Singleness and Celibacy
Singleness and Celibacy
Words of Faith 5-30-17
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2017
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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Study in the Land of the Bible with Dr. and Mrs. Hoy. Two trips available –
December 26, 2017 to January 5, 2018
January 4-13, 2018
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1 Corinthians 7
 Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.  But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.
Was Paul down on marriage? Did he discourage married life? Some have thought so. Paul had concluded a lengthy teaching on sexual immorality with a powerful thought-- "You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (6:20). But how do we best do that? Married? Single?
Some in Corinth had taken things to the other extreme and taught that people should not marry at all, and even married people should practice celibacy in marriage! They argued that all sex was "fleshly" and not "spiritual". The leadership in Corinth had written for some clarification. Quick!
Paul was probably responding to some misunderstanding about his previous teachings. There seemed to be another slogan going around: "It is good for a man not to marry." Literally, the phrase says "not to touch a woman" and was a euphemism for sex. Some thought that Paul had taught that even those who were married should abstain from sexual relations. This was not the point at all.
For Paul, singleness was a good state if God led one to it, and singleness was not to be depreciated. We miss that today. Paul advocated singleness for some and married life for others. "Because there is so much immorality, it is good for each man to have his own wife and each woman her own husband." Marriage is an honorable estate. Marriage between one man and one woman is God's plan and is the only context for sexual expression. Marriage is the institution that God established for joining one man and one woman together. More about marriage later.
But what about singleness and celibacy? Paul was single (7:8). Paul was celibate. He would never have indulged in sexual immorality or advocated it in any way. We don't know if Paul was always single. Some scholars suggest that Paul very likely would have been married because of Jewish custom which viewed marriage as an "unqualified duty of a man".
In Judaism, "it is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). Marriages were usually arranged. If Paul lived by rabbinical custom, he was married and then either widowed or divorced in his earlier years. He may have divorced his wife before he was a Christian because "she displeased him".
In the first century, a Jewish woman had very few rights regarding divorce but would have had the right to divorce her husband if he "left the faith"... in the way that Paul was accused of doing. But we have no hard evidence of this.
Paul may have been widowed. There is never any mention of Paul having children. Perhaps Paul's wife and child died during childbirth. This was not uncommon in the first century. Such grief might help us understand his anger and hatred expressed toward believers before he came to Christ. Such a possibility adds great depth to some of his writings and some of the huge thoughts expressed-- "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
All we know for sure is that as a single Christian man, Paul was celibate. He viewed his singleness as a part of his calling. His single life gave him the freedom to travel the world preaching the Gospel. He saw this as a strength, not as a weakness. He wrote, "Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am" (7:8). Paul saw the great value in singleness, but also the great value in marriage, which he expressed here and in Ephesians 5.
Today, singleness and celibacy are viewed quite differently. In our modern "Corinthian Culture" it is assumed that single people will engage in sexual immorality. Cohabitation is common and is no longer thought of as scandalous. Television and movies portray sex as a normal greeting at the conclusion of a first date. People pledged to celibacy in singleness are viewed as odd and unhealthy, whether intending to marry or not intending to marry. Hopefully the Gospel can make an impact on these assumptions through ministries that call people to purity before marriage and celibacy in singleness.
Even within the Christian community, it is often assumed that marriage is the only acceptable plan that God has for people. Singleness is often subtly viewed as a second-class option. Some college ministries push students to make marriage plans during their senior year with the phrase "a ring before spring". Such views are not scriptural. Singleness is one of the paths that Christian people are called to. Marriage is not the only path.
A single and celibate life has certain obvious advantages and disadvantages. Single celibate Christians are much more immediately mobile and may have more time to give to others. While single Christians do not have the opportunity to complete another Christian through the mystery of marriage, and do not have the opportunity of discipling children in the home unless they are able to adopt, singles can have a huge impact in the lives of children and families. Paul answered the call of God to this high impact life, even if at a personal sacrifice.
Paul was, in a powerful sense, married to the church. He traveled extensively and deeply loved the people he led to Christ and nurtured in the faith. His children had names like John Mark and Timothy among others. He poured himself into the work of the Gospel in a way that he never could have as a married man. He did not advocate this life for everyone, but he did commend it as one of the ways that God may call us. Paul did not mandate singleness for leaders (Titus 1:6) but it is one of the options in God's playbook.
We often are called to pray for marriages. We ought also to pray for singles. We need not assume that singles are just "not yet married" or "haven't found the right one" or might be "gay". There are singles that God has called to a life of celibacy and service. We need to pray for those who have been called in this way. We need to pray for the impact of their ministry and the purity of their walk.
How do we honor God with our bodies? Paul wrote to the Roman church-- "I urge you, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will" (12:1-2).
Married? Single? Not yet married? Single serving God? God will show us how to test and approve His good, pleasing and perfect will.
Father God, open my mind and heart to the variety of people and the various plans that You may have for Your Kingdom. Help me to see the wonder of Your call and the power of Your Life in us. Show me how to honor You with my body-- to offer my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to You. Show me how to not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of my mind. So then I may be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.