Thursday, August 27, 2009

Guidance and the Voice of God - Pt 8

Case Study – Marriage

As I mentioned in the last post, the case study on marriage is a little more complex than the first two and has left me with some questions. First let’s look at marriage using the diagram:

1. God is sovereign, God is good and God is holy. He has a plan for us whether we stay single or get married; whether we marry Bob or Fred. We still make these decisions, but only after the event will we know that the decision we have made is God’s will.

2. In God’s revealed will he shows us that the true marriage that matters for all eternity is the marriage between Christ and the church. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says that it is good to marry AND it is good to stay single so whether to marry or not is a matter of complete freedom. There are issues of righteousness related to who to marry and these are listed on page 165.

3. The choice to marry or stay single is one of complete freedom (1 Corinthians 7).

4. God’s ultimate goal for us is to be part of the purified church that is married to Christ on the last day (Revelation 21, Ephesians 5). This marriage is to be the highest priority in our decision-making and this should not be compromised in seeking a spouse.

5. The Holy Spirit will not give us a set of signs on whether to marry or not, or on whether to marry Jack or John. Rather the Holy Spirit helps us to understand God’s will for marriage as we read His revealed Word and helps us to apply that Word above our own desires.

6. There are matters of wisdom (good judgment) in the choice of a marriage partner. The authors helpfully explain these on page 166.

* Finally, as God brings our hearts and minds into sympathy with His own, through His Word and Spirit, we better understand the depth of our relationship with Him and place our marriage or singleness in that perspective. We know His purity and holiness and seek that in ourselves: either in being faithful to a spouse or faithful in our commitment to Him.

So that’s my take on guidance for marriage.

I did, however, have some questions and concerns about this chapter:

First, I don’t feel that the authors have adequately explained the concept of ‘burning with passion’. In my reading of the book, it seems like an ‘escape clause’ that ultimately negates a choice to stay single.

In so many other places, this book places righteousness as the highest priority in decision making, and in a sense this idea of ‘marrying to not burn with passion’ does this also, however, the book (in my humble opinion) appears to phrase things in such a way as to make marriage seem the solution to controlling all sexual desires. Yet, even within a marriage there needs to be some controlling of sexual desires (eg if tempted by someone other than spouse and/or if spouse is unwell and unable to meet sexual needs). Further, is it possible for a single person to be ‘burning with passion’ when they are not in a romantic relationship? Surely seeking purity and fulfillment in a relationship with Christ is the highest priority and the one that assists us to control unhelpful sexual desires. (I would also suggest that the controlling of many sexual desires might be done by turning off the romantic comedies and other female equivalents of pornography).

My other main concern is that the language used by the authors in relation to singleness does not match their stated belief of ‘’marriage is a matter of indifference to us” (page 163). It seems that much of the language used by the authors about the single life is couched in negative terms eg “If God has gifted us to cope with the strains of the single life” (page 164); “If you have the gift of remaining single and staying sane …” (page 107).

Even the three recommendations for finding a partner (page 164) are worded in such a way as to elevate marriage above singleness and do not encourage us to pursue viewing singleness as a worthy first option. The 1 Corinthians 7 passage actually highlights the benefits of singleness, yet on page 163 it seems that there needs to be some mysterious ‘gift’ of being able to control your sexual desires in order to be able to stay single. (Aren’t all Christians called upon to control ungodly desires by the Holy Spirit’s work in us.)

Finally, on page 168 the authors ask us to consider how we can be godly prior to marriage. There appears to be an assumption that marriage will be the result of this pursuit of holiness. That is, it sounds like marriage will be the reward rather than the reward being the godliness itself. I would have preferred the authors to provide more detail on how we can be living for God’s ultimate goal of the marriage between Christ and the church and how this increases contentment with either marriage or singleness (yes contentment is a word for married people too!)

Anyway, these are just my humble opinions as a single person on this chapter. What do you think?


Dani T. said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this great book Michelle! As a single Christian woman I was very encouraged by some of it’s comments on the goodness of singleness. For example-

The first and most basic decision is whether to marry at all. This is a genuine choice, and one which too few Christians consider (p. 163)

[The single life…] ‘is better by far’ (p. 164).

However, I do agree with some of your concerns – such as the discussion of ‘burning with passion’. I think we often emphasise Paul’s qualification here in 7:9 at the expense of his recommendation that it is good (in fact ‘better’ in 7:38) to remain unmarried.

I wonder whether we too often confuse sexual drive (part and parcel of being created sexual beings) with being ‘aflame/burning with passion’. An example of this confusion is found in recent Christianity Today article ( where the author writes:

‘I am suggesting that when people wait until their mid-to-late 20s to marry, it is unreasonable to expect them to refrain from sex. It's battling our Creator's reproductive designs.’

Paul’s definition of what it is to be ‘aflame with passion’ is revealed by his earlier phrase in 7:9 – ‘If they cannot exercise self-control’. That is, burning with passion doesn’t seem to be synonymous with merely experiencing sexual desire (part and parcel of being sexual beings) but with being unable to control that desire. And given that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22, 2 Tim 1:7) then surely it is not ‘unreasonable’ to expect unmarried Christian men and women to prayerfully seek to exercise self-control by refraining from sex, regardless of their age.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that there won’t be men and women who experience enormous difficulty in this area (and who Paul thus encourages to marry). But I do agree with you that the qualification can too easily become an ‘escape clause’ rather than an opportunity to seek spiritual growth in personal godliness.

I also share your concerns about how we are to understand the ‘gift of singleness’ in 1 Cor 7:7 (which appears to be referenced on p. 163)… but think I have said enough for the moment!

Kellie said...

Thanks for you comments on this chapter. As someone who has been recently teaching about marriage and singleness, i found your reflections helpful.

Too often we give lip service to singleness being a gift from God but in our conversations and even our churches, we give a different impression.

My prayer is that young Christian women will turn their energies to growing in holiness and righteousness.