All the Men You Don’t Marry
- Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I was once told – by a man – that if a man didn’t treat me like a queen, I should kick him to the curb. As well meaning as this advice was, not every man is going to treat me like a queen; most men are going to treat me like a sister and a friend. So either I kick a lot of men to the curb, or I had better come up with a plan for how I treat all the men I don’t marry.
Ironically, it was a man who showed me how. Years ago, I was critically evaluating another man in a conversation with my friend and small-group leader, Doug. I explained the cryptic actions of this other man, which I then pronounced as “creeping me out.” I thoroughly expected Doug to agree, and even to laugh with me. But when I finished my long tale, there was a customary pause on the other end of the telephone.
I waited, my smile fading.
“I’m wondering,” he said kindly, “how you would define ‘creeping me out’ in biblical terms.”
“Ummm…” I replied, cautiously. “I guess I mean I’m irritated by him. I don’t understand his actions or his motives.”
“Uh, huh,” he said, waiting for me to put two and two together.
“I’m not the only one who feels this way, though,” I added. “A lot of other women feel this pressure from him, too.”
Hellloooo! Now you’ve added gossip to self-righteous criticism!
“Uh, huh,” he repeated.
I had better shut up.
I was digging myself into a hole in this conversation. As always happens, whenever we sinfully judge others, we end up condemning ourselves. After Doug patiently revealed to me my self-righteous attitude (and I repented of it), he asked me one more, memorable question.
“One more thing – I’m not hearing where you are concerned about this brother being conformed to the image of Christ,” he said gently. “Have you thought about that? If he is offending you or these other women, why hasn’t anyone kindly brought that to his attention so that he can grow and change?”
Too Many Categories
Doug has always been good at asking me the tough questions! During our conversation, he not only helped me see my sinful, critical attitude, he also revealed to me my worldly way of thinking about single men. His question ultimately revealed that I was thinking of single men in three categories: Potentials, Just Buddies, and No Ways, with each meriting different treatment. That’s too many categories. There’s just one for believing single men: Brothers, and consequently they all deserve the same treatment. Maybe one day a Brother will initiate a relationship to find out if the Lord would be moving him into the Husband slot. But until the words “I do” ring out from the wedding altar, he’s still my Brother and potentially someone else’s Husband.
My job as their sister in the Lord is to encourage and support these men, not to categorize them and treat them as such. James 2:2-4 reveals our tendency to show partiality: “For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
My paraphrase is, “For if a fine-looking man without a wedding ring comes into your assembly, and an awkward, plainer man in outdated clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the good-looking man and say, ‘You sit here in a good place, right here by me, sweetie’ while you say nothing to or cut short the conversation with the less attractive man, have you not then made distinctions among them and become proud women with self-centered ambitions?”
We will stand out from our culture if we are consistently kind to everyone we meet, not just the Potentials. Not only that, we will stand out to a truly godly man who observes this impartial kindness in us. In doing so, we reflect our Savior. As J.C. Ryle once wrote in 1873:
“Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus” (John 11:5). This verse teaches us that Christ loves all who are true Christians. The characters of these three people seem to have been somewhat different. Of Martha, we are told in a certain place, that she was “anxious and troubled about many things,” while Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard His word.” Of Lazarus we are told nothing distinctive at all. Yet all these were loved by the Lord Jesus. They all belonged to His family, and He loved them all.
We must carefully bear this in mind in forming our estimate of Christians. We must never forget that there are varieties in character, and that the grace of God does not cast all believers into one and the same mold. Admitting fully that the “foundations” of Christian character are always the same, and that all God’s children repent, believe, are holy, prayerful, and Scripture loving; we must make allowances for wide varieties in their temperaments and habits of mind. We must not undervalue others because they are not exactly like ourselves.
The Lord’s Definition of Family
This generosity is not easy to cultivate, in my opinion. To grow in our sisterly affections, we must purposefully note and examine how we interact with our brothers. I didn’t grow up with natural brothers, so I’ve always thought of myself as hindered in this area. But I don’t have to rely on my experience to shape this concept, for there is a Scripture passage I’ve found that’s concise and helpful for me. Matthew 12:46-50 says, “While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (emphasis added).
The first concept I note here is the humility of Jesus in calling a broad range of sinful people His family. We have been adopted into His family because we are fellow sinners reconciled to God through what Jesus accomplished for us on the Cross. Thus, by grace, we are enabled to do the will of our Father in heaven. The second concept I take away from this passage is that this is how I can relate to each of my brothers. I can point them back to the will of our Father, thereby helping them bear fruit that glorifies God. I’ve found I can apply this concept in three ways:
- Observe them. In order to be intentional as a sister, I must take note of the men the Father has put in my life, from colleagues to Bible study members to church friends. It’s fun to observe the men we’re interested in, but it takes more effort to study and take note of other men. If we resolve to observe all of our brothers, then we easily can do the next two steps.
- Encourage them. It’s not always effortless to do the will of the Father, especially in our current culture. But how refreshing to the soul it is to receive a timely word of “well done.” There’s a fine line between encouragement and flattery. If you are faithful to encourage many men, especially in the hearing of others, you will not confuse anyone about your intentions. For me, these two steps require that I shut my mouth in group contexts, and sit back to study what God is doing at that moment in the men around me. Often, I will find many things to comment on later -- from hearing a more reserved man bringing up a good point in a Bible study, to seeing a busy man offer to help someone move. Encouragement keeps people from growing weary in doing good deeds. Let’s be faithful to look for these reflections of God’s grace in these men’s lives and to comment on them as we see them doing the will of the Father.
- Seek to see them conformed – not to your preferences, but to the image of Christ. This is what Doug was encouraging me to do. It’s not so much an active process, but an active concern. Our motivation should be care and concern when someone is not doing the will of the Father, and to humbly bring what we’ve observed and our questions about it (not judgments) to our brothers.
It’s tempting as singles to simply avoid those people who irritate us or whose sin or weaknesses always seem to spill out whenever we’re around. But that’s not carrying a concern to see our brothers (and sisters) in the Lord grow and mature in Christ. If there’s something we don’t understand or that offends us, we should ask kindly about it, motivated by an understanding that we don’t know or see everything related to the situation. We should also trust that the Holy Spirit is the one who brings conviction for change, so our observations should initially and continually be in our prayers. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
We are called to restore one another gently, not ignore one another. Let’s not excuse ourselves from the family just because we’re single. If we are to marry, it will be a temporary gift for this life. But our brothers in the Lord will be with us for an eternity, so that should inform how we relate to all the men we don’t marry.
Carolyn McCulley handles church and ministry relations for Sovereign Grace Ministries and is a member of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD. This column is adapted from her book, "Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred." (Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187). Carolyn welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit her website or blog.
Your questions answered! Beginning in 2006, Carolyn will periodically answer Crosswalk.com reader questions in her monthly columns. While we can't guarantee that each question will be answered, we do hope to hear from you! Please send your questions regarding singleness and related topics to Carolyn at email@example.com.
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