Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Marriage as Parable of Permanence 9 (Singleness)

posted by Scot McKnight

Singles.jpgIn our last post in this series, John Piper has a chapter on singleness, and I didn’t know what to expect. I say this for two reasons: some leaders in recent years have made some incredibly insensitive remarks about singleness and because I’m aware of the struggles so many have who don’t want to be single. On top of this, culture has not made it a primary focus of our youth to pursue love and marriage. (More of that someday.)

So, what does Piper say in his recent book, This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence?

Of course, I’m keen on hearing what singles have to say about this chp and how singles are experiencing the church today. And even having any image of “singles” can at times “define” some people in ways that are prejudicial … but I risk that in order to get a conversation going here about singleness.

Here’s the theme: “God promises those of you who remain single in Christ blessings that are better than the blessings of marriage and children” (113).

There are two major arguments in this chapter:

First, Piper makes much of Isaiah 56:4-5, a majestic text where the prophet extols the inclusive grace of God, a grace that shows special promise to eunuchs, and takes this as a cipher for singleness (are eunuchs and “singles” the same?):

Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say,
       “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”
       And let not any eunuch complain,
       “I am only a dry tree.
For this is what the LORD says:

       “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
       who choose what pleases me
       and hold fast to my covenant- to them I will give within my temple and its walls
       a memorial and a name
       better than sons and daughters;
       I will give them an everlasting name
       that will not be cut off



In a world shaped by marriage and procreation as the form of propagation of the seed of Abraham, this promise to eunuchs stands out. And what God promises is a blessing beyond what sons and daughters get.

Second, Piper makes much again of the impermanence of marriage and the permanence of the church and this leads him to emphasize that singleness participates as much — if not more — in the church. Therefore, the single person can be dedicated to the church and can live for eternity as marrieds are called to do — that life is the primary one.

Why? Relationships in Christ are more permanent; marriage is temporary; faithfulness to Christ defines and transcends all other relationships; marriage doesn’t.

And within these is another point: the church is propagaged by spiritual rebirth and not by physical birth; this leads him to see a leveling of the playing field in Christ. (He thinks Paul himself was single, but that’s not clear to me.)

One more time: singleness in this chp is a special calling and has a special blessing.

Piper has a second chp on singleness that emphasizes hospitality where he suggests that to the degree singles and marrieds mix reveals how committed that community is to kingdom ideals. Since we welcome one another as fellow disciples, we should reflect that universal community in our fellowship and hospitality.



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RJS

posted July 13, 2009 at 6:42 am


Scot,
Why isn’t it clear to you that Paul was single? I always assumed that this was true. Many (most?) of the Apostles married – including Peter and John – but where is evidence that Paul was ever married?



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Scot McKnight

posted July 13, 2009 at 7:06 am


RJS,
1. 1 Cor 9:3This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?
This text suggests, but does not prove, Paul was married.
2. Rabbis and proto-rabbis got married; so do most males. On balance, then…
3. Paul never says he was not married.
4. 1 Cor 7:1-9 indicates he was celibate — at the time of writing this — but it could indicate more.
What this indicates to me is that the evidence is not clear; it does not prove it. To say he was not is to say more than we know. To say he was is to say more than we know.



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ChristSpeak

posted July 13, 2009 at 7:08 am


Perhaps Scot is more saying that there is no good evidence that he wasn’t married? I have always assumed he wasn’t, seems like the popular opinion at least.
Perhaps it goes into the Hebrew, but I don’t think I would side with Piper in saying that Eunuchs count as single people. Of course, eunuchs may have been single — but one of the main reasons of getting married (avoiding sexual sin) would be a good deal less important to a eunuch. So while eunuchs would have the bonuses of singleness, they also wouldn’t (assuming my biology is correct here) have nearly the same temptations that (rightfully) cause most singles to seek marriage.
Did Piper bring up the main passage from Paul where he talks about how it is better to be single so you aren’t always having to look over the needs of your wife? It almost seems like Paul is saying that marriage is only for those that can’t handle sexual temptation single; I did write a small blog on that a couple days ago that I could use some help thinking through if anyone could lend a hand:
http://christspeak.com/2009/06/30/catch-22-marriage/
When I asked one of my friends about this he gave the answer that marriage is not at all bad, singleness is perhaps better but all in all you should almost default to marriage unless you feel a calling to singleness. That response doesn’t answer all of my questions, but it was a start in the right direction. Now I wonder if he got that from Piper’s book, sounds very similar.



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ChristSpeak

posted July 13, 2009 at 7:16 am


Hey Scot -
In respect to 1 Cor 9, the English is a bit vague (singular ‘wife’ but plural ‘we’) — does the Greek suggest two wives (one for him and one for Barnabas) or is it single as well? Given the verse after, it could be Barnabas. It might just be unclear, as you said.
If he had a wife, how would that work in relation to chapter 7 and being celibate? It seems odd that Paul would command husbands and wives to only separate sexually for short periods of time and then be so almost permanently himself. If he could do that without temptation it seems like his own advice to himself would be to stay single.
I’m pretty sure you’ve considered that, so I’m probably just missing it from your earlier statements, but a clarification would be appreciated.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 13, 2009 at 7:20 am


Yes, ChristSpeak, he does bring up 1 Cor 7 but it is not the focus of his chp. The passage about eunuchs is the lens through which he interprets singleness for it is that passage that sets up the eschatological blessing lens.



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Bob Brague

posted July 13, 2009 at 7:32 am


Just to put us all on the same page, please explain to us what “eunuch” meant in the ancient Near East so that we moderns, er, postmoderns can understand better. Surely it doesn’t just mean “an unmarried person.” Isn’t a eunuch a person who cannot make someone pregnant, i.e., a man whose testicles have been removed? To whom else would a king entrust his harem? Does the definition extend to the modern meaning of “a gay person” (someone not interested in having sex with the opposite gender)? Piper’s use seems to imply that “without children” (barren) is the meaning, but that seems a stretch. And there is that nagging end of Isaiah 56:5, “an everlasting name that will not be cut off” [emphasis mine].



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Scot McKnight

posted July 13, 2009 at 7:51 am


Bob,
The central point in Jewish law is a mutilated person who, because of mutilation — whether intentional or accidental — is unfit for Temple entry.
It is not an unmarried person or celibacy, but “damaged person.” Piper’s connection is odd, at best borderline, and plays into both stereotypes about singles and furthermore runs the risk of being insensitive to the problem that many singles have in wanting not to be single.
See http://www.bible-history.com/isbe/E/EUNUCH/



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Vicki

posted July 13, 2009 at 8:21 am


The dialogue and the questions about the “stretch” in broadening the term eunuch to refer to all singles is interesting, yet I appreciate Piper’s attempt to validate and speak “blessing” into the lives of single people and give them a vision for their lives that is bigger than the one they may have.
As a single person myself, I find comfort in his words. That may not dispel my longing to be married, but it does give a greater context to my circumstances. Whether I long to be married or not, and whether that longing is ever fulfilled, knowing that God understands and that this longing points to a more ultimate reality in heaven is something I can embrace. On this side of heaven, my life’s focus as the focus of the married person is to honor God and live for him fully. My context is just different.
Thanks for at least putting this topic out there. Would love to hear more of people’s thoughts about the post. Can appreciate the questions about Paul but personally see them more as a diversion from the real topic that is posted…



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Tyler

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:11 am


Woah, back up – it’s not clear to you that Paul was single? I thought that was more or less assumed across the board from 1Cor 7.8 – you gotta let us know why you think he might have had a wife – or are you just saying that he may have been a widower?



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karen

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:20 am


I’m interested in your observation, Scot, that current generations aren’t growing up in a marriage-friendly culture. I know a lot of 20-30s who talk about “community” but who are often battling the kind of loneliness that other generations only saw in the elderly. Despite all this technololgy, are we an increaslingly fragmented society?



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Pat

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:33 am


I don’t think eunuchs and singles are necessarily the same. One could be a eunuch involuntarily, although, were there ever married eunuchs? I don’t know…
As a single woman called to ministry, I decided a long time ago to resolve the desire for a relationship because I knew the capacity it has to run/ruin someone’s life. I can honestly say, that at the age of 44 and having never been married, that I truly enjoy my singleness and my life. I am devoted to the work of Christ through His church and that in many ways replaces a desire for a mate. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m open to marriage and am a supporter of it, but I’m even more open to accepting whatever God has for me. If He brings someone into my life, I would consider marriage, but if He doesn’t, I’m going to continue to serve Him all the days of my life. I wish for those (now I sound like Paul) that don’t have this settledness about singlehood could get it. Resolve to find your purpose in life and pour yourself into that. Leave the relationship to God. I also believe in marrieds and singles mixing. I wish we did more of that at my church. Some people act so uncomfortable around singles. Ladies, all us single women don’t want your husbands and not all singles are poor, pitiful sobs that will feel uncomfortable being around happily married people. I believe people’s lives are enriched when we can socialize with those in situations different from our own.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:35 am


Tyler,
I gave my reasons above, concluded long ago that the evidence is not clear. The post is about singleness, not about Paul’s singleness.
karen,
Yes, we are a fragmented society — for which there are plenty of contributing factors, not the least being our utter self-sufficiency in so many things. There is a massive need for churches and parents to recover (and rediscover) the gloriousness of relationships and community life.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:36 am


Please — no more comments about Paul’s singleness.



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Pat

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:37 am


There is actually good reason to believe that Paul was not single. There is a statement he makes in I Cor. this leads us to believe that way. If I find the cite, I will post it.



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Greg

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:37 am


As a 48 year old single male–never married, no kids, but having had many relationships that have not worked out for one reason or another (i.e., no vow of celibacy or what have you)–I have often looked for God’s purpose or some meaning in my singleness. Paul’s words in 1 Cor 7 are an important comfort to me to assure me that what I perceive as sacrifice may, from a kingdom perspective, have some eternal profit. From where I stand now, it doesn’t “feel” worth it, but Paul does seem to encourage, if possible, a life of singleness especially given the eschatological times we live in. Some raise another question: Was Paul mistaken about the timing of the Lord’s return when he said, “Time is short” (1 Cor 7:29)? But Jesus was clear that we need to always be ready for the Master’s return. For Paul, that included, when possible, singleness for undistracted devotion to the things of the Lord.
This is a tough issue and a test of faith for those of us who experience it. I appreciate attempts by the church to help define and validate the role of singleness and, especially, to find many ways to be integrated into healthy mixed community of married and unmarrieds, young and old–rather than being consigned to a singles group until we can get married. We are in an era in America through divorce and social value shifts where there is less and less infrastructure in biological extended family. I am looking to the church to somehow connect with me for my deepest and most reliable family relationships.



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Travis Greene

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:39 am


I had assumed Paul was single as well, but it’s a little amusing to me the hubbub that aside has caused. But it does make sense for Paul, as a Pharisee and proto-rabbi, to be married while the possibly more Essene-influenced (and utterly unique, in any case) Jesus to be single. Not sure it matters a lot, in any case.
Eunuchs in that passage and others are not equivalent to single people. I think a parallel can be drawn between eunuchs/foreigners in that passage and other outsider groups (like single people in certain marriage-obsessed segments of the church, or as Bob @ 6 suggests, gay persons?), but a parallel or inference isn’t the same as “The Bible teaches this.”



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joseph holbrook

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:10 am


Pat #11:
I so agree with your perspective. I have a lot of single women who are friends on the university campus: some are only my friends, and others are friends with both my wife and me. I am grateful that we have the kind of relationship that we can enjoy friends with these singles without it introducing insecurity or jealousy.
My wife (35 years) has had stage 4 breast cancer for four years, so the odds are rather high that I will be single sometime in the future. I have read 1 Cor. 7 numerous times and pondered the issue of singleness versus marriage. I think I am inclined to the same view that you expressed if I ever wind up single again: pursue God and his purpose in my life and not to seek to be married ? my current marriage has nearly been heaven on earth and I would not want to muck it up at the end of my life. Scot, thanks for sharing this: the fact that friendship with other believers is more permanent than marriage is very encouraging to me (and my wife) in our present circumstances.



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Jim Marks

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:29 am


“On top of this, culture has not made it a primary focus of our youth to pursue love and marriage.”
WHAT?!?!?!
Our culture is horribly, disturbingly, pathologically, obsessively, insensitively, obstinately, inordinately, brutally INSISTENT that everyone should be married before age 25 if at all possible.
Go work in an office building for a week. Do your best to stomach conversation in the break rooms and lunch rooms for more than 5 minutes at a stretch unless you LOVE conversations about weddings. Nothing. But. Weddings.



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Elle

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:50 am


I would whole heartedly agree with the last commenter. The push down the aisle is on. In churches, and outside. Singleness is not a virtue that is celebrated. Just one glance at church programs would give evidence to this. Ask the 30 something person if they feel the pressure.
If we were being honest there, singleness is rarely spoken about is a viable option for someone in the body of Christ. Many male evangelical leaders are pushing from their pulpit to find a Godly women, get married, have babies, step up the plate and be a real man. That is a beautiful path for some people to follow. Mind you, I don’t think it is the path for everyone. Knowing many radical men and women, who are intentionally single, I cringe at the thought that they are constantly left out of the discussion. The community of Christ must make room for those who don’t follow the normal path, whether chosen or unchosen, because singleness is a rich gift that everyone needs to hear from.



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myles

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:51 am


as a guy married all of three weeks, my experience in the process of getting engaged was that I transitioned out of a culture of singles to a culture of couples. It was as if I moved from one hermetically sealed environment to another. Weird.
So, there’s totally a singles culture that develops and entrenches folks, myself included, in it, and it’s difficult then to do otherwise.



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Travis Greene

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:52 am


Jim @ 18,
Where do you live?



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Tim

posted July 13, 2009 at 11:17 am


My situation is unique in that I am a single adult and a pastor. Currently I am in a congregation (culture) in which the center of community life is the family unit, so it is rather challenging to have those connections, since I do not have relatives nearby. Consequently, it has been a rather lonely journey here, and making connections with other peers and pastors is also difficult to make happen. My sense is that many married pastors also feel alone, but in a bit different way–having at least one person to rely on.
Singleness, like marriage, has both advantages and disadvantages. As a single, I would suggest that either is a blessing and both are a challenge at different times. Being single does not guarantee a more undivided commitment to ministry. That is something both marrieds and singles need to work on continually.



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Brian

posted July 13, 2009 at 11:31 am


Never have I walked into a workplace and had someone say, “The single people sit over there.” I have only experienced that in the church. Maybe some single people like it that way, but for me the pattern has taken a toll over time.



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Vicki

posted July 13, 2009 at 12:29 pm


Thanks for focusing more on singleness.
I do think that the church needs to reconsider what a call to biblical community looks like in these days. Although there is benefit to singles ministry in connecting you with others of similar life circumstances, I think it short-circuits the call to individuals in various life stages to be committed to one another in community. We tend to be more comfortable in homogeneous groups rather than being “family” to one another no matter our stage or season of life.
Personally, I feel one of the missing components in the current church environment is grappling with what this level of community would look like. My sense is that if we would challenge one another to this, the loneliness and misunderstandings that tend to occur would begin to dissipate.
Thoughts anyone?



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RevGrant

posted July 13, 2009 at 12:31 pm


This is an interesting discussion on a number of levels – I am a local church pastor in a multi-generational family consisting of a good dose of older and young marrieds, as well as singles. Without doubt, the biggest issue amongst the latter is whether or not marriage is a part of their futures. Also without doubt is the fact that singles have been largely relegated to the “waiting-to-get-married” category, and often (unintentionally) treated as “second-class citizens.” In some ways, the (western) church is obsessed with the primacy of marriage and family over and above any other expression of God’s heart. I have not read Piper’s book, so my commenting directly on that is out, but I am interested in HOW and WHY we Christians use God’s Word. Why on earth would promises made to eunuchs have anything to do with singleness in general?
Having said all of this, I personally believe:
1. In general, God made men and women to marry and approves when they do; the general state of affairs is that men and women marry;
2. Some are called to singleness – this does not mean they don’t have the same desires as the rest of us, or they really don’t want to marry (such feelings MAY indicate deep hurt instead of pure motives?) – it means they are called!
3. It is possible to CHOOSE singleness for the sake of the Kingdom, even though desiring to marry and not being specifically called to singleness;
4. Specific instructions given by Paul in specific instances should not be generalised to all Christians everywhere (goes to the heart of how and why we use Scripture) – it seems to me that there is quite a bit behind the Corinthians comments of which we are unaware.
I look forward to further comments!



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Shelby

posted July 13, 2009 at 12:32 pm


Speaking as a single woman in her late 20s, I can say from my own experience that inside and outside the church there is a tendency for singles and couples to segregate themselves. As a Christian, I will tell you that all over this country churches fail time and again to reach out to singles in their 20s and 30s. The church is so busy focusing on the college groups and the young marrieds that most churches don’t know what to do with the members who didn’t get married by the age of 25. Not to mention the ones who married young and divorced shortly after.



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Vicki

posted July 13, 2009 at 12:36 pm


Behind the Corinthian comments is the reality that most people married in that day and didn’t have a choice. Choice came with the gospel and freedom to choose to not marry became an option. For those who wanted to invest their time and energies in the advancement of the gospel, they were free to choose singleness as a lifestyle that would better suit that choice.
But, I would also say that it can become freeing to begin considering that whether you are married or single, that can be God’s call on your life today, right now. Somehow this type of surrender to God allows me to consider “what does it look like for me to follow Jesus today” rather than always waiting for the next phase of life to come along.



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Jennifer

posted July 13, 2009 at 12:48 pm


I love his idea that it is good and healthy for singles and married people to be friends. I hope he doesn’t mean it just for the sake of the single person…I think the married people gain a lot from having single friends too. I’ve been a married woman for 14 years, but still learn a lot from my single friends. In my context, the majority of those are single men who I attend seminary with, some of them have met my husband, most haven’t. But we are able to enjoy various levels of friendship and intimacy that we both benefit from.



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andy

posted July 13, 2009 at 12:49 pm


If any of you are looking for a deeper understanding of singleness, Albert Hsu’s currently teaching a great series on singleness at Willow Creek. You can find it online at http://classes.willowcreek.org/default.aspx?page=3284&profile=649&occurrence=1&streamType=Video.
As a single, I’d say that opinions regarding the acceptance of singleness (and many other things) are primarily contextual – urban vs. suburban vs. rural, ethnicity, geography, etc. But according to Al’s research in Singles at the Crossroads, 15% of American adult church attendees are single. Greater than 50% of the American adult population is single.
Case in point on how singles are received in the church – I’m interviewing a couple for a senior pastor position this weekend and we are talking about our church congregation. We are conversing regarding the status of young adults in the church, and the wife of the candidate grabs my left hand and examines my ring finger and innocently asks if there is a woman in my life. I say no – not at this point. She says, “well, that’s enough of a reason for us to focus more on reaching out to young adults in your community.”
On my best days, I graciously affirm the good intentions of many who project their view of happiness onto me. But if the promise of the blessings Isaiah pronounces upon the Eunuch is true, and our churches far underrepresent the single population – those are supposed to be blessed – then it’s worth asking critical questions of ourselves why the blessings promised by God are not dispensed to today’s population.



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JMorrow

posted July 13, 2009 at 12:57 pm


Recently married as well, I would concur with much of what the last few commenters (18,19,20) said. There is alot of unnecessary and insular social segregation in both the world of singles and the world of couples. While his Isaiah exegesis could use some strengthening and clarification, Piper’s last point about the need for singles and marrieds to model the Kingdom in being more present to one another is his strongest message. My wife and I have been trying to model this in our own life by being more intentional about hospitality toward our diverse groups of friends.
I’ll also add that perhaps this is a case where the Christian, perhaps evangelical Christian subculture, has different priorities than North American society as a whole. I see the pressure toward marriage to be intimidatingly real in evangelical circles, while serial monogamy and serial marriage to be the larger societal trend. In both cases what I feel is missing most is a proper sense of purpose in both married and single life. What does either marriage or singleness mean in the context of God’s covenant promises and Kingdom? I do think we need a stronger theology of singleness in particular for those who attempt the Christian walk. I don’t think Piper hits the mark, but we need to keep working at it.



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Joe

posted July 13, 2009 at 2:16 pm


This is horrifying and sloppy exegesis in my opinion. I am not sure that we want to connect eunuchs (damaged) to singleness. Too often we communicate that someone who is single must therefore be damaged, and this only reinforces such an idea.
The passage in Isaiah speaks more to the restorative justice of God?s kingdom then singleness. The eunuch has been mutilated to become the possession of someone else, and has been robbed of the opportunity to bear children, a horrifying offense to the image dei. God?s coming kingdom will somehow bless and redeem the violence committed again them.
Regarding 1 Cor. 7 it seems to me that Paul is saying since there is no giving in marriage in the eschaton we should live that way now if we are able. Celibacy can be an incredible way to pour one?s life out in service to Christ, and we seem to miss this important point in our focus on the family culture. Our theology seems to need some adjustment to help our praxis. We need to move away from our idolatry of romantic relationships.
I would agree with Piper on the importance of married and single people mixing in their social interaction, the better we do this the stronger the church.



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Anette Ejsing

posted July 13, 2009 at 2:22 pm


RevGrant @ # 25,
Yes, the options you list are scriptural options. But, where do we find scriptural directions for single persons 1) who always desired and still desire marriage and 2) who are not called to singleness and 3) for whom God is not providing spouses?
It is EXACTLY this profile of single persons that makes singleness problematic in our churches. If this group did not exist, there would be no challenge to address. All would be well.
Therefore, it is NOT enough to look for scriptural passages to give us what we need. I argue that there is theological (not narrowly exegetical) work to be done on the understanding of male and female sexuality. Much in the manner of what the Church Fathers did when they produced a creedal document on the Trinity.
I say: let us apply our minds and our faith to that very concrete but challenging task.



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AHH

posted July 13, 2009 at 2:53 pm


Whatever one may think of Piper’s exegesis, good for him for affirming the worth of single people in the church. In the 2 churches where I have been a member as an adult, “family” was the big value, being married with 2-4 kids was normative and anybody outside that box felt marginalized. I wonder if part of that is because most church staff is in the married with kids mold. It comes out in little things, like church surveys worded in a way (“you and your family”) that excludes single people.
So, given the implicit (and occasionally explicit) messages in churches that the complete Christian life includes marriage and children, a corrective like Piper’s is good.
These comments are colored by my being single in the church until age 37.
Postscript on mixing of single and married people. I would say that a bigger social division in churches is between those who have children and those (married or single) who don’t. My wife and I (childless) feel increasingly distant from many of our married friends (friendships often dating back to when we were all single), whose social world is now centered on their children. We wish it could be like “the old days” when we would go out to lunch after church and could discuss the sermon, issues of the day, etc. Now, it seems like most of the lunch conversation is about cheesy noodles and childcare. Maybe we need to seek out some single friends.



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Pat

posted July 13, 2009 at 3:04 pm


Joe @ 31, you make a good point: “We need to move away from our idolatry of romantic relationships.”
Scot, it would be interesting to look at the posts on the hooking up culture vs. this one on singleness and marriage. Which is it? Does our culture promote marriage or relationships of any type including hooking up? I think our society is terribly confused when it comes to relationships and it shows when we begin to have dialogues like this one.



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Travis Greene

posted July 13, 2009 at 3:18 pm


Pat @ 31,
I’d guess as a rough simplification, our secular culture promotes “whatever floats your boat”, so no particular focus on marriage/lifelong relationships, while our Christian/evangelical subculture promotes marriage as normative (subtext: single people are weirdos).



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Travis Greene

posted July 13, 2009 at 3:24 pm


Whoops. My comment was addressed to Pat @ 34.



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Jennifer

posted July 13, 2009 at 3:29 pm


This conversation is so interesting to me. It seems like many Christians are of 2 minds.
On the one hand we are saying here that it is great for singles to be friends with married people. Which, by its very nature, implies friendship between the sexes.
But on the other hand, in the sidebar of this site, there is a link to Beliefnet’s site worrying about “when is being just friends ‘too much’” This is a common fear among Christians.
We want singles to be friends with couples…but many are also very nervous that friendship would be dangerous. And I dont know if I should sigh with boredom (we STILL cant work out male-female relationships?), or scream with frustration (why is sexuality, usually female sexuality, so dangerous to many people?)
I think singles and marrieds being friends is wonderful…but as a married woman, I know that I dont want to feel like I have to babysit my husband when he spends time with single women. I wont do it. He is free to spend time with our single friends, male or female, without me. But that attitude makes some people break out in a rash of worry.



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Pat

posted July 13, 2009 at 3:57 pm


Jennifer, you go girl!



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reJoyce

posted July 13, 2009 at 5:47 pm


Jennifer (#34):
I was just thinking along those lines yesterday when our preacher said we should never go out to lunch alone with someone of the opposite sex during a sermon on remaining sexually pure. Screaming (inside) with frustration was my response yesterday, though often I do sigh, too.
I do wonder if attitudes like that make it difficult for singles.



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reJoyce

posted July 13, 2009 at 5:49 pm


Hmm. Need to work on my sentence structure. I did not mean he was suggesting not eating lunch out during a sex sermon. :-)



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Jennifer

posted July 13, 2009 at 6:07 pm


reJoyce
I think that attitude makes it difficult for everyone. Married men and women, as well as singles.
If a man (or woman) truly can not control himself enough to sit through lunch with a member of the opposite sex without the whole thing ending up in bed, then he should not place temptation in front of himself. But I would hope that he could be honest that he needs to protect his own inability, and not about the danger of women in general.



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Dan Brennan

posted July 13, 2009 at 7:19 pm


Christine Colon and Bonnie Field in ther new book, Singled Out refer to Piper’s position on singleness. Their book, without a doubt, is one of the best books I have read on singles living in the marriage-saturated evangelical culture.



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Kim

posted July 13, 2009 at 7:53 pm


I don’t know but I view going to lunch alone with a member of the opposite sex as not the greatest idea and I’m single. My pastor said when he goes out for a meal with a female other than his wife, he intentionally brings at least another person along, not only to set up “hedges” but also to keep community members from potentially starting rumors and such. I still think there’s something good about this, even if it seems like it’s promoting “division” among the genders. I have a lot of married friends as I’m in my 30s. I am friends with the couples as “units” with more intimate friendships with the wives as well. With their husbands, however, I feel like I can learn from them and allow them to learn from me within the context of us all being together. I’m sorry, but there’s way too many instances out there where affairs begin as innocent, well-meaning friendships with the opposite sex…I see it as a slippery slope that Satan can use to get us to fall. He begins often in small ways, guiding us to justify our behaviors, and the slope can get steeper and more slippery from there. Do I think all opposite-sex friendships turn out like this? Absolutely not. However, I know of many times within my own life where small thoughts/actions that were seemingly innocent and justifiable ended up with me sinning.
On another note about singleness in the church, I agree that much emphasis is in young families, children, teens, and college/young adults. I attend a megachurch where surprisingly there is much lacking with respect to older singles. (I see a lot of grouping singles 30′s to who-knows-how-old all together…come on now…that can just feel awkward in so many ways!) There are weekends where I absolutely DREAD going because going to church alone without a sense of community feels extremely lonely…making church feel like one of the loneliest places around. I thing there needs to be a balance of cultivating community with a mix of singles and marrieds while cultivating both groups separately, too. While I love to learn and grow from my married friends (and I hope they feel the same about me as a single), I do appreciate other single friends near my age as I feel they can better understand what life is like as a single…and they can sometimes have a little more flexibility in their schedules to hang out. My married friends have to divide their time between their husbands, children (if they have them), and friends, often making it more difficult to find time to get together. They know that I don’t completely understand marriage and family like some of their other married friends do. Again, my point is I think we need both groups to cultivate community both together and as separate groups.
I do appreciate what some on this blog are saying about their contentment as a single. Unfortunately I am not there. Part of it is because of my own deep desire for marriage and family but a small part may also be our society’s emphasis on finding a mate (although marriage is not always promoted, often cohabitation only) and having children.



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Jennifer

posted July 13, 2009 at 8:16 pm


Kim – I think a lot of people prematurly claim contentment when it might be better to live in the tension of unfulfilled desire. And that is about more than marriage…it is good to desire things deeply, and that doesnt/shouldnt stop after marriage.
The single people I talk to seem to sometimes say, “my desire is for marriage, and I will be happy if my desire is fulfilled.” But its not ture..once your desire for marriage is fulfilled, you will deeply desire children, or other things. I think we all need to learn more about how to live with unfulfilled desire – how to live with hope for the future, and mourning for the present all at the same time.



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RevGrant

posted July 14, 2009 at 4:50 am


Anette @ 32
Your point is taken. In regard to God providing spouses for singles, I am personally of the opinion that the somewhat popular teaching in some quarters of the church that God has chosen one person and one person only as your spouse is un-biblical. Singles become obsessed with “Is he/she the one?” every time they meet someone new. In addition, singles are often encouraged to draw up a list of the characteristics of a potential mate – helpful perhaps, but I’ve seen some of those lists and the men/women described do not exist on planet earth!
Having seen too many marriages to the “divinely-chosen” mate end in divorce, for those singles who desire to marry more than they desire to remain single, I encourage them to first concentrate on becoming the kind of person someone else would want to marry (in terms of following Jesus wholeheartedly and co-operating with the Spirit in developing character, etc.), and to develop healthy friendships with members of the opposite gender in the context of true community. I also feel that sometimes a more realistic rather than idealized approach to human relationships needs to be presented by the church – we have a Biblical obligation to learn to really love another person, not to feel warm fuzzy feelings about them first (not that those are not important in a marriage!)
Having said all of this, I admit, these are complicated and convoluted issues – especially from a the perspective of someone who encounters them on an almost weekly basis!



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Ockert

posted July 14, 2009 at 4:38 pm


Healthy discussion on this subject is I think far, far overdue. To my mind Piper’s article provokes two main issues (1) Framing the single within the Christian community and (2) Framing the Christian community around the single. I have deeply, deeply struggled around both issues and have found the church woefully impotent to address the deep-seated anxiety that many Christians face – especially when confronted with involuntary singleness.
1. Framing the single within the Christian community.
I disagree with the proposition that eunuchs (and for that matter rejected or barren women) is not comparable to singleness. In the latter chapters of Isaiah God identifies eunuchs and scorned women both as ‘dislocated members’ of the Israelite community for whom he cares a lot – despite their inability to fulfill the commandments to ‘go forth and multiply’ – a command still very much stressed in Judaism. Isaiah seems to me to very meaningfully affirm God’s care for singles.
The church has generally given two ‘messages’, two ‘voices’ as far as singleness is concerned. The one is that singleness is a preferred thing, something advanced by Christianity; the other that singleness is something scorned. Both positions have certain authority. The traditional preference for singleness is based of course on 1 Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19. Studying 1 Corinthians 7 it seems to me that Paul was advancing a practical consideration for his day and age: for those facing immediate persecution it would be better not to marry and have children. And as for both Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7 they seem to me to speak of a particular gift of singleness, something I expect to center on a particular purpose.
The test for the gift of singleness, both from Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7 is the same: It is not ‘do you want to be spiritual through singleness’ or ‘are you mature enough for singleness?’ or ‘Do you want to score browny points with God through singleness?’ The test is simply “Can you?” This sets me free from seeking to attain undesirable and unrealistic spiritual ‘levels’
Our religious sensibilities expect that singles ought to be more spiritual, more holy, more able to devote themselves utterly to the Lord than their married counterparts. Listening to common sense and practical experience, I as single have found the exact opposite. As one-fold cord I struggle to maintain and support myself spiritually, physically and emotionally. Despite my better wishes I am not a spiritual Chuck Norris.
The second message that I find given by churches, usually given in express response to this fact, and particularly as many Christians singles are divorcing themselves from the Christian community, whether by choosing cohabitative relationships, choosing singleness out of selfishness or fear of marriage, or by preferring churchlessness, is that they condemn singleness as an unnatural state except when it is precipitated by a gift of singleness.
Having regard to the idea of God’s pattern of ‘therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife’ I think this position is closer to the truth although it is usually offered in an insensitive manner – as though the sole cause for singleness were pride or selfishness. Just two weeks ago I was in a service where the idea was suggested ‘just get married’ – as though personalities and romance did not matter.
To be honest, I can recognise that I do not have the gift of singleness, that singleness is an unnatural state as it relates to me, and that I have no ready means of courting someone comparable and relatable to myself from the closer Christian communities around me. Which leaves me very, very frustrated. I find not clear Biblical matchmaking model other than simply “It is a gift of grace to find someone”.
2. Framing the Christian community around singleness
To return to Isaiah, God concern for eunuchs and rejected or barren women is that they found themselves at the outside of God’s community. They were “on the inside on the outside looking in”. Our call as Christian community is to provide intimacy, support and connection to those who feel they mis-belong.
The first thing that I think that churches can do is to recognise that ‘family’ is something very different in the post modern world – and that the nuclear family of a husband, a wife and 2.3 children can easily become a modernistic idol. We live in a day and age where there are many different kinds of families – including broken families, distorted families, extended families and ‘single’ families – that have equal need to belong within the Christian community.
Secondly I think we can recognise that there are many different kinds of singles – including (i) too young singles (18-23) (ii) never been married singles (iii) divorced singles (iv) separated singles and (v) those single due to death. We may also distinguish between intentional singles and involuntary singles. Throwing all singles into a general meting pot of ‘singles’ does an injustice of already marginalised communities.
Studying the Bible from top to bottom and praying myself past frustration on the subject I have come to two conclusions. Firstly that singles’ biggest need from the Christian community is validation: that it is okay to be who you are, as you are, even when you are discontent with how you are. That one still belongs even under those circumstances.
And secondly that the biggest challenge to the single Christian is choice. When one has a choice, one has hope, passion and dignity. When one has no choice, one loses hope, passion and significance – and God’s love seems to become an unreal thing. As single I find my biggest challenge is to find meaningful ability to choose on a path that I have not chosen for myself.
Ugh. I have already vented too much. :-)



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JAM

posted July 23, 2009 at 12:07 am


“The Gift of Singleness” is a modern, man-made phrase that unfortunately found its way into the Living Bible (now the NLT) and has since been removed from 1 Cor 7:7. I’m glad to see that Piper avoids the “GoS” in this new book, but it’s disappointing to see that he still hasn’t quite remedied the conflation of those are have chosen singleness for the sake of the kingdom (Matthew 19:12) with the faithful who are single by default, using the phrase “single in Christ”, whatever that means. This kind of lack of clarity was far worse in his “For Singles and the Rest of Us” article in “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”, but “Momentary Marriage” wasn’t much better.
I find it baffling that Piper would think being compared to the eunuchs of Isaiah would be comforting to the singles of today! Kind of like those who were quoting another verse from Isaiah a few years ago, “your maker is your husband” — an entirely corporate verse directed to Israel. You never hear modern Jews misusing OT scripture this way to “encourage singles”!
Those who preach to the involuntarily single seem to be running out of prooftexts, since we are waking up and realizing that 1 Cor 7:7-9 and Matthew 19:11-12 really aren’t about all singles having the “GoS”, but rather, point to the gifted few who can voluntarily live without marriage for kingdom purposes. The former passage affirming that because God gifts each in a different way, it’s up to choose whether to stay single or get married, and the latter passage starkly acknowledging that some singleness is not chosen (born eunuchs or made that way by men — not God) but those who can choose singleness for the sake of the kingdom should be able to.
The problem of singles being excluded from ministry and harangued into marriage is not solved by going to the opposite extreme, as Piper does, putting a smiley face on singleness, whether it’s wanted or not, chosen voluntarily for kingdom work or for some other reason. Just because singleness presents advantages doesn’t mean that those who are unmarried by circumstance can or should aspire to Piper’s vision of glorious ministry, like a default version of the “third kind of eunuch”. Expecting the unattached to pick up the slack from the busy married is just another kind of abuse.



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Joe

posted July 30, 2009 at 6:51 pm


The purpose of the Old Testament being included in the Christian bible is to show how Jesus fulfilled the prophesies in the Old Testament regarding the coming messiah. And that is exactly what the apostles did when they preached the gospel to the Jews.
I’m troubled by Piper’s misuse the Old Testament in addressing singleness. Surely, Piper wouldn’t claim that that the dietary laws or the stoning of adulters is applicable today, would he? Yet, he picks and chooses some verses in Isaiah and claims they are relevent to singles. Sorry, but Piper is just plain wrong!
The church has never been able to deal with the sexual issues (as well as intimacy needs) that singles experience. Sexual desires are NORMAL and to pretend they don’t exist, or to repress these desires is to deny a God given natural biological / physiological function. The church needs to deal with how singles should express and satisfy these God given desires and needs.
If singleness is such an opportunity for kingdom work, they why aren’t the seminaries turning out graduates and telling them to remain single?



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