Recently a young woman emailed the Undividedblog with questions about Christian celibacy.
Ann Hawker (living in Coventry and a committed Christian celibate for 32 years), Steve Moseley (living in Warwickshire and a committed Christian celibate for 27 years) and Iain Gorrie (married with three children and living in Coventry) give their answers.
How do you keep an undivided heart?
Ann: Find ways that work for you to help you be aware of the love of God both personally and for people generally so that you don’t grow cold inside. Worship is one way of doing this.
Have an attitude of service so that you seek out ways to help others and don’t get too absorbed with yourself.
Steve: I throw myself into Kingdom life! Celibacy is all about a relationship with God and devotion to the church – a “marriage” with the Kingdom of Jesus. If that sense of being “married” is lost, then you’ve become divided. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul talks about being free from “cares” – the power of natural demands that can sap your spiritual energy, dim your clarity of heart and vision, and compromise your devotion to the Kingdom of God.
Leaders and pastors can have many cares without having a spouse or kids! Protecting my celibate gift, sharing my heart with other celibates, worship and feeding my spirit are all important if I am to stay free from cares.
Also, in order to keep your celibate heart fresh you must embrace the cost now, today. The cost changes as you go along. For example in my late twenties being unable to have children was not for me a cost. Later, in my mid-thirties, the cost suddenly hit me! I had to bring the natural desire to have children painfully to the Cross. Over several years of surrendering, the Spirit took hold of the natural desire and transformed it so that I could become a spiritual father.
Does celibacy work outside of Christian community?
Ann: A call to celibacy can be received and maintained in whatever lifestyle setting you find yourself in. However, in order to carry the wholeness and fruitfulness of celibacy it is important to have many different opportunities for wholesome relationships and human interaction and a sense of purpose and fulfilment. This is probably easier within a fairly close community structure but can be achieved within a broader sense of community. Celibacy is not at its best if it is simply a denial of something rather than an opportunity for something greater which in most cases would mean service and connection with others around.
Steve: I used to think that celibacy would only truly work within a Christian community like our own in the Jesus Fellowship/Jesus Army. However, in recent years I have seen many examples of celibates living on their own who are finding real fulfilment in their celibacy. Of course everyone is different but the crucial thing is relationships – whatever their living situation a celibate must be well related, knitted in to the Body of Christ and able to express their gifts and ministry.
Is celibacy really a ‘higher or harder’ calling than marriage?
Ann: It is a “harder” call in the sense that marriage is a more normal condition and standing against the natural tendency of romance, sexual gratification and close intimacy is a very real challenge. There is also a great deal of fear of loneliness and of being without support in times of need that leads to a drive to find some kind of “special” relationship.
Steve: Higher: We need to differentiate between the gift and the person. Jesus is of course the model celibate and to be like Him must be the highest. He made it clear that not everyone could receive the gift (Matthew 19:10-12) but there is no suggestion of superiority for those who do. In 1 Corinthians 7 the words “do better” are referring to those who are “betrothed” or engaged to be married and are able to wait patiently for their wedding day. This is not referring to celibates. So, clearly the gift is the highest but in no way does it make celibates superior. The history of the Church is full of highly fruitful married brethren – it’s what you do with your gifts that matters.
Harder: For the majority of people marriage is the “natural” choice. Are we prepared to live differently and oppose peer pressure and all the natural expectations of parents, friends and the world around us? Celibacy in this sense is certainly a harder choice. Being able to trust your emotional life to God is a very big thing. However, no one would claim that natural life is easy!
Iain: As a married person I find celibacy very inspiring, and would say that marriage and celibacy are very different callings. 1 Corinthians 7:38 says, “He who does not marry does better”. I would think that some aspects of celibacy are harder, like not having a special/exclusive companion, needing to deny your sexual desires, overcoming the expectations of others for a marriage partner etc. It’s hard to give a definitive answer as everyone’s different!