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An Ode to My Single Friends

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Yes, this is yet another married Christian attempting to offer advice to his single brethren.  Que the rolling of the eyes…  Stay with me though, this may be a bit different.

Evangelical pastors have pulled off a phenomenal feat. In the same breath they’ve painted the family as the ultimate Christian value and without a hint of irony, described the married life as one of interminable agony.  This, to understate the problem, leaves singles in a confused position; tacitly asked to both idolize and fear marriage.  Thankfully, the Bible tells us something wildly different, something completely contrary to the position promoted from the pulpits today.  It tells us of the incredible, unique value of the Christian single as well as the indescribable joy of marriage.

Please Don’t Focus on The Family.

Why are evangelicals so obsessed with the family? The Christian religion is perhaps the least family focused religion in the world. Jesus rarely spoke of how to be a good parent or husband. In fact he explicitly broke down the importance of the family unit when he said “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” In his other big mention of family, Jesus uses it as an example of second class, JV love; the type of stuff even a wicked pagan can pull off.

We’ve taken a value Jesus said was so basic that it didn’t require the Gospel to accomplish it, and made it our central goal. It would be akin to spending a month training in the Alps with Lance Armstrong and upon returning home, proudly riding your dusty tricycle around the block, wondering why no one was impressed. Worse, you’d go on to form political committees and non-profits dedicated to the refinement of tricycle riding skills. Jesus described loving your family as the starting gate, not the finish line.

Marriage is for Companionship

Here is where it gets weird.  Singles are also told marriage is pretty lame.  Of course, it is sanitized in Christianize, but the subtext is clear.  You’ve heard the phrases before, complete inanities like “marriage isn’t about happiness, it’s about holiness” or “marriage is for sanctification”. Where is that found in the bible? 1st ridiculonians? I’d hate to be their wife. What do love notes look like for these people?  –Honey, I love how being married to you highlights the wickedness of my soul. Or – It’s so wonderful to know we’re committed to 50 years of inducing suffering in each other.

Genesis clearly tells us god created marriage for joy and companionship. Even more, if marriage was primarily for sanctification, why on earth did the apostle Paul fail to mention this? It seems a rather glaring omission. Paul wrote much about the factors that assist in our sanctification, yet he never mentions marriage as important or even helpful in this pursuit. In fact his primarily mention of it is as a distraction to the work of the Gospel.  Let me be absolutely clear.  If you live your life fully for Christ, your singleness has no restriction on your path toward sanctification.

The problem, of course, is that few of us truly pursue God in the way Paul described.  We just wait for life to impress upon us it’s own sanctification.  It is one thing to drop to your knees in prayer when you’re diagnosed with cancer.  It is quite another to drop to your knees every night because you’re simply overwhelmed with the Gospel.  The result?  We don’t do much real digging into the sin in their life, until marriage forces it upon us.  We follow the logic and wrongly believe marriage is critical for exposing our sin.  No, it’s just God’s backup plan because we were too lazy to engage it on our own.

Pastors also disproportionately use examples of their family while preaching. When a pastor peppers his sermons with spiritual analogies from his last fishing trip with Johnny or his daughter’s first piano recital, the inescapable, albeit non-obvious conclusion is that marriage is essential for understanding the gospel. Think of the opposite. If a pastor used analogies about single missionaries risking their lives smuggling bibles, wouldn’t that have a positive effect on the felt worth of unmarried people?  Wouldn’t singles begin to rightly say to themselves – Hey, I keep hearing of ministry opportunities where it’s actually helpful to be single, maybe this unmarried stage of life isn’t such a curse.

Ok, pastors need not shoulder the entire burden. Some of it comes from within. Many Christians grew up under terrible parents, and, upon finding Christianity feel as if they’ve finally discovered a path toward redemption.  The logic goes like this:  Jesus rescued my opinion of marriage, therefore Jesus mostly cares about marriages.  Though the mistake is understandable, we must never let our joy over where the Gospel entered our life satiate our appetite for the Gospel to enter the rest of our life.

Did the leper healed by Jesus run off and tell everyone Jesus’ mission on earth was to heal lepers?  Doubtful, the bible just tells us he rejoiced and proclaimed Jesus’ power. Yes, if you feel called, start a marital counseling ministry. We certainly need it.  Just don’t let it define your faith. It doesn’t take the gospel to love your family.

I’m not sure why did evangelicals embraced family life as the preeminent christian value. Perhaps it is because in the last century we had already absconded our position in every other regard (academics, education, science, literature, music, poverty, etc.) It’s almost like we got together and said – hey guys, we’ve pretty much dropped the ball on every other value God called us to, let’s focus on the last one where we still have a slight edge on the pagans. If we just start calling it our #1 priority, we’ll instantly look successful.

The result? The world looks at us and finds us irrelevant, quaint and worst of all, average.

Comments

Comment from nate
Time July 21, 2011 at 11:45 am

James, glad to see you’re back to blogging. Sad to see you’re just as pessimistic and on the verge of jadedness as possible!

There’s a lot of assumptions here (or possibly just speaking from recent, reoccurring experiences and conversions?).

Why do you assume that sanctification is equal to suffering? Shouldn’t it be a joy that marriage does lead to further holiness? Sure, it might be a stretch to say it’s the definite role of marriage to build holiness (for, that’s the Spirits job anyway). But, if nothing else, can we not fall back on the oft quoted verse of iron sharping iron and look to our spouse as one of the greatest possibilities for this?

Singles can easily become sanctified in a myriad of ways outside of marriage (obviously). But, I think the fear is, why do so few do? I know many singles who are more holy than many married people, and perhaps that’s your point, but I fear the proverbial baby has been thrown out while in your pursuit of cleaning house.

Anyway, I like your blog and glad to see the silence has finally been broken after all these weeks. Keep it up. Always good things to think about.

Yours affectionately,

Nate

Comment from jrmallory
Time July 21, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Good thoughts Nate. Obviously I’ve included a lot of hyperbole in this post. I wrote it with this tone because 1.) balanced arguments are boring and 2.) none of my single friends seem to suffer from a naive view of marriage. If anything they suffer from a saturation of negative warnings. But I know there many single Christians who would gain little from my perspective promoted in this post.

As someone who was married just over a year ago, I personally recall being very annoyed at the onslaught of warnings of how terrible marriage would be. And I know many singles who from time to time wonder ‘if marriage is such a drag, why bother?’ My intention was to push back on this a bit and offer some joyful expectation for marriage. And not just a joy based on sharpening each other, but gasp… joy with real honest fun.

Comment from nate
Time July 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Is that possible?

I kid, I kid…

Marriage is fun, but also challenging because you have to actually think of someone other than yourself on a daily basis! Hooray for sin nature. Definiltey possible for singles, but like you said, “The problem, of course, is that few of us truly pursue God in the way Paul described. We just wait for life to impress upon us it’s own sanctification.”

Comment from Dan
Time July 21, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Great post Jim. Yeah I’ve never bought that line about the purpose of marriage being sanctification. Really it’s used as an excuse by married folk to be dismissive of single peoples issues or suffering. Seems pretty self-serving and sanctimonious. Good for you for recognizing the fallacy there. But I might point out perhaps the next step in the thought process – recognizing the reality of the situation. Is it really good news that single folks get to grind it out by themselves in the alps with Lance kicking their ass, with no joy or companionship, whilst the married folk are back enjoying the “indescribable joy of marriage” down in the valley (with their tricycles)? Not really seeing anything to cheer about there. 😉 And I think, in the modern age – there really are very very few ministries that would require singleness.

I think the lesson for married folk, is that you have been given a great blessing, and you need to use it to bless others – not just hoard it to yourself. You have been given love and companionship – now give it away.

Comment from Adam Boomer
Time July 26, 2011 at 10:09 am

Not to be more pessimistic than you Jimmy, but I actually think the christian church misses the mark entirely for marriage and family’s. At 33 many of our friends are in the divorce window around 5 to 10 years of marriage. One month alone this spring two good friends called saying they were getting a divorce. First, most of us get married to early in life to have made major mistakes or appretiate the growth time of being single. In many situations people don’t have a good idea who they are. The only growth I tried to make in my singleness was keeping it in my pants.

The other thing that bothers me is how people blame the devil, no it’s that you don’t take time for your spouse or any number of issues. There is a Sin but it’s not the devil, it’s you or your spouses choices.

Marriage is the hardest thing that you can do but with work it can be the most satisfying thing around.

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