Tag: You Are Here

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Made Perfect Together

If we are in Christ, and we die, our souls will go to be with Jesus in Heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8, Philippians 1:23). This is a wonderful truth and significant source of comfort to God’s people.

But it’s not the end of the story. Being a disembodied soul in heaven is not our ultimate hope. Our ultimate hope is the resurrection from the dead, when our souls will be reunited with new bodies and we’ll dwell with God forever in His city on a new earth (1 Corinthians 15:12-56, Revelation 21:1-3).

It’s this hope of a perfect, embodied existence on a restored earth that has fuelled the faith of God’s people throughout the ages.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8–10). 

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13–16). 

Here’s the stunning reality: this “better country,” this heavenly city, this New Creation, is still a future reality. It hasn’t come yet.

Which means that Abraham is still waiting for it. Isaac is still waiting for it. Jacob is still waiting for it. All the saints we read about in the Old Testament are still waiting for it. They have not yet received everything they were promised.1Surprisingly, Revelation 6:9-11 pictures at least some of the souls in the present heaven experiencing dissatisfaction, even in God’s presence, as they await the fulfillment of God’s purposes.

When will they receive them? When will they finally arrive in this city with foundations, in this better country they have longed for? At the exact same time as you and I will. When the events of Revelation 21 take place. After the return of Christ, after the final judgement, when God finally creates the new heavens and new earth.

And then, on that day, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Samuel, and you will arise, together, in new bodies on a new earth, and will finally experience, together, what God has promised to us. As Hebrews 11 goes on to say, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39–40).

The ESV Study Bible says about this verse, “The saints of the [Old Testament], along with those of this era, will partake together of the same end-times perfection: sinless selves in deathless resurrection bodies.”2Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2382.

We really are a part of this story today, and we really will be a part of it on that great day, when all of God’s people from all of time will be made perfect, together.

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Missions Exists Because Worship Doesn’t

On Sunday, we considered the mission of God’s people at our stage in the story. Our mission is to “go and tell,” which is a change from the “come and see” pattern of the Old Covenant. And yet, in another sense, the mission of God’s people across all history has remained identical: we are to invite the nations to know and love and worship our God. “Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Psalm 96:2–3). “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

I hope you catch the dominant note here, the primary reason and the ultimate goal of our mission: God’s glory, which is to say, God being worshipped by all the nations. John Piper has capsulized this truth in these unforgettable words:

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. So worship is the fuel and goal of missions. 1John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 3rd ed., Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2010. Page 15.

When we connect this truth up to what we learned about prayer a week before, we discover that the very first thing Jesus taught us to pray for—”hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9)—is a prayer for the mission. As we pray for God’s name to be glorified, we are praying that more and more people would love and honour and worship Him.

“Hallowed by your name” is just another way of saying, “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” (Psalm 67:3).

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How to Pray the Bible

This past Sunday we were reminded of how prayer, according to Scripture, should be filled up with God’s purposes and promises. I mentioned that one of the best ways to do this is to actually pray the Bible itself.

I think I first learned this concept from John Piper. In a recent podcast, he was asked the question, “How do I pray the Bible?” In his answer, he said, “praying the Scriptures is so important in the Christian life. If we don’t form the habit of praying the Scriptures, our prayers will almost certainly degenerate into vain repetitions that eventually revolve entirely around our immediate private concerns, rather than God’s larger purposes.”

He goes on to explain how to pray the Bible, and gives some practical examples of what it actually looks like. You can listen to or read the whole thing here—it’s very much worth your time:

Praying the Bible keeps us from focusing on our immediate private concerns to the exclusion of God’s larger purposes.
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Every Hour I Need Thee

On Sunday, we discovered that Biblical prayer is almost always about asking God to do something He has already promised to do. When faced with this truth for the first time, we can be tempted to ask, “then what’s the point? Why pray if God is already going to do it?”

We saw three answers to that question in Sunday’s message, but there’s a fourth that we’ll explore here today. And it’s this: regularly praying for what God has promised keeps us aware of how much we need Him. It keeps us dependent upon Him. It keeps us from believing the lie (so often celebrated today) that we are enough.

Think about it this way: if God provided for our daily bread and forgave our sins and gave us strength and used us to advance the gospel without us ever praying for any of it, how long would it be until we began to think of ourselves as naturally strong and holy and effective people? How long would it be until we forgot about the Lord altogether?

But God knows what’s best for us. He knows that we need Him more than anything. He knows that our deepest satisfaction and joy will be found in relationship with Him, not in being super-charged, highly-efficient people. And so He doesn’t give us a lifetime supply of grace and strength all at once. He answers our requests in smaller doses than we’d prefer. He makes sure that we need to stay close to Him and never forget how much we need him.

In other words, He keep us praying.

And so prayer repeatedly and continually highlights God as the source of all things. And when we think about it this way, we realize that prayer itself is an act of worship—an act of bringing glory to God.

Which means—get this—that prayer itself is an answer to that first request Jesus taught us: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).

What a thought. And what a reason to pray.

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“Advanced” Spiritual Warfare

One of the points of Sunday’s message is that spiritual warfare is both a bigger deal than we often think, and more normal than we often think.

But what about those times when it’s not normal? What about those times when the forces of darkness appear to manifest themselves in more direct and obvious ways? Is Ephesians 6:10-20 really good enough in those circumstances?

In his article “Stand Up to the Powers of Darkness,” biblical counsellor David Powlison shares the following story, which I trust you’ll find helpful:

Christians often argue that people living in animistic contexts need some special sort of demon deliverance. Some believe that a history of occult practices and beliefs necessitates a kind of ministry that is completely different from Ephesians 6. This may initially seem plausible because the phenomena and symptoms are bizarre. But Scripture gives striking examples of occult practitioners being ministered to by normal, biblical spiritual warfare: for example, Manasseh (2 Kings 21; 2 Chron 33) and Simon (Acts 8). Here is a contemporary story that corroborates with what Scripture leads us to expect.

A European friend of mine went to rural West Africa in the 1980s as a long-term missionary. He taught in a theological college, did church planting, and pastoral ministry. When he arrived, the implicit rationalism of his Western world view was blown away by the disturbing forces he encountered: animism, witchcraft, amulets, manifestations of bizarre voices and various other physical effects, trance states and hallucinations, a visceral sense of being in the presence of uncanny evil. He encountered these phenomena both in professing Christians and in non-Christians. He began to adopt the common demon-deliverance version of spiritual warfare, and experienced apparent success.

But as time went by, he increasingly doubted both the legitimacy and efficacy of what he was doing. For one thing, a deliverance event, however dramatic in the moment, proved to be no predictor of any good thing in a person’s life over the long term. It did not result in blessing, or stability, or spiritual growth, or freedom from symptoms. In contrast, those who turned from their sins and came under Christ did live changed lives. Those whose lives became fruitful were people who did the “normal” things of faith. Normal did not mean rote, perfunctory, or mechanical. It meant embracing Scripture, honest confession and repentance, candid faith in prayer and worship, vital fellowship and accountability, and practical obedience—what this article has been about. But the people in whom normal things did not take root continued to live in sin, fear, and animistic chaos. Normal things were the difference maker in delivering people from Satan’s power. Deliverance ministry made a lot of noise, but made little difference. It even reinforced the core assumptions of animism.

As my friend continued to reflect on Scripture and his experience, he concluded that the demon deliverance world view and practice was a failure and did not add up biblically. So what was going on with the darkly bizarre symptoms that he was encountering? The evil one and his agents were intimately involved. But most of the varied phenomena—the sense of uncanny moral evil, the lies, fear, confusion, and hostility—point toward normal human experience in a world of suffering. As touched on in the discussion of Psalm 28, people suffer terribly under many things: the hardships of disease and poverty, hostility and injustice from others, anguish of conscience, the cruelty of the Slave Master, the imminent threat of death. It is always right to earnestly cry out to God, “Deliver us from evil. Be merciful, O Lord.” But the animistic world view provided the suggestion that the brokenness of life calls for a power encounter with an inhabiting spirit. My friend came to see the deeper human need, and began to change his approach.

He started to dig carefully, to proceed more patiently, to do more pointed ministry of Word and prayer. He sought to find out what else was going on in the lives of people. He found dark secrets and relational problems—and the miseries of life that both tempt to sin and result from sin. He found secret adulteries. He found financial corruption. He found Christians who, in their anguish over a sick child or extreme poverty, began visiting witch doctors and wearing amulets. Most frequently, he found bitterness and hatred, relationships that had been broken and never reconciled. False accusations were also a common relational problem. In the context of suffering and unexpected death, the traditional culture looked for someone to blame. The finger of accusation often pointed to “witches” or “witch children” as the cause. (Even secular studies of witchcraft observe that relationship breakdowns lie behind the bizarre phenomena, and that the problem is solves by confession and forgiveness.)

In all these cases, bizarre manifestations appeared. The Liar, Accuser and Murderer is at work in all this—but not in the way it was being interpreted. The animistic worldview they lived within was yet another lie—a “teaching” that comes from demons about demons, fueling superstition and fear (1 Tim 4:1). My friend was uncovering complex spiritual and moral problems, but there was no need to sort out where “flesh” ends and “world” begins, where “world” ends and “devil” begins. The forces of evil work in concert. We don’t need to determine where the devil’s role in moral blinding and in inflicting destruction begin and end. We can’t see through the fog of war. But Christ’s truth and power address all dimensions simultaneously. We intercede with our Lord to comprehensively deliver us from evil.

My friend normalized the abnormal and humanized the bizarre, seeking to get behind confusing appearances, seeking to minister. He dealt with bizarre evil the way the Bible tells us to deal with evil of any sort: clear Scriptural truth; bold, faith-expressing prayers that plead the mercies and power of Christ; heartfelt worship; meaningful fellowship. People brought their sins, fears, and confusion to the light. They found Christ’s mercy and aid, and acted in newness of life. The bizarre symptoms disappeared. Biblical reality increasingly supplanted their false worldview.

My friend had come to mission work with a Christian faith somewhat tilted toward Western rationalism. The initial shock of cross-cultural experience had somewhat tilted his faith toward the traditional animistic worldview. Further ministry experience and biblical reflection increasingly shaped a humble, bold, truth-speaking, prayerful, loving approach to people.

True spiritual warfare normalizes the abnormal and helps people live in Christ’s reality, not the haunted universe of animism. He was waging true spiritual warfare against the powers that enslave people in the confusion of sin and fear.

Powlison, David, “Stand Up to the Powers of Darkness,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 31:2, 45-47.

For $2, you can purchase and read the rest of this excellent article here: https://www.ccef.org/shop/product/stand-powers-darkness.

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“The Things of the Spirit”

On Sunday, we considered Romans 8:5, which uses the phrase “the things of the Spirit.” I mentioned that 1 Corinthians 2:14, the only other place in the Bible where this phrase is found, gives us an important clue into what Paul meant by it.

1 Corinthians 2:14 by itself doesn’t give us much help: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Things only begin to clear up when we consider the wider context.

Beginning in verse 6, Paul had been speaking about himself and the other apostles, and how they had been given the Holy Spirit so that they might understand the things God was revealing to them.

In verse 13, he narrows his focus somewhat: not only was the Holy Spirit revealing truth itself to the Apostles, He was revealing to them the very words with which they were to teach this truth. “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13). 

In other words, as the Apostles taught or wrote books like 1 Corinthians and Romans and Galatians and 1 Peter, their very words were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

In the second half of verse 13, Paul makes an important qualifier: his teaching ministry is only received by those who themselves have the Spirit. That’s what he means by “interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

“Spiritual” in this context doesn’t refer to a special kind of Christian who prays loudly in restaurants and listens to sermon podcasts instead of CBC. Instead, it simply refers to someone who has the Holy Spirit—in other words, a Christian. And it is only to these spiritual people that the Apostles interpret these spiritual truths.

Why is this? Why not teach everybody? The reason comes in verse 14: “The natural person [in other words, a person without the Holy Spirit] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

So let’s make sure we’re piecing this together: in verse 13, he told us that he used Spirit-taught words to interpret (or explain) Spirit-inspired truths to those who have the Spirit. And in verse 14 he says that those without the Spirit do not accept “the things of the Spirit of God.”

It’s like if you overheard someone saying “Mom made roast beef last night, but Billy was too sick to eat supper.” You would understand that “supper” and “roast beef” are talking about one and the same meal. This family (less one unfortunate member) ate roast beef for supper last night.

So it is with 1 Corinthians 2:13-14: when we read that the Apostles imparted spiritual truths using Spirit-taught words to those who are spiritual, but that the natural person does not accept “the things of the Spirit,” we understand that these different phrases are pointing to the same thing. “The things of the Spirit” are those Spirit-inspired truths and words.

And so when Romans 8:5 says that “those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit,” we’re safe to assume that Paul had the same idea in mind.

What this means for us today is hopefully obvious: “the things of the Spirit,” these spiritual truths and Spirit-taught words, have been preserved for us in the Bible. Which means that if you and I want to walk by the Spirit, that’s where we need to set our minds.

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Law, Covenant, and Mission

Yesterday, we briefly saw how the law of Moses was not the first time that God had given instruction to His people. Instruction had been a part of every covenant up to that point. And it’s pretty clear that these instructions did change and develop from one covenant to the next.

For example, when Adam and Eve were pure and sinless and the only two people on planet earth, all they needed to know was to have babies, subdue the earth, and eat from every tree except for that one (Genesis 1:28, 2:16-17).

When God confirmed His covenant with Noah, the situation had changed: sin was in the world. And so while God did repeat many of the same commands originally given to Adam, He also gave new instruction: Noah was allowed to kill and eat animals, but was warned not to eat blood or to kill other humans (Genesis 9:1-7).

At each of these points, the instruction God gave His people was what they needed to know, at their specific spot in history, in order to fulfill their mission and have a right relationship with God and with each other.

And so the law God gave through Moses was the particular instruction that the nation of Israel needed at their particular setting in history. They were a nation living in the Bronze Age in a predominantly agricultural society, and so we’re not surprised to see that many of their laws had to do with things like farming and community life in that kind of a society. Loving one another, at that spot in the story, required knowing what to do when your neighbour’s donkey was injured under your care (Exodus 22:10).

Further to this, Israel had a particular mission to fulfill: they were to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6) in the midst of some very corrupt cultures. And so in order to fulfill this covenant mission, they needed to stick out and be different from the nations around them. Many of the laws God gave Israel were designed to help them think and to act this way.

For example, “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material” (Leviticus 19:19). Laws like this, rather than being silly and arbitrary, reminded the Israelites that they were separate and distinct from the nations around them, and trained them to think in those kinds of categories.

Thus, the law was an expression of the unchanging righteousness of God for Israel in their particular setting. And the reason why New Testament Christians are allowed to wear cotton/polyester blends isn’t because God’s righteousness has changed, or because the rules he gave to Israel were silly. Rather, it’s because our setting has changed.

We live in a different covenant, in which the death of Christ has made things “clean” which were once considered “unclean” (Acts 10:9-16). We also live in very different time in history and have a different mission. Christians don’t all live together in one country; instead, we have been sent out into all the nations. We don’t fulfill our mission by being culturally different from the people around us, but rather by becoming culturally like them wherever possible (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). It’s our good works which should make us stick out (1 Peter 2:12), not the fabric content of our clothing.

These issues can be difficult to figure out, and that’s why we were given the New Testament. It helps us understand how to learn from the Old Covenant law while living righteous lives at our place in the story. I’m looking forward to exploring these ideas more this upcoming Sunday, and I hope you are too.

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Family Is Not Nothing

On Sunday, we heard Jesus challenge the idea that “family is everything.” Instead, Jesus told us that He must be everything, and have a higher place in our loyalty and devotion than any other family relationship.

Having let that truth sink in, it’s important for us to clarify a further point. While it’s true that family is not everything, this does not mean that family is nothing. In fact, the New Testament has some important things to say about our legitimate responsibilities to our family.

A key example is when the Apostle Paul tells us that “if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God… if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:4, 8). 

Adult children have a responsibility to provide for their parents when necessary. We see this in action with Jesus Himself. As the first-born son, and with Mary more than likely a widow at this point, Jesus had the responsibility of providing for His mother. And while He was in the midst of the anguish of the cross, He fulfilled this responsibility by tasking John with her care (John 19:26-27).

This example is an important counter-balance to our text on Sunday, in which Jesus ignored Mary in a way that would have been quite offensive in that culture (Mark 3:31-35). While at times it was necessary to keep Mary at arm’s length, especially when she was threatening to interfere with His ministry (see also John 2:4), this did not erase His responsibility to provide for her.

Family is not everything. Family is not nothing, either.

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“A Radical Relational Reordering”

These words from John Piper sum up well the truths we’ve been exploring in these past three weeks:

Take heed here lest you minimize what I am saying and do not hear how radical it really is. I am not sentimentalizing singleness to make the unmarried feel better. I am declaring the temporary and secondary nature of marriage and family over against the eternal and primary nature of the church. Marriage and family are temporary for this age; the church is forever. I am declaring the radical biblical truth that being in a human family is no sign of eternal blessing, but being in God’s family means being eternally blessed. Relationships based on family are temporary. Relationships based on union with Christ are eternal. Marriage is a temporary institution, but what it stands for lasts forever. “In the resurrection,” Jesus said, “they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30).

And when his own mother and brothers asked to see him, Jesus said, “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’” (Matt. 12:48–49). Jesus is turning everything around. Yes, he loved his mother and his brothers. But those are all natural and temporary relationships. He did not come into the world to focus on that. He came into the world to call out a people for his name from all the families of the earth into a new family where single people in Christ are full-fledged family members on a par with all others, bearing fruit for God and becoming mothers and fathers of the eternal kind.

“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” a woman cried out to Jesus. And he turned and said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27–28). The mother of God is the obedient Christian—married or single! Take a deep breath and reorder your world.

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,” Jesus said, “who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29–30). Single person, married person, do you want children, mothers, brothers, sisters, lands? Renounce the primacy of your natural relationships, and follow Jesus into the fellowship of the people of God.

John Piper, “This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence.” Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2009. Page 73.
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The Gift

In Sunday’s message I mentioned the “gift of singleness,” sometimes referred to as “the gift of celibacy.” This concept has its origins in 1 Corinthians 7:7: “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” This verse clearly identifies singleness as a gift, and many have taken this to mean that Paul had a supernatural ability to be single or celibate. He wishes that others could have this same special ability, but if they don’t, then they should do what they can to get married.

As I said on Sunday, I don’t believe that this idea is Biblical. Here are several reasons why.

  1. Just like in English, the Greek word for gift (charisma) can mean special ability. For example, “he has a real gift for the piano.” In this sentence, the “gift” is the unique ability to play the piano well. But just like in English, charisma can have a wider range of meaning. For example, “he was given the gift of a piano.” In this sentence, the gift isn’t the ability to play the piano; the gift is the piano itself. We should pay careful attention to a passage before we assume “gift” means “special ability.”
  2. When Paul writes that “each has his own gift, one of one kind and one of another,” he is designating both marriage (“one of one kind”) and singleness (“one of another”) as gifts. The New Living Translation is accurate when it paraphrases this verse as follows: “God gives some the gift of marriage, and to others he gives the gift of singleness.” Nobody thinks that “the gift of marriage” is a special ability to be married: the “gift” of marriage itself is very clearly marriage itself. Thus, according to the plain grammar of this passage, singleness itself is also a gift.
  3. In the rest of the chapter (1 Corinthians 7:8, 25-40), Paul’s whole line of reasoning makes little sense if he thought of “the gift of singleness” as a special ability to be single. Instead, he gives the single Corinthians all sorts of reasons to help them see the benefit of singleness and consider it for themselves.
  4. It is true that verse 9 encourages people to marry “if they cannot exercise self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:9, c.f. vv. 2-6), and later on in the chapter, the ability to keep one’s desire under control is mentioned as a deciding factor in whether or not they should seek marriage (1 Corinthians 7:37). But this does not mean that a self-controlled person has a special ability to be single; they simply are experiencing more of a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:23) which they are then able to apply to their particular situation.
  5. In verse 39, Paul addresses widows, and gives them permission to remarry. But then he says, “Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:40). Paul does not encourage these ladies to try and discern if they have a “special ability” to be celibate, and the very idea is a bit of a stretch given their previously married state. Instead, they’re simply given the freedom to make a decision—remarry or remain single. And we should not ignore Paul’s Spirit-filled, Apostolic advice that one of these options will bring greater happiness. 

Taken together, we can understand that the gift of singleness isn’t a special ability to be single. The gift is being single. It is a gift because it gives one a certain measure of freedom from trouble (1 Corinthians 7:28) and distraction (1 Corinthians 7:32-34) and thus can help them be more undivided in their devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35). In other words, singleness can allow someone to give themselves more fully to the good works for which they were created (Ephesians 2:10).

Two more things need to be said: first, if “the gift of singleness” is not itself a special ability, this doesn’t mean that God will not enable and empower single people to live their lives for His glory. God regularly enables us for what He calls us to do, and the single life—no less than the married life—is dependent upon God’s power (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:8).

Second, none of this means that marriage is bad. Marriage is a gift, too (1 Corinthians 7:7). It can function as a measure of protection against the distractions of sexual temptation (1 Corinthians 7:1-8), and therefore may help some find greater effectiveness in their life and ministry. And marriage to the right person can mean a fruitful life of ministry together (as was the case for at least some of the other Apostles—cf. 1 Corinthians 9:5).

The point of 1 Corinthians 7 is that at our place in the biggest story ever told, both marriage and singleness are gifts, and should be received as such—and esteemed as such by the church.

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Singleness as a Sign of the New Creation

In his wonderful book “Redeeming Singleness,” Barry Danylak does much to help us understand the role of singleness within the big story of the Bible. In the following quote, he comments on 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, and explores how Christian singleness has a very important role to play now that Christ has come. You may need to read these paragraphs slowly and carefully, but it will be worth it!

The Stoics with whom Paul dialogued in Athens (Acts 17:18) had argued the necessity of marriage on cosmological grounds. The social universe depended on cities, which in turn depended on family units, which in turn depended on marriage. Human being has a duty to marry for the sake of preserving the world and its institutions. Paul counters the Stoic argument by appealing to a more expansive cosmology [i.e. view of the universe]. The survival of the world is not dependent on human marriage since the very form of the present world is already passing away in anticipation of the coming eternal kingdom of God. Something greater than the present age had broken into history, and Christians were to herald its coming.

The cosmological horizon of the Christian subsumes [includes or absorbs] the present age into the eternal one. This means that the plans and purposes of the present age are subsumed [included, absorbed] into the plans and purposes of the anticipated eternal kingdom of God. This is not a denigration of the present world but a radical relativizing of the current age in light of the eternal age, recognizing that one’s true sufficiency and fulfillment will be realized ultimately only in the coming age of the King and the kingdom.

From the standpoint of Paul’s expanded cosmological horizons, singleness is no longer to be considered a liability because it does not further the physical race of humankind. Rather, it can be viewed as a cosmological asset and visible sign of the coming new age [i.e. the New Creation]. However, the fact that individuals may be single and Christian does not necessarily make them vibrant witnesses of the new age. When people choose to remain single for the sake of the kingdom of God because they recognize that their true sufficiency is found only in their relationship to Christ and the coming of his kingdom, and they orient their lives around this conviction, they become in their singleness visible signs of the coming new age.

They serve as signs because the world does not have a category for this kind of intentional singleness. Singles who live with this conviction provide powerful testimony to the sufficiency of Christ for all things—to those both inside and outside the church.”

Barry Danylak,  Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life. Crossway, 2010. Page 207-208.
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Men and Women in Marriage

Marriage is about the mission. That’s one of they key points we explored in last Sunday’s message and here on the blog this week. Today we’ll consider some implications of this truth for us as men and women.

It’s plain from Genesis 2:15 and following that Adam was created first, and that he was the one initially given a job to do. Eve was created after this, to help Adam in that mission. This order of operations helps us understand why, at least generally, women seem to be more relationally oriented then men.

After all, the first thing Eve encountered in her life was another person with whom she was already connected. Her relationship with Adam quite literally defined her existence. Adam, on the other hand, began his life alone, tasked with steep responsibilities. His relationship with Eve quite literally came second to his work.

I’ve spoken to several men who are struggling in their marriages and tell me something like, “I don’t get what the problem is—I’m working so hard for her! I leave home early in the morning and I work late every night to provide for her, and I’m never just sitting around, and I don’t get why there’s this distance between us.” 

Those are the words of a fallen son of Adam—a man who can see only his work, and nothing else. A man who has forgotten, or was never taught, that he married a daughter of Eve. And so I tell those men, “You’ve just described the problem. To have a relationship with your wife, you need to sit around a little. As in, sit down on the couch with her and a cup of tea and ask her about her day. Cherish her, just like you promised you would.” And then we go to Genesis 2:15-25 and Ephesians 5:25-33 and talk about what it means to love someone who is inherently different from you.

Pastor Ray Ortlund has helpfully explored these dynamics from a slightly different angle:

God made Adam first and put him in the Garden with a job to do, a mission to fulfill.  In the heart of every fallen man is the self-doubt that wonders, “Am I man enough to climb this mountain God has called me to?  Can I fulfill my destiny?”  A wise wife will understand that question at the center of her husband’s heart.  And she will spend her life answering it, communicating to him in various ways, “Honey, I believe in your call.  I know you can do this, by God’s power.  Go for it.”  In this way, she will breathe life into her man.

God made Eve from Adam, for Adam, to help him follow the call.  In the heart of every fallen woman is the self-doubt that wonders, “Do I please you?  Am I what you wanted?”  A wise husband will understand that question at the center of his wife’s heart.  And he will spend his life answering it, communicating to her in various ways, “Darling, you are the one I need.  I cherish you.  Let me hold you close.”  In this way, he will breathe life into his wife.

Men and women are wonderfully different. Many of the reasons why are found right back in the story of our creation, and we need to understand that story in order to understand, and celebrate, one another today.