God calls us to live in community, so we should consider how to love and care for one another. Here are four thoughts for the married and unmarried members of the church to ponder as we seek to love our unmarried sisters and brothers in Christ and encourage them in godly sexuality.

The first two points apply to married people as well. We should remember that God’s truth on how to love and encourage others crosses over all age, cultural, and circumstantial distinctions and life situations. Personalized love should be shown to every person.

Consider how Christ-centric and gospel-filled ministry to the unmarried can be guided by these four principles:

1) A kingdom mindedness

Jesus’ command to “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) is a foundational truth. The Kingdom of God includes many realities. Here is a partial list: (a) love and loyalty for the King; (b) receiving the reign of the King in our lives (struggles, decisions, relationships, affections, etc.); (c) love and service to other kingdom citizens; (d) good works the King has prepared for each citizen to do (Ephesians 2:10); and (e) participation in the mission of the King and his kingdom. Our mission is that all the nations of this world will be blessed by hearing the gospel of grace and forgiveness in Christ.

When a church—leaders, adult education committee, women’s and men’s ministries, etc.—attempts to plan a ministry to the unmarried without Kingdom mindedness, that ministry can easily become focused on the here and now rather than the bigger picture of what God is up to in this world. When ministry is only planned around a focus on the present, good discipleship tools offered for singles (social groups and activities, counseling, seminars, conferences, etc.) will tend to encourage a perspective that implies, “We are singles who happen to be followers of Jesus,” rather than, “We are followers of King Jesus and citizens of his kingdom who happen to be unmarried.” There is a huge difference!

Our goal is not to make our unmarriedness ‘work’ or to be manageable while we live on this earth. Our goal is to seek first the Kingdom of God as we live in an unmarried state! When a kingdom of God heartbeat pulses throughout a local church family, it will change the way the unmarried are encouraged, discipled, counseled, and exhorted.

2) A foundation of family—God’s family!

It is significant that each local church not only disciples from a Kingdom-of-God mentality, but with a conviction that radically new, relational realities come with the gospel. We are sons and daughters of the Father, and thus are brothers and sisters to one another! Jesus said in the presence of his own family, including his mother, “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:47-50). In Christ, we are entrusted with the gift of being true family to one another. This does not deny the beauty of marriage or human families. Rather, it elevates the spiritual reality of Christ’s blood creating a family of His own.

Effective and fruitful ministry to the unmarried will not seek to downplay the beauty and sanctity of marriage. However, there is cause for healthy examination of whether the local church idolizes marriage with questions, such as:

  • Do we as a church view each other more as fellow church members, rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ? Do categories such as married, unmarried, single-again, widowed, and college/career signify ‘identities’ in our church, or do we view each other first as fellow Christ-lovers who happen to be single, married, etc.?
  • Am I intentional and purposeful in seeking to love, know, and serve others who are in a different life situation than I am?
  • For the married: Is our family closed or inviting? Do we only spend social time with others who are married? Do we teach our children that the ultimate goal is to grow up and have a family, or that the ultimate goal is to seek the Kingdom of God and to love him with all our hearts and lives?
  • For the unmarried: Do we draw attention to our singleness to the point that the radiance of Jesus through us is smothered? Do we complain against and despise the will of God in our lives? Sometimes those of us who are not married are distracted from who we are in Christ because we do not have a ring on our finger. This is not living out our identity as a son or daughter of God!

Last year I attended a seminar at a local church that was focused on the theme of relationships. It was clearly publicized towards the married, dating, and singles. Singles were encouraged and welcomed to come. The teaching was biblical and mainly focused on the relationship of marriage. However, the way in which the seminar was run led me and several other unmarried folks to feel extremely uncomfortable! After each teaching session there was a ‘discussion time’ in which couples went off alone to share together what they were learning.

Those of us who were single or at the conference alone, however, were instructed to stay in our seats and to ponder how to apply the principles in our relationships. This was not necessarily a bad approach, but it seemed like my unmarriedness was being put under a flood light as I sat there by myself, while most of participants went off to have an intimate discussion. Two words sum it up: awkward and lonely! Had it not been for the two dating-each-other friends with whom I was attending the conference, the next day’s sessions would have been absent of at least one unmarried woman.

My experience at that seminar is the way many unmarrieds feel every Sunday when they go to worship. However, lest this sound like whining, the unmarried, along with the married, must not only live out of a Kingdom mindedness and an understanding of the family of God, but promote it. Both singles and married people need to focus on making their church function like a family.

3) Biblical wisdom

We must be faithful to present the wisdom of God as we disciple and counsel the unmarried. It has been said to me, “Well, after all, singleness really is about selfishness!” and, “Well, when you’re content with God alone, then you will get married!” Such words are not only unhelpful but unbiblical! Singleness can indeed be governed by selfish desires, but so can marriage! Learning contentment in God should not have as its goal the getting of what we really crave and desire.

Biblical wisdom will:

  • Put Christ first as King, Healer, Forgiver, Companion, and the One who is always loving and worthy of being trusted, followed, and served.
  • Teach that we and our situations do not belong to ourselves but to him, and thus we do not have the right to ‘do with it’ what we want.
  • Not shy away from rich truths that God desires to reveal through those who are unmarried and surrendered to him. (See 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, 32-33, 35; Matthew 19:12; and Isaiah 56:1-7. Also listen to John Piper’s sermon on Isaiah 56 at www.desiringgod.org.)
  • Seek to draw those of us who are unmarried towards Christ and trust of him, rather than to appease us or only soothe the struggles we experience as unmarried persons.
  • Teach and exhort us about having a radical approach to our sexuality. For this to happen, biblical wisdom must be applied specifically to specific individuals!

4) Specificity in view of a person’s circumstances of unmarriedness

Someone close to me said, after a 14-year marriage ended in divorce, “I feel like I’ve been dropped in a foreign country. I don’t want to be here. I don’t know how to act or relate to others.” Another friend honestly shared with me, after hearing me teach on singleness to an audience of married and unmarried women, “Ellen, I don’t know how to relate to singles. I feel uncomfortable around them.”

A recent informal survey that I gave, entitled “How can the church best minister to singles?”, revealed that there are as many ideas on how to encourage and love the unmarried as there are people! What was obvious, however, was that unmarried and married respondants both agreed that ministering to the unmarried is not about primarily speaking to their singleness, but about Christ! This was said in a variety of ways, pointing to the need for solid teaching which exalts (a) Christ, (b) his Kingdom purposes, (c) the gifts that he has entrusted to all his followers, and (d) kingdom community among believers that is honest and family-of-God oriented.

God’s family loves by knowing others in specific ways. This is important as we seek to love unmarried people: We must know them well and specifically! The struggles, temptations, dreams, and desires of a 25-year-old person who has never been married may look and feel very differently from a 55-year-old who has children and finds herself single again. The unmarried 35-year-old virgin will have different issues than the 35-year-old who has been sexually active from age 15. To have a ‘generalized’ plan and script that serves as a coverall for anyone who is unmarried is dangerous—and unhelpful!

We should seek to minister the specific love and wisdom of Christ, to the specific struggles and needs of the unmarried we know. Here are some examples:

  • If you are unmarried, be willing to be ministered to through not only encouragement but also by being challenged, exhorted, and asked the difficult questions. Are you allowing yourself to be known and held accountable? Also, are you reaching out to other unmarrieds? Are you pointing each other to Jesus more than some new person to date or marry? Are you exhorting each other to not ‘play games’ with sexual temptations or unholy emotional attachments?
  • When speaking with singles, we all need to be asking questions like, “What is your experience as an unmarried person? In what ways are you misunderstood by others? How is Christ revealing himself to you through being ‘his alone?'”
  • Churches need to have honest, direct, and biblical teaching and preaching on sexuality and sex that addresses married and unmarried realities. This teaching must go deeper than statements like, “Don’t!” “ Wait!” “You need to change your desires or behaviors or dreams!” “Have you tried searching online Christian communities?”
  • When speaking with individuals who find themselves single again, be courageous, and prayerfully ask how they are walking out the call to be sexually abstinent. This requires wisdom for sure, but many people struggle in secret and with a sense of deep shame and defeat.
  • Matchmaking might be desired by some and not by others, so ask if a person would like assistance in the prayerful discovery of others.
  • Be willing to use odd numbers in groups and not just even ones (i.e. couples) when planning a social event. Remember, we want to promote the concept of our being the family of God.
  • Build relationships with the unmarried who just have “let’s hang out together” friendships, not only those oriented around mentoring.

Much of the prior advice seems very basic, but for some reason churches seem to organize and complicate the simplicity of living as the community of Christ. Our goal is not to “fix” singles, but to discover how each one of us is able to best glorify Christ with the unique gifts he has given us in our particular circumstances.

Updated 4.28.2017

Not long ago I spent some time with two younger women, one newly married and the other about four years into a marriage with two kids. It was a sweet time, an encouraging and Christ-filled time, and also a time in which my self-diagnosis of G.I.G. (Grass is Greener) Disorder raised its ugly, discontented head.

Does the shoe of this diagnosis fit you too? Do you also give way to believing that the grass really is greener over there? After I was with them, I spiraled down for a few hours while craving their story: of marriage, a house, a family, of the loving pursuit and “capture” of a man into marriage. I wanted to be able to live the stories I heard them sharing!

How does G.I.G. Disorder impact me?

  • I want her/his marriage, not mine!
  • I want to go back to singleness… it was so much easier then!
  • How come their family seems to be so functional and healthy… why was I born into this mess?
  • Why am I tempted in a same-sex way… how come I got stuck with this?
  • Really God… really? My son/daughter is struggling with this? Why are you allowing this trial when none of my friends’ kids are wrestling this way?
  • No! No, God, I do not want to walk with a husband bound up in sexual addiction. Give me some other trial like the one that ____ or____ or____ has in her marriage. Why do you let them have it so easy in their marriage while mine is a mess?

The Spirit finally rescued me from my slide into discontentment, comparison, and covetousness (all standard fare of G.I.G. Disorder) by whispering to my heart that day. “Ellen, tell your story!” Yes, the story that the Author of life has written and is writing for me.

So I did that. I took some time and journaled out portions of my story: from the year I was born, to the weaknesses and strengths I have, to experiences I’ve enjoyed and trials I’ve endured, to being single at 26, 36 and now 46 years old. I considered those temptations and battles God has given me victory over, and those temptations that stubbornly remain and keep me dependent and humble before the Lord.

Only Ellen Dykas can live out the life God has designed for her. And that applies to you, too. Only you can live out the story God has written for you. Other people’s stories are theirs, and they do not fit the uniqueness of who God designed you to be. One day, our goal is to arrive at 2 Timothy 4:7, and say, as life slips into eternity, “I’ve fought the good fight, I’ve finished the race, I’ve kept the faith.” To crave and pursue living the story of someone else is actually one of the ways that we end up craving Jesus-replacements in our lives. Why? Because if his plans for us aren’t enough, then we’re believing that he isn’t enough either.

Consider how you struggle—successfully and, at times, unsuccessfully—with G.I.G Disorder. What do you need to believe in order to be at peace with the story God has written, and is still writing, for you?

Updated 5.4.2017

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
Psalm 27:4 (ESV)

In my last post, “Living a Life That Becomes a Life Well-Lived,” I was sharing my thoughts on how to live now in such a way that our lives will have been lived well. David’s words here in Psalm 27 give us (me!) more clues about what this means: knowing what your “one thing” is going to be. David said that his “one thing” was to dwell in the house of the Lord, or as we might say now from our vantage place of being in Christ, to faithfully abide in the Lord Jesus. David said that he wanted to dwell in the Lord’s house so that he could:

  • Gaze upon the Lord’s beauty
  • Inquire of the Lord

I like the way that Pastor John Piper has often said in his teaching ministry, “Let your passions be single!” He’s speaking of a devoted and undistracted life, for and towards Jesus Christ, of making sure that our “one thing” is faithfulness to Jesus—abiding in Jesus as we love, know, and seek to obey his Word. When our “one thing” becomes a part of many things, or when our “one thing” is self, comfort, pleasure, or the affection and/or sexual attentions of other people, then we find ourselves living an anti-Psalm 27:4 that goes something like this:

One thing I have sought after and asked of the Lord, and that is,
‘Please leave me alone God!’ I mean, I want your attention but not now, okay?!
I want to build and nestle inside a home of my own making, where it feels good,
and no one bothers me about what I’m gazing at.
I’ll inquire of you, Lord, but later—okay?
I don’t mean to offend you, Lord, but I just need (fill in the blank) right now and you…
well, you just don’t seem as real as him/her/it/this.
I love you Lord, but I need him/her/it/this.

Sexual sin and disordered relational entanglements can be “one thing” that offers to us an instant payback of sexual and/or emotional pleasure, a comforting distraction that dulls and temporarily erases our inner pain and heartache. When our “one thing” isn’t Jesus, so many other things will rush in to fill the void, and entice, tantalize, seduce, woo, and offer to us a form of life. But it will be death in the end.

How do you focus on the true “one thing” of living fully for Jesus amid all the struggles of this life? I’d love to know what helps you do this.

Updated 5.16.2017

Lately I’ve been soberly pondering how to live now; I want to have lived a well-lived life at the end. One of the blessings of serving at a ministry like Harvest USA is growing in grace while being daily confronted in my work with the devastation of sexual sin. Our staff and I are honored (truly!) to be invited into the pain of men, women, couples, and parents, and to walk alongside them.

They are facing the wreckage, pain, and heartache as hurting Christians who, after a season of giving way to sin, are now turning back to Christ. As the grace and love of Jesus Christ floods into and awakens someone from the dulling and destructive impact of living in sexual sin, the road is both glorious and painful. Emotional affairs, random sexual hook-ups, feasting on the ugly and foul “banquet table” of pornography, enslaving and obsessive co-dependent relationships, and sexual sharing with one or more persons outside of marriage—these are the things we hear in our offices and our support groups daily.

It’s glorious to hear of the Lord’s rescue of women from temptation and sin, yet painful to watch them “wake up” and realize, “How did I end up here? How do I get out of here? How do I change?” It’s terribly sobering for me and causes me to shudder every so often, knowing that this woman, or this man, or this marriage got “here” by taking a lot of little steps over time. All these steps are ones that we choose, even while, in the moment of struggle, we may feel that they just “happened to me.”

Gospel hope and wisdom tells us, though, that a life well-lived is also the fruit of taking a lot of little steps in a given direction… over and over, day by day.

Recently some sobering confessions of secret sin were shared with me just as I had finished reading an autobiography of Helen Roseveare, a missionary to the Congo from 1953-1973. I was also at that time beginning to read a biography of Charles Spurgeon, an amazing Bible teacher, preacher, and pastor from the 1800s. This woman and this man are two of my heroes of the faith, and their stories remind me that well-lived lives include suffering, ongoing battles against sin, and lots of seemingly little steps of obedience.

I also began to read and reflect upon Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, wondering how Paul arrived at a point where he could say towards the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV).

I’m pretty sure that a part of the answer to this question is in knowing that a life well lived happens as we live each day and through each circumstance like Paul did: deciding in this moment to fight when confronted by temptation and sin; committing today to run the race and fix my eyes upon Jesus, surrendering in this situation to trust the Lord through faith, believing that his purposes are always good for me.

What do you think? Are there heroes of the faith in your life? Who do you look up to, and what are the daily or habitual faith steps they took that bore the fruit of a life well-lived? No one walks this life of faith alone. God has given us a “cloud of witnesses” to show us how to live well.

Updated 5.4.2017

I just bought a GPS with a great new feature: It warns me when I’m approaching a traffic light equipped with a camera. The beloved Philadelphia Parking Authority just installed a camera close to the Harvest USA office. Believe me: I’ll never risk sliding through that yellow light again! It’s amazing how compliant drivers become when we’re being watched…

How does this connect with our obedience to God? You’ve probably heard it said that in order to sin, you need to be a functional atheist. You need to believe that God doesn’t exist, and you are free to do whatever you please. On one level this is true, but is it helpful to see God as the cosmic, red-light enforcement agent? Will this produce obedience? Knowing God is always with us does produce obedience, but our understanding of what his presence with us means makes all the difference in the world.

He is not about red light enforcement! The people behind the camera don’t care whether I make it through the intersection safely, only that I don’t break the law. In fact, they exist to profit from my disobedience. Too many people struggling with sexual sin understand God’s presence to mean he’s looking over their shoulders with pad and pen in hand, compiling an endless list of black marks next to their names. At best, some are grateful that, because of Jesus, at least the marks will be erased on the last day. But they are missing the glorious wonder of God’s presence. He is seen as a threat rather than a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, ESV).

This view could not be further from the truth. God is present with you because he cares. Consider Psalm 139: After describing how God knows every thought he’s ever had, knows every word before he speaks it, is monitoring literally every step he takes in his life—all of which tend to fill us with dread—David concludes, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (v. 6). He is overcome by joy. God’s closeness reveals his desire for relationship. The depth of intimacy that already exists is what we are invited to embrace. And— gloriously!—when this is our understanding of God’s presence, it motivates obedience. We are compelled by the love of Christ. So, rather than shrinking back from God in shame, David (who was no stranger to sexual sin) ends the psalm asking God to open his eyes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (v. 23-24). God is so close because he loves and cares for us. When we understand this, we can boldly ask him to enter in and open our eyes, because we know it is in love that he exposes our sin to draw us closer to himself.

I recently made one of my biggest parental blunders to date: showing my daughters a suspenseful film they just weren’t ready for. And I’ve paid the price: repeated cries of “Daaaaddy!” in the wee hours of the morning. (What was I thinking?!) On one of these occasions, I read to them from Psalm 121. The Hebrew word used six times in just eight verses describes God as a guardian, one who keeps close watch, protecting us from all harm. Two of the verses underscore this reality, promising that God “will neither slumber or sleep” (v. 3-4). My daughters can rest secure because God’s eyes are always on them. He is unsleeping, ever vigilant, covering them with his wings so they can sleep in peace.

It’s the same in our struggle with sexual sin. God is always watching because he loves you and promises “to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). He is relentless in his pursuit of our hearts and commitment to conform us to the image of Jesus.

How has your view of God as a traffic cop impacted your relationship with him? What would change if you believed his presence is the result of his love and delight in you?

Updated 5.4.2017

Are struggles with same-sex attraction uniquely different from other struggles?

Wesley Hill begs this question by what he writes in his book, Washed and Waiting. Hill is an evangelical believer who has chosen celibacy as the biblically faithful response of someone struggling with same-sex attraction. His reflections bring God’s Word to bear on his own situation, and they provide us with ways to think about the issue by faith.

So is his sexual struggle different from the sexual struggle of a person with opposite sex attractions? I think there are two ways of answering the question.

Yes—culturally speaking.

The church has been slow to address the issue of believers who are seeking to be faithful to Christ but feel attracted to the same sex. Instead, the church has often spoken judgmentally about homosexuality in a way that drives these believers underground. So those who are tempted in this way feel alone in their struggles and dare not come to the church community for support, prayer, and intimacy. Even in churches that have been more open about helping those who struggle, strugglers fear being stigmatized or labeled, causing them to avoid relationship with others. Also, if someone comes forward for help, church members really aren’t sure what their response should be. The church can be a lonely place for the person who struggles with same-sex attraction, so the temptation to withdraw from fellowship is high, which only moves them closer to acting on their temptations. The unprepared church provides no hope for change or healing for the struggler.

No—biblically speaking.

The Bible speaks about homosexuality in the same way that it talks about adultery, thievery, abuse of alcohol, greed, and slander:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV).

All sin can be forgiven in Jesus Christ. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). All sinful temptations can be addressed by the gospel. Most of us struggle with some particularly strong temptation all of our lives, often leading to hopelessness. The temptations do not have to be sexual. But for many, sexual temptation is a powerful reality, and it can drive someone into an experience of enslavement. The process that leads us into sinful behavior—of which we may not be aware initially—is the same for all sin according to James. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).

Our desires drive us to believe that the sin will provide something advantageous for us—maybe in a way we don’t believe God can. The solution to change is also the same for all sin. As we develop a deeper relationship with Christ, our desires are transformed, moving from sinful desire to the godly desire of knowing Christ and living by his Spirit (Romans 8:1-6). These desires can always be fulfilled. So temptation can diminish and lose its controlling power as we move toward Christ in community with other believers.

Hill reflects on the uniqueness of same-sex attraction for a believer in the church, while calling us back to the answer for all sin struggles. Is it harder for the struggler with same-sex attraction? Yes and no.

Part 1., Part 2., Part 3.

Updated 5.5.2017

The loneliness of the celibate life

Remaining faithful to Christ while experiencing same-sex attraction can produce a profound loneliness resulting from a celibate life. This is a theme that runs throughout Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill. Since he sees little hope that his attractions will change and views heterosexual marriage as the only biblically faithful marriage, he is destined to a life of singleness. Isn’t this the worst kind of loneliness?

The book’s conclusion makes a very strong case that the celibate person does not need to be hopeless or lonely. But I have heard the hopelessness contained in the above hypothesis before. Isn’t the Christian with same-sex attraction condemned to a life of loneliness in a way the Christian with heterosexual desires is not? Aren’t they trapped with little or no prospect for future intimacy? Won’t they always be frustrated in relationships, especially when they feel that their ‘natural’ sexual attraction is forbidden by faith?

We all can empathize with Hill in his book. All of us, at some point in our lives, have been lonely, even profoundly lonely. Most single men have at least thought or believed, on some level, that the lack of a sexual relationship has been partly to blame for loneliness, especially when sexual desires are strong. ‘If I were only in a position to have an exclusive sexually active relationship, I would be less lonely.’

Many Christians with opposite-sex desires remain celibate until they are thirty, forty, or even until they die. Most of them wanted to get married but for various reasons, never attained it. If they are faithful to Christ, they also have no option for a sexually intimate relationship. Are they condemned to a life of loneliness as well?

Single people are often naïve about how marriage will solve their loneliness issues. Many married couples are tragically lonely even though they are sexually active. All imperfect marriages (read: all marriages) have their lonely moments. One could even argue this loneliness in marriage is the most tragic loneliness of all, because the potential for so much intimacy was promised in the vows of marriage. Loneliness as the consequence of divorce has its own tragic uniqueness, especially when the other party was unfaithful.

So what conclusions can we draw?

  1. Sexual activity, even monogamous sexual activity, cannot bear the weight of ending loneliness. It can encourage an already-intimate married couple, but it can also, at worst, exacerbate loneliness or , at best, temporarily mask it.
  2. The solution for loneliness for all people must take a different direction than sex. Hill suggests that loneliness actually promotes hunger for intimacy with Christ and with members of the church. For the believer, this is the positive side of loneliness. We were made for relationship with Christ foremost, and this relationship puts all other yearnings and relationships in their proper place.
  3. Marriage, at its best, is a powerful subset of Christian community and subordinate to our relationship with Christ. Deep, powerful, intimate community can, by God’s grace, exist outside of marriage and apart from sexualization, because it exists within the community of faith, Christ’s body. Though most of us desire to experience sexual intimacy in our lives, the door from loneliness to fulfilling, intimate relationships is open to the celibate with unfulfilled same-sex or heterosexual attractions.

Part 1., Part 2., Part 4.

Updated 5.5.2017

Sex, intimacy, and community 

We all yearn to be deeply known, and to be affirmed by the one who deeply knows us. In his book, Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill explains why intimacy seemed so unattainable for him. As a believer in Jesus with same-sex attraction, celibacy is the choice of faithfulness to God,. Hill found himself holding male relationships at bay for fear that they would be come sexualized, thus already compounding the loneliness he felt.

Does a life without sex mean a life without intimacy? In our culture, we often cheapen sex so that two strangers can casually use each other for their own sexual satisfaction. But we also idolize sex to the point where a deep relationship without sex—heterosexual or homosexual—is considered to limit intimacy. Must intimacy include sex to be complete? If so, intimacy is unattainable for any person committed to celibacy.  Such a person must be destined for loneliness.

Building on some of Hill’s observations, we reject this. First, the Bible describes our relationship with the Father as “one” (John 17), the apex of intimacy. God commends us, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18, ESV); he praises us, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:29): and he loves us sacrificially, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). There is nothing sexual here, and yet we are deeply known, affirmed, and delighted in by our heavenly Father.

Second, some of the most intimate relationships described within the Bible were not sexual relationships. They weren’t marriages, but rather relationships within the community of believers: Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, John and Jesus, etc.

Hill takes us a step further. Under the guidance of a mentor, he realizes that humanity, as beings of flesh and spirit, requires intimacy of the flesh and spirit. Certainly Jesus meets every need. But he does that partly through providing a flesh-and-spirit community of believers– brothers and sisters with whom we can weep and rejoice. We confess sin to them, receive assurance of forgiveness through them, sustain loving mutual correction among them, and are loved for our good. This is incredibly intimate, unlimited, and not sexualized at all. So there is fulfilling intimacy in the gospel, even for the one who chooses a celibate life!

Part 1., Part 3., Part 4.

Updated 5.5.2017

Washed and Waiting is a series of Christian theological and personal reflections written by a doctoral student who struggles with same-sex attraction. Wesley Hill begins his story as a secret, frightened believer with forbidden yearnings in the church. He ends his biography as an open, integrated member of Christian community who has chosen celibacy as a lifestyle of faithfulness for Christ. The book is almost devotional at points, exploring the spiritual nuances of the gospel as they apply to his struggle. Even if he weren’t addressing same-sex yearnings, he provides us with a model of what growing discipleship looks like as we live in a broken world.

This is not a “success” story. There is little movement away from his same-sex attractions during the course of his story, and Hill says he cannot even imagine what the absence of these desires might look like in his life. But we do see personal transformation in how he increasingly understands and welcomes his celibate struggle as an impetus and means to deepen his relationship with Christ. After all, intimacy and union with Christ are the ultimate goals for all believers.

In the introduction, Hill explains his terminology. He calls himself a “gay Christian” and, more frequently, a “homosexual Christian.” Since we hear this term from those who want to legitimize homosexual relations as a “Christian” alternative, it feels uncomfortable—probably both to those who want to legitimize homosexual practice and to those who reject it. At Harvest USA, we feel that using a sexual orientation qualifier for Christians lessens one’s full and primary identity in Christ (see this blog for an excellent discussion on this topic).

But Hill is absolutely on target in reminding us that there is, and always has been, a slice of the Christian church who have struggled, usually silently, with same-sex attraction while remaining faithful to Christ in their lifestyle. Hill provides a number of well-known names as representatives; there are more than we realize. God calls us in the church to understand, empathize, and support them. Like all of us, whatever our sexual attractions, they are broken people, and Christ walks with them in their suffering.

You can’t take this journey of celibacy without accepting that sin causes basic human brokenness. Same-sex attraction is, like all forms of brokenness, a result of the human race’s fall in Adam. And like all effects of the Fall in our lives, we struggle to attain the goal of personal holiness for which Christ calls all of us to strive as we wait for the coming glory when sexuality will no longer be an issue, and intimacy will be complete in Christ. Those who have a small vision of the coming glory—when the coming of Christ will usher in a restored humanity and world—who see sexual intimacy as a right, and who refuse suffering as part of the spiritual journey, will struggle with Hill’s book. But those who long for deep intimacy with Christ, understand the relational power of Christian community, and find Christian waiting profitable in the long run, will find this book encouraging and full of hope.

Part 2., Part 3., Part 4.

Updated 5.5.2017

Paige Benton Brown spoke at the 2012 The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference from 1 Kings 8 and gave a rich exhortation concerning how we do or do not reveal that we are the temple of God. As Paige phrased the question, “Do we have a quality of ‘templeness’ within us?” In her talk, Paige was actually one of the two women I heard who did apply her message to sexual sin in women. She brought out the challenging but rich calling that we all have to be the home of the Lord:

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV).

Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are not our own to do with them whatever we please. This is a powerfully counter-cultural message, especially when the spirit of our age proclaims individual autonomy and self-expression as the core foundation of our identities.

Sisters, when we attach ourselves romantically to our female friends; when we relate sensually to one another physically and perhaps even sexually; when we chat sexually with others with our mouths, texts, and keyboards; and when we are sexual with ourselves or anyone who is not our husband, we are failing to give glory to Jesus, our King, Savior, Healer of our hearts, and Lord of our bodies. We are in fact being sexually ‘insane’ if we pursue self-expression and autonomy from God. Such an attitude reveals a deceived and rebellious heart that demands to do what I want, when I want, and with whom I want.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of God? Will you not treat yourself and your body as God sees you? Will you allow Jesus to rein you in to himself with love and kindness and to rule over your desires, fears, relationships, and sexuality?

Why would you want to do that? Because you were bought with a high price, the life of Jesus himself, so that you could live in the glorious freedom and beauty of being the woman God calls you to be.

To develop these ideas further and glorify God with your sexuality, check out one of Harvest USA’s mini books, Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart, which is available in the Harvest USA bookstore. Also, we have a curriculum for women who are struggling sexually, called Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing for Relational and Sexual Brokenness. This resource was written to assist you in delving more deeply into the hope and redemptive ‘sanity’ that the gospel of grace promises to us in our relational and sexual brokenness! Visit the Harvest USA Online Store to take a look at our resources.

Updated 5.8.2017

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