It was at a CCEF conference on “Sex Matters” that I heard a speaker give one of the most perceptive approaches to celibacy in singleness that I had heard to date. She said two things that struck me. One, she said we often look at singleness as a problem to be solved rather than a providence to be capitalized on. That perspective changed the way I pray for singles in my church. I ask God not only to protect them in their singleness but to prosper them in it, making the most of the opportunity for the sake of the kingdom.
Her other insight I found even more profound. She described the urges from within and the pressures from without as a situation of suffering for the cause of Christ. On the one hand, that indicated that the struggles for celibacy were real and not something to be regarded lightly. On the other hand, it sanctified the situation for the glory of Christ and brought to bear a whole new approach for handling the circumstance in a constructive manner.
There are large portions of Scripture that deal with handling suffering, where we honor Christ in our attitudes and actions in the midst of difficult circumstances. Situations of suffering bring with them great expectation arising from God’s purpose. That’s why James says we are to consider it joy when we encounter trials of diverse stripes. We know that they are character-developing. God’s sovereign plan is afoot.
God equips us for profitable, purposeful suffering. Peter’s first epistle majors on suffering, addressing general principles and specific situations like marriage. He begins his letter acknowledging tribulation but even in the salutation he urges obedience to Christ. Suffering does not open the door for disobedience or for anything other than conformity to the will of God. In fact, that conformity attracts the attention of others and opens the door for gospel conversation.
But enduring suffering for the sake of Christ and the cause of the gospel has fallen on hard times, particularly suffering created by conformity to biblical precept. Celibacy is sneered upon. Persevering in a difficult marriage has its pain threshold.
God limits sexual relations to the bond of marriage, as God defines the institution in Genesis and Jesus affirms it in the New Testament. That means those called to temporary or lifelong celibacy may find themselves in a situation of suffering. But God’s grace is sufficient to help believers not only bear up under it but to thrive in it and find fulfillment through dependence upon Him.
Today, however, grace is being enlisted not as an enablement to obedience but as a conspirator to concupiscence. Paul describes the redemptive curriculum and the role of grace as a teacher.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2:11–14).