I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. -- Psalm 139: 14 (ESV)
February 14th is almost upon us again. For some it is Valentine's Day and for others it is Single Awareness Day, because there is no day we are more aware of our non-attachment. They say that an average of 150 million Valentine's Day cards will be given on this day making Hallmark the true winner. The legend claims that a third century priest named Valentine defied the orders of Emperor Claudius the Second, who had outlawed marriage for young men because he felt single men made better soldiers. When Claudius discovered Valentine was still performing marriages he had him executed. And all the single ladies said, "Aww." From this third century mark until today, women have been looking for this level of romance from men; usually to great frustration. Frustration is the hallmark of single Christians within the church for several reasons. With the devil of all holidays upon us, let's take a look at what the Bible has to say.
The first reason is the church has a bad habit of ignoring single Christians. We are the unspoken of demographic. In a world that is excessively "clique-y"; the church is often worse. Married Christians simply tend to not associate with single Christians. The left out feeling is palpable for most church going single Christians and according to the Bible it ought not to be this way:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. -- Romans 12: 4-5 (ESV)
Beloved we are supposed to be one body in Christ and individually members one of another. We are unified in doctrine and found in Christ. The King of Kings and Lord and Lords. We should not be divided by something as petty as relationship status. Yet there the church goes every year doing the division for us. I do not know of a church that does not have a "couples night"; "marriage class/retreat"; or a "singles ministry." I know these are done with the best of intentions but they run contrary to the Bible and end up alienating the single Christian further. Even from a spiritual warfare perspective it makes little sense. One of the things the devil loves to do is show us something we think we do not have. Many married people wish they had the freedom afforded by being single and many single folks miss the companionship that comes from marriage. The truth is the grass is rarely as green as we think it is. We could probably learn quite a bit from each other if we would spend more than the obligatory handshake time each Sunday morning during service.
The second reason why it is even more frustrating to be single in the church is the absurdly impossible standards that are held up by the church and the world for young women to aspire to. Ladies, here is today's deep theology. I do not own a white horse. I do not know anyone who does either. You are being sold a false bill of goods. The church is a collection of misfits from the world who happened to accept that Jesus Christ is their Lord. The world sells young girls fairy tales of princes who one day will whisk them away to their own castle where they will watch reruns of Downton Abbey while they rock on porch swings until they die of natural causes together at the age of 99. That would be sad enough in its deception if the church did not double down on it. Here is the second deep theology for the ladies today. You are NOT the bride of Christ. Collectively, the church is the bride of Christ and that does not mean literal bride. God was using imagery we would understand. Likewise, just because you are a daughter of the King does not mean you should expect a prince. Why? Because you will be waiting an awful long time. What you are going to get is a man. A flawed, sinful man just as you are a flawed sinful woman. What you need to be gauging is his sincerity towards Jesus being the Lord of his life.
While we are dispelling poor theology aimed at destroying our women, stop waiting for your Boaz. That is not what you should be gleaning from the story of Ruth to begin with. Ruth by the way did not wait for her Boaz at all. In fact, Naomi schemed for Ruth to almost stalk Boaz. There are also intricate responsibilities to deceased brethren in that story that have nothing to do with us today as Christians. Now some might think, well what's the harm? Glad you asked! It sets up completely unrealistic expectations that can never be met. Single Christian women pine away their twenties hoping and praying for their Boaz. Yet it seems like every guy they meet does not measure up to the romanticized version of the story of Ruth they have been fed. There is no threshing floor, he does not own acres of land, and at the end of the day he seems kinda ordinary. That is because life is not a Harlequin Romance Novel. By the time the women get to their thirties they are more than likely bitter because the reality has set in. They were lied to. Maybe they will get mad at church and never come back. A perfectly spectacular target for the enemy; a single Christian with no Christian support structure. Maybe they will get mad at God because they were also sold a quid-pro-quo god that does not exist.
Beloved, God is under no duty to deliver anything to us. He has already given us everything in His one and only Son to die for our sins. The church today runs under the seeker-friendly, purpose-driven models of church growth which sell a false god. The god they sell is a pay-for-play god. You do something and you will get "blessed." Correct Christian doctrine understands that we are already blessed in Christ. The church today reduces the word blessing down to the temporal baubles of this world. Thus there is a false expectancy within the church. What we should be expecting is eternal life and an eternity saved and reconciled to our Creator. Instead we end up expecting dust. Things that will wither, fade and rust with the mere passage of time. Or in this case, we end up expecting a person that does not exist. A caricature of a man; not a real man. The third possibility if the woman does not blame the church or God is that they end up blaming themselves. What's wrong with me? Why did all my friends get married younger than me? Why did my younger siblings get married before me? Why does it always seem so much easier for everyone else? The truth is that it is never easier for anyone else. It only appears that way. Anyone who is married will admit it is hard work. We only see the public face. We do not see their struggles as they do not see ours. Why? Because we are not acting as one body. We are not behaving as Jesus instructed us to:
But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." -- Matthew 12: 48-50 (ESV)
The third reason we need to look at today is in relation to the dearth of male leadership within the church. There is a reason why there are so many faux female leaders within the church and the fault lies squarely with the men. I remember when I first had joined the Assemblies of God and started going to their annual Men's Retreat. After two years one of the organizers asked my opinion and I said it would be nice if they acknowledged that single Christians existed. The following year there was indeed a breakout session for single Christians. It was facilitated by a married Christian who essentially told us to wait for our Ruth. I remember when I started to attend the Saturday Morning Men's Breakfast. The teaching portion was a video series on sexual purity taught by an 80 year old man. To say these things missed the mark was a huge understatement. This is what the experience usually is for single men in the church. We are told to adhere to the strictest sexual standards by married men who do not have to worry about those struggles and probably did not adhere to them when they were single. And that is the other elephant in the room the church does not want to deal with.
Yes beloved, Christians struggle with sex. You can tell that just from looking at married Christians. The divorce rate in the church is no better than that in the world. While the church rails against the sins of the world, adultery is commonplace in the church. Leaders fall seemingly every day from sexual indiscretions. Well, if you see that within the married realm, how exactly do you think it is going for single Christians? Men are supposed to take the lead in relationships. They are supposed to be the priest of the relationship. Yet they often have no good single role models, rarely have true accountability with single Christian friends, and have to deal with the obvious hypocrisy from the married Christian culture. Most men today are also being raised in utterly carnal churches that are so compromised with the world that you cannot tell them apart anymore. So you are going to sing Friend of God and Blessing of Abraham, then listen to a 20 minute sermonette how God wants to bless my socks off, and then demand some kind of strict ritualistic behavior when it comes to dating? That doesn't even make sense to the carnal mind let alone the Christian. Beloved, there are reasons why Jesus said every seemingly little thing He ever said. A little leaven eventually leavens the entire lump. Compromise begets compromise. In the infamous "judge not" verses, Jesus is not speaking about judgment but about hypocrisy. There is no point in a compromised church lecturing single men about the limits of acceptable dating protocol when they cannot police their own. This is the log in the eye Jesus is speaking about. The reality is that single men need stronger, more mature in the Lord, single men to come alongside of them. Not to judge them but to guide them. Not to provide legalism. We already know what we are and are not supposed to do. Heck, even Paul knew that and lamented about the constant struggle between the flesh and the spirit. It is time the church stopped pretending that struggle doesn't exist.
Men need to take their rightful place again as the leaders in the church that God designed. We need to start that leadership in our personal relationships. Not expecting a perfection that cannot be attained but not ascribing to the carnal philosophies of the world either. The church needs to come alongside the single Christian man as well. Nurture him in the Lord and in Scripture. Remember, David hid the word in his heart that he might not sin against the Lord. Yet it was David that casually tossed that Word aside when he saw but one glimpse of Bathsheba bathing. This is the man after God's own heart beloved. Then he used his power and position to murder the husband of Bathsheba to cover his sin up. I am not suggesting a light attitude towards sin at all but an understanding of the humanity we are all battling with each day. Just like when we discussed setting up unrealistic expectations with women the same can be said and must be avoided with men.
The final area to discuss today is critical for understanding who we are and how we deal with all of this. The sad reality is that single Christians are often made to feel less than. In this hyper-competitive world we live in it is no wonder that we can easily end up demoralized as well. We start to misconstrue the choices other people make regarding us as a statement of our inherent value. If we leave our value to be set by the whims of man (or woman) then God help us all. God sets our value beloved and God alone.
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? -- Psalm 56: 8 (ESV)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. -- Luke 12: 6-7 (ESV)
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -- Romans 5: 8 (ESV)