Last night, I was talking with some men in my discipleship coaching group about the blog I wrote last Monday. We got to speaking about being single and the term the Gift of Celibacy came up. Like Dating or Courtship, it’s one of those terms that Christians have a tendency to complicate with mysticism and spiritual urban legends.
For many people, celibacy is like a cosmic game of Duck, Duck, Goose – randomly assigned and arbitrary. Some people are destined to marry and be happy. And others are doomed to a lifetime of lonely singleness. No wonder many people feel it’s a curse. “Oh no! I hope that gift doesn’t fall on me!”
For others, the concept of celibacy brings to mind religious groups who make a vow of celibacy as a way of becoming closer to God. This is great when it comes from a spirit that has really heard from God, because it has a good result for that person and others. But this is not good when it is coercive, controlling, or done to manipulate people or God (who can’t be manipulated).
Here’s what the Bible says:
I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 1 Corinthians 7:7-9 (I highly recommend reading the whole chapter for better insight.)
Paul, a single man, was writing to the church in Corinth, a city famous around the world for its lustful behavior and loose sexual practices. In short, sex was a given thing for all people in that city.
Also, in the whole Roman world, one of the ways of becoming successful, respected, and a contributing member of society was to be married. A married man was a respectable man because he was contributing to society. A married woman was a significant woman because she was producing children. People in that society felt immense pressure to get married because that was the only way to succeed and be respected.
Paul, speaking for the Christians said, “It’s good for a man to remain unmarried.” (verse 1) The word “good” here is the word Kalos, which also means Noble. Paul turned over the entire concept of singleness of society on its head. In Roman society, only married people were respected, while single people were seen as second-rate. But in Christianity, a single man or single woman is just as significant, meaningful, noble, and capable of being respected.
So what then is this Gift of Singleness?
It’s not a Vow that God demands or places on everyone. Paul says, “I wish we all could do this, but some of us can’t, so they should get married.” For some people, it’s a lifetime thing. For others, it’s a seasonal thing.
It’s not a Curse. We will see Singleness as a curse if Relationships are our idol and Marriage is our Heaven – the land where all our dreams come true and we live happily ever after. But any married person will tell you that marriage is hard, if not downright impossible apart from God’s grace. No amount of kilig, romanticism, or gorgeous prenup photos will soften that blow for any couple.
Marriage is not Heaven. Being with Jesus is Heaven. So a married person with Jesus, experiences a taste of Heaven on earth, just like a single person with Jesus does.
It’s a GIFT. Being single is a gift, just like being married is a gift. There are things that we can do when we are married and there are things that we can do when we are single. And that’s just the way it is. Too often, there’s envy and regret at someone else’s gift and wishing we could exchange.
Some single people obsess about marriage and imagine that their lives would be more fruitful if they had a spouse. While many married people envy the freedom and responsiveness of their single friends. Isn’t that ridiculous? Instead, what if we looked at the gift in our hands and said, “Thank you, Lord, for this help me make the most of it.”
Two nights ago I was talking with two of our veteran campus missionaries separately. This man and this woman are both single and they’re both responding to some very exciting, difficult, and significant ministry opportunities abroad. And they can do this because they’re both currently single. A married friend and I remarked that if we were both single we would jump at that job without thinking. This is their gift.
It’s GRACE. The word “gift” that Paul uses is the Greek word charisma, which comes from charis, which means grace. So a better way to understand the Gift of Celibacy is “God’s grace for being single while you’re single.”
In short, if you’re single right now then you have the Gift of Celibacy for right now. Here’s a principle for those in Christ that we all should know, memorize, and understand:
God gives us grace to thrive, to honor Him, to succeed, to stay strong, to find joy, to help others, to not break with the pressure, and to rise above sin in every season of life. My favorite definition of grace is this:
Maybe your parents drive you crazy, but you have grace from God to still honor them even though it’s difficult. I know that my wife finds it hard to submit to me sometimes, but she has grace from God submit to me and honor me. The past few weeks Philip has been getting up multiple times in the middle of the night and crying his lungs out, but I’m not punching a hole through the wall or taping his mouth shut because God gives me grace to be a loving father.
If you’re single today, then you have grace from God to honor Him, obey Him, overcome sin, and live with joy and satisfaction. You won’t always feel like it, but you can do it. You might not want to get married, or maybe it’s something you really want. Some days it won’t bother you, some days it will. But no matter how it feels, know that God has grace for you today to be whoever He’s called you to be and to do whatever He’s called you to do.
I hope this helped demystify the concept of the Gift of Celibacy and to even make us thankful for whatever season we’re in right now. If I’ve raised more questions or problems please don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments section.
You might want to read this great article by John Piper on it. It’s twice as long, and much richer. Read Point VII.