Eugene Cho

theology of singlehood II and the “big question”

Here’s part 2 of my sermons on a theology of singlehood as part of a larger series on Relationships.  As you listen/watch the sermon,  I do have a question and would love to get some feedback. It’s the most prominent question I’ve received over the past couple weeks as I’ve taught on singlehood:

You say that singlehood is a choice and a response to God’s revelation. I agree in part but what if it’s NOT a choice. What do you do when you’re single not by choice but because there’s no one out there. What do you do?

The above question is what I’ll be teaching on over the next couple weeks along with the importance of focusing and investing on the three primary aspects: passion, vision, and mission. But how would you pastorally answer that question above?

Here’s the description of the above sermon (articulated by our video/audio staff lead: Mr. Randor 2K):

Pastor Eugene continues spelling out a theology of singlehood and states that the primary question as to whether one should remain single or get married is, what will allow me to serve Christ better with integrity? For some, it is not an issue to remain single and to use the freedom that it provides to serve the Lord in ways that would be more difficult for married couples. For others, the God-given sexual desires of life are such that the covenant of marriage provides an outlet for that. Marriage also comes with a unique kinds of partnership and support that many who are single will never know. Both choices are viable and Biblical ways of living an authentic Christian life.

And if you’re interested, you can check out Part 1 here.

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19 Responses

  1. Bill B says:

    I confess to not having watched your video sermon. Yet, I will side with those who view ‘singleness’ as a choice. As ‘evidence’ I will go back to the Creation Story where God created Man and Woman to ‘join’ in union together. I believe it is what God intended.

    Yet, as a divorced man, I NOW choose to remain single. I do NOT regret having been married. Odd as this may seem, my ex-wife was and IS a blessing and I wouldn’t trade my three children for anything. My marriage maybe broken, but even in its brokeness, it has/is serving God’s purposes. Though I failed as a husband, God has used it in my sanctification process. All the same, I don’t desire to be married again.

  2. Holly says:

    I viewed my singleness as a choice in this way- I could have lived differently, circulated in different groups, compromised things I believe strongly in, and have been married. So even though it wasn’t a choice in the sense that I wanted it or was turning down marriage proposals right and left, I knew I could choose marriage if that was my ultimate goal. Instead God helped me see and embrace the beauty of singleness. I appreciate the way you are addressing this- I had to learn on my own so much of what you are saying.

  3. randall says:

    I wish I knew how to answer that question. Maybe if I knew, I wouldn’t still be single 8) <-smiley face for PE.

    And I alluded to this in the comments on Part One of TOS but it speaks to the question at hand. The dating pool shrinks the older one gets.

    On top of that, I think as one gets older (and hopefully wiser), the list of things that you'd like to find in a life partner gets longer, not shorter, because as you get to know yourself better you also get a better idea of who you'd like to spend the rest of your life with. And so not only does the pool get smaller, you get more picky about which fish you're going after.

    Compounding this is the problem of finding other Christians to date. For some, this isn't an issue (they'd date non-christians), but for me it's a non-negotiable. The primary dating pool for christians is the church, especially after one leaves college. For some people, that can be a really small pool. And while there are other churches, is it cool to visit them for the purposes of finding someone? To me that seems like a dubious reason to church hop.

    Of course there's the online thing but that has its own problems and limitations. For one thing, those sites cost money. There are free sites like craigslist but creepiness teems there. The people tend to get less creepy with some of the more expensive sites but again, once you filter down to the christians, the pool gets pretty small, pretty fast. And then there's the problem of geography.

    And maybe this is a can of worms that shouldn't be opened, but as an Asian-American, I prefer to date another Asian-American. For one thing, I personally find them more attractive. Sorry, I just do. For another thing, I just know that there will be a kind of cultural common knowledge that I won't have to unpack as much as I would dating someone outside my ethnicity.

    So here's where I am.

    I take the world's population and divide it in half (male/female).

    Then I filter out non-christians.

    Then I filter out non Asian-Americans.

    Then I filter based on other criteria like PE's passion, vision, mission, and other personal things like taste in movies and music and political views, Mac vs PC, etc.

    And then after all of that, I need to deal with my own issues and insecurities surrounding dating even if I do find someone I’m curious about.

    *sigh*

    I suppose that doesn’t answer the question posed but I hope it does speak a bit as to why it’s asked.

    One last note.

    The older one gets and the longer one is single, the more “advice” one gets on how not to be. It gets tiresome after a while. Sometimes I wish married and dating couples would just say, “I’ll be praying for you.”

    But I expect more than that from you this weekend, PE.

    No pressure.

    • Andy M says:

      Randall, this response isn’t just a reply to your post but my thoughts in general as well.

      I think there is a problem with the idea of actively searching for a spouse. I mention this because your post lists various ways that people often meet to start dating. Why do we need to actively look specifically for someone to date? In my opinion we should worry less about dating or finding someone and just relax. If and when He sees fit, God will put someone in your path, and most likely it will not come from many of the typical “date finding” places.

      My wife and I met through a common friend. I didn’t have to go through any website, any single’s group, the same church, the same school, none of that. I wasn’t even a christian at the time, and I know now that there is no doubt that it was God that put us together.

      “Then I filter based on other criteria like PE’s passion, vision, mission, and other personal things like taste in movies and music and political views, Mac vs PC, etc”

      While I understand about filtering when thinking about who you should or should not date, I think it could cause people to filter out other people who would be great with them. A spouse, or even a date, should not be an exact copy of yourself. A spouse is someone who can challenge you, disagree with you, correct you when you are wrong.

      I cannot even begin to explain how much I have learned from my wife, and I know she says the same. But I know that it is only because we are so different. Our lives up until the point we were married were completely different experiences, and we had to reconcile that in order to get married, or we knew we would have a mess. While we agree on much, there is still much that we tend to disagree on, whether it be politics, taste in movies or TV, music, and even her personal passions in life. What is great is that her passion becomes my passion, and my passion becomes hers. Marriage doesn’t mean replacing your passions with those of your spouse.

      Point is, while polar opposites in a marriage may not be a great idea, differences can be good things if you handle it well.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I think I’d start by saying something along the lines of “That must be really crappy and painful!”

    That’s a good start. This world isn’t what it is supposed to be. We have to live with the consequences of others’ foolish and rebellious choices, as well as our own.

    I think it can be helpful to encourage singles to embrace healthy, godly cross-gender friendship and to invest in the lives of families and children. It’s important to live deeply into both the joys and painful longing of that. I think it’s important to encourage them to live in hope, knowing that hope is inherently painful and vulnerable, but also keeps us open to God and others.

    Like every other circumstance we may have to live with in this world, we are called to believe God is working out redemption in the midst of it.

    In one sense, none of that makes it easier or better, at least not for me. What it does is give me other things to focus on and be grateful for.

  5. Renae says:

    I have been single,divorced and married for the second time. I choose marriage over singlehood any day of the week because I get the opportunity to practice the fruits of the spirit daily and often. I get no breaks. In singlehood I got and took lots of breaks. Self importance was and has been the biggest stronghold over my life. Prayer, self awareness, self discipline, courage and a willingness to risk has helped me to heal and to enter into new and unfamiliar territory. My commitment to love God and neighbor as self encourages me to extend myself unceasingly. I have three definitions of love that have helped me to fully understand relationship. The first is found in I John 3:16, the second can be found in …I Cor 13 and the third definition comes from the book, “The Road Less Travelled” authored by Scott Peck.
    Mr. Peck’s definition of love is this, “It is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Now look at The Word found in I Cor 13:4; “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” Extending for the purpose of growth….everday, night, evening, morning, holidays, etc I get the opportunity to extend myself… some days poorly other days with lots of grace and mercy. Both my husband and I are learning to lay down our self importance. In my first marriage I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. I thought life was about me and having my own way. Real love – true commitment is about extending oneself. I have come a long way since my first marriage. I have grown and continue to grow. I am putting away childish things because values have changed. Giving up the old me has been painful but I had to die in order to live anew. Now I see clearly..face to face and death has become an advisor. I have gained everything and so I rejoice out of gratitude for God’s love, through Jesus Christ, and His decision to not let self importance overrule.

    Pastor Eugene – I cannot tell you how much you have blessed me and encouraged my Faithwalk. You are the bomb! Teach on! God be the Glory!!

  6. Eugene, great sermon once again. You have such a gift for addressing sensitive issues in ways that make it safe to be honest with ourselves.

    As a spiritual director, I do sit with people who question why they aren’t married even when they desperately wish to be. You’ve already expressed the basic theology that I share with them, but here are some extra points that tend to arise in my conversations:

    (1) There’s a big difference between simply wanting to be married and truly desiring it in the Ignatian sense of that word. A true desire is a persistent urge from the Holy Spirit, and it ought to fit like a puzzle piece within the very fiber of the person experiencing it. It is a call — an energizing combination of inclination, giftedness, and passion. I observe a huge difference in the energy, the body language, and the expressed longings of people who merely want to be married and those who desire it.

    (2) In American culture, there is often an unspoken belief that marriage is supposed to just “happen” to you, yet we don’t take that approach to any other calling. If a person truly feels called and gifted by God for marriage, he/she has a responsibility to seek opportunities to live out that call. So, for instance, if I felt called to marriage, I believe it would be irresponsible (if not downright dumb) for me to live as I currently do: attending a church where there are no single people in my age range, working at a job where I have no co-workers and cannot ethically socialize with my clients, and making no other efforts to seek social opportunities with other singles. I would be squandering my gifts and my call, as surely as a called missionary would squander her gifts if she chose to work in a bank while she simply waited for someone to ask her to be a missionary. We can’t be passive with our gifts in any area of our lives. It’s not opportunistic to base our choices (like which church to attend or where to live) on the possibility of fulfilling a call to marriage.

    (3) If a person is called and gifted for marriage, has done everything he/she can to maximize the opportunities to live out that calling, and yet has not found a suitable life partner, then while waiting on the Lord it’s important to look closely at that gift mix and find other ways to express it. There are many uses for gifts in building trust and mutuality, for listening, for working with a cooperative spirit, and cherishing, nurturing, and protecting the hearts and spirits of others. I’m not in any way suggesting that other vocations should be accepted as an adequate substitute for marriage, only that everyone’s God-given gifts should be exercised to whatever extent is possible. And at the end of the day, isn’t that how people become attracted to a potential mate, by observing in action the gifts that would make them a good partner for life.

    • Andy M says:

      I’m just curious, where did you get the idea of marriage as a “call”? I see distinct differences between marriage and your example of a call to missionary work. While I admit that I could be wrong on this, I do not recall ever reading or hearing about a “call” to marriage in the scriptures. I am not aware of any evidence of that in the Bible.

      I understand and agree that we should not just wait for marriage to happen. Like your example with the missionary, it doesn’t work to wait for something like we have no effect on the process. But I personally have not experienced a culture of “just wait”. Most of the time I see a culture of dating, whether it be from a singles group, or a website, or whatever, and it all assumes also that everybody is meant to get married. That is what I think our culture is, is that everybody is meant to be married, and of course as Americans we must have instant gratification, so if it doesn’t happen right away, or even in a year or two, then something must be wrong.

      My question is, if you live in a culture that constantly tells you as you grow up that God has someone special for you, (insert christian fairy tale here), is it God or your cultural upbringing that has given you a “call” to marriage?

  7. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by eugenecho: The sermon from last Sunday – Part 2 ‘Theology of Singlehood’ – and the infamous “What if….” question: http://bit.ly/bs9WKH

  8. graysandpiece says:

    This is clearly not from a Christian perspective but I thought it was a timely article to peruse: http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/sex/dating-advice-7-mistakes-single-women-make-580573/

  9. graysandpiece says:

    Oh, and definitely not saying I agree with everything in the previous article, just timely….

  10. Hmm, I may not have the best pastoral approach on this one because, personally, I am single by choice – by a very conscious and careful choice. (And frankly, I’m sick of people telling me “You haven’t really thought this through” or “I pray God changes your heart”.)

    Anyway, the first thing I would ask someone is “Why?” – Why do you want to be married? Why do you think no one’s out there? Then I’d start asking some “What?” questions – What are you looking for? What has happened in your life to bring you to this point? What do you think God’s doing / saying? And What are you going to do now?

    For me, I find that through asking all these questions, people usually reveal things they don’t see – deeper issues, problems, or worries.

    Randall – you’re right about being selective. I choose not to marry, but if I did, my “requirement” list would look a lot like yours. Personally, I think we should all be careful – sometimes people marry just because they’re looking for a spouse or they feel they’re getting older. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. But I suppose, for those waiting, that makes it all the harder.

    Finally, I really appreciate what Sue said about seeking it out. Our culture does have a lot of strange ideas about love, including this idea that you just “fall into” it. My personal perspectives on dating and such have changed drastically as I see people afraid to date because the church tells them not to “date around”. As a result, they’re afraid to go out looking and they just expect a person to show up in their life. God can do it that way, but I think a little more activeness on our part would actually show a lot more faith.

  11. Al says:

    Pastor,

    I dont know what led you to begin this series but I’m very grateful, as this is something that I’ve been struggling with and questioning about myself lately. It seems like most young Christians around me are finding their mates and beginning their lives together. I’ll admit to feeling a little lost and reflecting a little as to why I’m not at that place myself. I find that I’ve become a little cynical and maybe self-righteous in thinking I’m stronger than them to resist the “burning passions” but Jesus revealed to me thats precisely why I’m in this single position that I’m in– because I have a lot to learn about humility and a long ways to go before I’m ready to offer part of me to another person. (I wouldnt want to date someone that’s as confused as I am!)

    I could be dating, and I have, but it’s difficult to find a person with similar values. I simply haven’t found someone that has what I’m seeking in a mate. And I’m realizing that’s ok. I’m comforted in the fact that Jesus loves me and he wants nothing less than the best for me. I must rest assured that he’s using this time to develop me (and quite possibly whomever I’m supposed to be with) so that when the time comes we can offer the best of ourselves to one another. And I’m loved no less because he hasn’t shown me that person yet. I guess TRUST is what it comes down to.

  12. Bill B says:

    I HAVE watched Part 1 and 2 of this series. Very good stuff and looking forward to the rest of the series.

  13. Bill B says:

    By the way, if one has a ‘singleness’ party and, later, ends up getting married; are they obliged to return any gifts they received??

    *smiley face*

  14. elderj says:

    I’ve not yet watched the sermon, but when has that kept me from having an opinion?? 🙂

    Many many people are not single by choice.

    Widows and widowers (and some divorcees) are not.

    Ugly people are not.

    People with disabilities are not.

    People who have same-sex attraction but are trying to live in celibacy as an express of their Christian commitment are, but in an different way, are not.

    People who are fat are (often) not.

    Many more people are single further into adulthood than previously in American society (including in the church) because on the whole, Christians have a thoroughly secularized view of family and marriage which sees completing one’s college education, becoming settled in a career, and somewhat financially “independent” as prerequisites for marriage and child rearing in a way that our predecessors did not. This has created enormous “distortions” if you will, on the “marriage market,” as many men and especially women, postpone marriage during their twenties only to find vastly diminished prospects in their 30’s and 40’s.

    Most people, especially Christians, can and should marry, and should not unduly postpone marriage and childbearing for secular reasons dressed up in spiritual clothes.

    As for what I would tell someone who is single not by choice? I would tell them, “I’m sorry. I’ve been there, and I know it’s painful.” And I would encourage them, as I would encourage anyone in a painful life circumstance, to throw themselves on the gospel of God for comfort.

  15. elderj says:

    Let me add also that we suffer from an impoverished view of friendship that makes things altogether more difficult both for the married and the unmarried:

    http://elderj.wordpress.com/2006/10/25/chingoos-friends/

  16. I am married now, but remember those days of watching “everyone” else pair off and waiting for it to happen. I will say I agree with PP–that some Christians are afraid to date. You can put yourself in situations where relationships might naturally develop, as long as you’re not dogged by pressure to make something happen. That pressure almost always makes things go awry. It’s a balance.

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First day of our daughter's college years at this great school. We love you. We're so proud of you.We believe in you. Go Huskies. Go Dawgs. And also, beat Stanford this Friday. As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it.

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