Over the years I have become increasingly sensitive to how Marriage and the Family Month can be a difficult time for single Christians. Not only can it be a frustrating and even depressing experience, it also holds the capacity to increase temptations to sin in ways the normal church calendar does not. Following is a list of the five top temptations for the single Christian during Marriage and the Family Month:
It is easy to become angry thinking that one's needs are being overlooked during the month of February (and this probably is true, to some extent). It is then just a small step to justifying one's anger by assuming that it is righteous to harbor such feelings. However, I have become increasingly convinced over time that our anger is rarely righteous, and because of this, we should refrain from anger -- even supposed "righteous anger" -- unless there is a clear call to do so.
"My beloved brethren, let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20).
If our anger is merely that we are personally being overlooked, then our anger is not justified. The Body of Christ does not exist for us, but rather, we exist for the Body. Subsequently, we should not expect our personal needs to always be addressed or satisfied at any one corporate meeting of God's people. The simple fact that others may be edified and helped should encourage us to pray for Marriage and Family Month rather than condemn it. In short, we must be careful that our anger does not gain a foothold in our lives, otherwise, the following sins will result...
As we listen to messages on marriage and family, we may be prone to the sin of envy. Envy is worse than jealousy. Jealousy in its bad form is when we wish we had what others have. Envy is worse; it is when we not only wish we possessed what others possess, but in our jealousy, wish that others did not possess what they possess, simply because we don't!
Plantinga puts it this way: "Envy is a nastier sin than mere covetousness. What an envier wants is not, first of all, what another has; what an envier wants is for another not to have it... To covet is to want somebody else's good so strongly that one is tempted to steal it. To envy is to resent somebody else's good so much that one is tempted to destroy it. The coveter has empty hands and wants to fill them with somebody else's good. The envier has empty hands and therefore want to empty the hands of the envied" ("Not the Way It is Supposed To Be", p. 162).
Envy is such a serious sin that it is placed alongside sins such as homosexuality, adultery, murder, drunkenness, stealing (see Mark 7:21- 23; Romans 1:28-30). Because of this, we should not underestimate its destructiveness.
Anger and envy are not only destructive to the life of the soul in their initial appearances, but they also are dangerous over the long haul. In other words, anger and envy held over time become a deeply rooted bitterness that is hard to root from the soul. Because of this, the writer of Hebrews warns us to make every effort to remove this sinful root from our souls, precisely because of its capacity to squelch God's grace in our lives:
"See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled" (Heb 12:15).
One of the dangers of bitterness is that it slowly saps gratitude from our hearts, and when gratitude is gone, there is no longer reason to worship God through thanksgiving. Peter Kreeft puts it well by bitterness with envy: "Envy removes joy because envy is the opposite of gratitude, and gratitude is the seedbed of joy... We are always confronted by the half-full, half-empty glass. Our lives and our worlds are finite, never fully filled, never fully empty, so we always have opportunities for gratitude for the half full or ingratitude, resentment, and bitterness at the half empty and envy of those whose glass is fuller" ("Back to Virtue," p.122)
The end result of anger, envy, bitterness and ingratitude is discontent with God's provision in our lives. In essence, through discontent, we accuse God of ill-will toward us and lay our souls open to many other temptations.
We must always remember that any problems we encounter are not due to our circumstances in life, but due to sin in our own heart. We can learn to be content in all situations, for contentment never depends on circumstances, but on our attitude to our circumstances.
"For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:11-13).
Marriage is not all it is cracked up to be. It is a holy institution, but it is not the purpose or goal of life. Because of this, we must keep from the temptation of thinking that singleness is the problem and marriage is the solution.
Idolatry is when we take good things and raise them to the level of our highest value, thus replacing God with the object of our desire, whatever it may be. The following quote by Herbert Schlossberg is both telling and convicting: "Anyone with a hierarchy of values [and we all have a hierarchy of values] has placed something at its apex, and whatever that is, that is the god one serves" ("Idols for Destruction," p. 6).
I understand why some people attend other churches during this month, and I am not nearly as condemning of this as I used to be. However, may I encourage you to "tough it out" and remember that the health of the whole Body of Christ is more important than the needs of individuals within the church. I know, I know: Very few married persons would stick around if we had a "Celebration of Singleness Month" (something that would be very appropriate in light of the teaching of Holy Scripture and the living Tradition of the church). But this is no reason to abandon the body. However, if this is the only way you know how to deal with Marriage and the Family Month, please know that I sympathize with you even though I can't support your choice.
Finally, a number of beloved Theites are marrying in the next few months. I encourage you to rejoice with those who rejoice in these matters. The same sins that accompany Marriage and the Family Month can accompany the "marrying off" of those within our group. Because of this, commit yourself to obey God's command to "rejoice with those who rejoice" (Romans 12:15a). I believe that this command is much harder to obey than we realize, for it is truly hard to rejoice when others are blessed and we feel we are receiving the short end of the stick. In light of this, those who are marrying over the next few months should not forget the other side of this command: "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15b).
If we all remain sensitive to the cares and concerns of others, we can do much to build up the body, and even more, we will truly fulfill God's command to love one another!
© Richard J. Vincent, July 21, 2002