I remember being initially horrified as a teenager when I read about an early encounter between Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Elisabeth describes how, as a young college student, she screwed up her courage to ask Jim to sign her yearbook. He complied and, alongside his name he wrote “2 Timothy 2:4.” When she eagerly ran back to her dorm to look it up, she found this: “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer” (NIV). Translation: Jim wasn’t interested in dating her because his focus was solely on serving the Lord.
Ouch! My adolescent horror, first, was for young Elisabeth. How disheartening to be so rebuffed from her dream guy . . . and with Scripture no less!
But, to be honest, I also felt a bit horrified by the very idea of the passage. As a young person who was in love with the idea of love, it bothered me that this notion was in the Bible at all. The implications of this passage—that service to God somehow trumped marriage and other “entanglements”—left me feeling really uncomfortable.
A similar idea is reiterated throughout 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul repeatedly commends singleness and says that, in contrast to a married person, “An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him” (verse 32). This praise of singleness was particularly countercultural in Paul’s day when it was, without doubt, the expected norm to marry and produce heirs.1
Party of One and Proud of It
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