Greet ’em All: The Introvert’s Worst Bible Verse

And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?

Matthew 5:47

Just sayin’, as an introvert this verse pretty well stinks. I mean, really. If there’s anything we’re bad at, it’s greeting people. And if there’s anyone we’re uncomfortable greeting, it’s people we’re not already friends with. Yet this goes along in Scripture with Jesus saying “Love your enemies” and all that jazz. So if we’re going to take Him seriously on that, we also need to take Him seriously on this. As if that weren’t rough enough, “greet” doesn’t just mean “hi.” It’s a much more hospitable and genuine exchange of good will and concern. It’s kind of like small talk (enough of a menace to we introverts), but even worse because it requires that we gather genuine interest in people with whom we’re not already comfortable.

So, basically, Jesus just kicked us all were it hurts. Even extraverts. How many of you guys are quick to give people outside of your usual circles such a warm interaction, even someone as heathen and culturally different to you as a Gentile to a Jew? This, then, is an incredibly difficult task.

All I can say is thank God for the Holy Spirit, and I pray for His power to enable me to love genuinely, even in small matters with strangers.

Trying to Figure Out Modesty

Sophie and Lacy

Meet Sophie. She’s wearing a floor-length dress to school every day. Her bathing suit of choice is a burkini. She never goes out with her friends, but instead stays home to sew, clean, cook, and tend to her father and brothers. She also doesn’t date; she is arranged to marry a hardworking lumberjack (he’s pretty great-looking, they tell her, so she’s excited).

Now meet Lacy. She’s wearing, well, not much of anything, just some shorts half the length of their pockets and a bikini top. Should she go swimming, she’ll drop the shorts and use the floss-like cloth underneath. Most of her nights are spent carousing with drunken perverts, and at home she’s a rebellious brat who hates her parents. For that reason she rarely sleeps at home, preferring instead to sleep with strange men until she gets pregnant and aborts the baby before moving on.

[fquote align=”right”]Sophie is a radical stereotype of girls who follow the dictates of traditional modesty, and Lacy is a similarly radical stereotype of those who do not. And like all stereotypes, they should be annihilated if we want to have a rational discussion.[/fquote]

Finally, take the images you have of Sophie and Lacy, and then kill them both like they’re on Game of Thrones (see, I can make relevant cultural references even without actually watching that porn, er, I mean nice TV show). Both are what we call stereotypes, and in this case these are really, really extreme stereotypes from the modesty debate. Sophie is a radical stereotype of girls who follow the dictates of traditional modesty, and Lacy is a similarly radical (though perhaps more likely to exist in this culture) stereotype of those who do not. And like all stereotypes, they should be annihilated if we want to have a rational discussion. So my request: read this post as though this debate is completely new to you. Hopefully that will give my voice a little more credibility.

The Vantage Point

I am trying to tackle the question of modesty from a particular perspective, namely a conservative one. However, it’s not exactly the clichéd conservatism of youth groups on this. I want to give serious respect to tradition and the wisdom of the humanity past, while also giving a fair hearing to whatever legitimate points may be found in new arguments. In addressing both, I’d like to follow a philosophy of moderation and reasonableness, following the golden mean.

Of course, that idea may well just sound like pretentious drivel, but I do think it is an attainable goal. Such prudence isn’t extremely difficult to work through, mainly because much of the work has been done for you by ghosts. So I will be addressing each side first by examining their strengths, and then their flaws. Finally, I intend to carve out a middle way that combines the good and rejects the bad. Sound too idealistic? Good, that’s my favorite. Too pretentious? Then please suffer me a chance.

“Modest is Hottest”: The Traditional View

Summary

In what I deem the “traditional” view of modesty (though it really wasn’t developed in its current form until relatively recent conflicts), people (especially women) are morally obligated to keep their bodies covered for the sake of common decency and protecting their peers from lust. While there is not necessarily anything inherently wrong with being attracted to someone, too much of a glimpse will inspire lust, and for the sake of goodness this should be avoided strongly. Shorts, skirts, and dresses shouldn’t be all that short, midriff is a definite no-no, bikinis are usually pretty iffy, and make sure your clothes aren’t too tight! Otherwise someone may lust after you, and if you respect them you should do your part to help prevent that. As well, your body is a valuable treasure meant to be saved for your spouse, so exposing much of it before that point to other people is a waste and lacks self-respect.

The Good

Right off the bat, the traditional view has the benefit of, well, tradition. We are basically just coming out of a transition phase on what is socially acceptable to wear, and the traditional view recognizes that not all changes are improvements. It recognizes some of the forces that went into play in changing these norms aren’t entirely benign. The sexual revolution was a disgusting and cancerous change, and there is no doubt that it played a part in the way acceptable dress has changed. 

[fquote align=”left”]The traditional view recognizes that some of the forces which went into play in changing dress norms aren’t entirely benign.[/fquote]

The traditional view also has the benefit of repudiating individualism. We are not, in this case, concerned all about individual rights but also with how the individual relates to society and other people. He or she is challenged to show respect for the good of others and not blindly exercise their autonomy just because they like it. This is something almost entirely lost on people with a more modern take on this issue. Too many people buy into the lie that individual rights and autonomy are the only considerations which matter.

The final advantage to the traditional view is that, at least in my experience, it seems to put more effort into aligning itself with Scripture. Who can forget how often they use 1 Timothy 2:9-10? “Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.” While their interpretation and application of Scripture can be debated, I do find as a trend that they are more willing to let it be their guide.

The Bad

There are problems, though, with the traditional view. For one, it often makes someone else’s weakness the responsibility of an otherwise innocent party. Because Johnny has a porn addiction, Sophie must wear a hot, uncomfortable burkini to the pool. Yet even Paul protested, “For why is my freedom judged by another person’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:29) It’s not entirely fair for someone to have to always regulate their apparel based on what someone else might do because of it, much like it is not fair to say someone should not buy an iPad lest their friend become envious. Moreover, this tends to lead to downplaying the lusting party’s personal responsibility for his sin, even sometimes shifting a great portion of the blame onto the other.

Another problem with this view is that it often leads to complicated rules and regulations. “Wear shorts this short, but not that short,” or “Yes, that bikini might be okay at your friend’s house, but not at the beach.” It threatens to become its own legalistic structure. This is obviously not acceptable. If you find yourself having to a modesty checklist on your outfit, it probably means you’ve found the far end of the traditional view. Jesus came to set us free from the such a code, and we need to trust His working in our hearts through the Spirit on its own without these extra barriers to keep us in check.

[fquote align=”right”]It’s not entirely fair for someone to have to always regulate their apparel based on what someone else might do because of it, much like it is not fair to say someone should not buy an iPad lest their friend become envious.[/fquote]

Another problem the traditional view faces is the tendency to make a woman’s body into a dangerous think which men need to be protected from. It’s just too powerful for our weak, sex-wired brains! Urm, that’s not a good way to go. Women can develop shame and feel that there bodies are somehow bad, especially naked, which can be a problem when they get married and try to head into the awesome sex they’re usually promised by the same people who promote the traditional view.

The Ugly

I decided to also mention the worst of each view, because all things can go really, really badly if taken too far. For the traditional view, you can have some seriously damaging effects. Sometimes women develop serious insecurities because of how much they are commanded to cover up their bodies. Males can go on and on without ever developing self-control to subdue their minds if they do see anything they usually wouldn’t.

Of course, the real ugly side here is the crazy side, where women are blamed for their own rapes because they were dressing promiscuously. Blech. Now, I suspect that doesn’t happen as often as feminists would like us to believe, but for the sake of God’s mercy we should never, ever go in that direction even in the slightest. Just don’t go there. Unfortunately, there are a few people who hold to the traditional view that at least lean that way, and there are a handful who blast all-out that kind of message.

“The God-Honoring Bikini”: The Modern View

Summary

A trend rather recently has been for what I call the “modern” view. To these people, the traditional view is just clinging to cultural standards of yesteryear and making them into law. Instead, the modern view emphasizes the goodness of the body, the freedom of the Christian, and the necessity of self-control. While you probably shouldn’t dress like a stripper, and you shouldn’t dress specifically to attract sexual attention to yourself, you should embrace your body as God’s good gift and not be afraid to wear what you like. You are not expected to hide yourself just because some people have sin problems. Bikini, shorter shorts, or low cut dress, wear what feels comfortable because you have that liberty. As well, the traditional view is criticized for focusing almost exclusively on women covering up and not men.

The Good

[fquote align=”left”]Your body is not something to be ashamed of, nor something dangerous, nor something that necessarily needs to be hidden away.[/fquote]

The modern view does have some credibility. Like I said before, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to say, “Because someone will sin if they see me like this, I should never be seen like this.” There is a legitimate question as to why this applies to lust and dress but not other things, like envy and technology. It is generally understandable why it would not seem completely just to limit one person’s liberty on the basis of another’s vice.

Another benefit to the modern view is that it is holds an explicitly positive and non-Gnostic view of the body and sexuality in general. These things are good and to be received with thanksgiving. Your body is not something to be ashamed of, nor something dangerous, nor something that necessarily needs to be hidden away. This isn’t to say that the traditional view would disagree, but these truths are often neglected by adherents of the traditional view while made very clear here.

Finally, the modern view is good about trying to balance the field between men and women. The traditional view, while not more directed against by nature, is often discussed almost exclusively on women. Yet there is a lot of room to address guys on modesty, especially in a post-Jacob culture. Somehow I feel that muscle-selfies aren’t substantially different from bikini ones. Perhaps even more tied to attractive intent.

The Bad

The modern view has its shortcomings, though. For one, it does seem strongly tied to our culture’s radical conception of individualism. Even though it uses sanctified terminology, it often sounds as though it is saying the exact same thing as the world: “Let me do what I want; it’s not your right to tell me what to do!” Moreover, this is done specifically excluding the concerns of others. We are told in the modern view quite clearly that the sin struggles of fellow believers are just not our problem.

There is also the issue of association. Now, we all know that just because an idea has some connections to really wrong people doesn’t mean it is itself wrong. However, it does warrant caution. Looking at the history of the change in modesty ideas, the modern view seems connected to the sexual revolution and modern pop-feminism, both are which are scary, morally damaging things. The ever-controversial bikini arose as a prime example of this, as it was praised by feminist activists as helping sexually liberate women. Needless to say, this is not good company.

[fquote align=”right”]Even though it uses sanctified terminology, it often sounds as though the modern view is saying the exact same thing as the world.[/fquote]

My final issue with the modern view is that it, overall, seems to leave a lesser voice to Scripture in this discussion than the traditional view does. This isn’t saying there are no Biblical arguments on this side, but that they tend to be treated as secondary to the popular rhetoric on this, which draws noticeably from individualism and feminism.

The Ugly

The ugly side of the modern view is ugly, indeed. At its worst it is associated with the radical feminism of such crazies as Jezebel. Yippie. I don’t think I even have to explain how bad those people are.

The other ugly part of the modern view is that it can facilitate social hostility towards people who dress with traditional standards of modesty, whether out of conviction or personal preference. They can easily fall victim to stereotyping, and people who actually hold to the traditional view can be accused of quite a great many things, including legalism, body-shaming, and even misogyny. But in the more common, less extreme results of these same negatives, you can face social stigma for being dorky, backwards, or unattractive for not dressing as freely as people do more commonly.

Bulldozing a Middle Way

Defining “Modesty”

Now that I’ve gone through my thoughts on the two mainstream views of modesty, I want to start explaining (and, to some extent, creating) my own. First, we can all agree on one thing: some kind of modesty is important. Why? To cite something I did before:

Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

1 Timothy 2:9-10

Here Paul explicitly tells women to dress modestly. This refutes anyone who ignores the entire deal. But what is modesty? Defining modesty will be key to my entire argument. To help me define modesty, I would like to bring in one more passage very similar to this one.

Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes.

1 Peter 3:3-4

From these two texts, I will try to present a very straightforward definition of modesty:

Modesty is the quality of humility, especially in dress and demeanor, shunning special attention, especially from superficial sources.

I would like to think that this definition does justice to the verses above and to the entire concept of modesty in general, along with Biblical humility. So how would this definition address the issues of the current modesty debate? At this point I think bullet points are the simplest way to examine the implications.

Some Application

  • Modesty is a heart issue before it is a dress issue. You must have humility to be modest. The modest person is content to be quietly out of eye. They do not try to draw attention to their own talents, appearance, or character, but instead take praise and recognition involuntarily and without thrill.
  • Immodesty in dress is defined by attention-seeking, not necessarily skin-showing. When Paul spoke to the women in the church on modesty, he told them not to wear fancy hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. This was immodest because it attracted special attention, making people notice, “Wow, she has style and can afford it!” It is not as though the fancy clothes in fashion in Paul’s day would be all that revealing, either. Ironically, I can guarantee you that many women, especially youth, speaking on modesty in churches today are actually still dressed for attention, just not using skin.
  • Seeking attention through revealing clothing is certainly immodest, no matter how little or much it shows. It doesn’t really matter what or how much your clothing shows if you’re trying to get your body noticed. Aiming to attract attention is immodest.
  • If you’re not seeking attention, you’re not being immodest. If you’re just dressing as you do for fun, comfort, style preference, or some other innocent reason, then you cannot necessarily be charged with immodesty, even if the stuff is somewhat revealing. Example: I work in an Amazon warehouse. The temperature in the summer averages over 80°F, so it gets uncomfortable to wear a lot of clothing, especially if you’re moving a lot (like people in my department). Because of this, most of the girls who work in my department wear t-shirts or tank tops with either pretty short shorts or yoga pants. Are they being immodest who dress this way to avoid heat stroke or sweating buckets? Of course not, regardless of how males actually respond.
  • Just because you’re not being immodest doesn’t always mean your clothing is appropriate. Regardless of why you dress as you do, a speedo is not appropriate attire for a funeral (unless the deceased had a beach party in his will). And even if you’re just doing because you think it’s cozy, I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong with walking down the streets dressed like a stripper.

At this point I must break to address the last thing I said. How do we know what is appropriate regardless of intentions? Well, to be honest I don’t think there are many easy rules here, mostly common sense. But I do think there is something to be said for cultural standards of decency. We are called as believers to treat other people with love and respect, which means we should not needlessly offend or disturb them. Most of the time, we know how other people will respond to what we wear, and so we should take that into consideration. Of course, this also does not mean we need to dress for the lowest common denominator, wearing clothing that will be acceptable to every single person, mainly because this is not practical and will not help many/any people.

What about Lust?

The question that is burning on some minds is how my view addresses the question of lust. After all, aren’t we still obligated to respect our fellow believers in how we dress? I would like to address this from two points. The first is the value of self-control. Certainly this is a good, conservative value and a fruit of the Spirit. Therefore I think it is important to bring into this discussion. See, people need to learn self-control. This value is one that will help in the modesty question. After all, if you can learn to control your thoughts and responses, you will be able to conquer lust. However, if you are never exposed to any sexually attractive sights, you will never face the temptation of lust. If you never face temptation, you can never conquer temptation and better yourself through self-control. Moreover, if this goes this way for quite some time, and then you find yourself suddenly faced with a sight that may stimulate lust, you will have no built up guard or defenses. So total shielding from potential lust-driving sights is perhaps dangerous.

[fquote align=”left”]The situation is akin to that of antibiotics. If we never use antibiotics but remain exposed to all manners of nastiness, we will get sick and die. If we always use antibiotics and protect ourselves from every possible infection, then we will be altogether unprepared to deal with any ill which makes its way past our defenses.[/fquote]

Naturally, we cannot go to an extreme on this argument. We could not say, then, that we should expose people to as much tempting imagery as possible. Should people be made to watch hours of pornography just so they can learn to control themselves? That would be absurd. The problem is that overwhelming someone not yet ready for defenses will destroy them. However, no chances to fight will lead to weakness. The situation is akin to that of antibiotics. If we never use antibiotics but remain exposed to all manners of nastiness, we will get sick and die. If we always use antibiotics and protect ourselves from every possible infection, then we will be altogether unprepared to deal with any ill which makes its way past our defenses. Likewise, if we try to protect ourselves from all possible images that could inspire lust, we will grow unable to deal with anything, but if we use no caution we will be destroyed by lust. It is more helpful to strike a reasonable balance.

On the other side of this, lust is a seriously difficult sin to crush. This is something most people know personally. So we should show, as fellow members in this fight, some concern for others. While we need not bind ourselves into a particular code because of the weaknesses of others, we should make sure, for one, to never even semi-intentionally try to attract sexual attention to ourselves. This applies whether you’re posting lots of shirtless ab selfies on Facebook or showing off your new bikini figure. While it is not wrong to show these things in any circumstance, if you’re putting yourself on display for attention, you are wrong.

There is a less intentional side of which we ought to be cautious, though. Generally speaking, you have a decent idea of how other people will respond to how you dress. So if it occurs to you that you may really be a stumbling block when you tweet a picture of the freckle in your cleavage, I would at least advice taking a second consideration as to what you will do. This must never be a law of any kind, but just a thought. Just try to do unto others what you have them do unto you.

Concluding Remarks

Honestly, modesty is a complicated topic when both major sides have so many arguments. And while I think (or hope) that I have found a happy medium, I am not certain of this, and even with my ruminations (which are probably not as original as I imagine) there are plenty of practical points of application that could be debated. But I think if we adopt an attitude of proper modesty, respect others, and do not judge our fellow believers, we will be alright. Thanks for reading this endless post!

Clark Is Certain He is Going to Heaven

If you read my previous controversial post on certainty and salvation, you now need to read Clark’s post on his own blog which responds with an opposing argument. Here’s the link explaining why you can be certain of your salvation:

Re: Certainty of Salvation: the Rationalist Perspective | Investigationes pro Divinum Verum

If you need the tl;dr version, here’s his conclusion (but I encourage you to read the whole thing):

In quick summary, the existence of the mind can be shown to be properly basic, meaning, a self-evident axiom. Reason is not separable from the mind. God exists, firmly dispelling the evil genius hypothesis. If the Bible is divine revelation, which, barring some incontrovertible opposing reason, it certainly is, then it is characteristic of God. If something is characteristic of God, then it is certain. Therefore, one can be certain of personal salvation.

Christians Shouldn’t Oppose Drinking Alcohol

Yes, my title is unnecessarily controversial (and overstated), but that means more people will read what I think is a somewhat important issue. So let’s get onto the meat of things.

“It’s a Not-Sin”

“It’s not necessarily a sin to drink, but it’s really unwise and dangerous and nobody should actually do it.”

You probably haven’t heard that exact statement, but the sentiment is really common among evangelical Christians. A great number would deny that drinking alcohol is truly a sin in itself (though getting drunk is), but still consider as though it kind of basically is anyway.

This path, I believe, is not wise.

To address this, I will first give the arguments for this a proper switching as they deserve, and then go on to summarize why I think otherwise.

The Arguments

“Drinking easily leads to drunkenness and trouble”

We agree that drunkenness is sinful (Eph. 5:18). Nonetheless, this does not rule out light drinking. As a parallel, eating quite often lends itself to gluttony. Have you ever heard of Golden Corral? Like drunkenness, gluttony is mentioned in Scripture as sin, has harmful physical effects, and can seriously damage people’s lives. Obesity is, according to many people, a growing problem in America. Both eating and drinking can hurt people very seriously in excess, but that do not make them bad in themselves. Indeed, nearly anything can be bad in excess.

This being said, people who know they will not drink for long before succumbing to the effects of alcohol are best to strictly limit themselves, or abstain altogether. It is good to be cautious and prudent in these matters.

“Although Jesus drank ‘wine,’ the wine is His day wasn’t very (or perhaps at all) alcoholic”

I have heard this from numerous Christians, and it is simply false. The evidence is severely lacking. This was a time when the Romans would speak of wine which can hold a flame, where Jewish weddings would serve poor wine after everyone was drunk from the good wine, and when water was often too dirty to drink without alcohol mixed in. Jesus was accused of being a drunkard, which would make no sense if He never drank anything with substantial alcohol content. Basically, this whole idea is bogus. For more on why this is the case, I refer you to Bible.org’s post on this.

“Alcohol is addictive”

This does not affect all people, or even most people, normally. Hundreds of millions of people drink regularly or occasionally without being addicted. Also, if things which can be addictive should be avoided so strongly, I suggest removing the Internet, television, sex, and The Legend of Zelda from society.

“Drinking can cause other believers to stumble”

Firstly, there is a lot of confusion of what it means to cause someone to stumble. It does not mean to offend them or confuse them. It means to lead them to sin, especially by violating their own conscience. Paul used the term mostly when discussing “weaker brothers” who thought of certain things as sinful when they were not really. To cause a believer to stumble by drinking would be this: to lead someone who is convicted that drinking is all sinful to drink anyway and disregard conscience by your example or persuasion. This is not usually what people mean when they argue that drinking causes others to stumble.

Moreover, we must recognize that these “weaker brothers” are not expected to stay weak, but to mature. They are supposed to grow up and finally take hold of their liberty in Christ.

“Being seen drinking can hurt your witness”

I dislike arguments that are all about appearances, but this one doesn’t quite hold up, anyway. The majority of people in the world recognize that drinking alcohol without getting drunk or crazy is a normal part of like, something that millions of people can and do engage in every day. If they see you drinking, their thoughts aren’t going to be, “Wow, that guy is a Christian but is really immoral. Hypocrite.” At worst, they’re likely to think, “Hey, aren’t Christians not allowed to drink alcohol?” Of course, addressing this question would then provide an opportunity to fix that misconception and promote a Biblical worldview of the goodness of creation and freedom in Christ.

“The Bible warns strongly against drinking”

This is the only argument that I think has any strength, but even it falters. The strongest (and one of the few) passage in Scripture which speaks ill of alcohol is probably Proverbs 23:25-29. I shall quote it here:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has conflicts? Who has complaints?
Who has wounds for no reason?
Who has red eyes?
Those who linger over wine,
those who go looking for mixed wine.
Don’t gaze at wine because it is red,
when it gleams in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a snake
and stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and you will say absurd things.
You’ll be like someone sleeping out at sea
or lying down on the top of a ship’s mast.
“They struck me, but I feel no pain!
They beat me, but I didn’t know it!
When will I wake up?
I’ll look for another drink.”

Proverbs 23:25-29

I feel as though this should not be too much of a stretch to say that this warns against alcoholism, not drinking alcohol in general. “Those who linger over wine, those who go looking for mixed wine” sounds like alcoholics. People who wake up with bruises they don’t remember and then go straight for more alcohol are drunkards, not people who drink responsibly.

“Drinking is just conforming to the world”

This is a funny one, because people who use it rarely explain why makes drinking alcohol into any more of a conformity issue than, say, stuffing yourself at Golden Corral or watching Breaking Bad (or, less controversially, Once Upon a Time). Obviously, as part of the same general society, we will do certain things in common with unbelievers. The question is whether God has revealed that we should be different on a particular point, which the Scripture does not support for teetotaling.

God Saw that It Was Good

Having addressed briefly the main arguments against drinking alcohol for believers, I would like to summarize my case for why drinking is perfectly acceptable. Basically, alcohol is a product of creation which is God’s gift. Like blackberries, sunsets, and puppies, it is part of a good creation and given for our enjoyment. This is a historically Christian view on the subject. In fact, prior to American history, drinking was never a serious question in the Church. Even now, basically Baptists, Pentecostals, and a couple other evangelical groups are the only places where drinking gets much of a bad rap. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox, and even more groups use wine for Communion. Jesus and the Apostles even used wine for Communion! All of this tradition has been based on the belief that wine, like a good burger, is a gift of God in creation.

The more pressing issue, though, and the one for which I named this post, is pseudo-legalism. Instead of, like the legalist, imposing strict rules which Christians must follow, we often still don’t trust people to live in the freedom of the Gospel, and so create our own not-rules based on “okay, good, better, and best.” This is not good, and is a dangerous practice whereby people fall into the trap of judgmentalism and real legalism. So be careful. Don’t create a new law by giving 1000 reasons not to do X, Y, and Z. And finally, here are some concluding Scriptures:

You may spend the money on anything you want: cattle, sheep, wine, beer, or anything you desire. You are to feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice with your family.

Deuteronomy 14:26

He causes grass to grow for the livestock
and provides crops for man to cultivate,
producing food from the earth,
wine that makes man’s heart glad—
making his face shine with oil—
and bread that sustains man’s heart.

Psalm 104:14-15

How lovely and beautiful they will be!
Grain will make the young men flourish,
and new wine, the young women.

Zechariah 9:17

For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.

1 Timothy 4:4

Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

1 Timothy 5:23

When True Love Doesn’t Need to Wait

The Alternative to Waiting

Link and Zelda were so very in love. They spent pretty much all their time together, and their friends would give them the “blech” face for cuteness basically 24/7. Of course, having grown up in church and being committed to the Christian life, they had no intention of compromising their purity. But as time went on, marriage only seemed more and more distant, and they grew increasingly unsettled about waiting and waiting until the time came to become sexually active. Eventually, after much prayer, soul-searching, and Scriptural study, they came to a confident conclusion. It was time to stop waiting.

What just happened here? Did I tell a story in which the protagonists take up premarital sex because it is good? Absolutely not. Link and Zelda did stop waiting for sex, but I have played a completely unfair sleight of hand by manipulating the word “waiting” for the sake of click-bait. See, “waiting” for something implies that you actually intend to have it at some point. This is not what Link and Zelda decided. They instead pledged themselves to celibacy.  No plans for sex equals not waiting for sex.

What, then, was the point of all these shenanigans? To bring attention to a drastically underappreciated Christian lifestyle, one which was lived and commended by both Jesus and Paul, namely celibacy.

General Stuff on Celibacy in Christianity

[Before you read all my post, you should make sure to read Clark’s post on this same topic. We don’t say exactly the same things, but I still find him enlightening.]

In American society, and to a lesser extent in American Christianity, celibacy isn’t exactly held up as a serious lifestyle choice. I would say than in mainstream thought you will probably receive far much more support if you come out as gay, transgendered, or even a polygamist than if you are publicly committed to celibacy. Even in the Christian sphere, the basic thought is “If you can’t seem to find someone to marry (which is totally the best, and abundant sex in marriage is awesome, and that’s basically the only lifestyle we’ll ever talk about), then God has given you the gift (you know, like a consolation prize) of being single.” Even if you do remain single, a great deal of people in church don’t seriously expect you to remain celibate, though they’ll certainly say you should be. 

[fquote align=”right”]You will probably receive far much more support if you come out as gay, transgendered, or even a polygamist than if you are publicly committed to celibacy.[/fquote]

All this is quite the shame. The celibate life, while not my own path, has great potential for the Christian life. Indeed, throughout the history of the church it has been held up as extremely admirable and, by many people, superior to marriage. This was especially the case for the early church fathers*. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they were right, but any position held so widely throughout Christian history is worth considering. 

Having set the stage for the discussion, I would like to address the Scriptures relevant to this issue. Consider what Jesus and Paul said on this issue.

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Matthew 19:10-12

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? 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.

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

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. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 27-35

These are all quite interesting words. So what do we learn from this? I’ll try to break up the main points I gather.

  • Celibacy is a gift from God. If you have the ability to remain celibate, to never marry or have sex, you are blessed by God. Jesus said that only those whom celibacy has been given can accept it, and Paul mentioned celibacy as a gift some have, though not all. So it is truly a gift, a blessing, not just a consolation prize like it is so often treated. Like all gifts, celibacy should be held in esteem, received with thanksgiving, and even desired.
  • Celibacy is not easy. Jesus and Paul make it clear that not everyone is strong enough to live a celibate life. Jesus said that “not everyone can accept this word,” and Paul recognizes that not all can control themselves outside of marriage. But, as we all know, no good thing comes too easily.
  • Celibacy seems to be expected of those who can maintain it. This is a more controversial point, but I think it is clear enough. If you are able to commit to celibacy, Jesus says you should, and Paul encourages you to keep on in that path.
  • Celibacy is not a commandment. Jesus acknowledges that not all can be celibate, and so they are not commanded to be. Paul specifically says that it is not a sin to marry, and that if you cannot control your passions, you actually should get married.
  • Celibacy provides a practical spiritual advantage over marriage. Jesus speaks of those who live as eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom, and Paul teaches clearly that those who remain unmarried have the advantage of singular devotion to God, unhindered by the additional responsibilities and concerns to which marriage obligates you. Marriage is good, but you cannot take the same risks and liberties in God’s service when you have a family to consider that you can when you serve unyoked.

I think the points which are most difficult to properly understand are the third and the last. For example, who is truly considered as being able to maintain celibate? Is everyone able? If so, is everyone expected to strive for celibacy? Jesus explicitly denies that all can take up the celibate life, so I would say that not everyone is expected to do so. So how do you know if you can? Well, I would say that those who go through life without sexual desire (asexuals), a desire to raise children, or a need for stable companionship from the opposite sex are quite obvious candidates. Alas, this is a very short list. Those with strong self-control and willpower, though, may be able to join their ranks. Beyond that, the call is tough. Just being able to master your sex drive may not always be enough. You must also be able to live without children, or a constant life companion, and if you strongly desire these things, you may still need to be married.

[fquote align=”left”]Those who go through life without sexual desire, a desire to raise children, or a need for stable companionship from the opposite sex are quite obvious candidates for a celibate commitment.[/fquote]

The other issue is the spiritual advantage. Does not marriage provide a spiritual advantage? After all, Paul speaks of marriage as a mysterious picture of Christ and the Church. Nonetheless, Jesus and Paul express a wish for the benefit of the believer that they remain celibate if possible. Why? Well, to be frank (and to follow what Jesus and Paul said), marriage brings hardship. I mean, yes, marriage is amazing and lovely, and there is so much to gain from it, but the added responsibilities and stress which come with marriage are a price that can take a toll on your ability to serve God. It is harder to lose your life for the Gospel when you have a wife and children depending on your life, and it is harder to put yourself in the risk of persecution when that brings your family into it as well.

The Uses of Championing Celibacy

There is another dimension to celibacy, and that is exerting the power of self-control for the kingdom of God in direct opposition to the kingdoms of this world. Celibacy says “no” to the demands of the world and the flesh. See, in our society, you do not truly have sexual freedom. Despite the promises of the sexual revolution, we now have less control of our bodies than ever before. How so? We are obligated to share them. In America today, you have two options: get married or be sexually active outside of marriage. If you do not conform, you are branded a weirdo, or a prude, or in the closet, or sexually incompetent. So you must share your body with at least one other person to be given respect, and you are not free to reserve it, whether for preference or a higher purpose, if you wish. The kingdoms of this world demand your body. Celibacy, then, stands as an act of defiance against the misdirected, mislabeled sexual autonomy promoted by this evil generation.

[fquote align=”right”]Celibacy says “no” to the demands of the world and the flesh.[/fquote]

One final consideration on celibacy is that it can actually touch one of the most sex-interested groups of people—youth—in a better way. Right now most youth events and gatherings which involve the topic of sex have exactly one thing to say: hold on until you get married, and then have yourself an awesome time. The way they often go about this is actually pandering to their sex drives, feeding their thoughts on the topic just by talking about it all the time and building it up for the future. So I posit that preaching celibacy as a viable, serious, and even joyful alternative to simply waiting on marriage can have its benefits here. I fear we actually don’t expect teenagers to take their faith seriously enough to renounce sex and marriage for Christ, but we ought to encourage them to make such a commitment. Moreover, our waiting-oriented culture can be alienating to two high undervalued groups of people, namely asexuals (no sex drive) and demisexuals (who have sexual desire only with an emotional connection). There are more people like these than you would expect, and they can sit amongst youth groups without having ever experienced sexual desires, pressured to fit in just because that’s how it is. They’re also repeatedly told the joys of sex and marriage, even though they may well have the ability to devote themselves to the celibate life, “married” only to Christ. They will probably also feel quite weird and uncomfortable with themselves if they have no desire for sex while the entire youth group culture they live in is permeated with the assumption that all of them do. Preaching the virtues of the celibate Christian life can certainly empower them and help them have a regarded place among their peers. This also applies, for that matter, to people who simply do not seem to be able to find their “special someone.” They can devote themselves to a higher call without feeling like losers.

Conclusion

To sum up my points, celibacy is a very noble and spiritual commitment available to believers. It enables us to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, subjugating physical passions and cultural demands to the pursuit of Christ. Scripture presents it as a unique and high calling, a gift from God, to be desire and to be pursued by those who can hold it. Presenting it for the virtue and viable alternative to marriage which it truly is offers much spiritual promise to people who would otherwise be conflicted, neglected, or even compromised. And I’m terrible at conclusions, so I will abruptly end here.

P.S. On Celibacy and True Love

One thing which you may be wondering based on my beginning to this post: “Are people who are in love really likely to be candidates for celibacy?” To that my answer is yes. Despite the mandates of the American perspective on love, sex, and marriage even in the church, you do not have to marry someone you love, or have sex with them. Sometimes all you really need is to stay close. I can almost guarantee you that there are many people completely in love who would do best to restrain their passions and keep their relationship entirely celibate. 

[Final reminder: If you haven’t read Clark’s post on this topic, you should.]

 

*Here are two representative quotes from early Christian teachers on celibacy and marriage.

In short, there is no place at all where we read that nuptials are prohibited; of course on the ground that they are “a good thing.” What, however, is better than this “good,” we learn from the apostle, who permits marrying indeed, but prefers abstinence; the former on account of the insidiousnesses of temptations, the latter on account of the straits of the times.

Tertullian

If then “he who is married cares for the things of the world”, and a Bishop ought not to care for the things of the world, why does he say the husband of one wife? Some indeed think that he says this with reference to one who remains free from a wife. But if otherwise, he that hath a wife may be as though he had none. For that liberty was then properly granted, as suited to the nature of the circumstances then existing. And it is very possible, if a man will, so to regulate his conduct. For as riches make it difficult to enter into the kingdom of Heaven, yet rich men have often entered in, so it is with marriage.

Chrysostom

The Case for Celibacy – Part 1

[Note from Caleb: By coincidence, Clark and I both decided to write on this topic recently. So keep an eye out for my post later, and enjoy Clark’s case for celibacy now.]

This is a topic which has interested me for a while. I find that, more often than not, celibacy is something of a touchy subject. That tenderness is probably due to the confused evangelical position on it, the incredible power of sex, and the connections that evangelicals share with a consumerist society. Because celibacy can be a riling subject I want to immediately affirm that I am not condemning those who choose to marry. However, the fact of the matter is that I can’t necessarily do that. While there is almost certainly some who were right in marrying, I am suspicious that there are so many that were really needful of it. In any case, I hope that you are able to read this with an even mind and I welcome any comments you may have.

Of everything that man ought do, each thing helps man to reach that for which he is intended. So, then, the things that man ought to do can be found by finding what will grow man towards his destiny.

What is man’s destiny? Expressed in one word, we might say enlightenment. This word may have for some connotations which are decidedly unchristian and I plead with you to forget those connotations for a time. The term means being in a lit up state, light has been shed on you. This word conveys a wealth of meaning and can be understood as meaning “knowing the Logos” or being one with the Word. It is a sort of knowledge, although it may not come of our own reason, and resembles the sudden fitting together of puzzle pieces. At this point some may think that I mean salvation. In a sense I do, but, if salvation is understood as the moment of justification, then that is not what I mean. I mean the long process of maturation into a whole being; the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling. It is for this process that man was made.

What will grow man towards enlightenment? There are, seemingly, two answers to this question. The most common answer would be the vague claim that it is the work of the Holy Spirit and, the second, that the examined life is what allows man to achieve enlightenment. The answer is a conglomeration of both. Man must be thinking to reach enlightenment but the enlightened state would be impossible without divine revelation.

The examined life is the principle of those two partners since without it we couldn’t know what divine revelation or anything else is and, so, our next question naturally is, what makes for the examined life? We may examine life by differentiating between individual things. We may differentiate between things reasonably or foolishly. If reasonably, how so? By being of sound mind. What makes for a sound mind? By being single in purpose, not agitated. So, then, it is a question of whether celibacy or marriage is more conducive to being single in purpose.

Before we embark on demonstrating the case, consider the findings of others on the subject. Paul the Apostle notes this:

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn [with passion].

1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 8

Also consider this dialogue between Jesus and His disciples:

The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

Matthew 19:10-12

The argument from authority is a particularly weak sort of argument, although this particular one seems clearly in favor of celibacy and based upon the most credible authority. In any case, we press on to the demonstration.

We have already established our premises, that whatever man ought to do will be what leads him to enlightenment, essentially, most effectively living the Christian life. So then, it seems a simple thing to show the chain of reasoning.

If man is celibate, then he will be single in purpose, not concerned with caring for a wife and child but only with living rightly. If single in purpose, then of sound mind. If of sound mind, then able to reasonably differentiate between things. If able to reasonably differentiate between things, then able to examine life. If able to examine life, then able to become enlightened and therefore to achieve his destiny.

There are miscelaneous objections to this chain, the most notable of which, to me, is that it does not strictly show that man cannot become enlightened from within marriage. This is true. But it cannot be said that man is either enlightened or unenlightened for, as the sun shines fully on some and only partially on others, so one man may be fully grasping truth while another only partially. Indeed, man cannot be said to ever grasp truth sublunarily but only possess it to some degree. “Now we see as through a mirror dimly…” The point the argument is intended to make is that marriage is given to those who have not the strength to persevere, not to those who wish to indulge in sex lawfully. I suppose that one other objection might then arise, and might be put “Do any have the strength to persevere?” To which my answer will be to quote a self-evident axiom “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13) The following question might then be, “Are none then to be married?” To which I must honestly state that I do not know the answer. But you may now see why I am suspicious that so many were apparently called to be married in our current situation.

questionae Deus