Monday, September 26, 2011

Practical and Theology View Concerning Celibacy


Biblical perspective
·         Gen.2:18 – “not good for man to be alone” – in creation God saw that Adam needed a companion, one like him, to complement him
·         Matt.19:11-12; 1 Cor.7:7 – in apparent contrast to Gen.2:18 – however, these two passages suggest that God has singled out some people to lead a life of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom
·         How can God give this gift while affirming that “it is not good for man to be alone”?  “The resolution to this apparent contradiction is to be found in recognizing that God has made an exception to His own general principle.  Because of the social distortion and crises brought about by sin and because of the urgent demand upon the church to advance the cause of His kingdom, God has equipped some persons with the capacity of leading fulfilling single lives.” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Marriage Covenant: A Biblical Study on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, Chapter 1)
·         What is meant in the Scriptures by the gift of celibacy is not fully explained.  Presumably it means “… the capacity to find companionship, though of a different kind, outside of marriage, by becoming deeply involved in the mission of the church in ways married persons cannot (see 1 Cor.7:32-34).” Ibid.
·         To determine whether or not a person has this gift, the two tests from Matt.19:12 and 1 Cor.7:8-9 need to be applied: 1) Am I able to contain my sexual urges, and 2) do I find satisfaction and companionship in the work of God’s kingdom?
 A Theological Perspective
(from: “Identity and Singleness” by Peter Ould; “Complete as One” by Fern Horst – from
·         Close to the heart of our humanity as those created in the likeness of our Maker lies the desire to be in relationship.  We are by God’s plan “relational beings” – both in relationship to God and as male and female – which gives rise to a longing in our hearts to reunite with God, and a longing to unite and be at one with another human being.  “The sexual urge in our life is often a biological manifestation of that emotional and spiritual basis to our existence.” (Ould)
·         This strikes at the very core of our beings – which means that the lack of a partner seems to leave us incomplete.
·         But the Scripture shows that being single is absolutely fine.  The key is IDENTITY.  “If I need a relationship to form my identity, and my life choices mean that I don’t have a relationship, then I can be said to have chosen a ‘second-rate’ life.  But if my identity is formed elsewhere and on different terms then this is not a problem….The real issue a single person needs to deal with is identity.  One’s identity as a Christian is not formed by what clothes you wear, where you live, what job you do or who you sleep with.  My identity comes form Christ.  If this is son, then the most important relationship in my life is not my lover or my friends, but my Savior.  It is this relationship most of all that I needed to work on.”
·         “Many people believe they cannot truly live until they find their significant other….Some people do not feel they have worth until they find someone to give them a sense of worth….This type of belief systems indicates a dependency on something or someone other than God.  Any time we look to anyone or anything other than God to give us meaning, to meet our needs, we are creating an idol.  We are allowing something or someone to take God’s place in our lives.  This is serious business to God.  Idolization is adultery to Him; it hurts Him as much as we hurt when friends betray their loyalty to us.  He wants to have that place in our lives.  He will give us more meaning and worth and acceptance than any ‘significant other’ ever could.  Both Christ and the Apostle Paul taught in the Bible that remaining dependent on God is easier when one is single.  When one is married, it is easy to put one’s spouse in God’s place, to expect him or her to meet the needs that only God can fill.  Marriage does not legitimize idolization.  God still wants His rightful place in our hearts regardless of our marital status….God wants some of us to be single so that we can serve Him in ways those who are married cannot.  But we can be sure that God will meet everyone’s needs, married or single.  Singleness is not an excuse to live our lives for ourselves, or to sit around waiting for life to happen….Yes, I’m complete.  You’re complete.  And it has nothing to do with whether or not we’re married.  It has everything to do with the fact that Christ lives in us and with Him we are not only complete, we have everything we need to live the life of a fulfilled, successful adult.” (Fern Horst)
·         Choosing for whatever reason to remain single doesn’t mean that one is free from all pangs of loneliness and despair. 
 Five Truths concerning Singleness from God’s Perspective
(“Singleness: A Peek at God’s Perspective” by Myron Horst –
Viewing marriage and singleness through God’s eyes:
  1. Marriage is temporary and is only a thing of this earth – Matt.22:30 – hence marriage should be viewed as an earthly possession, not something to be taken with us to heaven.  And like any other earthly possession, marriage isn’t required in order for everyone to experience happiness and fulfillment in this life.
  2. Marriage and family can be idolatry – whenever we place something or someone ahead of God, that is idolatry (idol worship).  It is possible, being surrounded by so much emphasis upon matchmaking (e.g. website) together with books & magazines about marriage and family etc., for Christians to put their primary focus on marriage or getting marriage, not on Jesus.  See Col.3:1-2; Heb.3:1; 12:1-3.  As Christians, we should recognize the worth of the individual within the kingdom of God, not bound by a relationship with another individual.
  3. Singles in the Bible who served God in significant ways – examples include Jesus, Daniel, John the Baptist, Paul, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah etc.  Others who were single for many years or lost their spouse after only a short period of married life include Isaac, Moses and Anna.
  4. Errors in singleness – 1) filling life with busyness that has no eternal reward – Eccl.4:7-8; 2) focusing on self versus God’s will for His people to serve others; 3) being forbidden by a group to marry – see 1 Tim.4:1-5; 4) being lazy, prying into the affairs of other people, gossiping etc. – see 1 Tim.5:13 – instead of being lazy or workaholics, our focus needs to be carrying out God’s purposes in our lives, and doing the works He has prepared for us to do (Eph.2:10).
  5. Marriage is not God’s plan for everyone:
    1. It is better not to get married than to be married to a contentious or angry spouse – see Prov.21:9,19; 10:13; 25:24; 27:15.  This may mean for some delaying marriage and for others, not getting married.
    2. Some according to Jesus’ teaching will not get married for the sake of God’s kingdom – Matt.19:10-13 – may also apply to divorced people not getting married for the sake of God’s kingdom, a former spouse is alive and unmarried.
    3. In times of great trial and distress, it may be wise not to marry – 1 Cor.7:26.
    4. Some people feel led not to get married so that they can serve the Lord with greater freedom – 1 Cor.7:32-35.
    5. A widow may be happier if she doesn’t remarry – 1 Cor.7:40
Blessings singles receive from the Lord:
  • God will bless singles with an everlasting name – singles will have everlasting impact in God’s kingdom – Isaiah 56:3-5; Daniel
  • God will bless singles with more children than a married wife – the Lord is the husband – Isaiah 54:1-6
  • God promises those who have chosen not to be married for the kingdom of heaven’s sake a greatly multiplied blessing, not just a substitute for marriage – Matt.19:27-30

Seven basic needs of singles
(Rev. Rowland Croucher, John Mark Ministries)
  1. Acceptance:
    1. The best remedy for anyone who has received negative messages from others is to know they are accepted, totally accepted by God. 
    2. Singleness is a visible lifestyle for a Christian.  Marriage is not the only way to live together in community.  No Christian should feel or be treated as a second class citizen because they are still single.
    3. A single person needs to know and receive continual reassurance that God loves them and that they are very precious and special to Him.  God wouldn’t love you any more  if you were married.
  2. Self-worth:
    1. Each person is unique, an unrepeatable miracle of God’s creation.  He is the Father to all people and each individual (single or married) is a delight to Him.
    2. A sense of self-worth flows from believing these facts and living in the enjoyment of being alive in Jesus. 
    3. Keep growing, accept challenges, take resists. 
    4. Develop skills in particular areas including in some home-making talents.  Don’t get sloppy about your meals if you live alone.  If music interests you, then pursue some area of music appreciation and enjoyment.
    5. Seek to develop your skills in your profession or work.  But be careful not to become married to your work.  “God wants all your life to become integrated into a unity, and be balanced between work and play and rest, between solitude and company, between relating to various interests and relating to God and others.”
  3. Loneliness:
    1. Everyone is made for community.  Each person needs others to talk with, laugh and cry with, pray with and bounce ideas off.
    2. No one needs to be lonely.  Some people are lonely because they are selfish.  We should be stepping outside our professional parameters and moving in ministry towards others.
    3. Singleness is like marriage – a happy marriage is the result of two people wanting to please the other – so the secret of a happy single life is to give yourself to others.  Serve others, but without becoming their slave.  However, don’t try to help anyone who sends clear signals that they don’t want your help.  Give people the right to be left alone if that is their choice.
  4. Companionship:
    1. One of the most important things families can do is to open their homes and love to singles, and in this way to create extended families.
    2. Adult singles appreciate having a few children among their special friends.  Sharing delightful happenings with children is one of the richest experiences God allows anyone to have.
    3. It is also important for the ‘never married’ to have a few married people among their close circle of friends.
    4. Singles need to be aware of the danger of ‘smothering’ a person whom they are especially fond of.  Keep working to get the balance right between the relationship and other areas of one’s life.  No one other person can satisfy all one’s needs.
    5. Be careful in friendships with people of the opposite sex.  Singles should not let the opinions of others cause them to panic and rush into marriage.  “The only thing worse than waiting is wishing you’d waited!” 
    6. We may live in hope for the future, but the essence of the spiritual life is the enjoyment of the present moment.
    7. Should a person actively look for a mate or just wait for the right person to come along?  Don’t let either choice become an obsession.  Look upon life as an adventure and make most of the opportunities for work, fun, meeting new people, serving others.
    8. Continue to develop skills in relating with others.   Fight any self-condemning or self-hate thoughts that will cause you to withdraw from others. 
    9. “The battle is not between being married and being single, but between the peace of God in your heart and mind, and the unrest and despair Satan puts there….He wants to lower your self-esteem, and your attractiveness to yourself and others, and also to lower your spiritual and moral standards.”
    10. If you want friends, you need to be friendly. 
    11. How will a single know when he/she has found the right person?  “Ask yourself: would I be prepared to make a life-long commitment to this person – no matter who I might meet later on?  Make sure you agree on basic issues….”
    12. Another danger is to develop exclusive relationships with other singles, either of the same sex or the opposite sex.  Hence the importance to be sensitive to others.  In a group, people should not pair off but act as ‘singles’. 
  5. Money:
    1. God loves a cheerful giver. A single may have more money to give away than someone who is supporting a family.  Therefore, learn to be generous, living with an open heart that desires to bless and help others.
    2. For those who have difficulty in managing their money and investments, they should not hesitate to ask others for help.  This also extends to asking help in practical jobs.
  6. Sex:
    1. A single has sexual needs as much as anyone. 
    2. In today’s sex-saturated culture, a single Christian will inevitably struggle in this sexual area.  David Pawson summarises the Christian teaching about sex in four propositions:
                                                               i.      God’s standards are right for us
                                                             ii.      God’s standards are good for us
                                                            iii.      God’s standards are difficult for us
                                                           iv.      God’s standards are possible for us
    1. God’s Word is clear: chastity outside marriage and fidelity inside marriage is God’s will for His people.  Jesus’ teaching calls for His followers to internalize this teaching – faithful not just in deed but also in thought.
    2. God’s Word is also very clear that sex is not sinful.  God created us as sexual beings, which means that He certainly is very positive about the sexual drives in our lives.
    3. Jesus offers forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery.  So the Christian faith holds our sexuality in tension between law and love.  “Law is to love what railway tracks are to the train: they give direction, but all the propulsive power is in the train.”
    4. What part does a physical / sexual relationship play in a friendship?  If you are committed Christians and heading towards marriages, all aspects of your relationship – spiritual, emotional and physical – should be ‘in sync’.  If one gets ahead of the rest, the relationship is awry.  (Walter Trobisch) 
    5. What about non-sexual touch between males and females?  Is there any ‘non-sexual touch’ possible between males and females?  Everyone needs physical touch, but we all need to be very careful in this area.  Girls need to know that when a guy cuddles, it may be more of a ‘sexual’ act for him than for the gal. 
    6. Most important to make a clear decision not to engage in any sinful homosexual or heterosexual acts or behavior.  Say a deliberate and definite ‘no’ to all evil. 
    7. Dr. Majorie Foyle: “Masturbation … is in my view often no more than a pressure cooker tension] the pressure cooker blows: in anger, in masturbation, or in other ways.” (‘Overcoming Stress in Singleness’, EMQ, April ’85, pp.141-142)
  1. Gratefulness and the will of God:
    1. For many people like Paul and Mother Teresa, celibacy was and is a gift.  See 1 Cor.7:7-9. 
    2. Each person will know God’s will by walking closely with Him.  A single life can be rich and satisfying, fulfilled in the highest sense (see 1 Cor.7:32-33).
    3. God knows our needs, He feels our pain, and He waits for our love. “Ours is a redemptive God.  Where we will allow him, God moves into our human sorrows with healing and sustaining grace.  He gives himself to us intimately and personally, meeting us with sufficiency for ll our needs, enabling us to live richly, creatively, and joyfully.  This he has done for me all my life.  This he is doing for countless others the world over….” (Testimony of a 60 year old single lady)

Sex, singleness and secularization
Dr. Denis R. Alexander
  1. Social secular trends
    1. People are marrying older.  UK figures 1976-2007: from 25 to 31 (men) and 23 to 29
    2. Growing trend is co-habitation.  Marriage is often connected with expensive wedding celebrations etc. 
    3. Trend – people living alone – 3/10 UK households – single/one person
  2. The challenge to Christians
    1. Christian position of sex belonging to marriage is totally counter-cultural in today’s society.
    2. Christianity is a social and relational faith practiced in a community.  It expects that by God’s sanctifying grace, loners will be steadily transformed into relational people who will begin to enjoy community rather than shrinking from it. 
    3. Marriage between believers reflects God’s creation ordinance (Gen.2:18-24).  It also provides an opportunity to model on earth something of the eternal love that Christ has for His church (Eph.5:25-33).
  3. The problem
    1. Some Christian men are becoming so absorbed in their individualistic pursuits, also in the self-indulgent ways of the secular world.  They live unmarried, and perhaps alone, preferring their life-style choices. 
    2. Like their non-Christian friends, they delay thinking seriously about marriage because it would cramp their life-style.  They are too busy developing their career to get involved in a time-consuming relationship.
    3. The problem is that there are more single women than men in their 20s and 30s and many of these women would like to get married.
    4. The question arises: Are Christian men taking God’s creation ordinance seriously enough, in the light of the many eligible single Christian women in our churches?  Women still expect men to take the initiative in forming a relationship.
  4. Reasons for marrying soon
    1. No biblically approved age to get married.  This factor differs significantly between cultures.  In NT, usually bethrothed as a teenager (Luke 1:27).  The male would typically be older.  Some good biblical reasons to get married sooner rather than later.
    2. Reasons:
                                                               i.      In our individualistic culture, marriage is one of the central ways in which Christians in partnership can witness to the tribune God-in-relationship.  As married partners give themselves to each other, so they model something of the self-giving love of the godhead to the watching world.  There is no good reason not to get on with it.
                                                             ii.      Living as a single without sex in a sex-saturated society is a challenge to holy living.  Lonely non-relational sex is no substitute for the real thing – frustrating rather than fulfilling.  See 1 Cor.7:9.  Also sex within marriage is such a beautiful gift of God, so why waste time before enjoying it?
                                                            iii.      God has set the male and female biological clocks ticking at very different rates.  Males keep producing millions of sperm and can father children well into their 70s.  Females, on the other hand, only produce around 450-500 eggs in their whole reproductive life-time.  After their mid-30s, their fertility begins to decline significantly.  Furthermore, younger women go through child-birth much more easily.
                                                           iv.      If children are born when their parents are relatively young, then there is a greater chance that the grandparents will still be alive as the children grow older, thus making possible the godly influence of grandparents (2 Tim.1:5).
                                                             v.      Christian women find it very difficult to wait for a Christian man to propose to them, and are seriously tempted to begin a relationship with a non-Christian.  If Christian men were taking their responsibility seriously, this scenario would be far less likely.
                                                           vi.      Those who are privileged to be called into missionary service as married couples find much greater respect in most world cultures.  Moving into these cultures while still young will mean that language learning and cultural adaptation will go much easier.
  1. The difficulties
    1. Christian singles (male & female) can become so absorbed in their careers that they forget that costly relationships are at the heart of Christian faith.
    2. Sometimes people are waiting to meet the perfect mate.  Probably Christian singles need to be a little more realistic about these matters.
    3. We need to encourage a culture in which social dating without immediately romantic expectations is acceptable.  But when romance happens, guys need to be reminded that a woman would like to be loved and cherished, placed (after God) at the center of his time and affections, not merely added to his current list of ‘projects’.
    4. Some single males struggle because they have suffered a number of rebuffs.  C.S. Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – t will change.  It will not be broken.  It will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable.” (The Four Loves, p.111f.)
    5. This is a call to Christian men to stand against the trends of modern secular culture that is seeping insidiously into local churches.  Marriage provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate the self-giving and relational heart of God to a skeptical watching world.

Comments from conversation with Andrew & Alison (Jakarta, 18/7/07):
  • Common prejudices:
    • Unmarried person cannot be considered or treated as a full adult, e.g. in Chinese culture, still given money at Chinese New Year although the person may be a 50 year old single.
    • If you are over 30 years of age and still single – this means the person is gay.
  • Problems:
    • Parents’ dictates re. choice of partner for their children – how can an adult Christian single exercise their freedom in such situations without dishonoring their parents.
    • Single guys can easily become the target of interested women – with very bold and clear intentions.
    • When people still have a lot of personal “baggage” as singles, they are really not ready to enter into marriage.
  • Counsel:
    • Contentment is a real-life issue.  This is a matter of the individual’s relationship with God.  If for the time being, God has not provided a life partner, this is God’s perfect will for this particular time.  And that will bring the greatest happiness.
    • God’s Word for all His people in all situations is to fix our eyes upon Jesus, not upon some personal pursuit no matter how seemingly right that pursuit may be.  God’s people are always confronted with the spiritual dangers of fixing their eyes and hearts on some human pursuit which can become an “idol”.  This applies to marriage and finding a husband or a wife. 

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