by Johnathan Arnold
“At some point, he is going to have to stop being so picky.”
“I feel so bad for her. She is 30 and still hasn’t found anyone.”
“I’ll never understand why he didn’t marry. Poor guy — must be lonely.”
Perhaps you have heard this kind of chatter in the vestibule of your church or on Facebook messenger.
In the CHM, we hear countless exhortations about worldliness. But Romans 12:2 suggests that the fight against worldliness is just as much about how we think as it is about what we wear or how we entertain ourselves. When it comes to the question, “How do we view people who are single and celibate?” we may be much more worldly that we would like to admit. If we view single people as second-rate, we miss the overwhelming testimony of Scripture.
Like most people who fall outside our cookie cutters, celibate people do not want special attention. They want to be recognized for who they are: brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Singleness Is A Gift
In 1 Corinthians 7:6-9, Paul writes, “I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn [with passion].”
We should not think for a moment that this is just Paul’s opinion, or that it is in any way less divinely inspired because Paul says, “I speak this by permission.” He is taking precautions to ensure that the Corinthians do not perceive this point of wisdom as a command to be celibate. The key phrase that reveals Paul’s attitude towards singleness is in verse 7: “But every man hath his proper gift of God.”
Marriage is not a right. We are not entitled to a spouse. Marriage is not even something that we deserve or can earn. It is a gift from God. This is not a hard truth; however, when is the last time that we have thought about singleness as a gift? In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says that both married life and celibate life are gifts from God’s good hand.
Worldliness is just as much about how we think as it is about what we wear or how we entertain ourselves.
Singleness Is An Opportunity
In 1 Corinthians 7:32–34, Paul writes, “But I would have you without [anxieties]. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.”
Christ’s impressive single-mindedness for accomplishing the Father’s will on earth did not allow him to be entangled in a romantic relationship.
For traveling apostles such as Paul, a wife and children were a huge liability as he was “in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Cor. 11:26). When dragged to the stone for his beheading, Paul needed to be able to concentrate on the Christ for whom he was suffering rather than the family which he was leaving behind.
Singleness is an opportunity for a special level of single-mindedness. Singleness is not a problem to be solved. While it is possible to be absorbed — even obsessed — with the glory of God and still be a good husband and father, it is not without its challenges. It is no coincidence that many of our spiritual heroes in the great cloud of witnesses, upon closer inspection, advanced the kingdom at the cost of strained marriages.
Of course, marriage also presents unique opportunities. The ministry of many men has been enhanced and supplemented by the presence of a godly spouse and gospel-partner. Nevertheless, an unmarried minister (or Christian in general, as we have all been assigned the ministry of reconciliation) should not overlook the blessings of his portion.
Young people should take advantage of their unmarried years to drive deep stakes, spend a considerable amount of time in God’s Word, and delve into the things of God before being encumbered with the cares of life. Fear of being alone is a huge motivator for seeking a spouse; this fear is impossible to overcome unless we are absorbed with the Person of Jesus and the glory of God in the gospel.
Celibacy Is Honorable
The world is vicious in the way it deals with celibate people. Some best-selling comedies center around the idea that someone could be in his or her thirties and forties and still be a virgin.
In Matthew 19:12, Jesus shatters these ideas from fallen minds: “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
“There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” You won’t find that on a greeting card. Nevertheless, these words are just as true as all of the other words in red.
The most whole person to ever live never had sex and was never in a romantic relationship. That person is Jesus.
The world does not think that a person can be whole without sexual intimacy. Even sincere Christians easily buy into this lie, overlooking that the most whole person to ever live never had sex and was never in a romantic relationship. That person is Jesus.
This is especially key for engaging a culture that is preoccupied with LGBT issues. We have failed to speak grace into the lives of men and women who are confused about their sexual tendencies and, thus, many have wholeheartedly embraced the demonic doctrines of our day. God’s Word is a good word on every subject. If we really believed that singleness and celibacy were good — indeed, very good and from the Father’s hand — we would not feel so bound up in our discussions with people who do not feel attracted to the opposite gender and live in fear of loneliness.
Christ is Supreme
In Mark 12:25, Jesus said, “When they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.”
Marriage is a good thing, but marriage is not eternal. We are not ready for marriage until we are ready for heaven. We are not ready to treasure a spouse until we treasure the Lamb. Matthew 6:33 is a key verse for those seeking a mate: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
When we respect celibacy, we share in showing Christ’s supremacy because we refuse to worship marriage as supreme.
Romans 12:2 tells us to “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Have we been transformed in the way we think about singleness and celibacy? Or are we worldly?
About the Author
Johnathan Arnold is Associate Pastor at Newport God’s Missionary Church and serves as Director of Media Ministry. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a way this is so hard to read after just losing my wife of 40 years to cancer. But I do notice that it helps alleviate the loneliness by diving into the scriptures and focusing on their study. I don’t know what the future holds but God is always there and so is His Word!
Very, very thought provoking! I enjoy my marriage and confess to being guilty of thinking that “singles just need to get with it” until a single friend recently confided in me their lack of interest in the opposite gender. At the time, I had been studying Matt. 19 and came across verse 12 that you mentioned in your article. “Some have been made eunachs from birth” for a purpose; God makes no mistakes. I will certainly be more careful in my thinking in this area and encourage singles to find God’s purpose in their singleness. Thank you for bravely speaking the truth.
Do you feel as though someone who struggles with same sex attractions is doing so as a form of God’s call to singleness?
Thank you for this question. Our Christian brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attractions/temptations must abstain from (1) lust and (2) same-sex acts, as the Bible clearly states. This usually means a life of celibacy.
However, the Bible does not require sexual attraction as a prerequisite for marriage — and neither should we. Some same-sex attracted Christians have gotten married to someone of the opposite gender and testify to a thriving, Christ-exalting relationship; however, there are obvious struggles and it is certainly not for everyone. This is something for each believer to work out in the sight of God.
Also, it is worth noting that some same-sex attracted individuals have received counseling and been able to experience heterosexual attractions; however, I am hesitant to offer people this hope, as other very sincere believers have not had this experience despite persistent prayer and counseling.
(Note: These are my personal beliefs and not spoken as an official representation of God’s Missionary Church.)
Keep an eye on the blog in the coming months (especially mid-year), as we are working with several Bible teachers, licensed counselors, and other professionals to provide compassionate, Biblically-faithful information on this topic.
Thank you for your reply. Yes, the same sex attracted individual must abstain from lust and sexual acts just as a heterosexual single person must abstain from lust and sexual activity. A married heterosexual must also abstain from lust and sex acts outside of the marriage relationship. Same temptations, different settings. It’s often really easy to toss same-sex attraction into a place of judgment, which is in error. It is not a sin to be tempted and acknowledge the temptation…but when we are led astray by our giving in to temptations, therein lies the sin.
I have come to understand that to acknowledge one’s same sex attraction and identify as gay or lesbian is NOT the sin. However to act in a same sex (or outside marriage) relationship is a sin.
I have also come to understand and believe that someone who identifies as gay or lesbian, because they recognize they notice the same sex rather than the opposite sex, can at the same time be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. It is the power of the Holy Spirit who enables homosexual or heterosexual individuals to live above sin.
I believe we are mostly on the same page. Thank you for taking the time to clarify your post.
One more question, for clarification. You wrote: We have failed to speak grace into the lives of men and women who are confused about their sexual tendencies and, thus, many have wholeheartedly embraced the demonic doctrines of our day.
For clarification, you are referring to the twisting of scripture to allow same-sex marriage and not referring to SSA as a demon which possesses people, correct?
The statement in question could have been expressed more clearly; thank you for your request for clarification. This was my intended meaning: Because we have not offered sincere Christian friendship and a clear path forward to those struggling with their sexual identities, many have abandoned the church altogether and embraced the answers that are offered by the world. This does not justify the sinful decisions of these people, but I am grieved by the church’s attitudes.
The primary purpose of the article was not to address celibacy as it relates to same-sex attraction, but it has been my conviction that a positive, Biblical attitude towards celibacy is important when counseling same-sex attracted Christians who may need to choose this path. With this in mind, I will not respond in-depth to your points about same-sex attraction at this time, but I would like to address your comment that to “identify as gay or lesbian is NOT the sin.” This goes a step further than what I was saying.
The issue of identity and self-conception is a challenging one. The main controversy surrounding the recent Nashville Statement (https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/) is about its assertion that self-conception as a homosexual is sinful. I have concerns about both sides of this controversy, but I basically agree with the Statement. Wesley Hill, Preston Sprinkle, and others have said a lot of true and helpful things, but I am nervous with some of their word-choice as it relates to this issue of identity — how we think and talk about ourselves.
For example, I understand that the nomenclature “same-sex attracted” (SSA) is a bit clunky, but I am very concerned with the recent push for accepting the nomenclature “gay” or “lesbian.” If someone says, “I am a gay Christian,” and what they mean is, “I have experienced same-sex attractions, but I am a holy-living follower of Jesus who abstains from same-sex acts and lust,” then I am not de-Christianizing them; however, I think this is greatly muddying the waters. Almost without exception, someone on the street who hears “gay” assumes “gay lifestyle.” Furthermore, the English translations of the Bible use the word “homosexual” (the equivalent of “gay” or “lesbian”) to refer to one who is practicing homosexuality and thus stands condemned before God. Again, it just confuses the issue by attempting to either use the same nomenclature in two different ways or two redefine nomenclature that has deep cultural roots.
I am certainly not an expert on these issues; please take my thoughts with a grain of salt. We are talking about real people with real souls, and I don’t want to do any damage. But I appreciate the discussion and this is one reason that God’s Missionary Church has invested in the Media Ministry — we want to think through these issues together. I am learning! May God help us to be uncompromising in our faithfulness to the truth of the Scriptures and yet equally devoted to love, compassion, and gentleness. Truth in love!
Thank you for taking time to answer at such great length. This topic is certainly one which needs to be pursued with much prayer and compassion. Blessings on you as you continue to wait before the Lord.
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