Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Battles Singles Face (Part 3): Perceptions and Expectations of Others

After a bit of a break we come to part three of our 'Battles Singles Face' series. In our last post we looked at how the gospel is the answer to the issue of loneliness. Now we come to a second battle that single men and women face: the perceptions and expectations of other people. How ought we to apply the gospel in this battle?

Very often one of the hardest challenges of being single is dealing with what others expect from us, or how they view us. The older we get the harder this can become. Family members and friends can send questions our way enquiring as to whether we have thought about "settling down" and getting married? Well meaning inquirers can ask whether we have "found someone" yet? Underlying these questions is the assumption that marriage is the norm and anything outside that is somewhat abnormal. Others can expect that we will get married, and begin to ask questions about whether all is well with us if we're not moving in that direction.

We then grow concerned about what others think of us, are they beginning to wonder whether there is something wrong with us? Are people questioning my social abilities or sexual orientation because I'm still single? Many families have that uncle or aunt who has never married, and about whom there is the unspoken questions about whether they're a bit different to the rest of the family. Will we be seen as that slightly odd aunt or uncle in our family in years to come?

So how does the gospel provide the answer to such battles? There are two things that we need to remember and hold fast to:

1) Remember that Your Identity is Found in Christ
As a Christian our identity is not defined by our marital status, it is defined by Jesus. If we are a Christian then we are in Christ, united to him by faith. It is this relationship that gives us our true identity.

Knowing Christ is all-sufficient. If we have Him we have everything. We do not need to look to another relationship for acceptance, we have ultimate acceptance in Him. Paul says: "For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Philippians 3:8-9). Paul counts all things as a load of rubbish compared to knowing Christ. Why? Because it is only by being found in Christ (that is, being united to Him by faith) that he has righteousness. In Christ he is counted as righteous before God. In Christ he has a righteousness that is not his own, he has Christ's righteousness counted to him simply by trusting Jesus. This means that he stands fully accepted before God. His sin has been counted to Jesus, and its punishment has been bourne by Jesus on the cross; Christ's perfect record has been counted to him, and he now stands before God fully accepted, not fearing any condemnation.

If we are those who have laid hold of Jesus by faith the same is true of us. We too are counted righteous in Christ. We have a new identity. No longer are we those who are "childeren of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3), under the just anger of God. We are now counted as His children, fully accepted in His sight, because of the perfect righteousness of Jesus counted to us through faith, and posessing every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). What more could we possibly wish for?

Therefore, when we find ourselves beginning to grow concerned about what others may think of us, let us preach the gospel of justification by faith to ourselves again. Our identity is found in Christ, this is an identity which shall never change, and can never be taken from us. Remember the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, of being found in Him, with His righteousness counted to us.

2) Remember to Fear God Not Man
Fearing others does not necessarily mean that we cower in terror before other people. When we grow concerned about what others think and seek their acceptance, this is the fear of man. When we worry that others will think bady of us or will reject us, this is the fear of man. When we do this, we allow the perceptions and expectations of others to control us. We become enslaved to them, and they become our masters insead of Jesus. We allow other people to hold more authority over us than God does, in a sense they become our gods in the place of God.

When this happens we find ourselves continually anxious about whether we're living up to the expectations of others, and fearful of the consequences if we don't. We find our whole lives shaped around trying to live up to their expectations and shape ourselves into what we think will please them.

The Bible's solution to this fear of others is to nurture a healthy fear of God. Indeed, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:17), a wise life is one that is founded on the fear of God, not one that is enslaved by the fear of others. Jesus gives us this strategy in Luke 12. He says: "do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: Fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!" (Luke 12:4-5). The worst people can do to us is kill us, yet ultimately God alone has power over life and death. He can cast into hell, and he has the power to sustain us (verses 6-7), if we belong to Jesus then this power is working for us. Fearing man instead of God, when seen in this light, is foolish and groundless. Therefore, if we want to escape the enslaving fear of people, we need to develop a healthy fear of God.

Therefore, when the fear of man begins the battle to control us, let us fix our eyes on the majesty of our God. Spend some time chewing over those passages of Scripture that help us to have a bigger picture of god. Let us not have a puny God (which is no God at all), rather let us spend time marvelling at the unparalleled majesty of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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