11th May 2023
Read (Matthew 19v10-12)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
Everyone knows the one true path - we are born, we go to school, we head for university, we get married, we have children and then we hopefully retire a little bit early. This is the way...or so we often think. But what if I told you that marriage isn't for everyone?
The Disciples listened to Christ's teaching on divorce and remarriage and in response they stated “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (v10). What did they mean? Jesus had taught that marriage and divorce was a serious business with divorce only permissible under rare circumstances. The disciples wondered if it would be better to stay single rather than be trapped in a marriage that could never end.
Perhaps they spoke flippantly and without much thought but Jesus took their "saying" seriously. He answered and said “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given." (v11). To paraphrase, Jesus said that not everyone could reject marriage outright but only certain people to whom this desire is given.
This sounds quite cryptic but is actually quite simple. As I consider my own life I realise that I always had the desire to be married. I couldn't imagine not being married and I can surely testify that one of the greatest blessings in my life is to be married to a beautiful, kind and gracious wife.
But my story is not the story of one of my friends who has since gone to glory. He was always open to meeting the woman of his dreams but it never happened. He certainly wasn't opposed to walking down the aisle but for whatever reason my friend remained single and celibate for his entire life. He knew that he was free from the responsibilities of married life and so he used his extra time for the glory of God. Some people desire marriage and will know a lifetime of marital bliss, others may never marry and be no worse off for it.
It is interesting that Jesus uses the language of an unmarried individual being "given" something almost as if the unmarried life is a "gift". In our culture we don't often see the unmarried celibate life as a gift, indeed to our shame we can make our unmarried brothers and sisters feel abnormal. Nevertheless, Jesus speaks of "those to whom it is given."
To underline His point He uses the example of three individuals, a eunuch from birth, a eunuch made by men and a eunuch made by self (v12). What is a eunuch? A eunuch is a man who has been castrated by the surgical removal of his testicles and in some circumstances his penis too. These verses are not to be taken literally. A Christian by the name of Origen allegedly castrated himself in response to this teaching but the Lord is not commanding us to pick up a scalpel and to lop off body parts.
Christ's point is this - some were born with no ability or desire for sexual intimacy. Others in the ancient world were made into eunuchs deliberately so as to serve in a king's court. Still others chose for themselves a celibate life thus, figuratively speaking, turning themselves into eunuchs. These individuals made this choice in order to devote themselves more fully to the work of the kingdom of heaven (v12).
In the church of Christ there will be those who desire physical intimacy within the marriage bond - this is good and right and should be taken seriously. But there will be others who will believe that "it is better not to marry". Not everyone will think like this but the one who is able to receive this teaching should receive it (v12). The married Christian does not trump the unmarried Christian. The married Christian should not be considered "normal" whilst the unmarried Christian is called "odd". The married Christian should not be considered "less committed" to the cause of Christ than the unmarried Christian.
In the service of Christ some will marry and some will not - both should take seriously the road that Christ has placed in front of them.
Q43 What is the preface to the ten commandments? The preface to the ten commandments is in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.