Sunday, July 16, 2006

Difference between believers and unbelievers?

Commenting on the post about the "Test driving" article, one reader wondered if Candice and I have a tendency to generalize--assuming Christians are guilty of actions and attitudes that are primarily problems among non-believers. This is a reasonable concern. It's something that often happens in an environment where there's not a broad range of research available differentiating Christian men and women from their secular peers.

I will say that research by Dr. Brad Wilcox at the University of Virginia and past research by The National Marriage Projet (see the 2004 State of Our Unions report with the essay "The Marrying Kind: Which Men Marry and Why") do make it clear that religious men are more likely to commit and marry well than non-relgious men. This truth is not adequately appreciated or sufficiently encouraged.

Our concern, however, is for the men (and women) who say Christ is the Lord of their lives but still have actions and attitudes that are not very different from what Paul describes in the book of Romans as "the pattern of this world." This is a theme Paul reiterates in several of his letters to fellow believers.

While it's a hopeful sign that Christians are not identical to the world on many key issues, it's still troubling how they seem so close behind in problems such as pornography, divorce, sexual activity and cohabitation (I have studies for each of these on my desk at the office showing gaps between Christians and non-Christians anywhere between 50% difference and neck-and-neck).

Perhaps the most troubling comparison stat is the one George Barna captured showing only 8% of Protestants have a Biblical worldview compared to 5% of the adult general population (see study at Barna Website). This is the most likely reason that Christians are so similar to their secular peers in many studies. It's evidence of a lack of solid Biblical teaching in many of our churches these days.

Even while we wait for better research to help us gauge whether secular problems are also significant within the Christian community, I still think it's fair to start by confronting the individual actions that we do see popping up in the category we call "anecdotal." I know Michael Lawrence's examples come from numerous real stories he has encountered among Christians in Washington, D.C. Candice and I come across the stories we do among friends and Bible studies, but also from the emails coming into Boundless.org over the past 8 years. For each and every issue we've addressed, we've been personally animated by the specific Christian men and women we know who illustrate them.

I appreciate the reminder to recognize the many Christians who are working to resist the incredible inertia of our popular culture in order to be obedient to God's word. I also hope, however, we can find it constructive to be diligent in addressing the problems that still surface among Christians. I'm curious if any other readers see the problems we're mentioned among Christians in their lives or if you also are concerned that we are making unfair generalizations about fellow believers.

17 Comments:

At 3:31 AM, Blogger Aussie said...

Candice...
Thankyou again for the assistance in logging on.

Not just to Steve and Candice, but to all who've commented recently via this blog...

A few points.

I'm not sure how it works in other places, but where I come from (Australia), the single men are concentrated in rural areas. Mine is a farming community, and in our small church I can often count 7-8 young, single men. That's about ½ of the age-group under discussion that attend ..
Typically the girls head for a career in one of the larger towns while the boys – frequently after a university education – return to the family farm or business. Such lifestyles generally require a high degree of commitment, and don't leave much time to frequent those places where eligible Christian lasses are more common.

Secondly -.
I suggest that anyone hesitate before claiming that a man who has maintained his sexual integrity – sometimes for decades – is afraid of commitment. You don't become a 40yo virgin in this society without being committed to God, and to the woman you intend to marry ....... when you find her.
Personally ....... I've been wanting to be married – badly – for the best part of 20 years. As a young man, I decided that it was more important to be the right man, than to go seeking the right woman. Believing that it was imperative to seek God's will for my life, I made Him a promise that I would not seek to build a relationship with any woman unless I first understood that this was what he wanted me to do. Whether or not this was a wise promise to make.. I'm no longer sure.
What remains is the conviction that a promise to God is not something that I can break. If I stay single for the rest of my life – so be it.

Does this mean that I walk around with my eyes shut?

Of course not!

Every time I meet a single Christian lass I'm asking the question of myself. Could this be the one? I know what it's like to be strongly attracted – including to lasses that common sense indicates would not be a suitable match for me, or I for them. At no stage could I convince myself, regardless of my emotional involvement, that God was saying anything other than “Wait”. Given this, I have little alternative. That people are willing to speak in generalities about bachelor men lacking a willingness to commit, being selfish, and only concerned about the “freedom”, does grate at times.

To address one other point;
Yes, I also use appearance as an initial criterion. What I look for are indicators of [b]attitude[/b].
Does she dress (depending on circumstances) as though she respects herself and those with her?
Does she look as if she possesses moderation and self-control.?
Is she modest?
How is she relating to the people around her?
I think you get the picture. Appearance is not entirely invalid .

Regards...... Peter

 
At 8:51 AM, Blogger chediak said...

Yes, in my experience with Christian singles, I have seen examples of the concerns raised by the Lawrence article. So, Candace and Steve, I do not think you are making unfair generalizations. This is in part why I wrote With One Voice (described on my website, below). Something is amiss when the average age of first marriage is 29 for men and 27 for women. Each has so much "selection" out there that it becomes hard for them to settle/commit to a life partner. Further, about half of Gen Y came from the homes of divorcees. Since marriage did not work for their parents, they seem more hesitant to enter the institution themselves. Services like eharmony.com often make it easier for a Christian, who invariably runs into some difficulties after getting to know a guy/girl well, to assume there must be a more "compabatle" match out there. This myth of "compatability" is one of the most pernicious, and I see it frequently impact Christians.

I think it is also the case that as a Christian gets older they often become more (not less) picky in what they "need" in a mate. As they've known more women/men, they seem to want to find someone that surpasses all their previous acquaintances in every respect. Meanwhile, however, their selection pool (if you will) is diminishing, not increasing.

As for Christians living differently from the world, I think you hit the nail on the head: Those with a biblical worldview do seem to live differently, whereas those professing Christians lacking such a view often do not. That was highlighted in this CT article by Ron Sider. Upshot: doctrine matters.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/004/32.70.html

Blessings,
Alex
www.alexchediak.com

 
At 6:38 PM, Blogger gortexgrrl said...

Not only can research be part of being constructive to be diligent in addressing the problems that still surface among Christians that also exist also in the secular world, but it can also be help to shed some light on issues PARTICULAR TO CHRISTIANS. One example is the notion that you have to wait for a green light from God in order to proceed with a relationship leading to marriage, as if the usual human drives for companionship, physical intimacy and family are not enough.

Aussie, I really empathize with your situation, since your words echo the kinds of teachings about marriage encountered by many of us evangelicals in the past few decades. I have only recently had validation, thanks to Debbie Maken's book "Getting Serious about Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness" about how dysfunctional those teachings have been. It turns out that Christians of the past NEVER believed that you first went about the business of being a Christian, seeking answers from God about his plan for your life, and maybe it would include marriage. No sir! God does NOT tell men to wait, wait, wait, when it comes to that! They took it for granted that it was good wisdom find a spouse in a decisive and timely manner, (not just to avoid sin, and btw- self-pity is as big of a sin as fornication!) but that furthering the kingdom of God by having families IS THE REVEALED WILL OF GOD, as written in the scriptures. The people of the bible didn't need any special revelation to go ahead and get married, so neither do we!

Not only are you free to marry (another inspiring read is The Freedom to Marry, by Ellen Varughese, out of print but available second hand on Amazon) AND free to use whatever agency you need (a rural-dwelling Aussie would probably need to use internet resources like eharmony), YOU ARE ALSO in possession of a powerful force the Lord has given you: God-given VIRILITY.

It concerns me that you seem to apologize for your attraction responses, as if you should only be concerned with things like moderation and modesty, when if fact, God has wired you to be drawn to the beauty of the female form and its markers for fertility and good health. Not to thump you on the head with another book recommendation, but John Eldridge's "Wild at Heart" (as well as the Song of Songs in the OT) affirms the godliness of this motivational force that moves you to act on matters of the heart with the urgency and boldness they require, not with overponderousness and trepidation. You bring the Lord into it by being obedient to his word and drawing your strength from the Holy Spirit. Go to it, mate-- it's not too late!

There's an entire generation of Christians raised in the hey-day of mid-to-late 20th century born-again fever that were given some incredibly discouraging messages about marriage, as if "it's best to remain single" (a misinterpreation of 1Cor7 that overlooks the fact that Paul was writing in light of "the present distress" v.26) As such, there really needs to be some research on the effects of "the gift of singleness"; I would estimate that about 30-40% of single Christians over 30 are in bondage by this nonsense. May the Lord convict the leaders who propogated these notions to repentantly take back what they have taught, offering instead a wholehearted blessing to pursue marriage. Amen!

 
At 8:27 PM, Blogger Firinnteine said...

I agree wholeheartedly that marriage is a good gift from God, and if it is part of your calling then it should not be put off indefinitely, for whichever of the numerous (bad) excuses current in our culture (and in the Evangelical subculture as well).

However, in the interest of balance, I'd like to observe that a little reading of the early Church fathers -- say, the first four or five centuries of the Church -- will reveal that A) they firmly believed and taught that marriage was good, and B) they firmly believed and taught that virginity devoted to God was altogether as good. Understand, this was no fleeing from God's call on your life; but they really believed (as Scripture teaches) that some people are called to a life without marriage, for the sake of the Kingdom. Some of these men were married, but many of them remained single themselves, in order to better serve God and His Church. This is how the teachings of Paul were understood in the generations immediately following his writing.

The problem in our own time is not believing that God calls certain people to singleness -- He does -- but believing that this call is temporary. Of course, God doesn't command everyone to get married right now, but the idea seems to be (as best I can understand Biblical teaching) that you are either called to marriage or called to singleness. Period. Of course, being called to marriage might mean growing in manhood or womanhood, becoming the person God wants you to be at the time of your wedding; and this could take some years. And, of course, you might believe you are called to marriage and later, as you grow in your faith, gradually feel that God is drawing you to give yourself to Him by remaining single and serving in that capacity. But the "I'm called to singleness right now, and maybe I'll be called to marriage later" is too often an excuse -- for irresponsibility, for assuaging self-pity or disappointment, for any number of things, but an excuse.

God isn't looking for excuses. He wants obedience.

 
At 11:42 PM, Blogger K said...

Alex:
Something is amiss when the average age of first marriage is 29 for men and 27 for women.

Are these figures in the church, or society at large?

Many exhort men to get their education and careers set up before taking on the responsibility of a family and use Proverbs 24:27 for support. I’m suddenly realizing that this assumes that a man’s professional demands lessen over time rather than increase as he gets more seniority and responsibility. In any case, postgraduate education is de rigeur for those who aspire to be middle-class in this generation, which does tend to push things back from the days when a guy would have a lifetime unionized factory job 3 days after flipping his high school tassel. Many economists have cited also skyrocketing real estate prices as a further barrier to family formation (though I personally never considered home ownership a prerequisite for marriage or even children).

I don’t think that it should take until 29, but I think that many guys decide they can’t / shouldn’t be serious about relationships in college (and, if they’re in certain engineering disciplines, they probably don’t know many girls anyway), and then get a rude awakening when they realize how difficult it is to connect with peers of any gender in a “real world” largely populated with Baby Boomers and divided by suburban sprawl, and all but impossible to get to know unattached Christians of the opposite sex. For those of us who only meet a remotely plausible person every 2 years or so, finding a match in only 6 years sounds almost like an unrealistically good outcome.

Each has so much "selection" out there that it becomes hard for them to settle/commit to a life partner.

THIS IS IN COMPLETE OPPOSITION TO MY EXPERIENCE, and to that of thousands if not millions of readers of Camerin Courtney’s columns in Christianity Today. Have you read her many “Single Minded” columns about how many apparently healthy single Christians often go MONTHS between meeting new “prospects” and YEARS between dates?

In the situation you describe, where both people have an adequate number of appropriate people available, I agree that both partners need to eventually take a deep breath and pull the trigger. But overcoming such an embarrassment of riches is not typical: many of us believe that we could reasonably find compatibility and mutual attraction if only we had a reasonable “pool” of people. But our “pool” is inadequate: we go to church or para-church organizations and see (in gortexgrrl’s case) a room full of homecoming queens offering baked goods to one unattractive, unemployed guy with bad breath, or, (in my case) attending a bowling event that began with 10 men (9 of whom had or were pursuing postgraduate degrees) and 2 women, until one guy and girl paired up, leaving a 9:1 male-female ratio (and the girl wasn’t rather unemarkable).

Services like eharmony.com often make it easier for a Christian, who invariably runs into some difficulties after getting to know a guy/girl well, to assume there must be a more "compabatle" match out there. This myth of "compatability" is one of the most pernicious, and I see it frequently impact Christians.

I think (and have years of roommate experience and observations of couples support it) that compatibility is critical, and that people who assume that their status as a Christian makes compatibility are a major reason why the evangelical divorce rate is slightly higher than that of the general population. But I don’t doubt that some people (particularly very attractive women) do cast aside excellent people who are great matches for them in order to wait for some sort of relational Great Pumpkin. Yet it’s pretty clear to me that many of us posting here aren’t that position, and it’s unhelpful and rather hurtful to beat us up over a problem that we’re not a part of.

I think that this type of discussion tends to be unprofitable because people’s experiences with these issues are incredibly heterogeneous, but advice-givers like to lump everyone together and give a single message to all.

 
At 12:56 PM, Blogger Firinnteine said...

Compatibility is important, in certain senses, but I'm not convinced lack of it is the reason for divorce. The reason there's so much divorce is because so many Evangelicals believe it's an option.

I don't believe in divorce. Therefore, when I get married, I'm committed to my wife until one of us dies. Compatibility, at that point, is a non-issue, except insofar as we try to grow closer together rather than further apart -- as we choose to be more compatible (or not). But we're married, and that's all there is to it.

I think I shall begin a campaign against using the phrase "if it works out" (and variations) with regards to marriage. It works out if I work -- which is to say, for a Christian, if God is working in and through me.

(I also intend to be mind-bendingly happy in my marriage, but I'm not so idealist as to think it will all be chocolate and roses. "What was I thinking?!?" might be a valid question, some days, or at least an honest one. "Should I quit?" is not.)

I don't intend to be attacking you; part of this relates to an entirely separate conversation I was having earlier on a similar subject. But we have to be careful how we think, and even how we speak; it affects how we live.

 
At 2:46 PM, Blogger A. LaLande said...

Yes, and it is a campaign in which I will definitely join you. I think that is one good reason why normal dating (as defined by the world) is such a poor way to prepare for marriage. Why is heartbreak so casually accepted?

My mom's advice to newlyweds is always to stress that "divorce" is never an acceptable word. She says, "You can get mad at each other, but never, ever, use that word." She and my dad come from backgrounds where that word WAS used, and they are living, inspiring examples to me as to what God can do to transform people. My mom also has a lot of useful advice for young people who are single, which probably occasionally resurfaces in comments that I happen to make on certain blogs!

I've always been nervous when I hear people say that one's spouse changes into an entirely different person throughout the course of a long marriage, but now that I look at it as a change that occurs in both people FOR THE BETTER, it sounds intriguing and appealing!

I have only known a few really amazing Christian marriages; most are good, but nothing more. It takes my breath away to just imagine what God can do through two people who love each other and Him more than themselves!

You know, I was considering something: even if we are just a small handful of people reading and discussing matters on this blog, God can use us in dramatic ways! I'd like to, if I may, challenge each person to pray about these things. We do want things to work out in our own individual lives, but I think each of us also senses the greater need for minds and hearts to change throughout our nation and the world. Let's pray for one another and also for the many people out there who are seeking to follow Him, but finding distractions at every turn, and also that He will honor our prayers by working mightily in His people!

(Got a little carried away there. Hope nobody minds!)

 
At 5:17 PM, Blogger gortexgrrl said...

Firinteinne,

You've made some good points about divorce and commitment, although I also think that it's possible that many singles in the church are so anxious about the possibility winding up divorced (perhaps because of teachings that put the fear of God into them about how horrible and awful it is), that it inhibits those very processes needed to fall in love and get married in the first place, such as faith and trust.

Not to be overly contentious here, but I also have to disagree with you on the whole "gift of singleness" thing. I'm not jumping on the "singleness is a sin" bandwagon or suggesting that God can't/won't use us in our singleness, but THERE IS NO BIBLICAL SUPPORT FOR THE IDEA THAT SINGLENESS IS A GIFT. Nor did our early church fathers (who saw celibacy as a gift) make any mention of "the gift of singleness" (GOS).

GOS is actually a mid-20th century slogan that found its way into the Living Bible and The Message under 1Cor7:7, perhaps as a protestant-styled attempt to mitigate some of the harm created by earlier Catholic celibacy agendas, or perhaps it was their idea of modernizing the passage, either way- you can't rewrite the bible, which actually reads something closer to "Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am However, each man has his OWN gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that." I accentuate "OWN" because the Greek word used in earliest texts is IDIOS, which is the root of the English word "idiosyncratic".

Now, why all the fuss about IDIOS? Because "own" doesn't really convey Paul’s meaning! He was talking about something idiosyncratic, not something either/or. Your thumbprint is idiosyncratic, there’s none other like it. The rh factor of your blood is NOT idiosyncratic: you’re either positive or negative. Also, Marital status is not idiosyncratic: you’re either married or you’re not. The “idios charisma” Paul was referring to was neither singleness nor marriage: he was talking about his own preference and relating that with an aside about the uniqueness of our gifts from God. He reinforces his point about uniqueness using a Greek expression still common today: “hos men houto de hos houto”, translated closely in the NASB as “one in this manner, and another in that.” It’s a figure of speech! “This” and “that” are non-specific: “this” does not mean marriage and “that” does not mean “singleness”, or vice versa, as the Living Translation, The Message and other modern translations have concluded!

Nor can we really assume that Paul was claiming to have some special gift of celibacy: whatever was his gift that allowed him to proceed on such a perilous mission alone, he probably didn’t quite understand himself. Certainly, there’s no biblical evidence to suggest that God took away his sexual desires, as Debbie Maken declares (but plenty that suggests he struggled with something of a fleshly nature), nor has this happened to anyone else. However Paul may have been gifted, he was gifted in his own particular way.

And so what does this mean? THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “THE GIFT OF SINGLENESS” OR “THE GIFT OF CELIBACY”. Nor is anyone "called to marriage" or commanded to be single (except Jeremiah, but that was restricted to a particular place and time). The Bible almost always talks about marriage and singleness in terms of PERSONAL VOLITION: a man "finds a wife" in Proverbs 18:22, or "takes a wife" in 1Cor9:5 and 1Thess4:4, "made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven" in Matthew 19:12. Nor are there any marriages arranged by God in the Bible…even Mary and Joseph were already promised to each other before the annunciation!

You could talk about all good things coming from God and everything that he gives as a gift, but do we call the Ten Commandments “a gift”? No! It’s the law. Just as marriage is a covenant with God, not a call from God. By elevating marriage to the level of a divine calling, it has become tragically stripped of its ordinariness and its universality.

So we shouldn't assume that because someone IS single, that they have the GOS or that they are "called to singleness", now or at any time for that matter. I think that Debbie Maken is right when she denounces that as "outcome-based theology", which is the assumption that everything that happens, including tragedy and sin, is "God's will". Not that we shouldn't have respect for the sovereignty of God, but rather have more respect for the mystery of it.

 
At 3:02 PM, Blogger Elena said...

Totally OT...but GOS sounds like some new-fangled computer operating system!

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger Firinnteine said...

I'll grant the unpleasant connotations of "gift of singleness" (GOS) and retract the phrase. The fact that a person is single certainly does not mean that God has "called them to singleness" in the sense I meant (and admittedly phrased badly). "Season of singleness" is a still more abused phrase.

Granting that Jeremiah's (temporary) call to singleness, and also Hosea's direct command to get married, were to some extent anomalies, I don't think I'm willing to grant that either marriage or celibacy is not a gift. "A good thing and favor from the Lord" sure sounds like a gift to me; and while marriage is much more validly a "choice" than some other gifts God gives, such as children, I don't believe that "choice" as such in any way removes the possibility of calling. Of course one may ignore God's leading, but that doesn't mean that choosing and our human interaction with the process diminishes God's role in the lives of those who live in obedience to Him. It's parallel to the mystery of "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God Who works in you." God enables us to do the good works, which He prepared beforehand; we are saved by His grace, not because of our own works; and yet these works somehow are part of salvation, and we really do them; we do not become automatons when once we are filled with the Spirit.

Choice? Gift? Calling? Absolutely!

I also have difficulty throwing out the exegesis of five centuries of the Church, including those who lived immediately after the New Testament period and sometimes had direct personal connections to the apostles, based solely on the authority of Debbie Maken, however good her book probably is in other respects. Let us (by all means) dismiss the problematic and unBiblical GOS idea, but don't be too hasty to throw out the gift of celibacy altogether.

Whether Paul had his sexual desires removed I couldn't say; I can't think offhand of any passage that indicates anything very definite one way or the other. I honestly don't see what bearing that has on the question. Nobody said obedience was easy, or that it never meant denying our desires. Actually, I'm pretty sure the Bible (including Paul) clearly says the opposite.

(I myself desire to get married, and as best as I can tell God has given me freedom to pursue the fulfillment of that desire and will be glorified by it. At present I hope and intend to be married, though I do not yet know to whom. I am perfectly willing, however, to have Him change my heart in this regard, or show me that I can better serve by not getting married. I can't see anything unScriptural about that, but do please show me if I'm wrong. My understanding of these things, especially on the practical level, is very imperfect as yet.)

 
At 12:29 AM, Blogger gortexgrrl said...

Firinnteine,

Many thanks for retracting "the gift of singleness"...it's been my personal mission this year to see it banished to the Christian lexicon trashcan for good! Why? Because it has become a rogue doctrine.

Starting with the erroneous translation of 1Cor7:7 in many mid 20th century bibles (as shown in my last post), the "gift of singleness" (GOS) took hold in the 70's among many evangelists preaching to singles, Bill Gothard being probably the most notorious. His "Basic Youth Conflicts" seminars reached millions, even after his brother (who he encouraged to stay single, like himself) got caught in a sex scandal. Through the 80's until recently, almost every book to Christian singles has extolled the GOS, and they all seem to show the same patterns of extra-biblical, but now widely held, Christian beliefs about marriage and singleness, as outlined in Part 2 of Debbie Maken's book (ie. overblown contentment messages, "Jesus will be your husband", etc.)

One horrible example: Don Raunikar, author of "Choosing God's Best" writes, "Before you can determine whom to marry, you must first answer an preliminary question: Does God want you to marry anyone, ever? Or is His plan for you to remain single?", when if fact, no one in the Bible ever prayed such a prayer! He immediately goes on to say "Scripture teaches that marriage, like salvation, is an unmerited gift from God (Genesis 2:18). When God wanted Adam to have a wife, He brought her to him. Their marriage was a gift from God. But Scripture also tells us that singleness is God's gift as well." I'm sure you're just as appalled by the OUTRAGEOUS PROOFTEXTING, but my point with this example is so you can see the connection between the erroneous ideas of being "called to singleness" and GOS. Ellen Varughese has written a better book "The Freedom to Marry" about for people who have been damaged by the "permission denying" effects of these kinds of teachings that make people doubt if God wants them to marry.

Speaking of Proverbs 18:22, Raunikar uses it to discourage action-taking: "If and when God decides you can best serve Him as a team member with a life partner, you won't need to change Sunday school classes, search the singles ads, or join a dating service He will work out the circumstances. 'He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD'" It sounds like you both have it BACKWARDS. Can't you see that the way that the verse reads is that THE MAN FIRST FINDS A WIFE, and THEN the Lord grants him favor?

I don't mean to diminish God's role in the process, and certainly we must thank him and give him credit for all good things (ie. a married man could humbly give thanks to God for the gift of his wife, in the way that her life is a gift, and whatever mysterious workings that may have brought them together, as well as "marriage in general" perhaps). But treating marriage as a calling (even there may be some possibility of leading, how do you know for sure?) just seems to go too far, considering the human factor and, as Blaine Smith points out, it can be a bit self-aggrandizing (especially in light of the fact that the process is never perfect, kind of like bad worship songs where the singer songwriter announces "the Lord gave me this song" and the listeners are thinking "yeah, he didn't want it so he gave it to you!")

As for celibacy, I'm not saying that it's bad. Like singleness, 1Cor7 seems to say that it's "good" or permissible at the very least, but it doesn't specifically call it a gift or calling (look closely at 1Cor7:7 in the NIV). John MacArthur, and many others including Maken, seem to define the gift of celibacy as the removal of sexual desire, but the burden of proof is on them to show biblically that this actually happened. I plan to address that in my post on the today's celibacy article here.

 
At 4:24 PM, Blogger Firinnteine said...

I didn't mean to advocate Raunikar's interpretation of Proverbs 18:22 -- it seems to me that "backwards" mischaracterizes it, though. Is there in fact any "order of events" here at all? A wife is a good thing. To find a wife is to gain favor from the Lord. It doesn't say that the favor comes before, or after. (That being said, if the favor does come before or after the finding, you're right that after is clearly the more logical reading.)

 
At 6:01 PM, Blogger gortexgrrl said...

The verse seems to me to be a beautifully simple encouragement towards finding a wife.

 
At 9:24 PM, Blogger Firinnteine said...

Thank you. That puts it well. At least, it encourages me... I'll let y'all know when I obtain said Divine favor. :) :) :)

 
At 3:59 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Just to jump in briefly...

I accentuate "OWN" because the Greek word used in earliest texts is IDIOS, which is the root of the English word "idiosyncratic". ~ gortexgrrl

Actually, the English words that derive from a Greek word are fairly irrelevant to exegesis. As my first Greek teacher pointed out, a lot of pastors have a tendency (for example) to take the word "dunamis" (power) and spice it up by saying something like "Now, this is the word we get 'dynamite' from. Paul doesn't mean just 'power'; he means this is the DYNAMITE of God!" Which is kind of fun, but not very philologically valid. We judge parents by their descendents, but not words.

I see no good reason not to translate "idios" as "own" in this passage (as both the NASB and NIV do; the NKJV gives "his proper gift"). Furthermore, I think it's quite fair to say that Paul is making reference to marriage in this verse, since "to marry or not to marry" is the subject of discussion for the whole of chapter 7. Certainly Paul does not mean to say that there are only two gifts that God gives, one being marriage and one celibacy; but it's fairly clear that he does mean to say that there are gifts from God that (at a minimum) make both marriage and celibacy either possible or substantially easier. He wishes that all men had the ability to be "as I am" (celibate)--and this is how he counsels the Corinthians--but he realizes that some are given other gifts. And he's ok with that.

The so-called "gift of celibacy" could very well be an extra grace in the form of several strengthened gifts of the Spirit (self-control chief among them, I'd guess). I don't see any reason to specify it its own special "extra" gift of the Spirit; the original list seems adequate without tacking on more. But it appears perfectly Scriptural to me to say that if God calls someone to a particular task, He will give him what is necessary to accomplish it. And I think the corollary is also true: if God doesn't give you the gifts necessary to complete a task, He probably hasn't called you to it.

In fact, the next two verses bear this out:

8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn. (NASB)

Does all of this make marriage any less a choice? Of course not. "Called" has never meant "forced." Actually, the very fact that God gives us commands at all (with attendant pronouncements about the consequences for obedience and disobedience) has always seemed like a pretty strong argument for us having the ability to choose whether to follow them or not. How could Paul even suggest that people not marry, if they have not choice in the matter? Conversely, I know of nothing in Scripture to suggest that someone called to celibacy couldn't (sinfully) choose to marry. I think Samson would exemplify that rather tidily.
I see no problem with a "call" to either marriage or celibacy, as long as the term doesn't become an excuse for abrogating our own responsibility to choose and act wisely. In fact obedience is more crucial to one who has been called than to one who has not.

A few more words on "called." Twice in this chapter Paul says "let each man remain in that condition [or state] in which he was called" (verses 20 and 24, with variations on the same theme elsewhere). Much has been made of the phrase in v. 28, "in view of the present distress," and looking over 20 and 24, I think there's some validity to this "present crisis" position. Paul could very easily have said "remain in that position to which he was called," or "for which he was called." He did not. As I read it, these instructions to the Corinthians are about "be content where you are right now," not about "don't fight against where God wants to take you." Paul is saying "stick with the status quo on this one"; it doesn't follow that this is God's perpetual command to everyone.

Of course the "present crisis" position gets taken too far most of the time; if these instructions had NO relevance for us, they wouldn't have been left in the Bible at all. And the basic principles that Paul is extracting these specific recommendations from are universally applicable. So there's no getting off most of the hooks by saying "Yeah, but this was just for the Corinthians." This is where careful exegesis comes in, to separate universal principles from situation-specific advice. I'm not going to get into that, but do be aware that both are flying rather densely in this chapter.

So what's my basic position? Celibacy is a gift, which you have to choose to remain in (and it won't be easy). Marriage is a gift, which you have to choose to accept and then to remain in (and it won't be easy either). Singleness is not a gift but a state--the default state. It is not necessarily celibate, and while it is a requirement for celibacy, it is not good in itself in the same way, because it is not intentional and deliberate, like celibacy is; however, God can use it (as He can use any circumstance) for good. Singleness is a very easy state to find oneself in, and to remain in, and requires little to no choice. It is a state that enables God to give us certain gifts, but is probably not a gift itself. I believe Gortexgrrl is correct in stating that there is no Biblical support for the doctrine of the "gift of singleness." I suspect Firinnteine is correct in stating that Proverbs 18:22 expresses no chronological distinction between its verbs.

But I don't know Hebrew.

 
At 8:18 PM, Blogger gortexgrrl said...

"I see no good reason not to translate "idios" as "own" in this passage (as both the NASB and NIV do; the NKJV gives "his proper gift")." I guess what I meant to say is that "own" doesn't FULLY convey the meaning of "idios" in this passage ("proper" is an even less meaningful translation of "idios", actually idios doesn't mean proper at all). Again, the idiosyncratic nature of this hypothetical grace gift is reinforced by “hos men houto de hos houto”, a figure of speech similar to "to each his own" and translated closely in the NASB as “one in this manner, and another in that.” “This” and “that” are non-specific: “this” does not mean singleness and “that” does not mean “marriage”, as The Living Bible and The Message have written it, giving us the phrases "the gift of singleness" and "the gift of marriage", which we are now stuck with.

"I think it's quite fair to say that Paul is making reference to marriage in this verse, since "to marry or not to marry" is the subject of discussion for the whole of chapter 7." The verse itself isn't about marriage, it's about either singleness and/or celibacy. Gordon Fee's commentary points out that in the first part of the verse "I would have it that all men be 'as I am'", we cannot be sure if he is referring to singleness or celibacy (he leans towards thinking the verse is about celibacy).

"Certainly Paul does not mean to say that there are only two gifts that God gives, one being marriage and one celibacy; but it's fairly clear that he does mean to say that there are gifts from God that (at a minimum) make both marriage and celibacy either possible or substantially easier." BINGO! This is EXACTLY what I'm trying to say, and that Paul's references to those gifts, whatever they may mysteriously be, are NON-SPECIFIC. Whereas, others have been too specific in their exegesis, claiming that it is specifically "the gift of celibacy" or the GOS.

"The so-called "gift of celibacy" could very well be an extra grace in the form of several strengthened gifts of the Spirit (self-control chief among them, I'd guess)." I agree, it could be anything. But we don't know enough from this passage to make any specific reference to it.

"But it appears perfectly Scriptural to me to say that if God calls someone to a particular task, He will give him what is necessary to accomplish it. And I think the corollary is also true: if God doesn't give you the gifts necessary to complete a task, He probably hasn't called you to it." I dunno...this sounds a bit too close to "God never gives us anything we can't handle"-- another slogan thought to be biblical that isn't. However we carry out God's tasks, we are acting as imperfect, incomplete human beings.

"Does all of this make marriage any less a choice? Of course not. "Called" has never meant "forced." Actually, the very fact that God gives us commands at all (with attendant pronouncements about the consequences for obedience and disobedience) has always seemed like a pretty strong argument for us having the ability to choose whether to follow them or not." Although this starts out sounding optimistic, but it ends up in the same old "forceful" place: that there will be consequences if we are not obedient to "God's personal plan for our lives", as some people say (even though that phrase appears nowhere in the bible). There are a lot of people who read "it is better to 'remain as you are'" and think that loving God means to always put our own desires aside and do what's best for Him. So they worry that their desire to marry might actually be a cop out on the "call" to celibacy, that they might be capable of if they really tried. This is how referring to singleness and celibacy as gifts and callings keeps people in bondage.

No one should ever have to wonder and worry that they might be "'Sinfully' choosing to marry! Even if you suspend "the present crisis" argument, in verse 28 you get Paul saying "if you marry, you have not sinned".

Nowhere in the bible is marriage called "a gift". Nor is singleness or celibacy. This does not mean we are not to thank God for what we have, or wonder about his workings in those areas. But in our desire to poetically express gratitude by naming the many gifts he has given to us, we need to consider the confusion and distress created by the practice of equivocal treatment of the terms gift-calling-will-plan in the areas of singleness, celibacy, and marriage. When you see the damage done to so many people in the past 30 odd years, (see Ellen Varughese's book "The Freedom to Marry" it really makes you think about the power of language.

 
At 11:00 AM, Blogger gortexgrrl said...

Ben, thank you for your very intelligent response to my last post. I'd like to address a few of your points:

"I see no good reason not to translate "idios" as "own" in this passage (as both the NASB and NIV do; the NKJV gives "his proper gift")." I guess what I meant to say is that "own" doesn't FULLY convey the meaning of "idios" in this passage ("proper" is an even less meaningful translation of "idios", actually idios doesn't mean proper at all). Again, the idiosyncratic nature of this hypothetical grace gift is reinforced by “hos men houto de hos houto”, a figure of speech similar to "to each his own" and translated closely in the NASB as “one in this manner, and another in that.” “This” and “that” are non-specific: “this” does not mean singleness and “that” does not mean “marriage”, as The Living Bible and The Message have written it, giving us the phrases "the gift of singleness" and "the gift of marriage", which we are now stuck with.

"I think it's quite fair to say that Paul is making reference to marriage in this verse, since "to marry or not to marry" is the subject of discussion for the whole of chapter 7." The verse itself isn't about marriage, it's about either singleness and/or celibacy. Gordon Fee's commentary points out that in the first part of the verse "I would have it that all men be 'as I am'", we cannot be sure if he is referring to singleness or celibacy (he leans towards thinking the verse is about celibacy).

"Certainly Paul does not mean to say that there are only two gifts that God gives, one being marriage and one celibacy; but it's fairly clear that he does mean to say that there are gifts from God that (at a minimum) make both marriage and celibacy either possible or substantially easier." BINGO! This is EXACTLY what I'm trying to say, and that Paul's references to those gifts, whatever they may mysteriously be, are NON-SPECIFIC. Whereas, others have been too specific in their exegesis, claiming that it is specifically "the gift of celibacy" or the GOS.

"The so-called "gift of celibacy" could very well be an extra grace in the form of several strengthened gifts of the Spirit (self-control chief among them, I'd guess)." I agree, it could be anything. But we don't know enough from this passage to make any specific reference to it.

"But it appears perfectly Scriptural to me to say that if God calls someone to a particular task, He will give him what is necessary to accomplish it. And I think the corollary is also true: if God doesn't give you the gifts necessary to complete a task, He probably hasn't called you to it." I dunno...this sounds a bit too close to "God never gives us anything we can't handle"-- another slogan thought to be biblical that isn't.

"Does all of this make marriage any less a choice? Of course not. "Called" has never meant "forced." Actually, the very fact that God gives us commands at all (with attendant pronouncements about the consequences for obedience and disobedience) has always seemed like a pretty strong argument for us having the ability to choose whether to follow them or not." Although this starts out sounding optimistic, but it ends up in the same old "forceful" place: that there will be consequences if we are not obedient to "God's personal plan for our lives", as some people say (even though that phrase appears nowhere in the bible). There are a lot of people who read "it is better to 'remain as you are'" and think that loving God means to always put our own desires aside and do what's best for Him. So they worry that their desire to marry might actually be a cop out on the "call" to celibacy, that they might be capable of if they really tried. This is how calling singleness and celibacy gifts and callings keeps people in bondage.

No one should ever have to wonder and worry that they might be "'Sinfully' choosing to marry!
Even if you suspend "the present crisis" argument, in verse 28 you get Paul saying "if you marry, you have not sinned".

Nowhere in the bible is marriage called "a gift". Nor is singleness or celibacy. This does not mean we are not to thank God for what we have, or wonder about his workings in those areas. But in our desire to poetically express gratitude by naming the many gifts he has given to us, we need to consider the confusion and distress created by the practice of equivocal treatment of the terms gift-calling-will-plan in the areas of singleness, celibacy, and marriage. When you see the damage done to so many people in the past 30 odd years, (see Ellen Varughese's book "The Freedom to Marry" it really makes you think about the power of language.

 

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