090712_singleness_full3 Yesterday I referred to the church’s great need to teach celibacy, not simply as a requirement before marriage but as a calling that is given to some because of their unique place in life. I know that many will say, “This is not fair. If others can enjoy sexual experience then why can’t I?” The problem with this response is that it misses the whole point of the kingdom of God and the call of Christ upon our lives.

A friend recently reminded me that almost all of us read the Scriptures with our preconceived notions firmly fixed in our minds. As a result the teaching of Jesus doesn’t shock us since we already have simplistic ready answers to texts that are problematic. When it comes to this issue I can’t think of any text for which this is more true than this one:

Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household. If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine, or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are nothing worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it (Matthew 10:34-39, NLT).

And what about these words?

Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who is my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” (Matthew 12:48-50).

We can only find ourselves, as followers of Jesus, when we give ourselves up. The moment of our conversion, known or not, signifies the beginning of our vocation under the cross. The moment is to be always distinguished from the moment of our realization of a divine vocation. This second moment refers to the “kairos,” which is a time that brings us into the fulfillment of our unique meaning before God. All our desires, passions and thinking must be disciplined (rightly ordered) under the work of divine grace. To accept Christ’s yoke is to accept discipline. This is the missing call in our day.

The single person has a special responsibility placed upon them for sure but it is not an impossible one. To say that it is would be to say that Jesus places a yoke on us that is too hard to bear. Single Christians must look beyond the cultural counterfeits—careers, commitment-free relationships and the pursuit of selfish desires and comforts—just as married disciples must do the same in a totally different context. They also have to seek healing from the wounds of past relationships, including past sexual relationships. Either God’s grace can bring this healing or it cannot.

I think the great temptation to singles is to “keep all my options open” and to realize that “something better is just around the corner” because God will be good and give it to me. But singles are called to ongoing conversion, through the bright times of day and the dark times of the night. One Catholic thinker writes: “We must consent to what we did not choose.” Singlehood is not generally wanted, whether one is homosexual or heterosexual. But singlehood is possible and can be a state in which great grace is known and lived powerfully. Any other message is not faithful to the teaching of Jesus himself.

The married person, as a matter of practice, puts their spouse first. I tried for some years to believe that I pleased God first and my wife had to adjust. I was wrong. In pleasing her, rightly and biblically, I was pleasing God. But a single person has only God to please. If you are single the next person to cross your path is the person you can put first. If you are married this cannot be true, at least not at all times.

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  1. Dan Brennan October 2, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Great observations, John. I would say to a large extent, the Christian community (especially evangelicals) ironically, appears to be in step with a hyper-romanticized culture exalting the romantic relationship (along with sexual hierarchy as number one)as the only thing going on–relationally.
    Without much nuancing, the kind of serious nuancing Jesus does, this creates such a dichotomous relational path for those who are married and those who are single.

  2. Mary Anne Lutz October 3, 2010 at 12:10 am

    Thank you for this-I wish this was spoken of more often. We are so much at the other extreme in evangelicalism, especially in reformed churches. Singles often feel substandard, and there is the subtle message that they are single through some fault of there own.
    Marriage is presented as the next necessary step of sanctification for the single.

  3. Chuck October 6, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    A timely message indeed. Why don’t we hear more of this in today’s church?? We are inundated with information, sermon series, books, etc. about how to have a successful marriage, but what about how to live single and do it well? Why the imbalance?
    A whole generation of singles are wandering aimlessly through (and out of) our churches because they sense that their place in the church and world in general is inconsequential.

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