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Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, "Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. -- Genesis 16: 1-3 (ESV)
We are the forgotten brethren. The unspoken of segment of the body of Christ. The red-headed step child if you will. I remember when I started going to the annual Assemblies of God annual Men's Convention. There were always great speakers and interesting breakout sessions. After the first couple of years the organizer asked me what I thought and I responded that it would be nice if they acknowledged that single Christians exist. After all, we did not need workshops on appreciating our wives or improving our marriages. The following year they indeed had a workshop for single Christians. It was facilitated by a married Christian who told us to hold on and pray because eventually God would send the right woman. This of course did very little to address the very real struggle for Christians who are single in the church. The struggle as perceived second class citizens. The lecturing about sexual sin from people who were married and likely did not practice what they were preaching when they were single. I remember going to Saturday morning Men's Ministry and watching a four part video series about purity being taught by an 80 year old man. Is it any wonder that the single Christian not only feels isolated often within the community of Christ but simply not understood?
I have spoken to many single Christian women who report similar struggles on their side, albeit different based only upon their gender. I feel badly for single Christian women, especially younger ones. They are fed fairy tales from the world about white horses and tall towers, while the church builds up their pride with cute catch phrases about being a daughter of the King so the man who pursues them better be a prince. Not a good starting point to meet someone. Because there are no white horses and princes and princesses are the things of fiction. We are all simply sinless human beings with the same feelings, foibles and insecurities. Other young Christian women fall under very heretical teachings such as the Bridal Paradigm from places such as IHOP. In this false teaching they are taught that they personally are the bride of Christ. The result is single Christian women who seemingly thumb their noses at the notion of dating mortal men when Jesus is their husband, betrothed, fiancee, boyfriend and in some cases of really poor theology; lover. Don't believe me? Just listen to some of the lyrics from Misty Edwards, the primary worship leader from IHOP. It varies from secular sounding love songs to soft core pornography. Knowing these challenges are only half the battle beloved. The next step is to remind ourselves what the Bible says regarding the status of single Christians everywhere:
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." -- Genesis 2: 18 (ESV)
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. -- 1Corinthians 7: 8-9 (ESV)
Sometimes at first blush these may seem at opposition to each other but they are not. The verse from Genesis is a direct statement of fact from God regarding the state of people. It is simply not good for us to be alone. Secular studies have supported this as well. It is equally true for the concept of Christian community. We were meant to be together as a people. Unified in doctrine. I know many church-hurt Christians who have become spiritual loners. They are never better off as such. Isolated from the body, they find themselves more vulnerable to attack from the enemy and more susceptible to false teaching to lead them astray. While this Genesis verse is obviously true so are all verses in the Bible including the teaching Paul provides in the verses from First Corinthians. Paul is not disagreeing with the Genesis verse. He is making an observation of the human condition within our spiritual reality. Ideally, it would be better to not be married. Because the married person has split concerns. He or she must seek to please God and their spouse. Their attention is naturally divided, as it should be. The single Christian however has the luxury of only having to concentrate on God. All of their attention can be on the Lord. Note however that Paul does not leave it there. He provides the condition. While singleness is preferred he acknowledges the very human condition of desire, passion, and lust. He acknowledges that the general human condition is to want one another. This is not just the physical act of sex but all that it encompasses, including the emotional and spiritual side of physical intimacy. None of this is the taboo subject the church has turned it into. God created and ordained sex. While the world has certainly perverted it, the church sometimes chooses to bury it and pretend it doesn't exist as a subject to talk about or seek the wisdom of God for. The result is single Christians are often instructed to "capture their thoughts" or "think of only pure and holy things." Thanks but that is not what those verse sets are in the Bible for and it does not address our carnal desires. It sweeps it under the rug so we can move onto to topics that do not make us uncomfortable. Meanwhile the world bombards us with sexual imagery every single day and with the loosening of societal morality, it is becoming a problem at a much younger age as well.
The advice, given or perceived, that single Christians just need to see/hear/speak/ no evil when it comes to sex until marriage results in Christians mocking the seriousness and solemnity of the marital covenant they make with God. People getting married after only dating for a couple of months are very common within the church. Now, as long as both are committed believers and always keep God first this can certainly work but one needs to only look as far as the divorce rate within the body of Christ to recognize that things are simply not right.
For the bad news beloved I can offer no silver bullet. I have no special revelation given to me to magically resolve these issues and I think we need to start there as single Christians. There are no easy answers. Staying true to the Word of God is often difficult work because of our flesh. Paul is essentially admitting it in those verses from First Corinthians! The flesh wants what the flesh wants and while men may view intimacy on a more physical level and women on a more emotional level the desire and end result is still the same. Despite not having the silver bullet, we do have the Bible and God says it was given to us so that we might learn from the stories contained within. Even the stories of historical narrative, while not specifically outlining doctrine, can often provide valuable insight for us as believers and the problems we face. As I was going through today's key verses in my weekly Bible study, the Holy Spirit illuminated this subject for me. Even though the players in this story were married, the parallels can still be drawn for us today. Let us reason together and see what we can learn:
The backdrop is this beloved. When Abram was 75 the Lord made a covenant with him that He would make him into a great nation. This despite the fact that Genesis 11 has already told us that his wife Sarai could not have children. A few years later, after God delivers Abram victory in war, He reminds him of the covenant and spells out more specifically the terms.
And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own sonshall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. -- Genesis 15: 4-6 (ESV)
Ten years later however, still childless, we come to the key verses. Let's chew on them:
Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, "Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her."
Let us first dispense with the customs of the times. The obtaining of children through servants was an accepted practice. Sarai presented Hagar to Abram as a wife or in those times a "secondary wife", or concubine. As a slave, the offspring would become the property of Sarai. But dig a little deeper beloved and we will notice one glaring fact. Sarai correctly knew that the reason she had not conceived was that the Lord had prevented it. The common understanding of the day was that barrenness in women was a sign of divine judgment. I have often heard this story treated as if Sarai and Abram were trying to "help the Lord" with His promise but the reality is that it is an example of failing faith in the face of waiting for the Lord's time. This is a conspiring to circumvent the will of the Lord combined with doubting that which He has promised. Matthew Henry explains:
"16:1-3 Sarai, no longer expecting to have children herself, proposed to Abram to take another wife, whose children she might; her slave, whose children would be her property. This was done without asking counsel of the Lord. Unbelief worked, God's almighty power was forgotten. It was a bad example, and a source of manifold uneasiness. In every relation and situation in life there is some cross for us to bear: much of the exercise of faith consists in patiently submitting, in waiting the Lord's time, and using only those means which he appoints for the removal of the cross. Foul temptations may have very fair pretences, and be coloured with that which is very plausible. Fleshly wisdom puts us out of God's way. This would not be the case, if we would ask counsel of God by his word and by prayer, before we attempt that which is doubtful."
That is the first take away for us as single Christians. Faith often consists of patiently submitting. Well, what does that mean preacher? It means what Paul said in Philippians when he said that he had found godly contentment regardless of his situation. Rich, poor, starving, satisfied, shipwrecked, or even single. His contentment is focused on who God is not what Paul has. I am not suggesting this is easy but many times we can fall into relationship idolatry. We all do in the church. Whether it is congregants who idolize their pastor so much they refuse to do the work of a Berean. Mothers who idolize their children to the point where they are placed ahead of God and their spouse. Men who might idolize their friendships over their spouse. For singles it is the idolization of the relationship yet to come. There is a difference between presenting your desires to God in prayer and then trusting who He is and constantly scouring the horizon for when God was going to let this person finally come into our lives. Sarai and Abram knew full well that they not believing the Word of the Lord and while we do not have a direct audible word from God we certainly have His Word in the revealed Scripture. That word tells us that He will provide all of our needs according to His riches in glory. It tells us that a day is like a thousand years to the Lord. He is not bound by our concept of time. We also tend to forget this truth: