Up to this point in the book, we have drilled down fairly deeply to discover what sex in the service of God means. In this chapter Ash asks: is no-sex in the service of God possible? In other words, how and where does singleness fit in? Is it better to stay single?
Ash begins by stating quite unequivocally that sex makes no difference to our relationship with God, and no difference to our being able to experience love and friendship. If there is loneliness, then maybe the family of God in the local congregational setting is not functioning well and ought to be extending hospitality and natural warm fellowship to the unmarrieds they know.
Then Ash takes two NT passages and unpacks them for us. The first is Jesus' unusual words in Matthew 19:11-12, where he talks about some who are eunuchs because of a problem since birth, some who have become so because of something that has happened to them, and then there are those who voluntarily choose to become eunuchs, ie deprive themselves of the blessing of marriage, for the sake of the kingdom. Ash makes the point that Jesus could have used the much softer, but just as true, version … "some do not marry", but he chose instead the horrifying image of castration to emphasise the pain and costliness of the decision. It made me think of those great saints who have made that choice, and to thank God for their discipleship.While I have enjoyed the great benefits and blessings of married life for nearly forty years, to my shame I have not given much thought to who have chosen this costly path for the sake of the kingdom. And yet I should have thought about it - because every follower of Jesus should expect costs in discipleship, even the possibility of remaining unmarried.
The second passage is one which I have struggled to understand without contorted mental gymnastics. It is 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul ranges over a whole cluster of marriage topics, in particular verses 32-35:
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.On the face of it Paul seems to be charging marrieds with worldliness, but that is impossible as this would mean getting married was a sin. Ash helpfully points out that 'worldly things' do not necessarily mean 'wrong things'. Paul is anxious that the Corinthians know exactly what is involved in getting married. The truth is marriage complicates our lives. Getting married is not any better or worse for serving God: it just introduces a new level of complexity and maybe even stress. How they love God with 'undivided devotion' may be more of a challenge with all the cares and responsibilities of a family, but it is possible. Remember, sex in the service of God! Both married and single disciples of Jesus must serve God with every fibre of their being, but they will do it differently.
I finished this chapter with a greater understanding of 1 Corinthians 7 and a greater appreciation of my single brothers and sisters. How about you?
What a great point about the cost of singleness! I'd never read that verse that way before. Thanks again for an astute and helpful summary.
I am very thankful for this book; I think Ash has a wonderful way of probing our traditional Christian understandings of marriage and sexuality. His theses seem to ring true and his observations about the Scriptures like he makes in this chapter certainly get us thinking! I am reading another book of his at the moment called 'Bible Delight', which is about Psalm 119. I can highly recommend it for the same reasons.
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