The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Guidance for Priests: When to Break Your Vow of Celibacy

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This post is speaking to priests who sincerely want to please God in their lives, have taken a vow of celibacy, and are now feeling tormented by sexual temptation.

You don’t want your sex drive to get in the way of your walk with God. Neither does He, however His solution to your current dilemma might surprise you. Now if you treat vows as the very serious things that they are, then you likely see only one moral choice in front of you: you will have to remain celibate. It’s either that or break your word to God, and that second choice certainly isn’t an option…or is it? Just how much say does God have in this verbal contract you have arranged with Him? Does He have the option to declare the whole thing null and void? Of course He does, He’s God. You can’t tell God that He doesn’t get to do anything He wants. And if God were to nullify your vow, then you would not be guilty of any kind of sin. You can’t violate a contract which you have been released from.

But why would God do such a thing? Well, let’s back up and talk about why you made the vow in the first place. No doubt you were trying to please Him and you were taught that celibacy was the higher moral path. So you chose the higher path because you wanted to give God your best. Well, this is certainly an attitude that delights Him, even if you were misinformed about what He wanted. But God is not anti-sex or anti-marriage. Let’s not forget that both of these things were His invention and He’s the One who says, “Be fruitful and multiply,” which is code for, “Go make out with your wife.”

God could have set up this whole procreation thing differently. Women could lay eggs in a nest somewhere and men could come along later and fertilize them. There’s no need for everyone to get all naked and hands on with each other. Clearly for some animals, sex is solely about procreating. We watch them hook up on nature programs and the whole thing looks like a rather miserable affair that everyone wants to get over with as quickly as possible. God could have made us the same way, but He didn’t. When we consider God’s version of human sex, we find an extremely intimate, sensuous, complex dance in which both bodies and hearts are knit closer together. God designed human sex to be a beautiful thing. He often uses sexual attraction to peak our interest in the soul that He wants us to marry, and then He continues to use our sexual desires to strengthen our bond with them as we progress in the relationship. As long as we are on this earth we are physical and sexual beings. God made us this way and He likes us this way, yet we are often taught that it somehow gets in God’s way that we are the way He designed us to be.

Vows of celibacy can’t be considered good things unless we first decide that being sexual is a bad thing. But where did we get such an idea? Not from God. He’s a big fan of sex, as evidenced by the fact that the true gift of singleness is a rare event on this planet. God wants most men to desire women, to desire to get married, and to get married to the woman He has selected for them. If you find these desires within you, you’re not morally weak, you’re just demonstrating that God is including you in His plan for most people. Yes, He does have some exceptions to this rule. There are some souls who are totally freed up from sexual desires and they have no desire whatsoever to get married. But these are rare events, because for the most part, God wants us to get married.

There is so much God can teach you through the whole experience of marriage. Women are very handy tools when it comes to maturing men, and vice versa. What if there’s a woman out there who can help accelerate your spiritual maturity? And what if you can accelerate hers? What if God wants to bring the two of you together and let iron sharpen iron so that you both end up much closer to Him? And what if He wants to add the pleasure of a God-centered sexual union to the mix? Do you want to reject the gifts that God wants to give to you? Of course you don’t. But you can’t make such a drastic change of course without being 100% sure that God is alright with it. After all, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life feeling like you betrayed your King just because you couldn’t stand up under pressure. One mistake like that would certainly do irreparable damage to your relationship with God…or would it?

Just how forgiving is this God of ours? Sure, He did the whole cross thing, but in the day to day He is a merciless Master who demands nothing short of perfection from the shepherds of His flock, right? Wrong. God is gentle, kind, and compassionate. God knows all about your internal struggles and desires. He’s not embarrassed or upset by them. You don’t need to be, either. God is for you in this life, He’s not just waiting to nail you for one mistake.

Here’s a question: how do you know that God wants you to be a priest? If you’re the real deal, then you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. You have to be on this path because God’s calling is burning in your soul. Well, this is excellent. God has always made it clear that it is a very high honor to be selected as a leader for His people. Just look at the Levites. God didn’t give them their own portion of the Promised Land because He said that He was their inheritance. He was their great reward. They were set apart as the only ones who could come close to God in the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. They were the only ones who could handle His most sacred objects and carry about His special Ark. No one was more set apart than the Levites, but they were also married. God never even hinted that being married and being close to Him were contradictory concepts. And then there were the prophets—many of them were married as well. In fact, we don’t find God ever saying that being married is problematic. It was just the apostle Paul who put forth the idea that it’s better to be single than to be married. But Paul says other things that make it quite clear that he has been given the gift of singleness. He might have been married earlier in life, but at the time Paul recommends a life of celibacy, he is personally in a different place than most men. He knows that he’s viewing life from a rare point of view, which is why he says “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9).

Self-control is the fruit of the Spirit, which means that we will only have as much as He gives us. You can’t pick more apples from an apple tree than the tree has produced. So while he describes the benefits of the path he is on, Paul also cues us about how to recognize when God is nudging us down the road of marriage.

“But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Cor. 7:9)

Both self-control and sexual desire come from God. How much of each is He giving you? If you’re desperately in love with some single godly woman who is available for marriage and God is withholding all peace of mind, then it’s time for you to start asking the Holy Spirit to show you when and how to ask her out. This is a question of trust, not morals. Do you really trust that God is leading you in life? You know that He doesn’t move in straight lines—He has a long history of unexpected moves and surprise endings. If we are going to be fluid in God’s hands, we have to be willing to let Him lead us down unexpected paths. We start out on the path that we think He wants, and He fully appreciates the sincerity of our motivations. But as we progress, He’s going to start nudging us down different roads and unveiling options that we never saw before. We must give God the freedom to decide how He wants our lives to unfold. After all, we are His property.

Can God still use you to shepherd His flock if you’re married? Of course He can, He’s been doing it for centuries. In the Bible, God provides us with plenty of evidence that He prefers His priests to be married. How consistent of Satan to try and sell us a reversal of truth with this guff that God wants His priests to be celibate. We don’t find this anywhere in the Word. All we have is Paul suggesting that there are spiritual advantages to being single. Well, yes, there are. But there are spiritual advantages to being married, as well. There are spiritual advantages to becoming a father. When we are walking in alignment with the Holy Spirit, He will use every experience to draw us closer to Him. God is far too huge and far too capable for us to declare that His work would somehow be hampered if we got married—marriage was His idea in the first place. Are we really to believe that God created human beings to be in communion with Him, and then intentionally came up with marriage in order to make it impossible for them to fully thrive in their relationships with Him? This is nonsensical thinking.

You know whether or not God has called you to be a shepherd of His flock. If He has called you, then you are going to be shepherding for Him no matter where He takes you. If you’re currently at a church that does not leave room for God to do the unexpected, then it’s quite likely that He will move you on to some other place where you aren’t getting a bunch of flak for trying to follow God’s leading in your life. You can’t let rituals and traditions come between you and an intimate communion with God. He has a plan for your life that is full of surprises. This celibacy thing is just the tip of the iceberg. None of us can anticipate the mind of God—He is constantly shocking us with unexpected turns and mind-stretching revelations of His deeper truths. It’s a thrilling journey, and to really enjoy the ride, we must release our hold on everything but God Himself. Our beliefs, our assumptions, our traditions, even our ways of worshiping Him—all of these things must be willing to flex and change to suit His preferences.

We all give gifts to God that He doesn’t really want. He takes them at first, like a father whose small son brings him his favorite toy. God is always blessed by our intentions, but He will sometimes return some of the things that we’ve given to Him because they are things that He wants us to enjoy. A father doesn’t have any use for a plastic dinosaur figure, but his young son can get hours of pleasure out of it. The father wants his son to enjoy the toy—that’s why the father gave it to him in the first place. Likewise, God doesn’t always want us to try and return the gifts that He has given us. Sometimes He wants us to keep them and let Him use them to bring us joy and pleasure in life. Why? Because our Father loves us dearly and He delights in blessing us.

Don’t set any limits on how God can bless you in life. Give Him carte blanche to lead you in any direction and be willing to receive anything that He wants to give you. Remember that pleasing God is a matter of soul attitude. If you have given Him your heart, you have already given Him the greatest treasure you have. Are you willing to accept that He is already saying “well done” to you? God has always made pleasing Him a very simple matter. Let’s not make it complicated.

FURTHER READING:
Why Hurting Your Body is Bad for Your Soul (The Trap of Self-Mortification)
Escaping the Trap of Guilt
Why We Shouldn’t Make Promises to God
Conviction Q&A
Present Convictions vs. Past Commands
Brain-Soul Mechanics: Why God Doesn’t Expect You to Have Pure Thoughts
Voluntary Castration: The Solution that Makes Everything Worse (Help for Sexually Frustrated Men)

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