed and absolutely will effect married life. If you idolize marriage now, believing that it will fulfill your deepest longings, you will idolize marriage when you are married. The discontentment that followed you around while you were single will follow you down the aisle into matrimony. It may take on different forms, perhaps morphing into a desire for children, a desire for an altered husband, or eventually perhaps wishing for singleness again. So what do we do? How do we fix our view of singleness in such a way that we still leave ourselves open for the possibility of marriage?

The solution might sound counter-intuitive, but pay attention: the key to prepare for whatever the future holds is to not think about the future. Jesus told us to “not be anxious about tomorrow,” but to instead “seek first the Kingdom of God.” All we know is what God is doing here and now, and here and now, you are single. What does God want you to do while you are still single? Well, He’s certainly not waiting for you to get married before He gives you more valuable tasks!

Nevermind the future. If we are meant to be perpetually single, then all we produce by being anxious about marriage is perpetual anxiety this side of heaven! I don’t want that, and I’m sure you don’t! But here’s the beautiful part: whether or not God has it in His plan for you to get married, faithfully following Him will get you there. Two birds, one stone. Using your gifts in the here and now, seeking Christ and living in light of His gospel will prepare you for a life of singleness or a life of partnering with a brother in Christ, if it be willed by the Father.

I must at this point warn you of a catch. It would be easy to take what I just said and verbally acknowledge the truth in it, but keep your motivations for godliness the same. In other words, you could say, “Sure Rachelle, I understand that this road I’m on (or at least trying to stay on) will get me to whatever future God has, whether I (‘gulp!’) stay singly apart of God’s Kingdom or (‘sigh’ longingly) meet the man of my dreams.” And yet, secretly, underneath the surface, your motivations for pursuing God’s kingdom are stuck in the ditch of mate attraction. We like that we get to serve God, but if you are prideful like me, it’s especially nice to think of how godliness and service can look to an available godly male. We hope they’ll see how good we are with kids, how well we hostess church gatherings, and how brightly our halos glow.

Ladies, what if we were so concerned with Kingdom affairs that revealed interest by an eligible godly bachelor caused us not to dive in heart first, but to instead question if God’s hand was behind it? What if we sought a niche in the Church where we got to experience true joy by serving God’s people in a way that we wouldn’t be able to if we were married? What if our motives for service and growth were truly rooted in a desire to know Christ better and see His Kingdom come? How my heart longs for you all to become passionate about using your singleness for the Kingdom! Stop treating your life like marital purgatory, waiting to be good enough or ready enough to get in! Want to know a secret? No one is ever perfectly ready for anything, including marriage! I don’t feel qualified for any of the things God has allowed me to participate in, but He loves it when we are dependent because He can get the glory from success bred out of broken people answering His call on their lives. Does singleness seem like a task too tough to bear? Good. You, my friend, have an amazing training course ahead of you in dependence.

To paraphrase John Piper at the end of his singleness sermon, demanding marriage on top of the spiritual blessings we have been given is like God telling us, “I am giving you the OCEAN”, and us replying, “Can I have a thimble, too?” It is all about perspective. In the moments where you find yourself embittered towards the Father over your singleness, rehearse the Gospel. When you find it hard to be happy for another engaged or pregnant friend, remind yourself of what you have in Christ as an heiress in His Kingdom. When you get badgered for the billionth time about not being married yet, remember that Christ Himself walked in your single shoes, in a culture that emphasized marriage even more so than ours.

To close this letter to my single sisters, I will leave you with a poem. As you read it, consider the following: What roots of bitterness do I need to confess? What fears are holding me back from living as I have been called? Lastly, how amazing is it that despite our shortcomings, we get to have a relationship with the Ruler of the Universe?

Throne Room

My motives are muddied, some words insincere,

My heart often riddled with all kinds of fear.

And nothing is hidden from the King of all time,

My thoughts all laid bare before what’s Divine.

So why is this child approaching the throne?

Her dirty footprints are treason alone!

Whispers of scandal should course through the room,

As the trespasser stands awaiting her doom.

But not a word is uttered, no guards called to arms,

The child’s face shows no sign of alarm.

What could excuse? What could explain?

But a Savior who on her behalf has been slain!

To the right of the Father sits the Heir of all things,

The one through whom salvation sings!

See Him descend in His powerful grace

To speak to the child face-to-face.

She knows His voice, she’s heard it before,

And the words He begins to say once more:

“My beloved I bought you at the price of my grave.

But even death could not hold me a slave.

My victory is permanent. My Gospel is true!

And with it my plan is to shape you anew.

Continue to follow, continue to trust.

My Word will protect you from doubt, pride, and lust.

Your future is sure, do not lose sight.

All darkness will soon be brought to light.

And until the day I call you home, strive to rally at this throne.”

Onlookers revel in the awe of the scene,

As the child repents and walks away clean.

Thanks for tagging along on this 6 week journey! I may post more from time to time, but you have heard everything I’ve got so far on the topic of singleness. Since starting my personal journey of seeking out a more Gospel-centered view of singleness almost exactly a year ago, I have gained a higher view of marriage along with a more contented outlook on where God has me. I hope that for the singles who have been reading along, the same is true for you. For everyone else, I hope you are better enabled to interact with and encourage the single Believers in your life. And for everyone as a whole, I hope the Gospel looks just a little more glorious than it did 6 weeks ago.

Love,

Rachelle

[1] “Gender Gap in Church Persists; Worse among Evangelicals.” Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. Web. 2 January 2015.

[2] Piper, John. “Singleness in Christ: A Name Better than Sons and Daughters.” Marriage, Christ, and Covenant: One Flesh for the Glory of God. Bethlehem Baptist Church. 29 April 2007, Minneapolis, MN. Podcast.

[3] Evans, Tony. Living Single. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2013. Print. p. 25.

[4] Evans, p. 27.

[5] Elliot, Elisabeth. Passion and Purity. Ada: Revell, 2002. Print. p. ???

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Single on Sunday: A Message to the Body of Christ

Let’s pretend that there is a young man who God, in His grand plan, has willed to be single for his whole life. This young man does not yet know that particular side of the plan, but He is sure of one thing: He wants to honor His Savior no matter what the cost. Sure, he likes the idea of meeting a like-minded woman and settling down with a family, but he also knows that serving God with the gifts he’s been given might mean remaining single for a time and quite possibly for his entire life on earth. In his weak moments of desiring companionship, he is caused to turn to his Savior for comfort and as His relationship with Christ deepens, the desire for a wife conversely fades to the background of what God is doing in him and through him.

Now picture this young man, perhaps possessing good qualities even from a superficial standpoint, walking into church on Sunday to worship with his fellow brothers and sisters. I’m afraid that his singleness would stand out more as something to be “fixed” rather than encouraged or understood as something God has ordained. Well-meaning older women would take it upon themselves to become his matchmaker, hinting about their gem of a granddaughter or the single young lady that helps out with them in nursery. Young women would make note of where he tends to sit and casually put themselves in his path to at least get a handshake in during “welcome” time. After a time, some of these women may become frustrated at the abundance of quality single women in his sphere and his apparent lack of concern manifested in his dateless existence.

I have begun this chapter in the hypothetical because I think that the story of this young man is very real in many churches today, and reflects attitudes that I myself have been guilty of. In order to interact with and even counsel singles well, there is a need to understand how well meaning comments or attitudes can become missed opportunities and even hindrances to the flourishing of singles in our communities. The church of all places should be a home in which the spouse-less can thrive, finding rest and shelter from the world’s deceptive perspectives on love and relationships.

In this chapter, I hope to answer the following question: How can churches allow singles the freedom to serve and exist as God has called them? It is a question that is not easily answered, as singles range on the marriage scale from “Woe is me!” all the way past a balanced view to “Dodging that bullet!” Additionally, most singles will probably at one point get married, so how do we balance our discussions with that possibility? In the spirit of Paul’s “put on” and “put off” principle, I will offer 4 do’s and don’ts of interacting with single believers, emphasizing how to best encourage them in their walk with Christ without assuming God’s plan regarding matrimony. Many scenarios come from personal experiences as well as those that single friends have relayed, so consider this chapter an insider’s guide for how to offer grace and truth to the growing single believer in your sphere of influence.

Being Burdened for Their Singleness

This one mainly goes out to parents with single sons and daughters of a marriageable age, but it can be applied more broadly as well. I am reminded of a line from a classic movie called My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the main character’s father mourns her singleness in her early 30’s. In a memorable line, he says pathetically, “Get married, make babies, you’re starting to look so OLD![1]” While this dramatic line might never cross the mind of someone heavily invested in the life of a young single person, traces of it might be found in certain attitudes or even prayer requests. I knew a mother who had two unmarried daughters, and finding husbands seemed to be a preoccupation with their family. The attitude seemed to effect how their daughters saw themselves, and slightly twisted their view on God’s plan.

Let me say something that needs to be said. Single people do not need other people to be burdened by their singleness! “Wait a second!”, you may say. “What about Galatians 6:2 where it says to ‘bear one another’s burdens’? Is it not our duty to help carry the weight of those emotions and feelings that plague our loved ones?” While it is true that helping fellow Believers in their time of trial is a command of Scripture, the bearing typically occurring in this kind of scenario hurts rather than actually helps the situation. They are in essence, reaching for the wrong luggage at the baggage claim. While the intention may be out of a desire to help, this will only make matters worse. I will offer a better way to bear this particular burden.

The issue in this scenario is a misunderstanding of singleness itself. We need to understand the purpose of singleness and the importance of God’s overarching plan before we can accurately support a single Believer. That way, when given the opportunity to counsel and support, we aren’t encouraging their distorted view, but are instead helping build a more truthful one. Singleness is not the enemy. If we treat singleness like the villain in someone’s story, then we paint the inaccurate picture that marriage is the answer to all his or her problems. Unfortunately, whether your single friend ends up married or remains single for a while longer, you have done nothing to help fix their problem and quite possibly have been part of what is holding them back from living as God intends them to.

If a believer is truly struggling with being single, their issue more often than not is much deeper than their status. As I have mentioned in the previous chapter, it is probably an illegitimate fear or possibly an issue of trying to find treasure on earth instead of treasuring Christ. In my experience, it is usually a mixture of those two. Either way, a better method to counsel is by offering the Gospel itself. Us singles need to be reminded of who we are and what we have in Christ. We need to be served a gracious dose of truth in love, that even if marriage came our way, it would not satisfy our deepest longings. If any burdens are carried on behalf of a single believer, it should be these deeper encumbrances of believing half-truths and the need to learn to value Christ above anything this world has to offer. Do not make the mistake of picking up the wrong luggage!

The Sunday Fish Market

It is said that to tell a quality sushi restaurant from a subpar one, you need to find out if they are open on Sundays. Apparently, fish markets are typically closed on that particular day of the week, so in order for a sushi restaurant to serve their delicacies on Sundays, they must have a willingness to serve day-old products, thereby revealing a lack of culinary integrity. I am not sure how much truth is in this bit of hearsay and it has not really changed my sushi-eating habits, but I think the concept offers a valuable tip to church members. I feel the need to present this matter carefully, because I do not want to draw any hard and fast lines regarding church matchmaking, but I do want to provide some insight on how these schemes can be perceived on the receiving end.

A quality church that allows singles to flourish should not sell fish on Sunday. I think this goes without saying, but the focus during church gatherings should not be pairing off, no matter how many fish are on hand. Ideally, the church atmosphere is the place one hopes to find a future spouse if there is one to be found, but when that becomes the goal of singles or those they interact with, there is potential for negative albeit unintended implications. First of all, when singles are seen as projects to “fix”, the subtle message underlying the matchmaking attempts is that they are somehow incomplete or missing out. Additionally, church members need to recognize the value of the presence of unmarried adults in the body. Why trade what is arguably the best ministry resource for a preoccupied newlywed? That process should not be hurried along if the church knows what is good for it!

Christian matchmaking is not wrong in and of itself, and can be a welcome gesture for many singles, but there is a need to tread these waters more lightly. It is important to invest time into getting to know singles on a deeper level. Invite them into your life. Be family to them. Give them opportunities to serve and use their God-given time. Then, after making sure they are in a place where they have an accurate take on marriage, humbly breach the topic and find out if that is even something they desire. Additionally, if you plan on mentioning any kind of potential set up, make sure you intend on carrying it out. Statements about perfect matches with your husband’s friend’s cousin’s coach are not helpful to share if you do not really intend on seeing it through.

Wasted on Singleness

If I had a quarter for every time I have heard the words “You are too good to stay single,” I would be rich. Well okay, I might have enough to buy a vanilla latte at Starbucks. Make it a tall. Anyways, I understand that these comments are well-intentioned, but I bring it up because I think there is a tendency for married folks to jump into flattery mode when a single person opens up about their desire for marriage and the seeming lack of willing candidates. While it is nice to want to dissolve potential insecurities, the underlying assumption of the flattery is false. It basically says that singleness is only for some kind of less optimal person, but marriage is a higher calling that selects from the cream of the crop.

The reality is that marriage and singleness are two paths that God uses for His purposes, and in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul implies that singleness is potentially better for the Kingdom because of its “undivided” nature. The nicest, most sincere complement I have ever received in regards to my singleness came from an older friend. She said that she had been observing me in conversation, and her initial thoughts were of what man I could end up with in our circle of acquaintances. “But then,” she exclaimed, “I decided that I really like you as a single person!” We work in ministry together, and I think she realized all the friendships and mentoring opportunities I am able to pursue because I do not have the responsibilities associated with being someone’s wife.

So instead of jumping into flattery mode the next time a single brother or sister openly bemoans their empty ring finger, look to what God has for them right where they are to encourage them. Are they in ministry? Point out the freedom they have to spontaneously take a younger Believer to coffee or the blessings they have in being able to wholeheartedly serve the Lord. What does their social life look like? There is adventure to be had outside of dating that is not as much of an option for married folks! What are they gifted in or passionate about? Chances are, God wants them to use those gifts and passions in ways that might be stretching but joyful. Truth might not be what they want to hear, but don’t let that stop you from trading what is nice but fleeting for that which is more meaningful and lasting.

 

The Purity Talk

It was Valentines Day, of all days. I was in a youthful audience, listening to a message that was all too familiar. Growing up in youth group, I had heard several messages addressing the issue of sexual purity, but this time was different. The script was the same, but I felt like I was hearing it with fresh ears, having become passionate about the topic of singleness since my hike up and out of adolescence. It had nothing to do with what was said, as there was a lot of truth in what was spoken. Instead, a chord was struck in what was left unsaid, what was not emphasized. There was a knot in my stomach as I wrestled with how to respond. That evening, I went home and picked up a pen. My working title to the piece that I planned on keeping hidden in between the pages of my journal was “A Letter to the Church.” In it, I expressed a critique on how marriage is often presented to young believers, and how much of a disservice it can be to those whom God does not will to marry. That letter would eventually inspire this blog!

Somewhere along the course of church history, possibly in the more recent past, purity talks have taken on a common script. This script does not have anything necessarily wrong in it, but I will show how it is unbalanced in what it emphasizes and how it contains underlying assumptions that are unsupported by Scripture.

The “purity talk” goes something like this: It will start out in Scripture, possibly in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, where it says that God’s will is for us to “abstain from sexual immorality” or maybe Hebrews 13:4, which says “Let the marriage bed be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Then after some discussion on how sex outside of marriage is not part of God’s plan and how it is technically adultery, the talk will finish with an emphasis on how sex outside of marriage has a negative effect on future marital relationships. True stories of regret may be employed, real-life accounts of couples who did not wait for marriage and the resulting distrust, dissatisfaction, or guilt they had to work through as a result. Another part of this conversation may include vivid imagery of how two become one in acting out the physical side of marriage. Sex is shown as more than just an act or a hunger, but painted as the deeper, soul-connecting way in which God intended life-long partners to bond. Young men are told to hold out for their future wives because sex is more fulfilling in marriage, and young women are encouraged to start praying for their future husbands and their purity. While many of these points are good to mention to a youthful audience in our sex-saturated culture, I am afraid that the purity talk is deficient in how it takes additional support for an argument made in Scripture and makes it the main point.

If you were to read through God’s Word, asking the question “Why should a Believer remain sexually pure?”, what answer would it give? 1 Corinthians 6:18 says to “flee from sexual immorality” because it is a sin committed against your own body. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says to abstain from sexual immorality because “it is the will of God.” Colossians 3:5 says that we are to put to death that which is earthly, and gives a list that includes sexual immorality. 1 Corinthians 6:13 says that “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says to glorify God in your body because “you were bought with a price.” Notice how God’s answers to the question of “Why abstinence?” do not have much to do with a future earthly marital relationship. The reasons He does give have to do with how He made us to function as our Creator, how He rescued us from our slavery to fleshly desires, and how He simply wills it. If God did use earthly marriage as a reason for purity, it would neglect the fact that marriage is not a guarantee made by Scripture, and that is why the cookie-cutter purity message is so inefficient in churches today. Singles need a more solid foundation to base their purity on then something that may or may not be granted to them.

If you are a youth pastor preparing sermons that encourage purity in the lives of church-going youth or if you are a discipler of single believers who struggle to fight for purity in their culture, do not make an earthly marriage the main point of your encouragement. This will only serve to fuel the distorted view that marriage is some kind of warranty for Christ followers. Instead, focus on the pursuit of purity as something God uses to bring them closer with Christ, knowing that He “has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Let the eternal marriage between Christ and His church have more emphasis than something that is merely a tool God uses for some to reflect the better more lasting relationship.

In conclusion, singles are in need of all kinds of encouragement from their fellow brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, I am afraid many of them are not provided with the correct kind of encouragement. Pointing them towards a local singles group or telling them that God’s best will come if they are patient does not get to the root of the issue or even represent the truths of Scripture accurately. You want to be an encouragement to the single person in your Church? Begin by rewiring how you view earthly marriage, if need be, aligning your stance with God’s timeless truths. I fear that many of today’s Christian marriages have bought into the lies of our culture, and so they are unable to be an encouragement to singles because their actions speak louder than words. If your happiness and fulfillment is rooted in your marriages and families instead of Christ, the singles in your sphere will pick up on that message. Seek God’s help in adjusting your spiritual priorities and then invite single brothers and sisters into your life. Be family to them. Show them how singleness does not have to be equated with loneliness, bitterness, monotony, or a spot on the sidelines of real life.

Thanks, as always for reading these little pieces of my heart. Next week, I’ll be writing a message of encouragement and advice to my single sisters. Praying for you all, that some part of this blog will strike a chord in your hearts and help you seek Christ more faithfully.

Love, Rachelle

–>LINK FOR NEXT POST IN SERIES: https://notsingledout.com/category/6-week-singleness-series/week-6/

[1] Constantine, Michael, perf. My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Dir. Joel Zwick. 2002. Film.

The Uninvited Guest

      If you have ever lived in the desert, then you are probably familiar with a scene that unfolded the other night. At around 11:30pm, I was walking towards my room to go to sleep, and through tired eyes, I noticed a familiar shape on the floor next to my bedroom door, inches from where I was standing. No, it was not a spider. A couple of years ago when I still lived in California, a spider would have probably been able to summon a sizeable reaction. But times have changed and the creatures that hide in the dark of my Nevada home have taught me that spiders are nothing to waste screams and heartbeats on compared to a fellow arachnid. Picture a fiend that has dense armor, a will for survival even if you’ve stepped on it several times, nocturnal habits, and the ability to swim, climb, and survive without food or water for up to a couple months. To top it all off, it comes with pinchers and a stinger! Scorpions are proof that evil exists in the world and my new “friend” just stood there in the threshold, daring me to make a move in my vulnerably bare feet.

Now I realize that this is a “first-world problem” and not the worst tragedy to ever befall a person, but the most terrifying part about this encounter was not necessarily the scorpion or the darkness of the night. The most unpleasant feeling in that moment of deciding how to respond was loneliness. I happened to be the only one in the house at the time, and the thought of having no one to share in this little trial, to perhaps even do the dirty deed of effectively smiting the 8-legged demon for me, was saddening.

I am ashamed to say that I took the cowardly approach and just covered the little nemesis with a plastic cup. The cup is clear, of course, so that I can be sure he is still there until someone else can come and rid me of my problem. He is literally staring at me as I write this, and I cannot help but be slightly grateful to him for lending me a nice analogy for this chapter.

For some, singleness can feel like that scorpion, a burden in the room that serves as a constant reminder of your fears. Perhaps it’s the pinch of being a 3rd or 5th wheel all the time. Or maybe it’s the sting of rejection. It could be the creeping feeling of loneliness, and wondering about the future. There are lots of fears associated with being single, and we could list them one by one while revealing the fallacies that underlie them. However, in that approach, you might be surprised to discover a lot of monotonous repetition. You would find that just about every fear a single Believer encounters has the same distorted premise, as well as the same Gospel-saturated remedy. The symptoms are the same as well, for Fear never goes very far without inviting his best pal Discontentment to tag along.

The unfortunate thing about discontentment is that it acts as a blinder. It demands a lot of our attention so that we slowly take our gaze off of truth. Truth is replaced by half-truths that we willingly believe in an attempt to quickly heal our wounds. In time, we will find that half-truths do not ever truly satisfy our discontented hearts. I hope that this chapter causes more soul searching for my single brothers and sisters who have been served unwanted singleness, and I specifically hope to dispel the two common half-truths regarding the cause of singleness and its remedy.

 

The Cause

If someone were to ask you what the cause of singleness is, your gut response might be the obvious “not being married.” While this may be true, there is a better answer to dwell on for followers of Christ. If we get stuck on the natural cause of things, we miss out on seeing what is Supernatural. We are a NEW creation, people! (2 Corinthians 5:17) Our reality needs to be different when it comes to circumstances, and how we view our singleness is not exempt.

The truth is that if you are in Christ and you are currently single, God Himself has called you to that status. 1 Corinthians 7:17a says, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” In His wisdom, he has seen fit to give each of His children a different journey. He is a Master artist and does not make mistakes. In fact, according to Romans 8:28, our own mistakes are not permitted by God to mess up our lives. The wrong strokes that we paint on the portrait are swiftly weaved in to the plan as our Savior covers our shame and the Spirit helps us get back on track. May I also remind you that God is a loving Father who only gives good gifts to His children.

In the words of Jesus: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13) I love this passage for two reasons. First of all, it emphasizes spiritual blessings over temporary ones in how the highlighted gift is the Holy Spirit Himself, and second of all, it hints that God does not wrap up nasty things like scorpions in giftwrap. This is figurative, of course, but in applying the concept to singleness, God wills circumstances for our good and protects us from what we are unprepared for or that which could irreversibly harm us. That relationship that just ended that left you devastated? It could have been a serpent. The unrealized dream of the closeness and blessings associated with marriage? It could be that at this point in time, God is withholding it because He loves you and knows that it would be a scorpion.

We must be careful in talking about good and bad gifts not to confuse God’s idea of good with a humanistic view of good. This can be a tricky topic, for many feel stings in life and wonder at how the Bible can talk about God as a loving Father. There are three points I will say in response to someone feeling hurt in their singleness or in any other, perhaps more heartbreaking, situation. Please know that I do not treat this topic lightly and that there are teachers who have spoken in greater detail and with much more eloquence than I, who would prove to be a better resource. First of all, I must point out that we do not see the big picture, so faith plays a huge role in trusting that God really does know best. Secondly, God’s definition of good has more to do with our holiness than our happiness, and holiness brings a deeper joy because we are functioning how God created us to (James 1:2-4). Lastly, when we begin to doubt God’s goodness, it could be that somewhere, we have held on more dearly to a created thing over Creator God (Romans 1:18-23).

If and when God chooses to give us certain earthly gifts, we must realize that they are only given for a time. But spiritual blessings are always eternal, which is why Jesus does not encourage us to store up treasures on earth but in heaven (Matthew 6:20). Additionally, our Father assures us that He has given us absolutely everything we need “pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Those are the gifts to relish and hold onto with clenched fists, for they are offered freely to all of God’s children and cannot be taken away. They are ours for eternity!

 

The Remedy

Simply using the word “remedy” implies that singleness itself is the problem, but I hope by now you understand that not having a spouse is not a problem in God’s Kingdom and may, in fact, be a bit of an upgrade. A better but wordier title might be “The remedy to the fears and struggles associated with being single.” The typical remedy to this would be marriage, wouldn’t it? That is what people might tell us or what our hearts want to hold onto. To solve our discontentment with singleness, to fix our loneliness or fears about the future, we should just try harder to get married. But perhaps there are not really any marriageable candidates in our sphere. In that case, it is much easier to think on the future and hold out for Mr. or Mrs. Right than to actually deal with the discontentment or to face the possibility of perpetual singleness. And so the scorpion gets to take up a potentially permanent spot outside our bedroom.

Do we really want to settle for that outlook? Marriage would take away our title as singles, but the catch with half-truths is that they do not fix the heart of the matter. Divorce rates alone should be enough to tell us that singles do not have the monopoly on loneliness and discontentment. The true answer is not something we have to wait for. The solution is in rewiring how we think about marriage and discovering that even if we got everything we wanted in life, we would leave it empty-handed if Christ is not our foundation. Some of us have been so brainwashed about what true love is that we are often blind to the love that is already ours in Christ. He is our remedy, and until you taste and see that He truly is the Bread of Life, the Living Water offered to the Samaritan woman at the well, and the only Vine worth anchoring to, you will always be waiting for your discontentment to leave.

This answer is not necessarily new or profound, and it will require more effort to grasp than any half-truth would. You could turn to a Buzzfeed article about how to be more dateable or spend time agonizing over whether each new member of the opposite sex at church is single. Some of you may have the subtle ring-check mastered, but until Christ is our true foundation, there will be no actual fix. For those who choose this narrow road, it will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

In the course of writing this chapter, I was convicted early on about using the scorpion analogy. In adopting this real-life story to prove my points about untruths we believe about singleness, I knew that at some juncture, I would need to be the one to smash him, or else forfeit the chapter and start from scratch. If I do not follow my own advice, then how can I expect you to? By letting him sit there, I was believing lies about my capabilities, our size differences, and that the ONLY solution is help from someone else. So let it be known that on August 9th, 2014 at 3:51pm, a scorpion bit the dust. By not believing the lies bred out of fear, I was able to remove the discontentment associated with knowing an evil, uninvited guest was in the room, watching my every move from his plastic prison.

For this shunner of all that is creepy and crawly, that was quite a task, but it is nowhere near the difficulty that will come with rewiring our brains in regards to the cause and remedy of singleness. In a moment of struggle, it is much easier to demonize singleness as a plight to endure or to take comfort in the thought that someday, your match will come. Hopefully, you see now that those half-truths can do more damage in the long run than embracing the glorious truths that Scripture has to offer about what it means to be singly part of God’s Kingdom.

Thanks as always for joining the conversation! Any questions or comments? Feel free to type them out below!

So far, we’ve set the stage for this series with a little vulnerability, we talked about the reason marriage was created in the first place (hint: NOT to cause despair for those lacking in the earthly variety), and then we discussed enticing lies that distract us from better Gospel truths about love. Next week, my post will be directed at the church as a whole, offering advice on how to allow for the flourishing of singles in our communities. I will be answering questions like, “Is matchmaking ok?” and “How can I best be an encouragement to a single Believer who really really REALLY wants to be married?”. Stay tuned! 🙂

–>LINK FOR NEXT POST IN SERIES: https://notsingledout.com/category/6-week-singleness-series/week-5/

Lovely Little Lies

The other day, I was scanning through the preset radio stations in my car, looking for a song to match my good mood. As I sorted through the variety of channels for something upbeat or perhaps a song by a favorite artist, something dawned on me. It is all worship music. And I’m not saying that I only listen to Christian music stations- worship happens on every station! Each verse, chorus, and bridge tells us who or what the artist values and makes much of. Whether it is the opposite sex, the party/dance scene, alcohol, tractors (can you tell what music I listen to?), or God Himself, every song is worshipping something.

This first epiphany led to a second one. I started thinking about my favorite Country songs, the ones that I was really looking for as I switched from station to station. Could a common theme be found? I went over each song in my head with lines like “I don’t want good and I don’t want good enough, I want can’t sleep, can’t breathe without your love,[1]” “I’ll go to heaven or I’ll go to hell before I see you with someone else,[2]” or “you are the best thing that’s ever been mine.[3]” What sticks out to you about each of these excerpts? The word intensity definitely comes to mind, but you could also make a case that each song involves guys actually worshipping the girl he is singing about or vice-versa. Was this common theme pointing to something deep in my heart? Was there something besides their catchy tunes that was appealing to me? That’s when the third and final light bulb turned on: I want to be worshipped! I want to be the object of someone’s affection, to be what they live and breathe for. I want to be their only love, on the throne of their heart as priority over all else.

As a youth leader a few years back, I attended a purity conference with some of my junior high small group and there was a speaker for one session who camped on Proverbs 7. Now, this part of Scripture is usually directed at male audiences, warning about the pitfalls of giving into sexual sin, but this gentleman took a different approach. In a room full of women and girls, he boldly pointed at the wayward women as someone that we, even in subtle ways, want to be. He was basically telling us that we like being worshipped and will easily compromise what we know to be right to get that attention from guys. In my heart, I was offended and wanted to argue against such an audacious statement. But after praying and thinking about what he had said, I began to see the truth in his words, and my musical ‘epiphany’ further confirmed this message.

An atheistic anthropologist named Ernest Becker wrote a work called the Denial of Death, where he investigates the effects of taking God out of culture. He coins what he calls “apocalyptic romance,” where in the absence of a god to worship, mankind will look to other things and in westernized culture, it has looked to a significant other.

“The self-glorification that we need in our innermost being, we now look for in the love partner. What is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to this position? We want to be rid of our faults. We want to be rid of our feeling of nothingness. We want to be justified. We want to know that our existence hasn’t been in vain. We want redemption; nothing less.[4]

Tim Keller comments on Becker’s work in his book, The Meaning of Marriage, pointing out how “Modern people make the painfulness of marriage even greater than it has to be, because they crush it under the weight of their almost cosmically impossible expectations.[5]” Both men see the need for salvation and the lengths people go to find it in anything but God. No where is this more blatant than in the lyrics in popular songs, and one day, whether near or off in the not-so-distant future, singers, songwriters, and everyone else will realize that the only love that will ever satisfy at that level is the love of Christ.

Think the church is immune from this romantic fanaticizing? I would venture to say that many within the church have fallen prey to the same cultural lie. The only difference is that we dress it up in white and [try to] save it for marriage. The most telling way to reveal the effect of this cultural phenomenon on Christendom is to visit a Christian wedding. Very few weddings, whether it be in personal vows, well wishes to the bride and groom, or even in the prayer or sermon offered at the alter, are absent of sentiments that reflect the culture. Phrases like, “I will love you forever”, “you are the love of my life”, or “this is the best day of my life”.

Are you yourself guilty of any of those phrases or at least the mindset behind them? I know I am. But if we honestly and openly dissect their meanings, I don’t think it too harsh to label them as complete and utter blasphemy, and as the result of forgetting Christ’s ultimate show of love and devotion in the Gospel message. Let’s take a look at each one to really drive this point home, because each lie could be given its own category.

The Forever Lie

“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22:30)

Having come from a loving home with parents who have now been together for 28 years, Jesus’ words are a tough concept to grasp. Earth is all we experientially know and the marriage relationship has been put on such a pedestal that the idea of all earthly marriages dissolving and not mattering in heaven seems foreign. Think of the widow who is left altered and embittered by the absence of her mate but consoled by the fact that she will see him again. Yes, it is extremely exciting to think of worshipping God along with all the saints on the day we are called home, but according to Christ himself, He has no plans of setting up a house with a white picket fence for earthly marriages to resume in. In fact, Jesus was responding to a question from the Pharisees regarding a woman who was widowed multiple times, and they wanted to know who she would be married to in the afterlife. His response makes sense in the light of how Scripture portrays heaven- a place without the tears of spouses who have to share their one true love with their other deceased spouses! The forever lie is a lie that Satan wants us to believe, to distract us from a better forever. The more supreme forever is the Savior that can legitimately promise an eternity-long relationship, and who in and of Himself is better than forever with thousands of spouses! May we all truly believe with the psalmist that “A day in [His] court is better than a thousand elsewhere” and may our words in regards to earthly marriage reflect that (Psalm 84:10).

The Lie of Completion

Coined in the famous movie Jerry Maguire, the phrase “You complete me” has taken on many different forms and ideas about love, all of which I will call the lie of completion. In her book Lady in Waiting, Jackie Kendall says that “Jerry Maguire was wrong. It sounded good romantically, but biblically a woman was not created to complete a man but to complement a man.[6]” Praise the Lord that the phrase is not true, as it is a subtle dis to all singles. It implies that all humans are incomplete until they find “the one.” Tell that to Christ Himself, who was, in fact, single. Kendall goes on to say that “God knows that you will never be complete until you really understand that you are complete in Jesus.[7]” When couples who have tasted of the immeasurable glories of salvation in Christ proclaim that their spouse completes them or is the only agent that changed them for the better, they are denying the value of salvation and seeking redemption in romance. They are, without realizing it, slapping their Savior in the face.

The Lie of Absolutes

This lie is similar to the lie of completion in that it also forgets about salvation. This lie generally includes any phrase that has the word “best” or “ever”. These phrases offer a very distorted time scale for the Believer’s life. They depict a life where the timeline looks fairly dull until, by some miracle, that special someone looks in their direction. Now, the real story begins, with a crescendo during the wedding day and a plateau of bliss thereafter. The rest of their life does not really carry as much meaning as those fairy tale days spent with their one true love, so none of the other events are really worth mentioning. Now, this story may be true for people who have not experienced the life-altering blessing of salvation, but for those who claim Christ as their Lord, this is a huge lie! This is dangerously close to the description of people in Romans 1:25 who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” A proper timeline should include the day of salvation as a higher point than anything to do with an earthly love.

What is needed is some soul-searching. What are the ways that you have believed or perpetuated any one of these lies? The consequences of doing so can be disastrous. If you are married, are these sentiments you have allowed into your marriage? You are not doing you or your spouse any favors. If you are single, have you allowed these lies to discourage you or make you feel inadequate? Let me be clear. The only day that results in true heart-transforming change is the day when the only Savior with the power to do so calls you clean and forgiven, comes into your life, gives you His Spirit, gives you a place in His family, and gives you a promise of a forever future that He will make good on. That is the biggest turning point of our lives on earth, and something we all desperately need to relish more often. Because if we do not, we will be all the more susceptible to the lies our culture and Satan would have us believe. Additionally, we allow these themes to casually slip into our everyday conversations and infect those around us.

As always, thanks for joining the conversation! Tune in next week for a little chat about Fear and its best pal, Discontentment.

–>LINK FOR NEXT POST IN SERIES: https://notsingledout.com/category/6-week-singleness-series/week-4/

[1] Hayes, Hunter. “I Want Crazy.” Hunter Hayes. Atlantic Records, 2013. Radio.

[2] The Band Perry. “Better Dig Two.” Pioneer. Republic Nashville, 2012. Radio.

[3] Swift, Taylor. “Mine.” Speak Now. Big Machine Records, 2010. Radio.

[4] Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. New York: Free Press. 1973. p.160.

[5] Keller, Tim. The Meaning of Marriage. London: Houder & Stoughton Ltd. 2011. p. 41

[6] Kendall, Jackie and Debby Jones. Lady in Waiting. Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc. 2014. p. 30.

[7] Kendall, p. 31

Marriage for Everyone

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.