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Is Celibacy a Relic of the Past?


“No sex before marriage!”. What does this mean in 2023? Does it mean a pledge to remain dateless? Is it a tired version of morality? Does being “celibate” mean choosing to remain unmarried?

The fact is there are many variations, experiences, and interpretations, both biblical and secular, on the meaning of celibacy.

Here’s the point: It’s not the desire for celibacy that matters, it’s the motivation behind it. And the biblical motivation is the best motivation!


The Secular Worldview

In the secular world, there is celibacy and there is casual sex or sex between consenting adults who are not in a committed relationship. According to Pew, almost 84% of the so-called religiously unaffiliated say casual sex is sometimes or always acceptable.

What we get from secular philosophy is the idea that we are “incomplete” unless we are in relationship, or that life becomes more fulfilling once one meets his or her so-called “soul mate”. In some quarters, declaring a celibate lifestyle is more protestation than moderation. In many cases, women are simply tired of men who only want sex from a relationship. Rightfully, these women draw a line in the sand. Does drawing a line in the “sexual sand” solve the problem? And does it necessarily commend itself to a type of spiritual growth?

Christians – especially our youth – are taught to abstain from sex (1 Corinthians 12:21, 2 Timothy 2:22, Acts 15:20, Colossians 3:5). But is abstinence enough? Abstinence is indeed good, but it is much better with principle. Biblical principle!


The Biblical Worldview

According to Pew Research Center, more than half of all Christians in America (including fifty percent in the black Protestant tradition) believe sex before marriage is acceptable in some cases for consenting adults. This is certainly a disturbing trend. But it’s not surprising. When we condition people to believe that sexual temptation can only be “cured” in marriage, one should not be shocked that when they realize how unfulfilling such teaching is, many begin to see sex before marriage as acceptable.

In short, we can make it virtually impossible to live up to a biblical standard, even considering Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 7:9 “it is better to marry than to burn” (I will treat that topic in a future article).

So how does the Bible treat celibacy? We can honor God’s purpose for our sexuality by expressing it through celibacy. In the meta-narrative of Scripture, God is holy, and the call is for those who follow God to be holy as well. Accordingly, we referenced the abstinence or “flee from” scriptures above.

The centerpiece of the New Testament’s treatment of celibacy, however, centers on the Apostle Paul’s directive to the church at Corinth (a congregation with a multitude of sexual issues!) in terms of how sex should be seen within the confines of the marital union. In context, there was a rift in this congregation as to whether and for how long a married couple should not engage in sexual intercourse. This kerfuffle happened over a misunderstanding of what holiness really means, causing some married believers to withdraw from normal sexual relations.

In his response, Paul points to a correct motivation in 1 Corinthians 6:20: “So use your bodies for God’s glory”!

So even before he gets into the heart of the matter, Paul places emphasis on the value of remaining unmarried (as he was unmarried) and how such a condition allows such a person to give themselves more freely to the things of the Lord.


What’s Your Motivation?

Therein lies the motivation for any form of avowed celibacy! These seven words are the biblical foundation for any person seeking to remain as true to biblical principle as possible. The impetus is spiritual; it means, then, that we desire to remain free of the sexual impulse because it is good for our growing closer to God. As we know, being unmarried and being celibate are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts. The line has been blurred by the advent of secularism.

“Saving myself for marriage” is admirable only when it is done for the right reasons. In a world of constant sexual bombardment and non-stop, sexually-laced advertising, a spiritual foundation for abstinence is crucial, especially considering the modern findings on the complications of sexual activity – from STDS to psychological repercussions. Sex has ruined many a mind!

Presenting our body – indeed our mind and spirit – to God is what Paul labels in Romans as our ‘reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). To be totally committed to God is every aspect of our lives is what really counts.

It’s not the desire for celibacy that matters, it’s the motivation behind it. And the godly motivation is the best!


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