Sunday, 9 February 2014

Family Matters 3: Singleness - Sermon Notes

Below is the presentation that went with the sermon, feel free to use if you wish. Sermon audio will be found here, later this week.

First of all, a big thank you to all of you who responded to the surveys I put out. Whilst they won't be directly referred to here, they have been invaluable in helping me frame the content. Results will be published here in the near future.

It seems that in our culture sexual self-expression is a god. Fifty years ago, creating a comedy film like "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" would have been unthinkable, but changes in society around how we think of sexuality means celibate singleness is now a common joke. Moreover, the huge breakdown in marriage since the 60s has rightly prompted many churches to do all they can to defend and strengthen marriages. But I wonder if a silent casualty in this culture war has been a high view of singleness and celibacy. Don't believe me? Well how many people do you know who really believe you can live a fulfilling life without any sexual expression? Any?

We need to recover a high and robust view of fulfilling celibate singleness not just as a transition phase to marriage (although we recognise most will marry) but as a lifetime choice because:
  • People are living as singles for much longer due to extended education, career choices and the soaring cost of leaving home.
  • Too much of the talk around singleness (in the media, at least) is around failed celibacy e.g. scandals involving priests and young boys
  • There is a small, but significant, group of people in our church family, who struggle with same sex attraction and want to be faithful in affirming the Biblical picture of marriage as a lifelong exclusive union between one man and one woman.
In seeking to defend marriage, some half-truths have sprung up in the church which make singles feel like second class citizens, cliches like "Marriage makes you a more godly person" or "When we reach contentment in singleness, then God will give us marriage." These half-truths can make for helpful discussion starters, but they must never be the final or defining word spoken over a single person's life. The final word, must always come from the hope of the gospel e.g. 2 Peter 1:3-4 "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."

Of course, every lifestyle has its challenges and opportunities. For singles, the two greatest challenges are loneliness and lack of accountability for life choices:
  • Loneliness because we were made for community and that whilst they may be very loved, they do not feel "irreplaceable" in the same way that mummies and daddies or husbands and wives do.
  • Lack of accountability because no one sees their life up close enough to lovingly challenge them. At its worst singleness can be an extended childhood of wasted time and money fuelled by the false dreams of our consumer society which tell us all to put ourselves first.
The greatest benefits however are that singles:
  • Have a relatively large amount of free time and money and can direct it for great good
  • Enjoy a broad range of deep friendships
  • Have greater freedom to take godly risks and respond to needs as they arise
In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul see the celibate single lifestyle as equal in value to marriage, Matt.19:12, 1 Cor.7:7, 32-34.

Sean mentioned last week that in marriage there is a picture of what God is like (as Trinity). If you go to a wedding you will hear the pastor say that marriage also reflects how Christ interacts with his people - the church. But what about singles? Can their lifestyles, like marrieds, also powerfully illustrate the gospel or are they doomed to a place where the only way they can express the gospel and validate themselves in the church and society is by becoming super-productive machines in church ministry and the workplace?

In Genesis, God blessed Adam and Eve and told them to scatter across the face of the earth and fill it with families that reflect the image of God through the life giving sexual union of marriage. But when Jesus came, he introduced a new order. He came not to scatter, but to gather one family from across the whole earth, one in which eventually, no one would be paired off in marriage, but all would be brothers and sisters in community together (Ecclesiastes 3:5, Luke 20:32-36).

Therefore, we live between two worlds. Earthly marriages and families are a wonderful prophetic echo of the one eternal family and they should be encouraged and defended by all (Heb.13:4), but they will one day pass away. A time is coming when Christians who have been married in this life will, in the New Creation, look back to their married life, I guess, in the same way that we all look back now to great friendships from our school days, that's to say, relationships we are grateful for, but no longer hanker after because a greater reality has superseded it and we have moved on into a new chapter of existence - eternal life.

So, both marriage and singleness, when done for Jesus' sake are powerful complimentary reminders of gospel truth.

Marriage reflects the corporate relationship Christ has with his church: how Christ sacrifices himself for the whole Church and how the Church submits herself to Christ. Ephesians 5:24-25

Celibate singles living in community reflect the “day to day” reality of our personal relationship to Christ and each other as it will be in the world to come. Christ calls us his dear friends because he shares his heart with us and one day we will reign with him as his adopted brothers and sisters in the new world John 15:15, 2Tim.2:12.

So to the singles we say:
  • Jesus defines you more than your relational status - don't make your hunt for a spouse into an idol that consumes you.
  • Prioritise the Kingdom of God in the use of your time (bible reading, prayer and ministry) and money.
  • Commit yourself to others even when it hurts.
  • Consider doing ministries families can’t easily do esp with the broken and needy.
  • Lead the way in modelling what the new creation community will look like.
To the marrieds we say:
  • Jesus defines you more than your relational status - don't make your spouse an idol or an excuse.
  • Love the singles – listen to their hearts, don't turn them into projects
  • Don’t assume marriage is the final destination for every single
  • Encourage and praise them – who else will?
  • Extend your family – Share your life with singles, not just because they can learn from you and prepare for marriage, but because we all need warm human relationships
  • Don’t wait until they are marrying to give them things - As a bachelor, I got given a car by some dear friends.
Whatever our season of life and however long it goes on for, Jesus promises to be enough for us (Mark 10:29-30): “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”

Possible questions for discussion:

To the marrieds:
  • How can you support singles in RFC to live for Jesus embracing the benefits and limiting the damage of the pitfalls in the single life?
  • What encouraging stories / painful lessons do you have from your season as a single person that would be helpful for others to hear?
  • How will the truth that in the New Creation none of us will be married any more help to healthily shape the way you do marriage and family life now?
To the singles:
  • Do you see your singleness as a gift from God to be embraced or a curse from God to be escaped as soon as possible? Why?
  • Are you sufficiently accountable to others for your life choices e.g. the way you spend your time and money? If not, what changes do you need to make?
  • How are you fostering real community in your life and modelling what community in the new creation will be like for those watching you? What help do you need to do that?

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