You Are Not Called To “Singleness”

As I got older and remained unmarried, one of the questions that more and more people asked me is if I felt like I was “called” to be single or if I had the “gift” of singleness.  I have had different times in my life where I’ve considered and prayed about that.  This is one of the areas we just don’t talk enough about in the Church.

Now, I’ve already talked a lot on here about the gift of singleness, taking advantage of singleness, and about 100 spiritual platitudes on singleness.  Lately I’ve been talking more about the idea that we as a Church must have a theology of singleness.  But the question becomes what does that mean.  It has to start with what we talked about last week and focusing on Jesus and His family first.  It has to.  Without that, nothing else will fit.

The next thing we have to do is begin to rescue what we mean when we say “called to singleness”.

Singleness, is not a good category in general.  It’s way too big if by single we mean unmarried.  We need to understand that there are many, many different people who are unmarried.  There are never married, divorced and widowed.  You are not called to be “single” in the way we talk about it today.  You may be divorced and unable to remarry, widowed and choose not to remarry or called to celibacy for the kingdom.

Neither Jesus nor Paul are talking about being called to a lifetime of dating.  They are not talking about being called to be unmarried because you can’t make a commitment to another person or don’t know how to get a date.  They are not talking about a call to a lifetime of selfishness and self focus.  It is not a call to be alone.  They are also not talking about some sort of gift where you never have sexual desires.  You are not called to a lifetime of trying to get married.  You are for sure not called to a lifetime of adolescence.

What Jesus and Paul are talking about is the call to or gift of celibacy.  We have completely ignored this in the Protestant church and mostly only focused on the full time ministry part of it in the Catholic church.

The call to a celibate life is not a call away from marriage.   It is a call to something.   It is a call to serve God from an unmarried context. You might look at it like this.  There is a first vow we make to God.  This is first and most important – our response to the gift of salvation and committing our life to Jesus.  But then we make a second vow.  We either make this vow to God to live a celibate lifestyle and follow and serve Jesus from that spot, or a vow  to another person with God and therefore get married and follow and serve Jesus from that spot.

Both of these are a calling and we have the choice to either obey and follow it or not.  They are both good and honorable in the kingdom.

So when we ask someone if they are called to singleness what we really need to ask is are they called to celibacy for the kingdom.

This does not mean by the way that because you are not called to celibacy and not yet married that you are somehow sinning (although you might be).  What it means is that we need this question to be our starting point.

The problem with our current state of affairs if that we have lost this whole thought process. We need to have a good theology of celibacy and marriage.  We need a good understanding of both so that we can freely seek our particular calling.  I think that in general the Church does a good job of talking about what marriage is.  However they do a terrible job talking about celibacy.  Most don’t even acknowledge it beyond a sentence or two here and there. They typically don’t help us pursue either one.

The reality is we are either called to celibacy or marriage.  We need to determine that and then pursue it (with Jesus of course).  We are not called to sit back and see which one “happens”.  

When you think about the call to singleness – what does that mean to you?  Have you considered that call?  Would you be open to either call?

For more reading on celibacy I’d refer you to what John Morgan has written on the gift of celibacy here.  It is easily the best thing I’ve found on the subject so far and it sheds a lot of light on what I’m talking about above.  I’d encourage you to read it. It is more in depth but very clear.

27 thoughts on “You Are Not Called To “Singleness”

  1. Very excellent Justin. I too encourage Protestant churches to introduce these teachings into the theology of their churches. The gift of celibacy definitely needs to be incorporated in the statements of faith of various denominations. Considering all the recent negative press surrounding celibacy, Catholic priests, and inappropriate behavior, this may be a monumental challenge. But I believe addressing celibacy will have a positive impact on all churches and even contribute to their evangelical outreach by becoming more relevant in people’s lives. Justin, I really appreciate your emphasis on it being a positive response to God.

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  14. “The reality is we are either called to celibacy or marriage.”

    I have to respectfully disagree with the either-or scenario that you and Debbie Maken put forth, Justin. I honestly don’t feel called by God to pursue either one, and Paul seemed to indicate in his letter to the Corinthians that, with very rare exception, God leaves the decision on whether to marry or to remain single up to us.

    I also have to disagree with what you said elsewhere on the site in which you said that apprehension about marriage shouldn’t stop people from getting hitched. The horror stories I’ve read about No-Fault divorce laws have left me and many other men with a healthy fear of Western marriage.

    • Hey Chris

      Somehow I missed this comment so I apologize for a super late response. I think there is certainly choice involved. However I think some people are gifted toward celibacy. This has been true throughout Church history. Even if you are called to one or the other, you still have to choose. This is true of many things. I also think that you are free to choose either at some level.

      I get what you are saying about divorce. However fear seems like a bad reason to avoid calling, or potential joy for that matter. Fear is never from God. But I get it and it is one of the reasons we have less married people no doubt.

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  18. I read that post and I’m now confused, could you speak about consequences. Let’s say you were called to celibacy and sinned and had sex before you were saved, is that perhaps why it’s difficult to embrace the gift. A war in your members. And lastly is celibacy seasonal I’ve heard of those who were single and forsook marriage to serve only to find later they no longer enjoyed celibacy, were not fruitful and were extremely sad they were not married now. Is this making abstinence for a call I am so confused now.

    • J

      First of all, you’ve given me a couple of good post ideas. So thanks. I’ll try to answer a couple of these in a longer form later. They are good questions. But it will be August before I can get to it.

      The short answers.

      It would for sure be harder to embrace a call to celibacy if you have had sex before. But I don’t think it’s impossible. I’ll say more later. But the short answer is yes it would be harder.

      Celibacy as I’m defining it here is not seasonal. I don’t believe that Paul was talking about seasonal singleness at all. Now we can end up being celibate even if we don’t have the call. (See my post “You Will Spend Eternity Married – But What About Now”) for the ways to end up celibate.

      Two final thoughts (and again these are posts I’m already working on.) Celibacy is not the same as abstinence. If we are unmarried we are all called to abstinence. They are not the same. Secondly. Celibacy as a call and choice is just that. Just like marriage, there will be times (seasons if you will) where you enjoy it and times when you hate it. But the real question might be this: Since when you get married you make a covenant with God – and therefore should not get divorced – if I then make a covenant with God to remain celibate in service to Him then can I break that Covenant because I don’t like it any more? I’m guessing no. But again, more later.

      • ok that makes more sense, but then it is a call not a choice really. something God is requiring, rather than something I decide bc if i could divorce God and get married i probably would do that. ! as you said there are times i truly hate being celebate, more times than not, but its not a ‘vow’ so to speak for me, not really MY choice but rather something put upon me, unless marriage is not a reality for me and God hasnt planned that for me. Even then nothing I can do about it really. so i would say I’m called to abstain, but am I called to celebacy…well thats up to God, i definately am not signing up lol (at least not on purpose anyway thanks)

      • Great observations. I don’t think celibacy is any more a requirement than marriage is. When I ask guys why they chose their particular wives, their answer is usually vague and along the lines of, “It’s who I fell in love with.” The same thing is true for celibacy. I couldn’t help but say yes to the person I fell in love with.

    • I think what’s really meant by the gift of singleness is that you generally get more time to do what you want to do. I mean when you are in a relationship or married, have children, your committing to that person or children and making sacrifices. Before you could easily just go and do something fun but when you’ve got someone else you’re looking out for, you have to take into account their needs and wants too (not just your own).

      I think if you’re viewing singleness as a curse, you might be doing something wrong. I’m not saying you can’t be sad about being single (My boyfriend and I broke up and I’m a bit sad that I’m single again). I’m saying that use your singleness to go enjoy things that you like. when you do those things, it will take your mind of the anxiety of being single.

    • I wanted to quickly edit that comment about “before you could easily just go and do something fun”. it’s not like you couldn’t have fun while having a family but you have to think more about what you’re doing. Probably as a single, you could definitely go out and buy that expensive fancy schmancy makeup or something of the sort because you had the money to do it and no one is really counting on your time, energy, and money. But with children, you might have to settle for a decent generic brand of makeup because you need to feed your family. Hopefully you catch my drift

      • I do get what you are saying – as a guy and I think this is excellent advice. Not being married isn’t always easy; however, filling up your life with the things you love is the key I think.

        I love ballroom dancing. I usually go dancing twice a week and take dance lessons. My plans also include spending time with family and friends – making sure I am making lots of good memories! Being involved in my own hobbies and spending quality time with others makes a big difference.

      • I guess it depends on how much money you have, whether you’re single or married. It’s kind of a myth that single people have more money to spend than married people. I’m not poor by any means, but many of my married mom peers are significantly more well off than I am because their husbands make a lot more than I do. This includes both the working and stay at home moms. You’re also conflating marriage with parenthood. There are plenty of DINKs – double income no kids – out there who have an enormous amount of disposable income and there are single parents who don’t. A young couple starting out is also able to save a lot more than a single person is.

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