There are many references in the Bible that very wisely tell us to refrain from sexual immorality and fornication (sex outside of marriage). Just a few of those warnings can be found in:
Leviticus 20: 10-21Acts 15:20Colossians 3:5
Proverbs 5: 3-81 Corinthians 6: 9, 13, 151 Thessalonians 4: 3-8
Proverbs 7: 21-27Galatians 5:9Hebrews 13:4
Any sermon that teaches about sexual conduct might well focus on some of the above teachings and examples. However, there are other much neglected parts of the Bible that explain quite clearly that marriage is actually not the ultimate ideal for those who can control their sexual urges or indeed those who do not have sexual urges at all. In focussing on marriage as the ultimate Christian ideal to strive for, many have neglected some extremely important warnings, particularly those below, as spoken by Saint Paul:
“It is good for a man not to marry” (1 Corinthians 7:1)
“To the unmarried and widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7: 8-9)
“Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this” (1 Corinthians 7: 27-28)
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs. Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7: 32-34)
“He who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry he does even better (1 Corinthians 7: 38)
It is thus evident that God has created sex to be enjoyed by those who lack the self-control to live a celibate single life. However, marriage is also a blessing from God and it would be wrong to suggest that those who choose to get married and have a fulfilling sexual relationship within marriage are in some way inferior to the sexually abstinent. Likewise, it is totally wrong to suggest that each one of us should aspire to marriage or to insinuate that God created marriage and sex to be enjoyed by everyone. Some misguided Christians continually ignore Paul’s teachings as laid out above and quote passages from the Old Testament such as “go forth and multiply” as justification for their reasoning that we should all get married and reproduce. They miss the point. There are thousands of years separating this command and the present day. At the time this command was given, God wanted man to reproduce and thus multiply. Now however, man has multiplied so much that many parts of the world are over-populated. It is clear that such a command was given for a particular reason at a particular period in time, and was never intended to be used as an ongoing command for all time. Neither was it intended to be a command for all people, since some people, through no fault of their own, cannot have children, and others do not have maternal instinct, let alone the appetite for sex necessary for procreation, and yet others are called to celibacy.
Some suggest that Paul’s teachings on celibacy are not necessarily Jesus’ teachings, but in Jesus, we see an even more powerful argument for celibacy.
“And he said: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven” – Jesus (Matthew 18:3)
There are some strong indications in the New Testament that Jesus at least had some connection with the Essenes. A small Jewish religious brotherhood existing from around 2nd century BCE until 2nd century CE, the sect consisted of adult males and celibacy was greatly encouraged. The Essenes lived as a highly organized community that held possessions in common. Ceremonial purity entailed scrupulous cleanliness, the wearing of only white garments, and a strict observance of the Sabbath as well as an adherence to celibacy. Other central themes in their teaching (all of which equate with the teachings of Jesus) were love of God, of virtue and of fellow human beings, and they had regulations against sacrificing animals, swearing, taking oaths, making weapons, and participating in trade and commerce. There was a system of common property, where each individual was given according to need. The Essenes are known to be among the first groups to condemn slavery, and they are supposed to have bought slaves with the aim of freeing them.
When Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem for their Last Supper, they entered the city in the area now believed by some scholars to be the Essene quarters. Elsewhere, Jesus tells his disciples they would recognize and should follow a man carrying a pitcher of water. Now, it was contrary to custom for Jewish men to carry water. Essene men, however, would have carried water for ritual cleansings. In addition, Jesus' language in the Gospels reflects the language of the Dead Sea Scrolls preserved by the Essene community at Qumran.
“ There are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure...purchased from among men and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb (Revelation 14:4)
For many Christians, it is both a challenge and a deep desire to live as Jesus did, and aspire to his teachings. Christian youngsters across the world are wearing armbands displaying the letters ‘WWJD’ (what would Jesus do?) to remind them of such a question each and every time they make a decision. Of course, Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, but he did not compromise (Hebrews 4:15) and chose to live a celibate life. In present times, it is easy to see why many young Christians, confronted by the sexual immorality all around us, falsely believe that marriage will provide all the answers. But for some, this is a compromise, an escape route often taken in haste and confusion. Some are never taught about the benefits of chastity and sexual abstinence as a way of life. Yet surely it is wiser to find comfort in a chaste life before contemplating comfort in marriage? The problem is that the very idea of living life without sex is now seen as taboo, thus many, including numerous churches, seem unable or unwilling to present long term chastity as an option, considering it unrealistic and outdated. This has led to little support for Christians who are happy to remain sexually abstinent and, for now at least; do not want to consider marriage.
When the disciples questioned Jesus about marriage, suggesting that it might be better not to marry, Jesus tellingly replied:
“Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of Heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it” (Matthew 19: 10-12).
Given the question, it is likely that Jesus was not talking solely about eunuchs here – but was rather using the concept of a eunuch to describe anyone who has been given the gift of celibacy, including those with no need or desire for sex. Indeed, some are born without a sex drive (asexual), some are made that way by men (renounce sex due to bad or traumatic experiences, or due to the lurid way in which sex is portrayed in present day society), and others have renounced marriage (and therefore sex) because of the kingdom of Heaven.
“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Timothy 3:22)
It is clear then, from both Paul’s and Jesus’ teachings and lifestyle, that celibacy is to be treasured and that we should support and encourage those who choose this path, especially considering the sexual climate we live in today, in which virginity is seen as taboo and something to get rid of as soon as possible rather than something to be treasured and cherished.
We are told in Romans 15:16: “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.” It goes without saying that Christians have a duty, not only to promote what is good and wholesome, but also to counteract instances where evil (pornography, sexual exploitation, sexual promiscuity) is promoted as if it were good.
New Testament extracts taken from the NIV
Old Testament extract taken from the New King James Version