There is much misunderstanding about the very nature of what it means to be a Christian. My conclusion is these misunderstandings cause much confusion when we consider singleness.
The Christian life involves sacrifice and suffering, not just happiness. Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behaviour here and there. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all.
However, this is not the whole story. Life with Christ does involve sacrifice, as in all relationships, but it is defined ultimately not by what is denied, but by what or, better, who, is embraced. From the world’s perspective, Christ’s call to a wholehearted, sacrificial discipleship seems implausibly unattractive for anyone, regardless of their particular circumstances. If we are to persevere in the life of discipleship ourselves and persuade anyone else to join us, we must somehow communicate that what is offered is not a set of rules, but a dynamic relationship with the living God.
Let us be clear, what the Bible clearly teaches sounds so unreasonable to so many of us today. Suggesting a single person is celibate is an obvious example of unreasonableness, but not the only one.
All of us have desires that are warped as a result of our fallen nature. Desires for things God has forbidden are a reflection of how sin has distorted me, not how God has made me. Single people will have desires, but that doesn’t define who they are. All Christians, married or single, are called to deny themselves desires that God has forbidden. However, Western Christians have, by and large, stopped denying ourselves – we now talk more about our right to be ourselves.
It’s this new suffering-averse brand of Christianity that explains why few Christians in the West today are willing to face the grief that active evangelism brings, let alone to follow their forebears on to the mission field, persist in difficult marriages, give lifestyle-changing amounts of money away or say no to sex outside of marriage (as biblically defined).
We need to be careful not to narrow everything down to sex. Most people struggle with greed much more than they do with sexual temptation. However, sexual temptation can be a big issue that single and married people have to face.
We are simply not designed for multiple sexual relationships. Sex becomes less relational, more functional and less satisfying as a result.
Celibacy for the kingdom is not a declaration that sex is ‘bad.’ It’s a declaration that while sex can be awesome, there’s something even better – infinitely better! Christian celibacy is a bold declaration that heaven is real, and it is worth selling everything to possess.
I hope these reflections on singleness have been helpful for those who are married as well as those who are single. All I have said needs to be understood in the light that churches should feel more like the waiting room for a doctor and less like a waiting room for a job interview. In the latter we all try to look as competent and impressive as we can. Weaknesses are buried and hidden. But in a doctor’s waiting room we assume that everyone there is sick and needs help. This analogy comes from Timothy Keller, and I believe is key as we work together to bring in the kingdom of God. Let us be honest with each other and ourselves about the struggles we face.
Written by Tony Thompson