On Namrock this year I really felt pressed to share this stuff and so did. I believe it was God. If it turns out to be vastly theologically incorrect then either I got it wrong or popular theology did. I’m willing to take the risk, because I really believe this to be true….
I think there are a lot of lies, misconceptions, and false teachings that have gone on about Marriage and Singleness and so am very excited about speaking truth and life into those areas. Here goes: (Bullet points are just two things I said before the main part.)
1. I know that what I am going to say is not for everyone and there are some of you who are going to be sitting there and getting frustrated that it’s “that” topic again. I would like to ask you as a part of your worship tonight that you keep quiet and put up with it because there are a lot of people here who are really struggling with this issue and hurting a lot over it.
2. As we were sitting worshipping after communion I looked around and got a huge sense of loneliness. As I looked around at that group at Namrock I saw a LOT of people who were very very lonely and hurting.
There have been two primary bad teachings about marriage and singleness which the church has been responsible for over the years. The Catholic church has tended to lift singleness up as more spiritual and something to be attained. Nuns and priests and monks have been honoured over the years, while marriage – still one of the sacraments – has often been portrayed as a weak capitulation to the “things of the flesh”. Teachers of this view use Paul’s writings on singleness a lot. On the other hand, the Protestant church has glorified and spiritualised marriage, lifiting it up as the pinnacle of relational living. Teachers here will draw, ironically, on Paul’s teaching about husband’s loving their wives as Christ loved the church. I think both of these extremes have done the church a huge disservice. I want to speak into the Protestant view. I strongly believe that truth needs to be spoken directly into this area to bring release from guilt, condemnation and bad teaching.
Firstly, marriage is not your reward. It is not the thing you get once you have reached an acceptable spiritual level, once your relationship with God is right, once you have dealt with all your junk. Well-meaning christians promote the marriage-as-reward view with comments like this, “Just keep praying…” “Focus on your relationship with God” “God is jealous and He wants you all to himself” “Only when God is your everything – your provider, comforter, and Husband – will he give you a spouse” “Maybe you need to be getting into the Word more/doing more quiet time/praying more/working on your relationship with Him before getting into other relationships”. This is crap. Those are things that are not reserved for singles – married people should be doing them just as much! Marriage is not the thing you get when you have attained spiritual well-being and right relationship with God. This view is dangerous because 1. it puts married folk on a pedestal as the “ones who have arrived” – which believe me we are not! and 2. it puts single folk under an incredible amount of condemnation, guilt and worthlessness for not being “good enough” for a relationship. It condemns their relationship with God because, if you’re not married, obviously you are doing something wrong and haven’t earned a relationship yet. Once again, this is Crap. I have to say it that strongly because I really do believe that this is a HUGE lie taking down people in the church.
Secondly, a lot of people – naively and sometimes intentionally – teach that God will purposefully keep you in a place of singleness so that He can work on your character, teach you things, etc. Nonsense. I do not believe that God puts you in or keeps you in a place of singleness so that He can mold you. I do believe that in whatever place you are, God will work in that place and use the strengths of that circumstance to work in and through you. Yes, there are some things that would seem to be easier worked out while we are still single. But I can say this because if it were true that God keeps you single to work on you, then believe me I would still be single! There was a lot of stuff in my life before going into marriage that would have been much better worked out while I was alone. In fact, bringing it into marriage caused B and I a lot of pain and confusion, and was incredibly difficult. Singleness, according to the “working on your character” arguement ,would have been a much better place for all that to happen. But God did not keep me in that place til I or He had sorted it out – but in His incredible grace when I moved into marriage He still worked on it. You do not have to be single for God to be able to work on certain things in your life. But if you are – if that is the space you find yourself in now – then He will make use of that and work on those things. But He can do that just as well in marriage. He does not put you in or keep you in a place of singleness; He will work and use whatever place you are in to grow you.
This said, I have to say that marriage is wonderful. I love it. I am not trying to diss or put marriage down at all. If you desire marriage then by all means bring that continually before Him. But remember that marriage is not your reward and it is not something withheld until you tick all the boxes. Also, if you are in a place of singleness and you desire a relationship and to be married, do not live in the place of desire. Live in the place you are in. Live it to the full. Don’t miss out on the incredible adventure and the wonderful things that being single allows you to do because you are longing to be somewhere else.