Unmarried “For the Sake of the Kingdom” (Matthew 19:12) in the Early Church -- By: William A. Heth

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 08:1 (Spring 1987)
Article: Unmarried “For the Sake of the Kingdom” (Matthew 19:12) in the Early Church
Author: William A. Heth

Unmarried “For the Sake of the Kingdom”
(Matthew 19:12) in the Early Church

William A. Heth

The possibility of remaining unmarried because of the claims and interests of the kingdom of God was clearly a desirable option for many of the early Christians. The practice of celibacy in the early church cannot simply be attributed to the ascetic atmosphere of the day. Both the concepts and terminology of Matt 19:12 stand behind this practice. The ability to remain continent in singleness was considered to be a gift from God, and the one entrusted with that gift was exhorted to remember the Giver of it and not to think that his abilities were found in himself. The single person who feels called to a life of singleness for the sake of serving the Lord more fully may even be thought of as a sign that Christians are living in urgent times: the time between Christs resurrection and his return.

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To Marry or Not to Marry?

Although the majority of God’s expectations are self-evident, a particularly disconcerting scriptural counsel concerns the advantages of remaining unmarried.1 This option is especially intriguing for

two groups: those married Christians who are serious about the role they play in advancing the claims and interests of God’s kingdom and, secondly, those Christians still contemplating marriage. The “singleness passages” in the NT lead the former group to struggle with the challenge of being effective disciples while maintaining a strong commitment to the demands of leading a family. For the latter group, these passages present either a personal dilemma or challenge: to marry or not to marry. The single person faces a dilemma because the single and the married state appear to be equally satisfactory lifestyles for the Christian. Not knowing which to choose, the single person, on the one hand, is confronted with the prospect of remaining single in a society—whether inside or outside the church—that considers marriage the norm. On the other hand, the scriptural counsel to remain single, found primarily in 1 Corinthians 7, may contain a challenge: those contemplating marriage2 are implicitly urged to view this question not primarily in the light of the “norm,” but in the light of the contributions that they can make as Christ’s disciples in a world that entangles married men and women in worldly concerns and troubles that could have been avoided had they remained single (cf. 1 Cor 7:28,...

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