Singleness & Spirituality

Singleness & Spirituality

In the 2018 blog posts, I intend to focus on family and relationship matters as they relate to the spiritual life. I plan to share insights by way of both book reviews and devotional thoughts from God’s word. As you seek God in this new year, I hope that you’ll follow along, that you’ll be blessed by the content, and that you’ll receive some direction about where to look further for spiritual wisdom in relational and family matters. Our vision here at West is for Jesus to fill every heart, head, and hand. I pray that these articles may be one way of leaning into that vision.

With Saint Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, love is in the air! I’ve been taking the same beautiful gal out on dates at this time for nearly 13 years now, so for me, the decision of “Who?” has been settled. Now, the decisions are narrowed to “Where?” “When?” and “How do we secure a babysitter before everyone else does?!” However, many of my friends are still asking that first “Who?” question, and they’re not just asking it for February 14th, but they’re asking it about their lifelong partner. “Who?”

Unique Challenges to the Single Life

I want to acknowledge the unique challenges of the single life today, at least the ones I am aware of. I add that disclaimer, because honestly, I don’t know what it’s like to be single today. I was single over fourteen years ago. Things have changed. Yet, some things are timeless for any single person of any era. Single people today wrestle with God about their marital status; some single people may be disappointed. You may feel like you missed your only chance to be happy, and you are still blaming yourself. Others wonder if they’ve waited too long. Impatience short-circuits the spiritual development needed to prepare you for what is next. The single person may find it difficult to find his or her place and voice in the church’s vision, mission, and goals. You may be dating someone right now, and you are looking for guidance. Finally, some of you are boiling angry that the thing that people notice most about you is your singleness, instead of the gazillion other wonderful things about you (Cue: SCREAM!!! Go ahead; let it out.).

In 2011, I performed a cultural assessment on the layers of the world’s voice and message to people, particularly in the areas of romance and singleness. The world has something to say to you, but it is the way of folly. The way of folly always leads to a grave of many kinds of spiritual death. The single, faithful Christian set on purity and pursuing God will receive ridicule from the world. Virginity today is mocked instead of treasured and protected. Unfortunately, single people who seek refuge in the church often encounter an even more perplexing, profound, and painful mockery. I have talked to single adults throughout my years and places of ministry who have experienced blindspots in the church when it comes to singles. For example, the church hurts singles when it carries the unspoken “rule” that marriage is the rite of passage into true adulthood.

Unique Joys in the Single Life

I also want to encourage the unique joys of the single life. It can be a season of unique friendship. The single life may provide a unique opportunity for adventure, education, career advancement, and spiritual maturity. It is a time for your skill in living to develop in areas such as finance, responsibilities, exercise, and trades and crafts that will benefit you and others. It most definitely presents a time of unique Christian ministry—particularly in connecting with and edifying children, tweens, and teens. Don’t worry; I’m going to catch myself here: Single adults also have a unique ministry to the church and its adult ministries. A faithful, single Christian adult is able to write, teach, and minister with a clarity, conviction, and boldness that sometimes escapes married people because the affections of our hearts are divided. Paul—a faithful, single Christian—called married people out on this, remember?

He wrote,

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 . . . I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. 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 (1 Corinthians 7:6–7, 26–35).

I have had the privilege to serve with an array of solid, single people throughout my pastoral ministry. They don’t simply acquire joy, but they spread their joy to those around them. They are often very self-less with their time, resources, and giftedness. The church is the body of Christ, and single people are significant members of the body—both historically and today.

Harmonizing with God’s Voice

Single friends, keep seeking God. Harmony is a wonderful sound to experience. God’s voice is clear, constant, reliable, and trustworthy. We must find his voice on the matters of the spiritual life. I’d like to share a number of harmonic voices that have helped me explore God’s wisdom on the single life. This list is by no means conclusive; in fact, I would love to hear from single people about what they’re reading these days on Christian spirituality and the single life. I hope that in the end you are able to find your voice and add it to the harmony. Here are a few resources that impacted my life in a way that matured my spirituality as a single person and a couple of newer ones that I recently encountered:

Oldies But Goodies

  1. The Bible — Well, duh Captain Obvious. I know, but seriously; consider all of the single writers and characters of the Bible (e.g., Jesus, Paul, Jeremiah). Still further, consider the characters whom we observe both as single and married (e.g., Joseph, David, Ruth, Naomi, etc.). Clearly, God employs people who are single to advance his purposes on the world stage. God made us, understands us, and cares for us. What kind of theology of the single life might you gain from studying God’s word from this perspective?
  2. He That Is Spiritual — I’ve read this book several times. I’ve gone back to it again and again when teaching on the spiritual life. It was written by Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1918. The book is an exposition on the (1) Natural Person, (2) Spiritual Person, (3) Carnal Person (the Christian who should be mature, but isn’t), and (4) Spiritual Infant (a new Christian). For Chafer, the key to the spiritual life is understanding the ministries of the Holy Spirit available to you in Christ alone. As a single person, this book helped establish me on a path of seeking the filling of the Spirit and of trusting in his works of grace in my life. It helped me put away some childish things and embrace the responsibility for my spiritual life.
  3. Basic Theology — It doesn’t have to be this particular theology for you, but every single person should work though a volume on basic Christian theology. What do you believe? It’s important for you to know, and it’s important for you to be able to share. I went through Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology numerous times. I used it for teaching early on in my ministry.
  4. Wild at Heart — Aimee, my wife, reminded me the other day how important this book was to me when we first met. She’s right. Wild at Heart was written by John Eldridge. This book is for men, but ladies, I hope you can find something that is equivalent. There comes a point in every adult’s life where they have to face their past—things that were in our control and things that were not but affected us nonetheless. This book helped me confess, heal, and advance as a man who wanted to experience God.
  5. I Kissed Dating GoodbyeThere are actually some interesting, current developments going on with this 90s–2000s classic. For me in my own experience, it exposed the sexual and emotional sewage in which I had been swimming. It showed me the lies that I’d believed about love, trust, dating, happiness, purity, and more. It helped me discern what matters at 50. It caused me to be honest about the sickness in my heart. It challenged me in the area of genuine friendship. Joshua Harris had some wise things to say back in 1997 that are still relevant today; however, he may be presently fine-tuning his thoughts on IKDG. As a new Christian in 2001 wondering what on earth Christian spirituality in dating was supposed to look like, this book helped me.
  6. The Book of Romance — Harris’ book deconstructed my non-biblical worldview for dating, but Tommy Nelson’s book helped build something new in its place. Nelson looks at the biblical book of the Song of Songs, and paints a beautiful picture of what romance can be like for the person who loves God.
  7. Passion and Purity — Elisabeth Elliot’s book interwove the spiritual life and the romantic life by means of her own story. As a man, the book gave me insight into a woman’s perspective. A new edition was released in 2002. She’s real about our passions; she’s tenacious about purity. She understands that whatever estate we may find ourselves in, our lives must be brought under Christ’s control and lordship.

Newbies

  1. Just Do Something — Every Christian at some point has to have a frank conversation about “God’s will” for their lives. If you’re like me, you needed more than one conversation to clear the fog. John MacArthur has a sermon that I have listened to again and again for years. More recently, Kevin DeYoung authored this book. I love the subtitle: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will OR How To Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc.
  2. Gospel Fluency — In the Christian’s spiritual life either at the beginning or at a point of revival or re-commitment, he or she must encounter the reality that the gospel of Jesus Christ is EVERYTHING. When it is replaced by some counterfeit, the whole of Christianity crumbles. Jeff Vanderstelt places the gospel on the throne of the spiritual life.
  3. Exploring Christian Theology — If Ryrie is a little too old school for you, then try this three-volume set. Don’t worry; each volume isn’t too terribly long. The authors are professors whom I spent time with in seminary, and they have really put together a great beginner’s theology that also connects with the devotional life.
  4. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy — And may I add, single guy. Bonhoeffer was engaged, and he has some other books on that particular topic. However, his engagement was cut short. Eric Metaxas’ biography shows how God was at work in Bonhoeffer’s life and how he redeemed the time during evil days.
  5. Your Money Map — This book by Howard Dayton is one in a long line of succession from Larry Burkett’s influence. As a single Christian, one of the most beneficial things I did was to complete a financial workbook that gave me a sense of what God has to say about money. Single or married, a person needs to know how to handle money, or it will handle you!
  6. Living Together — In a world where cohabitation is on the rise and viewed as a smart thing to do, this book offers biblical insight and wisdom on the matter, particularly for those who find themselves in a situation to give advice. It’s written by my former pastor, Jeff VanGoethem. All the research says the same thing—cohabitation lays a poor foundation for marriage as a sacred covenant and as a life-long commitment. Single adults need to wake up about this, and the church needs to know how to approach the trend with grace and truth.

There are many more books that could or should be included. but these are some with which I have become familiar. I hope that you’ll let me know what book or stories God has used in your life as a single person. Face the challenges with courage. Embrace the joys with great delight. Remember that Jesus loves you; he has not lost track of you in the crowd. May the church be blessed by your presence.

Home: The Elusive Search for Place, Belonging, Rest, & Origin

Home

Where Is Home?

For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
(Hebrews 11:10 ESV)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines home in multiple ways:

  • one’s place of residence
  • the social unit formed by a family living together
  • a familiar or usual setting,” related to this is the idiom at home, which means “relaxed or comfortable, in harmony with the surroundings, or on familiar ground
  • a place of origin

What about you? How would you define home? The dictionary definitions may be narrowed even further to (1) a location, (2) a people, (3) rest and harmony, and (4) origin.

My personal experience, which I realize that everyone may not share, is that home can be elusive. Here is what I mean. As you get older, home changes . . . locations may change; the people who make up home may change; the familiar expectation of rest and harmony may change too. However, young people and children can also experience these changes to home. Sometimes the changes that come upon a home are a calling into a new adventure and opportunity for growth — for example, higher education, an opportunity to advance a career, serving God’s mission, building a new house, an adoption or foster care, etc. Yet, sometimes the changes that come upon a home are the result of unexpected tragedies or unplanned invasions into the dreams that you had — death of a loved one, a house that burned down, divorce, job loss, abuse of all kinds, disease that requires special care, etc. Maybe you haven’t been able to put words to the feeling before, but I bet in some way or fashion many of us have asked, “Where is home?”

Another element of elusiveness is added when you begin to follow Jesus as a Christian. Perhaps the old Southern Gospel song, “This World Is Not My Home” says it best,

This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Chorus
O Lord, You know I have no friend like You,
If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

They’re all expecting me, and that’s one thing I know,
My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go;
I know He’ll take me thro’ tho’ I am and weak and poor,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

I have a loving Savior up in glory-land,
I don’t expect to stop until I with Him stand,
He’s waiting now for me in heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Just up in glory-land, we’ll live eternally,
The saints on every hand are shouting victory,
Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

For the Christian, there is a search for a new location to call home; there is a search to belong to a family that isn’t bound by a loyalty made merely of earthly flesh and blood (c.f., Mark 3:31–35); there is a longing for true rest and perfect harmony. I would even say that there is an ancient longing of origin—when a person comes to know God as Creator, Father, and Savior, the idea of origin and returning to a place and people of origin takes on a new meaning. Consider these words from the writer of Hebrews:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13–16 ESV).

Abraham, for example, searched for this city— “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). Was Canaan all that Abraham searched for? Was Sinai all that Moses and Israel searched for?

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear (Hebrews 12:18–21 ESV).

Even the earthly Jerusalem on Mt. Zion appears to have been only a pattern shaped after a better city of promise,

On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God (Psalms 87:1–3 ESV).

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:18–24 ESV).

If you look closely, you’ll see in the previous verses that there is (1) a location—the heavenly Jerusalem, (2) a community—innumerable angels, the assembly of the firstborn, and the spirits of the righteous, (3) rest and harmony—festal gathering, made perfect, the mediator of a new covenant. We may even see a hint of origin and return here with the mention of “the city of the living God.” Perhaps, this new Jerusalem is something like Eden was meant to be.

The writer of Hebrews indicates that “passage” into the city that the Christian seeks actually requires a journey “outside the camp.” The way of Jesus is outside the gate, outside the camp. For the audience of the writer to the Hebrews, this meant choosing Christ by faith, which was a confession that he was better than Moses, better than the temple, better than the sacrifices, better than the High Priest, and offered a better home than Jerusalem. The road that leads to the city we seek is marked with suffering, reproach, and sacrifice.

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:12–16 ESV).

The final words of Scripture to us about this new city are found in Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1–4 ESV).

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9–14 ESV).

Where is home? Home is “the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). It is an ancient city that God has been building for ages, and he invites us into this home. He built its gates out of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He built its foundation out of the apostles. Jesus Christ is its cornerstone. He’s still building it out of the supply of “living stones” in the church (1 Pet. 2:4). The location of this home is now heavenly, but there will one day be a move to earth, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come,” and “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” There is a social, family unit forming, held together by our common faith and fellowship in Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God. You can feel the true rest and perfect harmony when John writes, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Doesn’t dwelling with God in the new heaven and new earth also remind us of Genesis in the Garden of Eden?

So what? Home is a residence, a community to which you belong, rest and harmony, and a place of origin. For many people, home is elusive. The heart awakened by the gospel begins to reimagine what home is, and the two views of the earthly home and the heaven. Home begins to orient itself around God—his city, his people, his rest and harmony, and a return to his purpose for humanity.

I think that this gospel reorientation of home is practical in four ways.

Enemies of Home

First, it exposes sin, Satan, and death as the enemies of home. They destroy locations, divide families, make us restless and interrupt our harmony, and blind us toward God’s purpose in creating us.

Grace at Home

Second, the gospel reorientation of home allows us to have grace with our current home situation, empathizing with and understanding its imperfections and limitations and rejoicing in the glimpses it gives us of our future home.

Hope for Home

Third, we have a future hope in a dwelling, community, rest & harmony, that will fulfill God’s purpose for us and that will be free from the threats of sin, death, and Satan.

Church as Home

Lastly, I think that the closest place we can experience anything like that future home is in the church—a location of assembly, a community and family united in Christ by God’s Spirit made up of many fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, spiritual rest and peace in Christ, and a place of fellowship around God’s purposes for our lives. Let’s be the best home we can, with God’s help, at West Lisbon.

Navigating Singleness and Marriage in the Christian Life – Part 2

Last month in The Messenger, I shared three of six principles that I learned during a season of singleness several years ago: Mission, Love, and Purity. This month, I want to continue writing about the final three—Trust, Loyalty, and Community.
Navigate Trust

The Greek word used in the New Testament for our English verb “to believe” is πιστεύω (pis-teu-O), and its range of meaning is

to entrust oneself to an entity in complete confidence, believe (in), trust, with implication of total commitment to the one who is trusted. In our literature, God and Christ are objects of this type of faith that relies on their power and nearness to help, in addition to being convinced that their revelations or disclosures are true (BDAG entry). 

Growing to trust God’s reliability should be the desire of every Christian, regardless of their marital status. Do you trust him with your singleness? Do you trust him with your marriage? Do you trust him when there’s brokenness? The Scriptures teach that humans were created to believe God and his word. Our depravity tempts us to doubt and reject God’s reliability. The love of God in Christ’s salvation calls us to contrition, so that we turn from unbelief toward belief again. In the restoration at the end, our faith will become sight. My point here is to demonstrate that to believe and trust God is human. Faith is something that grows; it’s dynamic and developing, setting us free from unbelief as we walk with God in the present and remember his past faithfulness. A “mustard seed” of faith can go a long way, because the object of our faith is so strong and steady. A little bit of trust in God can change your life, because he is so trustworthy. So, wherever you find yourself relationally, take the advice of Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there.” The purpose of this quote is not to say that the single person should not/will not ever get married, but rather do not fail to exhaust all that God has for you to learn while your single. Trust him with the seasons of your life. Willingly offer to him your dreams by loosening your grip on singleness and marriage, and allow him to fill your hands with his dreams for singleness and marriage (1 Corinthians 7).

Navigate Loyalty

Loyalty to something outside of the self is highly suspect today. To me, there is an obvious connection with this cultural trend and problems in the family and in the church. Christians should be asking, “How does God feel about loyalty? Does he think it is a virtue or a vice?” The Scriptures are clear that God himself is loyal, faithful, and steadfast in his love (Psalm 26:3); however, the Scriptures also testify to the uniqueness of loyalty among humans: 

Many people profess their loyalty, but a faithful person–who can find? (Proverbs 20:6 NET). 

Therefore, God is loyal and desires it among humans who bear his image. 

The single person should practice loyalty. Whether you marry or not, loyalty is a virtue that will benefit you in every walk of life, especially in marriage. One place where you can practice loyalty is your local church—be loyal when it’s hard and even when you disagree. You’ll have plenty of difficult and disagreeing days when you get married. I think that the Scriptures indicate that loyalty can be hard even when we agree in our relationships with God, church, family, and others. We were created by God to experience life through loyalty to him. Sin divided our loyalty into loyalties. Jesus came and is coming again to be Lord of our loyalties. Practice steadfast love and faithfulness now. 

Married people are wise to intentionally practice loyalty to their spouses, by continuing to learn and lean on God’s loyalty. God is loyal to his people in every way, even when it comes to death on a cross to save them. In our world of technology and mobility, there are married people who think that they can get away with living two lives. However, God knows the loyalties of our hearts, sees every action, and is Judge of all. His all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful presence is not hindered by geography or technology. Married people have entered into a covenant with God for one another, and this covenant is a liberating restriction, refining our loyalty. As Paul taught the Galatians about Christian living,

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Gal. 5:13). 

The Scriptures are clear that the loyalty expressed to one’s spouse is a parable and picture about God’s loyal love to us in the gospel (Ephesians 5:22–33). Maybe you’re divorced and single. What does the practice of loyalty look like for you? Your situation could be very complex, and I do not feel we should minimize all of the potential difficulties and obstacles to loyalty in some cases. Maybe you were and are loyal, but your husband or wife was not or is not. Maybe you were the one who failed to be loyal. By God’s grace, let’s ask, what does it look like for you to be loyal today? What does it look like for you to imitate the gospel-kind of loyalty that God displays—today? Is God calling you to be loyal to your marriage covenant, even though your spouse has not been? What is God asking you do? Is God asking you to pray? Reach out again? The Scriptures are clear that what God unites as “one flesh,” man is unable to separate—no matter what human law may say. Some of you may already be remarried, or you are single, but your former spouse is already remarried. Wherever you are, be all there, and seek to be full of God and his word. Begin practicing loyalty today. If you’re remarried, be loyal in your current marriage. If you are single, practice loyalty in your church, in your family, and in your friendships. 

Navigate Community

Lastly, I see community as extremely beneficial to the single person and the married person. As a single person, I was on the receiving end of some great advice and counselors. I am very thankful for those men and women who spoke truth into my life as I was trying to figure out what it meant to be a man who walked with God. The community of believers in the local church should be a great resource for the single person; however, too often, a pastor hears horror stories about things that are said to single people in the church. Single people strengthen the community and the mission. The community should also be a greenhouse for the single person to grow in his or her relationship with God, no matter if marriage is or is not in his or her future. The married couple also needs the community. Marriage is enjoyable and hard—it’s not either/or; it’s both/and. The church is a place of support when there is sorrow (Matt. 5:4); the church is a place of counseling when there’s conflict (Rom. 15:14); the church is a place of honest rebuke and correction when there is sin (Matt. 18:15–20); the church is a place of grace when there is repentance about failure (2 Cor. 2:7–11); the church is a place of celebration when families hit milestones and spiritual markers (Philem. 4–5). The married couple and their story also contribute to the community. Young adults need to see decades of joy and perseverance in marriage. The married couple that has children knows how to love other children too. The married couple who does not or cannot have children of their own can become spiritual mothers and fathers to the children of the church. The church needs single and married people. Single and married people need the church. Best of all, single and married people who claim Christ as Savior and King share him in common, and he is our peace. Our marital statuses are different, but our Lord is one.

I hope that these six principles—Mission, Love, Purity, Trust, Loyalty, and Community—will help you navigate the waters of the single life and the married life. I pray that the Spirit of Truth will always be your teacher, for he always seeks to glorify the gospel of Jesus in and through you. May he speak to you through the word of God in the season in which you currently are seeking him.

Navigating Relationships in the Christian Life: Singleness and Marriage

Singleness

A lady wanted to marry four different men in her lifetime. She said each one would help her with the four things she needed most. First, she wanted to marry a banker. Second, a movie star. Next, a clergyman. And finally, a funeral director. When asked why, she answered, “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!” (Chuck Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life).

Well, that’s certainly one way of looking at it! Last Sunday at West Lisbon, we began the last of four sermon series that have highlighted our core Biblical and Historical Principles: (1) The Worship of God, (2) The Gospel Mission, (3) The Spiritual Life, and (4) The Family. Last week, we sought to recover God’s vision for the family, which starts with recognizing God’s original intent and purpose in creating humanity. He created us to be his image-bearers, singing us into being (Gen.1:27), and he blessed humanity, giving them special power and privilege to fill the earth with the image of God and to carry our his purposes in history. This Sunday, May 15th, we’ll look at how strong singles strengthen the mission of the gospel (1 Cor. 7:25–35).

In light of the series and our current sermon topics, I decided to write to you about navigating relationships in the Christian life. It is my hope to employ my experience and the Bible to give direction to those who are single with no intention to marry right now, others who are single and actively seeking a potential spouse, and even those who are presently engaged to be married to another. At the end, I’ll also reference some further reading on the topic.

At the beginning of 2002, I was a new Christian, in the middle of college and undecided about my degree and career path, and engaged to be married. By the end of 2002, I was still growing in my Christian faith with a new burden to learn from the Bible what it meant to be a Christian man and servant-leader. I also switched colleges in order to study Bible and Theology. I was no longer engaged to be married. I wondered if I ever would get married, if God had called me to a life of singleness, and if I was capable of being a godly husband. In hindsight, I see so many things that I did wrong, but I did one thing that was very helpful to my spiritual growth—I took two years to read, study, pray, and develop relationships with other godly men with the aim of becoming one myself by God’s grace. There was nothing magical about two years, it just happened to be the period of time that God gave to me to figure some things out. There are six principles that I learned to navigate during that time that I want to share with you and which I hope are helpful to your walk with Christ: Mission, Love, Purity, Trust, Loyalty, and Community.

Navigating Mission

Did you know that you were created for a mission? Not just any mission, but God’s mission. Genesis 1:26–28 explains that God made humanity for the purposes of bearing his image and ruling as his representatives on the earth. Image-bearing refers primarily to the spiritual side of our identity. Remember, God is spirit (John 4:24), so the way in which we bear his image is spiritual. In Genesis 1:26 and 28, God also blessed humanity with dominion over the earth. Tony Evans describes this dominion as

ruling on God’s behalf in history so that history comes under God’s authority.

God sang you into existence (Gen. 1:27), and he created you for the ultimate mission. Life is all about this mission. It also implies that there is opposition. Why else would God’s rule and dominion need to be established so that the earth is filled with his image-bearers? Satan opposes God and his rule, and therefore, he opposes humans and their God-given mission. We are God’s representatives sent into enemy territory.

Reading in Genesis 3, we discover that Satan gained what appeared to be a key victory over our first parents. In the temptation, Adam and Eve failed to bear God’s image, and they failed to exercise their dominion over the creatures of the sea, air, and land by submitting themselves to the snake. Sin shattered the image-bearers; humans surrendered their dominion to the enemy. However, God resolved to continue his plan to fill the earth with his glory and dominion. Now, the mission is not so much about procreation as it is spiritual rebirth. Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3; cf. Titus 3:3–7).

Notice how the rule of God is now tied together with the new birth by the Spirit. How do we participate in this mission of new birth leading to a recovery of God’s rule? We must proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. His faithful death and resurrection regenerates the soul, restores the image-bearing mission of humanity, and makes way for the kingdom of God on the earth.

If you are single, have you methodically and intentionally thought through the implications of the gospel mission on your life? Is God finished utilizing your single years for his “gospel-schooling”? Remember,

For we are his poem, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

If you are considering marriage or are already married, how is God calling you as a couple to give your lives for the gospel mission? Humans were created for image-bearing and for God’s dominion. Jesus saves us to restore this mission. This is bedrock. This is why you exist. It’s why you’re here, and his grace has everything you need to live a life of significance—single or married.

Navigating Love

I once bought—hook, line, and sinker—into our culture’s description of love. Even Merriam-Webster is too simplistic when it comes to defining love,

a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person; attraction that includes sexual desire; the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship; a person you love in a romantic way.

Notice the words . . . feeling . . . attraction . . . romantic. For sure, this is one side of love—companionship, affection, feeling, and romance—but our American concept of love ignores the key element of love—choice that leads to selfless action. Biblical love is the love that denies oneself for the benefit and interest of others. The love of God for us through the work of Christ is described in this way.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3–5).

Later, the apostle John writes,

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers (1 John 3:16).

This kind of sacrificial love is demanded of husbands in Ephesians 5:25.

When we are born again, believing in Jesus Christ, God begins again to shape us into his image-bearers. The Holy Spirit indwells us, and his presence is accompanied by a fruitfulness, part of which is this kind of love. I learned years ago that the single life is a training ground for this kind of sacrificial love. There are tons of opportunities to learn and yield to the Holy Spirit, so that he may shape you into a person who chooses to love. There are parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, nephews, nieces, co-workers, friends, fellow Christians, and others with whom you can share life together and develop this Christ-like love. If you’re single, has God finished using your single years to school you in sacrificial love? If you are engaged, are you ready to love in this way? Do you feel that your fiancé is also prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to thrive in your marriage and mission? If you’ve been married awhile, where are you struggling to choose to love? What is preventing you from laying down your life for your spouse?

Navigating Purity

When I was born again in 2001, God opened my eyes to the sexual sewage that I had been swimming in for years. I needed to change my mind about sexuality. Instead of assuming that I knew what was proper, I needed to humbly receive God’s clear teaching on the theme of purity in the spiritual life of one who has been born again and who was being restored in Christ to bear God’s image again. Psalm 119:9 has always stuck with me from those days, “How shall a young man keep his way pure?” asks the Psalmist. He answers, “By keeping it according to your word.” Therefore, God has something to say about purity, and since he is the designer of our sexuality, then it seems best to let him speak into this area of our lives.

As the sexual sewage of the world continues to accumulate more and more, God’s truth about purity continues to set us free. The real question is, do you want purity? Do you really want to be pure? Do you really want what the Holy Spirit wants for your life? Stop treating purity like it’s some line, as if you’re still pure so long as you don’t break some rule you’ve set up for yourself. Purity is a direction of the heart. You either want it, or you don’t. You either love what God loves, or you don’t. If you don’t, find in God the grace you need to repent, and allow the word of God to renew your mind. If you do, then you can trust that he will continue to direct the desires of your heart into paths of purity.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday (Psalms 37:3–6).

Don’t make purity a cloudy mystery. God has not left us to walk around aimlessly in some sexual fog. Be authentic and honest; let’s be real, and stop justifying immorality. God’s will on sexual purity is not confusing; it’s very clear. From the beginning, he designed sexuality to be experienced within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. He has sanctified the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4; cf. 1 Cor. 7:3–5). He hasn’t changed his view. His design still works best for his glory and our enjoyment. Remember, the works of the sinful nature are obvious—they’re not mysterious—and they are trying to deceive, destroy, and to rob you of genuine sexuality, worship, relationships, and order (Gal. 5:19–21; cf. 1 Thess. 4:3–8).

Do you have a heading? Is the compass of your spiritual life pointed in the direction of purity? It is best to find this heading while you’re single. Establish a direction and a delight in purity before you enter into a relationship. Don’t enter a relationship unprepared. Be ready to lead toward purity. If you are already in a relationship in which you’ve lost purity, take the necessary steps to regain purity. If you’re dating or engaged and purity has been lost, get out of the relationship, or in the very least postpone any big plans. Sexual immorality clouds discernment and vision. Saying the “I-dos” won’t all of a sudden create a culture of purity in your relationship. Remember how urgent Jesus was about handling the temptations of the world, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matthew 18:7–9). If you are married and immorality has crept into your marriage, get help quick. Don’t try to bear the burden alone; let spiritually mature brothers and sisters walk alongside you so that you may begin to imagine a pathway into healing and perhaps even restoration.

There’s more to say, but for now, let’s conclude part one of Navigating Singleness and Marriage in the Christian Life. In the June Messenger, we’ll pick up part two and learn to navigate trust, loyalty, and community. Here are a number of books to pick up for further reading and help in navigating the waters of singleness and marriage:

This Momentary Marriage by John Piper (http://www.desiringgod.org/books/this-momentary-marriage)
The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller (http://www.timothykeller.com/books/the-meaning-of-marriage)
Our Story . . . His Story by Rick Rood
I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris (btw, some Christians hate this book; but it helped me tremendously)
Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris
Not Even a Hint by Joshua Harris
Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn (http://www.everymanministries.com)
Every Woman’s Battle by Shannon Etheridge (http://familylifetoday.com/series/every-woman-s-battle/)
Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot

I hope that part one has been encouraging to you and that these resources equip you for godliness and for experiencing God personally and in your relationships.