5 Myths about Heaven

The title pretty well says it all. I just want to address a couple popular misconceptions about heaven. At least a couple of these are going to be half-truths, so keep an eye out for those. But that aside, here’s some myths about heaven, and the truth about them.

  • We’ll spend eternity there. Depending on what you mean precisely by “heaven,” that may or may not be true. If we mean by “heaven” the place we go after we die to be with Jesus, then we will only be there until the Resurrection. Right now we are clothed with mortal bodies, then we will be unclothed for a time, until we are clothed again with new bodies1. We shall sleep for a time and then rise2. Our eternal destiny will be the new earth, not what we presently call “heaven”3.
  • Jesus promised we would have mansions in heaven. Usually John 14:2 is cited as proof, which says in the KJV, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Yet this is an example of the English language changing. In 1661, when the KJV was published, the word “mansion” did not imply the big, luxurious house that it does for us. It simply meant a place to stay, perhaps during a journey. That accurately captured the meaning of the Greek monai, which meant “dwellings” or “abodes.” Modern translations have appropriately updated the language, using “rooms” (ESV, NIV) or “dwelling places” (NRSV, HCSB, NASB). This isn’t to say for sure we won’t end up with mansions, though such a prospect seems suspiciously like materialistic wish fulfillment. But if we do, it won’t technically be in what we presently call “heaven,” which is not physical, but the new earth.
  • Time will be no more. This one is actually true if we restrict the meaning of “heaven” to the place we currently go when we die, but most people say this about where we will spend eternity, which is the new earth. Yet the new earth is a “resurrection,” for lack of a better word, of the current world. Space and time will not be scrapped, but redeemed. Don’t take my reason for it, though. Scripture itself clearly indicates the passage of time in Revelation 22:2, which refers to the tree of life bearing fruit every month.
  • When Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven,” He’s talking about where we go when we die, or maybe the new earth. Neither of these would ever be true. The term “kingdom of heaven” is only used in Matthew. Matthew, following a peculiar Jewish tradition, frequently substituted “heaven” for “God” as a way of being reverent. The other Gospels, wherever Matthew says “kingdom of heaven,” say “kingdom of God”4. The kingdom of God referred not to a place people go when they die, but the reign of God being established on earth5, particularly in Israel. Think, for example, of how the kingdom was always referred to as something coming6, not a place you go. But that would be a book (and N. T. Wright has written many on this topic).
  • Heaven is the end. No, my friends. Heaven is just the beginning. 🙂

For more about the misconceptions people have about heaven, see these posts.

5 Myths about Heaven

Jesus the Apocalypse: The Announcement of Elijah

[This is the third post in my Bible study on Mark. See the others here.]

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD, make his paths straight,'”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

Mark 1:2-8

What the Bible Says

As we saw last time, Mark has just abruptly opened his Gospel with the good news that Jesus is here. Now he moves into the actual story of that arrival. This story begins, rather unexpectedly, not with Jesus Himself but with John the Baptist (or baptizer, as the NRSV renders it).

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah — Mark begins right off with an appeal to the Scriptures, which is a reasonable strategy to back up his claim that Jesus is the Messiah. If anyone is to accept Jesus as Messiah, they will have to see how He fulfills the relevant Scriptures.

A potential problem, for some, arises at this point. While Mark says “the prophet Isaiah,” the following quotation is not just from Isaiah, but actually starts from Malachi. There are also other manuscripts which simply say “the prophets,” which probably resulted from a scribe trying to fix that problem. In the end, though, this doesn’t need to bother us. Over half of the quote is from Isaiah, and since Isaiah is also the more prominent book of the two, the lack of precision is unimportant.

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way — This part of the quote is from Malachi 3:1. In the original context, God was declaring judgment on Judah for her sins. In 2:17, God accuses the people of asking, “Where is the God of justice?” Then 3:1 comes as the answer. God has sent a messenger ahead to prepare His way, and according to the next part of the verse He will come suddenly to His temple. Then verse 2 makes it clear that this visit will be a day of judgment, for “who can endure the day of his coming?”

the voice […] paths straight” — This part of the quote is from Isaiah 40:3. The wording of this verse is very similar to Malachi 3:1, but there is an important difference in meaning. Isaiah 40 is an announcement of comfort and promise of redemption to Israel. Instead of the impending doom Malachi speaks of, this verse references impending forgiveness, despite being nearly the same.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness — Again, Mark works with sudden appearances, the kinds of abrupt changes you would expect in a vision or dream. Now John has appeared, apparently as the fulfillment of the cited texts. Based on these verses, he is a messenger preparing the way for Yahweh’s return to Jerusalem. The wilderness location is significant. Israel has always had an interesting relationship with the wilderness, having wandered for 40 years. New religious movements at this time often retreated to the wilderness, including Messianic ones. Yet John is not secluding himself with followers; he is baptizing and preaching.

proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins — Now we know what John is preaching. Baptism was at this time a rite that Jewish proselytes (Gentiles who wanted to fully join Judaism and Israel) would undergo, hinting that John saw sinful Israel as cut off from God’s people and they needed to essentially convert as though they were outsiders. They were called to repent and receive forgiveness. I should also point out that this would not have been understood primarily as individual. It wasn’t just about Mr. Jacob or Mrs. Martha. As I mentioned before, most the Israelites still thought of themselves as in exile, and exile was understood as the result of Israel’s sin as a nation. Therefore the call to repent and receive forgiveness would be understood as the means by which Israel might finally return from exile, and thus God’s kingdom would come.

And people […] their sins — The unrest of the time at a national level meant many people were ready to take an opportunity at seeing God’s kingdom come and receiving forgiveness in the return of Israel exile. People flocked to John, clearly enthusiastic about this prospect.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey — This well fits John’s persona as a prophet. In fact, it hints, when combined with the prophecy from before, that John is fulfilling the role of Elijah, who was expected to come before God’s kingdom came. Elijah was described similarly in 2 Kings 1:8, and Zechariah 13:4 reveals that this kind of dress was associated with prophets. He also clearly had no trouble with purity laws.

He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. — Again, the role of forerunner is apparent, which strengthens the Elijah parallel. John clearly sees himself not as the Messiah or fulfillment, but as called to prepare Israel for God’s kingdom by preaching repentance.

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” — This curious statement has always been debated. What does it mean that the one to follow John will baptize with the Holy Spirit? There is no doubt that the Charismatic “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is not in view. No one in John’s day had such a concept, and indeed it did not exist for hundreds and hundreds, if not over a thousand, more years. More likely, the word “baptize” should be understood with its original meaning of “immerse,” so that the picture is of Israel being immersed in the Spirit, which would call to mind eschatological expectations that God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh when His kingdom came (Isa. 44:3, Ezek. 39:29,  Joel 2:28).

The Theology Part

So what picture does this paint for us theologically? The first thing to note is, again, the sudden appearance. Carrying on the visionary or dream-like elements, the Messiah’s forerunner shows up in the wilderness and begins preaching. His message to Israel is that they must repent and be baptized for forgiveness of sins, the return from exile. The theme is clearly the coming of God’s kingdom. The prophecies cited make this abundantly clear, as well as the allusions to John’s role as the coming Elijah.

The specific combination of prophecies used here points to God’s return to Jerusalem as both a positive and negative occurrence, both salvation and judgment. All of the Jews would be expecting this, though later we will see just how subversive and shocking the outplaying of this actually is.

Other overlooked, but in my opinion very important here, is the way the coming of Jesus is identified with the return of God Himself to His people. Remember that both Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 in their original contexts refer to prophets announcing the coming of the Lord, Yahweh. Yet in Mark “Lord” clearly refers to the subject of verse 1, Jesus the Messiah. This theme will not stop in Mark or any of the Gospels. As we go on, we find it more and more impossible to separate Jesus from God. They are one, and this realization eventually became detailed church tradition in the glorious affirmation of the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.

One more important theological point to notice is the relationship of baptism, repentance, and forgiveness. For some verse 4 would be used with other texts to say that baptism is necessary for salvation. Yet this does not regard the original context of the verse. John was calling for Israel to repent and essentially reconvert to their God in preparation for the return from exile and coming kingdom. This baptism and the baptism instituted by the risen and glorified Christ are not exactly the same, being on opposite sides of the Cross.

What to Do about It

So, what do we get from this? How should the announcement of John the Baptist affect us today? Two main thoughts come to mind.

  • John knew the time had come, and that God’s kingdom was about to break into the world through Jesus Christ. So he preached that message to all who would listen, baptizing them and teaching them to repent of their sins. Now Jesus has gone away, but will return, and we know that He could be back any time. We must therefore follow John’s example, preaching the Gospel of Jesus to all who will listen, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all Jesus commanded. Basically, the Great Commission Matthew 28:19-20.
  • John also was constantly clear to make himself nothing and Christ the focus. We really ought to be doing the same way. So much of our approach as Christians tends to draw attention to the preachers, the speakers, the bloggers, and even us as individuals with our testimonies. Or in church, we may find ourselves trying to get the word out about Our Church, or its programs, music, or relevance. Our worship services may seem more like concerts about the band and lights than about the God who revealed Himself as Jesus Christ. But all of this would be wrong. Our energy should go altogether towards making Jesus the object of focus, desire, and proclamation. If our message is anything but Jesus, we are in trouble.
Jesus the Apocalypse: The Announcement of Elijah

7 Ways to Walk on the Way

Just some random stuff I wrote way back when about living the life we’re called to live in following Christ.

Be Generous

…it is necessary to…keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Acts 20:35

The giver of a gift is happier than the recipient. God blesses him for being generous, and he can take joy in the fact that his work fulfills the Law of Love and lets his light shine before men for the glory of God.

Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not out of regret or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:7, 8

God wants us to give cheerfully. He doesn’t want us to be generous because we feel obligated or guilty. He wants us to want to help others. Plus, He promises an added bonus: if you give generously, He’ll be sure to continue providing even when your gift seems like more than you can afford.

Get in the Word

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

The truths of Scripture come from God. Because they are from God, they are good for everything! You can learn, be convicted, be corrected, and train for righteousness by reading the Bible. Once you’ve done that, you can use what you’ve gotten from the Bible to help others do the same.

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

See the power of the Word of God! It is good and useful to all people. It will show you the difference between your soul and your spirit, all the details of within you. By it, you can judge yourself, to find out your motives when you don’t even know them.

To finish this tip, read Psalm 119:9 – 16

How can a young man keep his way pure? 
By keeping Your word. 
I have sought You with all my heart; 
don’t let me wander from Your commands. 
I have treasured Your word in my heart 
so that I may not sin against You. 
Lord, may You be praised; 
teach me Your statutes. 
With my lips I proclaim 
all the judgments from Your mouth. 
I rejoice in the way revealed by Your decrees 
as much as in all riches. 
I will meditate on Your precepts 
and think about Your ways. 
I will delight in Your statutes; 
I will not forget Your word.

Pray!

Stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Mark 14:38

Praying can protect your from temptation. The more time you spend talking to God, the less inclined you will be to violate His laws and hurt Him. Prayer strengthens your spirit, to keep you from sin.

Pray constantly

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Always pray! Pray every day, several times a day! Don’t go too long without prayer—that’s like not talking to your spouse for a long time. Pray at the most random of moments, over little things and big things. God wants to talk to you, and it will do wonders for you to talk to Him constantly.

I’ll conclude this tip with James 5:13 – 18

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.

Judge Yourself First

Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye?

Matthew 7:3

We can only control ourselves, not others. So then, it is pointless for us to judge others before we take acknowledge our own problems. We will have much happier relationships with God and others if we deal with our own faults before turning our attention to others.

Do you really think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgment?

Romans 2:3

We need to take care our of issues, not just before judging someone on anything, but especially before judging them about something you do as well! Like the previous verse’s containing passage, remember to “First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Have Good Friends

As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.

Proverbs 27:17

A good friend will help you. Sharpening one’s countenance is to make them feel better and help them have a better attitude. If you have good, encouraging, supportive, godly friends, you and your friends will be better.

Everything else to be said about friends can basically be found here in Ecclesiastes 9 – 12

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three stands is not easily broken.

Remember Your Short Time

Lord, reveal to me the end of my life and the number of my days. Let me know how transitory I am. You, indeed, have made my days short in length, and my life span as nothing in Your sight. Yes, every mortal man is only a vapor. Selah.

Psalm 39:4, 5

Our lives are short. God has made a world that is at least 6,000 years old, and we usually live no more than 80 years. That’s nothing. If we also kept in mind how short life is, and had a heart for God, we would live out our days passionately pursuing His pleasure and glory, to make the most of our lives.

You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are a bit of smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes.

James 4:14

We don’t know the future. We can’t make foolproof plans in our short, empty lives on this earth. Instead, we need to plan according to God’s will, which is eternal in existence and purpose. See the rest of James 4:13 – 17.

Love Like Crazy!

Do not take revenge or hold a grudge against your people. Instead, you must love others as much as yourself: I am Yahweh.

Leviticus 19:18

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

Deuteronomy 6:5

Therefore, love the Lord your God and always keep His mandate and His statutes, ordinances, and commands.

Deuteronomy 11:1

I am giving you a new commandment: You must love each other. In the same way that I have loved you, you must love each other.

John 13:34

Follow these commandments: love each other.

John 15:17

Love each other like family, like brothers. Honor each other above yourself.

Romans 12:10

Do not own anyone anything, except love for each other, because whoever loves others keeps the entire Law.

Romans 13:8

See, this sentence sums up the entire Law, ‘You must love others as much as yourself.’

Galatians 5:14

This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands.

1 John 5:2

7 Ways to Walk on the Way

Don’t Forget to Love

As Christians, most of us do quite a bit of Bible study in some form or another. We always have a topic to talk about, a sermon to listen to, or theological issue to study. Isn’t this to be expected, though? We have 66 books (73 if you’re Catholic) which we hold to be our ultimate authority. We’re told that they’re profitable for teaching, correction, rebuking, and the like. So naturally we’ll want to get all the ins and outs sorted.

Alas, every noble endeavor has its dangers, and studying Scripture is no exception. When we’re trying to figure out how to properly exegete Romans 9, whether baptism should be administered to infants, what modesty should mean, and whether Calvinism is really better than Arminianism or just a little better, we can sometimes forget basics, neglecting core teachings of Christ.

So with this I call us, especially myself, to a reminder. Do not forget what Jesus said most often. He told us to love. He said to give generously, live mercifully, interact humbly, and judge justly. He told us to treat others as well as we would treat ourselves, even if they are our enemies, and to always show His grace to those who need it, whether they deserve it or not.

These things are easy to think of when we think of Jesus, but to actually remember that being a Christian means putting them into practice is hard. When I’m busy typing away for this blog, I might forget what my wife needs me to do right beside me. When you’re debating the proper role of tongues in edifying the church, you might find that your debate is far from edifying anyone. Or even when you are simply being a mild-mannered, not-theologically-intense Christian, you might go see Left Behind without realizing that when it comes to love some of your peers have been left behind.

Jesus told us that on Judgment Day He will identify with those who lacked food and clothing, those who were imprison, and those who were sick. So how He receives us will be based on how we receive them. Not so much on whether we worked on Sunday, we were Calvinist or Arminian, or we baptized babies. For it is love that is the greatest commandment, both towards God and towards men, and it is love which Scripture tells us will cover a multitude of sins.

Therefore until that Day, don’t forget to love.

 

Don’t Forget to Love

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

When True Love Doesn’t Need to Wait

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

The Case for Celibacy – Part 1

The Beatitudes: I Get Heaven, You Get Earth?

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:3,5

The Beatitudes. Most Christians know of them, and many know them by heart. So last night I had some people asking me last night about these two items in the list. They were wondering: why is it that the poor in spirit get the kingdom of heaven, while the meek only get the earth?

Here’s the kicker: the poor in spirit are the meek, and the kingdom of heaven is the earth.

“What?” you exclaim! “How can this be?” 

Well, let’s see. What does Jesus mean by the poor in spirit? As a number of commentaries agree, the poor in spirit are those who recognize that they are bankrupt before God. No one has anything to offer God or a leg to stand on before Him; those who know this are poor in spirit. These people repent and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, and so they represent believers. And we know that believers will inherit the kingdom of heaven.

But what about the meek inheriting the earth? Well, for starters, the meek are also all believers. See, that’s who all of the Beatitudes are about: believers. Those who trust in Christ are blessed. The meek are the humble and gentle, those who see who they are compared to God, so they humble themselves and repent. Because of this, they will inherit the earth. 

But still, why is one group said to receive the earth and one said to receive the kingdom of heaven? Because they are the same. How? The kingdom of heaven (a.k.a. the kingdom of God) is, as I said in a sermon once, where the people of God do the will of God under the Son of God for the glory of God. It has begun now, with the church, all since the Resurrection. Yet it is not complete yet. When the kingdom comes in its fullness, Jesus will personally rule on the earth. He will be the King of Glory, strong and mighty. All nations will submit to Him, and His people will fill the earth. In a premilliennialist view (which I generally follow), this starts in the Millennium, but it doesn’t end there. The kingdom of God on the earth will continue into the New Creation. In fact, when the earth is restored and becomes the New Earth, the kingdom of God will reach its full potential and become what it was always meant to be. So when the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom of heaven and the meek inherit the earth, both are inheriting the same coming kingdom.

The Beatitudes: I Get Heaven, You Get Earth?