Discerning Celibacy

two-choices

Who does God have picked out for you to marry? From what I’ve seen, that is the number one question young adult Christian singles are wrestling with. They are going to seminars, reading books, going to singles groups primarily to find that one person God has waiting for them. They set out to prepare their lives to be proper husbands and wives, to be ready for “the one”. “Oh God, bring him to me now!” But is that the proper question to ask when you finish school and begin your life away from parents? No it’s not. The first question should be: Are you going to serve God through a life of faithful marriage or faithful celibacy? And this can only be answered after you have accepted Christ as your savior. That is a huge idea to ponder because most of the advice being given to singles today – whether from the pulpit or the written word – is not from the Christian perspective. Is celibacy still a viable option in a society that worships sex? Of course it is.

Some people have trouble reconciling the “be fruitful and multiply” command in Genesis 2 with the “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” in 1 Corinthians 7. Christ’s arrival in the New Testament did in fact overturn the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament. The biggest change was the allowance for celibate life without children. The eunuchs, who were once despised and considered unclean, were redeemed with these simple words Gabriel said to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Notice that Gabriel used the Old Testament title “the Most High” when referring to God. This is the same omnipotent creator of heaven and earth that we read about in Genesis. This is the same God who created Adam. This is the same God who said “be fruitful and multiply.” In this one verse, Luke 1:35, the greatest artist who ever lived dipped his brush into the paint of eternity and made a slight revision to his masterpiece. Since mankind had populated the earth and the people of Israel had enough soldiers in their army, he painted out “be fruitful and multiply” and replaced it with the option to marry or not to marry. He made sexual relationships optional. He replaced multiplying human children with multiplying spiritual children and making disciples of men. It’s also significant that Gabriel used the phrase “will overshadow you.” Overshadow is used throughout the Bible to represent the glory, presence, and protection of God. When the ark was completed, the glory cloud of the Lord covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-35; Nm 9:18, 22). The word is also used in the stories of the transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:34) when a bright cloud overshadowed Peter, James, and John. The creative forces of God himself overshadowed Mary so that she was able to become pregnant without any sexual relationship.

Those same forces of the Most High are still at work today when people become eunuchs for the kingdom of God. The power of the Most High can still overshadow the need for a male and female to make a baby. Christ conquered not only death with his resurrection, but life itself with his virgin birth. The reality of eunuchs was foretold in Isaiah 56:3-5: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off (Isaiah 56:3-5).”

In order to keep their name from being cut off, Jesus had to give his disciples a few hard lessons in the gospel of Matthew. In fact, the lessons may be more relevant today than they were during the first century.  After Jesus told them “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adulteruy,” the disciples were incredulous.  “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry (Matthew 19:8-10).” The situation they are referring to may be the seemingly impossible level of commitment it takes to make a faithful marriage. They were accustomed to having the option of divorce in case things didn’t work out. They were trying to trip Jesus up and get him to say something that violated Mosaic Law. By “it is better not to marry,” they probably meant “we know there’s nothing better than having sex, so we’ll just do what is assuredly impossible and live our lives without sex.” I can hear snickers in the background. Little did they know that Jesus was going to take it to a deeper level with his answer: “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.” Matthew 19:11.

My hypothesized version of Jesus’ answer in verse 11 is this: Yes, it is better not to marry in the long run and to accept the identity of a eunuch. It’s a straighter shot to eternity in heaven. But remaining faithfully unmarried is not something that everybody can do. So don’t kid yourselves. Remaining chaste your entire life is a special ability, just like all my father’s gifts. But only certain people are assigned to this one. Their DNA has been structured and their brain chemistry arranged in such a way that it makes something so impossible . . . possible. But they don’t just wake up one morning and exclaim to the world: “Wow, somebody gave me a bright and shiny gift of celibacy!” Some people have the makeup for marriage. Some people have the makeup for celibacy. You know, those sex hormones are very strong. My dad made them. It takes a miracle to overcome them. But sex is a very good thing. It takes a special grace not to give in to lust and other sexual immoralities people will face in their lifetimes. I know all about those desires because I overcame them myself. So yeah, there are people that have chosen to live without marriage and sex.  I know this is an issue of pride among you.  But there are people who have chosen to live like me and there will be until I return again. They look like everybody else. Their anatomy is intact. These men still have testicles and the women still have ovaries and reproductive systems. There are mysteries that you are not meant to understand. Accept them.

It’s interesting that Jesus used “only those” in verse 11, getting them geared up for something positive, and then going on to explain the three types of Eunuchs in Matthew 19:12. So they’re anticipating something extraordinarily wonderful.  But instead they heard this:  “For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” I consider this to be one of the “shocker” verses of the Bible, one that is oft overlooked today. As he had done on several other occasions, like the parable of the three servants, Jesus used three people to tell his story. Fake, setup, left hook. Then knockout! Can you imagine what the disciples were thinking we he mentioned the word eunuch? “Whoa, dude! What’s so wonderful about that? Eunuch? Nobody mentioned anything about surgery!” The first type of eunuch described, those born that way, may have actually been a surprise for them. They didn’t have the medical laboratories and microscopes we take for granted today. They couldn’t do a sperm count and have the results back in 30 minutes. But I’m sure they caught his meaning with “made eunuchs by others.”  Yes, their imaginations may have conjured up a gruesome scene.  Much like the word does today.  After describing those two types of eunuchs, the disciples may have been thinking “what other type of eunuch could there possibly be?”  “Eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” was the knockout punch. They were probably so dizzy they had to sit down. They had to absorb what he just said. Jesus just compared celibacy for the kingdom of God to a man who had castrated himself. Jesus Christ! He was telling them in no uncertain terms that a life without marriage required no sex and that the possibility of having sex outside marriage would be as remote as a eunuch fathering a child, if that was the life they chose. In essence, I think the concept of Christian chastity and self control is introduced in these verses.

I think it’s rather apropos that Christ came to earth as a eunuch, the lowest of the low among men on the totem pole. Jesus always had a heart for those among the low ranks of society such as prostitutes, those with diseases, the poor, etc. Some of the eunuchs who were made so by men were assigned to guard royal treasures. But most were defiled, used as sex slaves, and avoided in pubic like someone with leprosy. Christ even tells us in Matthew 20:16 that that’s the way it will be when he returns: “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” When we choose celibacy today, we are standing in solidarity with all the eunuchs who came before us – all the men and women who were born without the ability to have sexual relationships and children, all those who were made that way by men, and all those who have chosen this life for the kingdom of heaven. More importantly, we are standing in solidarity with Christ himself.

We have a lot of Pharisees and misguided disciples giving advice to singles today. Many are led to believe “if marriage is that hard, we’ll just stay single.” The truth is – marriage is that hard and celibacy is that hard. I encourage Christian singles today to think about their options before they rush into the dating scene. Don’t approach the choice with the legal-mindedness of the disciples in Matthew 19, looking for the easiest way out. The celibate life of a eunuch is just as doable today as it was for Christ and Apostle Paul in the first century. If you think “only those” could never mean you, think again. You don’t know unless you consider it, pray about it, and talk to people who have chosen the celibate life. Some are in religious vestments. Some are not. Take time to discern. That’s a wiser route than getting married and then finding out you should have stayed unmarried. This week I will celebrate 54 years of celibacy.

A few questions to ask yourself:
– Can you think about love beyond the sexual?
– Can you define your manhood or womanhood without sex? Without children?
– Can you be a father or mother to children who need one?
– What’s your concept of time? Eternity?
– Can you accept your own mortality?
– Can you envision eternity in heaven beyond the concept of “pearly gates”?
– Can you see just as much beauty in something in nature as you can somebody of the opposite sex?
– Do you see beauty where others do not see it?
– Can you express yourself artistically? Have you found your artistic personality?
– Do you find yourself rebelling against this world and its injustices?
– Do you feel like you do not fit in?
– Do you feel comfortable taking risks that nobody else would take?
– Can you see Jesus’ face in your mind’s eye?
– Can you have a personal conversation with him? A real one on one talk?
– What do you want your legacy to be? Children? Or something else?

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