An interesting post by Chris Wiles on being a single Christian on Valentine’s day prompted me to offer up some material on marriage, singleness and Christian ministry. A second post will follow on some of the practical outworkings on the issues faced by married’s and single’s in ministry situations.
1. Biblical models of marriage and singleness in the Bible
- The Apostles – 1 Cor. 9:5
- Priscilla & Aquilla – Romans 16:3
- Typical situation of a church elder – 1 Tim. 3. 2-5
- Jesus, Paul
2. Does the New Testament offer any advice on whether marriage or singleness is better for Christian ministry?
a. Genesis 2, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Tim.3:2-5
Marriage is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Companionship, procreation.
Christians, through marriage, have opportunity to model to the world God’s ultimate purpose of the heavenly marriage between Christ and the church. Given that the majority of people in a local church congregation will be married a church minister has opportunity to model to the church, and to a watching world, Christian marriage and through marriage point people to Christ.
Marriage is a privilege, blessing and gospel opportunity!
b. 1 Corinthians 7 – a brief overview
1 Cor. 7:1 should follow the ESV translation
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’
Some at Corinth seem to have been following the Greek practice of celibacy and considering themselves more spiritual for doing so. They were possibly also using Paul’s celibacy to justify their own attitude to sex and marriage.
In Chapter 7 Paul wants to defend the value of singleness without defending their rationale for it.
The theme of Chapter Seven can be summed up as ‘remain in the situation in which God called you’ v.8, 17,20,24,26,40. i.e. Be content with who you are in Christ.
Were you married when you became a Christian? Then stay married, even if your spouse is an unbeliever. This is command of the Lord v.10-11
Were you a widow(er) or unmarried? Then Paul’s advice is that it is best to stay unmarried, as he himself is. v.8.
Please notice that to those who are married Paul issues a command from the Lord but to the singles Paul does not use commands but rather offers guidance. He chooses not to speak with the full force of his apostolic authority but with words of advice.
‘Paul’s argument takes on a character of its own, quite unlike anything else in his extant letters. He begins with a caution, that what is about to be said, even though he thinks it trustworthy, is less than a command of the Lord; it is his ‘opinion’ (v.25). The argument is then laced with ‘I think’ (36), ‘I am sparing you’ (28), ‘I wish’ (32), ‘I say this for your own good’ (35), ‘let him do as he wishes’ (36), ‘he shall do well’ (37). Whatever else this is not your standard Paul.’
c. Why does Paul seem to prefer singleness?
i) Eschatological perspective – Christ is coming soon vv.26-29
This is almost certainly what Paul is referring to in vv.26-29 as the present crisis v.26 and again in v.29 when he comments that the appointed time is very short. If Christ is coming soon then there is an urgency about the Lord’s work and we must be free from the grip of the world’s values e.g. Pursuing the things the world chases after – spouse, 2.4 kids, nice house, car and dog!
ii) Those who are married inevitably have divided interests. v.28, 32-24.
Family life is hard work and requires time and effort to sustain. Being single enables an undivided service of Christ.
d. Is it less spiritual for Christians to seek to be married?
No. Twice Paul affirms that if you marry you are not sinning v.28, 36
Paul also recognizes that God gifts people differently. He gives a marriage partner to some and not to others. v.7. If you are married, thank God for your partner. If you are single thank God for that too! Both are gifts from God.
Paul is concerned that we seek the Kingdom of God first, c.f. Matt.6:31-33, and not get hung up on marriage. However if a suitable marriage partner comes along and we wish to marry then we are free to do so.
‘Ultimately, however, it is our freedom to marry or not which Paul emphasizes time and again. .. As such, we should regard singleness (whether short or long term) as an available option and, since we all start out single, we should approach life form the point of view of seeking the Kingdom of God, not the end of our singleness, as our priority.’
- First things first. Seek to serve Christ where you are!
- Don’t idolize either marriage or singleness.
- Don’t consider yourself superior because of your status e.g. ‘smug married’s or ‘single for the gospel’.
- If looking for a potential marriage partner ask:
‘Will this person I am thinking of going out with / marrying help or hinder me in the work of the gospel?’ ‘Will I help them?’
- If you are thinking about starting a relationship look to go out with someone more godly than you.
- Consider life goals i.e. how, where and when you might serve in say 10 years time when thinking about marriage.
g. Can I know today which gift I have been given by God?
Not necessarily. John Stott helpfully comments in an interview with Al Hsu at the end of his book Singleness
In spite of rumours to the contrary, I have never taken a solemn vow or heroic decision to remain single! On the contrary, during my twenties and thirties, like most people, I was expecting to marry one day. In fact, during this period I twice began to develop a relationship with a lady who I thought might be God’s choice of life partner for me. But when the time came to make a decision, I can best explain it by saying that I lacked an assurance from God that he meant me to go forward. So I drew back. And when that happened twice, I naturally began to believe that God meant me to remain single. I’m now seventy-six and well and truly ‘on the shelf’! Looking back, with the benefits of hindsight, I think I know why. I could never have travelled or written as extensively as I have done if I had had the responsibilities of a wife and family.
It should also be noted that some people long to be married and yet for various reasons never do. This must be seen as God’s sovereign gift for them.
Some good books to read on the broader issues of marriage, singleness and the gospel:
Good commentaries on 1 Corinthians!
In an article in today’s Telegraph Baroness Warsi (the Tory Party Chairman) warns of the effect of a rising secularism in our nation ‘where religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere.’
She is also rightly aware that
‘one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.’
What she doesn’t mention is that as a society we must not be allowed to forget that tolerance belongs to Christianity, uniquely, because Christianity alone espouses a view of the world in which tolerance is a God-like virtue. Even as nails were driven into his hands in preparation to kill the maker of the universe Jesus said ‘Father forgive them.’ There is no other worldview that celebrates the values that we enjoy and rejoice over and that secularism, true to its ideology, wants to remove.
Bruce Sheiman in his book An atheist defends religion writes of the extraordinary impact of Christianity when he reminds us that
‘A commitment to human dignity, personal liberty, and individual equality did not previously appear in ANY other culture’
So don’t be surprised by secularism’s intolerance, tolerance belongs to Christianity.
Cristina Odone in the Telegraph puts the case for taking on the National Secular Society
(HT: Westminster 2010)
So we’re starting a 20’s ministry at church.
When are we meeting?
Six times a year we’re going to meet for 90 minutes after the evening service.
7.45pm Enjoy something to eat
8.00pm Talk on the theme or topic of the evening. Biblical, practical, gospel-centred advice.
8.20pm ‘In our experience’ – direct input from one or two members in their 20s on how they have found adjusting to this aspect of life.
8.30pm QandA for speaker and ‘in and our experience’ testimony.
8.40pm Discussion in small groups and prayer (with suggested questions provided by speaker)
What are we looking at?
We thought we’d ask the 50 or so who came to the launch event what they’d like help with. Ranking a list of 25 or so in order here are the results. The higher the score the higher the demand.
|Long term planning||211|
|Relationships – marriage, singleness||176|
|A godly mind & speech||116|
|Witness & evangelism||106|
|Time management & prioritising||77|
|Relating to parents||72|
|Finances & budgeting||71|
|The Holy Spirit||70|
|Church – settling/belonging/serving||69|
|Personal bible study||66|
|Money & materialism||54|
|Sexual purity & pornography (for singles &marrieds)||52.3|
The Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU) invites students across Oxford to take a fresh look at Jesus. Lunch time and evening events led by Mike Cain and Tim Keller. All happening this week. Oxford Town Hall.
(HT: Gavin McGrath)
Their hearts are far from me. – Matthew 15:8
Could there be a more damning verdict from Jesus on the religion of his own time?
It may be that ‘People honour me with their lips’ but Jesus sees through to the heart, through the display, the pretension, the activities, the professions.
Is it not time for us to ask ourselves ‘is your religion a religion of the heart?’
JC Ryle asks:
What is the first thing we need in order to be Christians? A new heart
What is the sacrifice God asks us to bring to him? A broken and contrite heart
What is the true circumcision? The circumcision of the heart
What is genuine obedience? To obey from the heart
What is saving faith? To believe with the heart
Where ought Christ to dwell? To dwell in our hearts by faith
What is the chief request that Wisdom makes to every one? “My son, give me thine heart.’
Along with David we cry out ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me’ – Psalm 51:10
What I’ve been getting wrong all these years
As a church for the past 12 years we have poured a great deal of time and energy into ministry amongst students. I’ve loved every minute of it and many hearts and minds have been captured by a love of Christ and a determination to offer the rest of lives to Him and the service of the gospel. Seeing that transformation in the lives of individuals as the gospel bears its fruit is an amazing privilege.
But for 12 years I’ve given practically no thought to what happens next, to the decade after graduation. That has been a mistake.
More and more I’m realising that the 20s are a key time in discipleship and that we as a church need to do far more.
A new ministry to 20somethings
As a result we’ve started a semi-regular meeting (6 times a year) for the 20somethings at our church. We’re calling it ‘New Street: navigating life in your 20s’. For those of you who don’t know New Street is the name of the main Train Station in Birmingham.
- It is not a social club (although we hope people will build strong friendships through it).
- It is not a dating agency (although we’d be delighted if God brought people together through it).
- It is not a replacement for our homegroups (we need to integrate our young graduates into the church family)
- It is an opportunity to think through together the opportunities and challenges that come – almost one after another – within the space of just a few years in our 20s.
Why is it such a challenge being a Christian in your 20s?
At our first meeting a few weeks back we wanted to recognise, together, that it is a tough transition from student days to adult life. We called the meeting ‘The shock of the new’. In future posts I’ll set out exactly what I think is going on in our 20s that churches and their leaders might find helpful.
But maybe for many of us we simply need to accept that it’s never been tougher being a 20something and a Christian (or at least not in the living memory of the church).
Not much has been written either in the secular or Christian media. One book I read Get it together – a guide to surviving your quarter-life crisis by a non-Christian author put the problem like this:
Graduation is a celebration loaded with pressures precipitating an existential crisis. Who are you? What now? You’ve got to make the best of it!
Well what does that existential crisis look like for a Christian and how does the gospel answer it? More in future posts.
If any of you have any experience of a 20something ministry in your church then I’d love to hear about it.
Some circumstances in life are so tragic that they defy explanation. Nowhere is that more so than in situations that involve untimely death. Bryan Chappell writes:
In order for the human heart to maintain love for a Sovereign God, faith must affirm what it cannot prove: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)
We trust our sovereign God because he has shown us his heart at the cross. The sacrifice of Christ is the heart’s ultimate solace in times of greatest pain.
When we remember the cross, our faith in God’s sovereign purposes strengthens and comforts our hearts, though tragedy comes and human answers faith.
No where do we feel the need for some answers than after the death of a Christian through suicide.
Dr Wilson Benton wrote the following sermon for his congregation after the death, by suicide, of a Christian leader in the community. It is included in the book The hardest sermons you’ll ever have to preach and in it we find consolation and hope for even the darkest of situations. Below is a heavily edited summary of its contents.
Is suicide a sin?
The answer is yes. It is the taking of a life in a manner forbidden by God. It is murder – self-inflicted murder, but murder nonetheless – and God’s Word states, ‘You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13)
Is it an unforgiveable sin?
Suicide is not the unforgivable sin.
If a person is not forgiven by God, then the effect is the same as if none of his sins are forgiven. But if a person is identified as one forgiven by God, then all of his sins, including the sin of suicide, are forgiven.
Can a Christian commit suicide?
The answer is yes. Christians can commit all kinds of sins. Sometimes in those deep waters we forget. Our faith, which is real, is nonetheless really weak. And the fogs of despair, discouragement, and depression become so thick that we cannot see the face of the Lord Jesus.
What happens to the person who commits suicide?
That depends. What happens to any person who dies, regardless of how he dies? If that person is an unbeliever, that person goes to hell. If that person is a believer, that person goes to heaven. If the person who commits suicide is not a Christian, that person goes to hell. If the person who commits suicide is a Christian, that person goes to heaven.
Are others to blame when one commits suicide?
The answer is no. Many will feel guilty in this situation, many always do. Yes, we ought to be more sensitive and more caring and more supportive and certainly more prayerful, but we are not responsible for another’s decision.
Is God still in control at the point of suicide?
The answer is yes – God is still on control.
At age thirty-two, the great hymn writer William Cowper became so depressed that he determined to take his life. He ordered a horse-drawn cab to pick him up at his home and transport him to the London Bridge, where he planned to jump to his death. It was a foggy night, The cabbie got lost, and Cowper got frustrated. He thold the man to stop, got out of the cab, paid his fare, and truned around to discover that he was right back at his own doorstep. He went inside, stil bent on his evil intention. He drank poison, but it made him sick, and he threw it up. Then he determined to fall on a knife, but the knife blade broke, Finally, he made a crude attempt at hanging himself, but he was discovered, unconscious yet still alive, and he was cut down. In the days that followed, as he contemplated these events he wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.
Do God’s promises still apply to the person who commits suicide?
The answer is yes. All of God’s promises still apply to the person who commits suicide, for don’t you see that all of God’s promises in Christ are ‘yes’ and in him ‘Amen’ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). Suicide does not contravene the promises of God.
And what should we do?
We should cry out in pain, but we should also cry out in prayer.
We should pray for [X’s] family, and we should pray for his congregation, and we should pray for those who are bewildered and confused by his actions, and we should pray that God will somehow use all of this for his own honour and glory. And we should pray that he would even use this to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. And we should prya for ourselves – that we may be more sensitive to the pain borne by those around us, more supportive, more enoucrging, more prayerful.
But most of all, we c an praise God for being God, for being the God he really is, for beling the God whom we can trust even in the face of such tragedies. He is the God whom we can turn with all of our questions and heartache and pain, and he is the God who has already triumphed for us in Jesus Christ.
Are you right with God through faith in Jesus Christ?
If you are desperate or despondent, do not believe that your sadness disqualifies you from Jesus’ love or dismays your Saviour. Instead, recognize that he is the Saviour of the disconsolate an dloves to call the sorrowful to his embrace.
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