Let’s face it. Biblical examples of married couples (good ones) are scarce. One of the only ones I can think of (and the only Christian one) is Priscilla and Aquila. If a couple is committed to living the married life exemplified by this couple, then by all means be married! Too bad Christians rarely found their marriage on the model of these two, and even rarer are the couples who follow through with those foundations. The temptations of comfort and security (that weren’t as magnified before marriage) are now just too hard to overcome.
J.S. Bach, who wrote more compositions than any other major composer. Not only was he married during all of his unprecedented career (composing more than 1200 compositions, each extremely more sophisticated than today’s pop song) but he managed to father 20 children throughout it all! If he could achieve that as a married man with 20 kids anyone can. Of course maybe he was a lousy husband and father who never spent time with his family. He eliminates any excuse of marriage keeping you from art, though I can’t fathom how he did it.
Toby McKeehan, whose lyric-writing and artistic/musical vision grew and arguably reached its pinnacle with the album Jesus Freak (in my opinion the greatest album ever made), which was inspired and created during the time period in which he met and married his wife. Although interesting to note that dc Talk member Mike Tait never married as far as I know.
Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, other apostles probably (at least the traveling apostles), also Philips’s virgin daughters (as if Philip took Paul’s advice to not give your daughters in marriage), and presumably many Old Testament prophets such as Elijah, Jeremiah, etc. I would assume the apostles who still weren’t married during Pentecost remained single being of the same mind and spirit of Paul. Likewise I doubt Timothy or the next generation would have married either, heeding Paul’s advice and assuming the end was near (and with the increasing persecution). But the only ones who were married were married before they were Christians, and I doubt they would have married after becoming Christians because in those days Christianity was a radical way of life; they weren’t living for the Earth anymore. I wonder how Peter’s wife fit in when Peter left everything to follow Jesus. Paul said for the married to live as though they weren’t, and Jesus Himself mentioned His followers leaving family, including wives, behind to follow Him. (Luke 18:29)
Here’s a list of several significant, extra-biblical people who were bachelors (whether by their own choice or not). Some of these were in a relationship/married at some point in their lives, but not during the years that gave them a spot on this list. Of course there might be a greater number of significant married people, but this is just to encourage you that if you are celibate you’re in good company with some of the most influential people in history:
G.F. Handel (When King George II asked why he wasn’t married, he simply responded with: “I have no time for anything but music.”)
Leonardo Da Vinci
Rich Mullins (engaged for 10 years before going celibate)
Gandhi (left his wife to become celibate)
Buddha (left his wife, child and luxurious life as a prince to seek the truth)
Origen (who castrated himself)
Joan of Arc
Mother Teresa, and all the other Catholic nuns, monks, priests, bishops and popes.
It is true that many of the people on the list above lived celibate lives filled with struggles. Some fell into perversion or near insanity, others battled depression, and even Kierkegaard after deciding it was better not to marry supposedly could never completely get over his love for his ex-fiancee.
Soren Kierkegaard, who would later become the greatest Christian philosopher of the 19th Century, fell madly in love with a girl in his youth and the two became engaged. However, he had strong convictions about the Christianity of society becoming a mere part of their culture, and felt it his duty to reintroduce Christianity to Christendom. He knew this calling to be a philosophical activist conflicted with the responsibilities and baggage of the married life and so he came to a fork in the road, knowing he had to choose one life or the other. He chose the other. That is, to sacrifice his overwhelming passions and instead live a life that focused solely on achieving a goal for the greater good of mankind.
And if you’ll allow me to use a non-Christian example, I’m reminded of the story Journey to The West in which the Bhodisattva, who after dying and going to the after-life, chose to refrain from entering into Nirvana (which is permanent) so as to help those still on the Other Side to find the way there. Likewise with celibacy we willfully choose to stay outside the temporary bliss of marriage for the sake of helping mankind toward the permanent bliss of Heaven.
If you’re reading this right now and you’re offended, then I tell you plainly, as one who has been on both sides myself, you are in sin. You need to accept that people have different callings and different ways to fulfill them. Not everyone is created the same with the same gifts/weaknesses.
“This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” 1 Cor. 7:35
I’m doing nothing different than Paul did, and I think that he too had the spirit of God. I’m simply encouraging people to remain single until God first makes it clear you are to marry AND THEN supernaturally provides your companion also. Because if God has created every person for a specific ministry and gives them specific gifts so as to do that ministry as well as possible, what greater gift is there than their spouse? I think it is always God’s perfect will for us to reach as many people as possible. Though we might not see the direct fruit in our lifetime, if we are in the center of God’s will then on Judgement Day the final number of souls in Heaven will be greater than if we weren’t in the center of God’s will. We could go against God’s calling and see many people saved, but the final number on Judgement Day would be less than if we stayed true to him, trusting that he knows what’s best (even if it doesn’t seem best to us). And if a spouse will help you do that more than prevent it then God will raise up that perfect person he has chosen at that perfect time. So don’t worry. If you are committed to God and he doesn’t bring a spouse into your life it’s because the Kingdom of Heaven is better off without it. Hallelujah.
Why is there such hostility and opposition to celibacy? Perhaps because it seems we’re threatening marriage in a time when it’s already rapidly disintegrating. But no one’s attacking marriage (as is explicitly condemned by Paul himself in 1 Tim 4). We’re just promoting celibacy. Marriage isn’t in jeopardy because of celibacy. It’s in jeopardy because it’s become more about emotion and less about commitment/discipline (something celibacy fights against on the extreme side of the spectrum). It’s better to never marry than marry the wrong person, than to be divorced.
2 major flaws in the modern church are:
1. Commission: Pitying/making a spectacle of people who desire to remain single, discouraging them as if it were heresy or immature, and not supporting their celibacy.
2. Omission: Not publicly advocating it as an option for everyone to be aware of and consider.
I know it’s not popular, for obvious reasons, but I believe the ideal life is the life of sacrifice. You sacrifice everything you’ve been given: your time, talent, and treasure. You sacrifice your comfort and pleasures (vanity). You sacrifice your health, relationships and job (necessity). You even sacrifice your sins, weaknesses, worries, and doubts. You ignore the staples/milestones of the human life (youth, marriage, sex, parenthood, retirement), and then you die, preferably as a martyr. Sacrifice in life, sacrifice in death. Your life is altogether one big offering poured out on the altar, in modeling after our Christian examples who poured out their lives like a “drink offering”. (2 Tim. 4:6)
As Toby McKeehan wrote: “Kamikaze, my death is gain. I’ve been marked by my Maker a peculiar display. The high and lofty, they see me as weak because I won’t live and die for the [same] power they seek.”
I realize this is a lot of talk and I can’t expect people or myself to live up to this (perfectly), but regardless, this is the way I think it’s meant to be, what makes sense, and what we should strive for.
As if this all wasn’t my personal take already, right? My personal reasons for celibacy are myriad, but even so sometimes I toy with the hypothetical notion of a marriage that would fit with my convictions. I don’t see any flaw to living with a companion to keep me company, keep me accountable, and know me/love me on a more intimate level no friend could, in fact that would be better. But there are also many temptations/distractions that wouldn’t exist except in marriage: sex, romance itself, conviction of not spending time with spouse, etc. And these are such powerful distractions to make the whole thing not worth it, or likely to keep you from making the biggest impact possible.
I also freely confess to having a lot of “pet peeves” that make the stereotypical woman extremely unattractive to me, but most men wouldn’t be phased by– things like dress and the way they act. Things like cosmetics absolutely gross me out, but those deterrents would generally be considered abnormalities on my part (though maybe it should be more normal, as Paul and Peter both condemn such things in 1 Tim 2:9 & 1 Peter 3:3). And I also concede to being an eccentric person with a sensitive mind and a weak stomach, which makes celibacy the more tenable option of the two.
Perhaps my call to celibacy isn’t so much celibacy for the sake of celibacy, but rather celibacy because the kind of woman I WOULD marry is unlikely to exist. That is, who would agree with my “radical” beliefs, and who would be okay with me spending most of my time in solitude writing. If I plan on spending all of my free time in solitude pursuing my artistic projects, what’s the point of marriage? What void will marriage fill that friends and family can’t? Weakness isn’t a good reason to get married, it needs to be a benefit to a life/lives already complete in God.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah. 17:9
And after all this if I get married people will think I’m a hypocrite, but I freely confess how tough it is to live by reason and the spirit, resisting temptation and my built-in desires. All I know is that romance is blinding and a remarkably overwhelming, possessing force. Who can stand against it? All my logic can only slow it down and give me more chances to resist temptation and break free. Celibacy has to be something that God sustains because I’m not strong enough to withstand the lure of romance. But He does. It’s amazing because every single time I’ve fallen in love God always closes the door somehow before the relationship can be established. It’s supernatural, and I praise God for it looking back, though at the time it’s always painful.
I just pray that God has mercy on my heart and doesn’t let me screw up, being taken by romance so as to jeopardize my calling. But I know he won’t, and he will make me fit the character in His Story perfectly, whatever that may be.
I have nothing that you have not given me. I am nothing that you have not made me. Everything that I have or am is by your choice alone, your grace. Therefore all we can do is give it back to you with everything we are, as one giant sacrifice. For we are ourselves sacrifices. Living sacrifices. (Romans 12)