…the special ability that God gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to remain single and enjoy it; to be unmarried and not suffer undue sexual temptations. (Finding Your Spiritual Gifts [Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2012], 11.)
I am not sure if there is sufficient biblical basis for celibacy to be considered a spiritual gift but practically it may not make much difference.
Whenever we run Wagner’s Spiritual Gifts Inventory Questionnaire to help people discover their spiritual gifts, there will be married folks who find that they are supposed to have this “gift”. And there are many who don’t have this gift, who long to be married, who seem to possess all the qualities of being good life partners, yet never find the right partner. The fact that Christians should marry only Christians really narrows the field of course (1 Corinthians 7:39). Presumably you may not have the gift of celibacy and still not be married. And then there is the matter of widowhood. You may not have the gift of celibacy, may have found a wonderful life partner, yet your life partner could be taken away from you by death. Perhaps the whole discussion of whether one has the gift of celibacy or not is of limited relevance to how we live our lives.
There was a point in my life when I wondered whether or not I should be married. I had been a single father for many years and was torn between the joys of marriage and the joys of being single. I vacillated between which marital state I wanted, which marital state I would enjoy more. Then the Lord rebuked me. He told me that I was framing my question in a very selfish way. It was all about me — which marital status I wanted, which marital status I preferred. I felt the Lord telling me that my focus should not be on self but on the Kingdom. I should seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33) and He will provide me what I really need.
I repented and from then on I changed my prayer. I prayed, “Lord, if it is more strategic for the Kingdom that Soo Inn remains single, I will willingly be single till the day I go home to you. If it is more strategic for the Kingdom that Soo Inn is married, then You lead me to the right life partner.“
It wasn’t long after this that I met Bernice. It was a very difficult time in my life. My dad was in hospital in Penang, suffering from congestive heart failure with diabetic related complications. Mum wanted me to go to Penang as often as I could to help out especially with key medical decisions. Dad would eventually die, return to the Lord, in hospital. I was living in Petaling Jaya, a single parent at a time when both my sons were facing major government exams. I wanted to be there for them. I was terribly torn and very stressed. In the midst of all this I was committed to doing a workshop at a leadership conference in Singapore. Since I was in Singapore, I also took the opportunity to see if I could get a Singapore publisher for my second book.
A common friend directed me to Bernice. (Forever grateful, Kiem.) We first laid eyes on each other over a book table, appropriate I think since books play such a key role in our lives. I was looking for a publisher but God knew that I needed a wife and that my children needed a mum. We quickly moved from publisher-author to friends, to something more. Bernice had to be patient because I had been badly burnt in my second marriage and needed time to find the courage to marry again.
We celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary a few days ago. We used to freak out new friends by calling ourselves newlyweds. I don’t think we can call ourselves newlyweds anymore. Bernice and I have known each other for ten years, seven of those years as husband and wife. Bernice has paid a heavy price to walk with me. I was damaged in various ways from things that happened to me in the past and she had to bear the brunt of my brokenness. Besides, our characters are very different. If we had married when we were younger we would have torn each other apart. God knew who and when. Now our differences help us to complement each other.
I am deeply grateful that Bernice chose to marry me. Whenever I thank her she would remind me that God commanded her to do it. I guess it had to be a command for such a hard calling. I thank her nevertheless. And I thank God.
Do I have the gift of celibacy? Probably not. But I have had to be celibate at various points of my life. I have learnt that my primary focus should not be on my marital status. My primary focus should be on God and His Kingdom, trusting Him to meet my deepest needs. And He has.