One of the funniest conversations I ever had was trying to explain the mimeograph to my younger work colleagues. One was complaining about how slow the copy machine was – even though it was a new state-of-the-art creation at the time. I told him to be happy he didn’t have to use a mimeograph. He turned to me with the same question marks in his eyes that I’m sure are in many of your eyes. What in the world is that?
The mimeograph was a precursor to the copy machine. It used a legal-size waxy sheet which went into a typewriter – another fine example of a “what-is-that.” The typewriter was set so that the ribbon didn’t come between the key letters and the sheet, making sharp indentations. The machine had a large drum filled with toner around which the waxy sheet was carefully stretched so as not to tear it. The drum was rotated using a handle. Thousands of inky pages were sent into classrooms and businesses for quite a few years using this device, and people had to endure black finger tips if the ink had not totally dried. Thank goodness for the inventor of the copy machine which made the mimeograph obsolete and thankfully left behind.
There are many who would say that celibacy is one of those obsolete, outdated, old-fashioned, and ultra-conservative concepts. Of course, trying to compare “concept” with “concrete” is like the proverbial apples to oranges – obviously two different entities.
So, is celibacy a gift or a discipline? My personal opinion is that the practice of celibacy is a honing of self-control, which is empowered by the fruit of the Spirit the Apostle Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22-23. The exercise of celibacy is the practice of growing discipline meant to reflect an inward decision to demonstrate sexuality in a righteous way as an unmarried individual.
Is celibacy punishment for an unnecessary rule? Exodus 20:14 – “You shall not commit adultery.” Non-celibacy falls under the understanding of this word which means, “don’t fool around with someone who is not your spouse” which includes the married and unmarried alike. Jesus repeated this commandment in Matthew 5;27-28, expanding it to mean that even thinking about adultery somehow becomes as strong a reality as the act.
When Moses descended the mountain with stone tablets upon which God had written commandments with His finger (Exodus 31:18) the Israelites did not have to ask for definitions of honoring God, idolatry, cursing, keeping the Sabbath, murder, adultery, stealing, giving false testimony, and coveting material things and relationships. They already knew what they meant, and they knew they had already broken them. For the most part, we do not need definitions to tell us that not following these things continue to be detrimental to maintaining an orderly life.
The argument is that while we can exercise self-control in areas like murder and stealing, it is not reasonable to expect that the same self-control can be exercised in areas like adultery and coveting relationships. Why are these things singled out as unreasonable while the others are not?
Let’s face it. Feelings can be so strong as to overwhelm us. It’s obvious that if we ignore the feeling of hunger indefinitely, we die. We’ve come to equate sexuality with physical appetite. While there is no evidence that abstaining from sexual acts is fatal, many would say it feels just like that. They might also say abstaining from sexual acts while unmarried simply is neither reasonable nor rational. Jesus’ mention, however, of the thought of adultery being in the same realm as the act, puts it solidly into the area of reason.
There are no celebrations that I’m aware of for faithful celibacy outside of marriage. It is unfortunate that the church at large simply ignores the issue most of the time, leaving many onesomes feeling like they are less valued than they would be if they were married. That’s why you see very few of the never-married in churches today. And, that’s one of the reasons why many churches do not consider it an issue compelling enough to address. The church does not think enough of us exist!
But, does that make celibacy unreasonable, irrational, outdated, and obsolete? Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of our God endures forever.” (NIV) If He valued sexual faithfulness when these words were written thousands of years ago, He continues to value it – to value us!
Well, these are the thoughts I woke up with this morning. How about you? I’d love to read your views.