January 2010 - Vol. 36
Jesus’ Teaching on Singleness 
by Barry Danylak, continued

Kingdom relationships 
Even though Jesus lived without a wife he didn’t live alone and without companionship. While some might presume that a life without a spouse is a life of abject loneliness, lived in solitude without the benefit of close relationships, this is not the model of singleness we find in Jesus! 

Jesus had concentric circles of relationships. His inner circle included three disciples: Peter, James and John. The Gospel of John refers repeatedly to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” traditionally thought to be John himself.   Beyond this were the twelve disciples who accompanied him during his ministry period in Galilee and travelled with him to Jerusalem (Luke 18:31). 

But Jesus has many other friends and companions beyond even the twelve, many of whom, notably, were women.  Luke 8:1-3 indicates that a large group of women also followed Jesus as he preached in the cities and villages of Galilee, ministering to him out of their own means. Among these women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna and “many others”. Mark indicates that many of these women also followed Jesus to Jerusalem (Mark 15:41), including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. It is women close to Jesus who were mourning and lamenting for him as he walked to his crucifixion (Luke 23:27), who looked on during the crucifixion (Mark 15:40), who prepared spices and ointments for his burial (Luke 23:56), and who were first to witness his resurrection (Luke 24:1-11). 

Jesus’ lifestyle as an itinerant preacher also fostered occasions to develop close relationships with those to whom he ministered as they had opportunity to share their homes with him. Some examples of those who shared such hospitality include: Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15), Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38), and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5). Thus the model of Jesus’ singleness suggests that though he did not have benefit of spouse or children, he had personal and close relationships among those to whom and with whom he ministered.

Singleness affirmed in the New Testament church
 Jesus’ own example shows us that the single life need not be a life lived apart from companionship and intimacy.  The church as the kingdom family of God is not a substitute for the closeness and intimacy experienced with a spouse and physical children; nevertheless it serves as a real family providing opportunities for companionship and genuine spiritual intimacy in the current age, and directs us toward a renewed and perfected relationship with church family and the creator in the age to come.

Singleness is affirmed rather than condemned as a status within the New Testament because it attests the sufficiency of Christ for the reception of God’s covenantal blessings in the new covenant.  It serves a reminder that the entrance to the people of God is through spiritual re-birth rather than physical family membership.  Likewise, the presence of both single and married people in the church together signifies the fact that the church lives between the ages.  Married people are necessary because the church is still part of the current age, but single people remind it that the spiritual age has already been inaugurated in Christ and awaits imminent consummation. 

When taken as a whole, the Biblical account should comfort those who are single in the church.  It is a comfort because marriage and procreation no longer serve the vital function in the kingdom of God as they did in ancient Israel.  In the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus’ gospel message, marriage and procreation are neither the mechanism by which God builds his people, nor the necessary conduit to maintain one’s place within the divine blessing.  Rather marriage is an institution limited to this age which is no longer present in the age to come.   Furthermore, the fundamental importance of offspring in the Old Testament points to the ultimate fulfilment in the Offspring who is Christ.  He is the means and mechanism through which God is now at work building the people of God – a people who will last for eternity.   Therefore the single person can rejoice in possessing a legacy and a name in the house of God which is greater than the legacy of physical children (Isa 56:5).  Likewise the childless person can find legitimate joy and satisfaction in the opportunity to cultivate spiritual offspring through the nurturing work of discipleship.

Single for the sake of the kingdom of God
But Biblical reflection on the theological significance of singleness also presents a challenge for the church.  For unlike the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, the primary mission of the church is not fully realized merely in possessing the land and raising healthy families.  Rather, the primary mission of the church is to raise and nurture spiritual children in making disciples (Matt 28:19) to expand the kingdom of God.  As such the present world is not our inheritance but we are aliens and sojourners (1 Pet 2:11) awaiting an inheritance now kept in heaven (1 Pet 1:4) in anticipation of the new creation.  While the raising of children is one potential (and important!) method of making disciples who follow Christ among intentional parents, the spiritual mission itself is much larger.  Single people have an even greater opportunity to dedicate themselves to the kingdom task than those who are distracted by the burdens of home and family.  Singles thus serve as tangible reminders to the larger church of its anticipated future inheritance in the new creation, and the real mission to which it is called.

In addition, the presence and ministry of single people is vital for the Church in another sense.  It is a visible reminder that the kingdom of God points to a reality which stands beyond worldly pre-occupations of marriage, family and career.  The gospel message of the Kingdom of God stands for and represents something greater than all the blessings and satisfactions which the present world has to offer.  Encouraging men and women to remain single for the sake of the kingdom is a tangible way by which the Church demonstrates this truth. 

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[This article is excerpted from A Biblical Theology of Singleness, copyright  © Barry Danylak 2007, published by Grove Books Limited, Cambridge, UK. Used with permission.]

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