The 40-Year-Old Virgin

...single and complicated, the birth of a biblical relationship.

About four thousand years ago an old man, nearing the end of his days, set to thinking about relationships. He was a widower, but his concern was for his son who could have, at this point, been named after the lead character in a Steve Carell movie: The forty year old virgin. So the father called his servant and asked him to swear an oath. Instructions followed for the servant to go forth and find the son a bride. The father, Abraham, gave very specific instructions on how this would happen. Valentine’s day can sometimes be a touch melancholic for singles but if you’re Christian and single then you should take heart because you serve a God who rewards faithfulness.

I believe there is so much to learn from the two instructions that Abraham gave his servant. The fact that he doesn’t go into specifics about characteristics or aesthetics doesn’t mean that those things aren’t on the agenda, it simply recognises the fact that the servant will already be eager to choose the best he can in those areas and is far more likely to compromise on the two really important issues. By establishing a groundwork of faithfulness to God for the basis of the task he is laying the foundation for success.

“I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
– Genesis 24:3-4 (ESV)

The first promise is that the servant will not find a wife from the Canaanites; it’s effectively the same statement that Paul makes when he writes to the church in Corinth, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”[1] The Canaanites were wicked and didn’t follow God, so the top deal breaker for Abraham is that his son is not married to someone who will pull him away from serving God.

It can seem tempting to try and short cut the journey God has us on and get there by our own means. That person is hot, aren’t they? And they’re nice too. Sure they may not be a Christian but they, like, give to charity and take a cup of tea to the homeless bloke on the corner, that counts, right? Abraham knew that because there was not an obvious match in his son’s life at that moment it would be easy to take a wife from the Caananites, and the damage that would cause. There are some amazing people in this world who don’t know God yet, but at the end of the day if we’re chasing someone who is going in a different direction to God then we are going in a different direction too.

Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.
(Genesis 24:6-7 ESV)

The second instruction is more complicated. Why can’t Isaac just get up and move elsewhere? Will it really make a difference? If he doesn’t like what is on display why not just hop about until he does? Because God had positioned him where he was for a purpose. If you’re positioned for purpose then leaving that place for any reason is short selling the promises of God for your life. There is sometimes a view that just anyone who believes in the same God will do but that’s not even nearly the case. A relationship involves partnering with someone and linking your lives together. If you’re going to partner with someone in your life, they have to be someone who is going to align with God’s purpose for it.

Abraham makes it clear to his servant that if these conditions can’t be met, then Isaac stays single. Have you ever thought about that statement? The biggest promise in his life was that he’d father many nations, and he’s putting that on the line. Abraham is once again placing God first at the expense of his own hopes and dreams. In doing so He puts God centre stage, shines the spotlight on Him, and leaves Him to be glorified in that situation. He doesn’t put God on a time limit, or try to take a short cut, he changes the emphasis and gives God the opportunity to prove Himself again.

It isn’t the case that Abraham takes no action and expects God to just pull out a rib and hook his son up – that was a one time offer – but what it does mean is that he sets a framework for that action that puts it in line with the word of God. It’s the same as a Christian single. So often people make the mistake of either not taking any action, not getting to know people, and expecting everything to just happen, or chasing relationships without putting it in the framework of what God wants for their lives. The Christian single has to find a middle line, where they can lose any perceived stigma of looking at the same time as not conforming to the world’s ways of doing so.

Being single in our culture is not always an easy walk. It can seem that by excluding all non-Christians, and further narrowing it down to rule out anyone who would pull you away from where God has positioned you, is like stacking the odds against yourself but you know what? We serve a God who likes water poured on the altar before lighting it, who leaves Lazarus four days in the tomb before raising him, a God who delights in seeing long odds because that’s when He is most glorified. Being faithful to God first isn’t putting limits on your potential in this or any other area, it’s actually taking the limits off because He can do abundantly above what you could ever ask or imagine.[2]

Further scripture references: [1] 2 Corinthians 6:14, [2] Ephesians 3:20

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3 Comments

  • Gill says:

    Brilliant Pete I was on my own for 14 yrs before God brought Tom along and God’s timing was so perfect. If it had happened sooner I wouldn’t have been a good partner for him.

  • Helen Brown says:

    Great message Peter. I’m still waiting for my husband. It isn’t always easy especially as the years go by. I know God has the best for me be it single or married. God bless you I pray many will read this and know this is the word of God.

  • Peter J says:

    Thanks so much for your comment, Helen. God’s hand is always on us and always knows the best, and respects and remembers our faith.

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