Q&A on Singleness

Bethlehem Baptist Church | Minneapolis

The question that I need to repeat, because I’m getting recorded here and projected here, is: How is singleness better, and the blessings of singleness better than the blessings of marriage? What are the blessings now, and how are they better? Because I preached a sermon in which I said that. I also said that “If you’re married, you have blessings that are better than singleness.” I don’t know if you remember that. In other words, the life of singleness brings with it blessings that married people do not have, and the life of marriage brings with it blessings that singles do not have. In those categories, those blessings are better.

I’m not ranking singleness and marriage as superior, one to the other. I’m saying that each brings blessings that the other does not have. So the blessing that Paul is most jealous that you maximize is the blessing of not being constrained to build your life around another person. He said that “If you’re married, you must labor to please the other person.” I think that’s a very broad overarching statement of all the ways you have to build your life in harmony with one other human being in a really close way. Everything you do in marriage is affected by that other person, and everything you do affects them.

They are never the same, and there are always issues that have to be continually attended to. Which means you cannot give all of the energy to some other things that you might like to give them to. The energy I have invested in making my marriage work over these years is huge, especially in seasons when it wasn’t working. There will always be such seasons, when the trials of two very different people trying to live happily ever after aren’t succeeding. So the energy investment, as well as the sheer time factors, you must invest time in each other.

I went to a counselor with Noël the other day because of some wider family issues that we were dealing with, and you know what it pretty much boiled down to for me? They said, “Piper, you need to understand that many people, including the people that you’re concerned about, feel loved in direct proportion to how much time you invest in them.” Well, frankly, I’m busy. So I had to sit down with Noël after that and just look at our lives and say, “So, how do we do this? What’s going to change?”

So those two things I’ve said so far, the time issue and the sheer energy that goes into navigating life with another person, to understand them, and build your life in proportion with them. Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 7, he loved not having to do that. Now, you can go the selfish route with that and be your own cool, independent, self-sufficient person, playing your games till the day you drop.

Or you could be like Paul and say, “The reason I love my freedom is because I can lay my life down without a wife having to worry about. I’m in prison, or about to get my head chopped off, or that I came home and my back lacerated again.” Paul just could not imagine dragging a wife through what he was going to be living. We won’t all walk through that kind of pain, but there will be stresses.

So I think the blessing is mainly one of freedom to not build your life around another person, and therefore, design a ministry schedule, and a ministry focus, and a ministry emphasis that is more your own to call than mine is. I have to build Noël and Talitha continually into my life, and therefore I am restrained often in what I would want to write, what I would want to read and study, visits and places I’d like to go, and people I’d like to talk to, evangelism I’d like to do, and on and on. I have to constantly say, “I’m married. I’m a dad. This is a huge ministry,” and it is, and it’s not an evil one. Those no’s are not bad to say.

In that, let me say one more thing. A third thing would be, the disappointments of singleness are a unique blessing. In other words, not to be able to have sexual relations is a huge challenge spiritually, for men and women. Not to be able to be hugged at night, to go home to an empty apartment, to have a holiday sneak up on you and nobody thinks to invite you over. That’s painful. I’m saying, that unique challenge is a unique blessing, if you will let it be. Just like every other kind of pain in life is a blessing, if you let it be. God doesn’t want you to waste any of your pain. Married pain? There will be. Single pain? There will be.

So those three things, the freedom piece, the time piece, and the pain piece I think are all unique blessings if we will let the Lord make them blessings. The question is, how should singles be uniquely involved in advancing what I described as the growth of a certain relational culture defined by especially Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” The singles will have a unique opportunity with each other, and married people will have a unique opportunity with singles, and singles will have a unique opportunity with marriage.

In other words, you can be there for each other in ways that married can’t, and you can be there for marriage in ways that are unique, and they can be there for you in ways that are unique. If you would receive from singles and receive from marriage, and give to singles and give to marriages in this relational dynamic, unique things would happen. I hope and pray that we’re not carved up. In a sense, I like what you’re doing tonight, and in a sense I get nervous about it because I know that the single culture can get dysfunctional, and you don’t want to be that. You’re not here because you are that.

You have other hungers and desires, and yet you’re in a unique role. Who doesn’t want to be like people who understand their situation? I like to hang out with people who are pastors, and I like to hang out with people who are married, and I like hanging out here, but for different reasons. So what I’m saying is, singles have a place in that they are different from marriage and therefore provide opportunities for married people to love on you in ways that they ought to, and you on them. Don’t steer away from having relationships with married people. When you choose a small group, consider the possibility of a small group of mixed people. Go down the list, if you’re not in a small group, see where it says, “All kinds welcome.”

It’s so healthy to be folded in. Somewhere along the way, I’m going to have to lift up some models here for you, and you should really have Q&A with Char Ransom. Char’s older. One of the funny things about the English language is that, in the word old, if you make it comparative, it means less old than old. If you say older, it means less old. If you say old, older is supposed to be more old than old, but older is a softening of old, and so she’s older. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of Char Ransom. Goodness, you don’t even know who I’m talking about. Okay.

So she’s an older woman at the north campus who’s been here probably for 50 years, and she’s been single all those years, and she could have been married at least twice, that I know of, because I watched a man court her in the auditorium. I’ve been here 28 years. I watched this happen, and she decided no. The reason for that is, Char models unbelievably aggressive in your life, “I’m here and I’m not ashamed of being single, and I’m not self-pitying, and I’m all over the pastors, and I’m all over committees, and I’m all over people because I love people.”

I don’t think anybody looks at Char and says, “Oh, poor spinstress,” or whatever the word was years ago. Nobody even thinks that when they see Char. They just think, “Boy, she’s on her third hip replacement and she’s up already, and got that zeal.” So I think my answer is, the way the relational culture will advance through singles is by you simply being mature, humble, wise, loving, caring Christians across all lines, male, female, old, young, married, single. The question is, how to deal with the longing, the very intense longing, even painful longing, of being single and wishing that someday God would bring someone to marry.

Through many tribulations, we must enter the Kingdom. That was Discipleship 101 in Acts 14:22. For some, that’s pain in marriage and for some that’s pain out of marriage, but nobody escapes pain. So having a solid theology of loss, theology of disappointment, theology of suffering, theology of affliction, is absolutely crucial.

Part of that theology is, number one, God is absolutely sovereign. Number two, God is absolutely good. Number three, I’m his child through faith alone in Jesus. Number four, no good thing does he withhold from his children who walk uprightly. Which means that he will give you what you need to lead the life fully pleasing to him, and fully, and deeply, and eternally satisfying to yourself.

So a theology of suffering, and sovereignty, and goodness is crucial because if you sink into bitterness and anger at God, your life will be ruined, with or without a spouse. I was on the phone today with a young man whose, I’m going to be so careful here, wife is in very serious psychological trouble. I just ached with him. He is wonderfully mature in that he said, “I believe my calling in life is to serve my wife, not to escape this.” Once upon a time he said, “When I discovered it, I thought, ‘How did I get in this?’” God taught him some deep things about suffering, and deep things about love, and deep things about service, and trust.

Now, he looks her right in the eye with all the difficulties and says, “There’s nobody else that I want. There’s no place else I’d rather be.” I don’t think anything you will endure as a single person will compare with what he may have to live with. I use this analogy. This is public, so I’ll go ahead and say these names. Greg Livingstone, the Founder of Frontiers, just was chosen the alumnus of the year at Wheaton College, my alma mater. I noticed, I got an email to that effect. Greg and Sally, his wife, have done wonders in their lives because of the founding of a mission that is the largest mission in the world now to Muslim peoples.

You don’t tread on Satan’s doorstep like that without massive opposition. His wife has suffered unbelievably. I won’t give the details, but he’s probably four or five years older than I am. He’s just laid down the reins at Frontiers, and I stand amazed at both of them, really. Her in her brokenness, and him in his unbelievable love and patience.

The point there is, when you think about the unique trials that you will face either all your life or for a while as a single, just know you’re not being picked on. You’re not being picked on. God loves you. God does plan life for you that’s good for you. I would plead with you to maximize your present life in terms of outgoing ministry to people.

I’m not presuming you should be naive and disappear into nowhere, and never cross paths with men or women. It’s good to be in a church. Church is the place, I think, where people should find wives and husbands, schools, and churches. Where else does it happen? Hopefully, not in bars. That’s a wonderful gift to you, that there is church and there are schools. So trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don’t rely on your own insight. Believe that he’s on your side. Cultivate outgoing love that’s not self-conscious about yourself.

Become a person for others. Keep yourself as attractive, male and female, as you can, but don’t put over much energy in that. Really, in the end, if a guy or a gal marries another because of their looks mainly, they’re going to blow it really, really badly. So many other things are way, way more important. The Bible’s so clear that men and women should work on character issues above looks issues. Just comb your hair and go be kind.

One more question before we turn it over to others asking questions. So this would be a good time, if somebody had a question, to walk up to that microphone. You said that singles should develop a robust theology of suffering. Have you got any books in mind, other than eating a lot of the Bible, you have some books in mind if somebody wanted to do that?

Well, let me tell you what I’ve put together first, because that’s the most immediate thing on my mind. We did a conference here on suffering, and those talks are gathered together in a book on suffering. It’s got a blue cover, available at Desiring God in the bookstore here. So, that’s one. Just a testimony, when I wrote Desiring God, I wrote it in between ‘83 and it was published in ‘87. So I would’ve been 37 to 40, or so. It didn’t have a chapter on suffering in it in the first edition. Now, Desiring God has a chapter on suffering, Future Grace has a chapter on suffering, Let the Nations Be Glad! has a chapter on suffering because, as a pastor, this is almost the main thing I think about. So, my books all have those chapters on suffering.

There’s a book called All Things for Good, I think it’s an old Puritan book, I think it’s Thomas Watson, and it’s on Romans 8:28. Jonathan Edwards has an essay on The Divine Decrees, which is I think theologically and philosophically the most penetrating thing on his God’s overarching sovereignty overall all things. It’s found in the second volume of the two-volume works of Edwards. If I think of more, I’ll tell you later. But let me say something about the questions, and this is going to hopefully not contradict what you say, but broaden it. You said, “Go to the microphone mainly with singles issues.” I think the healthiest thing about singleness is to view all things related to singleness.

In other words, I don’t want singles to be consumed with singleness, I want them to be consumed with God. Because if you get God right, singleness will shape itself around God. If you get the Bible right, if you get Christ right, if you get faith right, if you get justification right — the healthiest people in the world are the people who are self-forgetfully enraptured with great things outside themselves. I always aim to be that. If I’m thinking about how I’m coming across, I am failing. I can’t think, I feel bad, it’s just not working.

The most wonderful moments in preaching, or in talking to my wife, or in talking to you right now, are the moments, which isn’t happening right now because I’m talking about this, when I’ve just gotten on a roll, and I’m outside myself, and I’m seeing truth, and I’m seeing Christ, and I’m excited about him, and we’re talking about that, and you wake up a half an hour later and you realize, “I’ve been out of myself totally in joy and reality out there.” It happens when friends get together and they’re just conversing, and they’re talking about experiences, and they’re laughing and they’re having fun. Later on that night you realize, “I never even once thought about me. I just never thought about me. I was just totally relaxed and out of myself into other people.”

What are the trials that might be unique or particular to singleness, and how would you go about combating those? Let me just free associate here for a moment, and then back up and take them. Loneliness of a unique kind, sexual continence. We’re all wired to have sexual desire, and singleness means you don’t gratify it. Social standing in our culture, and how you’re viewed, what’s wrong with you maybe, maybe more so for a guy than a gal. A challenge of being perceived as okay. Getting old and wondering who’s going to care for you in the last decade of your life. Those are four that come to mind.

Loneliness, I would attack first by knowing Jesus as my most precious friend, ‘cause he’ll never let you down. Absolutely will never, ever, ever let you down. “I will be with you to the end of the age.” A friend that sticks closer than a brother. It’s my first strategy. Get to know him in his word and love him. He will never leave you. Second, I would go to things like this and I would be a friend. I would be a friend. I wouldn’t think mainly, “How can I get friends? How can I get friends?” ‘cause then you’re operating out of need mainly. We all do feel the need, but it’s healthy if you can say, “I’m going to be a friend. I’m going to be a friend.” That’d be the second strategy.

A third strategy would be to serve people in need. Get a ministry. Most relationships — this is true for men anyway, I think it’s probably pretty much true for women too — relationships for men generally happen in common tasks. The vision I have anyway for brotherhood is shoulder-to-shoulder, sword in hand, common enemy.

Then later on, you like each other. But really, you’re just there side-by-side. The issue is the common focus, the vision, the enemy, the whatever. Then later, you realize you’ve bonded powerfully. Now women I think do that too, but they evidently have the capacity to sit at a table with a cup of tea and talk to each other for hours doing relationship. A lot of times we try to make men do that, and it’s just awful when that happens.

I remember, you’re going to have to get me back on track here in a minute, but I’ll tell the illustration. David and Sally Michael gave this illustration of the difference between men and women. They were trying to evangelize a neighborhood couple when they lived down here, about their age, maybe a little older than them, maybe closer to my age at that time.

So they invited the couple over, and they were just going to have a relationship. Sally and the woman were sitting in the kitchen and they just hit it off wonderfully chat, chat, chat about neighborhood issues and all kinds of stuff. They were having a great time, and David and this guy were, “What do we do?” David said, “Want to go to the garage?”

Dave’s very, very good with his hands. He can fix anything. So they went to the garage, and I don’t know what they did in the garage, but they had a relationship when it was over because they weren’t thinking about the relationship, and they just held it up as a little bit of parable of the difference.

So my point is, work toward being a friend and having relationships. All of that in response to the loneliness piece. I hope the family of God can be family for you all your life, married or unmarried. Sexual life must be one of the largest challenges, and it’s different for men and women, but it’s not only men who struggle with what to do with their sexual drives more.

Statistically, there are a lot of women looking at internet pornography. Sometimes it begins with curiosity, “What’s going on out there?” They talk about it so much. Then it can be way more because there’s all different kinds evidently. The relational piece for women to fantasize about being swept off their feet, and then carried out into some meadow, is just different and yet real.

So, I don’t want to presume that I’m just talking to men when I address this issue. I would address that one the same way I would begin with the other one. Know the Lord Jesus deeply. Know his power, know his beauty, know his grace. Know his patience. Know how you are saved. Know what heaven is like. Know what hell is like. Know how to be justified. Know how to fight the fight of faith. Know him. Pour yourself into the word and into Jesus Christ to know him well.

Second, I would say, settle it that fornication is a sin. Settle it because the world is going to tell you otherwise, big time. Example, in the early 80s, when you were not born, or some of you were, there was a huge controversy in the Twin Cities about whether condoms would be advertised on television and radio, public advertised. Here’s the news, and everybody’s talking about this. I got interviewed by a TV station. I wrote an article for the Minneapolis Star Tribune saying, “I don’t think that’s helpful. Everybody, if you want them, you know where you can get them.” This was a tacit approval of sex outside marriage, is really what it was.

So, I wrote this article. In it, I basically quoted lots of Scripture and said, “I know everybody’s not a Christian, but here’s the Christian standpoint. It’s real healthy for a society to restrict sexual intercourse to marriage. That’s a good thing.” I got a letter from a guy just burning with anger. It just basically went like this, “Who do you think you are telling us how to do sex out here in the world, in the newspaper.”

The bottom line argument with something like this, “Do you think I’m going to restrain this dimension of my humanness just because I don’t have a ring on my finger or a piece of paper in my hand? That would be less than human. I’m human. You expect me to go all the way through life if I’m not married, denying my humanness?”

That was the gist of the argument, and I thought, “That’s pretty powerful.” That’s pretty powerful talk. I can see how that would just sweep the field. It just has one problem. Jesus was the most beautiful, complete, glorious human that ever was, and he never had sexual intercourse with anybody, and he died without ever having it.

His father looked upon him, saying, “This is my beloved son, and with him I am well-pleased.” There are few triumphs and few graces greater than for a man or a woman to live a life of lifelong chastity and go to heaven carrying the jewel of virginity to place before the king of kings. So, settle it. That’s what I would say. Just settle it. You know what the Bible teaches. It says, “Flee fornication.” That’s the second thing.

The third thing is, develop strategies that take you outside your introspective lonely self where all the fantasies are seething, and get out of yourself into greatness. This can be lots of things. It can be people, it can be music, it can be nature, it can be science, it can be hobbies, it can be church and service, it can be urban ministry, it can be videography, whatever.

The idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Who of us does not know that just being at home alone all by ourselves is where we start to think, and think, and think, and then the sexual desires just become all-consuming and we masturbate or something, and then you feel rotten. You know that cycle well enough to grow up and say, this seems impossible in our culture, “With God all things are possible.”

One more story, and then I’ll get off of the sex thing. There was an article in Leadership Magazine in the early 80s called “The Anatomy of Lust.” It was the story of a pastor who was addicted to sexual pornography, and live sex shows, and everything short of intercourse. He would go and do spiritual life seminars in big cities, and on the downtimes go downtown to peep shows, and nude bars, and things. He’s writing this anonymously in Leadership Magazine, talking about the ten-year-long struggle of that while he’s a pastor. How much of that is there out there? He said, “What broke it? I don’t know why God would choose to answer the thousandth prayer when he said no to 999.”

He was reading a novel François Mitterrand called The Black and the Red. He’s written two; I may be mixing it up. Anyway, a novel by François Mitterrand. He said there was a passage in which he described goodness so magnificently and so beautifully, everything in him wanted it more than he had ever wanted anything, and something broke. He wrote another article a decade or so later, still anonymous, saying it was still working to say that it hadn’t been short-lived. I tried to analyze now, “What happened there? What was going on?” I think it’s something like this, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed of the pure in heart. When you want to see God bad enough, and you get glimpses of God in his greatness, there’s a purity factor that figures in there. The purity enables you to see. I’m arguing, when you see, it gives you power for more purity.

My own testimony is this, my lousiest, crummiest sexual season was about age 13 to 17. Bad memories, junky stuff. I didn’t get married until I was 22. But something changed from 17 to 22 that revolutionized everything. Part of it was growing up and realizing, this is just like a dog in heat. This is really cheap, this is low, this is gutter-like. I don’t like looking at myself in these moments of consumed fantasy life with sexual temptation. Therefore, if something was happening. Partly, I was reading poetry, I was learning to write, I was appreciating nature. I was realizing, I’m old enough to get married. I wondered, “Would any girls ever like me? Why would they even want to be around me if they knew what I was thinking?” All that stuff had a huge effect to say, “I’m breaking out of this. This is just low, and lousy, and crummy.” God gave great deliverance in those five years from what had been, in my judgment, sexual compromise.

So moving up and out of yourself into greatness. That was two of them. What were the other two I mentioned? The other two. Getting old, I mentioned.

Social standing.

Social, yeah, let me take them in reverse order. I’ll try to be shorter. I know, I’m talking too much. I think the church is the key to aging. If it isn’t, we’re failing. If we don’t, as a family of believers, become the family for Char Ransom, Char’s still up and about, but she won’t always be up and about. If we don’t get around those folks as a family, and just all over them in care, bring them to church if they can’t come, going to visit them if they can’t even be brought to church, reading them the Bible, singing to them, taking them our children, and just folding them in as much as possible, and then being there for them when they can’t be there for themselves, maybe even into our own homes. So, short answer for aging as a single person.

I feel really bad for people outside the church. What do they do? I feel bad when churches don’t do what they ought to do. The other one was, how you’re viewed in this world. The two things that come to mind. I’m sure there’d be more if I let myself think more, maybe I’ll forget them even before I finish saying two. One is, be a healthy, other-oriented person that doesn’t dwell on your singleness, so that people aren’t prone to see you that way because you’re so normally functioning in life. You move from relation to relation, in and out of married people’s lives, and single people’s lives, and men and women’s lives. You do it in such a natural way that people don’t type you.

The second thing is more deep. Namely, let God define you. Let God say to you, “I love you. I love you in your singleness. I love you as you are. I’m for you. Do not let other people’s views of you be decisive or defining.” You’re going to need that when you’re married. You’re going to need it now. I, at a Passion conference, addressed the issue of people who fail sexually as singles when they had a dream once upon a time of laying their lives down in some radical significant way for Jesus, like on the mission field or somewhere, and then they commit fornication, or stumble into some addiction with pornography or whatever, and they feel so bad, and so de-powered, and so defiled that they abandoned their dream. What would I say to them?

Well my point was, in that message, which is available somewhere, I suppose, that the devil’s real happy both when you fall and when you conclude from the fall that there’s no future spiritually. In 1985, I went to a conference with George Verwer in Washington, D.C. Almost got myself fired by what I wrote when I came back from this conference. When I say it, some of you’ll remember because you’ve seen it online. But he talked mainly about that issue, how many young people are lost to missions because they masturbate, or they have some weekend fling or something, and they just feel they’ve wrecked it, “I’m just so weak, and so sensual, and so worldly, and so fleshly. There could never come a day when I could be of any use to anybody.”

He was just going after that with a vengeance to say, “God can clean you up. God can change you. God can use you.” So I came back from that conference all fired up, “Hey, amen. Get the singles fired up for Jesus, and quit.” I wrote an article called “Missions and Masturbation.” Oh, man. It was a star. We have the star article here. It was a star article. I had a woman stop at the door the next Sunday. She didn’t take me in. She looked at me and said, “You’re sick.”

She left the church eventually. Then, good old Rollin Erickson, the grand old statesman here, with Clayton Pyche, came in and sat down in my office. I’d only been here five years, so I was 39 years old. They said, “John, that wasn’t very good. A lot of older women read those things, and a lot of single gals read those things.”

I got an email from the chaplain at West Point who said, “That’s been the most important thing our guys have read in a long time.” So, there was another side to this. I don’t regret that I did it. I wish I’d given a little heads up or sought some counsel or something. But the point there, to your question, the gospel is meant to cleanse us. Singles who commit fornication or are coming out of long periods of habitual masturbation, I don’t think singles are ruled out for missions or ruled out from the pastorate. I don’t think women ought to be pastors, but my goodness, there’s lots of ministerial things that women can be involved in that you’re not ruled out from. What matters is, are you cleansed by the blood of the Lamb? Are you made whole? Are you hating what you did? Are you going to turn it for good? Are you giving yourself holy to him? I don’t want you to feel like you’ve ruined your whole life if you stumbled in the past. One more.

Yep. I’ve only been coming here for a short time, about a year now, and I had never heard of you or any of your writings before I came. But the first time I actually went to the Desiring God website, I was looking for your sermon of that week, and I clicked the wrong button. I clicked on your message of the day. This is honestly the first thing I have ever read that you had written, and it was a letter that you had written in 1984 titled, “A Frank Warning About Masturbation.” Do you recall that by any chance?

A frank warning? I wonder. No, I don’t remember it. But, I fully can imagine doing it.

A very powerful read for me. I found it very enlightening. It talked about, one message was that you opposed it. Which, in 1984, there was a lot of stuff going around about how we shouldn’t think that way anymore. I was a high school, and everybody was talking about it should be being normalized. I found that the very fact that you’d written it in 1984 when I was a youth struggling with the issue, for me was a real deliverer. I was just wondering if you had any other thoughts on the issue since 1984.

I don’t bring it to mind very often, unless I’m asked questions. Let me try to think whether I’ve had other thoughts about it. The only thing that keeps jumping to the front of my mind that I should say is, the longer I live, the less mechanical I feel, the fewer answers I feel I have at the nitty-gritty level. That is, here’s ten things to do. Take a cold shower, and don’t look at magazines, and get covenant eyes on your computer. Here’s five to six things. I think all those might be okay, but I just don’t go there as often as I might have. I usually am not very satisfying to people when they ask me how questions.

A girl leaned over a bench Wednesday night and said, “I’m feeling really, really dark, really abandoned by the Lord. Tell me what to do.” She wanted, “Do this, do this, do this, and light will shine.” My main thing now is to say, “Get a big view of God.” If I could leave you with any singles impacting counsel, it would be, “Get a massive view of God. Get overwhelmed with God because, underneath that, when that starts to happen in your life, a hundred problems start to solve themselves that my little how-tos could never solve.” It trickles down in ways that nobody can quite explain. It goes like this, this is 2 Corinthians 3:18, “Beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

When I have a big, satisfying, moving, stirring, sweeping view of God, my wife’s foibles don’t bother me near as much, and therefore I’m not as irritable, and therefore I love her better, and I’m a better dad. All that trickling down from what I saw this morning, what I felt about God. So I would almost rather not write a letter at that level of “Here’s ten things to help not masturbate.” I’d rather write the big letter about God, call a lot of singles to read it, and have it trickle down and find somebody waking up, “I haven’t had that overwhelming impulse for a long time now.” So if there are new things, I’m just not remembering them right now. But I still believe what I said there.

The main problem with masturbation — some of you are sitting there thinking, “Is it really wrong?” I think it’s what goes on in your head. It’s what goes on in your head. It’s a rare person that can masturbate without some fantasy that’s inappropriate. I don’t experiment. But you don’t want your head there. You don’t want to go there with your brain. It’s defiling, the whole thing. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Out of the abundance of the heart, we do what we look at, and we do what we do, so we want our heart to be pure and clean and full of God.

Most of the women in this room are intelligent, educated, and on their way towards more education, and some way to support yourself if a man doesn’t sweep you into his life and become your leader, provider, protector, and you become a homemaker, which is a beautiful thing. I’m glad women do it, but single women don’t have that option yet. So they have to think, “Oh, what should I do? Let Dad support me till I’m 80?” So I realized, in this culture, you don’t have any options. You must move toward a career-like thing, and that creates tension for a lot of you. Not all of you. Some of you’re just gangbusters, “Get out of my way, men. I’m not interested anyway. I’ve got vision for my life.” Others of you would love to be interrupted along that way, and yet that’s where you need to go.

My feel is that this culture is not an accident. God isn’t saying, “Shoot, they should all be farmers,” because women knew where they fit. They did the eggs and men did the cows, and everybody was working like crazy. None of this talk about, “Do women work?” Everybody works or you die. Now today, we’re just so Westernized. What do you do? A homemaker’s a full-time job if a woman wants it to be. Then she’s got some time to invest in the community, invest in the church, a lot of things. So that’s beautiful. But for you, what I want to say is, there is a way for men to be men, women to be women, uniquely as singles moving through life.

Not easy, because our culture’s not giving you any help in this at all. They don’t believe in it. They think what I’m saying right is sexist and unjust and hurtful for me to say, “There’s a unique feminine way to navigate life, and a unique masculine way to navigate life, and that they intersect uniquely.” In other words, a man should treat a single woman differently than he treats a single guy, and a single woman should navigate her relationship with a man differently than she navigates her relationship with a guy. That isn’t just chemistry and biology, that’s personhood.

I think that men are wired, married or unmarried, to be initiative takers and leaders, and protectors and providers. Now, that’s going to look different between a single woman and her mailman than a single woman and her dad, or a pastor, or a brother, or fiance. All those relationships are unique. I’m not squashing them down to say one thing, but they’re different. This mailman’s a man. The example I used to give at Bethel. Back in the 70s when I was teaching at Bethel, this was really, really hot. It may still be; I don’t know who I’m talking to here. But I would talk like this, “Women are women and there should be a certain deference and submission to men in their appropriate roles,” different for different ones, “And you find a way to honor a man’s manhood.”

Even if he’s the messenger boy and you are the manager of the bank, and he’s bringing you, on his yellow bicycle, the envelope from the other bank, there’s a way to honor him as a man, I’m arguing. The example I would give, just to test him to see if they wanted to reject what I was saying entirely was, here’s two Bethel students, a guy and a gal, and they’re just friends. They’re not dating or anything, but might want to. So he gets up the gumption to say, “You want to walk across the highway over there and go to McDonald’s?” “Sure.” They’re going, and on their way back it’s gotten dark, and a guy jumps out with a knife going to threaten her.

Now let’s suppose that she has a black belt in karate, and he has never fought anybody in his life except in his imagination. I said, and I mean this with all seriousness, “Everything in this man,” and I do not think this is mere culture, this is the way God means for us to be wired by virtue of creation, “Will be to step in front of her and do what he can do.” If he gets taken out by her and she finishes him off, then so be it. But it’s not about competencies. It’s not about competencies. That’s just a little window into what I mean by innate impulses that are guiding us through life.

So if a single woman is moving in her career towards greater and greater influence, as a Christian who believes she should have a certain submission to men — not all men the same. Certainly not to pastors the same as husbands, or mailmen the same as pastors. But certain feminine responses, you will find a way. You will find a way to be appropriately a woman in the various roles that you can take. If you bump into one where you say, “I don’t think you can be appropriately feminine here,” you won’t go there. I’ll give you a couple of examples of those.

I would find it almost impossible to believe that a woman should or could be a drill sergeant in the military. In front of fifteen guys: “Hup, two, three, hup, two, three, hup! Johnson, get that face off you.” I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I think there’s something about that, the directness of it and the forcefulness of it, that’s built into the military, that’s just inappropriate. This is a little more questionable. I’ll give you one more example. I like doing risky things like this. Some of you walk out of here, “I can’t believe he thinks women can’t be.” I don’t think a woman should be a referee behind home plate, umpire. “Strike,” and like this with their guy. Now if you went there and said, “Yeah, but she could do it like a woman.” Maybe. Maybe.

I don’t know whether that has been helpful at all. I have seen single women who believe in the vision of complementarity, that’s the name of what I’m talking about here, who are competent, articulate, mature, useful, productive, positive, easy to be around, and they affirm male headship, and they’re navigating their singleness with great aplomb. I just think that’s possible and doable. I can’t imagine that it would be anything otherwise, in view that God is sovereign and, in our culture anyway, singleness is the lot of men and women until, by some amazing stroke, to get married.

I say amazing stroke because, if we had more time, I’d tell you my story. I just didn’t think I’d ever, ever get married because I was such an introvert, and so insecure, and wouldn’t ever ask a girl to do anything out of fear she’d say no. Look at this, I’ve been married forty years this December. How did that happen? Sheer grace, sheer miracle. We just happened to be in the same room at the same time and started talking. It’ll happen. If God wants it to happen, it’ll happen.