Marriage and Singleness
While I did not expect that the special edition of the SB (April 15, 2016) on “Reformed Marriage” would address singleness, I was somewhat perplexed by Rev. Slopsema’s meditation “Two Become One.” Rev. Slopsema makes two statements that, despite my reading of his article multiple times, I still find confusing. I hope that the SB will give him the opportunity to explain what he means.
He writes, “Husband and wife complement each other in a most wonderful way so that together they can serve the Lord in a way that neither could achieve alone” (p. 315) and “In a single state, men and women experience significant weaknesses when it comes to serving God and enjoying a blessed life with Him in Christ…. In marriage the Christian husband and wife enjoy the blessings of their spiritual marriage to Christ in a way that they could not find in the single state” (p. 316, my emphasis).
If Rev. Slopsema means that marriage is necessary to the raising of children, I agree. But would a childless couple also find themselves unable to serve the Lord in that way? In which other ways can an unmarried Christian not serve the Lord as well as the married saints? What precisely are the “significant weaknesses” of which Rev. Slopsema writes? In what way is the unmarried Christian unable to “enjoy the blessings of [the] spiritual marriage to Christ”?
How does Rev. Slopsema’s position do justice to Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 7:32-34, where the apostle teaches that the unmarried are able to serve the Lord “without carefulness” (or without the worries, preoccupations, or anxieties of marriage)? Did the unmarried Paul not enjoy fully the “blessings of [the] spiritual marriage to Christ”? And if marriage passes away in the world to come, where we are all actually seated at the marriage supper of the Lamb, will unmarried Christians, who have never enjoyed the earthly picture of marriage, experience any lack?
Both marriage and singleness are gifts (Greek: charisma, gracious gift; I Cor. 7:7), gifts given in love to God’s children. While we encourage marriage, it is not God’s gift to all believers. It is not a mystery (in the sense of enigma, riddle or incomprehensible wonder) that the unmarried “find fullness in the single life.” It is God’s good and gracious purpose for them, and they can, do, and must serve God and enjoy the fullness of the blessedness of the mystery of Ephesians 5:30-32, even if they never experience the love of an earthly spouse.
Thank you again for an excellent special edition of the SB, and I look forward to a clarification of this issue.
Cordially in Christ,
Rev. Martyn McGeown
Limerick Reformed Fellowship, Republic of Ireland
Rev. McGeown finds two statements in my meditation confusing and would like to have more clarification. The first statement is that “husband and wife complement each other in a most wonderful way so that together they can serve the Lord in a way that neither could achieve alone.” The second statement is that “in a single state, men and women experience significant weaknesses when it comes to serving God and enjoying a blessed life with Him in Christ…. In marriage the Christian husband and wife enjoy the blessings of their spiritual marriage to Christ in a way that they could not find in the single state.”
It is important to understand the two statements in question in light of Genesis 2:18-23. There we read, “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (v. 18). Obviously Adam was incomplete; he was not whole. The Lord had commanded him to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This involved more than populating the earth, which Adam obviously could not do alone. It also meant that he must rule God’s earthly creation as king and do so in the service of God as priest. For this he needed a help that was meet or fit for him. Alone, he was incomplete and inadequate for the work God had given him. In order for Adam to see his lack, he was given the task of naming the animals that God had created both male and female. “But for Adam there was not found an help meet for him” (v. 20). Subsequently, the Lord made a woman from Adam’s rib, brought her unto the man, and joined them together into one flesh through marriage. In this marriage Adam found the help he needed to complete him. And by being joined to Adam in marriage as a fit help, Eve also found completeness. Together they could serve the Lord and enjoy His blessings in a way that neither of them could do alone.
In my meditation I indicated that this incompleteness that Adam found and that was addressed by God in marriage is true of most, not all the saints of God. The second statement that Rev. McGeown cites is introduced by the statement, “Most men and women are incomplete in the single state.”
This truth is reflected in the Marriage Form in the back of our Psalter. The form lists three reasons why God instituted marriage:
The first reason is that each faithfully assist the other in all things that belong to this life and a better.
Secondly. That they bring up the children which the Lord shall give them, in the true knowledge and fear of God, to His glory, and their salvation.
Thirdly. That each of them, avoiding all uncleanness and evil lusts, may live with a good and quiet conscience.
For, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and every woman her own husband; insomuch that all who are come to their years and have not the gift of continence are bound by the command of God to enter into the marriage state, with knowledge and consent of parents (or guardians) and friends; so that the temple of God, which is our body, may not be defiled; for, whosoever defileth the temple of God, him shall God destroy.
Rev. McGeown questions whether this does justice to Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 7, where the apostle teaches that both marriage and singleness are gifts of God’s grace (v. 7) and that the unmarried are able to serve the Lord “without carefulness,” that is, without the worries, preoccupations, or anxieties of marriage. (vv. 32-34)
I hinted at this briefly in my meditation: “Although it is not the focus of this passage, it is also a great mystery that those whom the Lord has called to be eunuchs for the kingdom’s sake find fullness in the single state. These indeed are special gifts to the church.”
But what Rev. McGeown brings out in question form are good and necessary truths that need to be emphasized about those who live in the single state in Christ. Their singleness is a gift of grace. That gift of grace includes not only the gift of sexual continence, but also the gift of being able to live a full life in the service of the Lord without a marriage partner. In fact, God gives this gift to some in
the church so that they can serve Him in special ways that married saints cannot because of the responsibilities of marriage and family. And it must be emphasized that they enjoy the mystery of the marriage between Christ and the church without the joys of earthly marriage.
This, however, does not take away from the truth that the majority of God’s people are incomplete in themselves and find completeness in the gift of marriage. In marriage “husband and wife complement each other in a most wonderful way so that together they can serve the Lord in a way that neither could achieve alone.” And in their marriages these saints not only reflect the greater spiritual marriage between Christ and the church but are also able to enjoy the blessings of this greater marriage.
Rev. J. Slopsema
Concern for the Childless
In the wake of the special Standard Bearer issue on Reformed marriage, the article “Children: Calling and Blessing,” and the RFPA blog post “To: Mom,” I felt the need to write this letter. I am not addressing these articles specifically but rather to something lacking in Protestant Reformed publications on the family.
Our denomination has published countless articles, pamphlets, and books on bearing children and covenant generations. Almost every year another lecture is given about marriage or family building. This is all very practical and useful information. Parents do need encouragement and much grace in the joyous yet weighty responsibility of rearing children and faithfully obeying their baptismal vows.
However, I have observed a great void. As far as I know the PRCA and RFPA have not published any materials to provide consolation to couples battling infertility or to whom God leaves childless. Other than a brief, perhaps passing comment here or there, nothing has been said. Despite the fact that the desire for children is a godly desire (command), childless couples are expected to be silent and content. Infertility remains a taboo subject, even though it affects as many as one in eight couples. Ironically, as a denomination that places so much emphasis on the family, some scorn those who cannot have children or seek medical treatment for their infertility. Biting comments such as “Oh, she is a career woman” or “Adoption is fine as long as you don’t end up
with a bad one” tear at the goring wounds that childless couples bear on their hearts every day, making them all too often identify with Hannah who was provoked by Peninnah (I Sam. 1:6, 7).
I would like to submit an open request to one of our ministers or members to write a booklet that discusses one or all of the seldom discussed “special cases” of remaining single, infertility, infant loss, fostering, and adoption. The sensitive subject of infertility is rarely broached, and Protestant Reformed couples are forced into an unguided quest to research what other—even non-Reformed—denominations have to say about such issues, trying to find biblical answers.
I will end with a little practical advice for the readers of this letter: If any know a married couple who are not expecting a child by their second or third anniversary,
there is most likely more to their story than “covetous selfishness.” Please be empathetic. If any are walking a childless trail of tears, you are not alone. There are ethical infertility treatments. Our daughter would have never been conceived except for the way God worked through modern medical treatment. And adoption is a wonderful means that God uses to gather His elect and continue the covenant line through our children. God’s answers to our prayers and His timing are always perfect. Though difficult, rejoice in your circumstances. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (II Cor. 12:9).
Member of Kalamazoo PRC