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Some of you will not marry. Statistically, this is becoming more and more the case. The age at which people are entering into their first marriage is steadily rising (now near 30) along with the high divorce rate and lowering marriage rate mean that in 2007 for the first time since millions of men left widows during WWII, single adults have become the majority, 51.5 percent of the adult population. Particularly, many of you women will not marry. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. As I said last week, throughout university and graduate school (the time people are most likely to select a mate), roughly 57% of the people you will meet will be women. Even if you were to go to a large church with many singles, close to 60% of North American churchgoers are women - a gap that widens among twenty-somethings. What that means in your generation is that many of your female friends will settle for a man who either falls below your standard of education and ambition, or they will fall in love with ambitious unbelievers because they couldn’t find a good man in the church. Interestingly, in Mainland China, the situation is reversed, for the one-child policy along with selective birth control has created “bachelor bomb” in which unmarried men between 20 and 44 already outnumber their single female counterparts 2 to 1. So ladies – there are good men in the world, they are just all in China. So, some of you will not marry. Dads and moms, some of your kids will not marry. Christians, some of your friends will not marry. Church, some of our own and some of our visitors will not marry.
Single adults minister Dennis Frank, author of the book, “Reaching Single Adults”, describes the world of single adults as an unreached people group, one of the largest unreached people groups in the world, noting that only 15% of all single adults of any age attend any church (he is speaking from a US perspective). What an opportunity! Yet there are, as we shall see, barriers. And to cross these barriers we have to think like missionaries. Missionaries are trained to study culture, to tear down those barriers and form bridges to the gospel. Over the next few weeks I hope to do this with you as we focus primarily on two questions.
• What is the place of single adults in the household of God?
• How might single adults have a particular part to play in seeking the welfare of the city?
What is the place of single adults in the household of God? The biggest hurdle for single adults in the household of God is that there seems to be no place for them at all. I am going to suggest to you this morning that the primary reason for this is that the modern church has accepted a worldview that promotes traditional marriage as the ultimate ideal against which other lifestyle options are seen as less valid. In this schematic I have marriage at the top – the most ideal option, with other lifestyle options hierarchically arranged beneath it. The idea is that, while under the red lines remain invalid options for the follower of Christ, the hope is that all will rise up the scale to traditional marriage bliss. So single heterosexual men and women, seek to be married. It is hoped that celibate homosexually-oriented men or women, would first become hetero-sexually-oriented celibates, then ultimately married. The point is that traditional marriage is on the top and everything else is lesser. Compare the number of Christian books written about singleness verses married state.
Interestingly, marriage has not always been upheld as the ideal lifestyle option for Christians. I went to the library this week and read a very interesting book called, “A History of Celibacy” written by Elizabeth Abbott. Abbott’s book clearly demonstrates that for over 1000 years, from about 300AD to the Reformation, marriage was not held up as the ideal, celibacy was. Celibacy was most ideal, but if you must be married, you should consider being celibate within marriage. Reading Abbot’s book was like stepping onto another planet, one that was as consumed with celibacy as our culture is with sex. One in which celibates were celebrated to the admiration of the married. This contrast drove me back to the pages of the New Testament. What did Jesus and the New Testament writers say about the validity of singleness and marriage?
The two key passages in reconstructing our Christian worldview are Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul both affirm the validity of non-married states. Even more, they both suggest that these non-married states have their own advantages over and against being married.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 arose from a question regarding divorce and remarriage.
Matt. 19:3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Matt. 19:10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
First, Jesus very positively affirmed what we now refer to as traditional marriage. Jesus’ definition of marriage was very narrow, very rigid, and very binding: one man, one woman, for life. Notice the response of his disciples – they understood that Jesus was very serious about preserving the sanctity of marriage and they commitment it entailed. “It’s better not too marry,” they conclude. This is the conclusion our generation is coming too as well. “Marriage is too hard.” “Divorce is rampant.” “It’s not natural to spend your life with only one person.” “I’m not ready to make that sort of commitment and likely will never be.” Etc. At this point, many well-meaning people in the church resort to platitudes. “Don’t give up.” “When you find the right person, you’ll be ready to commit.” “God can make it work.” However we respond, we feel that to preserve the sanctity of marriage means that we have to convince ourselves and others that marriage is still God’s best plan for them. Notice how different Jesus’ answer is:
11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.
“You’re right – marriage isn’t for everyone.” Jesus says. So why do we in the church make it out to be like it is? Even myself, when I started this series on benefactor households, preached two sermons on moms and dads, the traditional family household and presented it as if it were the ideal?
- The fact is that most of you will marry and so to preach sound doctrine to you means that I should focus on the models and patterns that most of you will find yourself in.
- Traditional family households are especially strategic in transforming society since they form the primary context of raising the next generation of citizens.
- Traditional family households are especially important in seeking the welfare of the city through good works, because they tend to accumulate more wealth and resources than singles.
- Because the church is modeled on the family household, if we are to become a benefactor church we must train our households to be benefactor families.
But yet – as Jesus clearly says, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it has been given.”
12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
Jesus points out that there are some who will never marry. What’s a eunuch? There is some confusion over the term. A eunuch was a title given to a man who performed a specific social function in the ancient world on the basis of his procreation with women not being possible. Literally, the word “eunuch” means, “one who keeps the beds”, for eunuchs were often entrusted by ancient kings to serve and oversee the king’s harem. Moreover, because a common form of treason was to overthrow a king for the purpose of installing one’s own son onto the throne, eunuchs were often promoted as special advisors to the kings, because they would pose no such threat.
Eunuchs were often selected as such because they were quite simply physically unable to perform procreative acts with women. As Jesus alludes to, some eunuchs were identified from birth with such a defect, while others became eunuchs through the process of castration or impairment. These would be physical eunuchs. There is evidence from the ancient world however, that some eunuchs remained physically intact and able to procreate, but were able to function as eunuchs because they would not procreate with women, for they lacked the desire to. It is a possibility that some of these types of eunuchs would today be identified as homosexual or asexual in their orientation.
Yet the climax of Jesus’ teaching commends those who make “themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”. These are those who have chosen for themselves a life of celibacy to serve not in the courts of man, but in the courts of heaven. Jesus was one of these such men, as was Paul. As was Origen, who in his early years took this verse so literally as to castrate himself, only later in life to have understood that Jesus’s words were probably not meant to be taken as such. Clement of Alexandria pointed to the supremacy of spiritual eunuchism "the true eunuch is not unable, but unwilling to have sex."
Barry Danylak, whose doctorate studies focused on singleness in the first century, writes in his book Redeeming Singleness that “Jesus’ use of the term “eunuch” (eunouchos) on one level seems surprising given the disdain for eunuchs within Jewish culture and their exclusion from the temple on account of their physical deformity.” Jesus is pointing out an alternative to marriage as a just-as-ideal option for a believer. Indeed, making oneself a eunuch is a commended path if one chooses to do so for God’s kingdom purposes.
In the early church, Jesus’ teaching was affirmed by the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul, himself a single man:
1Cor. 7:8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 1Cor. 7:32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
Notice that Paul is not slamming marriage here – in fact he is directly addressing a question from the Corinthian church as to whether it is wrong for a Christian to be married and have sex (which he answers, most certainly not!) Yet, just like Jesus, Paul does not go so far as to elevate marriage above singleness – rather he affirms that there is great benefit and even fulfillment to being unmarried and wishes that more people would follow his pattern. In conclusion, it seems that the New Testament promotes unmarried celibacy and eunuch-ism as desirable alternatives to traditional marriage for some people.
Let’s pause here to ask who might be considered as modern day eunuchs. Because although it is true that most of us will marry and are able to, there are some who will not, and some who are unable.
• The physically or mentally deformed.
• Those with indefinable gender, or gender issues. In about 1 in 4500 births the baby is born with amibuous genitalia which make it unclear as to whether the baby is a girl or a boy.
• Those with no attraction to the opposite gender (homosexuals and asexuals)
• The divorced that find themselves disqualified for remarriage according to Biblical guidelines.
• Single, though married.
• Those who have advanced passed the age in which they consider themselves to be “on the market” – widows who will not remarry
• Those who choose to forsake marriage for spiritual reasons relating to their calling.
What role might unmarried celibates and eunuchs play in the household of God Options:
1) Targeted Single Adult Ministry. Dennis Frank, author of the book, “Reaching Single Adults”,
3) Extended families: Chinese conceptions of “Auntie” and “Uncle” – small groups, hospitality, married couples opening lives an homes to single.
I’m convinced that in order to truly help singles find their place in the household of God and release them into ministry that seeks the welfare of the city, we will need a new worldview shift, one that doesn’t elevate singleness or the married state over and against one another, but one that sees marriage and celibacy as equally viable options for the Christian with benefits and challenges in both.
Eunuchs and the Kingdom of God:
Although the law forbade castrated men to worship at the temple, the Old Testament provides much positive material regarding eunuchs. The eunuchs of the book of Esther are presented as very helpful and useful in fulfilling God’s plan to rescue the Jewish people. In Jeremiah 38, it was a eunuch, Ebed-melech the Ethiopoian, who rescued Jeremiah from the cistern in which he was thrown. As one can imagine, the most difficult struggle of being a eunuch is that one has given up hope of raising his own sons or daughters. Isaiah the prophet speaks directly to this concern of the eunuch:
Is. 56:3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
In the New Testament, a eunuch is listed as one of the first converts of the early church. Though the eunuch would have been prevented from entering the temple of the Lord, upon coming to Jesus, the eunuch asks the pointed question “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
"Of the three great monotheistic religions of modern time, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, only Christianity affirms singleness as a distinctive calling and gift within the community of God’s people. This affirmation of singleness is not merely an accidental phenomenon within Christianity but has a fundamental relationship to the distinctive claims of Christianity. To the extent that singleness does relate to larger theological themes which develop through the biblical canon, there is a firmer basis both to encourage those who feel called to pursue it as a distinct calling within the church, and also to offer constructive consolation to those who find themselves in an undesired single state. It is no less important that those who are married also understand the theological significance of singleness within the community of faith and the emphasis on the new community which its presence affirms." - "Redeeming Singleness"