One Calling for both Single and Married Persons
The second chapter of Genesis is almost always used exclusively to reveal God’s design of marriage. While that certainly is a significant aspect of Genesis there is another vitally important teaching imbedded in Genesis two: that there is one calling for both single and married persons. Let me take a moment to unpack that thesis.
First, our one calling as single and married persons is rooted in God’s very being (as Triune) and in our being image bearers.
The Doctrine of the Trinity and our Calling
God is Triune. We saw that Genesis 1 hints at God being plural when at the climax of creation God enters into “Divine Counsel” – “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26). The biblical and Christian doctrine of the Trinity means that God exists in relationship, in community and it is a doctrine that is vitally important in our understanding of our personhood and calling.
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that community is the highest form of life in the universe: “There is much about the Trinity that is a mystery to us. However, the fact that God has revealed himself to be triune makes it clear that community is intrinsic to the structure of reality. Community and friendship are not created but are foundational to the universe. If God were only one this would not be true. If he were dual, in him there would be love, but because he is Triune, community is the highest form of life in the universe. God always existed in a lifestyle of community.” – Tim Keller, Redeemer Fellowship Group Handbook
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that the very being of God is social, relational: “Within God’s very nature is a divine ‘rhythm’ or pattern of continuous giving and receiving – not only love, but also glory, honor, life…each in its fullness. Think. God the Father loves and delights in the Son (Matt. 3:17), Jesus receives that love and pleases the Father (John 8:29). Jesus honors the Spirit (Matt. 12:31) and the Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son (John 16:14). Each person in the Trinity loves, honors and glorifies the other and receives love and honor back from the others….there is never any lack.” – John Samaan, “Servants Among the Poor” Newsletter
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that created in the image of God we are social creatures: “The three divine persons are not there simply for themselves. They are there in that they are there for one another. They are persons in social relationship. The Father can be called Father only in relationship with the Son; The Son can be called Son only in relationship with the Father. The Spirit is the breath of the one who speaks… Being a person means “being in relationship.” – Jurgen Moltman, Humanity in God
The Doctrine of our being Image Bearers
As I mentioned in my sermon two weeks ago, God created man, male and female, to reflect and represent him in creation. Functionally, this was meant to be lived out in three ways: (1) in our cultural calling, (2) our relationship to God and (3) in our relationship to other persons made in God’s image.
Cultural Calling: God commands us to have rule over creation, to subdue and fill the earth, to work and care for the garden, and, ultimately, to care for the whole earth. Adam is put the man in the Garden of Eden to “work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15). We are made to make. We are deeply wired by God to create. In the deepest sense of the word, we are creative, imaginative beings who long to take what God has already created and bring it into a new existence.
Spiritual Calling: Adam is given a command by God. He is free to eat of any tree in the garden but he is not free to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:16). Thus Adam’s freedom and creatureliness is lived and learned in a trusting, dependent, obedient, worshipping relationship to God His creator. It is in dependence on God, trust in God’s Word, and loving obedience to God’s command that Adam lives in intimacy with God.
Relational Calling: The focus of Genesis 2 is that God calls us to interdependent alliance with other persons in our spiritual and cultural calling. What I want to focus on here is that it is with other image bearers that we rub shoulder, relate, talk. We scarcely can wrap our minds around the immense burden or “weight of glory” as C.S. Lewis put it this implies.
Dan Allender, in his excellent book on marriage, Intimate Allies, brings this out: “What we learn from Genesis 1 is that I am the pinnacle of God’s revelation of glory in creation. I am actually more impressive and lovely than any sunset, anyGrand Canyon, any created being. I uniquely reveal something about the glory of God. (p. 17)
“The startling truth behind the image of God is that we reflect the glory of our Heavenly Father…What an awesome privilege – to reflect, as finite beings, the infinite, perfect beauty of God. And we are able to do so only in the complexity and distinctiveness of both sexes. Both men and women are made in the image of God. Both are necessary to reflect God; one alone is not only incomplete but inadequate to reflect his glory.” (Intimate Allies, 19)
Second, it is in the context of this calling (cultural, spiritual, relational) that God created man and woman in his image, as complementary sexual beings, for an intimate alliance in our calling to love and glory God and cultivate God’s creation.
In Genesis 2 we discover the communal structure of humanity. “It is not good for the man to be alone” 2:18 (Hebrew lo tov, ‘not good’); This is the only negative assessment in the creation narrative, and it is emphatically negative. God leads Adam to see his ‘aloneness’ and ‘lack”; He brings the animals to Adam; Adam names them but none of the animals are sufficient (Gen. 2:19-20). Then God casts Adam into a deep sleep and creates Eve from Adam’s side. Again, Dan Allender writes: “God does not exclusively fill the human heart. He made mankind to need more than himself. The staggering humility of God to make something that was not to be fully satisfied with the Creator and the creation is incomprehensible.”
Thus, we can conclude that at the core of who we are, we are created for relationship, for companionship, friendship, alliance, collaboration and interdependence: “Every human individual being either masculine or feminine, must abandon the illusion of being alone. The constitution of each of us summons to community.” – Henri Blocher, In the Beginning
God creates Eve to be a “strong helper” to Adam
In her excellent book, Lost Women of the Bible, Carolyn Custis James points out, that o be a “strong helper” is the legacy of every woman: “Eve’s forgotten legacy resides in explicit statements God made when he created her. First, God created Eve to be him image bearer – in his image and likeness – and second, to be the ezer, or the strong helper. Furthermore, she shared with Adam what theologians call the “Cultural Mandate” – God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, to rule and subdue the earth. This global mandate included the call to reproduce physically and to engage in scientific, technological, and artistic pursuits. More importantly, the mandate was also profoundly spiritual and theological – the call to reproduce spiritually by multiplying worshippers of the living God and to extend God’s gracious rule over every inch of this planet. This staggering enterprise encompasses all dimensions of life and has occupied the human race ever since. God’s creation design for Eve applies to every woman all the time, from the cradle to the grave.”
She also draws attention to the fact that we need to recalibrate our understanding of what the language of helper means. “Throughout history the church has always zeroed in on “ezer” as the pre-Fall piece of Eve that defines a woman’s role and remained intact despite her sin. God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper [ezer] suitable for him (Gen. 2:18). The meaning of ezer, however, was diminished when translators rendered it helpmeet” and restricted it to marriage. A woman’s mission centered on home and family – vital spheres of ministry to be sure, but only a slice of the vast mission God originally cast by calling woman to rule and subdue the earth. Thinking regarding the ezer began to change when scholars pointed out that the word ezer is used most often (sixteen of the twenty-one occurrences) in the Old Testament to refer to God as Israel’s helper in times of trouble. That’s when ezer was upgraded to “strong helper,” leaving Christians debating among themselves over the meaning of “strong” and whether this affects woman’s rank with respect to the man. Further research indicates ezer is a powerful Hebrew military word whose significance we have barely begun to unpack. The ezer is a warrior, and this has far-reaching implications for women, not only in marriage, but in every relationship, season, and walk of life.” – Carolyn Custis James, The Lost Women of the Bible
There is one purpose for every person
The ultimate purpose of our being created in the image of God, of our being male and female, of our sexuality, of our being single and being married is to glorify and love God by and help each other to glorify and love God as we cultivate and care for his creation.
John Piper makes that point in his strong and compelling way: “I have two simple and weighty points to make…The first is that sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God in Christ more fully. And the second is that knowing God in Christ more fully is designed of guarding and guiding our sexuality….God created human beings in his image – “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) – with capacities for intense sexual pleasure and with a calling to commitment in marriage and continence in singleness. And his goal in creating human beings with personhood and passion was to make sure that there would be sexual language and sexual images that would point to the promises and pleasures of God’s relationship to his people and our relationship to him. In other words, the ultimate reason (not the only one) why we are sexual is to make God more deeply knowable. The language and imagery of sexuality are the most graphic and powerful that the Bible uses to describe the relationship between God and his people – both positively (when we are faithful) and negatively (when we are not). – John Piper, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ
This Calling for both Singles and Married in the Church
It is vitally important to see that we share the same core, essential call as singles and married people: to love and glorify God, to help our neighbor love and glorify God, and to be allies in the care and cultivation of creation.
Singleness and marriage certainly are different contexts and different focuses in which one lives out this one calling. Think of them as different training grounds, or “seminaries” to learn and live this calling out; both have their unique challenges, loneliness, pain conflicts and both have different focuses in terms of energy and priorities. Nevertheless, both the “seminary” of singleness and the “seminary” of marriage have one end, one goal, one calling: that we would cultivate God’s creation to the glory of God and in interdependence with each other.
We are wired for deep relationship and profound alliance and collaboration and it is possible to develop as a whole and complete person as a single.
One can walk in profound spiritual friendship and deep collaboration as a single person. One does not have to wait to get married to begin his/her life. J.I. Packer writes: “Man as such is sexual (male and female), and sexuality being a characteristic of the whole person as a psychic as well as a physical aspect. The psychic side of sexuality, which today is unhelpfully isolated from the world of personal relationships and untruly equated with physical arousal, is actually a school for learning the practice and joy of appreciation, openness, involvement, service, and fidelity, all of which belong to the courtesy that the mysterious reality of the other sex demands. Since these lessons can be learned and this joy known in friendships between the sexes other than the physically expressed friendship of spouses, celibacy is not necessarily an impairing of humanness. The ministries of Jesus and Paul exemplify this.”