Two passages in the New Testament are typically used to discuss what is sometimes called “the gift of celibacy.” The first is Matthew 19:9–12, “‘I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ 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 some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’”
The phrase only those to whom it has been given refers to people receiving what some call “the gift of celibacy” or “the gift of singleness.” Regardless of what we call the gift, Jesus teaches that most people do not naturally desire to remain single and celibate for a lifetime. Of the exceptions, two are physical, and one is ethical or religious: 1) some forego marriage due to their natural constitution—they are born with no desire to marry; 2) some do not marry because of some violent act perpetrated upon them by others; and 3) some, by the grace of God, have chosen to renounce marriage for the kingdom’s sake. Such celibates have received a special gift from God.
The other pertinent passage is 1 Corinthians 7. In this chapter Paul states that it is not wrong to get married, but that it is better if a Christian can stay single. (The reason is that a married man’s attention is “divided” between pleasing the Lord and pleasing his wife; a single man is free to be more focused on the Lord’s work, verses 32-34.) Paul says, “I wish that all men were [unmarried] as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that” (verse 7). Paul is careful to state that this is “a concession, not . . . a command” (verse 6). The ability to stay single and serve God apart from marriage is a gift. Paul and some others had this gift, but not everyone.
As we see, the Bible does not explicitly call this “the gift of celibacy,” but it does express that the ability to remain unmarried to serve God more fully is a gift. Most adults desire marriage, and this desire is not sinful. In fact, marriage can keep us from sin: “Since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Rather than engage in immorality, believers are to be married. Sex within marriage between one man and one woman or celibate singleness—these are the only two options for Christians.
Although the Bible does speak of celibacy as a gift, it is not listed with the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12). Singleness is a gift that God gives everyone, at least temporarily. For some, the gift of singleness is permanent; for others, God takes that gift away and gives the gift of marriage in its place. The Bible encourages those who are celibate in Christian service that they are an important part of God’s family.