For a single Christian, what to do about sexual intimacy can be tough and confusing. You harbor physical urges that God gave to you, but to have sex outside of marriage is a sin. The church’s response has generally been pithy and poor – “Just say no”. Meanwhile, the enemy has seized the void by providing a counterfeit of the sexual love God intended. Through R-rated movies, explicit music and advertising, we are inundated with it. What in the world is a single person supposed to do?
As a follow up to a previous column on sex within a marital context, Minister Pamela Bell of Serenity Pastoral Counseling & Consulting, offers advice for singles.
Minister Pamela Bell, founder of Serenity Pastoral Counseling and Consulting
Minister Bell recently hosted a Valentines Day engagement ceremony for her single clients in the Baltimore area. They celebrated their love affair with the Lord. The ceremony offered the participants an opportunity to renew their vows to God and to increase passion in their relationship with him throughout the year. “Being physically alone does not necessarily equal loneliness”, Bell said. The church needs to reclaim the truth that we are never alone when we are in relationship with God. Being single is actually an opportunity to turn your full attention to your relationship with God. Being married, in fact, can bring complications and opportunities to worship your mate instead of the Lord.
Bell, who has been married 26 years to the same man, says “God allows us to have mates to be able to show our love for him onto a living breathing human being. That mate presents a physical way for us to express our love for God. Whether you’re single or married, what we all have in common is an inseparable relationship with God.”
Humans are spirit first. We are made in the image of a triune God, who is spirit. Our physical bodies are vessels for us to journey on earth until it’s time to return to God. Certainly, we want to express ourselves physically with another human being, but the object of that expression is still God, Bell said. If you understand this, your single status is not a negative, it just means less distractions to God. “It might sound like a cop out to a single person, but a mate is not your source to fulfillment. God is our source,” Bell said.
Ok, that sounds good, but let’s keep this real. What do we tell the single person who is struggling with their sexuality? Bell said she counsels her clients based on what they reveal they are struggling with and yes, many people are struggling with issues such as pornography and sex. “God gave us the ability to imagine and create,” Bell continued. “What we entertain in our minds is important because we are creators. Fantasizing about sexual acts that are against God’s will, creates sin in our lives and sin, whether it is physical or mental, causes us to turn away from God.”
Bell teaches her clients that they can master their bodies through physical exercise, eating healthy and getting proper rest. She also suggests, professional massage, meditation and relaxation techniques to release pent up tension in the body and of course there is prayer. “I often suggest that my clients start a private prayer journal in which they’re writing letters to God about their intimate thoughts and feelings,” Bell said. “David demonstrated the power of prayer journaling. He wrote about his struggles, desires and his victories in what has become the Psalms. He gives us a good example about being in a relationship with the Lord and God referred to David as a man after God’s own heart. We tend to keep our sexual frustrations separate from our relationship with the Lord but He made us and is not uncomfortable talking about sex. By keeping a journal, people can learn from their own experiences and in the future they can go back to that prayer journal and remind themselves that ‘this too shall pass.’”
On February 10, 2012, rapper Too $hort posted a video on XXLMag.com, a hip-hop website, where he gave “Fatherly Advice” to middle-school and high-school boys on sexuality. The disgusting, misogynistic, dehumanizing, and graphic nature of his comments do not bear repeating here, but his comments made me wonder about the consequences of reducing sexuality to merely a physical concept in the absence of virtue. Thankfully, the video was removed and Too $hort offered an apology for offending people. The rapper, however, offered no apology for the way in which he advised young men to touch the bodies of young girls.
The whole episode reminded me that I am not convinced that Christians do a good job of telling young people what to do with their bodies other than say “no” to them. As a result, I am beginning to wonder if abstinence programs are even helpful for developing moral maturity. While abstinence rightly places sexual intercourse within its proper context — marriage — it fails to construct a moral theology of the body. Perhaps this is a good opportunity for Christians to return to teaching chastity.
Some of the early teachings on chastity date back to church Fathers like Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 A.D.) who made a serious case for bodily self-control (some argue he went too far). The teaching has faded, but some contemporary authors continue to make a case for chastity. For example, Duke Divinity School scholar Lauren Winner sought to reintroduce the ancient subject for a postmodern generation in her 2006 book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity and Bible teacher Paul Tripp offers a challenging perspective on the reality of sex and commitment in his 2010 book, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.
For the sake of brevity, the Roman Catholic Catechism provides a useful and succinct introduction to chastity that is helpful even if one does not agree with Catholic doctrine (I will adapt the teaching in this article). The Catholic teaching begins with the recognition that we are sexual beings whose “physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life.” That is, the mutual support between the sexes is lived out as we recognized are complimentary need for mutuality.
The vocation of chastity, then, is defined as “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.” Chastity as a vocation does not require that one divorce one’s body from one’s passions but that one strive for maturity in the virtue of self-control — a skill needed before and after marriage (Prov. 25:28; 1 Cor. 7:5; Gal. 5:23; Titus 2:6; 1 Pet. 5:8). In fact, “the chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. … Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” What develops and matures young people in their moral reasoning and virtue is the conscious and free choice to use one’s body for the good. Not simply to say “no” to sin but “yes” to holiness (Deut. 7:6). Moreover, we are not to be mastered by any sin but are called to intentionally pursue holiness (1 Cor. 6:12). Abstinence does not teach this virtue.
For Christian young people, the knowledge of one’s union with Christ, a commitment to obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, fidelity to prayer, and a daily requesting and reliance on the Holy Spirit, and so on, gives one what is needed to inaugurate one into the vocation of chastity. The active work of the Holy Spirit enables us to permeate the passions and appetites with mature moral reasoning that is consistent with what the Bible teaches.
“Self-mastery is a long and exacting work,” says the Catechism. “One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life. The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.” Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of freedom. Our union with Christ in the pursuit of chastity enables us, then, to be fully human. Chastity leads those who practice it to become witnesses to their neighbors of God’s fidelity, loving kindness, and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). The call to chastity is simply a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
Chastity is for everyone.
All baptized men and women, single or married, are called to the vocation of chastity. Sexual wholeness is living according to God’s articulated design for human beings and applies to married couples and singles in the same way. Abstinence does not teach this. As a man who can relate to sexual temptation (Heb. 4:15), but who never sinned against His call to a chaste life, Jesus Christ is the perfect example of living out the vocation of chastity.
Growth in chastity includes the reality of failure, repentance, and renewal. This is why the gospel and work of the Holy Spirit is so central to the sustaining of such a vocation and why it is unsustainable in the best possible way outside of one’s union with Christ. Chastity is violated with things like adultery, pornography, rape, sex outside of marriage, sexual abuse, and so on.
In the end, if chastity were a dominant teaching in urban America, it would not only address sex before marriage but would create a culture of sexual virtue that honors God, best fits with how God designed human beings to live, and would serve as a powerful example of what is means to live knowing God’s Word is true. Abstinence education is well intentioned but fails to develop young people into morally mature followers of Christ. True love does not wait. True love loves God and neighbor by saying “yes” to God’s better way (Matt. 22:36-40).
TOP READS: Stories about Father's Day cards for black moms, the mysterious death of Zachery Tims, and the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi all found their way into the most-read list of 2011.
Readers don’t always leave comments, but they do quietly let us know which posts capture their attention. For sheer volume of readers, these were the most popular UrbanFaith articles of 2011.
All My Single Ladies: Before you give your heart away, check out these priceless pearls of wisdom for women who want to put God in charge of their love life.
Is Gadhafi a Martyr? Some wonder whether the late Libyan ruler was unjustly overthrown — and whether the United States is complicit in the offense.
Detroit’s Future: From Blight to Bright: How a grassroots movement of young entrepreneurs and faith-based leaders are kick starting the Motor City’s urban renewal.
Venus William’s Toughest Match: Her withdrawal from the U.S. Open because of Sjogren’s syndrome brings attention to the plight of autoimmune disease sufferers.
Steve Jobs’ Passion for Diversity: “Can you help us hire black engineers?” That unexpected question marked the beginning of Andrew B. Williams’ unique friendship with Apple’s late co-founder. His life, his students’ lives, and the life of Apple Inc. would never be the same again.
Is That Hair Killing You? According to the U.S. Surgeon General, some women are jeopardizing their health in order to protect their hairstyles — and black women are at the top of the list.
Man of God, But Still a Man: The tragic death of Pastor Zachery Tims reminds us that even our most gifted and passionate Christian leaders are imperfect human beings.
Rick Perry and the “Rainbow Right”: Could a coalition of “Rainbow Right” supporters be key to victory for presidential hopeful Rick Perry?
Zachery Tims Found Dead: A popular Florida pastor’s mysterious death in a Times Square hotel leaves unanswered questions, and friends and followers in shock.
Single Moms Are Not Fathers: Contrary to a new cultural campaign by Hallmark and others, Father’s Day is not a holiday for black single moms.
What do you think?
Were these 10 the most compelling posts of the year or did something else we published capture your attention?
The Bible says, “A man who finds a wife finds a good thing!” So, my single ladies, are you a “good thing” or used goods? How many more men will you let into your life that simply want to USE you … physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually? Hopefully your answer is “no more,” and you’re ready to give God full control of your love life.
My single ladies, I want to speak restoration, wisdom, and strength into your life right now … so you can walk down a path toward becoming the “good thing” God wants you to be — and perhaps find your own “good thing” in the process.
Another blast of Scripture for you: “A prudent wife is a gift from the Lord ” (Prov.19:14). Well, ladies, if you are a GIFT, keep it wrapped tight. Don’t let the bow slip off until it’s time for the big reveal! Don’t let just anyone unwrap you! You are a beautifully wrapped gift and will be presented to your husband-to-be by God in God’s time.
Listen, sisters, if you’re a single woman of God waiting for marriage, this message is for you. Are you ready?
Y’all better go wake up your girlfriends, and send them this link, because Cee Cee is ’bout to give you some truth for your life right now! If you’re feeling lonely, inferior, desperate, or depressed … this one’s for you. Listen up and check out these 20 nuggets of real-life relationship wisdom, because something here is a message from the Lord to you.
1. No Begging Allowed. If you are feeling rejected by your current boyfriend as we speak … he is not for you. No one should have to beg for affection and compliments. You should never have to ask a man, “Baby, do you think I am beautiful?”
2. Follow Their Example. No women in the Bible put their lives on hold to find a husband. Not Mary, Not Rebekah, Not Ruth, Not Rachel, Not Esther, certainly Not Eve! These women all were busy working and serving when their husbands found them.
3. Pursue Self-Improvement. Work on yourself, ladies. What’s God tellin’ ya? Get an advanced degree, launch a business, redecorate your rooms, learn to create a loving atmosphere for your home, plant a garden, make a scrapbook, write a novel, sew, knit, take cooking classes, take a ballroom dance class, learn how to put up drywall. Then get involved at your church — volunteer to sing in the choir, teach Sunday school, or work with the youth. GOD LOVES WHEN YOU SERVE HIM, and it’s a must to explore your various spiritual gifts while you’re still single!
4. Wait for It. Ladies, this is an obvious one but oh so easy to forget: Please do not have sex with a guy before marriage! This so clouds everything, and you know this! Emotions get attached, or you become physically attached and then may manipulate the guy into marrying you when neither of you are truly ready. Uggh! Not good! Not God!
5. Only God Makes You Whole. Ladies: Please know that you are okay and you are excellent and you are whole without a husband. You must be whole before marriage. Two halves do not make a whole concerning marriage! Marital Math is: Whole + Whole = a Wholesome Marriage. Never say, “I just am not complete without him. He makes me complete! He is the air I breathe!” WHAT?! Girl, JESUS is the air you breathe. Don’t confuse a man with the Son of Man. Keep your priorities straight.
6. Is He Serious About God? If your man does not know the Word, apply the Word, live the Word, speak the Word, pray the Word, and meditate on it, then he does not have his sword — which means he’s not gonna be able to fight for you or your marriage! WAKE UP, somebody! A true soldier straps on his sword every day, baby!
7. Beware of the Bling. “Put a Ring On It?” Not so fast! Do not fall for every ring that comes your way. Anyone can flash a ring at you. Some brothers even recycle rings from the last girl that said no!!!! Whew Jesus! Ya betta go tell yo friends this stuff!
8. Do Your Homework. Before you get too far in a relationship, be sure to ASK if he has ever had a drinking problem, abuse problem, drug problem, if he was abused or molested in any way, if he’s been to jail, got warrants, pays child support, even sees his children, has current pictures of his children, been tested recently for HIV and other STDS. Will he even go take an HIV test for you? And if not, why?
9. Yeah, I’m Going There. If he even seems gay … please just let it go, ladies. My God! Stop the madness for real. Who are his friends? Is he extra effeminate? Does he wax his brows? Can’t live without his guy friends and boy trips? Wake up, woman! You are a COVER GIRL!
10. A Word to the Brothers. The Down Low is on the rise. Pay attention, ladies. (And men, get yourself together. STOP ruining women’s lives just to make yourself look straight on the outside. The truth is gonna come out. Some of ya’ll should get an Emmy for the act you put on. Just get truthful with God. How dare you use a woman and then bring up children in that deception and confusion!)
11. No Shackin’ Up. If you are living with your current boyfriend, consider moving out right now! Pack yo’ bag and go to the nearest sistah friend house, or back to your mama, or get a nice li’l 2 bedroom with a girlfriend and split the rent. Come on, now … there has got to be away that you can be self-sufficient. And if YOU took him in cuz he had nowhere to go, umm … where exactly is that going? Honestly!
12. I Repeat, You Need to Wait. Even if you are engaged, please do not live together to save money … Just have him live with a relative until the BIG DAY! There are options, ladies. DO NOT CHEAT! It is so worth it to move in on that big day! Get prepared, but do not cut corners like that.
13. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Ask him now if he likes PORN. People, this junk will ruin — did you hear me? — RUIN a marriage! And if you are hooked on porn, hit my inbox and let me pray with you right now. ‘Cause U got to come up off of that! It’s fake, scripted, perverse, and passionless. They want you to think it’s what sex is, but IT’S NOT. It is godless and destructive! And it has no place in a marriage. LET GOD direct your marital sex life, not X-rated videos!
14. Get Over Yourself. If you are spoiled and selfish — and you know it — DO NOT GET MARRIED … just keep loving your doggone self. You are a Last Days person … the Lord said there would be many … so just keep being a lover of yourself! Just admit it! Maybe if you face it, God will Heal you from it and you will actually be able to LOVE someone else!
15. Is He Trippin’ on the Past? He got the nerve to hold your past against you? What! OMG! Let it go! If he cannot see the God in you now because he’s too distracted by what you used to be, let that suckah loose! We are new in Christ! All old has passed away… and you walkin’ the narrow way too and he wanna talk about who and how you use to be? Awww nawww player … naw! Cut it loose, baby girl! The accuser type! Diggin’ up your buried past! Later!
16. Be Wise About Online Hookups. Beware of using the Internet to find a man. People ain’t always what they seem to be on here. Some ladies are on Match.com, Matchmaker.org, Hitched.com, BlackPlanet, Eharmony, Emarriage … just a searchin’. First, search the Scriptures, baby girl! Many of ya’ll have wrecked Facebook already, just plain abused it, trying to find a man. Some have ruined other women’s marriages! Sad! Beware, ladies!
17. Does He Prefer the Old You? If you meet a man and he is more attracted to the old, unsaved you than the new, saved you … RUN, FORREST, RUN!!!
18. Get the Big Picture. Check out his family and other parts of his life. Meet the parents! If his dog is scared of him, honey run! If he kicks a dog, he will kick you. If he cheats on his taxes, he might cheat on you. If he lies to his mama and his boss, he’ll lie to you. I am so serious! Ya’ll betta open you eyes!
19. What’s Comin’ Outta His Mouth? If he consistently, and in a negative or pushy tone, says you are: fat, ugly, dumb, not good enough, too much, too little, too this, too that … tell him that he’s too unlike Christ for you … See ya!! A real man will do whatever it takes to win your heart with LOVE, not criticism and abuse!
20. Pray Early and Often. Single ladies, one more thing. If God blesses you with a partner someday, one of the most important activities you will do as a wife (without fail) is PRAY FOR YOUR HUSBAND. Well, why not start praying for him now in advance? It makes for great practice. That way, it will be more of a natural part of who you are when he finally comes. Pray for his health, his thought life, his finances, his heart! Pray in advance! Can’t hurt! It certainly worked for me!
That’s my 20, ladies. I’ve got plenty more, but I’ll let you reflect on these for a minute. Here’s the bottom line: In a mutual relationship, a man will do ONLY what you let him do to you … it takes two. So, call on GOD for strength, wisdom, holiness, and self-control right now. You need the Word more than just on Sunday mornings when Pastor is preaching it. Keep your soul ready, your mind sharp, your hair right, and your muscles tight. Keep smiling and believing, single ladies. This is your day!