THE LOGIC BEHIND CELIBACY
*My main goal behind writing a persuasive argument in favor of celibacy is most pointedly (and most realistically) to simply open the average Christian’s mind to the option of celibacy for their consideration. And by using the 2 things we already trust in (divine revelation and logic) to support that option I hope to prove that it’s actually not radical or weird. Not to brainwash you with propaganda so as to join my ranks, but to show you what the Bible has clearly stated about it for 2000 years. Not to encourage you to join some kind of faith-based cult by tugging on your hearts, but to let you see that celibacy in general resonates with our innate sense of logic, so as to seem even more logical than marriage.*
I’ve heard it argued that Paul was specifically talking about his era when referring to staying single because of how extreme the “present distress” was (1 Cor 7:26). But at the time Paul wrote that the persecution hadn’t even reached the peak it would in later years. And if he referred to the future, then was he only referring to until the 4th century when Christianity stopped being persecuted in the Roman Empire? Is that when Christians started marrying suddenly? So now that we’re not living in “present distress” in our country is it suddenly okay to live carefree lives, marrying and living comfortably in our pursuit of happiness like in the Old Covenant? Those early centuries of persecution were no doubt terrible, but were they anymore extreme than the persecution still going on right now in the world?
I wonder if the fact that we’re not personally being persecuted means we’re not living like we’re supposed to. How can we justify living a life of leisure when our brothers in the world are STILL living in persecution like the early church? Shouldn’t we forsake the excess resources which afford us a luxurious lifestyle to turn our lives and resources toward the alleviation of current persecution? If we did this we would feel the effects of persecution personally.
But really what does persecution have to do with celibacy anyways? I suppose it’s because a wife could do more harm than good in a persecution-inclined culture where your responsibility as a husband could collide with your responsibility to the ministry– as portrayed in the following joke:
What do you call a missionary’s wife in the 10/40 window? A bargaining chip.
My point is just that the logic behind celibacy goes far beyond persecution. Are the people right now who are being persecuted like the early church called to celibacy more than we? No, I think the point of Paul advocating celibacy is because the end is near. We don’t know when it is and so we need to live as if the end is tomorrow. And if the world’s ending tomorrow why would we get married, and especially have kids? Is that what Jesus advised us to do? No, just the opposite! He actually spoke woes to them that do, as he said in Matt. 24:19: “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!” He doesn’t encourage people to keep living life like it’s always been, but instead to stop and prepare for the end. “Yeah, but people have thought it’s the end for thousands of years.” Wow, do you so quickly take the side of those “mockers in the last days” who say “Where is this second coming?” It’s that conviction of the end being nigh which continues to push the gospel ever forward despite the dangers. Without that we wouldn’t have even gotten this far.
For “…they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” –Matthew 24:38-39
Lack of Self-Control
Personally speaking, most of the time I don’t struggle with lust and romantic longing, but occasionally I do. And in those times I‘m shaken to my core, to the point I would consider throwing away all my commitments, calling, and logic for companionship. For what’s the point of celibacy if you’re too depressed to be productive–which was the whole point of being celibate? Those times when I have given in to romance are easily the worst parts of my whole life; nearly all the valleys in my life’s vicissitudes are the direct result of romantic deprivation. But it’s important to note that these valleys almost exclusively come after being around women which arouse a desire in me which I don’t want to fulfill. It’s not being by myself that makes me lonely; it’s the angst of being without something I suddenly desire that so greatly depresses me. I think if I were distanced from women (and romantic allurement) and had friends/family with me to keep me from loneliness (through accountability/fellowship) I would still struggle just like everybody does (priests, monks, apostles), but not enough to consider marriage as my calling.
You may think, “If he were really called to celibacy then he wouldn’t struggle with it.” But doesn’t everybody struggle with it? Isn’t that the way we were originally designed so as to populate the Earth? All I know is if the Bible says Jesus was tempted in every way then surely he was tempted by the most tempting of human desires (romance and sex). And if Jesus was tempted, of course a mere mortal like Paul would be, too. I don’t see why Paul’s thorn in the flesh wouldn’t have been something like the temptation of those intense romantic or sexual passions he fought against yet still couldn’t shake. I know during my past (and current) crushes I’ve begged God more than 3 times to take it away (to no avail I might add). And yet Paul’s own romantic and sexual temptations weren’t enough to persuade him toward advocating marriage; it was in spite of them that he encouraged celibacy. Paul and the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 16) are the only people in Scripture I can think of whose call to celibacy was clearly, biblically-ordained, and yet if even Paul (the main advocate of celibacy) struggled against those temptations then why wouldn’t we also (who would be blessed to become even half of what Paul was)? The struggle isn’t a clear indicator of your calling.
Is molestation at the hands of priests a sign that God never intended people to be celibate? I don’t think so. Maybe it’s a sign that we weren’t intended to make vows of lifelong celibacy. Because it would have been better for those men to have been married all along than to be set apart to God only to end up burning with passion anyway and that passion being forced to manifest itself through a perverted outlet. I think it’s these situations Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 7:9 which justify marriage.
You get the impression from reading that passage that the only thing Paul considers worthy to justify a marriage is lack of self-control (as if you would inevitably sin more without marriage to legalize your lustful thoughts and actions). But is he justifying the lack of self control itself? Isn’t this just a cop-out for sin?
“I have the choice between surrendering every area of my life to Christ’s discipline or giving in to my lust by justifying it with marriage?… That’s a no-brainer!”
That’s kind of like justifying your gambling problem because you donate the money you get to missions. You don’t do anything to fix your self-control problem, but just get married only to find out later that your burning passions are too large to be righteously satisfied in marriage, and now you’re tempted by sins worse than the fornication you were tempted with before marriage. Marriage won’t cure a lustful heart.
I used to think (as most men do) that living a lust-free life is not possible, it’s just part of a man’s daily life. And I freely confess that I still struggle against my day dreams and wandering eyes (sometimes giving in), but I also confess that I know what it’s like to be broken free from the bondage of lust, and it’s so much better than any temporary ecstasy that has such addictive baggage. I can only speak for myself, but God in his amazing grace allows me to break free from lust and then sustains me for extended periods of time (see my essay, “How To Overcome Lust“). In those anti-lust streaks I don’t mean that I simply refrained from having sex or making out or looking at porn or masturbating, what I mean is I never even entertained a lustful temptation in my head! I’m hesitant to even share that lest I be judged as being prideful, or lest people say “That’s a clear sign you’re called to celibacy; as for me I could never do that so I must not be.” But I share that for the sake of telling you firsthand from experience that, in a society where Christians don’t really think it’s possible not to lust, it IS possible, and I don’t think escaping the sin of lust should be anyone’s determining reason for getting married. Sex will fade, and then what’s left in your marriage if that’s the main thing that brought you two together?
Lust is what keeps us on the same level as animals, and keeps us from being on the same level as angels.
And so people say, well, I struggle with lust so I must be called to marriage. But Paul’s not saying marriage is for people who simply struggle with lust, but rather people who can’t control themselves enough to not have sex and commit fornication. It’s better to be married than to sin by having sex outside of marriage. This justification is for the people who know their extreme tendencies and are smart enough to recognize their weaknesses and beat them to it. Though I think a sex-based marriage will always be less successful than a ministry-based marriage of people who developed self-control before getting married.