How to Serve "The Singles"

 

— Ministry to Unmarried
Adults in Your Local Church

 
Serving SinglesWhen I was a single woman in my mid-thirties, I invited the elders of my church and their wives to a formal holiday dinner as a way of expressing my thanks to them for their care and ministry. As I served the standing rib roast on a table set with china and crystal, one man remarked, “Wow. I never would have done this when I was single. It would have been pizza for everyone!”
This pastor offered this comment as an expression of thanks and I received it that way. But I did ponder it afterward, realizing that for many people the link between youthful inexperience and singleness is inextricably linked. In my early 20s, I too would have served pizza on paper plates, if indeed I had thought at all about offering hospitality.
This is one of the potential pastoral challenges to ministering to single adults. We are often The Singles, one monolithic block of unmarried people. But there are as many stages and seasons to single adult life as there are for married adults. A single woman in her 50s with a demanding career caring for elderly parents is not equivalent to a recent college grad who is still living at home. Both are unmarried, yes, but chances are, the older single woman and the parents of the college grad may have more in common.
Through the years, I’ve observed that The Singles can be a prickly lot to pastor. Whatever leaders say from the pulpit about singleness is guaranteed to encourage some and offend more. I know because I’ve been in both camps, depending on where I am in the cycle of hope or despair and how I am working that out in my soul before God.
Therefore, I have a list of insights about single adults that I’d like to offer to church leaders. The hope here is that these ideas will foster a stronger connection between unmarried people and their local congregations:

You are not shepherding a dating service — wait, yes you are.

Churches should have a high view of marriage and uphold it without apology. But church leaders also need to recognize that when marriage is devalued in our culture, that brokenness comes into the church, too. There was a time when older members of any community worked hard to ensure the next generation married well. In our current hands-off approach, many single adults are adrift and need help to meet and marry wisely because that’s not a priority in our culture.
In the face of that neglect, the church should be proactive about facilitating what God prizes in Scripture. That said, there’s a huge difference between being nosy busybodies and facilitating relationships among single adults. In my observation, the best resource the local church has is married men who befriend and mentor single men — not to “fix” them, but to invest in them as brothers.
So to help unmarried adults meet and marry well, the church needs to be proactive about creating contexts for singles to meet each other and live out dating relationships in the context of community. What that looks like will depend on many factors specific to local communities, which is why church elders need to lead and shape this process.

Marriage is not the ultimate prize.

While I believe all churches should prize marriage and family, I also believe we have to be careful about the unintentional messages potentially conveyed about marriage and family. Both are gifts for this life alone. The one relationship that survives eternally is the one we have as the Bride of Christ to our beloved Savior. The relationships that we all have as brothers and sisters in Christ are the ones that will not end—and these need to be cultivated as much as family life is cultivated. Additionally, single adults need to be reminded that God has not withheld his very best from them if they remain unmarried.

The Singles are actually unmarried men and women.

It’s important that unmarried men and women are discipled as men and women and not a generic lump of singleness. From my perspective, Scripture’s emphasis is on being made a man or a woman in the image of God, with a secondary emphasis on how that looks in the various roles and seasons of life. Unmarried men and women are no less masculine or feminine because of being single.

Single men need leadership responsibilities.

Put 1 Corinthians 7 to work in your churches by showing that the church actually needs unmarried adults who are devoted to the Lord, especially single men. What this looks like will be different in various churches. But when church leaders ask unmarried men to take on significant responsibilities, they demonstrate a belief that godly singleness is a tremendous asset to the Body of Christ.

Single adults are not workhorses.

Conversely, unmarried men and women are not the church’s workhorses. As a new believer, I was in big demand as a new babysitting resource in the church. While I was thrilled to get to know so many families, one wise woman saw the burnout coming. She advised me to pray and ask God which of these families he was asking me to invest in. By knowing those relationships where I was to say yes, I knew also where I could say no without guilt.
Years later, when the speaking invitations started to roll in after the publication of my first book, my pastor saw where I could be driven by an open calendar. He suggested I create an advisory board to help me evaluate my invitations and schedule. The goal of the advisory board was to make sure I was not traveling too much. Even though I am unmarried, I still need to make my home and my home church priorities. I need time to receive care from close friends and also to return that nurturing.

Understand the challenges of endless opportunity.

One wise pastor once told a group of single adults that he was sympathetic to the challenges of endless opportunity. Because he was a pastor, father, and husband, the boundaries of his day were fairly well-defined from the moment he woke up. He knew his responsibilities and the priorities given to him by God and he didn’t have to spend a lot of time deciding what he was supposed to do.
But single adults can think they don’t have those same clear priorities and can be tempted to drift through their days. But we actually do have many of the same boundaries and priorities in working faithfully as unto the Lord, in building up our local churches, in reaching out to non-Christians, in praying for others, in caring for the family members and friends we have (especially as single parents), in offering hospitality, and so forth. Though some of the most intimate relationships may be different, we all share a basic set of priorities and we often need to be reminded of that.

Single men trust God by risking rejection and single women trust God by waiting on him.

It’s all about trusting God’s good provision for our lives. Encourage single men and women to read Ruth. Not because it’s a matchmaking book (it’s really not), but because we all tend to be like Naomi. We survey our circumstances and think we know exactly what God is doing. . . or not doing. But we simply have no idea that he is doing more than we can ask or imagine. His quiet providence is on display everywhere and an eagerness to look for that and praise him for it cultivates gratitude.

Don’t be afraid to challenge bitterness.

Extended singleness is a form of suffering. There is an appropriate time for mourning with those who mourn. This is especially true for women who see the window of fertility closing on them without the hope of bearing children. Don’t minimize the cumulative years of dashed hopes for unmarried adults.
That said, we single adults need loving challenges when we have allowed a root of bitterness to spring up and block our prayers to God, our fellowship with others, and our service to the church. Deferred hopes cannot be allowed to corrode our thankfulness for the gift of salvation.

It’s not self-improvement, it’s others-improvement.

Too often our advice to unmarried adults stems from worldly thinking that infects us all. We give advice to improve and equip the unmarried adult to attract better relationships, rather than reminding them they are stewards of whatever relationships they have been given.
While it’s true that there are things every adult can do (married or not) to be more attractive in myriads of ways, there is no guarantee that a trimmer figure, a more confident conversational style, or a better job will be worthy of an eternal reward. However, if we think of each individual who crosses our paths as a beloved sister or brother in the Lord about whose care and treatment we will give an account to Jesus one day—this radically alters everything.
It means dating is no longer a zero sum game that results in a littered landscape of broken relationships and cut-off communication. It’s not whether boy gets girl. It’s whether we can look Jesus in the eye and say, “Thank you for the time you gave me with this person. I did my best to encourage and pray for this individual while I knew him/her. I loved without fear of loss because I wanted to be like you. So by your grace, I did my very best to build up this man/woman and return him/her to you with thanks for the gift of this relationship.” Because even if we get married, that’s also what we have to do for our spouses.
As John Piper wrote in This Momentary Marriage, “The meaning of marriage is the display of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his people.” Though it is not on display in exactly the same way in the lives of unmarried adults, we are part of the Bride of Christ and recipients of his faithful covenant love. Therefore, how we care for others who are also Christ’s beloved speaks volumes to a watching world, to the praise of his glory.
~ Carol
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Some blog posts are worth repeating. This is one of them. ~ CMC
Read the original post and/or comment at Carolyn McCulley’s blog.
 
Carolyn McCulley
Carolyn is the author of two books, Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World (Moody Publishers, 2008) and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred (Crossway, 2004). Carolyn is also a contributor to Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor (Crossway, 2005), as well as to other webzines and publications. She is a frequent conference speaker for women’s ministry events and also maintains a blog, Radical Womanhood.
 

Love Does Not Envy

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1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 
In this session we are moving along in our study through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. In these three verses Paul talks about the characteristics of love. He lays forth 15 verbs in these verses not to tell us what love is like, but what love does. In other words, this is how true, biblical love manifests itself. True love is always manifest by patience and kindness. That is what we have been considering over the last few weeks. Now we shall move along to envy. True love does not envy and it does not boast. I have a number of things that I want to say about envy this morning. My points are not necessarily related. We will just work our way through them one at a time.
 
1. Love Does Not Envy
Definition of envy. Before we get anywhere we need to gain an understanding of what it means to envy. The word that Paul uses is ζηλόω (zēloō). It literally means “to have intense negative feelings over another’s achievements or success.”
The word is often times takes on the sense of jealousy, envy, or covetousness. This very word is used in James 4:2 and is rendered as “covet” in most translations. James says,

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

This is the very same word as is used in 1 Corinthians 13:4 for “envy.” Envy, then, is something of a synonym with the word ‘covet.’ You really cannot talk about envy without talking about coveting. This is why the word can be translated either way. I think it is helpful, though, to think through the subtle difference between covetousness and envy. Generally speaking, coveteousness involves the idea of strongly desiring something that someone else has to the point where you feel incomplete without it. Envy is related to covetousness but goes beyond it. Coveteousness desires what another person has. Envy, on the other hand, resents (has feelings of bitterness or even anger) another person for having what you do not have. We covet things and envy people. The two really do go together. I found this quote by Cornelius Plantinga to be helpful.
“What an envier wants is not, first of all, what another has; what an envier wants is for another not to have it… To covet is to want somebody else’s good so strongly that one is tempted to steal it. To envy is to resent somebody else’s good so much that one is tempted to destroy it. The coveter has empty hands and wants to fill them with somebody else’s goods. The envier has empty hands and therefore wants to empty the hands of the envied. Envy, moreover, carries overtones of personal resentment: an envier resents not only somebody else’s blessing but also the one who has been blessed.”
Let me illustrate the difference between covetousness and envy.
You all know that I drive the famous Tan Man Van (my 2003 Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan). I know you all want it. I know you all look out the windows of the church as I pull in the parking lot wishing it were yours. Who can help themselves?! Covetousness says this, “I want Jimmy’s van. I am incomplete without it.” Envy looks on Jimmy and says, “I disdain Jimmy. Why does he get the Tan Man Van?” I have made a list of all the different things that we covet and reasons for envy:

(1) materialism: money, jobs, gadgets, purses, cars, houses, boats, shoes;
(2) relationships: kids, marriage, friendships, grandkids;
(3) miscellaneous: health, reputation, personality;
(4) spirituality: spiritual gifts, bible knowledge, personality, authority, reputation, power, etc.

The reason Paul is writing 1 Corinthians 13 is because the Corinthians were abusing and misusing the spiritual gifts. Instead of rejoicing in the gifts which God had given the body, the Corinthians were envious of each other’s gifts. And this can happen so easily in the body of Christ. Bitterness and resentment creep in when one man knows more than you and can beat you in a theological debate. Bitterness and resentment can creep in when someone in the body seeks counsel from someone other than you.
2. Romans 12:15 is the opposite of envy.
So we have considered what envy is. I spent a great deal of time over the last week asking the question, ‘What is the opposite of envy?’ If Paul says that “love does not envy,” what does love do? I racked my brain on this question until I came to Romans 12:15.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

This is the very opposite of envy. Love rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep. A man who is envious is resentful of those who have he does not have. An envious man does not and cannot rejoice with who rejoice. Rather, the envious man weeps while others rejoice and rejoices when others weep. Let me ask you a question, What do you think of the rich? Are you happy for them in your heart? Can you rejoice with a rich man in his riches? Or do you feel resentment toward a rich man because he has what you do not have?
Let me ask you another question, When a rich man loses his riches (like Job) can you weep with him? Or do you rejoice in your heart with vindictiveness when you hear of a rich man losing his riches? And this can happen in the church as well. When God raises up a man or a woman and uses them publicly, do you rejoice in the gifts which God has given, or do you resent the position and the attention given to him or her?
The perfect picture of envy is in the show Everybody Loves Raymond. One of the major themes of the show is the rivalry between Ray and his older brother Robert. Robert grew up in Raymond’s shadow. Their mother always favored Ray, Ray was a famous sports writer and Robert was an unknown policeman. Whenever good things happen to Ray or he receives good news—whether it be a promotion or public recognition—it ruins Robert’s day. He immediately becomes pouty and frustrated and angry. He cannot rejoice with Ray when Ray rejoices. However, whenever anything bad happens to Ray, a massive smile comes over face. It brightens his day when Ray is miserable. He cannot weep with Ray when he weeps. Rather than weeping, he rejoices when Ray weeps. This is envy. An envious person loves to see other people miserable.
3. The sinfulness of envy.
This sin of envy reveals how crooked and corrupt the heart of man is. After all, when a man is envious he despises the goodness of God toward other people. God pours out His goodness on a man and blesses him with riches and intellect and a winning personality. You become envious of this man. You become bitter toward him. Why? Because of all the good things that God has given this person. If you cannot rejoice in the goodness of God, there is something wrong in your heart. If you cannot weep with the rich man who loses everything, there is something wrong in your heart. Christians of all people should rejoice when God pours forth His goodness on undeserving sinners, because we know that we would still be in our sins if He did not pour forth His goodness on us.
Maybe you have never been able to have kids. You hear that a young couple is expecting a child. What is your response? Do you rejoice in your heart (not just faking it externally)? Do you rejoice in God’s goodness to that young couple? Or are you filled resentment toward that young couple. Maybe you are a single—maybe you have wanted to get married since you were a little boy or girl. You are up there in age and your best friend tells you that he is engaged. Do you rejoice in the goodness of God toward him or do you despise the fact that God has seemed to pass you by? You see, envy reveals how crooked and warped the heart of man is. Is it not amazing to you that we are capable of despising the goodness of God toward other people? Rejoicing in loss and tragedy, despising blessing. This is sin.
4. The destructive nature of envy.
Envy is no small chump change sin. Envy is destructive. Did you notice how envy is connected with fighting, quarrelling and murder in James 4:2.

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

One would think this to be logical. After all, envy involves bitterness and resentment to the one who has what you do not have. This is why I am so troubled by the class warfare in America. The American machine—American media—feeds into the bitterness of the poor against the rich. The end of this story is never good. Envy produces resentment and bitterness and rage. Class warfare justified envy. Not just a bad idea, a dangerous idea. Poor Americans are taught to feel justified in their resentment toward the rich. They are taught to despise the rich, not to rejoice with the rich. They are not taught to weep with the rich when they lose their riches, but to rejoice in their fall. Envy leads to hatred and murder. Let me give you three examples of this.
Cain and Able. This is the first recorded sin after the fall of mankind (Genesis 3). Cain and Able were brothers. Cain killed Able. But why? Envy! You can read the story in Genesis 4:1-16. This morning I just want to read Genesis 4:3-5, 8.

3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell… 8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

Cain killed his own brother because of he was envious.
Able’s sacrifice was accepted by God and Cain’s was not. Cain did not rejoice with his brother. Cain hated his brother because his brother had what he did not have, acceptance before God. Fill with jealousy and envy Cain killed Able. 2. Saul and David. Turn with me to 1 Samuel 18:6-9. This scene takes place while just after David defeated Goliath. David became a war hero overnight. Saul was still king.

6 As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” 8 And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 And Saul eyed David from that day on.

King Saul was filled with envy.
He could not rejoice with David. I am sure that Saul was expecting to hear the women singing about his victory over the Philistines. David was after all a peasant. He was a pawn in Saul’s army—an unknown dispensable soldier who had one good day on the battle field. The closer he get to the women singing the more he puffs out his chest. This is his victory. He is the king. Can you imagine the rage in Saul’s eyes when he hears them exalting David above himself? Saul was filled with jealousy and envy. David had the one thing that Saul didn’t have, the accolades of men. It wasn’t that they weren’t impressed with Saul. However, Saul had been dethroned as the nations most loved and esteem warrior. David was now the favorite. He won the hearts and affections of the people. Saul was instantly envious. Where did this envy lead Saul? Murder. From this point on he “eyed David.” That means that looked for opportunities to kill him. Read the rest of 1 Samuel and you will find where envy led Saul.
5. One last example of the destruction of envy.
Turn with me to Mark 15:8-15.

8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

Here we have Jesus who was set before the crowds. Pilate questioned Him and found that He was an innocent man—He had done nothing worthy of the death penalty. However, the chief priests, the religious leaders of Israel, wanted him dead. Pilate knew he was innocent and he says in vs. 10 that “he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.” This is what drove the chief priests to deliver Him up to be put to death on a cross. They were envious of Jesus. After all, Jesus had everything that they didn’t have. He would heal whole villages (Mark 6:55-56)—the equivalent of a man walking into a hospital and everyone being healed and going home. He fed the poor, multiplying 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5000 men (not including women and children (Matthew 6:30-44).
Jesus raised the dead. And maybe most important is what the crowds said after He preached the sermon on the Mount, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29). He would stand toe to toe with the Pharisees and Saducees and make them look stupid by answering all the questions that they considered to be ‘unanswerable.’ The crowds loved him because He fed them and healed them and cared for them, He had compassion on them.
When you consider all these things it is no wonder the chief priests were envious. And it was envy that drove the chief priests to hand Jesus over to be crucified. They were filled bitterness, resentment, and hatred toward Jesus because He had what they wanted. He had authority. He had the affections of the people (to a degree at least). He had the miracles. He had everything they didn’t have. They hated Him for it. So they sought to kill him. Envy is a dangerous sin. It leads to bitterness, resentment, hate, and ultimately murder.
6. Kill Envy with Contentment.
When you envy a person you resent them because they have what you don’t have. When you are content with the gifts that God has given you, the stuff that God has given you, the job that God has given you, the salary that God has given you, you cannot be envious—you will not resent those who have more than you. Sure, you may desire to have the mind of an R.C. Sproul or a D.A. Carson; you may desire to have the looks of a Jimmy Snowden; you may like the idea of winning the mega bucks; however, you are content with who you are in Christ; you are content with the station that He has given you in life; you are content with gifts He has given you; you are content to be who He has created you to be. If you are content you will not be envious. Contentment says, “It would be nice to have more, but Jesus is enough.” If Jesus is enough for you; if He is the fountain of your joy and life you will not begrudge those who have more than you. I believe that John the Baptist evidenced this contentment. Turn with me to John 3:25-30.

25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John was content with the station that God had given Him in life. John’s disciples were concerned about Jesus’ fast growing ministry. They saw Jesus as some sort of a rival. Certainly John had to step up his game, produce a better marketing and advertisement strategy to make sure that he would not lose his followers to Jesus. His disciples were concerned. But John answers their concern by saying, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (vs. 27). In other words, John recognized that it was not his place to assert his ministry on God. Ministries are not made, they are given by God. John wasn’t territorial about His ministry. He was content with the post God had given him.
If you are content with what God has given you—the gifts He has given you, the station in life He has given you—you can enter into the joy of others when God pours out His goodness into their lives. If Jesus is enough for you and you are content with what He has given you, you can be happy for others when they have more than you. Love does not envy. Love rejoices with those who rejoice even when they are given more than you.
7. Envy Reveals Idols.
Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5 that covetousness is idolatry.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
We have already talked about the interrelationship between covetousness and envy. The two are almost inseparably linked. We envy other people when we covet their stuff. Here Paul tells us that covetousness is idolatry. We tend to only think of idolatry as bown down before blocks of wood. But idols come in more forms than blocks of wood. “Idolatry is any tendency in the human heart to dethrone God for the sake of something else, whether that be money, sex, ambition, power, pride, or something as seemingly innocuous as respectability. To the extent that we give our affections to anything other than God on the assumption that it can do for our souls what he can’t, we are guilty of idolatry.”
This is why coveting is equated by Paul with idolatry. Because when you covet a thing you are pursuing this thing as if you cannot be satisfied or complete without it. When you envy a person and covet his things, you are saying that God is not enough to satisfy you. You resentful the person who has what you don’t have because you feel incomplete without it. If you give such a high place to a thing, you are treating that thing as if it were the source of your joy. This is a place that belongs only to God.
1 BDAG, 427.
2 Quoted by John Walton in Genesis, NIV Application Commentary.
3 Sam Storms, http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/idolatry-without-idols-35/.
~ Jimmy

 
Jimmy Snowden
Jimmy serves as pastor for “Preaching and Vision” at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Boscawen, New Hampshire. Previoulsy he fulfilled leadership roles in both Kansas City, Missouri and Las Vegas, Nevada. Jimmy received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Biblical Studies from Hannibal-LaGrange College and a Master of Divinity degree from Liberty University.
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