Much of the tension in our self-image as single people, and in relating to those of the opposite sex, has risen because we are pursuing marriage. Because the married state is so exalted, we are always thinking about our future marriage partner. We have attended seminars on marriage, read books about it, heard sermons — and so we devise a plan for the perfect marriage partner. We then go running around with our list of characteristics, checking people out. But when we get down to item seven or eight on the list and he or she doesn’t measure up, we say good-bye. That’s not the one, so let’s try another. Our idealized concept of marriage causes all kinds of frustrated reflections and comparisons.
I have discovered that what God wants us to pursue is not marriage, but love. Marriage is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. Marriage is the servant of love. If we are pursuing marriage we are pursuing the wrong thing because love then becomes subservient to marriage. We start coming up with our own ideas of what love is. We don’t allow the lord to show us and teach us, through the relationships he gives us, what love actually is. Pursue love, not marriage. This simple principle has set me free in the past few months in my relationships with my Christian sisters. Pursuing love immediately does all sorts of wonderful things. It does away with the “Is this the one?” question, because that is not so important at this point. I am learning how to minister, how to build others up, how to be friends.
I need to tell you what I mean by pursuing love. The standard of love is expressed in I Corinthians 13. As far as I am concerned, no other definition of love is worth spending time on. In verses four through seven of this chapter there is a checklist of eight characteristics of true love. Read this and see if you really know what true love is. This passage stands in tremendous contrast to the love of the world, the love we hear about today in songs and movies.
“Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not jealous, love does not brag. It is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly does not seek its own. It is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Loving Means Accepting
Let’s talk now about two practical areas concerning the pursuit of love in relationships between mature single adults. Two principles which come out of my own experience are certainly backed by Scripture. The first is acceptance. Rather than viewing people with my preconceived ideas of what I want to make them into — or what I hope they already are — I come as a viewer, a receiver. I am to accept them because the Lord accepts them. He loves them, He died for them, and I am to accept that. I am to allow myself to be ministered to by them, to be blessed and encouraged by them, to accept them the way they are.
This is a beautiful, exciting way to relate to people. If we regard people as discoveries, then we won’t put bonds on them; we won’t force them to conform to our preconceived ideas. We will accept them and learn from them. God accepted us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). He didn’t place any behavioral criteria on us. He accepted us in our rags. Are we going to demand higher standards from others? The Lord says, “As I accepted you, so accept your brothers.”
In pursuing love, acceptance — the quiet, slow process of revealing yourself to another person, is what enables us to take our masks off. It may be a difficult, even painful, experience, but it is rich, deep and fulfilling. Have you ever revealed yourself to another person and then had him her begin open up to you in a relationship of acceptance? You don’t have to wait for marriage to experience that. You can start right now. We should be relating to all others in that way. We need to help each other take our masks off. Acceptance is the key to that.
Commitment — Not Just for Marriage
The second principle is commitment. This is sadly lacking in our brother-sister relationships. Many of us use the brother-sister relationship basically as a cop-out from responsibility. The way I see it for a brother, commitment is actually a taking-on of responsibility. (I am speaking primarily to brothers, now.) I’ve talked to many sisters who have been deeply hurt by this cop-out thing. I have talked to so many sisters who have been in friendships in which both parties have started to reveal themselves to each other, started to spend some time together, and then a kind of weirdness set in.
By weirdness I mean the pressure that results from the prospect of marriage raising disquieting inner questions like, Is this the one? Is this that relationship? Yet we don’t communicate these questions to the other person. This weirdness creeps in, both parties get uptight, and the brother takes off. The sister has bared her heart, but the brother has turned and walked away, thinking, this is just a good brother-sister relationship, right? We use that excuse sometimes as a cop-out from the responsibility to truly get to know one another.
I have begun to see that there is no back door in any relationship. Once you begin a relationship in the kingdom of God, even if it starts to get difficult, you have a responsibility to work that difficulty out. You pray, you talk, you seek the Lord’s mind as to what is happening. Don’t run in fear; move forward. The definitions of the relationship may change, but the Lord is striving for us to become one in him. Any move counter to that oneness is a move against his will.
I would like to share one personal experience which will illustrate what I mean. In recent months I have gotten to know a sister whom I met in South Africa. Later we met again in California and we got to know each other better. I realized that she had been burned in earlier relationships. She was very cautious about sharing her thoughts very freely. But as we got to know each other she trusted me more and more and began to reveal more of her life to me. It was a mutual thing; we began to encourage one another and to open up toward each other.
Then the weirdness came! (This was before I learned these principles. As a matter of fact, this relationship was one of the things that helped teach me.) We had a good talk; we took a step back, and said, “We’re really not sure where we’re going. Neither of us is thinking about marriage right now, so let’s not start leading in that direction; just brother-sister, right?”
Then the Lord showed me that my responsibility to her was to remain more committed than ever. If ever there was a time I was responsible to stay with her and to be communicative, it was then. The next time we got together she said, “You know, I thought I was never going to see you again.” If I had left, it would have been one more time; it would have been that much more difficult for her to open up her life to someone else the next time. We both discovered that something good happened at this point. We no longer worried about marriage — we had dealt with that. Now we have a fantastic friendship.
These principles are not only for single people but for all brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. Begin to commit yourself to relationships. Step out in faith. It involves a tremendous risk. It’s a lot easier to keep everybody at a distance. But I encourage you to pursue love, in spite of your fear, and watch God set you free.