Kid's Doctrine
Henri Nouwen on Finding Our Identity in Christ

Modern Family (Pt.3) - Singleness

Today, let’s talk about being single. Singles are people who have never married (because they chose not to marry or have not found a partner) or those who have been married but are single again because of the death of a spouse or through divorce. This includes single parents. American theologian Stanley Hauerwas argues that Christianity was the very first religion to hold up single adulthood as a viable way of life. Nearly all ancient religions and cultures made an absolute value of the family and of bearing children, which was seen as the only way to significance and leaving a legacy. In ancient cultures, long-term single adults were considered to be living a human life that was less than fully realised. But Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, and leading theologian, St Paul, were both single. Early Christianity affirmed the goodness of single life as no other faith or worldview ever had, never pressuring people to marry. As part of a church family, singles should never lack brothers and sisters, father and mothers, in Christ.  The future is guaranteed by God, not by having a family. Singleness is not “Plan B for the Christian life.” Marriage is not a superior status to singleness or visa versa. Yes, God created marriage but it is not a requirement for everyone. Both marriage and singleness are appropriate options for life.

Jesus, the Single

Through his death and resurrection, Jesus brought about the long-awaited redemption of humanity. His teaching instructs us how to live our life but his entire life itself is an example for us. Jesus was a fulfilled and joyful person, although single and unmarried. Single people can learn a lot from how Jesus lived.

1. Develop a Close Relationship with your Heavenly Father (Identity)

Jesus’ relationship with his Father was central to who he was as a person. They had a close and intimate relationship, Jesus using the term “Abba, Father”, or Daddy (Mark 14:36. John 11:41; 12:27, 28; 15:16; 17:1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25). Jesus took regular time to talk to his Father and this relationship was clearly the source of his identity, his security, his approval, his fulfilment and his contentment. This enabled Jesus to face opposition, criticism, fame and popularity, slander, lies, rejection (forsaken by even his close friends), verbal attack, injustice and physical abuse.

Each one of us has a strong need for a sense of identity, acceptance, love, security, approval, and significance. We can easily look for this in relationships, including marriage, or in achievement. But these are unstable sources for these primary needs. Anything, even a good thing, that we make the primary thing in our life becomes an “idol” that replaces what God alone can be for us. Jesus came to reveal the Father to each one of us (John 14:6) and to provide a way for us to have an intimate relationship with him, so that we too could find this strong sense of identity in our relationship with Him. Through Christ we can have spiritual birth into God's family (John 1:12-13. 1 John 3:1-2. Gal.4:4-7. Rom.8:15. 2 Cor.6:17-18. Matt.5:16; 6:1, 6, 8; 7:11). We need a revelation of Father God and an ongoing dynamic relationship with Him, walking in his amazing love for us (Eph.1:17; 3:14-21).

Unfortunately, because of the breakdown of marriage and family relationships, we often end up with distorted concept of God as a Father. However, no matter what our earthly father was like, God is a perfect Father - kind and just in all His ways. Father God loves us unconditionally, not based on our performance (Rom.5:8. 1 Jn.4:7-10, 16-18); he gives us a sense of worth and value; in him we have a sense of identity, security and significance as sons and daughters of the living God; he provides us with appropriate discipline, when necessary, because he loves us (Heb.12:4-11); and he cares for us, giving us his protection and provision. Do you know God as your Father? How is your relationship with Him?

2. Build Healthy Friendships (Belonging)

As strong as Jesus’ relationship was with His Father, he wasn't a loner. He developed many friendships and relationships with other people including his natural family, his twelve disciples (of which Peter, James and John were his closest friends), and a number of women who he had healthy non-romantic relationships with (Matt.27:55-56; Luke 8:1-3). Jesus did life in community with others and thereby experienced a strong sense of belonging in his life.

God created us to communicate and relate to others. No one is born to live alone or in isolation (Gen.2:18). We all need to be accepted, loved and have a sense of belonging. Two are better than one (Ecc.4:9-12) and good times are spent with friends. Our friends influence us probably more than anyone else (Prov.12:26. 1 Cor.15:33-34). Therefore, it is important to choose the right friends. Good friendships don't just happen. They are built over time. They require genuine love, which is putting the interests of the other person before our own (1 Cor.13:4-8a. John 15:12-13. 1 Pet.4:7-8), and loyalty, which includes being faithful and trustworthy (Prov.17:17; 18:24).

Romantic relationships need to be handled with care, understanding the difference between friendship (platonic relationships), romance (dating or going out with a potential marriage partner) and marriage (preceded by engagement). When we move too far, too soon there is the possibility of hurt, pain, broken relationships, and emotional scars. God’s will is sexual purity before and within marriage. When choosing a potential marriage partner, consider compatibility (spiritual life, character, personality, background, physical attraction and life purpose), affirmation from family and trusted friends, and the test of time.

3. Serve a Cause Beyond Yourself (Purpose)

Jesus gave his life for a cause beyond himself. He lived for others, in genuine love, compassion and concern. He focused his energy and zeal into extending God’s work on the earth (John 10:15). He came to serve and to give (Phil.2:5-11. Jn.13:1-17. Mt.20:27-28). Jesus lived and died for others.

Selfishness is a major problem in our society today. Whether single or married, it is easy to spend our time, money and energy on selfish pursuits, to be pre-occupied with our own needs, desires, and interests. Jesus died for our sin and our selfishness, and he desires us to die to self and live for God and others (Mark 8:34-37). Each one of us has unique talents, abilities and spiritual gifts. God wants us to use them to serve others and to advance His cause in the world. This requires us to renew our mind and change our thinking (Rom.12:1-2). It’s a call to be other’s centred living (Phil.2:5). It’s about waking up each day with a mindset that says, "I am a servant". Take initiative. Commit yourself to the service of God and others – at home, work, church, school, and in our world. Serving a cause beyond yourself leads to greater joy, meaning and fulfilment in life.

Sample Reflection Questions

1. Ask the singles how they felt about this message in the Modern Family series. What was most helpful? What else could have been said?

2. How can married couples and families in the church make single people more welcome?

3. In what ways is singleness sometimes considered “Plan B” in our Western culture?

4. Reflect on the potential impact of knowing God as our Father and drawing our identity and significance from who we are, not what we do.

5. What are some important principles for followers of Christ to consider when dating someone?

6. Some singles fear marriage, preferring their independence. How can we help people avoid the “You aren’t a whole person until you’re married” mentality and the “You shouldn't marry until you have professionally made it big and you find the perfect partner who won’t try to change you in any way” message that often comes from our contemporary culture?

7. Consider some ways single people can develop a sense of living for a cause beyond themselves.