One of the most moving and hopeful books I have read recently is Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, in one chapter he hauntingly describes the combination of anxiety and depression:
Adding anxiety to depression is a bit like adding cocaine to alcohol. It presses fast-forward on the whole experience. If you have depression on its own your mind sinks into a swamp and loses momentum, but with anxiety in the cocktail, the swamp is still a swamp but the swamp now has whirlpools in it. The monsters that are there, in the muddy water, continually move like modified alligators at their highest speed. You are continually on guard. You are on guard to the point of collapse every single moment, while desperately trying to keep afloat, to breathe the air that the people on the bank all around you are breathing as easily as anything.
You don’t have a second. You don’t have a single waking second outside of the fear. That is not an exaggeration. You crave a moment, a single second of not being terrified, but the moment never comes. The illness that you have isn’t the illness of a single body part, something you can think outside of. If you have a bad back you can say ‘my back is killing me’, and there will be a kind of separation between the pain and the self. The pain is something other. It attacks and annoys and even eats away at the self but it is still not the self. (Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig, p. 49)
Such a description is familiar, from the past, but still fear and worry is something that constantly afflicts me and many other people. One of the complexities of an issue such as worry, is the experience of anxiety and its causes cannot simply be explained. Just as your body can break and get ill so can your mind. Extreme forms and experiences of anxiety can be as much physical as spiritual. Anxiety and anxiety disorders are part of the brokenness which we all experience in life lived after the fall. Such brokenness will never be fully restored until the new creation. So when we see worry and anxiety in others our response should not be condemnation but acknowledging that a person may well be caught up in the brokenness of this world:
If someone else struggles with anxiety more or less than you do, that doesn’t immediately mean they are more or less godly of trusting than. How do you know for example, the way you would react if you had their background and their experience? (Heart Attitudes, Graham Beynon, p. 74)
Jesus, in his incarnation, stepped into the brokenness of this world. When he did, he not only shared in our experience of a broken world but he offered comfort. It is comfort that Jesus gives to those who worry: To those whose minds have broken, which in this fallen world in different ways is all of us, it may not reverse the effects of the fall but should give us comfort within this fallen world. It is comfort which is applied to us through the truth the our heavenly Father who loves us is in control of all things.
Therefore I tell you,do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food,and the body more important than clothes? (Matt. 6:25)
The reason we are not to worry is because of our value, our life and our body are worth more than the food and clothes which consume our worry, We have value, not only to ourselves, but more crucially, to our heavenly Father.
Look at the birds of the air;they do not sow or reap or store away in barns,and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matt. 5:26)
The God who cares for the natural world, after all is that not God’s job, that God is our heavenly Father. Speaking of God’s care for the birds, Jesus says “your heavenly Father”, God is not the Father of the birds he is our Father, if we are his people.So if our heavenly Father cares for the natural world, which he does, surely he will care for us.
Imagine a man who fed birds in his garden but didn’t feed his children. What kind of man would that be? He would be an awful man, do you really think God is like that? Do you think that is God, that he would feed birds and not his loved children, you? See God, the God of the universe, is your Father, so do not worry. Jesus says “Are you not more valuable than they?” Your heavenly Father cares for you.
We see that again in how God cares not just for the birds but also the lilies. The lilies don’t worry about what’s “in” this summer. They don’t worry about what the other lilies are wearing. And yet…
…See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.(Matt. 6:28-29)
Not even the best dressed king in the whole of history, Solomon, can match the lilies.If that is how God cares for them, just a lily in the grass, then what of his children?
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire,…(Matt. 6:30)
You just burn grass, it is here today and gone tomorrow. So if God your heavenly Father cares for the grass like this. If grass which burns in fire is beautifully decorated with lilies, then what of his children, whom he will love forever.
Again imagine a man who watered and looked after his pot plants, but then didn’t dress his children. What kind of man would that be, and yet if you think God doesn’t care for you, what kind of God do you think God is? Surely he will do more for you, than he does for lilies of the field, “will he not much more clothe you,O you of little faith?”
The faith there, is not have enough faith that God will do what you want, but have enough faith that God is your heavenly Father who loves you, and therefore what happens is God your heavenly Father caring for you. The picture of the grass and the birds are pictures of how God cares for the smallest things, and if he does that how much more will he care for his children.
How does this work out in practice? God willing a future post will follow…
I love living in Johannesburg, there are few places like it. It is one of my favourite places in the world, not least because of friends I have made in the four or so years that I have been here. (Has it really been that long?) In many ways it feels like home…and yet in so many ways it is not.
I love London, there are few places like it. It is one of my favourite places in the world, not least because of friends and family there. And in many ways London is home…and yet in so many ways it is not. I cannot wait to fly into Heathrow in a few weeks and be back on British soil for the first time in one and half years. But it will be strange, I spoke to a student at Johannesburg Bible College who said he visited London twice over six months and he was struck how it had changed. What will be different after one and half years? I can always tell you what has changed in Wimbledon High Street, although that is somewhat novel it is the more the personal changes which make it all stranger. Friends whom you know and love and yet life has moved on for them in your absence. Nieces and nephews who have grown, a lot! The realization that you don’t quite fit where you used to. They call it reverse culture shock. It is all a symptom of home being neither here nor there.
Over the last few months at Christ Church in two different ways (not entirely planned but pleasantly providential) we’ve been on a journey home. As we looked at the Songs of Ascent in the Psalms, they gave us the picture of the journey of a believer heading not to an earthly home but to a heavenly one. A journey where our hope wasn’t just things would be better but everything would be put right. This world is like everything has put out of place but one day it will all be put back. The journey we have followed in Luke’s gospel is also to home, Luke 9:51 speaks of the time drawing near for Jesus to be taken up. The journey is not to Jerusalem but through Jerusalem to heaven. And Jesus calls us to follow him in this journey.but warns ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To follow Jesus is to join the journey which means we’re not yet home.
London is no longer quite home and Johannesburg, as much as I love it, is not really home. And perhaps that is because I am a Londoner who lives in Johannesburg and don’t really belong to either. Or perhaps that is because, home, is a city that I haven’t reached yet but when I do, there I will belong.
If you are in London (or the UK), your reading this and you’d like to catch up let me know. (That is if I know you not if you’re just some mad person my blog! Although you are welcome.)
It us often that Christmas is a time of family and joy. But those two don’t always go together. The reality of families is that you don’t choose them. As such you cannot always choose joy. So the family gatherings at Christmas, which for many brings joy may for others bring pain and sadness. Some may be secretly dreading Christmas. Some might be a reminded that you do not have the money that you might need to celebrate as you would wish. For others it may be a reminder that the family is not as happy and as sorted as you might like to imagine during the year when you are not together. The reality of some illness or some death through the year might come home particularly as the family come together.
As a result this time brings two emotions which we don’t often associate with this time of year that is sadness and guilt. Sadness as we might realise that something that you have hoped for through the year has not come to fruition. Together with sadness might come guilt. Because the painful situations which families coming together can remind us off are rarely things where blame cannot be apportioned.
May be this Christmas, the family might leave you feeling hopeless about and unable to act in the face of problems in your life. The desire for things to be change might be desire tinged with guilt. Perhaps you imagine that these things will not be put right because you do not deserve it.
Sadness and guilt can darken the joy of Christmas. And yet the first Christmas, is reminder that neither sadness nor guilt needs to be final word but instead joy. If this Christmas, we see what Mary saw this first Christmas then we may see that that sadness and guilt is met in the coming of Jesus is a way that not only answers our sadness and guilt but turns sadness into joy.
Mary’s song surprisingly speaks not primarily of Jesus but of God the Father and his actions. The song draws our attention to action of God in sending Jesus which then draws us to two attributes of God which addresses our sadness and our guilt.
The Might of God
We see the might, the strength see how God is described in v. 48b-49:
…From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
And then in 51 see how his actions are described:
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
God is mighty, he is strong he is powerful.
The Mercy of God
In Mary’s song not only do we see God’s might we see his mercy. In fact his mercy in many ways is more of a focus than his might.
We see his mercy shown in three ways. First his mercy is shown to Mary:
“My soul glorifies the Lord  and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
God is merciful in considering Mary, who is just a lowly woman,
 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
Secondly God’s mercy is shown to all who fear him:
 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
The mercy of God is available to all. It is not by default given to all. But the offer is for anyone who fears him.
Whoever you are this morning if you fear the Lord then you will receive his mercy. And then thirdly the mercy is shown to Israel:
 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful  to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
The promise that God made to Abraham that Israel would be a great nation will come to fulfilment in the God’s mercy is shown to his people. The event of Jesus’ birth is an event of God’s Mercy.
God’s Might and Mercy
The connection between the two attributes if God is key:
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.  His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.  He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
God’s might which comes in vv. 49 and 51 surrounds God’s mercy. God is a mighty and powerful God, he can do what he wishes. Yet what he wishes is to bring mercy. We often think mercy that is kindness to those who do not deserve is a weak thing. Villains on TV or in films are considered weak when they show mercy. We imagine that although mercy is a good thing it will be over powered by evil or unkindness. But no says Mary, Mary proclaims a God who is both mighty and merciful, in God might and mercy come together. So we can say that God’s mercy is guaranteed because it is backed up by God’s might.
What does the first Christmas, the coming of Jesus, the coming together of God’s might and mercy mean for those who may fear this Christmas because of sadness or guilt? For those facing almost insurmountable sadness or challenges, isn’t it encouraging to remember that you do not face this time with a weak God but a mighty one? Perhaps the situation you face in your family or in your life looks as if it will overtake you and defeat you. Well the mighty God will work. Perhaps for you this year the battle against sin has begun to feel impossible, you feel you cannot fight another year. Well you can if you realise that the act of God sending his Son was an act of his power and might. The coming of a baby at Christmas was no weak thing it was a mark of God’s might. The baby at Christmas is a demonstration that the mighty God is at work. Nothing is beyond God’s power, God is not weak struggling to bless his children. God is mighty we know that as his Son Jesus came as king into the world. Those situation where we imagine that hope is lost, it is not because we have a mighty God who has given his Son.
The coming of Jesus is a reminder that we have a mighty God who can work even in the pain of our lives. Who helps all those who fear him. But he is not just God’s might that we have seen but his mercy. His kindness to those who do not deserve it. Therefore Christmas is a pointer not just that God can change things because of his might but that he may change things even if it is a result of our failure. See our failure does not mean that God will refuse to use his might since God is a God of mercy. God’s might is used to show mercy.
One of the advantages of my theological study has it has opened my eyes a bit more to the depth of study possible in working with scripture. However the tool I have needed have not always been at my fingertips. I have considered investing in something like Logos or Accordance but so far haven’t quite been convinced of the value for money. In the meantime I have got by with what is free (or cheap) and here is what I found:
Bibles and the Original Text
Here I will focus on actual text study I may do another post on commentaries etc. although they a rarely free, if you want the most up to date scholarship you normally have to pay!
Although this will be very familiar it has the most comprehensive collection of English (and other language) translations and can be helpful in comparing them, however unfortunately no original languages and the formatting of the site makes it difficult to copy and paste into a word processor without some reformatting.
This is very similar to Bible gateway but with slightly more options and a little easier to copy and paste from. There are also some original language options which Bible Gateway doesn’t have.
This is a simple and extremely useful site. You can have two columns with the original language in one column and the English (NASB) in the other. You can get definitions of the word by hovering over either the English or the original language and as you to the corresponding word is highlighted in the other column. You can also search by a word. Although the tools are basic and really just restricted to language work, the ease of use of this site makes it one of my go too sites.
I haven’t found the mobile site has worked as I might have expected it is best used on the desktop.
This site does much the same as Bible Web App but offers a little more functionality. You pay for that in ease of use but for word studies and comparing translation this is a great resource.
Not a website but software is a great resources. The basic translations come free (KJV, ESV, TR Greek…) but you have to pay the price of a bible for the likes of NIV, NASB… The advantage is the ability to use it offline and it is by far the easiest to copy and paste from. The parallel option is nice although it is not great for language work.
I only discovered the recently and it works similar to e-sword but has more language tools, similar to bible web app. However is less intuitive and easy to use as e-Sword.
For a while now I have been trying to see if there is any alternative to the TR greek text online. The pedantic in me always checks the TR against my bound copy of the UBS 4th Edition. Finally I have discovered there is, the German Bible Society have put the full texts of the UBS 4th Edition and online in an easy copy and paste format.
Here are lot of useful resources including commentaries and the BDB lexicon of Hebrew which is useful to know.
I had to use this Lexicon for my studies and it was quite useful, unfortunately the full version is not available online but I got by with this reverse look up.
If like me sometime you want to print things out to write all over them this has pdf pages of interlinear for the whole bible, there is also a free download version.
None of these are the complete package and I find myself switching between them all but they may remain a viable alternative to paying large amounts for a complete package. Is this enough to get by for free or should I bite the bullet? If you know of others pleas comment below.
(Sorry if you onnly get this because of my post on singleness and this is boring, I am attempting to write a book on that issue so maybe there will be something for you some time in the future!)
I have a strange relationship with sadness. Sometimes I just feel sad and I don’t really know why. A number of years ago I suffered from depression and getting better, it seems, is not a case of not feeling sad for no particular reason but simply learning manage those emotions. For me at least, sadness is sometimes normal, and living with such an understanding of my emotions helps me to continue.
In my previous post, which got an extraordinary number of hits, I reflected on hope, such an experience of sadness also leads me to contemplate hope. That is to contemplate a day when sadness is not only not normal but not there. Reflecting on Romans 8, again for a sermon recently, it seems that suffering is not simply something we endure awaiting a time when it will be no more but suffering is the very things which causes us to hope in the future.
Romans 8 begins by showing that suffering is a result of living in a broken world:
 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Where we read of “Creation waiting…” and “Creation subjected to frustration…” these are connected with “our present sufferings…” in verse 18.
The groaning’s are of creation, the subhuman world. But the groanings that Paul speaks of are the marks of broken world waiting to be fixed. And that broken world is the thing which brings about suffering. The world is broken because of sin, because Adam and Eve rebelled against God the whole of creation is broken.
Think of creation like a play, where the lead, the main actor, is drunk. So as everyone looks to the lead, to well lead, he doesn’t because he is drunk, he’s all over the place. (Illustration thank to Christopher Ash)
Creation is similar. The lead part is man whom God placed over all to rule and lead. And yet since the fall, since Adam and Eve’s rebellion they have not led properly so the whole of creation is put out of shape. Now what happens in a broken world, is that people suffer. It is easy to see how sin causes some suffering such as crime, war, abuse that sort of thing. But the Bible’s picture is bigger than that because of man’s position in creation. Man’s sin doesn’t just cause suffering in those direct ways but, now the whole world is broken so suffering comes in many other ways. Even sickness, natural disaster are marks of broken world where the lead actor has rebelled in sin.
That is not to say that things like illness are a direct consequence of an individual’s sin. That can be the case, but I think more often it is not, it is the case that that kind of suffering is a mark living in a broken world. Because I live in a broken world generally, there is general suffer, of which I experience some of.
The Christian however experiences this general suffering in unique way.
 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
That is Christians are experiencing the fixing work of the Spirit in us but we still inhabit bodies and the world of the broken creation. So even while we by God’s Spirit experience a partial restoring we still wait for when our bodies and creation to be restored. So do you see the conflict which comes through in the suffering of the Christian? Christians like creation groans for the time when the physical creation will catch up with the work that the Spirit is doing in us so and everything is perfected. God is working that we will be more and more conformed to the new creation but the more we are conformed to the new creation the more we feel the brokenness of the old creation.
But this very tension is what brings the benefit now. In this tension God is working good, even in our sufferings:
 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have,we wait for it patiently.
The experience of suffering now produces hope in us for a time when there will be no suffering. So God works through suffering now to bring us to hope for glory then. In suffering God is producing hope now for glory then. See as we increasingly feel the pain we increasingly long for the day when the world and everything in it will be put right. The theme of this whole section is not so much suffering but glory.
Paul’s point is suffering directs us to glory. Suffering opens our eyes to the world being a broken place, but also directs our eyes in hope to the world then being a completely restored place. As Christians we experience God’s restoring work now and we long for the world to catch up as we do, we feel the pain. The more we feel the pain the more we hope for the end of that pain.
So when we read in verse 28:
 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. It’s not a blind, oh well God is working for our good.
In the suffering we experience now God is working to produce hope in us so that He might bring about our standing in glory which is not worth comparing to what we experience now.
I have funny response to sadness and anxiety now, almost instinctively when I get sad, I worry that I am going down again. I haven’t really experienced symptoms of depression for a long time now. But there are times when I think will it all come back and I long for a time when I know for sure that it won’t return. God uses suffering so that we long for no suffering. Suffering produces hope for a better day.
There is not a nice neat answer to why Christians suffer, but there is an unshakable hope that one day they will not. And if we view suffering rightly today as a mark broken world perhaps we will be directed to a restored world. A world where every pain is healed. A world where there is no more death, no more crying. A world where God wipes away every tear away.
As we feel the pain now we should work hard, not to deny the pain but also to turn that pain into hope then.
Let me end with an example. I am not sure when my depression started it certainly became much worse after I left university. But I can remember in my forth year at university living for weeks with a sense of despair and sadness. At that time something happened every day I started to read Revelation 21. Almost because of what I was experiencing I hoped for that day all the more.
 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
On that day there will be no more suffering. But that day will not be without the knowledge of suffering. Because on that day not only will we not suffer but we will look on the lamb, Jesus, who did suffer. We will look on the lamb whose suffering has brought an end to our suffering.
And suffering now produces hope for that day then.
So although for me sadness is sometimes normal, one day, thanks to Christ’s suffering, it will never be again.
When you think about it singlenesss is a funny thing. We are all born single and at least half of us will die single but often those who are single wonder how they got there. Some who are single feel they’re too young to settle down while others may feel they are too old to be alone. When people get older they start to ask questions like “what is wrong with me? Why does no one want me…?”
As a 32 year old single man, who had to do some thinking about it recently I thought I would share some thought that others found helpful and hopefully it will help me clarify some of my thinking.
A number of years ago I stopped reading singleness book (ok it’s not like I read loads) but it would seem to me they fall into two broad categories which we often do when we think of this issue.
1. Singleness is a burden that we need to rid ourselves off.
These are basically dating manuals or ways to encourage single people not to be too disheartened, I’ve been told although I am yet to read books for women, that here is where you find “Jesus is my husband” kind of thinking. We’ll come back to that, but the basic theology seems to be it is not good to be alone so if you are single, that is not good…get married. In the case of women they begin to think they are just not godly enough to warrant someone wanting to marry them and in the case of men, they are told that they just don’t take the initiative where they should. There may of course be truth in that but it can’t always be the case because nowhere in the Bible do we get that singleness is a sin or even the result of sin. In fact the big problem of this view is it’s hard to fit Paul’s positive view of singleness (1 Corinthians 7) with the burden mentality.
2. Singleness is the best thing.
Now the idea that singleness is the best thing seems to fit much better with Paul’s thinking but again there are problems. Although as we will see singleness is indeed a good thing and in some sense better than marriage, “the singleness is the best thing” often presents it as if we should all be going round thinking “thank goodness I am single who would want to get married”. Now this is problematic because most singles want to get married. So if singleness is the best thing why do I want something else? Enter the guilt problem again. Now as we will see we should indeed value singleness and disparage God’s good gift is indeed serious but this is not the same thing as saying the desire for marriage is bad. As we will see it is one thing to say that singleness is a good thing it is quite another to say it is the best things.
The Gift of Singleness
I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. (1 Cor 7:7)
What does Paul mean by each has his own gift? What is the gift of singleness? It is very common for people to say that the gift of singleness is an ability to remain single, which most people do not have. There are significant problems with this as Christopher Ash points out:
It is a common misunderstanding to think that I know whether I have the gift of singleness by whether or not I feel happy to be single. It is often said that only if I am quite content to be unmarried and really experience no strong sexual urges or other desires for marriage, only then can I say I have this gift. And if I don’t feel content like this, then I should get married if I can.
This idea that the gift equates to the desire is wrong, for two reasons. First, if we apply the same reasoning the other way around, it makes a nonsense of marriage. With this approach, someone discerns whether he has the gift of marriedness by whether or not he is happy and content to be married. So let us suppose someone is married, but is struggling in a difficult marriage and is, frankly, not at all content in his marriedness. Does he conclude that he does not have the gift of marriedness, and go ahead and get a divorce? That would be absurd, quite apart from being forbidden in verses 10 and 11.
The second reason we know this is wrong is this: what happens if someone feels he has the gift of marriage but no suitable opportunity comes along? Is he to conclude that a good and gracious God has given him the ‘gift’ of marriage but then carelessly forgotten to make marriage possible for him? This again would be absurd.
No, I know which ‘gift’ I have by a very simple test: if I am married, I have the gift of marriage; if I am not married, I have the gift of being unmarried. My circumstances are God’s gracious gift to me, and I am to learn to accept them from his hand as such. (Christopher Ash, Married for God)
I think Ash is right. But if it is the state which is the gift from God them this will immediately change our perspective in the situation. If I am single I have a good gift from God which I should be thankful for and not resent.
Why is singleness good?
Good gifts from God are good. Perhaps that may not be a surprise but the point is not only are we to see the gift because God says it is good, although that is reason enough, but God is right so we can see the goodness.
Paul unpacks two ways in which we can see the good of singleness:
1. Singleness is good because it makes life less complicated
…But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.(1 Corinthian 7:28b)
Trouble in the verse is not bad, or sinful, but it may be hard. Marriage is good and the troubles which come with it do not make it bad. But Paul is being realistic about marriage, that marriage brings trouble. I was listening to a pastor friend of mine who was actually discussing a group at his church which they have started to help people with same-sex attraction. It is not an issue for him, he’s married but represents the staff team there. Most the group were single, and he said he found that people in the group often idolize marriage and it is good for him to be there to say that actually the marriage, like singleness, is hard.
Now you don’t need to be in the situation of experiencing same-sex attraction to recognize the same point. Marriage is complicated it brings “trouble”. I work with Edwin who’s married with two children. And Edwin often has to go off to look after his family, whether it is driving them to school and work or looking after them when they are ill. I have never had the hassle of having to take children to the doctor. Edwin has, in that sense his life is more complicated. Of course children and family bring great joy but they also bring great complications. And they don’t always bring great joy.
This is not say that there aren’t particular struggles that singles have, there are (and they mustn’t be diminished), but it is to say that they do not have the particular struggles which come along being married and having a family which brings trouble, that is makes life complicated.
This is not rivalry as if Paul is setting marriage (bad) against singleness (good). No they are both good. But it is realism. Generally speaking a married person has a more complicated life than a single person.
It’s not that I have all my problems and I get married and they are all gone. No it is that I have particular problems being single that when I marry I then essentially swap them for a different set of problems, which is some way are be harder, so according to Paul may be best avoided.
It’s a bit like living in South Africa for me as a subject of her Majesty the Queen, that is being British. There are certain things which are more complicated here than if I were to live in the UK. For example I have to apply for a visa every three years, and panic that they don’t give it to me. Now I do that because I gain benefits, I get to live and work in South Africa, but that’s the reality. These things don’t mean it is bad to live here just that it is more complicated.
Now don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that single lives can’t be complicated, they can be. But they would be more so if they were to marry.
I think it is best to view comparing like for like. It can be quite unhelpful when we start saying that someone has a more complicated life just because they are married compared to a particular single individual. It’s comparing like for like. So think of me, Ben, I am single. Now if Ben got married, in many ways I would be in the same situation but I would have a wife so it would be more complicated. I would have most if not all the constraints on my time I now have and I would have a wife. Which would make life more complicated.
It can be deeply unhelpful when married Christian take advantage of single people, “since they are unmarried they will be able to do this” type thinking. This must not happen, but single people should take advantage of the position that God has given them.
One of these advantages Paul particularly picks up on:
2. Singleness is good because it brings freedom
 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.  But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world— how he can please his wife—  and his interests are divided.
Paul follows the verse by repeating the same principle about an unmarried woman. Again this division, comparison between “the Lord’s affairs” and the “affairs of this world”, is not a division of good and bad interests. Remember both marriage and singleness are good gifts from God. The key is the division of interests not that one type of interest is better than the other. The concern of the husband is quite rightly for his wife and family, and that is his service the Lord. But the point Paul is making is that for the single person there is only one sphere in which they must offer service that is the church. But the married the person has the church and the family. Again that is not bad but that is the reality.
Again think of me and Edwin. We both work at Christ Church Hillbrow. For both of us that is our areas of ministry. However Edwin also has his family to minister to while I do not. So Edwin must be concerned about his church and his family while I can just concentrate on the church. Again that doesn’t mean that single people have no concerns outside a particular ministry or they should be exploited. As in “you must be free because you don’t have a family”, no that would be wrong.
But it is a reality that single people can be more focused on things as they do not have a family to worry about. Neither is better, Paul is just being realistic. This focus brings freedom; a single person has freedom which someone who is married does not necessarily have. This is the goodness in singleness. Single people are able to do things which married people would find very hard to do. Whether that is particular service at church or in certain places in ministry.
If I were married three years ago then I may not have come to Johannesburg. As it were it was quite easy for me to fly off for two months, which has now turned into three years, to see what it was like to serve the Lord in South Africa.
The freedom of singleness allows me to do many things which otherwise I would not be able to do. The greater simplicity of the single life leads to increased opportunities.
Many great missionaries of the past were single and they could only do what they did as they did not have a family. Both the church I grew up in and the Church I went to as a student were led by single men and as such they had a great deal of time and energy they could focus solely on the church family. The minsters of the church I was student at (Vaughan Roberts) commented:
I know that I myself would not have had nearly as much time for writing and speaking at missions or conferences if I had been married. I’ve also had more time for friendships, which have been a huge blessing to me and, I trust, to others as well.
The freedom singleness grants can bring great blessings. A single life in a sense is less complicated and this brings the freedom to be of service in areas which you otherwise would not be able to be. Too often we focus on trying to change our single status, but actually Paul says we should focus on the opportunities and the freedom which our singleness brings.
Can you serve in a particular area? In the future if you remain single you may have more disposable income which you can give to gospel work. We are not to bemoan the gift that we have been given but we are to see it as a good gift that we can make the most of while it was there.
Singleness and the real prize
Sometimes is can seem that these two benefits of being single are a bit like a consolation prize. That is you don’t get the girl/the boy but at least life is a bit more simple and you are free to serve. It’s not great but it is something. You don’t have a wife but at least you are useful. Now I hope you have seen that Paul views it much more positively than that.
But the real surprise is that Paul is not so much denying the hardship but viewing that very hardship as good. In fact the two goods I have already mentioned I think flow from one fundamental good, which not only do we often miss, but incorporate rather than denies the hardship of singleness.
Singleness is good because it is constant reminder of the real prize. Here the work of Barry Danylak is superbly helpful.
This teaching on singleness comes in the context of the broader chapter. And although Paul is focusing on marriage and singleness the heart of his message comes in his statement of a broader principle.
 Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.
He gives various examples of how that might work out from circumcision to slavery. These are two key distinctions in the ancient world, one defining you as part of God’s people and one not, while the other defines you as slave or free.
His application to the issue of slavery explain why changing our circumstances should not be our focus.
 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so.  For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave.  You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.
In verse 22 he is making it clear that our relationship to God is not defined by our employment. While one might be a slave to a human master in reality they are a free man to God. Similarly if one is free man they are actually a slave to God. We are God’s, brought at a price and that matters much more than our external circumstances.
In verses 25 onward Paul applies this in a unique way:
But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.  What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none;  those who mourn,as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep;  those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
See that last phrase:
For this world in its present form is passing away.
The reason our present circumstances don’t matter is because this world is passing away. That is this life is not all there is we live for the new creation. This life is not the real prize. The reason Paul particularly says that singleness is good then, is in this sense that singleness points more clearly to this real prize than marriage. Again this is not a good bad thing, marriage equally points to greater truths, the union of Christ and his church. But singleness better allows you to live in this world as if you don’t belong, which as Christians we do not. Or to put it the other way round if you marry it will be harder not to hold onto this world.
Again let me explain by using myself an example, If you come to my house it doesn’t feel like a home. (Curiously when I preached this at this point every single person over a certain age, who had left university, nodded) It does to some extent but whenever I go to a family home it immediately feels a lot more homely. Families put down roots, kids in school, involved in the neighbourhood things like that.
Singles do that as well but in generally the single life feels more transient. As I get older that is what I find one of the most difficult things about being single an increasing feel that I don’t quite belong anywhere. That gives me great freedom and opportunity but it can also be painful. Paul doesn’t want to diminish that pain or hardship but he wants us to realize that even that pain is good thing, as single people this helps us to see that we are not yet home. That real prize is not a home in the suburbs with 2.4 children but something far beyond that. And as we live that life out we can help married people see the same truth. It’s not that we don’t yearn to build a family or home here, we may do and there is nothing wrong with that, but as we yearn we realize a deeper truth than that, the truth that our home is not here. That this world is temporary and that actually we are hoping a permanent home and for the new creation.
I hate the Jesus is my husband kind of approach to singleness, because it is first quite awkward for men. Secondly Jesus doesn’t marry me or you individually he marries us, the church, corporately. But the real problem is it gives the impression that marriage and family life now is the aim and where I don’t have that then Jesus fills in the gap.
But Paul is saying something bigger. The absence of family now does more than remind me of what I miss out on and others have but it helps me to see more clearly that now is not what I am aiming for, it’s not the real prize.
The trouble of marriage that Paul speaks of is that the complexities of marriage makes it too easy to be caught up with the now rather than the future. The transitory nature of singleness reminds us of something bigger the transitory nature of this whole life. That the real prize is yet to come. The single hope is not marriage but the new creation.
To simply long for a spouse or a family is to long for too little! The pain of singleness points to the pain of this broken world and makes us long for a new one.
This re-articulation should draw people to the positive vision the Christian Scriptures provide for both marriage and singleness …: Christian marriage is a testimony of the utterly faithful and unchanging love of God for his people in a permanent covenant relationship with him; Christian singleness is a testimony to the complete sufficiency of Christ for the present age and gives visible witness to the hope of our eternal inheritance yet to come; …
Danylak, Barry (2010-09-13). Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life (p. 214). Good News Publishers.
While married people might get tied down the very looseness which the single experiences should point us all to the looseness with which we should all hold this world.
This is important to singles finding a valid and important place in the church. Much could be said about the church being the family that the single person does not have, but as for single people their lives should direct married people to the real prize. Just as a godly marriage should teach all of us what the relationship between Christ and the church is like so a godly single life should teach all of us to look to the real prize, the renewed world to come. As singles live lose to this world they are able to testify to that world. Ultimately the freedom and opportunity which singleness bring is the one the freedom to live a life testifying to a world to come. Of course married people can and should do this but it is easier and unique privileged of the single person to be able to do this.
Fish Cakes for Dinner
I finally finished this post as today I felt, I don’t why, the acute pain of being alone. However as I stopped for dinner I had fish and I reflected on (the now confirmed) story of Jonathan Fletcher (the retired single minister of Emmanuel Wimbledon) who used to have fish cakes for Christmas lunch alone. And I reflected while families feasted perhaps Jonathan’s meal helped him better remember the feast is yet to come.
Well as I am on Holiday here is something to amose us all:
Cameron Mackintosh on his new musical “The Coalition”
Radio 4 Today
They’re the best so far!