Creekside’s Vision Statement: “All the while the church is to be the place we find the familial bonds we all long for, with all of us, married or single, being shaped more and more into the pattern of biblical manhood or womanhood that God designed.”
I recognized in preaching recently on what it means for us to be kinship oriented what I often recognize as a pastor: there is almost always much more to say on any topic we examine as a church looking into the Word of God together. This especially goes without saying when we take on topics like gender, sexuality, marriage & family in our (much-confused) cultural context.
And so, I want to get in at least one more word (for now) when it comes to this vital segment of our church’s vision statement and what it looks like to grow in our relationship to family as we mature in Christ. And that is a word to singles in our midst at Creekside…and to the rest of us.
Our vision statement says explicitly that this call is for all of us, married or single, to become more like Christ by conforming more and more to the pattern of biblical manhood or womanhood that God designed. And in a church full of married folks, I think it is vital to say: this doesn’t wait or depend upon one’s marital status or the number of child seats you have in the minivan. It is a call that all of us, single or married, need to hear and to heed, right now.
Why? Because the power, the riches, and the comfort of the gospel have something to say to all of us regardless of our relationship status on Facebook. Much could be said here, but for now just three reflections:
1. The power of the gospel de-idolizes both marriage and singlehood
Tim Keller has said this (very well I think) in his book The Meaning of Marriage. He begins with the idol of marriage that can develop within certain segments of the church, noting: “The Christian gospel and the hope of the future kingdom de-idolizes marriage.”
For Christians longing to be married, or envying the happy marriage of another, or embittered at the marriage they “were dealt,” etc., a healthy marriage and a family of one’s own can become the thing we look to for satisfaction and fulfillment. But ultimately to do so would be to look to marriage to provide what only Christ can, and only the power of the gospel can cast down the idol of dependence on another and properly orient our hearts to look to Christ more than a spouse or an institution for our “salvation.”
Of course, the gospel holds the same power to address the other side of the coin as well. The gospel calls us to cast down the idol that can be made of the single life, an idolatry of independence and the freedoms that come with singlehood. Only Christ can fully empower us to overcome our fears of commitment and the interdependence of marriage and to see that the “good life” can be found with or without a ring on our finger.
And it is thus the power of the gospel that allows us to answer the middle school girl at Creekside who asks (as one did recently), “Do I have to get married? Is God only pleased with me if I do get married?” by answering, “Christ has won you the freedom to live as a married or single person, and he is fully pleased with you because of your identity in Christ, and nothing more.”
2. The riches of the gospel are uniquely portrayed in marrieds and singles
John Newton, the famous hymn-writer of “Amazing Grace,” helps us to understand this when he said: “As Christians we forget our true spouse….(but) singles are uniquely suited to remind us that we are all betrothed to the bridegroom of Christ.” The gospel-shaped single life, a life of waiting and watching and serving with undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Cor. 7), images for all of us the way that the church is richly blessed in serving our Lord and waiting for the marvelous wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19).
In the same way, the gospel-shaped married life serves as an image of the gospel, with wives growing in trusting submission to their husbands as the church submits to and follows the lead of our Head, Christ himself, and husbands growing in sacrificial service and daily dying-to-self for the sake of their wives, just as Christ laid down his life for his bride (Eph. 5).
It is only in a congregation where we have both married and single people maturing in Christ and growing in biblical manhood/womanhood that we see a clearer picture of the riches that we all have in the gospel.
3. The comfort of the gospel uniquely encourages marrieds and singles in their discontent
Tim Keller says it this way: “We should be neither overly elated about being married nor overly disappointed by not being so—because Christ is the only spouse that can truly fulfill us and God’s family the only family that will truly embrace and satisfy us.”
There’s a diversity of experiences that we will have as either married or single people, and there will inevitably be discontent and even deep hurt for all of us in this fallen world. But the wonder of the gospel is that our betrothal to Christ and our being adopted into the family of God should comfort us no matter what disappointments we experience in this life, married or single.
And the further wonder is that the gospel will comfort us and satisfy us in distinct ways as a married or single person, and so we should share the uniqueness of the comfort we experience and receive from God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit with brothers and sisters who are in different life stages and who have had varying experiences in this world.
And all the while, we remember and remind each other of this incredible truth: when we are 100 billion years into eternity with its white-hot worship and unencumbered communion with Christ and with one anther, no one, married or single in this life, fully content or deeply hurt and embittered, is going to say: “I was robbed.” We will all instead say: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever.” (Rev. 5)
For that is when we will finally and fully find the familial bonds we all long for, whether we were married or single in this blip on the radar screen of eternal glory.