“Good” is one of those words we use in a great variety of ways: good day/night, good food, good girl/boy, good job, good vibes, good hair day, good sex . . . well, you get the picture. Most of these give the idea of fulfilling and refreshing times which make you feel – well – good.
I was glancing through the TV schedule this week, and saw these movies: “The Good Sister,” “The Good Mother, ” and “the Good Teacher.” Hmmmmm, let’s see. The “Good Sister” pretended to be a long-lost identical twin who seduced her husband, finally killing him, and returning to her original identity and a new life. The “Good Mother” demonstrated Munchausen Syndrome by making her daughters ill so she could play the part of the perfect caretaker. The “Good Teacher” seduced at least one high school student.
Now, I do understand that the point of these movies was to demonstrate the opposite of “good.” But, too often in conduct these days, the meaning of what is “good” does get mixed into a crazy quilt of “what makes me feel good,.” but which may demonstrate the opposite. Sometimes, having a “good” day may come from having seen someone fail which made us feel superior – or “good.” Eating “good” food may include eating less than healthy stuff which admittedly makes us feel “good,” but which is not so beneficial for the body. Having “good” sex may be in the context of a couple of high school students having an experience for which they are not really prepared. But, if it feels “good” it must be OK. Right?
What is “good” anyway? Webster says: “possessing desirable qualities, promoting success, welfare, or happiness; kind, benevolent, gracious, polite, and friendly; clever, skillful, adequate, sufficient, competent and sound.”
Other definitions: “possessing moral excellence; real and actual; full and complete; honorable; unblemished.”
A man approached Jesus one day saying, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ first response was, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good–except God alone.” He didn’t define “good,” nor did he deny that this adjective actually correctly applied to Him. He just went on to demonstrate how the goodness of God might apply to this inquirer by listing some of the 10 Commandments: no adultery, no murder, no stealing, no false testimony, do honor father and mother. The man said he kept all those. Jesus then told him to sell all he had, exposing the man’s heart concerning the commandments He had not mentioned: no coveting, no gods before God, no idols, no taking God’s name in vain, and keeping the Sabbath holy. This very wealthy man went away sad because his real heart attitude and understanding about what is “good” was revealed for all to see. He had not kept all the Commandments after all. (Luke 18:18-23)
Now, of course, the question I often ask myself is “What is good singleness – as opposed to what is good about singleness? I have to admit that while I want my life to reflect the character of God, I do covet once in a while – especially when I go to a wedding and hear the words, “to love and to cherish.” While I do not have any carved idols in my home, there are times when my wants control my thoughts and actions as strongly as if they were idols. Frankly, there are times when I have not viewed singleness as “good” because it has not felt so good!
Well, here’s what I’ve decided. Good singleness is based upon the unwavering belief that God is the ultimate of goodness – far beyond what I can possibly describe. Even when I grieve over losses of what I’ve never had, or ache with the tension of unfulfilled desires, God is still good! It is my assignment from Him to pursue contentment and joy – in the condition I find myself – for the good set before me. Good singleness comes when I celebrate the life He gives to me.
Paige Benton writes in Singled Out by God for Good:
“His goodness is not the effect of his disposition but the essence of his person–not an attitude but an attribute. . . I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me.”
It’s the week after Thanksgiving, and if you are like the lion’s share of the country, you ended your Thursday with a full tummy and the thought that you wouldn’t need to eat for 3 days. By the way, “lion’s share” is a term meaning “the most of.” Watch any wild life documentary, and you’ve probably seen lions growling and biting and groveling for every bit of food they can get without concern for their furry family members. Of course, most of us didn’t wait 3 days, but were happy to see breakfast the next day. Hopefully, most of us also stopped to ponder things to be thankful for in 2014.
Celibacy is often put into the same category as appetite and hunger. Our body signals when it’s time to eat. Our body also signals when it wants physical intimacy. Just as hunger pangs increase the longer we do not eat, physical desire also increases when it does not receive release. There’s just one gigantic difference. One hunger leads to physical death if we do not eat again. The other can lead to a variety of different places – frustration, anger, despair, or even contentment and self-control. No matter how strong the urge,no one dies if they never express their sexuality in physical intimacy.
Not expressing sexuality in physical intimacy, however, has become a laughable, irrational, unreasonable concept to the lion’s share of the country. And, too many of the lions are those who say they consider the Bible to be the faithful transcript of God’s mind in rules of conduct, yet they also agree that it is not reasonable – or even possible – to save physical sexual expression for marriage. I have to admit that I have never seen a really good answer to “how does a single deal with intense sexual feelings without giving in to them?” The church in general has opted to keep repeating, “Just don’t,” “Wait,” and “Take cold showers.” None of these responses even begins to touch the core of the depth of desire many onesomes experience.
I admit that at times I am baffled by the lack of specific instruction in Scripture for the single person, especially the onesome in unwanted protracted singleness. I have often read I Corinthians 7:9 with puzzlement.
- * KJV – If a man cannot contain, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn.
- * NIV – But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
- * NLT – But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.
- * AMP – But if they have not self-control (restraint of their passions), they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame [with passion and tortured continually with ungratified desire].
- * MSG – But if they can’t manage their desires and emotions, they should by all means go ahead and get married. The difficulties of marriage are preferable by far to a sexually tortured life as a single.
A cursory reading of this verse makes it sound as if marriage was sort of like a peach on a tree available for the picking. It speaks to the “unmarried and the widows,” so men and women were addressed alike.
But, what happens to those who “burn” with nary a future spouse in sight?
I admit to a few flames at times. How ’bout you?
Well, this is where the whole area of self-control, restraint, and management of desires and emotions comes into the picture.
Thought and physical desire become partners.
- * Jesus speaks of lust and immorality beginning in the mind. (Matthew 15:19)
- * Taking part in things not glorifying to our Holy God leads to sin. (Acts 15:20)
- * Alcohol can lead us to drop our normal boundaries. (Romans 13:13)
- * The body is meant for sexual morality. (I Corinthians 6:13-18)
- * Sexual immorality is idolatry. (Colossians 3;5)
- * Flee immorality! (I Corinthians 6:18)
Are restraint and self-control feasible in terms of celibacy even in a sex-crazed society? Absolutely! We have to make difficult choices every day. Why not in this area?
NIV – Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age . . .
One of the funniest conversations I ever had was trying to explain the mimeograph to my younger work colleagues. One was complaining about how slow the copy machine was – even though it was a new state-of-the-art creation at the time. I told him to be happy he didn’t have to use a mimeograph. He turned to me with the same question marks in his eyes that I’m sure are in many of your eyes. What in the world is that?
The mimeograph was a precursor to the copy machine. It used a legal-size waxy sheet which went into a typewriter – another fine example of a “what-is-that.” The typewriter was set so that the ribbon didn’t come between the key letters and the sheet, making sharp indentations. The machine had a large drum filled with toner around which the waxy sheet was carefully stretched so as not to tear it. The drum was rotated using a handle. Thousands of inky pages were sent into classrooms and businesses for quite a few years using this device, and people had to endure black finger tips if the ink had not totally dried. Thank goodness for the inventor of the copy machine which made the mimeograph obsolete and thankfully left behind.
There are many who would say that celibacy is one of those obsolete, outdated, old-fashioned, and ultra-conservative concepts. Of course, trying to compare “concept” with “concrete” is like the proverbial apples to oranges – obviously two different entities.
So, is celibacy a gift or a discipline? My personal opinion is that the practice of celibacy is a honing of self-control, which is empowered by the fruit of the Spirit the Apostle Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22-23. The exercise of celibacy is the practice of growing discipline meant to reflect an inward decision to demonstrate sexuality in a righteous way as an unmarried individual.
Is celibacy punishment for an unnecessary rule? Exodus 20:14 – “You shall not commit adultery.” Non-celibacy falls under the understanding of this word which means, “don’t fool around with someone who is not your spouse” which includes the married and unmarried alike. Jesus repeated this commandment in Matthew 5;27-28, expanding it to mean that even thinking about adultery somehow becomes as strong a reality as the act.
When Moses descended the mountain with stone tablets upon which God had written commandments with His finger (Exodus 31:18) the Israelites did not have to ask for definitions of honoring God, idolatry, cursing, keeping the Sabbath, murder, adultery, stealing, giving false testimony, and coveting material things and relationships. They already knew what they meant, and they knew they had already broken them. For the most part, we do not need definitions to tell us that not following these things continue to be detrimental to maintaining an orderly life.
The argument is that while we can exercise self-control in areas like murder and stealing, it is not reasonable to expect that the same self-control can be exercised in areas like adultery and coveting relationships. Why are these things singled out as unreasonable while the others are not?
Let’s face it. Feelings can be so strong as to overwhelm us. It’s obvious that if we ignore the feeling of hunger indefinitely, we die. We’ve come to equate sexuality with physical appetite. While there is no evidence that abstaining from sexual acts is fatal, many would say it feels just like that. They might also say abstaining from sexual acts while unmarried simply is neither reasonable nor rational. Jesus’ mention, however, of the thought of adultery being in the same realm as the act, puts it solidly into the area of reason.
There are no celebrations that I’m aware of for faithful celibacy outside of marriage. It is unfortunate that the church at large simply ignores the issue most of the time, leaving many onesomes feeling like they are less valued than they would be if they were married. That’s why you see very few of the never-married in churches today. And, that’s one of the reasons why many churches do not consider it an issue compelling enough to address. The church does not think enough of us exist!
But, does that make celibacy unreasonable, irrational, outdated, and obsolete? Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of our God endures forever.” (NIV) If He valued sexual faithfulness when these words were written thousands of years ago, He continues to value it – to value us!
Well, these are the thoughts I woke up with this morning. How about you? I’d love to read your views.
The Christian Post ran an article in the Spring of 2014 called “Sexual Atheism: Christian Dating Reveals a Deeper Spiritual Malaise” which highlights an alarming reality in today’s single society. It uses information from a 2014 survey done by christianmingle.com called State of Dating in America. While this was not limited to those who claimed to be Christians, a significant number of Christians participated. It is worth your while to look at all 81 pages of this report which includes dating etiquette, deal breakers, expectations, and a host of other information.
Out of 2,600 singles from 18 to 59 years of age, over 80% believe that engaging in any sort of sexual activity with someone outside of a committed relationship is considered as unfaithfulness. This includes flirting and texting suggestive messages and pictures. But, even though fidelity is given lip service, about 25% would consider marrying someone who has been unfaithful to them, with a slight % increase of those who admit to having been unfaithful in a relationship. So, faithfulness is important, but not so important that it is a limiting boundary in many lives. In the scale of faithfulness and temptation to infidelity, the temptation often proves more appealing – of greater value – more important – irresistible.
The Christian Post article says that 63% of the Christians surveyed indicated that they would have sex before marriage. This is not terribly surprising to us given the world we live in today. Sexual messages smack us in the face in advertising, movies, and online opportunities. We all know folks who choose to live together outside of the marriage commitment, and sometimes children are also in the picture. And, we are not surprised.
Some who say they have given their lives to Jesus Christ and are committed to honor and glorify Him are ones who admit they are sexually active outside of marriage.
What has happened to disconnect these folks from honest and straight-forward teaching on moral conduct and holy living? Is this just a reaction to strict and discompassionate lectures of the past? Is it just a reaction to the common command, “No sex before marriage,” with no solid and honest help to deal with a normal strong desire built into us by the God Who created sex and everything else?
What has happened to honest exploration of Scriptures such as I Corinthians 6:12-19:
- * I can do anything – but everything is not beneficial. I have choice!
- * God created me to glorify Him in what I choose to do.
- * Immorality – sexual practice outside of its intended parameters – is harmful to the body.
- * Therefore – choose not to harm your body – the temple of the Holy Spirit – in this way.
A much more pressing issue is, the Church has said “don’t” for centuries. But the question of “why” has not been answered adequately in order to build a good enough reason into single hearts to comply.
Just as “because I say so” is not necessarily a convincing statement to a defiant child, “because God says so” is not necessarily convincing to a person whose hormones are screaming for release.
Consider this quote from The Christian Post article;
“. . . nearly nine out of 10 self-proclaimed single Christians are, in practice, sexual atheists. In other words, God has nothing to say to them on that subject of any consequence or, at least anything meaningful enough to dissuade them from following their own course of conduct. It is the ultimate oxymoron. A person who at once believes in a wise, sovereign and loving God who created them and all things, can also believe simultaneously He should not, cannot or will not inform their thinking or living sexually. It reminds me of those famous red letters in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46, NIV) There is a disconnect between identity and activity.”
Well, my brain is off and running on this topic! I hope this has spurred some new thinking for you. Your comments most welcomed!
“Waiting” is one of those words which we use in a number of ways:
- * Time spent in inactivity in anticipation of a desired result.
- * Time wasted when only one bank teller window is open and there are 20 people in line.
- * Having to sit through three red lights because of road construction.
- * For the single person, time spent preparing for marriage as the only desired goal – and being disappointed by God’s timing – or by looooooooooooooong-term or permanent earthly singleness.
- * In a dating situation, abstaining from mutual close physical activity which is inappropriate in singleness, appropriate in marriage.
Sound familiar? I think most of us think of “waiting” as wasted time. And, for the single, a great many might consider “waiting” for marriage as an outdated notion thought up by killjoys. Our culture has been relentlessly pushing “if it feels good, it must be good,” messages for so many years that even some Christians of all ages have adopted that thought pattern.
“God can’t really expect us to live out expectations written to a totally different age and society can He?”
“He wouldn’t give us one of the strongest pleasures known to mankind and then put equally strong restrictions for its usage – and expect us to obey them – would He?”
Well, yes! the use of unlawful sexual activity for lustful purposes is condemned from Genesis to Revelation – for the unmarried and the married!
While it is true that verses relating to unmarried folks throughout scripture do not use the words “wait” or ‘be celibate,” that is certainly the understanding. Words used are ones like “flee immorality,” “don’t commit adultery,” behave decently” [in terms of sexual morality], “there must not even be a hint of . . .” and “honor the marriage bed.” ♥
So, what about ‘waiting?” Once again, I cannot find that Scripture tells unmarried folks to spend time waiting for marriage, or even to assume that is his promise for our lives. We do, however, have clear indication of what the object of our waiting should be!
“I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” (Psalm 130:5-6)
So, how does this help when physical desires threaten to overtake us and we are tempted to chew the upholstery off the sofa if we cannot express them? Oh how I wish I could give 4 easy and effective steps to victory in the lust area! I CAN say that God’s restrictions are meant to spare us the pain of guilt and shame which comes as a result of carelessly and hastily sharing the most intimate parts of our bodies and souls with the opposite sex. He wants to spare us from the complications and heartbreak pregnancies outside of marriage cause. He wants to spare us the fear and consequences of STDs. He wants us to understand the “two becoming one” in the covenant of marriage alone. (Mark 10:8)
I CAN also say that God listens with understanding when we holler at Him a bit. He’s not surprised by anything, by the way. We don’t need to pretty up any language for His ears. So, pray, pray, pray, run, flee, talk to an accountability friend, AND realize that as strong as our passions and urges are, they do not last forever!
“I have the right to do anything” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but I will not be mastered by anything. . . Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (I Corinthians 6:12,, 18-20)
♥ I Corinthians 6:18; Exodus, 20:14; Romans 13:13; Ephesians 5:3; Hebrews 13:4. All Scripture quotes – NIV.
Not too many folks like to wait and we do not generally block out time in our calendar for it. It just seems to happen doesn’t it? And, at times, it turns into waaaaaaaaaaaaaiting! It can seem interminable when trying to figure out how to navigate a twosome world as a onesome.
My friend Noah Webster defines “wait” like this:
- * To watch, observe, take notice.
- * to stay or rest in expectation and patience.
- * To stop or remain stationary until the arrival of some person or event.
Aren’t those great ways to change our perspective from time wasted to actively participating in life’s timetable? We tend to think of waiting as being forced to do nothing when we could be productively involved in some more enjoyable activity. Most often, we do not choose waiting with joy and patience and self-control – three of those fruit of the Spirit we read about in Galatians 5;22-23. We do not see it as “resting in expectation and patience.”
In terms of unwanted singleness, so much energy can be used up looking at the object of our wait that we miss out on the goodness waiting can uncover. Unfortunately, we are surrounded with messages of instant gratification. Lyrics to songs tell us things like, “if it feels so good, how can it be wrong?” We are groomed to rely on feelings and emotions as accurate and adequate guides for decision-making.
There once was a man who was enjoying a pleasant spring evening on his balcony. Across the courtyard he saw a beautiful woman who was also out enjoying the evening, totally unaware of an admirer who couldn’t keep his eyes off her. “I must meet her,” he told himself, and asked around until he found out who she was. He was married. She was married. But that didn’t seem to matter as his emotions and body worked in tandem to put an affair into action. This was not a man unaware of what life history lessons said about faithfulness between husband and wife, and the terrible consequences of adultery – unfaithfulness of a physical nature which starts in the mind and heart, acting itself out in the body. The choice was his to keep watching or to use concepts of self-control and obedience he knew well as a skillful leader. He wrote in his journal often about the steadfast character of his God and his deep desire to delight in God’s ways. At this moment, however, all that dimmed as he chose to follow his cascading feelings, even going so far as to carry out a plan to kill the woman’s husband so he could have her all to himself.
Sounds like the plot of a good movie, right? Well, it comes straight out of II Samuel 11 as a vivid illustration of a king named David who let his feelings override his good judgment and knowledge of righteousness. He took advantage of Bathsheba who was probably flattered at the attentions of such a renowned king. Later on, she because the mother of Solomon, another renowned king who followed God in wisdom and faithfulness – until his eyes, mind, and feelings began to wander and he ended up with 700 wives and hundreds of other playmates. Wow! (I Kings 11:3)
So, if these two men, used mightily by God in the foundation of our faith, could not keep temptation from overwhelming them, how in the world can we? Psalm 119 is a good place to start:
How can a young person live a clean life? By carefully reading the map of your [God’s] word. (Psalm 119:9 – MSG**)
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11 – ESV**)
These verses are the start of what Paul calls “fleeing immorality. He writes:
Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. (I Corinthians 6:18-20 – NLT**)
Sigh! It must be time to reaudit the basic class: Waiting 101. See you there!
** MSG – The Message; ESV – English Standard Version; NLT – New Living Translation
Did you know that June is National Celibacy Awareness Month? Actually, it’s right up there with Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month and National Iced Tea Month. I kid you not. I’m not sure who puts these titles on the calendar, but you can look them up for yourself. I say this just to point out that celibacy is an element of discipline where society takes what God values as a sacred treasure for the unmarried/single person and turns it into a laughable and unnecessary concept. Now, as for “celebrate,” everyone views that as meaning a good time.
The Online Etymology Dictionary says of “celibacy:” formed from Latin caelibatus “state of being unmarried, from caelebs “unmarried” probably from [an ancient linguistic] root kaewelo – “alone” + lib “living.” It eventually also came to mean, “not engaging in sexual relations.”
The words “celibate” and “celibacy” actually do not appear in scripture. Biblical words are ones such as “unmarried” and “virgin.” The meaning is clear no matter what translation you read, however. Those who find themselves in these circumstances are to refrain from expressing their sexuality in sexual acts. The reasons why have been debated through the ages. Just as “Because I say so,” is a frustrating response to a child’s “Why?” so “Because God and the Bible say so” is not an easy reason to respond to with joy and celebration for the single person who is struggling with intense physical and emotional longings. And yet, ultimately,.the latter is the foundation of our discipline. It is the “Why!”
The “how” is a bit more difficult to apply. We may think that “sexual freedom” is a fairly new concept. But when Moses spoke God’s word through the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20 which included “You shall not commit adultery,” the desert wanderers did not have to ask, “What is that?” They already knew, because adultery was an expression of their bodies and souls when restraint and self-control were ignored, and they knew it caused great pain and suffering. These were people who had seen God’s rescue from slavery and life-saving provision in the desert. They also saw vivid consequences of God’s displeasure when they lived outside his instructions.
Over and over, though, they were given clear words on living a life pleasing to God. Verses such as Numbers 15:37-41 gives some possible clues to the “how.”
- * Use something to remind yourself of your resolve to be faithful to God.
- * Look at it – think about it – focus on what it symbolizes – and obey.
- * Do not chase after your emotional, physical, and visual inclination to immorality.
OK. This seems to be a basis for the “just say no” phrase which popped up in the 1980s as a tool to discourage drugs, violence, and premarital sex. Purity rings sprang up on many fingers as a reminder of promises made. Do these things work? For some. For others, the requirement of their promise proves to be too stringent. Too many of us continue to follow what promises to bring good feeling rather than miss out on pleasurable things. “Why in the world,” we ask, “would God create us with bodies and souls which scream out for sexual expression at times, and then tell us not to go there if we are single?” But, even though we do not get as clearly defined instruction as we would like, these verses in Numbers still give some good basic steps into “how” land.
So, how do we follow the above concepts without going crazy? As Christian singles, it is imperative that we look beyond the moment. All through Scripture, desire and fidelity in marriage and singleness are used as tools to point us to God who is the ultimate answer to our intimacy needs – now and in the future. One of the fruit of the Spirit which comes at the end of the list in Galatians 5;22-23 is self-control, letting us know that the self can indeed be controlled when we partner with the Holy Spirit to influence, govern, and restrain in important areas of everyday living. The self can take an active and responsible role in developing holy habits as a result of the sprouting of that hardy spiritual fruit nourished by God!
He can help us turn around and walk away at the first hint of temptation to immorality. He can give us the boldness to control where that computer mouse so quickly can navigate us. He can bring Scripture to mind when we are about to step into a lust-producing situation. He can help us train our eyes and ears to see and hear what leads to God-pleasing living.
We can take delight in the Lord, and He will give us the desires of our heart!” (Psalm 37:4, NIV)
Well, as usual, I’ve barely scratched the surface of this subject. I’m sure there will be a sequel. 🙂
In the meantime, a book for your consideration is Your Single Treasure by Rick Stedman, Moody Press.