Simon van Bruchem

Do We Really Believe That Singleness and Marriage Are Equal in God’s Sight?

It is good for us to understand that the modern focus on marriage in the church is not how it has always been. The monastic movement, for all its flaws, was an attempt to take 1 Corinthians 7 seriously and to use your life to wholeheartedly serve Jesus without the divided interests that come from marriage and children.

Those who are not married and those who are married are of equal value in God’s sight. All people are made in the image of God. All Christians are saved only by grace through the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross for our sins. In no way does our marital status impact whether we are of value to God.
The apostle Paul famously says this in 1 Corinthians 7. In fact, he holds up singleness as superior for serving God in some ways, for instead of having divided interests you can live for God with all your heart.
This is not controversial theologically, yet do we truly believe this in practice? Christians and churches can teach marriage as such a worthy goal that single people are unintentionally alienated. Christian groups campaign for marriage in the wider culture, which is needed and timely. There are all kinds of ministries in most churches for marriage enrichment or for children. Well-meaning Christians can make unhelpful comments to single Christians in their churches about marriage, even trying to set them up with others they know. While marriage is a good gift from God, we can give the idea that it is the goal in life rather than serving God in whatever state we happen to be in.
And that’s before consider the family pressure many young adults feel to get married. There are many tense moments at family gatherings for the average single adult when their parents imply (or simply say!) that they are in some way less worthy because they have not been married.
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Marriage Is Not the Goal of the Christian Life

Our focus should be on loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. That is true whatever our marital status might be. We should not see marriage as the end goal of our lives; we should instead be asking, “How do I serve and glorify God best through my marriage?” Marriage can be a great platform to serve God and other people rather than a selfish end in itself. While there are many ways to answer this question, let me just give you a few to think about. 

When people get married, you often see a familiar pattern emerging. Instead of spending time with their friends as they used to do, all of their time is now devoted to their spouse. They stop going to parties and their previously-large social circle begins to shrink. It is this phenomenon that the Skyhooks sang about in their 1975 song “All my friends are getting married”:
Well all my friends are getting marriedYes they’re all growin’ oldThey’re staying home on weekendsThey’re all doin’ what they’re told.
There is something good about devotion to your spouse, of course. And being married will undoubtedly change the way your social life works. Yet this complete withdrawal into a marriage “bubble” reveals something about our hearts. It is like the goal in life is to be married, and once that goal is achieved, you can just enjoy it and work hard on it. Everything else now becomes a distant second place.
Do you see the problem with this? The goal in life for Christians should not be to get married. Marriage is a good gift from God, sure. But so is singleness, in a different way. Marriage was never supposed to be the ultimate thing. Marriage itself is supposed to point to the love of Christ and the church.
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Our Love Might Be Blind, but Jesus’ Love Is Not

On the spiritual level, we should rejoice in the fact that Jesus sees us as perfect in God’s sight despite our flaws. Yes, we see our own flaws and we feel our sins and limitations and history so deeply. God is also aware of our sin; after all, He sent Jesus to die for us to save us from it! God is not blind to our shortcomings like those newly in love are. Yet our sins are covered by the finished work of Jesus. Once we have trusted in Jesus, we are whiter than snow (Ps 51:7).

When you are early on in a romantic relationship, everything about the one you love is fantastic. You cannot find a flaw. They appear perfect to you in every way. Their laugh, their mannerisms, their jokes, everything is just ideal in your eyes. This is what it meant by the phrase “love is blind”. Driven by love, you only see the good and you cannot see the bad.
Of course, the other person is not entirely good; no-one is even close! They will have physical flaws, particular temptations, personality issues and a history. If you remain together, you will come to see some of these problems. That laugh that was so endearing might come to grate on you; that little mannerism that was written off as cute might be identified as actually being selfish or rude. We only see the reality over time.
We see this in Song of Songs as well. The woman notes in chapter 1 that her skin was darker than most women because she worked outside in the vineyard (1:6). In a culture that valued light skin, she would not be seen by most as conventionally beautiful. Yet when her man looks at her, all he sees is beauty. She is the “most beautiful amongst women” (1:8). He looks at her and sees only the good.
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Don’t Let Passion Drop Off in Your Marriage and Christian Life

People who have been Christians a long time often don’t feel the depth of passion for Jesus they once did. While this in itself is not something we can control, we should be striving to glorify God in all we do, to live out of love for Jesus. That will mean reminding ourselves of God’s goodness often, to make effort in prayer, and to grow in knowledge and service.

Song of Songs is a book that is full of passion. The woman dreams of being with the man, and the man looks at the woman and sees the one who has captivated his heart. They speak to one another in poetry and use colourful metaphors to describe each other’s body parts. When they are apart, they dream of being together.
Maybe you’ve seen a couple who are like this. People usually early on their relationship who cannot get enough of one another. The way they look at each other and their body language screams to you that they have passion for each other.
When a couple has been married for a long time, things change. They settle down. The emotions calm down and things become more comfortable. The compliments become less frequent and the practicalities of life start to dominate instead of the poetry and joy of an early-stage relationship. Sexual activity often drops a lot. And it can happen that, before you know it, the marriage has become more like a flatmate kind of relationship. It works, it is functional, but the passion has gone away.
Why does this happen? Part of it is just a natural progression of life. Emotions change and mature. We don’t always need to manufacture some kind of feeling. The problem becomes when we no longer make the effort and stop to appreciate what we have in the other person.
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Christian Teaching on Sex Should be More than “Don’t do It”

Love and sex are great gifts from God in the right setting. There is joy to be found in marriage and love. And this joy, these great gifts, are a pointer to a greater love, of Christ for his church. When we understand the power of the gifts of love and sex, we will understand that the church teaches a much higher view of sex than the wider culture does.

I fear that many people think that the Christian teaching on sex is “it is bad, don’t do it”. After all, many of the public statements from Christian sources on this topic are to oppose something that doesn’t fit the Biblical ideal. There are many “thou shall nots” when it comes to Christian teaching about sex.
This idea is reinforced by the fact that many churches rarely speak about love and sex from the pulpit. These issues are discussed in marriage counselling and sometimes in training events, but seem to be less prominent in preaching programmes. Many Christian households also avoid speaking about sex to their children due to embarrassment or cultural reasons, leaving the children to then work things out for themselves.
Where do young people get their information about sex from? The school system does teach on this topic, but mainly in terms of biology and how not to get pregnant or catch a disease. The message the school delivers is “you can sleep with whoever you want, just make sure you both agree and are safe about it”. Schools are not the only source of information, however. Many just search on the internet to find answers and unfortunately discover either pornography or other encouragements to do whatever feels good.
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Why was there Darkness Before Jesus Died?

Like in Exodus, Jesus’ death is the place where his people can be saved, knowing that One is sacrificed in their place. Like in Amos, Jesus’ death is where God’s judgement is centred; our sins are poured out on Jesus instead of us. God is the same God in the Old Testament and the New. A God who saves his people who don’t deserve it, and who requires all sin to be paid for.

A series of very strange things happened around the time of the death of Jesus on the cross. While he was hanging on the cross, it became dark like night-time in the middle of the day, from around midday to 3 p.m. (Matt 27:45). That would be incredibly creepy. At the time when the light was usually the brightest, it was darkness instead.
Many have approached this event by trying to work out the way that it could have happened. Maybe it was an eclipse? Well, no. This happened at Passover time, which meant a full moon, so an eclipse was impossible. In any case, a solar eclipse doesn’t lead to darkness for three hours. We’re not told the mechanism that God used to do this. Obviously this doesn’t usually happen and cannot easily be explained, yet we believe that God controls all things and can most certainly do something like this.
The real question to ask is what it means. Why would God do something so odd? Matthew doesn’t stop to explain it; he only reports it. As readers of the gospel, we should be asking if there is anywhere in the Old Testament that might help us understand this. And there is; in fact, with this event, there are two important places to look.

The ninth plague in Egypt.

When God was about to save his people from slavery in Egypt, he sent a series of ten plagues on the Egyptians.
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Christians Are Part of Something Bigger than the Local Church

We have brothers and sisters who worship in churches with different labels above the door. They might differ from our church in how they think about baptism, church government, or worship. They might have different emphases to how we go about things. This is also good for us to reflect on. The way our local church does it is not the only way it can be done. God is working in many different types of churches.

For most of us, being part of a local church is the key place we experience the Christian community. As it should be! It is with the people that we see regularly and we know well that we live out what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We learn to bear with one another, to forgive one another, to use our gifts to build one another up, and to share our lives in lots of different ways. All believers should be a part of a local church.
Yet it is also important to know that our local church is part of something bigger. Jesus did not only die for the people in your local church. He died to make a people for himself from every tribe, people and language. It is very helpful for us to understand that we have brothers and sisters all around the world that also love Jesus.
This can take a range of forms, of course. Perhaps your church is part of a denomination. In recent weeks, I have had the privilege of speaking at a sister church in my city as part of a scheduled pulpit swap. I also spoke at a sister church in another state as an invited guest, being privileged to open God’s word and get to know brothers and sisters I had never met before. These experiences drove home to me that God is doing good things in other places. God’s work is far more extensive than anything I can see in my own local church.
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The God of Second Chances

We are weak like Peter, hopeless like Elijah, and intentionally sinful like David. If we were to be excluded for our many mistakes, there would be no-one left. The good news is that Jesus died in the place of people who don’t only make mistakes but who could be counted as enemies of God. In order to be saved, we need to realise that we are people who don’t deserve it and God in His grace has saved us anyway.

In our culture, if you make a mistake, you’re out. One wrong tweet can mean that people boycott your books. One thoughtless soundbite in a press conference and you might not be up for re-election. It does not take much for the online mob to call for your blood. For a society which likes to pride itself on tolerance, anyone who speaks against the accepted truth can end up excluded forever.
God is not like that. What a wonderful thing! We worship a God of second chances.
The apostle Peter denied Jesus on the night Jesus was arrested. And not only once, not just a minor mistake, but three categorical denials that he even knew Jesus! Only a few hours earlier, Peter had promised that he would never abandon Jesus and would even die for him. It was right for Peter to weep bitterly as he realised what he had done. This was no minor infraction; at the first opportunity, Peter showed his weakness and cowardice.
Yet that was not the end for Peter. He was restored by Jesus at the end of John’s gospel. And he went on to become one of the leaders in the early church, facing much persecution for his faith and teaching. God gave him a second chance.
And this is not an isolated thing for God, either. You can find God acting in this way so often in the Bible.
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It Is Possible to Remain Faithful in an Oppressive World

When you see the culture degrading and moving farther from the true God, don’t think that faithful living is impossible. There were many who remained faithful in the time of King Ahab and there are faithful believers in much more difficult situations around the world right now. God’s promises remain true. We can continue to the end. Not because we are so clever, but because Jesus is so good.

It is easy to become defeatist about being a Christian in this world. We can see how difficult it is to resist temptation. We can see the prominent people on Instagram speaking about how they deconstructed their faith and are feeling so much happier with life apart from church. We see laws being passed or proposed that make life more complicated for Christians. How can we continue on like this? How is it possible to be faithful when we are so weak and our culture is so strong?
To answer that, let’s consider the time period covered by the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Kings. People in every age assume that they are the first ones to live in difficult times; it is not true. The books of Kings cover a time period from roughly 950 to 600 BC. If you were a believer in the true God back then, life was generally very oppressive. The political leaders often actively hunted those who believed in the true God. The religious situation was a disaster, with people worshipping other gods like Baal, degrading to child sacrifice and adoption of Syrian gods later in 2 Kings. The overall flow of the story is a tragedy with Israel destroyed and Judah off in exile in Babylon. If there was a time to feel a little defeatist as a believer, it was to live in those days.
Yet if we walk away from the books of Kings just feeling defeated and wondering why anyone would bother trying to be faithful, we have missed the point.
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Your Faith Is Demonstrated in How You Respond to Problems

It is not for us to know why we face what we face. The ‘why’ question often leads nowhere. Yes, there were times in 1 and 2 Kings when a famine or event happened directly due to God’s judgement. Most of the time we won’t know why our lives are how they are. Perhaps we have issues due to our own sinful decisions; maybe it is part of a bigger plan of God we have not been told about. Seeking to know why is not the main focus of what we should be thinking and doing.

In some circles, Christians are directly taught that if they are faithful to God, they will be blessed with an abundant, happy and healthy life. It is a compelling message. We’d love it to be true. A neat life where faithfulness directly leads to an easy life right now sounds fantastic!
And this is not only an issue for Christians who have been taught this kind of prosperity theology. All of us will, at times, think along these lines. We will wonder if the problems we are currently facing are some sort of judgement from God. We will be upset if our plans don’t come about, assuming that God should give us what we want.
Yet the ease of your life is a bad indicator of your faith in God. Even a cursory look at the Bible will demonstrate that. The men who wrote Psalms 37 and 73 both noted that those who care nothing for God often seem to have happy, successful lives while believers struggle. Evil kings like Ahab and Manasseh reigned for a long time. The prophets and apostles all had difficult lives facing all kinds of problems. Life is not as simple as the faithful getting blessed now and the wicked facing immediate judgement.
Looking through the many kings described in 1 and 2 Kings, both good and bad, is instructive for us here. The vast majority of them faced major problems in their lives. The difference between the good kings and the wicked kings was not the circumstances they lived through; it was how they reacted to those circumstances.
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