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Throughout this short series on marriage, I’ve had a few people ask if I would recommend some good books on marriage if you want to go from this series and read something, so I brought just a few [laughter]. Let me just mention these. Maybe I’ll try to put these on my blog later this week.
Here’s one, this is for, and especially for single people, Sex, Dating and Relationships, a good little book here by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas. Jay is a pastor in Chapel Hill. This one, by Dave Harvey, When Sinners Say I Do, so all of you who are married, that’s you, me, Sinners Say I Do. This one is a little bit different but it is so well-written, As for Me and My House by Walter Wangerin, Jr. Just putting this up here. Paul David Tripp, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage. Sounds like a good title, What Did You Expect? A new one that is more theological but very accessible and may appeal to some of you by Jim Newheiser, who is in the last year or so the new counseling professor at RTS here, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Critical Questions and Answers. This is a very good book dealing with all sorts of questions related to marriage, divorce, remarriage. And Timothy Keller with his with his wife Kathy, The Meaning of Marriage, an excellent book on marriage by Tim Keller. And last but not least, you’ll like the title: Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. So it’s history, but it’s really a beautiful portrait of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, and it’s got a great title: Marriage to a Difficult Man. So wives, you can say Pastor Kevin told us that we should look at this book, so there you go, a few books on marriage that I pulled off my shelf. There are many other ones and if you need to come up here afterward, they’ll be here and you can look at it and write down the title if you’re interested in any of those.
Let’s pray as we come to God’s Word. Our gracious heavenly Father, we ask now that You would give ears to hear that we might receive Your Word, that we would do more than sit and endure a sermon for 30 or 40 minutes, but we would actually hear the voice of God, and we would be encouraged, we would be built up, we would be challenged, we would be changed. We pray this all in Christ’s name. Amen.
“Many single adults,” and I’m quoting here, “many single adults believe that the church excludes and ignores them. They feel like the church is either neglecting them or it’s just not interested in them. So single adults vote with their feet. They come to church for a few months or years, but when their needs are not addressed or they never hear a sermon addressed to their unique issues, they fade away and go somewhere else or stop going to church altogether. They hear sermons preached on topics such as how to be a godly husband, or become a godly wife, but they have never heard a sermon on how to be a godly single adult.”
I read that several years ago and it really struck me that it is very easy for pastors to preach from time to time a series on marriage and hit all sorts of dynamics of married life and never think to address what are perhaps more than half the people in the room, if you count children and students and widows and widowers, and that is single people. So I want to remedy the situation this morning. Don’t promise that it is a good sermon, but it is a sermon directed towards singles. And that doesn’t mean that if you are married you can tune out the sermon, for actually a lot of what we have to think about is what we need to think about as a church together so that church with an appropriate emphasis on marriage and family, as most churches do, nevertheless does not become a place where single people feel as if they’re marginalized and set aside and out of somehow the mainstream of what the church is really about. It’s true for this church and it’s true for most churches in this country, that if you are looking for a place and you’re married and you have some children in the home and you seem to be a pretty normal functioning person in society, hey, you can come and fit in.
What about everyone else? And what about, if we’re honest, that that’s really none of us are as normal as we seem. There is no “normal,” there’s sinners in need of a savior and thankfully that covers all of us. And so often times it is hard for single people to feel like they have a voice or have a place in a church. There are a number of unique challenges to being single. One, singles are not all the same. We tend to lump people into that one category, and I’m sort of doing that this morning, married or unmarried. It sort of puts the definition on married or something that you’re not, which is unmarried, sort of defined by something you haven’t done or something you aren’t experiencing at the moment. And it’s also very different being unmarried at 18 or 23 or at 40 or being divorced at 45 or being a widower at 80; there are all sorts of variations on what it looks like to be single.
And singles, especially older singles, can feel out of place in a church culture which focuses so much on marriage and family. Programs revolve around families. Holidays highlight families. Sermon series on marriage and parenting. Classes for newlyweds and for parents and all of that is good. Churches sometimes advertise themselves as a church for the family, or they mark out, you know, 2018 is going to be the year of the family. And these are well-intentioned gestures but it can sometimes make those who have family far away or none to speak of or single feel as if maybe this isn’t the place for them.
And then some people look at singleness as if it were some sort of disease or illness. Everyone gets married, right? So if you aren’t married, especially if you may be older, then, well, something must be wrong. Or to be single is simply to be pre-married. They figure something is a little off. Do you have a rash? A disease? A disorder? Are you anti-men? Are you anti-women?
It can be hard to be single, even though, think about it, the Bible is full of single people and those who get married later in life. Jesus was single His whole life. The Apostle Paul was single when we meet him. Some people think perhaps he had been married; we don’t really have evidence of that. Certainly single when he’s writing these letters. As far as we can tell, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Jeremiah, Anna, Simeon, Hagar. And then there are widows: Naomi, Anna. Women who were left single, like Tamar, Queen Vashti. People who would never marry because of decisions that other people made: Jephthah’s daughter, the Ethiopian eunuch. We know that Isaac and Moses were older when they got married. And this is to say nothing about Nehemiah, Daniel, or Mark, whom we know nothing about families. Maybe were some were married and we just didn’t know about it, and if we don’t know about it, the Bible didn’t see it fit to tell us.
The point is that it is not treated as strange at all in the Bible that you would be single. And the Apostle Paul in particular prized singleness as a calling and a unique gift from God to be lived out to His glory.
I want you to turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 7, if you aren’t there already. We’ll read the first nine verses and then over the page to verses 32 through 35. 1 Corinthians chapter 7, this is page 955 in the pew Bibles in front of you.
“Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
And then over the page to verse 32: “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”
Let’s give the context so we can understand these verses. It’s a particularly challenging passage in that it sounds like Paul is saying some things that he shouldn’t be saying, so let’s understand what he means to be saying.
Look at verse 1. You see that Paul is specifically trying to address concerns that the Corinthians themselves have brought up, so it says “now concerning the matters about which you wrote,” and then it gives a quotation. Now in Greek manuscripts there is no quotation marks, but the translators here are right to assume that he is now quoting. This is not the Apostle Paul speaking, but this is rather something that they have said to him. Some of the Corinthians were saying “it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” So he’s going to respond to that. They said this to him, or they wrote it in a letter to him, he does this several times in 1 Corinthians.
Look at verse 25: “Now concerning the betrothed,” so there he’s going to address whatever concerns they’ve raised.
Look at chapter 8, verse 1: “Now concerning food offered to idols.” Or again if you flip a couple of pages to 12, verse 1: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers.”
So time and time again in 1 Corinthians he is addressing issues that they have brought up, questions that they have. Now we often think of the church at Corinth as being a wild, licentious place, sexually libertine, and indeed it was, but it seems that some had reacted against the loose morals at a place like Corinth and they had swung the pendulum far into the other direction.
And this often happens. Okay, we can see that we can’t control this thing called sex and our culture is absolutely out of control, and so what’s the best thing to do? No sex for anyone. Okay, so some of them were saying what they quote in verse 1: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” So they are going to the other extreme, an extreme aestheticism. If you’re really spiritual, some of them were saying, if you’re really spiritual, you don’t get married. If you’re really spiritual, you don’t have sex. If you’re really spiritual and you’re married and you have to have sex, then you don’t enjoy it. And Paul is writing to counteract that mistaken notion,
So verse 2, because of the temptation of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife. Now, he’s not saying each man must get married and each woman must get married, but rather he’s saying within marriage, each man should enjoy his wife in the context of sexual relations and so the wife with her husband. And notice, just as an aside here, how counter cultural and shocking this would have been for Paul to describe the sexual relationship between a husband and a wife in these sort of mutually fulfilling terms. Yes, well, the husband is to have his own wife, and the wife does not have rights over her own body, but the husband does. Oh, that would have sounded very normal in the ancient world. But Paul says “no, no, the wife is to have her own husband,” and you notice later it says “likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” This doesn’t mean that husband or wife are just bossing each other around, or just saying “okay, I want to have sex right now, you need to do it.” It’s saying there is a relationship, even within what we’ve seen already with the husband as the head of the household and the wife offering gracious submission, there is a sense in which both husband and wife are seeking mutually to fulfill the other. So the husband says “my body belongs to you” and the wife says to the husband “my body belongs to you.”
And so verses 4 and 5. Paul says you can abstain from sex, but only for a time, and do so by mutual consent. And there ought not to be long stretches unless it’s deemed medically necessary which happens, but there ought not normally to be long stretches of time in the marriage relationship when the husband and wife are not coming together in sexual union. He says for a limited time, verse 5, that you may devote yourselves to prayer, but then you come together. He says in verse 6 this is really as a concession, so he’s allowing, he’s dealing with people who are extreme aesthetics, say “sex is bad, we can’t do it even though we’re married, we’re Christians now and we know that sex is a bad thing and we’re not going to have it anymore.” Paul says, no, that’s not what God wants. If you need to abstain for a time, do it to pray and to devote yourself to spiritual warfare, but then you come together. So the norm is for a husband and wife to have a full sexual life together.
At which point the single people are thinking “this is the worst sermon on singleness I’ve ever heard. [laughter] You brought us all here to say married people get to have sex all the time. Not helpful. [laughter].”
Okay, but we had to get through that to see what Paul’s argument is. So now, look, he is going to give some advice in verses 8 and 9. “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.”
Now you notice in this whole section Paul is speaking in a very un-Paul like way. Usually Paul is so definitive: “If I preached to you a different gospel or an angel from heaven preaches you a different gospel, let him be anathema.” That’s how certain Paul is about the truth of the Gospel. But here you can see he’s giving appropriate caveats and qualifications. He’s saying, “Look, this is, I’m not laying down a command, I’m not giving you a burden, but let me tell you how I see this,” by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Now we need to keep verse 8 in mind with the rest of what we see in the Bible. The Bible says a lot about marriage. It was created by God in Genesis. We see it celebrated in a book like Song of Solomon, and even in this chapter where Paul is talking about his preference for singleness, he’s much more qualified than usual. He’s not trying to lay down an ironclad rule, but he does say that if you can stay single, there are many blessings for you and for the church. So that’s what he says in verse 8: To the unmarried and widows I say that it is good for them. If you can remain single, this is going to be a blessing to you and to the church. Now he quickly follows that up verse 9, many people, most, will bet married. And it is better to exercise self-control that you would get married and you would seek out marriage. So no one should feel guilty for being married, but Paul is really going out of his way now to emphasize the strategic importance of being single.
I want you to look at verse 7 because this has caused a lot of consternation and I think people tend to misinterpret this verse. “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.”
Okay, so he’s talking about single. Paul says I think it’d be great if you stayed single, but not everybody’s got that gift. So what does it mean that Paul says you have this gift. People tend to misunderstand the verse, and they think that the gift is a special ability to not be interested in marriage. “Okay, I have a gift, I don’t desire marriage, I’m very sexually content, I don’t seem to have hormones raging.” Now, it’s possible that people have that sense, some people say just, you know, I’m not thinking about marriage, I’m not, you know, sexually driven in that way, and that may be a blessing.
But I don’t believe that’s what Paul means here when he says some have the gift and some don’t. So people read that as “okay, do you have the gift of celibacy? Or you don’t have the gift of celibacy.” Okay, I want to take the spiritual gifts inventory and I don’t want it to turn up that I have that gift. I’ll take the gift of administration if I have to, I don’t want this gift of celibacy that comes back, very discouraging.
So what happens, when you understand the gift to mean that, then the single people say “well, I don’t feel that way. I guess I don’t have that gift.” And then what happens as a next step, people begin to argue for sexual permissiveness. “Hey, how can you tell me that I can’t have any sexual expression? Look, I don’t have the gift that the Bible is talking about.” And you see this often as the Church wrestles with what to do with people who experience same-sex attraction. Some people say “well, look, I don’t have the gift of being single, I don’t have the gift of no sexual desire, and you’re telling me that there’s no way for my sexual desire every to be fulfilled? So clearly, if I don’t have the gift, Paul, Paul in the Bible doesn’t expect me to operate as if I had that gift.”
I don’t think that’s what is meant here. I don’t think the gift is some people just have this special gift of celibacy, or some people have a special disinterest in marriage. Think about what, what are the spiritual gifts in the book of Corinthians? What are the spiritual gifts? The spiritual gifts are given by God to believers. Now there is often an overlap between natural gifts and spiritual gifts, but clearly these gifts are given by the Spirit, so whatever we’re talking about here as this gift, it must be something that God gives to Christians. So you think about it. You wouldn’t need to be a Christian to be content and not married. There’s all sorts of people who aren’t Christians, who don’t get married, and maybe they are content are not, or maybe they have an interest in sex that runs high, or maybe they don’t, but you wouldn’t have to have the Spirit of God, that could be just a natural thing. So Paul must be talking about something different than that.
What is the purpose in spiritual gifts? Well, we read for example in chapter 12, verse 7: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. Or over in chapter 14, verse 12: So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the Church. These are the two over-arching principles we see related to spiritual gifts; one, they’re given by God, two, they’re given for the edification of the Church.
So whatever Paul’s talking about in verse 7, he’s thinking of something that is given by God for the building up of the Church. This is not something that just falls upon natural people who say “eh, I’m not married and it’s no big deal.” It’s something that God can do in believers by His Spirit when they’re single.
So then, what is the gift? I think the gift is this: It is as a single person God’s given ability to focus in a unique way on gospel ministry. It is as a single person God’s gift in your life to focus in a unique way on gospel ministry. So it isn’t just celibacy and I’m not interested in marriage. The gift is singleness in the hands of a gospel-minded Christian. That’s what I think Paul means, it’s as simple as that. “I wish everyone were as I am, some people will have the gift of singleness, that is they will be single and they will the ability to then focus in a unique way on serving God, and other people will have a different gift and they will experience different gifts and manifestations of the Spirit in marriage.” And we’ll come down to that in just a moment in verses 32 and 35.
Now you may be saying to yourself, if you’re single, “well, it doesn’t feel like much of a gift.” You think we just got through the holidays and Christmas is especially bad. I read this from one single person: “Once I was invited to spend Christmas with a family, but after I got there, I wished I had never gone. I felt like they were trying to do me a favor, I felt like an intruder. Next Christmas I drove off in my car far away, rented a motel room, and sat there by myself, and cried.” So it may not feel like a gift.
Staying chaste can be a challenge. You think movies tempt you, the beach tempts you, the way other people dress tempts you, the internet temps you, your memories tempt you. It’s not easy to stay pure. You say “I feel like I’m burning with passion.” So it’s not a gift that we often encourage or enjoy.
And then if we’re honest, now I’m speaking to me and to the rest of the married folks here, sometimes we say things to single people that, that aren’t very helpful. We mean well. I wrote a blog several years ago about singleness and in response I had a woman write me a long e-mail. She wasn’t necessarily disagreeing with what I said, but she wrote me a long e-mail and she gave me permission to post it on my blog. Her e-mail was “what not to say to single women in your church,” and I think most of this, much of this, would apply to single men as well. It was very thoughtful. Here’s what she said:
“1. “I keep praying for someone to come along for you. She says thanks for your prayers, I hope someone comes along, too. Instead of praying for that, why don’t you pray that I would be growing in Christ’s likeness so that if Mr. Wonderful walks into my life, I would be better suited to be a helpmate for him.” That’s pretty mature.
She says “second, “I don’t know why no young man hasn’t scooped you up and carried you off yet.” She says I know this is supposed to be a compliment and that the intention of the kind woman is to tell me that she thinks I’m worth marrying. I appreciate that you think so highly of me. Unfortunately, when you say this, I immediately try to answer the question why no one has carried me off. Am I too much of one thing, not enough of another, do I look right, am I too soft-spoken or too loud, what do I need to change, since obviously something is wrong that I haven’t been taken off the market yet. Maybe I should go read Proverbs 31 again.”
“Third, you should move somewhere where there are more young men, or maybe go to a church with more single people.” Now there is some merit to having a community that you can feel comfortable with, but comments like this aren’t helpful. First, it makes it seem like the goal of going to church or moving somewhere is to find a spouse. That’s not why you go to church. Second, it feeds the controlling nature of most women, and I suspect most men, to want to put their matrimonial future into their own hands instead of trusting God. What woman wouldn’t want to go to a church filled with thousands of single men just waiting to find a wife? You could just ask them all to fill out applications and have a screening process. It could be the church version of the “Dating Game.” Third, some women don’t have the option of moving, so pointing out to them there might be greener pastures on the other side of the fence doesn’t help them be content. It can be a daily struggle for women to be okay with where they are in life and indirectly telling them that their life would be better somewhere else doesn’t help.
Or here’s another one. This was several years ago so this has changed a little bit, but she says “have you ever thought about online dating?” She says many, many wonderful Christian people have met and married through online dating. It’s the wave of the future, without a doubt, but it still embarrasses me when people are quick to mention online dating, like I need to settle for JV instead of Varsity. It’s not what it is, but that’s how it can feel.
And here’s the final one: “Don’t you want to get married and have children? This is usually in response to a statement about being content in my current state. Being content is not the same as having no desire for something. Yes, I do want to get married and have children. But there’s not a whole lot that I can do about it. I don’t have a lot of control over who I come across and whether they would like to ask me out. And although I would like these things, my life is not somehow a failure if I do not achieve them. I would love to be able to have the blessings that come with marriage and children, but it should not be more than my desire to have the blessings of a relationship with Christ.
And then she finishes with this: “Single people have a responsibility themselves not to be overly sensitive. Singleness can feel like a trial, but making little things into big deals because unintentionally people have hurt them isn’t the way to go, either. We need to extend grace, knowing that the intentions of people are good and they say these things out of love for us.”
I thought that was so well done and so mature and so thoughtful and so helpful, and I recognize things that I’ve said in those statements.
But there are advantages to being single, and that’s the point that Paul makes. So look at chapter 7, verses 32 through 35. He says very clearly that when you are married you have a concern about worldly things. Now here he’s not saying worldly as in sinful, but he’s saying when you’re married you’ve got a lot of other things to worry about. You have a spouse; you have that relationship. For most people then they have kids; that’s a lot to worry about. You have lots of things; you have illnesses and you have doctor’s visits and you have anniversaries and you have how’s this relationship going, we need to read a book together. You have all sorts of things.
He says when you’re single, you’re anxious about how to please the Lord. Now this doesn’t mean that we then turn around and say “single people, you do the work of ministry in the church.” Well, they have a life, they have jobs. But it does mean there is a freedom that the Apostle Paul is saying “I am thankful for this. I consider it a gift in my life.” Maybe a gift that you can focus on spiritual disciplines in a way that would be difficult for others, or you’re available to help, to serve, to mentor, to evangelize. Perhaps resources to give to ministry and missionaries and church. Perhaps the ability to take risks that sometimes seem far stretching for married people.
Listen, God does not have you single right now so that you can specialize in binge watching television. Or so you can feel sorry for yourself. He has you single so you can serve him with a reckless abandon.
In the world, people love to be married. It’s understandable. Most everyone in this room has a desire to be married if you’re not. And Paul says you have a right to do that. He had a right to take a believing wife, 1 Corinthians 9:5, but he said there “I waive that right, I waive that right so I could be freer to serve the Lord.” He said to be single doesn’t mean that no, now I’ve got to be a slave to these unfulfilled passions. No, now I can be even more of a slave and a servant to Christ.
Jesus said there are eunuchs who have been made so from birth and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, let the one who is able to receive this, receive it.
So you ask yourself the question “why am I single?” There’s two ways to ask that. You can ask it as “why am I single?” it’s understandable, or you can say “God, why am I single? What special work do you have for me?” Rather than spending time saying “okay, why am I single? God must want me to really do a personal audit of myself. There must be something wrong with myself. What is it about my personality?” That’s not what God wants you to focus on. You say why am I single? What does God have for me? What special work for the kingdom of heaven is God preparing for me as a single person? That’s what Paul argues. “I have a unique opportunity for my life, or perhaps just this season of my life, to give undivided devotion to the Lord. How might I best serve Him?” That’s what Paul thought.
The church has benefited greatly over the centuries from single men and women. Charles Simeon, famous pastor in Cambridge. J. Gresham Machen, never married. John Stott, Dick Lucas. Famous single women: Amy Carmichael, Gladys Alward. Jesus said “truly I say to you there is no one who has left house or brothers or sister or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the Gospel who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions and in the age to come eternal life, but many who are first will be last and the last will be first.”
This may be what you are intentionally sacrificing. For this season of life, perhaps you say I’ve freely chosen it or perhaps it is thrust upon you, perhaps you were divorced through no fault of your own, perhaps husband or wife has died and you’re looking at many, many years ahead. It’s not always a choice that we make, but the gift can still be ours. The gift to focus upon Christ and His work with unique, undivided devotion. And you say, “well, but it’s, it’s, it’s just, it’s too hard. It’s impossible in our day. You don’t understand how difficult this is. I have all these desires, I have all, you know, all of these images boarding me.” Or maybe there is someone here who struggles with same-sex attraction and you think “I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and these desires have not changed, so now I’m looking at a life of singleness because I want to be obedient to the Lord and what, what joy is there for me? How could God possibly be commanding something of me that is going to lead to such unfulfillment in my life?”
So just as we’ve seen with the sermon to wives and the sermon to husbands, and the sermon to single people. You can get from many other books some pointers for contentment, some pointers for conversation, some pointers for ways to speak with one another, and ways to, you know, find a good job, but what the Bible does that no one else and no other book will do, is to direct our attention vertically, because the issue is not well, just, you know, how can I get some tips for being a better wife or husband, or how can I just have the right perspective as a single.
The question is really who is God? Who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? Do you believe that He really is for you and not against you? He really is for you and not against you. And do we understand that the commands that God has given to us, to be faithful, to be chaste, to serve the Lord, in singleness, are ultimately good commands?
Part of bearing these burdens is understanding that we shouldn’t have to bear these burdens alone. Don’t you love the Psalm that says He puts the lonely into families? You know, it’s a great thing when you have a church that has a lot of generations, when you’ve got a church with history and people have been around for a while, there’s really great things about that. But here’s one of the challenges: When you’re in a different place and everyone is new, everyone is coming in, nobody, nobody is from here, no one, then they all have to sort of band together and figure it out, because we need each other. It can be a little harder if you think “well, I’ve got three generations here,” or “we have relatives just down the road” or “we already have our thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter plans set, it’s special, sacred family time.”
Do you know that the Bible goes out of its way and Jesus goes out of His way to relativize the importance of the nuclear family? What I mean by that is the Bible says, yes, that’s supremely important, but even more so is now this family. Remember Jesus said “who are my mother and brothers and sisters? Those who do the will of my Father in heaven.” And this now spiritual family that we have, so by all means, look forward to spending Easter holiday with your family. Just remember who our family consists of. It’s us. It’s the body of Christ.
We need to bear these burdens together. We need to understand that even married people have burdens. Do you think that every married person is, you know, just hitting on all cylinders with their sexual life? You think there is no married people that have had to put to death desires that they have? Now I’ve known married people who because of an illness or because of an injury, they live out the rest of their lives together without sexual activity. Or a spouse taken from you much sooner than you would like.
I always think of this couple that I knew in our previous church, high school sweethearts, grew up together, went to college together, planning on getting married and he’s diagnosed with cancer, 21,19, 20. He goes into remission, comes back, things look particularly grim. They say we’ve gotta, what do we do? Well, they speed it up, and she says I want to be married to you, for however long we can be married. And they were married, I forget it if was maybe a year before he passed away. Did his funeral, ripe old age of 23 or 24. Now she’s single.
God has a way of introducing into our lives burdens that we would never choose for ourselves, and so we need each other, and we need to believe that in whatever burdens He’s given to us, God is for us, not against us.
Let me give you a quote from Margaret Clarkson. I don’t know if any of you know that name. There are six hymns by Margaret Clarkson in our hymnal. She was a remarkable woman. She lived 1915 to 2008. She was a hymn writer. She suffered from physical illness. She was staunchly Reformed. She wrote 17 books, probably her best known is the book Grace Grows Best in Winter, and she was single her whole life. She wrote this: “Through no fault or choice of my own, I am unable to express my sexuality in the beauty and intimacy of Christian marriage as God intended when He created me as a sexual being in His own image. To seek to do this outside of marriage is by the clear teaching of Scripture to sin against God and against my own nature. As a committed Christian, then, I have no alternative but to live a life of voluntary celibacy. I must be chaste, not only in my body but in my mind and spirit as well. Since I am not in my 60s [when she wrote this, she died at 93], I think that my experience of what this means is valid. I want to go on record as having proved that for those who are committed to do God’s will, His commands are His enablings.” Isn’t that good? His commands are His enablings.
Friends, you are not less of a person for not being married, for not being married now, for perhaps never being married. Marriage, we must remember, is not the final destiny for any of us. Christianity is very distinct from Mormonism, for example, in that way. We are neither married nor given in marriage, but we will be like the angels in heaven. So what does that mean? I, I don’t know entirely. You know, I heard one husband say “well, okay, but I’m still going to be really, really, really good friends with my wife when we’re there.” Okay.
What it means is marriage is a picture of something better, and when you get to heaven you have something better. Marriage is not the final destiny for any of us.
And then think of this: The most fully human person who ever lived never was married, never had sex. The Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s so easy in our day to say “well, we make sex everything. It’s our identity, it’s who we are. If you don’t allow me to express whatever I’m feeling sexually, then you’ve not just put a burden on me, you’ve denied the very essence of my personhood.” And oh, how we need this humble correction from the Lord Jesus. Was Jesus lacking in anything? Was Jesus less human? Was Jesus an unfulfilled person, unsatisfied person? Did Jesus not have a significant ministry? We worship a single man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Sexual intercourse did not make Him less of a man or less of a person or less human. You can still be fully masculine, fully feminine, without marriage, without children. You are not destined for a life of loneliness. You are not destined for second tier Christian existence, but for a life that may be uniquely fit for risk-taking obedience in the pursuit of God.
Single people have a gift, maybe one you like and are embracing, and maybe one you’re still learning to appreciate, but it is a gift, and what will you do with that gift to bring glory to God and to build up the body of Christ? Real life is right now. You understand that? If you’re 15, if you’re 12, if you’re 24? So often we think, well, real life is kind of later, real like is I’m married and I have a house and I have a mortgage and I have two cars and I have some kids. Real life. No, real life is right now. For you. Serving Christ and serving the church in whatever capacity He’s given to you.
Just as we saw for husband and wives, being single has everything do with what you believe about God. Can He be trusted? Does He have a good purpose for your life? Is He good? Is He sovereign? Can you trust that all things come to you from His fatherly hand?
So let me close with one last quotation from Margaret Clarkson. She writes “When Christian was crossing the river at the close of Pilgrim’s Progress, his heart failed him for fear. He began to sink in the cold dark waters, but Hopeful, his companion, helped him to stand, calling out loudly “Be of good cheer, my brother. I feel the bottom and it is good.” Then Christian recovered his faith and passed safely through the waters to the celestial city.” Clarkson writes “if there are singles who find the waters of singleness dark and deep, who feel I sink in deep waters, the billows go over my head, all His waves go over me, this is my message to you concerning singleness: Be of good cheer, my brother, my sister. I feel the bottom and it is good.”
And if we can take that word from Margaret Clarkson, how much more so can we take the word from Jesus, our single savior?
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we pray that You would help us as individuals, yes, that we may walk in faith, humility, chastity, in marriage and out of marriage. Pray that you would convict us of sin if we have run afoul of these things, if we have doubted Your promises, if we have begun to think that a life of sexual purity is beyond our grasp, out of our reach. We pray not just that You would work on us as individuals, whether married or single, but as a church and as the Church, that we would be a place, yes, for families, but families as You have described them, that we would be a place of the right sort of inclusion. We pray, Lord, that we would grow together as married couples, as children, as those who have been divorced, as widows and widowers, single people, students, that we might follow You in whatever stage You have given to us for this season or for our lives and whatever gifts for the manifestation of the common good, that we may build up the Body of Christ and we would bring You glory. We pray that You would take our lives and use them as you see fit. In Christ we pray. Amen.