1 Corinthians 7:8. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.
7:25-28. Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.
7:32-35. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
7:38. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.
Union with Christ brings with it great freedom. Christians are free to marry, and free to be single. We are free to “stay as we are.” This was Paul’s logical advice for the Corinthian believers. Why? Because your current situation is an opportunity for the Kingdom.
It is from this “stay as you are” argument that Paul makes a strong case for staying celibate. Singleness offers a greater opportunity for Kingdom service than marriage does. More time and money can be given to ministry. The single Christian can be singularly focused on the advancement of the church of Jesus. But the Christian single is also called to a celibate lifestyle.
This is a lifestyle choice that the church has failed to uphold over the years and it is one that the church must regain for the glory of God. In recent years the church has idolized marriage, making it the highest good. We have taught singles that they need to just suffer along until God reveals their soul mate. That there is “someone for everyone.” We’ve told them that “true love waits.” But “waits for what?” For marriage of course. Because isn’t marriage God’s highest good for your life? We’ve told those with same sex attraction to seek therapy, or to cover up their desires with a heterosexual marriage. Is this all because we don’t really believe as Christians what God says, that celibacy is honorable, and Christ affirming, and even better (v.38)? Do we really believe what God says about sex? Are all of our Christian arguments for celibacy rooted in law, and self-fulfillment, and achievement, or are they rooted in grace and our soul satisfying union with Christ?
You may be thinking, “Wait your serious? You really think Christians can be celibate?” Yes. And I think Paul and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit do too.
Is celibacy truly an option? Is it even practical to assume that someone can go without sex or marriage? Of course we all know that Jesus did it. But how? Was it a miracle? No. Jesus did not remain celibate by some supernatural suppression of all his sexual desires. And neither did Paul. And neither will you.
But why should we even consider celibacy? Because our beliefs matter, our choices matter, and our character matters. It is part of our witness for Christ isn’t it? How we live out our sexuality directly reveals what we believe about God, Christ, and the gospel. God gives himself completely for us. He used his freedom to give up his freedom. He became a servant not a consumer. And we are called to do the same. When we demand sexual intimacy and yet try to keep control of our lives, or keep our freedom, we live contradictory to how God relates to us and how we are to relate to each other.
Sexual intimacy without giving up your freedom to the other person will destroy trust.
OK. But how can we even begin to live a celibate life? Here’s a few thoughts that I have adapted from Jonathan Grant’s amazing book Divine Sex (one of the best books I have ever read, not just about sex).
Celibacy is possible as we embrace the spousal love of Christ.
Sex pictures the love and joy of Christ but it alone can never fully satisfy us. Learning to experience the spousal love of Jesus is what brings the greatest satisfaction. It is also important to identify the burning desire for sex as a form of idolatry. We must replace lesser desires with a greater desire for Christ.
Celibacy is possible as we embrace an alternative community (the church).
The church must point each other towards our new identity in Christ, rather than punishing each other for our sexual pasts.
The church must not just uphold individual moral behavior, but also communal denial of authenticity, consumerism, and radical freedom.
Christian singles must do life in community with families and married believers who do not make an idol out of marriage and family.
The church must not make singles to feel incomplete or abnormal.
The church must offer deep friendships built on the character and faithfulness of God.
Celibacy is possible as we embrace a common story.
The church needs to embrace traditions that tell the Christian narrative and that help shape our identities as Christ like image bearers.
The church must walk together through the suffering of singleness and celibacy honestly: never denying the hardships while embracing the joy of faithfulness.
The church must provide communities and friendships where real moral skills can be honed in real life situations.
“To live is Christ” is a call to live in selfless love for others. It is a call to freedom, yes. But it is a call to use our freedom to serve others. Celibacy is not a pitiful life. It can be a joyful, satisfying, fulfilling life of service. And celibacy is also a life of suffering. It will never be easy and there will always be failures. But the choice to suffer for the good of the cause of Christ will be rewarded by Christ a million fold when we see him face to face.
Does the idea of celibacy for single Christians seem unrealistic to you? How can the gospel and our union with Christ satisfy our hearts even more than marriage or sex? Why must it satisfy us more? Are you in a Christian community (church) that embraces celibacy as good and honorable? Does it offer spiritual friendships and a spiritual family that fills your soul?