Biblical Encouragement and Guidance for the Unwed Christian

dringValentine’s Day is a seriously rough holiday for the unwed Christian. Even for those who reject the holiday openly. But being a single Christian in a world that is completely wrapped up in defining ourselves by sexuality, being Christian while being single gets a lot of mixed messaging throughout the year, not just on February 14th. It was not all that long ago (still less than 10 years) when I counted myself among you. But I failed in more ways that I care to mention, so for this post, it isn’t my authority we will be leaning on. As with all of the Bible Study posts here at Faithful Stewardship, we will be turning to God’s Word. I do want to encourage you in this… having placed my faith fully on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I now live and walk by the Grace of God the Father, and have been made whole, and continue being perfected (exhortation, admonition, repentance, and forgiveness) by His Word and His Holy Spirit. No matter where you are in life, or in your Christian walk, there is always Hope, and He is at the Right Hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. So in Christ, we are made righteous and free to love the Lord Our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and all of our mind. With that encouragement as our focus, let us turn to the Word of God. But first, let’s address some woeful misconceptions about the single life.

“I’m waiting for “the one” that God has made for me”

Throughout the history of mankind, there has only ever been one woman made specifically for one man… Eve was made for Adam (Genesis 2:18-24). While it is certainly fun and romantic to describe your bride as one made just for you, the truth of the matter is that there is no such thing. And that’s a good thing. Imagine, if you will, the consequence of a man being created with only a particular woman in mind. And the key to their successful marriage rested primarily in “finding the right person”. What happens if the man (or the woman) is led away in sin? Or what if the woman says “I do” to a man she met first… Should now both be doomed to a lesser life since they cannot be with the one for whom each has been made? Perish the thought! If we associate and form friendships with fellow believers, those who Fear the Lord God and are filled with the Holy Spirit, then we know that there can be no wrong choice, for we are all sons and daughters of the Most High God, adopted, grafted into the True Vine by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In His omniscience, God knows who you will choose to marry. He knows the choices you will make, NOT because He has forced your hand in some way, but because He knows the choices you will make. They are your choices. He created us so that we might choose Him. Remember the greatest commandment?

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV) 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Luke 10:25-28 (ESV) 25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

I know, we keep coming back to these verses. Partly because I find that I have to flip through the Bible each time I want to reference them, which means that I haven’t fully memorized them; therefore, I keep adding them in the text to facilitate my efforts to memorize the texts. However, I also want to draw your attention to one thing here… we are commanded (hence, it is a commandment) to love. Which leads us to our second myth:

When you meet the One, you’ll just know, because you’ll feel it in your heart…

The second myth I want to address is the idea that Love is an emotion, a feeling, chemistry, or a soul connection. No. It is a decision. If Love were not a decision, a choice, God would not be Just to command us to love. However, we serve a Just and Holy God. As single Christians, we need to focus on the decision to Love God as the first and greatest commandment, and the second commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. That special kinda love that the world talks about that is supposed to serve as some sort of tuning fork of the soul or divining rod?… yeah, that’s called lust and passion. These are emotions, desires of the flesh. We do not seek God in our emotions, nor are we to rely on our emotions to test the spirits; rather, we are to walk by faith in the Spirit of God by the Grace of God to the Glory of God. We will come back to this again and again, but know that unless you learn to decouple Love from emotionalism, you will be a slave to the desires of the flesh as were we all before we came to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Notice how Jesus addressed the matter of what defiles a person in Mark 7:

Mark 7:20-22 (ESV) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.

Now, the problem most single Christians face is that the Bible doesn’t spend very much time talking about the period of life we consider to be the “dating years”. Thankfully, it isn’t completely silent on the matter. Paul, devoted a significant portion of his letter to the Corinthians addressing the unmarried and widows.

1 Corinthians 7:8-9 (ESV) 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

1 Corinthians 7:32-40 (ESV) 32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. 36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. 39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

Let me just say, that I definitely fell under the “burn with passion” or “his passions are strong” category and decided that marriage was the best option for me. I thank God for His blessing on my wife and His Hand on our marriage. Marriage does not remove passions. If you do not take care of your marriage, please your spouse, and drink from your own cistern, then you will end up in more trouble than if you’d remained alone. Because now you have the added responsibilities of being in a Marriage Covenant.

Dating is practice for how we might get along when married

The short answer is, “No”. The long answer is, “absolutely not”… but let’s see why.  Weddings were very different in the Bible from what we know today. Hebrew Marriage happened in the reverse order of what we practice today. I found an excellent resource that lays out the differences in hopes that we might have a better understanding of the marriage relationship with respect to the Kingdom of Heaven. If we (the Church) are the Bride of Christ, then we should look to Biblical Marriage to understand the analogy/parable rather than what we have in this present age. For the purpose of this discussion, let us look at the quick breakdown of the 3 phases of Hebrew Marriage:

There were three states of a marriage in the Bible:

  1. Stage 1: signing the “ketubbah” contract (Creating the marriage bond)
    1. The bride would chose her husband and her father would sign a legal contract with him called a “ketubbah”.
    2.  Once this is signed the couple is 100% married but do not have sex yet.
    3.  Young children were often married, (arraigned marriage) but did not consummate until of age.
  2.  Stage 2: The “chuppah”: sexual consummation.
    1.  i. Up to 7 years later, the groom is able to raise the money as set out in the ketubbah contract and notifies the father of the bride, who then sets a date to consummate the marriage at the bride’s home.
    2.  The bride waits with her maidens, for the arrival of the groom and his companions.
    3.  The couple enters the chuppah room and consummates the marriage while the companions of the bride and groom wait and celebrate outside or in the next room.
    4.  The groom hands the bloodied “proof of virginity cloth” to the witnesses chosen by the bride’s parents, who then give it to the bride for safekeeping.
  3.  Stage 3: The wedding feast
    1.  After consummation, the entire wedding party walks to the house of the groom in a procession for a wedding feast.
    2.  At the conclusion of the wedding feast, the couple has completed the ancient ritual of marriage.
  4.  There was no “wedding ceremony” in the synagogue in the first century, performed under a canopy where the bride and groom would hold hands and say, “I do” before an audience of friends and family. This didn’t develop for hundreds of years after Jesus died on the cross as the Passover lamb for the sins of mankind.
    (source: Marriage in the Bible and Ancient Marriage and Jewish Wedding Customs)

So, what we see here is the contractual part of the marriage is the beginning, not the end of the relationship. The father of the bride would negotiate the terms of the contract with the groom (either directly or by emissary). Once the terms of the contract (ketubbah) were agreed upon by all parties (in Gen 24, we see Rebekah consenting to the terms) the two are now married. Fully married… except… no sex. This is the Betrothal period in which we find Mary and Joseph in Luke Chapter 1:26-80. Although the marriage has not yet been consummated, they are in-fact married. This is when they get to know one another, under the mutual understanding that there is no “free out”. Do you know what the purpose of the bridesmaids and the groomsman was? to be witness (not in the room, but just outside) of the consummation of the marriage. They (and others appointed by the parents of the bride) were witnesses of the proof of the bride’s virginity, and from there they’d go to the grooms house for a huge celebratory feast. This fact put Joseph in a very tight spot. Since Mary was now pregnant with Jesus, there would be no proof of her virginity once Joseph finally consummated the marriage. But he couldn’t just walk away, he’d have to divorce her. Now, he could have accused her of adultery and wiped his hands of her, and she might have been stoned to death or disgraced for the rest of her life. But, because he loved her, he was considering divorcing her secretly… without public disgrace. That would mean that he’d have to pay back the dowry AND whatever the price of divorce as laid out in the contract to her father. Thankfully, the Word of the Lord came to Joseph, and he remained with her.

So you see, what is so horribly broken with our present-day approach to dating is that we sign a contract at the end and we think that knowing someone romantically outside of any covenant or contract, that we actually get to know one another. We don’t. The temptation to sin is heightened by both our reckless romanticism and by the false-notion that whatever mistakes, mistreatment, errors, hurts, will only be temporary since, “hey, we aren’t married, and we can each go our separate ways without any strings attached”… this idea is born of the flesh of sinful man. The wage of sin is death… regardless of how much “you loved the person”. Is there forgiveness? Absolutely, there is. There are, however, consequences to our sins. The enemy will use your dating sins to attack your marriage covenant. The enemy will try to weigh you down with guilt, shame, doubt, lust, passions, etc. Yes, there is absolutely forgiveness, but how much better would it be if the enemy did not have such powerful ammunition against you and your spouse to begin with? Do not give the enemy a foothold.

Okay, so how should I go about this single Christian thing?

Let’s review some important foundations for relationship:

Luke 10:25-28 (ESV) 25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Did it again, I know. But seriously, this is where we live as Christians. Right here.  In loving our neighbor as ourselves, we may find one to whom we choose to devote the rest of our earthly lives getting to know intimately. Until we’ve made the decision to marry, however, we would be wise to maintain proper relationships within the church.

1 Timothy 5:1-2 (ESV) 5 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Now, unfortunately our society is ill-prepared for a Biblical marriage contract up-front. So, then, we must at least present a form of dating. In that dating, get to know the individual, his/her family, and let them see you for who you are, a child of God, and ambassador of reconciliation, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Learn to look for the fruit of the Spirit. For the physical appearance is temporary, but the fruit of the Spirit are eternal. Then, men, ask for her hand in marriage. I recommend starting the conversation with her father first. If he defers to his daughter’s will (as we saw in the case of Rebekah, in Gen 24) awesome… then go and ask her. And be vigilant, not to open a doorway of sin that will provide the enemy a foothold on your marriage. If you are both burning up with passion, then seek help to make the betrothal time as short as absolutely necessary.

I wish that we, the Church, would stop encouraging all of the worldly (fleshly) mysticism by “Christianizing” passion, lust, and the notion of a soul mate. The Great Commission has nothing to do with earthly marriage or starting earthly families. Marriage is wonderful, and is a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven, and families are a blessing that flow forth from being faithful in our marriages. They are good things. However, they are not the focus of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, neither should they be the focus of our lives as unwed Christians. If you desire a wife or a husband, pray and ask the Lord for His direction, His guidance, and His blessing. Ultimately, who you choose to marry is your choice. God will honor your choice, and He expects you to honor it as well. So make sure you are making your choice wisely. In closing, let us look at James 4, in light of our prayers for a spouse:

James 4 (ESV)

4 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Think about it. How many times have you heard someone say that “someday, after they have lived their life, they’ll settle down and get married and then serve the Lord”. How many have said something along those lines yourselves? I know I did, and I had to repent. How many of your friends “doing the dating thing” have judged each other, quarreled and fought each other, in horrible breakups… over what? Sin. False promises. Relationships consumed to feed passions. Rebound dating, half-hearted commitment… lies. We must do better, but we cannot do that in our flesh. We cannot seek God in our Relationships while simultaneously wishing to be a friend of the world.

It is my sincere prayer, that you found some guidance and even some encouragement in reading this post. I pray that the Holy Spirit will comfort you, and teach you to lean on Him in your daily walk. Pray to the Lord and ask our Heavenly Father for your daily bread, knowing that He is Good and Gives us Good Gifts when we ask of Him. Seek counsel. If there is one area of life that should definitely not be taken on solo, it’s in the area of purity. Reach out to a brother (for you men) or sister (for you women) in Christ. Don’t reject the older men and women… we’ve been there and we think on those times often. Give us the opportunity to share our regrets and impart our hard-earned wisdom.

May the Lord bless and keep you,
In Him,
Jorge

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