A Name Better Than That of Sons and Daughters
October 12, 2008 / No. 3432
Dear radio friends,
The Christian church must be careful when it teaches the truth, the beautiful truth, of marriage, not leave the impression that for a believer a single life is less than the best of God’s blessing. Marriage, according to the Bible, is the picture of Christ and the church. And so we exalt marriage highly, for it is dear to God’s heart. But perhaps we would ask, “Well, what about a single life in Jesus Christ? Does that have any purpose? Is that a picture of anything? What if a person remains single and does not have a marriage or children? Is that to fall short of God’s best?”
If that is the impression that is left, then the wrong impression has been left. Then the truth of God’s covenant fellowship has not changed us in our attitudes and perceptions. God has promises for single believers, single adults in Jesus Christ, promises as great as those to them who are married. God calls the single believer to display truths in his single life that shine out as brilliantly as the truths that shine out of a Christian marriage.
Now, marriage does indeed display Christ and the church, precious, beautiful. What, then, am I as a single member to display? First of all, you display the perfect, rich sufficiency of God, the completeness of a life spent in God’s house serving and worshiping Him. You display the faithfulness of Christ to you—a life in Christ, walking with God, serving God’s purposes in that relationship of faith that is permanent. It is a beautiful life to the glory of God.
We turn today to the prophecy of Isaiah 56, where God speaks of a promise to single members of His covenant—that He will give them a name better than that of sons and daughters. Let me read a portion of that passage in Isaiah 56:3-7. We read in verse 5: “Even unto them (that is, unto those single members) will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.”
So we consider the great blessing of a single life in Christ under the theme: “A Name Better Than That of Sons and Daughters.”
Isaiah is, in chapter 56, bringing God’s promises to members of the covenant who are single. They are referred to as a son of a stranger or foreigner and a eunuch. Both of these (the son of a stranger and the eunuch) feel that they do not fit in. Both have the impression that the full, rich, blessed life of God’s covenant cannot be theirs because they are single. The son of a stranger (or, as I said, a foreigner) would be a person of a different nationality, or a proselyte to the Jewish faith. He had no family ties, as did those who were in the covenant for generations and had families and intermarriages. He comes from a different background. He has different customs. He does not feel at home. He does not have a feel for the way the things are done. And he is very much aware of the differences. The differences that he has with his brethren are not the differences of faith in God, or faith in Christ, but a difference of manner of life, that to him is something he did not grow up with. He is the son of a stranger. He has been brought into the covenant community. And, perhaps, even the covenant members treat him differently and he feels a bit uncomfortable.
Then there was the eunuch. The eunuch was a single person. He had no wife or child. It could be because of physical sterilization. Or it could be that it was not a physical sterilization but that God had simply led him to be single. Jesus says in Matthew 19:12, “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” That is, Jesus says, “Some of My followers will renounce marriage for the sake of serving Me (as the apostle Paul). Others will be deserted by a husband or wife, and, in obedience and love for Jesus, live a single life. Some are so led of Me (of God), that they do not marry but dwell richly and closely with Me nevertheless.” And, of course, a eunuch would be very much aware of his single state, and he, too, would feel that he did not fit in.
Both, as I said, feel that they are estranged from the normal course of life of God’s people, from the life experiences of the members of the covenant who are married and have children. God says to them inIsaiah 56:3, “Neither let the son of the stranger [say]…The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people.” Do not say, “I don’t fit in.” Then, after a while, perhaps in church, you feel alone and you walk out quickly or you stand in the narthex feeling uncomfortable—no one says anything to you—and you begin to think that you are not really a part of it all.
Single life sometimes can bring those thoughts. People would say, “I don’t see anyone of the church during the week. Nobody calls. I don’t feel a part of the body of Christ. My single life is a barrier.” Or, someone who comes from outside of the church (a new convert) would say, “My background is so different. I just don’t fit in.” God says, “Neither let the eunuch say: Behold I am a dead tree.” You pass by an apple orchard. You see the trees with the limbs and leaves bowed over to the ground, filled with fruit. And in the middle of the orchard is a dead tree. “That’s how I feel,” says the eunuch. “I don’t have a wife (or a husband—a single woman), I have no close companion, no children. There doesn’t seem to be much fruit in my life.” And the impression is: “I am as a dead tree.”
Now as we look at this text more carefully, we see that the spiritual life of these single members that Isaiah has in view was, nevertheless, unblushingly vibrant. We read in verse 3, Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord.” By faith, God’s gift, by grace, they had laid hold of God. He says in verse 4, “For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant.” So these single members are pictured as those who possess a vibrant, unashamed spiritual life of which God takes notice and approves. “They take hold of my covenant. They have joined themselves to Me,” says God. A very clear demonstration is to be found in their life that they embrace the true God and that they live by grace in a relationship of love and service to God.
But still more. They keep the Sabbath from polluting it. They have made the Lord’s Day the center of their spiritual life. They rest with God on the Sabbath.
And third, they love and serve the Lord. They choose, says Isaiah, “the things that please me.” You see in the life of these single believers a deliberate choice in their life to do what pleases God in realms of music, entertainment, and in the use of their time. They are not simply young adults who say, “Well, what’s wrong with it? Who cares?” But they ask, “Does this please God?” They want their life to line up with the expectations of their gracious heavenly Father.
And Isaiah says now to these single members who are walking faithfully with God, “Your impressions are wrong. Though your impressions are very real to you, they are, nevertheless, not correct. You have been saying something to yourself.” Isaiah says, “Neither let the son of the stranger…speak, saying (the idea is that he is saying this to himself), The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.” God is correcting them. God is saying, “Don’t talk that way to yourself. Don’t say that.” He says to them, “I,” verse 5, “have given you a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters…an everlasting name.” God is correcting the false impression that a single member in the church can receive.
And God is bringing them (and all of us) to a right understanding of His covenant in that the covenant (that loving bond of fellowship with God and therefore with each other) is not rooted in common-life situations, in whether a person is married or has children or is Dutch or of some different nationality. That is not the basis of the unity of the covenant. The basis of the unity of the covenant is a shared reality of gracious union with God, an experience of the adequacy of God, and a desire to worship God.
You in your single life, and I in my married life, whether your children are in the home or gone, whether you have been married or widowed, or whether you have never been married—the common bond of the covenant is to understand the graciousness of God. We can say it in New Testament terms. The church is the work of God. Members of the church are members of His body. Do not erase life differences. To be a member of the church does not mean that you have to be married, you have to be a certain skin-color, you have to have a certain nationality. No! We share one grace, one life in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. That is who I am! And never anything less. Ultimately, in principle, the child of God is one who belongs to Christ. Christ is his life.
When I die, I will not be a father anymore. I will not be a husband. In the resurrection, Jesus said, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are as the angels in heaven. But when I die, I will remain in the same relationship to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. And I will still have the same place among all His saints.
Oh yes, marriage is important. Having children is important. Living in families and seeing the blessings of God in the generations—of course that is important. But you understand that the basis of union in the covenant of God is not that. It is the grace of God uniting me to Him. And you, who are single, have no disadvantage here. The relationship that we share remains.
God brings a glorious promise to the single member of His covenant. He gives you a place in the family of God. Verse 5 of Isaiah 56: “Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.”
Then He goes on to speak of a glorious part in the worship of God, verse 7: “Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” The beautiful promises are, first of all, as I said, a place in the family of God. But a single person would say, “I don’t have a family. I have no son or daughter. I have no one to remember me.” But the promise of God is: “I will remember your name. I will erect a monument for you. I will give you something better than sons and daughters.”
A monument is something that keeps one in remembrance, something that points to what one has done in his life. God says, “I will give them an everlasting name.”
The point of the prophet Isaiah is that single adults who are vibrant in faith are a great monument to the grace of God. It is a testimony of the great grace of God. How we ought to exalt God, praise God, when a life is dedicated to God. And how we ought to feel the importance, the example, of good, Christian singles who live lives of truth and obedience and sacrifice to Jesus Christ. God notes that. God is pleased with that.
And then the prophet says that the promise is a part of worship in God. Now, why is that so important—that you were brought as a single person into God’s house and worship and pray as the prophet promises? It is important because it is important to God. The greatest thing that God looks for in our life is worship. The greatest blessing is worship—that you come before God with offerings of praise, that you are joyful in His house of prayer. That is the greatest thing possible. The promise to the single member of the church is not that maybe one day he will get married and have children. But the promise, as being purchased in the blood of Christ, is that God will gather him into His house where he may praise Him, where God will make him joyful, where God will give him a part in the worship of God. How important it is, therefore, that single adults be regularly in attendance in worship and live lives pleasing to God! How crucial that is to the testimony of the church to the world. And how crucial that is to the church and all the members to see that.
There is a unique calling that God gives to single members in His covenant. Lay down your life in the service of your God as God has given the life of His Son for you. The calling that you have as a single member is not: extend your adolescence to the age of thirty. Be into your self. Play computer games. Think that life in the church is purposeless unless you are married and have kids. No! The purpose is laying down your life for the service of Christ.
At the age of 26 John Calvin wrote the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. At the age of 28 Zacharias Ursinus and Casper Olevianus (26) wrote the Heidelberg Catechism. At the age of 24 George Whitefield left family and home to give himself to preach the gospel of Christ where Christ was not known. The Spirit of Christ has, in the history of the church, used the flame of young adults to expand the witness of the church and to serve the gospel in lonely places.
God is pleased today not to give you the responsibility of a wife and children or a husband. You are free to serve Him.
How does single life serve Christ? Marriage, we said, is a picture of Christ and the church, so that married life must be a picture of that relationship. What am I to display as a single adult? What does God want me to show there? Is there anything important? Yes. This. Single life in Christ shows that faithfulness to Christ is life; and that life is to hold fast to God and to do what pleases Him, to keep His Sabbath, and to be joyful in His house. That is life.
Single adults show that the relationship that matters is our walk with God in the truth. So to God be the glory in both the married life and in the single life of the members of His covenant.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word and pray for its blessing now upon our hearts. We pray, O Lord, that we may take our calling seriously, whether we are married or single. And by Thy grace, may we strive to serve Thee with zeal. In Jesus’ name, Amen.