My little children…
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Singleness and the Kingdom of God
*All verse references are listed at the bottom of the page.
I was talking to a friend recently who was lamenting the fact that the last few times he has asked girls out, they’ve said no. This negative sentiment is exacerbated by the fact that though he desires a marriage that looks the way God designed it to, there are many who don’t value this yet find that “special someone.” He told me, “I see these other people get married, and I feel like I’m just getting left in the dust.” I too have wrestled with thoughts like these, yet when I look in Scripture “getting left in the dust” is far from the picture of singleness I see.
I will make myself clear in saying that all throughout Scripture marriage is spoken of highly. Among other things, it is the only relationship where two actually become “one flesh,” and is also the only relationship that demonstrates Christ’s love for His church (see also Proverbs 18:22 and Psalm 127:3-5)! A lowly view of marriage, however, is not a huge issue I see in the church, so I do not feel the need to say more about that. I write this with the hope that the readers, whether single or married, would gain a deeper understanding of the value the Bible places on singleness. My wish is that we would view it not as a second-class existence but a blessing to be enjoyed by God, that in some ways is even a preferred existence for the sake of the Kingdom.
Jesus Is Enough
How can the Christian expect to get through life joyfully without a spouse? Because Jesus is enough. A few points about singleness will be made in the blog, but this is by far the most important. He brings abundant life (John 10:10), He gives the every-satisfying living water (John 4:10-13), and in His presence there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).
An Urgent Mission, A Transient Life, An Eternal Kingdom
I read how God was rapidly growing the early church and ask, “What was different? Why don’t I see God moving like that now?” Surely there is a multitude of reasons, but one is that they understood the urgency of the mission of God. They pondered the sheer number of souls yet to be won for Christ and declared, “We must go and preach.” Yet, as I look around I see finding a spouse prioritized higher than making disciples, though we’re never even commanded to do the former in Scripture! There is nothing that pulls me towards a life of singleness more than the reality of the vast darkness in the world pressing upon me. It might seem silly, but consider this – how many people could you share the gospel with in the time it would take to raise a child? Food for thought!
Now, to actually look marriage in the face and say, “I will say no to this for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” (cf. Matthew 19:12) seems like a huge sacrifice, until one takes an eternal mindset. For a moment, ruminate on the fact that we are here for a blink, and then will spend the next billion years and forevermore in glory with Jesus and no spouse (Matthew 22:30). John Piper says of Dietrich Bonhoeffer spending his life single, “He never married, skipping the shadow on the way to the reality.” Yes! One day we will be at the marriage supper of the Lamb and our longings for a spouse will be fulfilled (cf. Revelation 19:6-9, 21:1-8). The Bridegroom and the Bride, one at last. No, if a life singleness is your lot the sacrifice is small compared to the glory that is to come!
God’s Gift of a Helper
When God creates Adam and Eve in Genesis 1, He gives them a mission. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Genesis 2 gives a more in depth look at the creation of man and woman, wherein God reveals some of the forethought in the creation of Eve. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18). Thus He created Eve, to help Adam in all that He would call him to (among other reasons). Together, they are able to fulfill their aforementioned mission.
And when God re-created us, He gave us a mission. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation… All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Our mission now is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Yet again, in light of this mission, he saw it unfit for us to be alone and provided a helper, though of a different kind. The former mission was primarily a physical mission, demanding a physical helper. This mission is primarily a spiritual mission, demanding a spiritual helper.
His name is the Holy Spirit, called by Jesus the Helper (John 14:26, emphasis added), and without Him we are hopeless in the mission God has called us to. He convicts people of their need for a Savior (John 16:8), and then empowers us to proclaim that there is a Savior, and His name is Jesus (Acts 1:8)!
God giving us in the Holy Spirit exactly what we need to accomplish what He’s called us to is not just convenient, it is significant. I submit to you that in this parallel, among others, God is calling us to view singleness on an entirely different plane than it was before Christ, where the expectation was marriage and not having offspring was almost considered a curse (Psalm 109:13, Deuteronomy 25:5-6). In the coming of Christ a new era dawned, where now Paul can even call his life of celibacy a gift (1 Corinthians 7:7)!
New Age, New Offspring
The Book of Isaiah elaborates further on the implications of the new era introduced by the Messiah. Speaking of the Messiah, Isaiah says, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” (53:8). He was unjustly punished and was “cut off” by not having any descendants. As mentioned above, this was seen as an unfavorable fate! Yet just a couple verses later, Isaiah makes a profound statement, “When his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring” (53:10). In the next chapter, Isaiah continues in this same vein:
“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord. “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities” (Isaiah 54:1-3).
He is communicating that when the Messiah comes, He will introduce a new kind of offspring. Paul provides further exposition on these verses in Galatians, saying, “Now you, brothers… are children of promise… born according to the Spirit” (4:28-29). In Christ there is a new offspring – a spiritual offspring! And though in Christ we are all brothers (Romans 8:29), we do see instances of a type of “spiritual parenthood” in the New Testament, like that of Paul to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 4:15), Paul to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:2, Philippians 2:22), and John to his audience (1 John 2:1), to name a few. As there is a picture of marriage in the spiritual helper given to us for our spiritual mission, so we too have a picture of parenthood in the spiritual offspring borne of this mission. Make “spiritual descendants” of all nations!
The point I am making is that while the desire for children isn’t fully fulfilled in the mission of God, He has ordained a way for the childless to experience many of the joys of parenthood. Again the kingdom that Jesus is ushering in demands that we see singleness in a different light!
A desire for a spouse is a real and good thing – I too desire this! Yet perhaps God will not give me this, and if such is my lot I take comfort that though relationship with Jesus does not fulfill the desire for a spouse, He does satisfy it. We must see that if God does not give a spouse, He has not withheld in scorn. He has given us everything we need to know Him and to do His will. He has satisfied our desire for a spouse, and then called us to something even higher: the advancement of His kingdom, the warfare of seeing darkness pushed back, the hastening of the reign of Christ on earth. Married or not, that is worth your lifetime.
He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again.”
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
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.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.
1 Corinthians 7:7
1 Corinthians 4:15
I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
1 Timothy 1:2
Timothy, my true child in the faith…
As a son with a father [Timothy] has served with me in the gospel.
1 John 2:1
My little children…
My little children…