Covenant is for singles, too (Part 2) ☆

The concept of covenant with God has totally altered the way I think about my prolonged singleness.  From the beginning, God has made His faithfulness clear, inviting men and women to partner with Him in mutual faithfulness.  We see this affirmed each time a believing man and woman pledge themselves to God and to one another in marriage.  An older wording of traditional wedding vows said, “I plight thee my troth.”  It means, “I pledge to you my fidelity.”  Comprehending that as a single person, I can pledge my fidelity to God just as He has promised His faithfulness to me, is a precious gift.  Should I marry, this covenant joins seamlessly with a marriage covenant.

The process has not been easy.  Being my only source of income, buying a home, and making life-altering decisions alone became stepping-stones to a deeper authentic life in Jesus Christ.  Along the way, I have struggled with desires, dreams, and what I have come to realize was an unwitting vow which killed hope and brought deep pain and sorrow.

Desires

God’s promise is true.  Psalm 37:4 – Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.  We see this worked out in Eden.  Adam delighted in God, and He planted a desire in Adam’s heart which was fulfilled by Eve’s arrival.  I find it interesting that God did not satisfy that desire with Himself.  I’ve come to believe the same is true for many of us who have prayed for God to remove the desire for a husband/wife if He does not have marriage in our future.  For most, He does not answer that prayer quite like we expect.  He does not remove the desire because it is a normal Godly and human desire, and it is to be a means to keep drawing us to Himself for the intimacy we long for.  His promise goes much further than simply giving us what we want.  He plants His desires in our hearts.

Dreams

For many of us, the two main dreams of career and relationship leading to marriage are the driving forces in our lives.  What happens when career dreams come to a resounding halt, quite possibly due to circumstances totally out of our control?  What happens whan a spiritually agreeable, mutually attractive man or woman does not choose us to grow old – or older – with?  Simply getting married is really not the issue.  Finding someone who walks intimately with God and obeys His mandate for purity and faithfulness is the issue.

Unwitting Vows

“I will never let anyone get close enough to hurt me again.”  This may seem like a natural response to the painful end of a hopeful relationship.  But, if it becomes a prolonged reaction which governs the heart, I believe it is as strong as a vow.  For me, the vow took the form of becoming resigned to never marrying, because resignation was far less painful than trying to keep hope alive.  My quiet resignation was not confident acceptance of God’s good intent in my life.  It was belief that, for some reason, God was withholding the one earthly desire I wanted the most.  Being resigned did bring some emotional relief, and I was quite settled in it until the Holy Spirit gently peeled away layers of bitterness and distrust and showed me how dishonoring resignation was to God.  With a trusted friend, I prayerfully renounced that unwitting vow, and began to see evidence of God’s resurrection of dreams and hopes in my heart.

Covenant is for Singles, too! (Part 1) ☆

it was a Nebraska summer day, and I had the green dishes out, mud pies made, and coffee poured (aka water).  I was six, and already had the dream of husband and family.  One little pitcher is all I have left after a tornado roared through scattering my playhouse all over the county.  But, 60+ years later, that unfulfilled dream lives on.  By now, it’s evident to the reader that there is a range of singlehood beyond “older,” which seems to identify someone in their 30s and 40s.  I’m in the “ancient” category.

From this vantage point, I see that it would have been very helpful to have a mentor in this “single thing.”  But the presence was rare of older Christian singles who were living beyond the dream of marriage into the life of contentment in God’s provision.  In fact, I have often felt as if I was forging a difficult trail alone.  Sharing mutual frustrations with fellow singles helps only to a certain point, but too often gets stuck in the ruts of disappointment and discontent.  Sharing with married folks can be helpful to a point, but their encouragement is usually in the category of “just keep waiting.  God has someone for you.”

Then comes a day when reality hits full force.  God does not promise marriage to all who desire it.

“I am so tired of hearing how my life is supposed to be worry-free and full of joyful service simply because I’m single.”  This sentiment is echoed by many Christian singles regarding Paul’s true words in I Corinthians 7:32-25.  Sermon and article alike emphasize these thoughts in giving instruction about God’s purpose for “unmarriedness.”  What is too often glossed over, however, is the deep pain and struggle in many a Christian single’s heart, especially if the years stretch through the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and to a lifetime.

For those of us who follow Christ wholeheartedly and seek to please God, body, soul, and spirit, sermons on God’s design for marriage and sex can leave us with a lot of input with nowhere to put it.  Where does the single find the sort of cherishing love which is intended in a Godly marriage?  I’ve asked that question to a lot of married and single folks over the years, and no one seems to have an answer.  What is appropriate expression of affection and intimacy for the Christian single?  The church celebrates anniversaries of married couples.  What does it look like to affirm and celebrate faithful singleness?  I have come to believe that this is where the concept of covenant comes into play.

Why another blog on singleness? ☆

Mary on island of Rhodes, Greece.Walk through a Christian bookstore – or any bookstore for that matter – and you will see many books on marriage.  How-to books and fix-it books abound.  Marriage seminars abound to help people be successful in the hard work of building the closest relationship they will have on earth.  Anniversaries are celebrated and long-lived marriages are honored.

When was the last time you heard someone celebrate and applaud the successful living out of a faithful Christian single life?  My guess is that it is never.

As I share aspects of my own singleness journey, I look forward to hearing from many of you to help shape this blog as we talk about how best to live in faithfulness and fulness.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:6 that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled.  Some translations use the word, satisfied.

I also decided to make this blog public as I am in the process of developing it.  So, you will see my attempts to become better acquainted with all the details of WordPress.

Thank you for reading!

 

 

I Corinthians 7 – a new look (Part 6) ☆

The Psalmist continues in chapter 73:15-20 to be shown by God what will happen to those who indulge in their temporal pleasures apart from Him.  He uses words like “slippery ground,” “terror,” “ruin,” and “destruction.”  Whoa!  Surely not for us!  Many unmarrieds today think that God either cannot understand the strength of desires which appear irresistible in content, or He is the epitome of meanness in dangling the proverbial carrot before our noses – a carrot which we may never have access to.

Then we come to (NIV) Psalm 73:23-15:  Yet i am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Commentaries give insight to the word, “portion:” source of happiness, ground of my hope; that which I regard as most valuable; the lot with which every man can be contented; abundant sufficiency; soul satisfying; safe and secure; never ending.”  (Barnes Commentary, John Calvin, Gill’s Exposition – all in public domain)

What seems interminable to us is actually temporary.  Even if something lasts all our lives, physical death brings an end.  What we have in our spiritual life in Jesus Christ simply “keeps on giving” at physical death.  Faithfulness, purity, and righteousness are all given to us by God as ways to conduct our lives, unmarried and married.  The impression that the single life is simpler because there is not the concern of spouse or children is sometimes misguided.  Clearly, singles have the same material and financial concerns as marrieds.  Handling them alone can be very daunting.  We all have the same admonitions to holiness and purity – being chaste, pure in thought and deed.  Some do it together, some alone.  We all have access to fruit of the Spirit, which includes self-control.  (Galatians 5:22-26)  Obviously, every earthly marriage, even Christian marriage, is not happy, as is made abundantly clear in real life as well as in movies.  But, the desire and hope for it to be all God intends, continues.

Paul ends Galatians 5 by saying in verse 25:  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.  (James 1:2-5; Romans 5:1-5)  The refining tools are different, but they are intended to bring us to the same end:  to be transformed into Christ’s image with unveiled faces.  (II Corinthians 3:18)

 

I Corinthians 7 – a new look (Part 5) ☆

Now, what does all this have to do with the unmarried person who aches for marriage to the glory of God?  How does one in my circumstance, “ancient never-married,’ maintain relationship hope?  I have found great comfort in Psalm 73.  The Psalmist, Asaph, is bewailing the fact that remaining pure is hard because he finds himself poor, cold, hungry, and subject to violence.  He says in essence, “what’s the point?  I see those around me who do not honor God and who are rich and live in luxury, warmth, and abundance.”  He says in verse 13, (NIV) Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.

Unfortunately, too many unmarrieds who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ are saying the same thing, particularly in sexual faithfulness and purity.  There are a couple of options:  Pray for God to remove the desire for sexual closeness while not having it, or yielding to the admittedly strong desire because it is too strong to resist.  Neither one is a satisfactory answer.  I can admit to a certain amount of fist-shaking at God for giving desire and then saying, “wait.”  Years of fist-shaking, to be honest.  While He may remove the desire from some, for most he does not.  I’ve come to believe that that desire is a small illustration of what my longing for God should be.  Just as God’s husband relationship with His chosen people was a foreshadow of Jesus Christ’s bridegroom relationship with His church, our life in turn is a foreshadow of what will take place in heaven.  (Revelation 19:9:  We are always in a state of waiting.  All our desires and longings are meant to be an illustration of what we really want from God.

I Corinthians 7 – a new look (Part 4) ☆

Our impression of what the word “intimate” means has diminished over the years to mean sexual activity.  A dictionary search is quite different:  close personal relationship; characterized by warm feelings; private; closely personal; characteristic of inmost or essential nature; and finally, engaging in sexual relationship.  Scripture is full of information about how we are to conduct our lives in all these definition areas.  How the unmarried and married persons are to conduct themselves in physical sexuality is the only one which gives different instruction to each.  Handling this area with faithfulness, righteousness, and purity is a broad umbrella over those in both circumstances.

From the very beginning, close relationship with God was His intention.  Then came close relationship with others.  and the story unfolds with success and failure to this day.  Faithfulness to God is mentioned early in Genesis, and the pattern for Godly relationship is spoken of in marriage terms.  Violation of trust in this relationship is vividly represented in Jeremiah 3:6-10:  During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done?  She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.  I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.  I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.  Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.  In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the LORD.

Pretty strong language!  While there are no verses stating explicitly that Israel and Judah were “married to God,” it is to be understood from these verses in Jeremiah that the connection was in that context.  God states plainly to Israel in Jeremiah 3:14, “for I am your husband.”  And in verse 20:  “Like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me.”  And of course, we have other Old Testament verses which support this thought, a most notable one being Isaiah 54:5 where God says to Israel, “your Maker is your husband.  (Hosea 3:1; Isaiah 54:5)

Just as our understanding of intimacy is too small, so is our understanding of marriage!  We most often see it in the earthly relational and physical sense without realizing that it is a symbol of the spiritual relationship we have with our Maker, with Christ and His church. (Ephesians 5:21-32)  Neither the married nor unmarried have the complete picture which will be made perfect in our heavenly home as we finally understand the mystery of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Colossians 2:2-3)

I Corinthians 7 – A New Look (Part 3) ☆

Three New Testament unmarried men stand out:  Jesus, John the Baptist, and Paul.  While it was very unusual, it does not appear that it was a popular subject for debate or criticism by the religious leaders.  Apart from Paul, their unmarriedness is never mentioned.  And, certainly their focus was undivided in serving God.

The matter of intimacy is a big one for the unmarried folk who desire to live faithfully in the physical sense.  The world has no problem flaunting sexual freedom in our faces.  Television and the internet bring vivid images to our sight 24/7.  We have to make choices which are in harmony with our commitment to Christ.  Can we tune out all temptation?  No.  Being tempted is not a sin.  Yielding to it is.  James is very adamant in his summary of temptation: (James 1:13-15)

  •               God tests us, but never tempts us to do wrong.
  •               We are tempted when our own desires take a wrong turn – to ache to do something immoral.
  • .             We have a choice:  turn away, or follow it and let it take over.
  •               Sin results, bringing death with it.

Eugene Peterson says it this way in The Message:  “Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby:  sin!  Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer.”

Obviously, temptations take many forms as addressed very clearly in the Ten Commandments, and breaking them begins with lust or the inordinate desire to do wrong.  Most of them have nothing to do with sexual issues.  And, obviously, these things apply to men and women alike, married or unmarried.

God’s grace and mercy, forgiveness and restoration also apply to men and women alike, unmarried or married.  We have Jesus as an Advocate who can empathize with our weaknesses and understand every temptation.  He not only provides a way out of every temptation; the Holy Spirit and Jesus intercede for us!  (Hebrews 4:15; I Corinthians 10:13; Romans 8: 26-27, 33)

 

I Corinthians 7 – a new look (Part 2) ☆

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I certainly want to please Him and be “concerned about pleasing the Lord in all respects.”  For quite a long period of my life, however, I didn’t live in that reality.  Loneliness and disappointment brought me to an angry place where God seemed to be ignoring my deepest heart cries.  I knew Scripture was true when talking about His love, but it seemed to be only for others.  Not for me.  Conversation with friends rarely brought comfort.  They simply did not know what to say.  The church didn’t know what to say, either.  The “single” label was applied to anyone from college age through old age who hadn’t found a soul-mate, or to widowed and divorced folk or to single parents.  Singleness was painted with a broad brush stroke with one color, “one size fits all.”

There are a number of books and articles telling us that “singleness is a calling,” and “celibacy is a gift.”  Personally, I have never felt “called” to singleness, and I see celibate faithfulness as a result of consistent and continuing practice of the spiritual fruit of self-control, with constant training from the Holy Spirit.  A gift?  Not so much.  Possible?  Absolutely!  Reasonable?  Perhaps not!  Difficult?  Yes!

Celibacy is reasonable only when it is taken out of the realm of “what you cannot have,” or abstinence by the gritting of your teeth.  Abstinence is “all up to you.”  Celibacy is a relational issue!  It is “up to God and you!”  Celibacy points to relationship you can have!  This makes it not only possible, but eternally reasonable.  It is a faithfulness which not only enhances the unmarried life, but is meant to move seamlessly into an earthly marriage should that occur, and certainly to move seamlessly into our eternal life in heaven where Ephesians 5:21-32 talks about this mystery between Christ and the church, and he uses marriage terms.  Celibary for the Christian unmarried person is never a waste!

I Corinthians 7 – a new look (Part 1) ☆

What does the Bible say about singleness – or more precisely – unmarriedness?  I Corinthians 7 is the “go to” chapter since it and Jesus’ comments in Matthew 19 are the only New Testament verses which specifically speak to that state.  Knowing that those words were written during a time when singleness was a rarity unless it came with death of a spouse, may explain the scarcity of instruction, and has not made it an easy subject to talk about with clarity through the centuries.

But, guess what!  Everyone starts out single and unmarried!  Even Adam.  Now, Eve seems to be the only exception in the history of the world since she became an instant wife.  And, of course, neither of them started out as babies, making them a unique couple.  But, for the rest of us, initial singleness is a universal given.

Most of the attempts to explain Paul’s words in I Corinthians 7 leave me with more frustration than comfort, because the emphasis is usually that singleness can only be understood in light of what marriage is.  This emphasis is understandable, since even Paul gave the majority of this chapter over to speaking to married folk.  But, as a single woman who falls in the age category of “ancient never-married,” the sort of cursory mention of singleness in this chapter or a sermon or book is not satisfying.  Hearing a panel discussion a few weeks back with three married women whose marriages ranged from 15 years to 45 served as a catalyst to my decision to take a fresh look at this chapter.  I found their comments flippant.  I decided it was time to look at this chapter from another angle:  that understanding Godly singleness can bring more understanding of marriage.

I believe that every word of Scripture is “breathed by God” to teach and train us in righteousness.  So, I think the shortness of instruction in I Corinthians 7:32 and 34 to unmarried men and women is exactly what God intended to say to us.  Both have the freedom to be more concerned about the Lord’s affairs because they do not have a spouse.  That is unequivocally true!  But, with all due respect, trying to encourage singles with only these words may fall short.

  •                  What do we do with our hearts?
  •                  Who serves as our sounding board?
  •                  Who is as fully vested in the decisions we must make, and helps us make them?
  •                  How do we have meaningful conversations without having to make an appointment?
  •                  How do we handle intimacy when even simple things are not ours to enjoy, let along deep things?
  •                  How do we satisfy the need to be touched?
  •                  Who chooses us?
  •                  Who puts romance in our lives?

These are places unmarrieds live every day!

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