By / Oct 6

Singleness is a long hike up a steep hill. Chances are, you’re either on the hike yourself or you know someone who is. Most single people have some stories to tell — about the breathtaking views and the arduous climb. Singleness is just that kind of hike, that kind of hill.

I’m so grateful for my 34-year ascent up that beautiful, arduous path. It was harder than I could hope to describe, and I’m left with some hardy callouses, a few long-term injuries, and a smidge of PTSD. But I look back at the climb as one of the greatest experiences God has entrusted to me.

I’ve been married for over a decade now. I didn’t hike nearly as far as some, and yet I still smell strongly of the earth and pine of that trail. Contrary to popular opinion, I didn’t arrive when I finally married; life didn’t begin when I got a ring on my finger and a baby in my womb. Yes, the path altered significantly, but the goal and the Guide remained the same.

I often think about my single years, even occasionally dream about them. In a crowd of people, I find myself drawn to the woman who also knows the ways of the hill. In fact, my own story has become inextricably woven into the stories of many single women who I’ve met over the years. I’ve learned that we each shoulder a unique load; we each view the hill through different eyes. Truth is, you could talk to a hundred different single women and get a hundred different versions of the hike.

We’re not meant to walk alone 

But all of us have agreed on one thing in particular: We’re not meant to go it alone. We’re meant for joyful relationships with Christ and his people. Our one great good is God himself, and one of the best ways we can experience him is by being in relationship with each other.

The psalmist David put it this way: 

I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have nothing good besides you.” As for the holy people who are in the land, they are the noble ones. All my delight is in them (Psa. 16:2–3, emphasis mine). 

These two things can sound contrary, but in fact, they perfectly coexist: God is our only good, and his people are all our delight.

An uphill climb requires gargantuan good and strong doses of delight. This relational joy we share with each other and our God enables us to do feats otherwise impossible. And, at least in my own experience, singleness sometimes felt like an impossible feat. I knew it was part of God’s good plan for me. It was the conduit of incredible blessings in my life, but it wasn’t what I had prepared for, and it definitely wasn’t the norm in my social circles — hence the uphill feeling.

To every grief there is a gift 

The problem was actually a good one: as a single woman who loved Jesus and his church, I held a high view of marriage, sex, and childbearing. I was convinced God is the Creator and sustainer of these beautiful gifts — gifts he chooses to give most women.

I also understood that marriage would not be the answer to all of my problems. And I wasn’t duped by the notion that a man (or children) would fulfill my deepest desires. Only Christ could do that.

But when nearly every friend of mine had made it to the altar, and I was still standing on the sidelines with half a dozen bridesmaid dresses in hand, I felt somewhat disoriented — even occasionally distressed — as I figured out how to function outside the natural order of things. I deeply wanted what God wanted for me, and on those days when I didn’t want it, I asked him to help me want it. But I was a square peg in a round hole. I didn’t know how to fit into a world made for couples and families.

It wasn’t that I lacked friends. I had an ever-expanding social circle and more relationships than I knew what to do with. But for all practical purposes, I was flying solo. I paid my own bills, made my own meals, haggled with the repairman at the car shop, held down high-pressure jobs, cleaned, and calendared, and dealt with conflict all by myself. (Day after day, year after year.) Even though I was blessed with friends and family and roommates who shared in some of my life tasks, I bore a tremendous amount of responsibility alone.

One of my former roommates, Sarah, expressed my feelings perfectly: “The hardest part of being single,” she said, “is knowing I’m no one’s first priority.” Sarah was not one to view singleness as suffering, but she grieved the reality that there wasn’t one main person to do life with and for. I’ve had many single friends echo this sentiment. I felt it keenly myself. What a bizarre experience it was to spend my days in the company of so many wonderful people, to be busy and fulfilled doing work that mattered — yet all the while feel so . . . on my own.

But to every grief there is a gift, and the absence of a first-priority relationship afforded me the time and motivation to seek Christ in focused ways. While some of my married friends confessed they were struggling to perceive God’s presence, I was experiencing his nearness in almost palpable ways. He was my first love, and I felt like his beloved. As much as I didn’t like the Apostle Paul’s enthusiasm for singleness, I had to admit he was right: I was enjoying a unique and beautiful devotion to Christ (1 Cor. 7:32–35).

Where our maturity comes from 

Over the years, I came to be known as a strong, self-sufficient woman (an identity not without its own issues), but still there was this underlying tone in many people’s comments to me — an unintentional message that I was not as complete or mature as my married and mommied friends. We’ve all been guilty of spouting folly in our eagerness to help a friend, yes? (In my 20s, I practically buried people alive with my zealous advice.) But ignorant counsel is a lot like a knife in the hand of a drunkard (Prov. 26:9), and many a single woman has been slain by comments such as:

Motherhood is the most sanctifying thing in the world! I was so selfish and immature before I had kids!

Marriage is so hard. Don’t get your hopes up.

You’re so lucky to be single! I’d give anything to have a day all to myself!

As soon as you’re perfectly content, God will bring along your husband.

Maybe you should try online dating/wear more makeup/’put yourself out there more.’

Singleness is easily misunderstood. It takes time to truly listen to someone’s heart and pursue knowing them past our own limited experiences. For this reason, the single woman is often treated as a problem to solve or as a lesser citizen instead of as an example to emulate and an integral part of the community.

My single friends who are lovers of Jesus and his Word are wellsprings of wisdom and maturity. They live out their faith in secular workplaces and high-profile ministries; they know how to do life with multiple roommates and in transitory housing. They have diversified skill sets and life experiences that offer invaluable perspective to the one who has ears to hear and eyes to see.

The Psalmist understood it is the power of Scripture, not a particular status in life, that forms wisdom and maturity in us:

I have more insight than all my teachers because your decrees are my meditation. I understand more than the elders because I obey your precepts (Psa. 119:99–100).

Yes, marriage and motherhood mature us in big ways. We could even say they are the normative plan for life maturity. But when God chooses to work outside the norm, does he leave his beloved daughter stuck in a lower life cycle? Should we automatically assume the 40-year-old single woman has less wisdom than the 40-year-old wife married for two decades? Of course not. God desires all of his daughters to grow up into his fullness — and he shows them the way to complete maturity:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2–4).

It takes joyful endurance to stay married.
It takes joyful endurance to parent children.
It takes joyful endurance to be single.

So all of us, in every season of life, have the same shot at maturity — as we remain in the Word and in relationship with each other, and we endure with joy.

Pursuing purity in a sexually-crazed culture 

Endurance in singleness can come in a variety of forms, one of which is the pursuit of purity in a sexually-crazed and confused culture. For the woman who believes sex is a sacred gift from God kept for marriage — regardless of her background and experiences — she faces the Sisyphean task of purity over years and even decades. (Although, unlike Sisyphus, her task is ultimately fruitful, not futile.)

What’s more, as intense as this war is, single women do most of their battling alone, and isolation can feel more grueling than a bout with the Grim Reaper.

For example, when I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, I began sending out regular email updates with specific ways people could pray for our family. To a certain extent, people understand cancer; they know what’s at stake and comprehend the vocabulary. Words like invasive, aggressive, and chemotherapy clearly communicated our family’s grave reality, and as a result, we received an outpouring of love and support.

In stark contrast, I felt incredibly isolated and without a vocabulary for my sexual reality in singleness. How could I describe what it was like to daily deny the strong impulses of my flesh without sounding disturbing, inappropriate, or desperate? How could I share my struggle just enough to not feel so alone?

But again, grief is accompanied by gift, and when God called me to something as difficult (i.e., humanly impossible) as abstinence into my mid-30s, he gave me such a breathtaking experience of his presence that I enjoyed soul intimacy with him even more than I longed for physical intimacy with a man. During those years, I knew that Isaiah 62 had been written just for me:

You will no longer be called Deserted,
And your land will not be called Desolate;
Instead, you will be called My Delight Is in Her . . .
As a groom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you (vv. 4, 5 CSB).

Community. Maturity. Sexuality. These are just a few snapshots of the Beautiful Arduous Hill. And while many wiser women have said much about this hike, I add my own small voice in celebration of the incredible women in my life who daily wield mighty weapons, endure with joy, and model what it is to love Jesus more than husband, children, and home. To them I say, “All my delight is in you.”

This article originally appeared here

By / Jul 14

I often joke that I force myself into people’s lives, but it’s not entirely a joke. I am intentional about developing, building, and maintaining relationships because we were made for community. God has always been in community with himself as the Trinity (Gen. 1:1, 26; John 1:1-2). And when he made man, it was not declared good until man had a helper of his own kind (Gen. 2:18). 

As a single woman, it can be tricky to figure out where I fit in. I don’t have a husband to help, but I do have a community, a household, that the Lord has placed me in — the church (1 Tim. 3:15). And I am called to be a helper in the midst of my brothers and sisters in Christ. If you find that the Lord has placed you in a similar season, I urge you to make the most of it. Here are several ways you can do that. 

Embrace solitude, not isolation

I am by myself a lot, sometimes on purpose and other times just by nature of being single. Because of the unique situation of being single in an isolated day and age, it’s important to recognize that there is a distinction between solitude and isolation. Solitude what Christ would model. He would go away in order to be by himself and pray (Mark 1:35), which is a good discipline to practice, single or not. Some call it a quiet time, but regardless of the name, it’s a time for worshiping and cultivating your fellowship with the Lord. It is a time for rest, repentance, regeneration, rejuvenation, and restoration.

Isolation, though, means staying away from others, and, likewise, accountability. If you’re isolated, you don’t have people around you to speak truth into your life or to confess sins to or to see your blind spots. You don’t have anyone to call you out and call you up, and it becomes easier to give into temptation. Proverbs 18:1 teaches that intentionally isolating yourself is out of step with sound judgement. 

Solitude is good if you use it like it’s intended, connecting with others and practicing other disciplines. Isolation, on the other hand, is bad because it can often lead you to fall prey to sin, even imperceptibly, and stay in it without turning back to God. 

A group of sheep is safer against a wolf than a lone sheep. One sheep, whether lost or wandering, is likely scared and vulnerable. But a group can at least provide cover. Yet, better still is when the shepherd is there! The good shepherd will protect the flock and will not flee (John 10:11-16). He goes after the one sheep in order to return it to the others and to safety (Luke 15:4-7). As the sheep, we need the shepherd, who meets with us in our solitude and keeps us from isolating from the flock to our harm. 

Serve others

Singleness is an incredible opportunity, though it may not seem like it at times. Paul elevated the goodness of such a season because single people don’t have the extra worries and divided interests that come with marriage (1 Cor. 7:32-35). Their time and talents can often be used at their own discretion to serve the Lord. So, it is the perfect season to intentionally go on mission. It doesn’t necessarily mean going overseas, although it is often easier for a single person to go to hard places than for a family. But we can always be on mission by serving others in our workplace, neighborhood, family, etc. 

There are many practical ways to do this. Check in on people, especially the marginalized, outcasts, and other singles that you know. I am able to give rides, sit, visit, meet for coffee at a moment’s notice, and host Bible studies or girls’ nights. I have time to plan and organize events. And I love meal trains. Cooking for one is very difficult, but I will jump at the opportunity to cook for others. I am also able to give more financially to the mission of God than my friends who are married with kids and have specific budget constraints.

Take advantage of the ability to spend time with people from all life stages as much as you can. If your friends’ kids play sports, you could go to the games; you get to spend time with the parents while supporting the kids, and they get to learn from you. I’ve taught Bible studies with teenagers and then sat alongside their parents as a peer in small group. I’ve picked kids up from school, attended kids’ birthday parties, and sat in hospital waiting rooms. I also love to spend time with my peers’ parents and glean their wisdom. 

All of these opportunities are gifts that end up blessing me as I seek to serve others. 

Tie yourself down to the local church

As a single person, it can often feel like you aren’t tied down to anything, especially if you have a strong desire to get married and have a family. One of the beautiful things about being a Christian is that you can be connected to a family: the church. I urge you to put down roots in your local church and choose to be tied down there — to the people you live around, work with, spend time with, and interact with regularly. A marriage covenant only lasts as long as one spouse’s earthly lifespan. But, the covenant friendship and familial relationships with other believers will last for eternity; they have become your redefined and forever family (Matt. 12:48-50).

There is good and important work to be done in your local church in order to build up the body of Christ. Serve in the church regularly. Serve others while among and beside them. Find a small group, and then find an even smaller group of the same sex. Christ had the 12 (Matt. 10:2-4; Luke 6:12-16), and brought the three (Peter, James, and John) in even closer. Read and study the Bible together, not just on Sundays. Make yourself known, and be open to being known by others for the sake of your spiritual growth. Find someone who is further along in their journey and learn from them. And never believe you don’t have anything to offer. Mentor someone. You are always one step ahead of and one step behind someone in life. 

The local church is your hub for accountability, community, and belonging. Prioritize your role in the family of believers as a brother or sister to others who, like you, were adopted by the Father to be Christ’s brother or sister (Rom. 8:29), through the finished work of Christ’s death and resurrection. 

In the midst of all of these good things, it’s right and important to set boundaries. Don’t be afraid to say no. Your singleness is not an invitation for others to take advantage of you. You have human limitations and need the rest and space to have the kind of solitude before the Lord that fuels your service. Instead, your singleness is an invitation for God’s glory to be displayed as you point to the sufficiency of your Savior and the belonging of your forever family. 

By / Feb 18

Living in a digital age, there are few problems that can’t be fixed with a smartphone. Trends over the past few years indicate that singles have been finding this to be true even of finding a date—nearly half of young adults say that they have tried to get hitched using a dating app or site. Thanks to mediums like Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, Hinge, and many others, linking up with a potential partner is only a swipe away.

As our age becomes increasingly digitized, it should be no surprise that Christians are among those trying to find partners online. But while it is commendable to desire marriage and we can rejoice that technology can aid the search for a spouse, the way these services are designed can be problematic. Christians searching for a spouse on these mediums should be cautious of these potential pitfalls:

1. Dating apps can be consumeristic and individualistic

Dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge work by having the user browse through a plethora of profiles, hoping for matches by “liking” or “disliking” the countless individuals that come through their feed. The apps’ algorithms tailor the sample of profiles to the user’s personal fancies, promoting potential partners based on the number of preferences they meet. This creates the possibility of turning one’s search for a date into what is essentially an internet shopping experience, where the “items” that are ultimately meant to fulfill the user’s wants and needs are real people. Individuals that have been secured as matches become comparable to objects in an online shopping cart.

While there is nothing wrong with preferring some qualities in potential partners over others, the seemingly infinite sample dating apps give us makes it easy to imagine that there is someone out there who is more perfect than the one currently right in front of us. Under this assumption, the search for one’s spouse is individualistic and self-centered—the goal of marriage becomes not how we may serve God and our spouse, but how a partner may fulfill our own desires.

2. They can perpetuate lust

Christians who are prone to lustful thoughts upon visual triggers should be aware of the ways dating apps can perpetuate this form of sin. Because of the relative inability to use one’s personality to attract likes, a profile’s images are what drive matches—both men and women listed a person’s photos as the most important indicator of their like-worthiness. Men are advised to strategize their profile photos, and women are incentivized to draw attention with sexually suggestive images. 

While lust is just as prevalent offline as it is online, dating apps present a unique challenge to purity. Because of the distinct role photos play in earning and issuing likes, coupled with the sheer volume of images users are able to swipe through, it is not difficult for one to get carried away scrutinizing the physical attractiveness of one individual after the other. To be clear, the issue is not the act of liking a person’s profile because of his or her appearance, but the enticing effects the alluring photos on these apps may bring about. Lust that can arise from the unchecked use of these services is harmful for the person who has been tempted into adultery of the heart (Matt. 5:28), and it is also dehumanizing for the countless individuals who have been objectified and evaluated solely on their physical qualities. Christians should keep this unique nature of dating apps in mind as they use them.

3. Dating apps can be addictive

Dating apps are deliberately addictive. Psychology Today notes how programmers intentionally work “to ‘gamify’ dating so you’ll become addicted to the experience of ‘playing’ it and will soon come back for more.” On top of the hooking nature of swiping through profiles, the rush one receives upon finding a match or receiving a like gives validation and boosts confidence. These dopamine spikes urge the user to get back to swiping, looking at more advertisements, or paying more fees for the service, generating more revenue for the developers. 

These addictive tendencies may also reinforce a consumeristic disposition toward dating and could habituate the objectification of people of the opposite sex. The obsessive nature of dating apps demands that singles use them with caution and moderation so as to avoid these destructive patterns.

How should Christians use dating apps?

The first and most important thing to note about these dangers is that all three make one’s own personal fulfillment the center of relationship-finding. But to place one’s own wants or needs as the object of a relationship or marriage cuts directly against biblical teaching. Paul describes the profound mystery of marriage as an image of Christ’s oneness with his church (Eph. 5:31-33). It is for this reason that husbands are called to give themselves up for their wives as Christ did for the church (5:25-29), and wives are likewise called to devote themselves to their husbands as the church does to the Lord (5:22-24). Contrary to the sentiments that can easily be perpetuated by dating apps, Scripture describes an individual’s relationship with his or her spouse as a self-giving endeavor (cf. 1 Cor. 7:3-5). 

Because of the fall, our sinful tendencies can easily pervert good things and use them for destructive ends. With this in mind, Christians should be mindful to use dating apps in such a way that brings glory to God and shows love to our neighbors.

But what can the foundational principles of a biblical marriage weighed against these possible pitfalls inform us about how Christians should use dating apps? I encourage singles using or considering signing up for a dating app to consider these three points of advice:

Know yourself. This requires daily prayer and meditation on the Word. Earnestly examine your heart and ask God to do the same (Psa. 139:23-24). Be aware of what sins you are naturally drawn to, and be diligent in fighting them. Do you become addicted easily? Are alluring photos a constant source of temptation for you? If so, it may not be wise to download a dating app. Prayerfully consider your weaknesses and whether or not your use of one of these mediums will exploit them.

Monitor yourself. As you use dating apps, continually observe the effects it has on your thoughts and attitude, and adjust your activity accordingly. If you find yourself becoming addicted or if you notice lustful tendencies arising, consider setting time limits or periodically remove the app from your device to take breaks. To combat consumeristic dispositions and objectifying others on the site, strive to be more intentional in your interactions with the individuals you match with—take steps to get to know them as people and fellow image-bearers by loving and encouraging them.

The most effective way you can monitor your heart for this purpose is by immersing yourself in a rich, gospel-centered body of believers who will lovingly hold you accountable. Find members within your local church who will disciple you, exhort you to purity, and encourage you amidst singleness. Sin cannot be adequately fought in isolation, and fellow members of a local congregation are indispensable to guard against temptations that may arise with the use of dating apps.

Comfort yourself with the gospel. Whether or not you are able to use a dating app in a healthy manner, as you pray God will provide you a husband or wife, pray most of all that he will provide you contentment in his Son (Phil. 4:11-13). Remember also that marriage, as beautiful as it may be, is merely a foretaste of what is to come when Christ returns. If you are in him, you will one day experience joys that far outshine even the greatest blessings of marriage. As you wait and hope for a spouse, wait and hope for that day even more.

Do this through constant prayer and devotion. Share with your neighbors the hope you have within you (1 Pet. 3:15). Commit yourself to a local congregation, and serve it dutifully. It is within these assemblies of saints that we are given a glimpse of that future day when we are all gathered around the throne. Such actions may not fill the hole left by singleness, but they will point you to the One who does.   

Taking into account God’s decrees for humanity to have dominion over creation (Gen 1:28) and for man to leave his parents to be united to his wife (2:24), we can infer that it is quite human to cultivate the Earth through innovation and use such advancements for the purpose of finding a spouse. But because of the fall, our sinful tendencies can easily pervert good things and use them for destructive ends. With this in mind, Christians should be mindful to use dating apps in such a way that brings glory to God and shows love to our neighbors.

By / Nov 16

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our primer series on Christians ethics where a respected leader and thinker recommends and gives a summary overview of a book that helps orient readers to a certain aspect of ethics and philosophy. This series is designed to equip the local church to engage foundational texts of Christian ethics. Find the entire series here

Every one of us was born into a family. It’s true whether we’re single or married, and if we’re longing for children or if each chair around the table is full. If you have a pulse, you are someone’s son or daughter. This fact alone makes it necessary for each one of us to be able to navigate the various ethical issues that confront family life. 

But necessity doesn’t equal ease. The issues related to marriage and singleness, parenting and divorce, and gender and sexuality are emotionally and politically loaded. When it comes to these topics, we all have a personal history and preloaded assumptions that can blind us to our biases. If we want our ethical choices and the conversations we have with others who have different perspectives to be driven by biblical truth, we must spend time examining our thoughts about family life in light of the Scriptures.

And, for those who serve in ministry, the Bible gives us another important reason to study the ethics of family. Paul tells us that having the competence and character to manage a family is a prerequisite for leadership in God’s household (1 Tim. 3:4). 

These are a few of the reasons why a book like God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, Second Edition (Crossway, 2010), is so important. In this book, Andreas J. Köstenberger and David W. Jones give Christians—and church leaders in particular— a thorough and unapologetically biblical primer on family ethics. 

Building a biblical foundation for family ethics

Köstenberger and Jones’ book begins by announcing a cultural crisis. The authors write, “It can be rightly said that marriage and the family are institutions under siege in our world today, and that with marriage and the family, our very civilization is in crisis” (15). The authors then provide a careful survey of the Bible’s major exegetical and ethical issues related to marriage (chapters 2–3), sex (chapter 4), parenting (chapters 5–8), singleness (chapter 9), homosexuality (chapter 10), divorce and remarriage (chapter 11), and family life as it relates to church ministry (chapters 12–13)—all with the goal of rebuilding a biblical foundation for family life.

The greatest strength of the book is its thorough research (the “For Further Study” bibliography for each topic is incredible) and strong exegetical work. This is noteworthy in chapter 11’s treatment of divorce and remarriage. Köstenberger helps his readers understand each biblical passage that addresses divorce—in Deuteronomy, the Gospels, and Paul—as well as both the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation of these passages. Then, in an accompanying appendix, he carefully weighs the meaning of Matthew 19’s exception clause and the Pauline exception in 1 Corinthians 7.

But it’s not simply thorough exegesis but the thoroughgoing application of the biblical text to various issues that has made God, Marriage, and Family the standard on family ethics for conservative evangelical Christians. Pastors, you will find help for premarital counseling not only in Köstenberger’s exegesis of passages like Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 in chapters 1–2, but also in his clear discussion of marriage as a covenant relationship (73–78) and his teaching about God’s four purposes for sex (79–82, they are procreation, relationship, pleasure, and—one that less often makes it into sermons—the public good). Parents, you will find the overview of family relationships in the Bible (chapters 5–6) informative, but I think you’ll want to photocopy, laminate, and put the “eight levels of parental discipline” from the Book of Proverbs (145) on your refrigerator.

What most impressed me about this book when I first read it is the way that it thoroughly covers issues many Christians approach with little thought. Köstenberger, for example, devotes 16 pages to the use of contraception (121–137), an ethical matter with which many believers do not wrestle adequately. He does not take the historic Roman Catholic view—rejecting contraception outright—but in light of a number of passages (Lev. 21:20; Deut. 23:1; 1 Cor. 6:19), he cautions Christian couples to approach sterilization methods such as vasectomies or tubal occlusions with care. He writes, “While not every Christian would agree that sterilization involves an improper violation of one’s body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, it is vital that believers submit their personal desires to prayerful consideration of what is scripturally permissible” (125). 

When it comes to “the pill” (hormonally-based chemical contraceptives), Köstenberger is even more cautious, ultimately concluding that using this method is tenuous because, in some rare cases, it does not only work to prevent conception but instead as an abortifacient, that is, it inhibits the uterine lining “from supporting the life of a newly conceived child should fertilization take place” (126). Other pro-life thinkers have come to different conclusions from Köstenberger; See an alternative perspective in William R. Cutrer and Sandra L. Glahn, The Contraception Guidebook (Zondervan, 2005). But Köstenberger and Jones’s careful treatment equips Christians to approach difficult ethical matters without blindly adopting our culture’s assumptions. 

The need for courage with compassion

God, Marriage, and Family does have drawbacks, and one notable one is that the book is a bit dated; it’s now 10 years old. Over the last decade, we’ve seen the rise of the #MeToo movement, new questions among Christians of varying political stripes about how to weigh a political candidate’s sexual ethics, and heated debates over how evangelicals should approach sex and gender (e.g., the spiritual friendship movement, the Nashville Statement, and the Revoice conference). Köstenberger and Jones’s second edition was released five years before Obergefell v. Hodges legalized gay marriage. On my bookshelf, Köstenberger’s book sits adjacent to Russell Moore’s Storm-Tossed Family (B&H, 2018). For more up-to-date discussions of some of these issues, this book is a helpful go-to supplement.

Because every person is part of a family, it’s essential that every Christian be able to navigate issues of family ethics with a rooted biblical frame of reference.

A second concern comes in chapter 13. Köstenberger and Jones review some current trends in family ministry and provide a healthy critique of the family-integrated church movement, a model that eliminates all age-segregated programming from the life of a local church. In their overview, the authors state, “Some churches are more purist in their convictions and application of family integration, while others are amenable to combine this model with other approaches” (259). The trouble with this assumption is that the family-integrated approach isn’t as common as the authors think. The other family ministry approaches that the authors briefly mention (259, n. 20) are more widespread and have greater biblical and historical support. Timothy Paul Jones has pointed out how the imbalanced treatment given in God, Marriage, and Family could turn some church leaders off to family ministry models that would serve and help their ministry contexts

God, Marriage, and Family has other oversights, too. The divorce and remarriage chapter, while exegetically excellent, doesn’t weigh whether or not physical abuse within marriage constitutes functional abandonment. It doesn’t talk about how to help a person who struggles with same-sex attraction build biblical friendships. And, while it encourages parents to cultivate masculinity and femininity in their children (146–147), it doesn’t help parents distinguish between biblical and cultural expressions of gender. 

It may be that these oversights are just more examples of the fact that the book is dated, but I wonder if these concerns aren’t more related to the book’s overall tone and culture-war posture. God, Marriage, and Family is framed with statements about how family life is “under siege”; the authors believe that marriage and family are experiencing a “cultural crisis,” one that is “symptomatic of an underlying spiritual crisis that gnaws at the foundations of our once-shared societal values” (15, 269). We certainly need courage to stand on truth in a world that is hostile toward the Bible’s family ethic, but we shouldn’t romanticize the past; commonly-held societal values have not always been as pure as we might assume. 

While believers certainly need courage to stand for truth in the face of Satan’s lies and worldly temptations, our bold talk about family ethics must be seasoned with a heart of compassion for people. We mustn’t forget the woman who has been battered in an abusively patriarchal marriage, the teen who experiences gender dysphoria, or the young man who has been bullied because of his sexual orientation. 

Because every person is part of a family, it’s essential that every Christian be able to navigate issues of family ethics with a rooted biblical frame of reference. For this reason, I’m thankful for books like God, Marriage, and Family, and I’m prayerful that God will use resources like this one to grow us into leaders who approach family ethics with careful study, courage, and compassion.

By / Mar 10

Katie McCoy shares what those in an extended season of singleness want the Church to know.

By / Feb 12

Many American churches have taught their young people a harmful ideology that Jackie Hill Perry calls the “heterosexual gospel.” This teaching claims that a healthy walk with the Lord naturally leads to marriage, thus, the Christian's ultimate goal is not Christlikeness, but marital union. I resonate with Perry’s message, as I was misguided by this teaching in my teenage years. By setting marriage as a primary goal of the Christian life, disappointment and confusion were inevitable as I remained single year after year. Here are a few quotes that I heard in church in the 90s:

  • “In God’s perfect timing, your prince will come.”
  • “Stay sexually pure, seek God with all of your heart, and one day you will look up to see your mate running alongside you in the journey.”
  • “Enjoy your youth. One day you will grow up, get married, and have a real job.”
  • “95 percent of people get married, so I would say your chances are really good.”

Can I get a chapter and verse reference for these? The husband was all but promised as a prize for the obediences of the Christian life. The Bible teaches us that regardless of marital status, we are God’s masterpieces created for good works (Eph. 2:10), to be holy in all of our behavior (1 Pet. 1:15), and that both marriage (Prov. 18:22) and singleness (1 Cor. 7:7) are a blessing from God.

Prolonged singleness is on the rise, and the church has some catching up to do. Singles need to speak up in this realm, as well. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’d like to offer some suggestions for how my married friends can help their single friends feel loved, valued, and included as you celebrate love with friends and family.

Here are a few ways to love and serve the singles in your life:

Practice generosity: Invite your single friends to your family’s Valentine’s Day festivities. A few years ago, one friend invited me on their family weekend getaway. It is hard to be sad or contemplative when you have cans of silly string, balloons, and confetti in your hotel room.

Show hospitality: Host singles in your home for Valentine’s Day. One family in our church invites singles over to their house for a Valentine pizza party. Be creative, and think of ways you can be hospitable to your single friends.

Be thoughtful: I have a friend whose 80-year-old mother sends me a valentine and red candy every year. I have had friends who sent flowers or balloons. Have your children make cards for people who will probably not receive a Valentine’s Day card. Celebrate the love that friendship brings into your life, in addition to familial and romantic love.

And here are a few things you might avoid doing in order to better serve the singles in your life:

Don’t play cupid: The week of Feb. 14 isn’t the time to play matchmaker with two of your favorite single friends. Even if you have a positive track record of setting people up, if you have a really good feeling about it, or if you think have the gift of “prophecy.” Do you see where I am going with these “evens”? Let’s save dating negotiations for another week. Blind dates are stressful enough without the pressure of Valentine’s Day.

Use caution with questions: This isn’t the week to (nor should you ever) ask the following questions of your single friends—actual questions that people have asked me.

  • "Are you mad at God because he hasn’t given you a spouse?"
  • "Didn’t you want to have children of your own?"
  • "Why aren’t you married yet?"
  • "Aren’t you just being too picky?"

Sure, there is a time and a place for questions, wrestling, and challenging conversations with your single friends. But, married friends, tread lightly in these waters. Be transparent. Explain to your single friends that while you care about how they feel and think, you may need to seek help while navigating these waters. Be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Humbly seek information about what is okay or what may be taken offensively. There is grace given for even being willing to make the effort. Perfection is not the goal, and Valentine’s week is probably not the best timing for these conversations.

Avoid Christian platitudes: Well-meaning married people sometimes say the strangest things to singles. Please try to avoid Christian dating platitudes such as:

  • “Mr. Right will come when you least expect it.”
  • “Maybe you just need to put yourself out there more.”
  • “God has someone very special picked out for you.”
  • And my personal favorite, “Perhaps God has a few more things to teach you before he brings you a husband.”

There is a vital role in the church and society for single men and women: the goal of the Christian life is God glorified among the nations.

None of these comments are helpful, and some of these comments infer that something is wrong or lacking in the single person but resolved for the married person. Praise God, there is good news for us all: God continues to love and teach all of us, regardless of our relationship status.

Don’t cash in nanny favors: Don’t ask your single friends to babysit so that you can go on a date night. Keep this week off limits from phoning a single friend. This one isn’t an absolute, and if your single friend offers, then by all means. But in general, it’s a wise time to steer clear of magnifying the fact that you have a lifelong date and your friend doesn’t.

Far from being cynical, God has shown me great grace in overcoming the harmful teaching I received as a youth. He is my reward. Together with the church, he is my husband (Isa. 54:5). Womanhood according to the Bible is about so much more than being a wife and mom. And Scripture’s description of manhood far exceeds being a husband and father. There is a vital role in the church and society for single men and women: the goal of the Christian life is God glorified among the nations. Let’s continue to pursue open and honest conversations about these topics and work together toward that goal. We can learn from each other as we seek to bring glory to the greatest single person to ever live, Jesus. Happy Valentine’s Day!

By / Nov 3

Ben Stuart gives a brief talk on Navigating Life and Love in the Modern Age at the 2018 ERLC National Conference. 

By / Oct 24

Recently, I wrote an article clarifying the theology of singleness and marriage as well as challenging the church in America to adapt to the rise of singles in their membership. Today’s post will come from personal experience and will discuss how individuals and families can better care for singles as they live together in community with them.

The story that I am living is very different than the one I would have penned. I can honestly say that the story God wanted to write for me has exceeded every expectation I could have for my life. However, living as a “prolonged single adult” in a Christian world that often idolizes marriage and family can sometimes be a lonely place.

One of Satan’s most effective strategies is to convince us that we are isolated and alone. If he can plant that seed in our hearts, it can take root quicker than most any other lie. God has surrounded me with an amazing community of people who seek to understand and support me in every area of life, including prolonged singleness. Here are some practical tips for loving single people with excellence, lessons I’ve learned through true life experiences:

Pray for your single friends.

Spend time with them so that you can know how they are struggling and how you can pray specifically. Ask them hard questions. Be transparent with them. Spend time praying together. Single people may not have people who pray with them regularly. Be available.

Give lots of hugs.

Some single people go days and even weeks without meaningful touch. Newsflash: they probably aren’t going to ask you for a hug. In fact, a safe rule is hug them unless they have asked you not to and continue to give them hugs until they ask you to stop. Without traveling down a slippery slope of disrespecting appropriate personal space, I’d like to just make a general appeal to increase the amount that you hug your single friends.

Think before you speak.

Well-meaning married people sometimes say the strangest things to singles. Please avoid Christian dating platitudes such as:

  • “Mr. Right will come when you least expect it.”
  • “My aunt’s, husband’s, best friend’s, mother has a son about your age who isn’t married yet. Y’all should totally meet!”
  • “Didn’t you want to have your own kids?”
  • “Why are you still single?”
  • “God has someone very special picked out for you.”
  • And my personal favorite, “Maybe God has a few more things to teach you before he brings you a husband.”

Really, has God taught all married people everything they need to know before they get married?

May I offer you a few alternatives? Choose theologically sound encouragement, practice the ministry of presence and encourage your friends with the truth of scripture. Validate their struggles but offer truth and hope as opportunity arises. Marriage is not a promise that God has granted to everyone, so realize the damage that can be done when you tell a young lady it is only a matter of time before her prince comes.

Take care of your people.

As I typed this article, Hurricane Florence was hurtling toward the Carolina coast. I live in Raleigh, but I am currently out of town. My house is in a floodplain and uncomfortably close to a river. Several families reached out to me to see if there was anything they could do to help prepare my house for the storm. I can’t explain how wonderful it is not to have to ask for help — because someone cared enough to reach out.

Be proactive to take care of your single friends. Don’t always wait for them to ask you for help. Take it from me, they will usually need help with something, so offer before they ask. Yes, friendships are give and take. Your single friends are more than likely willing to bless your family by serving you in a unique way, too.

Sidenote to singles: We don’t get off the hook here. We have to be vulnerable and make our physical and emotional needs known. I am a pro at talking myself out of asking for help. Everyone I know is really busy, and I never want to be a burden to my friends. Sometimes I think about the story of the boy who cried wolf. What if I use up all of my lifelines, overdraft my favors, only to really need help one day…what will I do then? True friendship doesn’t keep tabs on requests. This is a lie from the enemy. In fact, scripture encourages us to carry each other’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

Find ways to incorporate singles into your madness.

I appreciate having an open invitation places, but sometimes I’d prefer a specific invitation. Many of my married friends think, “Who would want to come watch my child’s _______ (fill in the blank with various options)?” When, in fact, I’d love to! I grew up playing youth league sports, marching in the band, and participating in community events. Even today, I actually enjoy going to watch these kinds of things. Don’t assume that your single friends don’t want to participate. Ask them and leave the decision up to them.

Intentionally pursue friendships with single people.

There shouldn’t be lonely people in our churches. Megan Hill wrote in Identity Theft, “Belonging to Christ means that we also belong to everyone else who belongs to him.” Our tendency is to spend the majority of our time with people like us. May I challenge you to spend time with people different from you? Single people have a tendency to spend extensive time in solitude. They rarely have anyone’s undivided attention. In a recent blog, Ed Stetzer encouraged people to be intentional. “We always want to make sure those who have historically felt invisible instead feel loved, seen, and heard.”

Of course, marital status is not a true representation of relational satisfaction. Let’s not pretend that the enemy only uses the tactic of loneliness to isolate single people. As we live in community with other believers, seek out people who are different from you. Chances are, you can learn something new.

This list is not exhaustive, but now is the time to start new conversations so you can encourage and include the unmarried people in your lives. Evaluate how you can do better, and then take steps of obedience.

This was originally published here.

By / Feb 14

The vast majority of young people today want to get married. The most rigorous and reliable surveys available today put the number in the high 90th percentile. Yet they are waiting longer today to get married than any other generation in recorded history. There are multiple cultural factors influencing this trend, some good and some bad. Yet in this moment, I would like to focus less on social trends and more on the reasons why God might be extending your season of singleness. They may not be what you expect.

I want to do it by looking at your love life through the lens of the Israelites’ journey out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land. Why? Because God will deliberately keep from them what they want for an extended period of time. And, by his grace, he reveals to us his motivations for doing so. I believe if we can understand why God seemingly complicated their lives, we will gain insight into the way he works in ours.

The first reason God may be keeping that relationship from you is, quite simply, you are not ready.

We see this idea in Exodus 13:17. Moses states, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.” Don’t miss that. There was a short, direct route to the land of promise that involved traveling alongside the gorgeous Mediterranean coast. And God did not take them that way. Actually, he took them South to eventually go North! Why? “For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’” God did not fast-track their journey because he knew there were challenges ahead they were not prepared to handle. So he took them the long way because of his mercy, not his cruelty.

The same may be true of you. There are challenges ahead that you are not equipped to handle. When I was in my early 20s, I longed for a romantic relationship with a woman. But every dating relationship I entered quickly became a dumpster fire of confusion and pain. I realized over time that I had some unresolved emotional pain from my childhood that I needed to deal with. I also realized that I had a selfish and simplistic view of what it was to truly, sacrificially love and care for a woman. In short, I wasn’t ready. And the most loving thing God could do for me (and for all women everywhere) was to keep me away from what I desired.

Through the course of their journey through the wilderness, the people of God learned a lot about him, about themselves, and about their purpose in the world. God used the heat of the desert to forge character in his people. He may well be doing the same with you. David spent a decade in the wilderness before he was ready to become king. Your extended stay in what you may consider to be the wilderness of singleness may be God’s great act of mercy in your life.

The second reason why God may purpose for you to linger in this current season is for his glory.

In Exodus 14:1-4, God instructs Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp . . . between Migdol and the sea . . . for Pharaoh will say of the people . . . ‘They are wandering in the land’ . . . and he will pursue them.” God purposefully put his people in a situation where they would be trapped and attacked. Will God lead you into stressful, uncomfortable situations? Yes! Why? He continues, “And I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his hosts, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” Notice that the people of God were put in an uncomfortable situation for the sake of the Egyptians—that they might come to know the Lord. God put them in the middle of an impassable sea and an attacking army, not to punish them, but to position them to be of greatest use in his campaign of making himself known to a world that desperately needs him.

Your extended season of singleness may have nothing to do with whether or not you are ready for a relationship. It might be that God wants you to remain in this position for the sake of his glory in the life of someone else. Rhena Taylor, a single missionary in Kenya, believed this about her own life, saying, “Being single has meant that I am free to take risks that I might not take were I a mother of a family dependent upon me.” Often, singleness affords a flexibility of time and discretion of finances that can uniquely position you to help others know God. Paul declares that singleness exists in order “to secure an undistracted devotion to the Lord.” God may have every intent of introducing you to your future spouse soon, but not before he leverages your current station for his fame in the life of someone else.

The final reason you may be single right now is to deepen your trust in God.

As many of you know, the Egyptians did attack the Israelites. And, in the midst of their crisis, God did show up miraculously, parting the Red Sea so that his people could cross, then closing it on the enemy troops behind them. This portion of the narrative concludes with the verse, “Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” Though they had seen many miracles in the preceding days, they still had much to learn about the character of God. Thus the Lord put them in a situation where they had to depend on him for everything. And when he came through, their faith grew.

He will often do the same with us. When we lift weights, we place our muscles under duress because doing so forces them to grow. In the same way, this uncomfortable season may be God’s way of forcing your faith to grow. God may be extending this time when you are not in a covenant relationship with someone else because he wants to strengthen the bond you have with him. He wants you to trust him more. Cry out to him, and watch him provide for you in unexpected ways.

In no way do I want to minimize the pain you may feel as you grapple with singleness. And I want to encourage you: when the people of God cry out to him, he listens, and he cares. Do not be afraid to trust him with your heart. And don’t mistake his tarrying as indifference to your current state. Fight to believe what our Bible declares to be true: that God works all things (even singleness) for our good and for his glory.

By / Nov 27

We live in a world where issues arise in the news and culture daily. Behind every issue, however, is a person—a person made in the image of God. This new ERLC Podcast series, “How to Handle,” will tackle tough issues for today with the hopes of equipping the church on how to handle the topic, care for those struggling with sin and temptation, and care for those who have been hurt. 

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