Nature of Christian discipleship and Singleness

There is much misunderstanding about the very nature of what it means to be a Christian. My conclusion is these misunderstandings cause much confusion when we consider singleness.

The Christian life involves sacrifice and suffering, not just happiness. Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behaviour here and there. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all.

However, this is not the whole story. Life with Christ does involve sacrifice, as in all relationships, but it is defined ultimately not by what is denied, but by what or, better, who, is embraced. From the world’s perspective, Christ’s call to a wholehearted, sacrificial discipleship seems implausibly unattractive for anyone, regardless of their particular circumstances. If we are to persevere in the life of discipleship ourselves and persuade anyone else to join us, we must somehow communicate that what is offered is not a set of rules, but a dynamic relationship with the living God.

Let us be clear, what the Bible clearly teaches sounds so unreasonable to so many of us today. Suggesting a single person is celibate is an obvious example of unreasonableness, but not the only one.

All of us have desires that are warped as a result of our fallen nature. Desires for things God has forbidden are a reflection of how sin has distorted me, not how God has made me. Single people will have desires, but that doesn’t define who they are. All Christians, married or single, are called to deny themselves desires that God has forbidden. However, Western Christians have, by and large, stopped denying ourselves – we now talk more about our right to be ourselves.

It’s this new suffering-averse brand of Christianity that explains why few Christians in the West today are willing to face the grief that active evangelism brings, let alone to follow their forebears on to the mission field, persist in difficult marriages, give lifestyle-changing amounts of money away or say no to sex outside of marriage (as biblically defined).

We need to be careful not to narrow everything down to sex. Most people struggle with greed much more than they do with sexual temptation. However, sexual temptation can be a big issue that single and married people have to face.

We are simply not designed for multiple sexual relationships. Sex becomes less relational, more functional and less satisfying as a result.

Celibacy for the kingdom is not a declaration that sex is ‘bad.’ It’s a declaration that while sex can be awesome, there’s something even better – infinitely better! Christian celibacy is a bold declaration that heaven is real, and it is worth selling everything to possess.

I hope these reflections on singleness have been helpful for those who are married as well as those who are single. All I have said needs to be understood in the light that churches should feel more like the waiting room for a doctor and less like a waiting room for a job interview. In the latter we all try to look as competent and impressive as we can. Weaknesses are buried and hidden. But in a doctor’s waiting room we assume that everyone there is sick and needs help. This analogy comes from Timothy Keller, and I believe is key as we work together to bring in the kingdom of God. Let us be honest with each other and ourselves about the struggles we face.

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

Singles and the Church Family

In my previous blog I made the point that singleness is not just the absence of marriage, but is a good and blessed thing in and of itself. I also began to look at some ways that our actions say something different. This blog looks at another way our actions declare something different, I want to look at the importance of church being a family and its implications for singleness.

Jesus defines his family as those who follow him rather than those who are related to him. E.g. Mark 3v31-34.

However, the impression that we can unintentionally give is that the church is made up of biological families, and that unless you are part of one of these conveniently shaped building blocks, you won’t ever fit in.

When church feels like a family, single people say they can cope with not having their own partner and children. When church hasn’t worked in this way they struggle.

In denying someone a sexual partner, God is not denying them intimate relationships – he provides them in countless other ways. However, if the church discourages non-sexual intimacy it gets in the way of what God intends. Too often our response to the sexual revolution going on outside our doors has sadly just been to promote sexual intimacy in the context of Christian marriage. And to encourage people to keep it there by promising this will then deliver all the intimacy they’ve ever wanted. We need to do more, we need to encourage and promote non-sexual intimacy. We need to put as much time and energy into promoting good friendships as we do good marriages.

All this is the responsibility of us all, married people and single people, leaders and those they serve. We all need to work together to ensure that the church is full of the types of relationships God intends.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

Singleness – A subject for married and single people

Before I get into this blog I want to make a large disclaimer. I know that in so many ways I am unqualified to write it! I was married very young and have been married for a long time. I don’t have experience of being single.

However, as a Christian leader I feel that I should reflect on a Christian perspective on singleness, because it is such an important subject and I have concluded there is much unhelpful thinking about the subject out there that needs to be addressed. I think it is a subject that both married and single people need to think about.

It is a subject I have been reflecting and thinking about for a while now, as a married man. I feel it is my responsibility to say something as a married Christian leader. Which is what I intend to do in this series of blogs.

Please see beyond my personal circumstances and see what I have to say. Whether you are married or single!

The first and most important thing I want to say is that singleness is not just the absence of marriage, but is a good and blessed thing in and of itself.

The Bible is very positive about singleness. Jesus himself was single, and this is very significant. He was the most fully human and complete person who ever lived. His singleness in no way diminished his humanity. He was not less of a person for it. No one is. Marriage, for all its blessings, is not intrinsic to being whole and fully realised as a person. Jesus himself stated very clearly that in the new heavens and new earth we will not be married. Marriage is only temporary, singleness is eternal! E.g. Matthew 22v30.

No-one needs to be married to be a complete human. However, the assumption that too many make is that you do. Parents make that assumption, looking forward to their offspring getting married, putting pressure on their children to marry. Friends make the assumption when they see couples getting together. I have realised that I have subtly fallen into this wrong thinking myself and have put unhealthy pressure on single people, I will do all I can to not do it again. I ask you to do the same.

We need to be very clear on the subject. Each state (married and single) has its own ups and downs, opportunities and challenges, grief and joys. One is not superior to the other.

You can often tell what an organization values by what (or who) they celebrate – we need to be better at celebrating all of the Christ-like single men and women (for whatever reason) in our midst. They have been given a precious gift that deserves a party or two as much as any marriage does.

There are many advantages to being single. Single people often have a greater capacity for friendship, greater flexibility of lifestyle, and are free to serve in a greater range of ministries than might be the case with their married friends. Pastorally, I’ve actually discovered more loneliness in marriages than among single people, because marriage can isolate people from their friends; it’s always worse in a context where no-one expects it.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

To Weaken Pride and Cultivate Humility

as suggested by C. J. Mahenny

  1. Reflect on the wonder of the cross of Christ.
  2. Begin your day by acknowledging your dependence upon God and your need for God.
  3. Begin your day expressing gratefulness to God.
  4. Practice the spiritual disciplines—prayer, study of God’s Word, worship. Do this consistently each day and at the day’s outset, if possible.
  5. Seize your commute time to memorize and meditate on Scripture.
  6. Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.
  7. At the end of the day, transfer the glory to God.
  8. Before going to sleep, receive this gift of sleep from God and acknowledge His purpose for sleep.
  9. Study the attributes of God.
  10. Study the doctrines of grace.
  11. Study the doctrine of sin.
  12. Play golf as much as possible.
  13. Laugh often, and laugh often at yourself.
  14. Identify evidences of grace in others.
  15. Encourage and serve others each and every day.
  16. Invite and pursue correction.
  17. Respond humbly to trials.

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How to Cultivate Humility

In previous blogs we have been looking at humility, servanthood and pride. Hopefully done enough to help you see the importance of cultivating humility, being a servant. For us as individuals and for us as a church, a community of God’s people.

Looked, mostly in passing at how we can cultivate humility. This week want to look at it in much more detail.

Prerequisites.

  1. Admit we are proud and that is a bad thing!

You will make no progress in overcoming pride as long as you deny that it exists in you. We can easily see it and recognise it in others, need to be willing to admit it exists in ourselves as well.

  1. Sincerely want to get rid of it.

He has accepted the command to be humble, and seeks to obey it, though only to find how utterly he fails. He prays for humility, at times very earnestly; but in his secret heart he prays more, if not in word, then in wish, to be kept from the very things that will make him humble.

Consider God, especially the cross

To truly be serious and deliberate in mortifying pride and cultivating greatness, you must each day survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died.

Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.

Far from offering us flattery, the cross undermines our self-righteousness, and we can stand before it only with a bowed head and a broken spirit.

Need to be very practical about this – theory into practise.

Resolve to do it daily – cross rescued us. Remind yourself of it. Do it in the morning – acknowledge your need of God as you start the day, express gratitude to God, use your commute time if required.

In the evening as you acknowledge your need of sleep, remind yourself you are a dependant creature. I ask for gift of sleep.

The apostle Peter clearly and practically describes for us how we can humble ourselves daily in 1 Peter 5:6–7. First he writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.” Then he shows us how: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Every time you feel anxious about anything, consider God, consider the cross and give him your anxieties.

Whatever successes you experience in your life and ministry and vocation, learn to immediately transfer the glory to Him. Freedom of self-forgetfulness – spoke to me of feeling good after a well-received sermon, bad after poor one. Both wrong – need to transfer glory to God. Focus on my obedience.

Turn these things into habits – let them become second nature to us. Knee jerk reaction.

There is one thing—and one thing alone—that ultimately matters: God’s opinion of you and me.

Be thankful

“Thankfulness,” Michael Ramsey reminds us, “is a soil in which pride does not easily grow.”

This means actively looking for ways that God is at work in the lives of other people. Attitude of mind that doesn’t always come easily or naturally. Work at it. Let it become habitual.

E.G. Paul recognizes evidences of grace among the Corinthians, and he therefore continually thanks God for them. Personally, I wouldn’t have wanted to be involved with this church. E.g. getting drunk at church meals, people gorging themselves whilst others starved. Sexual immorality – someone having an affair with their father’s new wife. The church proud that they are not being judgemental. Factions and division rife.

Paul looks at the Corinthian church as it is in Christ Jesus before he looks at anything else that is true of the church. That disciplined statement of faith is rarely made in local churches; the warts are examined and lamented, but often there’s no vision of what God has already done in Christ.

Be intimately familiar with the list of the fruit of the Spirit— “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). Make a practice of observing how the Spirit manifests these traits in the lives you see around you, suddenly you will be aware that God is at work everywhere!

For too many, their understanding of God’s activity has been reduced to the spectacular, and it appears to them that the spectacular is something that happens only to someone else, never to them.

For us as a church to see what God is doing in other churches, thank God for it.

Other ways

Time and again laughter has provided much-needed help in my ongoing battle against pride. Be willing to laugh at yourself, don’t take yourself too seriously.

Teacher with flies undone. Everyone knows except the teacher, all he knows is that the class is restless, aware humour is spreading but he doesn’t know what the joke is! All have our flies undone. Others clearly see it. And you need their help to identify its presence. Without others’ help to see myself clearly, I’ll listen to my own arguments, believe my own lies, and buy into my own delusions.

Third, avoid any kind of negative comments. Negative is anything that is critical, judgmental, and not designed to bring a good feeling. Avoiding all negative talk is hard.

Fourth, refuse to clear your name. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).

Fifth resist all temptation to promote yourself. These last two things are God’s prerogative alone.

 

Pride is not defeated; humility is not cultivated without effort. Let us resolve to make the effort to  become humble.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

Benefits of Humility

posted in: Hope Church, Tony Thompson 0

“At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.”

We shall find that the deepest humility is the secret of the truest happiness, of a joy that nothing can destroy.

God gives us grace

“God…gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Contrary to popular and false belief, it’s not “those who help themselves” whom God helps; it’s those who humble themselves.

We get wisdom

Behind the high cost of pride is the absence of wisdom. When pride elbows its way into our lives, wisdom takes leave. The highest cost of pride is to forfeit wisdom.

It is pride that will cause us to forfeit wisdom; it is humility that will lead to the awareness we need it.

“The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honour” (Prov. 15:33).

Wisdom is what we forfeit when the opinions of people mean more than God’s favour.

Points people to Jesus

“I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,” he said. One could wonder how history could have been changed had Gandhi met a godly person who was both theologically sound and made him think of Jesus.

Does it bless you when a person continually boasts of whom they know, how much time they have spent with them, and how close they are to them? It feeds on their insatiable ego but does nothing for you!

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

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