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.