Thursday, 15 September 2011

Two Ways to Waste Your Singleness| Part 2

In the first post in this series we examined one way to waste our singleness. This was to believe that life ends when you get married, because personal freedom has become our idol, and my singleness has become all about me living for me.

This is probably the most recognisable way that people waste their singleness. But I want to suggest that there is another equally singleness-wasting syndrome. Often in response to The 'Life Ends' Syndrome people will respond by swinging towards The 'Life Begins' Syndrome. In other words, in response to those who undervalue marriage, many swing the pendulum and overvalue marriage, thus undervaluing singleness. I want to argue that this is another way to waste our singleness, one which is just as much a waste as the first. However, I suspect that this syndrome is a lot harder to spot. It is probably a lot closer to home for many of us as Christians. It may well be something that we're more prone to and are unaware of.

The 'Life Begins' Syndrome
A second way to waste your singleness is to believe that life only really begins when you get married. The soil in which this mindset grows is a worldview that has a high view of God's gift of marriage. Therefore, people in this camp are extremely keen to pursue marriage, and often have a negative view of singleness. This is the mindset that plays 'the waiting game', seeing singleness as something merely to be endured while we wait for a husband or wife to come along.

This mindset can show itself in a number of ways. It can be seen in the ways that single people look at their singleness. They can find themselves becoming anxious that a marriage partner may never come along, terrified of the thought of being 'left on the shelf'. All their thoughts about, and planning for, the future can begin to revolve around 'when I get married', even though there may not be any potential spouse on the scene. They can begin to entertain thoughts that they have no part to play in serving in the church, or are not fully part of the church, until they get married. Therefore they drift more and more towards the fringes of church life.

This syndrome can also be seen in the ways that others, often married people, relate to those who are unmarried. Single people can find themselves stereotyped as immature and irresponsible, and are urged to 'grow up' and get married. Singles can be viewed suspiciously, thinking that there is something wrong with them if they have not married by the time they are in their thirties, perhaps supposing that they are homosexual, dysfunctional or just being ungodly.

The reason that we begin to think that life only really begins at marriage is because we are making marriage and family into our god. It has become our idol. Marriage has become an ultimate thing, something we need in order to truly have life.

When we worship marriage and family, the purpose of my life revolves around my marital status. This becomes the relationship that defines me, not my relationship with Christ. As a single person it will consume our future, all our energies will be used up in hunting for a marriage partner. It will also begin to distort the way we relate to others. We will stop relating to others as those made in the image of God, or as brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead we will begin to view them through the lens of whether they are a potential marriage partner or not, or as a means to finding a marriage partner.

This is a way to waste your singleness. It is a denial both of the purpose of marriage and of singleness. It denies God's purpose for marriage, making it something that it is not. It makes marriage an ultimate thing, which it is not. Marriage is a temporary relationship which points to an ultimate relationship. Marriage is only permanent until 'death us do part' (Romans 7:1-2). It is there to point us the eternal relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33)- this is the ultimate relationship. Marriage is also a temporary institution, in the new creation we will "neither marry nor be given in marriage" (Mark 12:25). This is because when Christ comes to consummate the relationship between Him and His church we will have the reality in all its fullness, so we will not need what points to it. When we say that life only really begins at marriage we are putting marriage in the place of what it points to, we have made it the ultimate relationship instead of our relationship with Jesus. This degrades Jesus' honour. It says that He is not sufficient, that He is not enough, that we need something besides Him to have fullness of blessing. It denies the truth of Ephesians 1:3 that fullness of life and blessing comes from Christ alone. If we are joined to Him by faith we have all we need, we have everything. This is the ultimate relationship - if we do not have Christ we have nothing, but if we do have Him we have everything.

The 'Life Begins' Syndrome also denies the fact that our singleness is a gift from God (1 Corinthians 7:7). Just as marriage is a gift from God, so also is singleness. Our position in life and our marital state is not an accident, behind it stands a God who is in control of all things. He has given us our singleness as a gift, and we ought to recieve it with thankfulness, seek to be content with it (1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Philippians 4:11), and use it for His glory and the good of others. If we think that singleness is merely something to be endured while we wait for marriage, we deny the goodness of God's gift.

God has given us our singleness for a purpose and we ought not to waste it. Paul is deeply concerned that the Corinthians give themselves in "undivided devotion to the Lord." (1 Corinthians 7:35) This, he says, is to be the priority, whether married or single. Our singleness is given to us so that we might be undividedly devoted to Jesus in the service of the gospel, not undividedly devoted to seeking a marriage partner. Our relationship with Jesus is our highest allegience, the work of His kingdom is to be our chief focus. In many ways, Paul says, it is easier to live in undivided devotion to Jesus as a single person (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Not that a married person cannot be undividedly devoted to Jesus or that they have somehow settled for a spiritual second best (Paul is quite clear that it is a perfectly godly thing to get married, in verse 36 he says that "it is no sin" to get married). Rather, what Paul is saying is that life gets a lot more complicated with marriage, our "interests are divided" (verse 34) because we now have spouse and children to care for (and rightly so). Undivided devotion is easier for the single man or woman, because they do not have the pressures that a married person who is genuinely serious about being a godly husband or wife will have.

Therefore, we are to see our singleness as a privelege. God has given it to us as a gift,and we are to use it to serve Him in undivided devotion. This means that we are to rejoice in the freedoms that come with being unmarried, and use those freedoms for the glory of God and the service of others. We have more time to give ourselves to prayer and dilligent study of the Bible, than a mother of three young children will have. Don't waste that freedom. We have more time to give to serving in the church, whether it be teaching in the youth group or leading a Bible study or doing the important jobs behind the scenes. We are more flexible with our time and so can more easily drop everything to go and care for that Christian brother or sister in need. We are more mobile, so we can more easily give ourselves to missionary service (whether short or long term). Don't waste your singleness by playing the waiting game, get on with serving Jesus now, in the context you find yourself in. He has given it to us for a reason, and we are to glorify Him in whatever situation you find yourself.

The only waiting game we are to play with our singleness is to wait for our real wedding day, that day when Jesus shall return to take His bride, the church, to be with Him forever. Whilst we wait, we are not to mess around playing games with our singleness, rather we are to give ourselves to faithful undivided service to the one who has "loved the church and gave himself up for her." (Ephesians 5:25)

Previous Posts in this Series: