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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God's Wisdom for the Single and the Married
Text:LD 41 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 7th Commandment (Adultery)
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-03-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 121:1,4                                                                                        

Hy 1

Reading – Ecclesiastes 4:4-12; 1 Corinthians 7:25-40

Ps 128:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 41

Hy 3:3,5

Hy 67:1,6,7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters, a sermon on the seventh commandment could easily begin with something wicked. For instance, we could mention the plague of pornography. Alarming things could be said about the number of men and women, even children, who regularly choose to view porn. We could speak about how the internet has enabled an entire legion of Satan’s demons, who are now busy tempting us in powerful new ways: this adultery is now anonymous and very accessible.

We should be clear that these are real dangers, even deadly. You can all but destroy your faith by getting hooked on these things. Parents should be very aware of what their children are viewing when they’re online. And Christian men, young and older, should all be doing something to neutralize this temptation: getting accountability, filtering our Internet use, and talking to other godly men about the struggle.

But we’re missing something if we only talk about all the impurity and filth in relation to this commandment. God also calls us to see the goodness of his gifts, to see sexuality for what it is: a beautiful creation. By his design, it’s a gift to treasure and protect.

And undergirding the seventh commandment is another of God’s good gifts: the gift of marriage. That’s the reason the Catechism calls marriage “holy marriage” (Q&A 108). It is set apart for him. Because He “invented” marriage in the beginning, God also set its rules, gave its purpose, and also laid out its limitations.

This is something important for all of us to know—all of us, whether we’re adults or children, whether we’re married or single or widowed. As his children, let us take delight in the LORD’s goodness which is revealed in the seventh commandment. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme from Lord’s Day 41,

God teaches us through Scripture and the 7th commandment about:

  1. the challenge and freedom of one
  2. the blessing and calling of two
  3. the strength and aim of three

 

1) the challenge and freedom of one: Ours is a church of families. A good amount of the activity in our church community revolves around husbands and wives, and the children whom God has given. We’re busy with the schools, with youth club and Catechism, and our nursery is often full during Sunday worship. These things are good and fitting, for God works through families. He raises up believers through the prayers and labours of fathers and mothers. Christ grows his church through missions, and He also grows it through generations.

Yet not everyone is married. Among the adults in our church, there are single members: some are younger, some a bit older. Some haven’t experienced “holy marriage,” and some might never experience it.

So how do we regard our single brothers and sisters? Sometimes there is this assumption that every adult needs to find a marriage partner. And that if they don’t, there’s something deficient about them, something that needs to be fixed.

I’ve been told that the comments of church members to our single brothers and sisters can sometimes be hurtful. We might say things that are thoughtless, too direct, or so obvious as to be offensive. Such as: “You’re still not married?” Or, “Hey, the clock’s ticking, you know. Better hurry up!” Beloved, in our speaking to one another, let’s remember Christ’s command of love. Love is not rude. Love considers others, and seeks to build them up, and to encourage them.

Again, sometimes we look at being single as an essentially undesirable condition, that it’s just not the ideal for anyone. But the Bible doesn’t say this either. Marriage is good—very good—but in certain cases, so is singleness. Jesus says that this status of being single in the Kingdom has been “given” to some. Earlier in 1 Corinthians 7, his chapter all about marriage, Paul even calls being unmarried a “gift” (v 7).

I realize that Jesus’ and Paul’s words can be misunderstood. Certainly there are some brothers and sisters who are gladly single. Because of the circumstances of their life, they know that it’s best if they remain single. There are other believers who are happy to stay unmarried so that they can devote themselves to work in the kingdom of Christ. Paul himself was an example of this: as an apostle, being single meant that he could spend years on the road—and even in prison—spreading the good news of Jesus.

But we shouldn’t assume that every Christian who is single right now is convinced that this is God’s will for the rest of their life. For some brothers and sisters, you could say, singleness is a “gift” that they don’t want! They are earnestly longing to be married. They’re praying often that God would help them to find a worthy partner, that He would lead the right person into their life.

For it can be difficult to be on your own. It’s difficult, and not just because we’re weak people. It’s actually how God made us: the LORD created us to experience fellowship, to enjoy communion with others. He intended for every one of us to be part of friendships that are living and loving and centered on him.

Didn’t God say that from the beginning? Remember on the sixth day, after creating man from the dust of the ground, the LORD God was pleased with almost everything He’d made. But then looking at that man, all by himself in the garden, searching among all the animals for a suitable helper, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). By himself, he was incomplete. So God made a woman, and He gave her to the man; to have and to hold; to be helped by, and to help. That’s the ancient foundation of holy marriage, still enduring. Through this gift God is graciously meeting our basic, fundamental need for fellowship.

Where does that leave those whom the Lord hasn’t blessed yet with a partner? Or what about those who had a partner, but who have now been without for many years? Some of them—perhaps all of them—will face a long battle against loneliness.

It’s hard, not to have someone to talk to after a bad day, or after a good day. It’s hard not having someone to go on holidays with, or to go visiting with. Because of how our church is filled with families, a single person can sometimes feel isolated, and like they don’t have much to contribute to the body of Christ. And something that can go along with loneliness is sexual temptation. That part of us hasn’t changed, so there can be a struggle for purity.

As a church community, this is something for all of us to think about. Let’s not forget our single sisters and brothers. Don’t assume that they’re all happy being single. By the same token, don’t assume that they’re all miserable about it. You won’t know until you talk to them, about the struggles that there can be, and about the peace and purpose that God can give. Extend hospitality to them, be a friend to them, pray for them.

Though there are challenges, for a single believer the seventh commandment is more than just a barrier, a negative word about things that they’re not allowed to do. For sexuality, we said, remains an important part of who we all are. That should lead them—it should lead all of us—to a firm resolve: “God made me this way, and this is the position in life that God has wisely assigned me. So let me now serve God, as ‘a temple of the Holy Spirit… pure and holy’” (Q&A 109). Rely on God’s promise of strength and flee from the sexual immorality that is all around us, flee from “whatever may entice us to unchastity” (Q&A 109).

Then Paul also mentions advantages to being single. In the first place, he says that those who are married “will have trouble in the flesh… [and] I would spare you this” (v 28). There are many blessings in marriage, but there are difficulties too. Even when a husband-and-wife relationship is strong and healthy, there can be many complications and daily challenges.

Part of that difficulty arises because in marriage, you’re not the only person to consider when you’re making decisions about your use of time, or how to spend money, or even what to eat. Now you have to think about someone else—and you have to think about them a lot! Paul explains, “He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of this world—how he may please his wife” (vv. 32-33). Or how she may please her husband…

And if God sends the blessing of children, there’s even more to care about. Sons and daughters bring their parents many joys and delights, but there’s plenty of anxiety and stress as well. Parents might worry about their children’s health, their friends and future—and they worry about their heart, and if they will trust and obey the Lord. I’m not saying that being married and having children has to hinder our devotion to God. But it does mean that there’s more potential for things to interfere, to distract, and we have to work hard to overcome them in a godly way.

So despite the real struggles that a single person can face, he or she has a certain freedom too. Freedom to make your own decisions, to do what you like, and to have a fair bit of time for other things. That’s a blessing, and a valuable opportunity. For God always says that we have to use our freedom well. As believers, we have freedom, not to indulge the sinful nature, but freedom to serve! The Holy Spirit says that we should “think about how to please the Lord!”

And it’s true that a single person can devote himself more fully to God’s work, “serving [him] without distraction” (v 35). The Spirit points singles to the rich opportunity that is theirs. It’s a chance to walk especially near to the Lord. It’s a chance to learn new things, a chance to develop your talents, a chance to explore the width and breadth of God’s kingdom. In all this, God calls our single members to commit their ways to him. Dedicate your plans in prayer, and use your gifts for service. Ask God often for wisdom, so that you can see ways to put your time and talents to use. God will surely give his wisdom to those who ask!

We all need to remember that being single or being married—or having children or not having children—these are never the crucial questions for our life. You might pray and pray for a godly marriage partner, and the Lord might not answer in the way you’d like. That surely brings heartache and regret. But being single, or a widow, or separated, or without children, or being married with children, doesn’t define us. What defines us is belonging to Jesus Christ and our total dedication to serving him. As believers, our identity and our purpose are through being united to Christ by faith, and in obedience. That’s always where our true value is.

 

2) the blessing and calling of two: You’ve probably heard the saying, “There’s strength in numbers.” And there is. When people join together for a cause, rally around some common purpose, they accomplish a lot more than if they were on their own. Together they’re stronger. We see this truth in Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one.”

Just before this, the author was talking about selfishness: “There is one alone, without companion: he has neither son nor brother” (v 8). And the real problem isn’t that this man is an orphan, a bachelor, or childless. Remember, those things don’t define us. No, this man was alone because he cared for no one but himself. His life and worship were centered on that unholy trinity of “me, myself, and I.”

How well that describes so many people today—it might even describe us! When we’re slaves to our career, or captivated by our desires, or focused on private ambitions, then our world becomes very small and lonely. In fact, we might be married, and have children, and have dozens of people around us, but we can still be utterly alone. We don’t depend on others, in case they disappoint us. We don’t open up to others, because we fear that they won’t understand. We don’t give anything away, because then we’ll have less for ourselves.

But when we become lost in this kind of self-love, we never know the satisfaction of loving another, or helping another. As the author asks about that selfish man, “For whom do I toil and deprive myself of good?” (v 8). If we’re living for ourselves and for no one else, there’s really no point. Self-love becomes boring and it’s unproductive.

And then having warned us about the despair of being self-absorbed, the author makes a more positive statement: “Two are better than one” (v 9). That’s a general truth about strength in numbers; it’s a holy principle that is applicable in a wide range of activities and relationships, like in church and business: “two are better than one.”

And it’s certainly also true for marriage. Remember God’s word: “It’s not good for man to be alone.” God made us for companionship, for fellowship, and He arranged for us to have support in our task—and so it still is today. “Two are better than one.” This is what husbands and wives discover when they share the joys of being united in marriage. They come to cherish the joy of having someone at their side: someone to talk to, someone to listen to, someone to help and to be helped by.

Just consider the next verse: “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labour” (v 9). Many people like to be their own boss and to work independently, but when someone joins you in the work, there’s even more blessing. Say you get tired—then the other can pick up the slack. Or say that you’re faced with a complex problem—the other can give his perspective on it. You achieve better results because you can make use of two sets of abilities, and strengths, and insights.

This is true for work, and true also for marriage. As a man and woman join together as husband and wife, they can learn to make full use of the other’s gifts. If one is tired, the other can step up. If one is confused about something, the other can provide direction. Where the one is lacking, the other can fill in. There is “a good return,” when two people can work in harmony.

What’s more, “If they fall, one will lift up his companion” (v 10). Picture two carpenters up on the roof. Just one misstep, and you find yourself on the concrete below—shaken up and sore. But if someone is there to help, it’s not so bad. He can pull you to your feet, dust you off, and make sure you take a breather before getting back to it.

That’s true for the jobsite, and it’s true for marriage. If you’re feeling down, or even if you fall into sin, the beauty of committed fellowship is that someone is there to help! Someone is ready to restore you. And that’s good, because the author could have said just as well, not “If they fall…” but “When they fall…” It’s just a matter of time before we have a bad day. There’s going be sickness and pain, there will be tears. Then we’ll need that assisting hand, that supportive voice, that listening ear. “Woe to him who is alone when he falls!” (v 10). But blessed are Christians who have brothers and sisters they can depend on. And blessed are husbands and wives who have a ready support in one another.

Husbands and wives all know that these blessings aren’t automatic. We all have to fight against our natural selfishness and put off that stubborn self-love. We’re always interested in being served, not in serving. “Why should I always have to do it? Look how hard I’ve worked. Haven’t I earned some me-time by now?” But God tells us differently.

Husbands and wives, are you giving up your self-focus? Are you being that restoring hand for your partner? If she falls, are you ready to help her up? Are you patient when he fails, even the same failing as last time? Are you willing to be strong when the other is weak? Not just once, but again and again? Remember, you’re a gift for each other from God himself.

There are still more benefits to joining together, says God’s Word. “Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one be warm alone?” (v 11). Even in the land of Israel, cold nights were a problem. There weren’t always warm places to sleep for the night. If people were traveling on the countryside, or tending animals, they’d just sleep out in the fields. To break the cold, workers would sleep close together and warm each other until morning.

This verse still has plenty of meaning for those who are married. It says that even in life’s simple moments, you can help one another. Even in meeting basic physical needs like staying warm on a cool winter night, you can enjoy God’s blessing of companionship. And this goes way beyond simply sharing a bed. For a husband and wife are called every day to warm each other: to warm and to bless each other with gentle words, acts of service, and supportive prayers.

Then that final instance of strength in numbers: “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him” (v 12). Still today, people are advised not to travel alone. If a bad guy finds someone all by himself, he or she could be in danger. But together, two people present a real barrier. They can fight and defend themselves.

Well, Satan sends many attacks against marriage too. For those who want to serve the Lord sincerely, this world is a hostile environment. But there’s no need for any of us to fight on our own. We’re part of a community that can help. So we should help each other! Husbands and wives too, look to each other for protection. Pray together. Pray for each other. Encourage each other, with the Word open before you. Fight the good fight of the faith—together.

 

3) the strength and aim of three: If two are better than one, how about three? “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (v 12). This is the same principle the Spirit has been talking about all along: strength in numbers. Just think about braided hair, or a cable on a suspension bridge: the more strands that a cord has, the stronger it will be.

Some see in this verse a reference to that three-fold unity of husband, wife, and God. That’s not the exact point that the Spirit is making. Yet it is an excellent example of what He’s teaching. We’ve already been saying that there’s such importance in having God as the centre and foundation of your marriage.

We can take that a step further, and say that any of our relationships will thrive only when they’re bound together in Christ. For friends, for siblings, for brothers and sisters, for parents and children, it is Christ who can bind us together. Because in Christ alone, we have a source of strength and wisdom. In Christ, we have our model of forgiveness and restoration. In Christ, we have our good purpose for living together on this earth.

Then there truly is strength in numbers: not because we’re so strong. But when believers join together, and join in faith and love for the Triune God, we’ll be strong. We’ll be mutually blessed, and the people around us will also be blessed, when we are united in heart and aim!

As a last word, just to look back on our three points: Some of those who are single right now will one day get married. Others will remain single their whole lives. But no Christian is single forever. And no Christian is married forever. Because marriage reflects something else: it reflects the marriage that Christ wants to enjoy with his people forever.

You know how Scripture speaks of Jesus as a bridegroom. One day He’ll return to take his bride, the church, to be with him. On that day, every pain will disappear: including the pain of singleness, or the pain of losing a spouse, or the pain of a difficult marriage, or the pain of divorce. Every tear will be dried, and there will be heard a great and joyous cry: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him the glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” And we will be with him forever.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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