What Does the Bible Teach About Singleness?

A biblical view of singleness has been hard to come by in church history. At one extreme, some have regarded the unmarried life as an elevated spiritual realm, a blessing that only the godliest can handle. At the other extreme, singles groups in some churches are seen as mere holding tanks where believers remain only until they can marry. In contrast, the Bible presents a third way of viewing singleness in 1 Corinthians 7, one that the church needs to recover.

SinglenessSingleness is a calling. Regarding marriage and singleness, Paul told the Corinthians, “Only let each person lead the life . . . to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17). The word translated “called” is the Greek verb kaleo. It means “to choose for receipt of a special benefit or experience.” In the New Testament, being “called” by God to anything is an overwhelmingly positive experience. Believers are called to God’s kingdom (1 Thessalonians 2:12), to “eternal glory in Christ” (1 Peter 5:10), and to eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12). At times, God’s people are also called to an office of service (Hebrews 5:4). By placing singleness in this category of calling, God is obviously not classifying it as a position of second-class citizenship in His Church.

At the same time, singleness involves struggle. Paul’s statement that singles must exercise “self-control” and his accompanying exhortation, “It is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9), indicate that unmarried Christians face a battle to abstain from sexual intimacy outside marriage. God created humans as sexual beings, and singles are no exception. They experience sexual desire but are expected to fulfill the root need for intimacy by drawing near to Christ and being totally known only by Him. Yes, sexual abstinence can be a struggle. But obedience brings great blessing, and God empowers His single children for their calling. (Incidentally, Paul said married Christians also have unique struggles that singles don’t face [1 Corinthians 7:28-35].)

For some, singleness is a temporary calling. In 1 Corinthians 7:40, Paul advised widows to remain unmarried. But earlier in the chapter, he made clear that while their husbands are alive, God calls women to stay married (1 Corinthians 7:10). It would seem then, that Paul believed Christians can have different callings at different stages of life. God may call a believer to singleness for a season of life and marriage for another season. Because He has called you to singleness at age 30 doesn’t mean you will still be single at 40 or 50. As some have wisely counselled, “Run as hard as you can toward God, and if someone keeps up, introduce yourself.” Conversely, just because He called you to marriage at 20 doesn’t mean He won’t call you to live the final 20 years of your life as a widow or widower. The Lord has a perfect plan for each portion of each believer’s life.

Singleness is a gift that should be used to serve the church. In 1 Corinthians 7:7, Paul calls singleness a “gift” (Gk. charisma) from God. Interestingly, this is the same word the New Testament uses to describe spiritual gifts, which are to be used for serving others in the body of Christ (1 Peter 4:10). Most likely, that is part of what Paul has in mind here, because he also speaks of singleness as an assignment (1 Corinthians 7:17) and an opportunity for “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). Indeed, single Christians generally have more freedom to serve others in and outside the church because they don’t have as much responsibility to care for their own families. So during your season of singleness, take advantage of God’s gift by serving your church in a variety of ministries.

Of course, marriage is also a gift and a calling. Married believers are not on a lower spiritual plane than singles. Still, it’s time for the church to rediscover the calling and gift of singleness so that unmarried believers don’t feel like they’re in a holding pattern until “real life” begins.


Every Christian Family a Little Church

As new believers in 1950, Bob and Fae Tripp were committed to raising their children according to the Word of God. Their children knew that Sunday worship “was a nonnegotiable part”1 of their weekly schedule and that each day began with a time of family devotion. Bob was not a pastor and not even a great teacher, but he was faithful in leading his family to understand what 19th-century Presbyterian pastor and Princeton professor James W. Alexander called the “feeling that God must be honored in everything, that no business of life can proceed without Him.”2

Family DevotionsThe Tripp family sounds as if it could have existed in Puritan Scotland during the 17th century when even “the humblest persons in the remotest cottages honored God by daily praise”3 and family worship. But Bob lived in the middle of the 20th century, when the practice of family worship had been largely dismissed, even among the best churches and best Christian men.4

Early in the morning, before the first light of dawn, the Tripp family was roused from their beds. They gathered with sleep still in their eyes because Bob was convinced that it was important for every member of his family to be involved. In these small gatherings, he would read from Scripture, they would pray for one another concerning the day ahead, and they would lift their voices in praise of their Savior Jesus Christ. The Tripp’s oldest son, Tedd, had recently been hired to work at a factory requiring him to leave the house long before the rest of the family would normally wake. So rather than let his son begin the day without the benefit of family worship, Bob woke the others, letting them return to bed only after Tedd had left the home strengthened by their corporate devotion.5

In the years to come, the younger son Paul could not remember much of what the family read during these early morning meetings, but he was always impressed by his father’s “unaltering commitment to family worship” because “nothing got in the way” of gathering them to participate in their “time of reading and prayer.”6 Bob’s efforts to teach his family to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33) played no small part in their later openness to the calling of God. Both boys came to a saving faith in Christ at an early age and later committed their lives to vocational ministry. Both Paul and Tedd have been pastors and seminary professors, and both have written books on Christian parenting.

It is possible that these young men would have heeded the call of God upon their lives had they not been trained to honor and worship Him daily at an early age. But without such benefits, the Tripp brothers might well have left the church in adulthood, as is the case with 88% of churched youth today.7 Surely it is time to revive the practice of family worship and to believe with Jonathan Edwards that “Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church”8

 

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Endnotes

1 Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens (Philipsburg: P & R, 1997), 190.

2 James W. Alexander, Thoughts on Family Worship (1847; repr., Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1998), 33.

3 Ibid., 11.

4 Donald S. Whitney, Family Worship: In the Bible, in History & in Your Home (Shepherdsville, KY: Center for Biblical Spirituality, 2005), 1.

5 Tripp, 190.

6 Ibid.

7 Alvin L. Reid, Raising the Bar: Ministry to Youth in the New Millennium (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 44.

8 Quoted in Whitney, 15.

The Faith of the Demons

faith2You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

James 2:19 (NIV)

Most overweight people are quite familiar with the cause of their condition. They know the butter-and-jam laden croissants they are about to eat are loaded with calories and fat. They know that the broccoli they shunned in the supermarket would be much better for them. They know which food would be kinder to their cholesterol count, but they consume the dangerous pastry just the same. Mere knowledge cannot help them; it all depends on what they make of that knowledge. The same is true of knowledge in the spiritual realm.

James rebuked those who thought that an intellectual grasp of monotheism gained them a sort of spiritual advantage. If they, so to speak, signed off on a rudimentary doctrinal statement, then they were somehow blessed by God. But the apostle had no patience for such trivialities, noting that demons themselves believed the basic facts about God—that He existed, that He was one. Indeed, they believed this so deeply that they were wracked with dread. But it availed them nothing, for faith is more than cognitive subscription to propositions. Unless the demons worship and obey God, they are condemned.

Incidentally, James 2:19 offers an example of prophetic sarcasm. When James exclaims, “Good!” (“You do well!”), he means it as an ironic “Whoopie!” This is the same tone one finds in 2 Corinthians 11:19, where Paul calls the church members “wise” for putting up with fools, and on Mount Carmel, when Elijah suggests that Baal might be sleeping (1 Kings 18:27). While sarcasm should be used sparingly, it is not sub-Christian and can be quite effective.

It has been said that evangelicals are doctrinal exclusivists, but functional universalists. They say they believe in hell, but their failure to evangelize is just the sort of behavior one would expect from those who believed that all will work out well for non-believers. Lacking a sense of urgency to witness, they show themselves skeptical of the Judgment.

Any number of church members will express disdain for immorality, hope for cultural reform, and faith in the power of God to change lives, but relatively few will act with boldness upon such stated convictions. Perhaps, if they listened carefully, they would hear the voices of the prophets thundering across the ages, “You believe that abortion is evil. Great! So do the demons—and rejoice.” Or maybe the preacher would hear, “You believe that the pulpit is strategic. Wonderful! So does the devil—and trembles.” But what will these saints and Church leaders make of these beliefs? That is the faith question.


The ABCs of Christian Civilization

Many contemporary critics of the faith charge that Christianity is a barrier to progress. Of course, these critics are prone to have a twisted view of progress, one involving moral and spiritual decline. But they also suffer from historical blindness. If they did their homework, they would see that God’s people have been extraordinary agents of social health, artistic excellence, and scientific advance. By God’s common grace and providence, non-believers also do remarkable things, but there is nothing to compare with the consistent, splendid record of the saints. Yes, the Church has sometimes embarrassed herself, as during the Crusades and the Salem witch trials. But the overwhelming weight of good is undeniable—and indispensable to civilization.

Church-Triumphant3A number of contemporary books make this point beautifully.1 Chapter by chapter, they chronicle the contributions of those who have claimed the name of Christ—accomplishments in charity, government, education, science, economics, exploration, medicine, and the arts. For instance, one book presents the reader with a single-page roll call of 30 scientific pioneers, such as Joseph Lister, the father of antiseptic surgery, and James Clerk Maxwell, the founder of electrodynamics.2

It is impossible to do this heritage justice in a brief piece. One way to hint at its breadth is to give two selections, based on an alphabetical listing of first and last names. With little effort, an important figure can be found for virtually every letter of the alphabet. Only the Lord knows which of the following were truly regenerate, but all worked within the Christian tradition and honored Christ in their speech.

First names first: Adam Smith (free-market economist); Blaise Pascal (mathematician/philosopher); C. S. Lewis (author/literature professor); David Livingstone (African missionary/explorer); Eric Liddell (Olympic champion); Fyodor Dostoevsky (author); George Washington Carver (scientist/inventor); Hans Christian Andersen (children’s author); Isaac Newton (physicist/founder of calculus); John Milton (author); Kenneth Scott Latourette (missionary/historian); Leo Tolstoy (author); Martin Niemöller (opponent of Hitler); Nicholaus Copernicus (astronomer); Oliver Cromwell (ruler of England); Patrick (patron saint of Ireland); John Quincy Adams (U.S. president); Rembrandt van Rijn (painter); Søren Kierkegaard (philosopher); Tycho Brahe (astronomer); Ulbaldus Huchbald (father of musical polyphony); Vincent de Paul (hospice founder); William Booth (Salvation Army founder).

And then last names: Dante Alighieri (author); J. S. Bach (composer); Christopher Columbus (explorer); Leonardo DaVinci (scientist/inventor/painter); T. S. Eliot (poet); Michael Faraday (founder of electromagnetics); Johannes Gutenberg (inventor of printing press); George F. Handel (composer); Adoniram Judson (Burma missionary/lexicographer); Martin Luther King, Jr. (civil rights crusader); Frank Laubach (literacy crusader); Cyrus McCormick (inventor of the mechanical reaper); Florence Nightingale (nursing pioneer); Flannery O’Conner (author); Louis Pasteur (founder of bacteriology); G. F. B. Riemann (founder of non-Euclidean geometry); Harriet Beecher Stowe (author); J. R. R. Tolkien (author); Vincent Van Gogh (artist); William Wilberforce (anti-slavery parliamentarian); Francis Xavier (Far East missionary); Lin Yutang (UNESCO division chief/author); Nicholas Zinzendorf (founder of Moravians ).

This heritage is gratifying but largely wasted if today’s Christians fail to follow their example of vocational excellence. The world may be intrigued by the fact that Christendom once boasted a Bach, a Pascal, and a Wilberforce, but the world is more likely to be convicted if contemporary counterparts to these greats can be found in pews around the world.

 

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Endnotes:

1 For example, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?: The Positive Impact of Christianity in History (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994); D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If the Bible Had Never Been Written? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998); Alvin Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001); John Woodbridge, ed. More than Conquerors: Portraits of Believers from All Walks of Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992); Dan Graves, Scientists of Faith: Forty-Eight Biographies of Historic Scientists and Their Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996).

2 Kennedy and Newcombe, What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?, 101.

The Theological Freight of a Cult’s Hymns

On a recent mission trip to Detroit, I came across a treasure house of used books with over a million volumes, jammed into four floors and a basement in an old glove factory. I couldn’t resist a visit, indeed two, and among the books I purchased were four on the Jehovah’s Witness faith, one of them a hymnbook.1 A pastor with whom we were working had asked us to do a Q&A session with some new believers, and some had JW backgrounds. So I wanted to study up.

watchtowerThe first three books made the predictable, non-Christian moves, such as those documented in apologetical tracts and flyers.2 But my attention was drawn especially to the song book. Unlike the Mormon version, which draws heavily on traditional Christian hymns, as it seeks to pass itself off as genuinely Christian,3 the JW collection of 225 songs is totally unique as best I can tell, though some have similar names—“Balsam in Gilead” instead of “There is a Balm in Gilead.”

It’s been said that we Christians, particularly Protestants, learn our theology from hymns, such as Amazing Grace, And Can It Be?, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and In Christ Alone. The same could be said of JWs, as these samples show:

Jesus was created and is not eternally divine with God the Father.4 Playing off Hebrews 1:6 (which simply calls Jesus the “firstborn”), Hail Jehovah’s Firstborn! denies Christ’s divinity and renders him a mere creature: “Let’s hail, Jehovah’s Firstborn—God’s Heir he has been made—Who since he was created, His Father’s voice obeyed.” This is the ancient heresy of Arianism. Bless Our Christian Brotherhood references 1 Peter 2:17 (“Love the brotherhood”), and assigns Jesus the humble job of model: “He showed love in real brotherhood, With zeal for righteousness, Set patterns of humility, Of love and faithfulness.”

You are saved by your works. Working from Revelation 12:17, Meeting God’s Requirements features, “If we make straight paths for our feet, With Kingdom joys we’ll be replete.” They like the part of verse 17 which identifies the saints with those “who keep the commandments of God” but avoid the part about those who “hold to the testimony of Jesus,” which includes His divinity and grace. Lacking grace and mercy, JWs need to be spurred to sing Do More—As the Nazirites Did (Numbers 6:8): “Their lifestyle was simple. Self denial was their role . . . Close to God it surely did bring them. Could we too have such a goal?”5

There are three possible destinies after death. Only 144,000 will make it to heaven, but decent, Christ-respecting people, will inherit an earthly paradise, or else be annihilated, for there’s no eternal hell. One of the three destinies is pictured in God’s Promise of Paradise (from Luke 23:43, with Christ’s words to the thief): “A Paradise the earth will be, With eyes of faith this we can see.” Another destiny is pictured in Proclaiming Jehovah’s Day of Vengeance (Isaiah 61:2).

Earthly government has no claim on your loyalty. JWs’ famous refusal to pledge allegiance to the American flag is reflected in Theocracy’s Increase (Isaiah 9:6, 7), in Loyally Submitting to Theocratic Order (1 Corinthians 14:33), and in No Part of the World (John 17:16), which reads, “Because our God set us apart, It is to him we give our heart. No part of Satan’s world are we; Like Christ, our Lord, we choose to be.”

A tour through their hymnbook makes one all the more happy that ours includes the messages of Come Thou, Almighty King, Amazing Grace, When We All Get to Heaven, and, yes, in our case, America. How fortunate we are to sing praise and thanks regarding God in Christ, the Gospel, the hope of all the redeemed, and the blessings of life in a “sweet land of liberty” where we are still free to worship.

 

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Endnotes:

1 All were published by their Watchtower Bible and Tract Society: Happiness: How to Find It (1980); You Can Live Forever in Paradise (1982, 1989); Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life (1995); and Sing Praises to Jehovah (1984).

2 http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbnew.aspx?pageid=8589952841 (accessed May 15, 2014).

3 For example, All Creatures of Our God and King, God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand, How Great Thou Art, I Know that My Redeemer Lives, Joy to The World, Count Your Blessings, Onward Christian Soldiers, https://www.lds.org/music/library/hymns?lang=eng (accessed May 15, 2014).

4 They have notoriously robbed John 1:1 of its power with their own New World Translation, which calls Jesus “a god” rather than simply “God.”

5 Door-to-door evangelism is a very familiar aspect of their ministry for reward. They undergird this practice in song, drawing on Acts 20:20 (which pictured the rotating fellowship of the early church): From House to House: “From house to house, from door to door, Jehovah’s Word we spread.” They press on, though comedians regularly make fun of them in this connection. Here’s a sampling from http://www.jehovahs-witness.net/jw/experiences/199125/1/Best-JW-Joke#.U2mEIMf8EUU: “Why don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses get killed during an earthquake? They’re always in your doorway” (Johnny Carson); “What does Hannibal Lector call a Jehovah’s Witness? Free delivery!” (Jay Leno); “Hey, I tell you I get no respect! The other day a Jehovah’s Witness came to my door, and he said he wasn’t interested” (Rodney Dangerfield) (accessed May 15, 2014).


How Many Bible Passages Speak to Homosexuality?

On a predictably regular basis, someone publishes a book claiming that the Bible only speaks to homosexuality in a handful of places and that if those references are explained away, Scripture can be viewed as “open and affirming” toward same-sex relationships. Most recently, Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian focused on six Scripture passages that condemn homosexuality.1 Similarly, Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible references five passages that depict same-sex intimacy. In 2012, homosexual bibleactivists produced the Queen James Bible, a version of the Bible with eight key verses edited to prevent “homophobic interpretations.” Before that, Jay Bakker’s Fall to Grace identified three “clobber passages” in the New Testament that are used to “beat people over the head” regarding homosexuality. The list could go on—you get the idea.

But is the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality limited to just a smattering of references? In short, no. All of these “open and affirming” interpretations do violence to the plain meaning of the verses in question, and Christian scholars have demonstrated that to be the case.2 Yet there is a broader issue. Not only do specific passages condemn homosexuality; many of the Bible’s major themes, metaphors, precepts, and commands assume that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the norm. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible leaves no doubt about God’s intentions regarding marriage and sexuality. Consider the following:

— The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15:1-6) depended on God’s people marrying and producing offspring for its fulfillment.

— In the Decalogue, the fifth, seventh, and tenth commandments all assume a backdrop of traditional family structure, with a husband, a wife, and children (Exodus 20:12, 14, 17).

— The entire book of Song of Solomon assumes the inherent beauty of male-female marriage. In at least two places, the book depicts a man describing his wife’s female anatomy in admiring detail (Song of Solomon 4:1-5; 7:1-9)—a phenomenon with no homosexual parallel in Scripture.

— In both Testaments, God’s relationship with His people is compared to the relationship between a husband and wife. Whether it’s Isaiah 1:21, Jeremiah 2:1-37, Ezekiel 16:1-63, or Hosea (chapters 1-3) in the Old Testament or Paul in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:22-33), the authors of Scripture believed heterosexual marriage provided an apt metaphor for God’s tender care of His people and their gracious commitment to love Him.

— The New Testament’s pervasive references to the church as God’s household presumed that a traditional family structure was normative. In Paul alone, the terms “brother” and “sister” are used 139 times; “Father” is used 63 times in reference to God; and Christians are referred to as “sons” 17 times.3

— The character of candidates for church leadership was to be gaged by the faithfulness of their participation in heterosexual marriage (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).

— The relationship between the persons of the Trinity is reflected by the intimacy between a husband and wife (1 Corinthians 11:2).

So don’t let anyone convince you that the Bible’s case against homosexuality is dependent on just a handful of verses. Marriage lies at the heart of Scripture, providing the best earthly analogy of God’s passion for His people. When we accept any distortions of God’s plan in this area, we begin to lose our understanding of what it means to have intimacy with Christ.

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Endnotes:

1 For a biblical response to Vines, see R. Albert Mohler Jr., ed. God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines (Louisville, KY: SBTS Press, 2014), http://www.sbts.edu/press/ (accessed May 7, 2014).

2 See, for example, Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001).

3 Joseph Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 77.