Sunday, September 16, 2012

Singles in the Church

I need to start this post off by coming clean and noting that I am not a single.  I did get married later in life than most young marrieds, so I did live in the real world as a single for a little bit, but I am not single now.  I am not writing this post to presume I can sympathize with singles.  I am writing to address a church that has lied to singles over the years and to tell the church, "Stop!"

Now, I have to confess that I have been one of the liars.  No, I never lied on purpose, that is, I didn't think I was lying.  But having several single friends share their struggles with me has opened my eyes to things I said that were outright unbiblical.  I read this article recently and the author, who is single, explains the single perspective on these lies well.  What I want to do in this post is point out the lies we tell singles in the church and call Christians to stop using these lies to "help singles" and instead, to speak God's truth.

Let me also define what I mean by single.  I mean anyone who is not currently married.  That person can be a youth, an adult in college, a working adult, middle-aged, older, widowed, divorced, etc.  I include all singles however they are single.

So, let's take a look at the lies and their truthful opposites:

1. "You need to keep yourself pure and wait to have sex because God is preparing someone you will have wonderful intimacy with."  The problem with this statement is the because.  How do I know God is preparing someone for this person?  Does God promise anywhere in scripture that he is going to provide a spouse for every single person that waits to have sex?  No!  Then why do we say this?  We say it to encourage a single to be pure sexually.  But listen to the implications of this lie: "If you keep yourself pure, you are guaranteed a spouse sent by God."  That is what a single hears!  A single thinks, "I keep myself pure because I want a spouse."  But that is not why we keep ourselves pure.  In fact, nowhere in the Bible does it say this is the reason we keep ourselves pure.  Then why be pure?  Consider these verses: "Love the Lord your God and keep His requirements, His decrees, His laws and His commands always" (Deut. 11:1).  "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15).  "This is love for God: to obey His commands" (1 John 5:3).  Why do we keep ourselves sexually pure?  Because we love God!  Our motivation in keeping one of God's commands should always be love of God.  Yes, God gives commands for our benefit, so there are always additional reasons we should follow his commands.  But throughout the Bible it is clear: We obey because we love God.  That is foundational to Biblical truth.  The truth: "Keep yourself pure because you love God."

2. "Maybe you aren't married yet because God is molding you into the kind of person you need to be to be married."  This lie makes me cringe.  I love how we throw in the "maybe" just to make sure we aren't being "judgmental."  But really, what does a single hear when we say this?  "You aren't good enough to be married yet.  You aren't virtuous or spiritual enough.  If you were, you'd be married."  Oh, yes, because all married Christians are perfectly virtuous and spiritual.  Seriously, this lie is so outright ridiculous and yet I have heard people say it over and over.  News flash!  God doesn't require us to be perfect before we get married.  If he did, no one would be married.  So stop implying a single is somehow less spiritual because she isn't married.  Truth: "God is molding you into a reflection of Christ" (and end there, no implications).

3. "Maybe God is just waiting to send you the right person."  This lie is kind of a combination of the first two.  I can ask once again, "How do we know that?"  We don't!  I don't know God's plan.  (Yes, I see the excuse of "maybe" thrown in again, just to soften the blow and make me look less non-biblical when I talk to a single.  I did say "maybe" after all).  What I am doing when I say this is giving a single false hope.  If there is no one planned for their future, I have just pushed them into a hope that is not going to come to fruition.  I have encouraged them, not to seek God's plan, but a future plan that may or may not exist based on their desire.  So once again, a single hears, "Keep waiting and God will surely bring someone."  So will we keep telling a single that when he's on his death bed at ninety and still single?  Truth: Just don't say this.  You don't know God's plan, so don't pretend you have some special insight a single doesn't.

I'd like to give an example from my own life now, but it's kind of odd because it doesn't exactly concern singleness, but its opposite: marriage.  Bear with me.  The point will become clear at the end.  I am a weird person because I had determined that I was not going to get married and remain single, being a single missionary on the mission field.  I told this to a mentor and she said to me, "Do you realize you are telling God what he's going to do with your life?"  That thought hadn't occurred to me.  After all, I was giving myself to him wholly, so didn't he just want to take me that way?  After I talked to her, I had to repent and pray, "Okay, God.  Whatever you want with my life, that's what I'll do."  A week later, my now husband asked me out on our first date.  I write this to say that none of us can assume what God is going to do with our life.  We have to let him have complete control, which is a pretty scary prospect, because at that point, I relinquish my desire to make everything happen the way I want.  This goes for all Christians, single or married.  The point is, we shouldn't be telling singles to wait and be godly and just, you know, God will probably send someone because we don't know that will happen.  We can't presume to speak God's plan into the life of someone else, anyone else.  And I can't make assumptions in my own life.  I need to follow God and say, "Whatever you want."  That may be singleness and it may be marriage.  Who knows?  God and only God.

So, I am a reformed liar.  I don't say any of the above lies to singles anymore.  What I do do is encourage everyone, whether single or married, to seek God now.  Love God now.  Show him you love him by obeying him.  Make him your center.  That is biblical truth and that is what we should be telling everyone in the church, regardless of her marital status.