Many Roman Catholics are re-examining their traditional views on celibacy. Protestants need to do so as well, if we are to deal fairly with the views of the Apostle Paul expressed in First Corinthians 7. Paul does not condemn marriage. He clearly rebukes those who are married yet refrain from normal marital relationships, perhaps because of a false application of Christian holiness (vv. 3–5). Nevertheless, Paul indicates that God may indeed call some men and women to remain unmarried, if they can do so without constantly wishing that they were married (vv. 7–9, 27, 38, 40).
At times Christianity has seemed to regard marriage as an inferior state, and false asceticism has been glorified. But is it right to go to the other extreme? How often are young people, especially young men, encouraged from the pulpit and in the classroom to consider seriously whether God is calling them to remain unmarried? To be sure, teen-age marriages are not encouraged, but attractive single Christians in their twenties usually are assumed to be “looking,” are introduced aggressively to potential mates, and are suspected if they seem uninterested.
Paul’s argument for celibacy is that it leaves more time to devote specifically to “the affairs of the Lord” as distinct from matters in which non-Christians are also engaged (vv. 32–35). It is not difficult to think of situations where being unmarried would offer an advantage for Christian ministry. For example, most Christians over the past few decades have given little consideration to living as self-supporting missionaries in ghettos where biblical Christianity is little known. The excuse for this neglect is often concern for health, safety, and education of families. Not only pioneering works in the far corners of the earth but pioneering works closer to home can use the services of those who are unmarried. Have we done justice to the plea that Paul makes for seriously considering celibacy as God’s will for some—perhaps for many—Christians? Or is First Corinthians 7 one more example of a passage overlooked by those of us who claim to follow the Scriptures?
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