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Celibate or Single
This post is for those who are single and questioning whether or not they are called to celibacy. In light of this question, we are also going to address God’s purpose for the single adult who longs to marry. Get ready — we are going to cover some solid biblical ground. This can be a painful topic to address, especially if you want to be married and have not yet found your soul mate. It can indeed feel like the proverbial rose is fading. But what if you’re the single individual who has no interest toward marriage at all? This study is for you as well. Whatever state you are in as a single person, you can become confident and secure in the Lord.
I would like to begin by saying that being single is not the same as being celibate. They are different. Celibate people are always single. But single people are not always celibate—in fact, they rarely are.
So what is celibacy? The word ‘celibacy’ is not actually found in the Bible. However, it is directly addressed. We will explore some of these passages in the light of marriage. My prayer is that by the time you’ve read this post and the accompanying scriptures, you will have a firm answer to your questions, giving you the assurance you need to walk confidently as a single adult. My prayer is that questions will no longer plague you. Doubts will be laid to rest. You will no longer be tempted to wonder. God has a clear answer for you.
The Truth About Celibacy
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband, (1 Corinthians 7:1-2, KJV).
I mentioned that being celibate and single are different. Let’s discuss these differences in light of the scriptures. Note: I will reference verses throughout this post, which I encourage you to follow. Our key text will be 1 Corinthians chapter 7.
Celibacy is to be abstinent from the opposite sex either for a season or as a lifelong commitment. Paul talks about celibacy as being a gift from God, using himself as an example. He supports this by saying in 1 Corinthians 7:28 that those who marry will have trouble in the flesh, and that he would spare those from such troubles. By inference, Paul makes it clear that he did not struggle in the flesh as a celibate man, but rather experienced celibacy as a great liberty in Christ, which freed him to serve the Lord unhindered. In contrast, Paul referenced fleshly struggles to be found within marriage (verses 32-35), speaking of distraction from Christ by other cares of this world.
However, celibacy, in ancient Judaism, was not looked upon favorably. People were expected to marry as God intended and designed since the beginning of time. The blessing and fruitfulness God gave was not merely a well-wishing of sorts. It was a command to go and subdue the earth. The godly seed was to go forth and multiply. God’s ordinance and design was for that to happen within marriage.
This may explain why Paul makes such a strong defense for his case as a celibate man in 1 Corinthians 7 in saying that he wishes all were just as he is. In verse 12 he even prefaces these statements with this clarification, stating, “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord…” With regard to celibacy, most religions of the day were intolerant, and still are. Celibacy was not promoted. Reason being, the natural order was to marry. Therefore, those who chose a life of celibacy did so strictly for religious reasons so their lives could be consecrated solely to God and His purposes. In this way, Paul calls celibacy a gift, because it requires an abstinence that most do not want to embrace. I dare say most cannot embrace it. The grace true celibacy requires is something most would never ask for. We desire to love, be loved, find our soul mate, and experience the emotional and physical fulfillment in life that marriage brings. Paul speaks to this natural longing and fulfillment in verse 9, making it clear that if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry, than to burn. The passion God created between a man and woman is incredibly powerful, hence Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 7:1 that it is good for a man not to touch a woman. This abstinence is not referring to general touch such as the shaking of hands or patting a back, but instead refers to romantic touching that arouses the spark of sexual interest or desire. For this very reason, Paul exhorts all men to treat women as they would their own mother or sister in 1 Timothy 5:1, 2.
The true celibate individual is not yearning for marriage, nor do they desire the opposite sex. Paul addresses this calling to celibacy in verses 18-28, making it clear that if one does not have a wife, then they should not seek one. Neither should those who are married seek celibacy in being “loosed” from a wife (verse 27). Such should abide in their calling (verse 20). Therefore, know your calling. Celibate people simply have no interest in marriage, and therefore should not pretend a moral obligation toward it if it is not genuinely there. It is not wrong to be celibate. Nor is it wrong to marry. Yet those truly called to celibacy are rare, and if this calling rings true in their lives, it is usually because God has a special purpose for them to fulfill which marriage would either interrupt or disallow, as Paul describes in detail. In verses 25-28 Paul exhorts such individuals to accept that calling instead of trying to change it by seeking a spouse. And yet we see in this same epistle just two chapters later that Paul makes a strong case of his own right to take a wife should he desire to do so, again advocating marriage (see 1 Corinthians 9:5). Therefore, let us understand that marriage is from God. So is celibacy when it’s genuine and embraced as the gift God bestows.
The Case for Marriage and the Single Adult
We were created for marriage. That was God’s intent and design from the beginning. When that is not fulfilled in someone’s life who genuinely longs for it – it is extraordinarily painful.
And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him,’ (Genesis 2:19, KJV).
Although Paul’s personal preference toward celibacy is clearly obvious, he defends marriage throughout his epistles with even greater vehemence on numerous occasions. In his statements regarding celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul carefully clears himself from the Lord three times (see verse 12, 25, and 40). We see his fear of God and humility displayed in these verses. He cuts himself some slack, being careful not to say, “Thus saith the Lord”. Paul understood the dangers of God’s judgment in teaching something He had not spoken. He makes no claim that his teaching is from the Lord, rather he defers to himself. He makes it plain that these are given according to his own judgment as one who has obtained mercy and is counted faithful. Furthermore, he makes it clear that he does not give them to bring any into bondage or obligation, but he does so with the intention to save others from the distractions he is so pleasantly freed from as a celibate man (verse 35).
The single person is simply an individual who has no commitment to a member of the opposite sex, either by vow of engagement or marriage. Paul refers to such as “virgins” in his writings. Most single people (whether they are in the Lord or not) desire the opposite sex and pursue a relationship. Being single is not to assume upon someone that they have no desire for love, companionship, marriage, sexual fulfillment, or children. If we are honest, for most even in the Lord, fornication is not easily abstained from by those who experience genuine romantic love. Paul addresses this readily—in the poignant opening statement of the first chapter, in which he says: “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” (verse 1). This speaks directly to abstinence. Yet even in this, he realizes such abstinence of touch does not ensure chastity or a lack of temptation toward sexual intimacy. For those who have ever been in love, the mere presence of your beloved is enough to make your head swim and your heart swoon. In verse 2 he immediately continues by saying, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”
Paul makes it clear: the only sure way to avoid fornication is to marry. Therefore, abstinence should not be indefinite or prolonged. Most struggle to endure it. No one is called to indefinite abstinence unless they are called to celibacy (which he addresses later). Prolonged abstinence is not natural between the sexes, and abstinence itself should certainly not be prolonged between those who experience genuine romantic love. They should marry. Paul understands that abstinence, although beneficial, is not fool-proof. Therefore he commends marriage. The greatest insurance against fornication is to embrace the liberties God provided within the sacred and holy covenant of marriage. Within this covenant “the marriage bed is undefiled” (see Hebrews 13:4). Again, in verse 9, he reiterates commendation toward marriage for those who struggle with abstinence, saying, “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” With all of this being said, one cannot assume upon a single individual that they are celibate. This is rarely true.
The Suffering Single: Preparing For Marriage
Again, to be single is to be free from a binding commitment to another individual. In no way does that imply a lack of interest or intention toward the opposite sex or marriage. To be single is not wrong. It can serve a clear and justified purpose in the Lord and even be essential for a time. However, prolonged singleness (which demands abstinence) can be difficult, unhealthy, and is unnatural, as it places individuals in unnecessary temptation when emotional and sexual needs are ignored or disregarded. We were not created to be alone. Nor were we created for abstinence. God created us for marriage and the fulfillment it brings on every level.
For the single individual who earnestly desires marriage, marriage should be earnestly and prayerfully prepared for and pursued. How that happens is at the LORD’s leading and guidance. For the single individual who is abstaining from marriage for purely selfish reasons—this is not supported in scripture. God does not promote or endorse selfish living. Suffice it to say, this kind of living is often referred to as “carousing” which is regarded as a sinful lifestyle. There is much to be said about this, and is best addressed in another study. Scripture teaches singles that they are to know how to possess their vessel in sanctification and honor (chaste purity) until they are married (see 1 Thessalonians 4:4). Despite the challenge of abstinence for singles, people can be single for many reasons, including, but not limited to, the following:
• Time to mature and establish themselves
• Personal issues that need to be resolved prior to marriage
• Time needed to earnestly prepare for marriage and/or actively seek a mate
• Time to heal (this would apply to individuals who have been victimized by abuse)
• Diverse handicaps that make the responsibilities of marriage either impractical or impossible
Divorce and widowhood, Paul speaks to specifically, which are exceptions we will not address here. Celibacy, however, is for one reason only—to devote oneself to God and His purpose. Celibacy for any other reason (with the exception of widowhood) is not supported in God’s word.
Paul makes strong and clear cases for marriage in his other epistles, with 1 Corinthians 7 being the only exception wherein he elaborates upon celibacy with such candid support, giving himself as an example. Paul discusses marriage frequently, addressing both husbands and wives on numerous occasions. Yet, Paul is an excellent example of celibacy, perhaps the best of any, save for our Lord, Jesus Christ.
An Example of Celibacy
I have had the privilege of knowing someone who is truly celibate. She is a full-grown woman, mature in the Lord, who has no interest in the opposite sex or marriage, nor does she have any sexual desire. Romance does nothing for her. She claims to have no need and is completely uninterested. Instead, she desires friendship. The thought of living a solitary life, completely alone, without a spouse or children does not bother her in the least, and the freedom from these entanglements is much preferred. This desire has not changed since she was a young girl. She grew up in a large close-knit family, and it has been consistent throughout her life. She’s never once vacillated.
However, she’s faced many challenges with celibacy because others often do not understand this gift she’s been given. Because of this she’s suffered unjustly from the opinions of other people. She’s had to learn how to handle this gift with confidence in the Lord, being secure within her calling. She’s had to come to terms of peace with the fact that others will often be unable to relate to her and will indeed misunderstand her. Learning how to embrace her gift and walk in it confidently has been a challenge.
If you are single and wondering if you are called to celibacy, you need not wonder any longer.
The Gift of Marriage
Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge, (Hebrews 13:5, KJV).
For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cheriseth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh, (Ephesians 5:29-31, KJV).
Marriage is a beautiful gift from God. It is the natural order which God has ordained, and indeed Adam and Eve were married. When we stray from that design and ordinance there are inevitable problems and temptations.
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth, (1 Timothy 4:1-3, KJV).
Paul makes it clear that in the last days people will listen to the doctrines of devils and be deceived by seducing spirits who teach abstinence from marriage (as well as meat). Holy matrimony (marriage) has taken a huge hit on numerous fronts. Why do you think the devil would want to stop the holy covenant of marriage from taking place among godly men and women?
Satan not only wants to destroy healthy marriages with divorce, but he also wants to prevent them by teaching lies. Let’s be clear: Marriage is ordained and designed by God. It is holy. It is a covenant relationship that mirrors Christ and His bride. Marriage is powerful! It is consummated in the most powerful love one could ever experience, and it is the vehicle by which Christ subdues and fills the earth. The godly seed should be going forth and multiplying.
God has designed marriage to represent Christ and His Bride (the Church).
It is the most powerful covenant relationship God has created.
Marriage teaches us the selfless and sacrificial love of our Lord and Savior, unlike any other relationship.
God uses marriage to bring the fullness of His glory into the earth through the unity and love of family.
Satan wants to either prevent or destroy marriage.
Therefore, celibacy is a rare calling gifted only by God.
God created us for marriage. That was His design and intention. Marriage is the natural order of God. It happens all around the world, and is practiced in every culture known to man—regardless of religious belief. The desire and need for marriage is inherent within us as human beings. Therefore, celibacy is the exception rather than the rule. God created us male and female with a natural desire for the opposite sex, a desire to be loved and to fall in love, and to have a soul mate with whom we become one. And those who are single often clearly demonstrate these desires. It is no wonder why love stories sell books and movies more than any other topic. It is the deepest craving God placed within us. Because we were created for marriage, we mature into that longing naturally. It’s not something we need to be taught to desire. That innate desire is instinctual, being placed within us by God.
Christ begins by outlining God’s design for marriage. He begins at the beginning, making it clear that the male and female were created with a clear purpose: MARRIAGE.
Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder, (Matthew 19:4-6, KJV).
Marriage is clearly something God performs (officiates). It’s not something man can do, nor undo. It’s a supernatural and divine covenant instituted by God.
Walking Confidently In Your Gift
So we see that marriage and celibacy are both a gift. As for singleness? That’s not the case. That is merely the default status until either of the above are determined. So how do you know which gift is yours?
If you are single, I believe you can easily determine whether or not you are celibate. Celibacy may be chosen at will for a season of abstinence by putting away any pursuit toward the opposite sex despite natural desire. But the celibacy which is a gift from God carries a special grace that brings a natural abstinence from the opposite sex which comes effortlessly.
Do you desire the following? Answer yes or no:
• The opposite sex
• To fall in love and be loved the same in return
• The oneness only a marriage covenant can bring
• Lifelong companionship
• Sexual fulfillment
If you answered yes, there is no doubt: God has purposed you to marry, because marriage is the only fulfillment God has biblically provided for these desires. You may not have found your mate, but that does not, in itself, indicate that you are celibate. You are merely single. If the above desires are yours, then marriage is the only provision. How, when, and with whom that will happen rests in God’s sovereign hands. Understand: the default is always marriage. Celibacy is the exception; not the rule. And there really is not much in-between unless you plan to pursue an ungodly lifestyle to fulfill your own desires toward the opposite sex. Paul makes it clear that in such cases, we are to marry.
We are counseled in the Word of God to pursue marriage—unless we are called to celibacy.
Preparing For Marriage
If you are a frustrated single who longs for marriage, yet are caught in a time warp of waiting and intense longing, I encourage and exhort you strongly to use this time wisely in the Lord by preparing for the marriage you so deeply desire. Establish your foundation now. Don’t wait. Just as you would prepare yourself toward any aspiration in life, marriage is most certainly worthy of preparation and investment. In fact of all your investments and pursuits, marriage will by far be the greatest of them all. You are being given an individual, a precious life, and most likely the promise of children as well. Do whatever you can right now. Read books, attend conferences, take classes, and do studies. And begin seriously investing toward your future marriage and soul mate through daily prayer.
If you are single and have no love interest whatsoever, nor any sexual desire, nor any aspiration toward marriage, then you are showing clear signs that God has more than likely called you to celibacy—at least for a season. This is a precious gift as well, and it is not without purpose. If you have determined that you are celibate, then God has surely called you to something unique. You need to prepare as well, but in a different way. Commit your time, energies, and resources to God, praying and asking Him to reveal that unique purpose He’s called you to fulfill.
Whichever your gift might be, may the Lord enable you to embrace it with confidence in Him, resting secure in His purposes and promises for your individual life.
Cheers & Shalom,