A few years ago I’d had sort of an interesting run where I’d been in a relationship that ended about a few months earlier. I had been on some dates with various people and was sort of tired of it all. But I was also doing a lot of random ministry and enjoying it. I told a friend at that time that I was considering once again if maybe I should just stay single. I wasn’t mad about it (believe me I’d been there), I was just looking realistically at my situation and thinking it wasn’t all bad. The truth was that I had asked God about this several times. What was cool about that time period is I was really ok hearing whatever from God. If God wanted me to remain unmarried I was ok with that.
As an aside – one of the keys to hearing God is being willing to hear anything. I need to be willing to hear yes and no. That is what being surrendered to him means. “God I will do what you want – whatever that is.” When you are in that posture it makes it much easier to really see what He is calling you to. I’m not suggesting that is easy, just saying it’s true.
But as I prayed it never felt like God was calling me to that. It just never felt right to say I was called to celibacy and to remain unmarried – even when I wanted it to.
One of the great failures of the church is that we do basically no teaching on this calling. In protestant culture we don’t really even offer it as an option. I’m not sure why we are so afraid of it. I’ve had pastors say from the pulpit essentially, “we don’t know anything about this, so we are going to skip it.” I’ve mentioned before that at my church we have a position on every other angle – dating, marriage, divorce, remarriage, sexual ethics, homosexuality – but not celibacy or being unmarried. And our church has at least 40% unmarried people. Do you think it’s possible that someone in there might need that teaching?
Part of it is that we have made marriage/family an idol in the church. But I think part of it is that now for generations no one has taught on it, so people are just lost.
Let’s be clear about a couple of things.
You are created and born unmarried. Even Adam and Eve were created unmarried. There is no soulmate. Your number one relationship regardless of marital status is with Jesus. At the resurrection, regardless of what happened in your life here, you will be unmarried. You will spend eternity unmarried.
The question is what are you called to here and now? I know it’s really only one scripture but I think Jesus actually lays it out pretty well in Matthew 19.
The pharisees have tried to trap Jesus with a question about divorce. Jesus answers that by raising the bar to the point where basically divorce is almost always wrong. A person can’t just get divorced. The disciples freak out and say essentially, “that’s too hard”.
Jesus then says that the gift of marriage isn’t for everyone. It’s at this point that Jesus offers some thoughts on celibacy. Most translations use the term eunuchs but I think it applies. (for a couple of interesting versions, check out The Message and the JB Phillips)
Jesus basically says that there are three groups of people that are called to celibacy (notice they are not called to dating forever, sleeping around etc.).
There are first of all those who are born that way. They are born with the “gift” so to speak. Maybe it’s physical. Maybe they for whatever reason have just never really felt the drive for marriage, maybe even for sex. In other words there are those who have been created to live a life unmarried.
Secondly there are those who have been made that way by men. These might be people who have never been asked to be married or have been rejected. Maybe they’ve been physically injured or have a mental illness.
You see here’s the deal, we live in a fallen world. I know that hurts. But there will be some people who don’t have the gift or the calling to remain unmarried who nonetheless, because of sin, woundedness (their own, others’, the world’s) don’t get married. There are earthly consequences to sin – both our own and others. This is one reason we need to punt the family idol. You could do a lot right and still not have one. We Have To Get This.
Finally there are those who have chosen celibacy for the kingdom. We have choice. If we get married, we choose that. Both marriage and celibacy are a gift and a choice. Jesus is saying that some choose to dedicate themselves to a work that means not being married. They choose it.
One of the big problems is that we have lumped all unmarried people into one category – single. But in the scripture there are the not married yet, the married, the divorced, the widowed and then these three – those who are unmarried because they were born with a different gift, those that are unmarried because of a fallen world, and those that are unmarried because they choose to forgo that gift and follow a different calling.
The question is of course where are you on this list. Are you willing to hear that answer? Are we willing to walk with people to help them figure it out?
I’m not pretending to be exactly right about all of this. But I do know we HAVE to have the conversation.
I believe the original Greek intended to use the term “Eunuch” as a social understanding of literal physical castration, as a reason why “some men CANNOT marry.”
Jesus said “can marry” and “cannot marry,” not “shouldn’t marry,” or “might have difficulty marrying.”
I think the Church has been busy trying to overthink and over-spiritualize this “gift of singleness,” rather than just finding out if someone has both the physical biological ability AND desire to become married AND build a family lineage, AND can accept the Terms and Conditions of that choice. Those that CAN’T do those things might have that “gift of singleness,” or have “given up marriage” with the intent and motivation to serve God (and desire to serve God more as a lifelong single than as a married person.) You should ask somebody who does have it though, because I most certainly do not.
Matthew 19:7-12: Expanded Bible
7 The Pharisees asked, “Why then did Moses give a command for a man to divorce his wife by giving her ·divorce papers [a certificate of divorce/dismissal; Deut. 24:1]?” 8 Jesus answered, “Moses ·allowed [permitted] you to divorce your wives because ·you refused to accept God’s teaching [L of your hard-heartedness], but ·divorce was not allowed in the beginning [or this was not God’s intention at creation; L from the beginning it was not like this]. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman ·is guilty of [commits] adultery.[a] ·The only reason for a man to divorce his wife is if his wife has sexual relations with another man [L …except in the case of sexual immorality].” 10 The ·followers [disciples] said to him, “If that is the ·only reason a man can divorce his wife [situation/case between a husband and wife], it is better not to marry.” 11 Jesus answered, “Not everyone can accept this ·teaching [word], but ·God has made some able to accept it [or only those given this gift of celibacy; L only to those whom it has been given]. 12 · There are different reasons why some men cannot marry [L For…]. Some men were born ·without the ability to become fathers [L as eunuchs]. Others were made ·that way later in life [L eunuchs] by other people [C males would sometimes be castrated as punishment, or to serve in harems]. And some men have ·given up marriage because [L made themselves eunuchs for the sake] of the kingdom of heaven [C through abstinence, not necessarily castration]. · But the person who can marry should accept this teaching about marriage [or The person who can accept this teaching about not marrying should accept it].”
1599 Geneva Bible (GNV)
11 [a]But he said unto them, All men cannot [b]receive this thing, save they to whom it is given. 12 For there are some [c]eunuchs, which were so born of their mother’s belly: and there be some eunuchs, which be gelded by men: and there be some eunuchs, which have [d]gelded themselves for the kingdom of heaven. He that is able to receive this, let him receive it.
Matthew 19:11-12 AMP
 But He said to them, Not all men can accept this saying, but it is for those to whom the capacity to receive it has been given.  For there are eunuchs who have been born incapable of marriage; and there are eunuchs who have been made so by men; and there are eunuchs who have made themselves incapable of marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let him who is able to accept this accept it.
Matthew 19:11-12 NIV
 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.  For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
English Standard Version (ESV)
11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 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.”
In my opinion, a lot comes down to guilt by association. More specifically, the guilt attached to the word celibacy and its association with the Catholic church and all of the negative publicity which the media constantly feeds our soap opera driven society. I have many friends who are Catholic brothers and sisters who are living faithful lives of celibacy. But their stories are never heard and are overshadowed by headlines of pedophilia and homosexuality. Likewise, Protestants who are living lives as faithful eunuchs for the kingdom are ridiculed as being gay (or worse) and generally disregarded in a women/infant/children worship society. You’re right. “Single” is a man made politically correct word – not a biblical word. But single and married are the easiest and most comfortable stereotypes banana cupcake churches today can understand. Yes, we need to have a conversation. Eunuchs are here, symbolizing the world to come where no man will marry nor be given in marriage. I was called at an early age and tend to think it is generally decisive and unambiguous. Even with the social challenges, lack of faithful friends, distrusting church, etc., it is the life for me.
“I was called at an early age and tend to think it is generally decisive and unambiguous.”
I think this is helpful. I always assumed such people would have a clear gut-level instinct or understanding that they should pursue a celibate life for Christ, as I have always wanted to be married and have kids (minus the times when I was older, hurt, and started questioning if that was even a wise thing for me anymore).
I assumed that people called to celibacy would know on a deep spiritual (and biological?) level that they should be celibate in a much similar way to how most people sense when they are hungry or thirsty, and know that they need food and water. Though, I don’t really know.
I’m sure you could better describe what that “calling” felt like, or how you came to know which path you should take.
I think it’s much like marriage. If you asked a husband why he chose a particular woman to be his wife, he would probably be at a loss for words to pinpoint any particular characteristics, but he knew she was right for him. The bonding of eunuchs to the Lord’s affairs is just as real. It’s probably a combination of many factors – genetic, biological, spiritual – and a mystery that we can’t completely comprehend on this earth.
While I was on my “quest” last year to finally “figure out this gift of singleness” thing once and for all……I was more than a bit angry and frustrated. I was tired of my fellow Christians telling me “I had this gift” and telling me how awesome it was to “have” a gift like this….but despite how awesome this gift was evidently…none of them wanted ANY part of it. Yet I was being told “I” had it; as if they knew better than me, or God for that matter.
It’s kind of like the statement “Nine out of ten Americans think good public-transportation is a great idea; for somebody else!”
I met with a Catholic priest to discuss this. It was a surreal situation meeting him in his office. He in his vestments, and I in my Salvation Army uniform to discuss celibacy. We did laugh about this, because we both knew a generation and a half ago, this meeting probably would not have happened! He was my age (early forties) and he opened in a prayer, and I closed in a prayer. We had a great discussion actually. He did point out something to me that at least made me think:
So many run from this gift. It takes a piece of true humility to accept this gift if indeed you have it. Nothing what the Lord gives us is for us. It is for glorifying Him. Someone may have the gift of exhorting, or preaching……but they still had to practice it, discover it. Learn from it. Not abuse it. Listen to God. With celibacy in our culture we are taught…..even in Christian circles….that it is a ‘consolation prize’ in eternal salvation; when this is not the case at all.
He told me he ran from this gift as a younger man……couldn’t seem to get or find a girlfriend. No dates, and somehow in the mystery of the Holy Ghost itself….conviction came to him at the age of 25. He was always a devout Catholic, but when he became a priest; it caused a lot of surprise…….but for a few…….they thought it would “fit” him perfectly.
Personally, I think many who DO have this gift spend their whole lives running from it. They want to be like everyone else. There is still EVEN in Christian circles that a man or woman who lives by this, or has this gift must have “something” wrong with them. They are closeted gay, or just didn’t have “what it takes” to make a woman / man fall in love with them. They have bad social skills, or are not deemed “attractive” by societal standards, they need to be “pitied” because they will never get to “experience” sex. They need to be looked down upon in some manner because he “didn’t man up” or she “was such a prude, and scared men off” attitude which I have seen more than a few times in my short walk with Christ.
I quit listening to these voices in and out of church at the end of last summer, and I know whom I have believed 😉
What a fortunate and good thing indeed.
Reblogged this on Beloved.
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Wow. This is the first time I have encountered anyone who thinks that Matthew 19:11 is actually about marriage and is not a duplicate of the sentiment in verse 12 about eunuchs.
At what point should those in category 2 (“celibacy from the fall of man) admit the impossibility of their situation, and make the leap into category 3 (“celibacy for the Kingdom”)? At what point should you admit that you are obviously not gifted for marriage, cut your losses and commit to celibacy? Otherwise, it becomes a case of beating one’s head against the proverbial brick wall, it would seem to me!