A paradox, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “a person, thing or situation that has two opposite features and therefore seems strange.” The “thing” I’m going to explore is the two sides of the Christian lifestyle coin – marriage and celibacy. A worldly marriage and socially sanctioned sex represents the pinnacle of Christian values in 21st century American culture. Indeed, the word “family” has become synonymous with the word “Christian. Misplaced priorities in marriage have become the basis of cliques along socioeconomic lines and the downfall of America’s education system. In contrast to the Greatest Generation, Americans now believe everybody has the right to have it all; that a man’s good faith goes no deeper than the number of hungry children in his house, and that sex is just as important as food and water. There are many benefits bestowed on those who marry and often these are more important than any perceived love or commitment. First, there are tax breaks. The “marriage penalty” is mostly history. More than half of couples today benefit economically when they marry. For single taxpayers in 2013, the standard deduction was $6,100. But for married couples filing jointly, the deduction was twice as much at $12,200. Another big bonus is children. They are like tax gold. A newborn infant was worth $3,900 in 2013. Then there’s the child tax credit, another $1,000 per child, unless you earn over $100,000 a year. For the lowest income earners, the amount of Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) increases significantly with each child they add. In 2013, $6,044 was awarded to families with three or more children earning around $13,450 a year. So for the people who are uneducated and poverty stricken, it pays to have kids. What do you call that? A welfare state. Then there are estate transfer benefits. If a person dies with a hefty nest egg (over 5.25 million), they can transfer all of those assets to their spouse without paying one dime of federal estate tax (called the marital deduction). Add to this the tax exempt status for gifts from spouses. Of course we can’t forget the IRAs. Under certain conditions, a person can pay money into their spouse’s IRA and deduct up to $11,000 on their joint tax return. Married people also benefit when they sell a home. If you’re a single person and pass both the time and residency tests for a long term investment, you’re allowed to earn up to $250,000 in profit from the sale of your home tax-free. If you’re married, you can make up to $500,000 in profit from the sale of a home without paying a cent in capital gains. This all makes it a little easier see why many marriages are not motivated out of love and commitment, but out of financial gain and convenience.
Paradoxically, a biblical marriage is a witness that we are not promised all of our dreams, that we must often wait to have more than we’ve got, that the kingdom of God is not yet come, and that the love between a husband and wife is but a hazy reflection of the love between Christ and his church. Marriage witnesses to the familiar rhythms of life, to the natural order of God’s creation, to the seasons, and to the expected. It symbolizes commitment and sacrifice in a world that can’t see beyond tomorrow. It requires planning, timing, schedules, multiple priorities, and compromise. It also requires the kitchen be ready 24/7 (i.e., Martha) and transportation ready to go anywhere anytime. A Godly marriage also testifies to the self-sustaining nature of human existence. It produces babies. And unlike other babies in the animal world, human babies require consistent care for the first few months of their lives. The paradox: The world says married people have it all; two kids, two car garage, a dog, and a white picket fence. The American dream. In contrast, the Bible says husbands and wives have to wait for the wedding feast in heaven to see all of their dreams fulfilled and what real love is all about.
Likewise, worldly singleness is regarded as a life of unfulfillment, a sacrifice of sexual relationships and heirs, barrenness, bitterness, and loneliness. Our society laughs at the idea of sexual restraint. Movies and TV portray sex as being available on every street corner, with girls being prudes if they say no and guys being desparate and always on the prowl. Distrust reigns supreme because your an unknown quantity until you reveal your heterosexuality within marriage. It’s a world where bodies are a mere means to an end, as a means to arrive at sexual ecstasy. With the help of the pharmaceutical industry, sex has become a recreational sport; something that you have “to be ready” for anytime. Everybody is just one pill away from the crowning golden calf of orgasm, to having all of their dreams fulfilled. And no need to worry about passing along STDs. Men can be safe with latex and women can abort if they don’t want. After all, there’s a “pregnancy crisis center” on every street corner ready with the diapers, bottles, and formula – and a scripture on the way out the door. No price to pay, right? Our society has become so porn saturated that even the word “date” now implies a sexual rendezvous. What used to be a meet in the park and a two hour conversation over coffee has now become a click on a singles meetup page and a 30 minute workout in the backseat of a car. Just shop to your heart’s desire. Don’t like blondes? Here’s a brunette. The church encourages this mindset because it regards singleness as a problem to be solved, a holding station for people who haven’t reached adulthood. Many churches assume that we have a mate waiting out there somewhere. It’s just our job to find them. Even worse, some churches teach that you will not find that someone special until you are walking closer with the Lord. And if you reach some arbitary age around 35-40 and are not married, woe be unto you. After that point, the church sees only two long term possibilities – either you’re fornicating or your gay. Worldly singles today are like the five foolish virgins (Matthew 25) who went to meet the bridegroom with no oil in their lamps. Once they saw the other five virgins with lamps that were burning, they became jealous. As Matthew 25:8-9 tells us: “And the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, “Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out.’ But they replied, ‘There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.'” In today’s society, a virgin has become an obstacle to self pleasure; a source of jealousy for those who couldn’t wait until marriage and did not bring oil with their lamps to meet their bridegrooms. And if you’re not sexually satisfied, the world will do anything to please you. Not happy being a man? Not to worry. Become a woman. Believe God created another garden with Adam and Steve? Not to worry. Become a homosexual. Hit a road block when she says no? Find a girl who will say yes. The spiritual nature of sex has been separated from the physical. So what seems like a free choice today will end up costing untold amounts in the long run.
Paradoxically, celibate singleness for Christians is actually a witness to eternity in heaven, to being able to live without sex or having it all, and of living and loving within the boundaries of biblical principles. Celibate singles put a higher priority on mastering self control. They have no expectations and make no assumptions. Even though our Declaration of Independence lists the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the celibate single testifies that not all dreams come true and that there is dignity and meaning in suffering and sacrifice, even for a stranger. In his book Yearnings, Craig Barnes noted that: “Some married people will yearn for a better marriage or for a different marriage, or no marriage; and some singles will yearn for any marriage.” Desire is built in to the sexual process. It can be a good thing or a bad thing. The determining factor is self-control. Celibate singles do not depend on sexual pleasure for contentment or meaning in their lives. And they don’t depend on sex or children to define their manhood or womanhood. To be a child of God in the New Testament is to born of the spirit, not of a woman – which explains why all the Old Testament genealogies are not listed in the New Testament.
Christian marriage and celibate singleness should point to one thing – eternity in heaven with Christ. Unfortunately, it looks like the world’s view has superseded basic Christian beliefs. The church has swallowed the Freudian view that sex motivates everything a man does and that something is always lurking in his subconscious mind, something of a sexual nature that controls his every thought and action. The church needs to repent of this world view of singleness and come to the realization that platonic friendships cannot be overlooked in the Christian community, that some people do think about other things than sex, and that celibate singles have something priceless to offer – love that goes beyond blood lines and a point of view that is not dependent upon financial status or the size of a house.