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Christian Singleness – Matthew 19:10-12

22/03/2019

The Disciples and Singleness – Bed of Roses or Can of Worms? 

Text. Matthew 19:1-4, 11-12. 

The world celebrates singleness regarding it as an opportunity for unbridled sexual pleasure.  One of the movie industry’s roaring successes was the feature length film based on the TV series ‘Sex in the City.’  It set out to examine the lives of four unattached women living in the city, and going through a series of relationships, allegedly exploring contemporary issues.  You can be sure that the issues were all ‘explored’ from a liberal, ‘sexually liberated’ standpoint.  In this present age, singleness is frequently about sexual pleasure, without commitment.  What does the Bible teach us about sexuality, singleness and the Christian lifestyle?

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1. The Disciples Have the Wrong Idea about Staying Single.  Matthew 19:10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.

The married life is never easy.  There’s a American cartoon series called Pickles, drawn by Brian Crane, which uses some really insightful humour to make us think about marriage.  It features an elderly couple called Earl and Opal Pickles, both retired and in their seventies, trying to enjoy life, and finding they are both far from perfect!  In one recent cartoon, Earl and his grandson Nelson are watching TV, when Nelson remarks on how fast the commentator is speaking.  Earl replies that he can understand the man just fine, for he’s a fast listener!  Nelson asks. ‘How did you learn to do that?’  The reply was, ‘By listening to your Grandma!  I listen to her so fast that sometimes i am finished listening before she’s finished talking!’  In another, Opal accuses Earl of hanging his dirty socks on the ceiling fan!  He replies, “It’s because you told me off for leaving them on the floor! 

Marriage is certainly not easy!  So what about singleness, is that an easier option?  The disciples of Jesus may have thought so.

In Matthew 19, Jesus has been challenged by the Pharisees to declare where he stood on Marriage and Divorce.  It was one of the big issues of the day, and the liberal argument, that a man may divorce his wife for just about any reason, was (as with every issue that appeals to the baser instincts of man) the popular opinion.  It must have been the opinion of most of the disciples too at that stage, (they are still learners after all).  When Jesus explains the true biblical teaching on marriage and divorce in vv 1-9, the disciples are incredulous!  They respond in v10 with shock!  Surely if the rules surrounding marriage and divorce are so strict, it would be better just to remain single!  Marriage is too hard! In fact staying single seems like a bed of roses compared to the difficulties of marriage.

So Jesus turns his reply into teaching on Christian Singleness.  Learn:-

 

2. All Sexual Activity Ouside Marriage is Sinful.12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” Matthew 19:11-12. 

Jesus uses the disciple’s confusion and amazement to remind them that the alternative to marriage is far from being a bed of roses!  The opposite to being married is to remain single, and the first and most important aspect of Christ’s teaching is that there is no place in the kingdom of God for sexually active singles, for all sex outside of marriage is sin.  Now that’s an unpopular, and outdated idea!  But it’s a timeless truth!

Remember that Jesus has just spoken about marriage, and about a man leaving his father and mother and being joined to his wife, and the two becoming one flesh.  The language is highly depictive of marriage as an act of consummation, – and as we learned in our last study, marriage is the only legitimate and godly way to enjoy the comfort and joy of an intimate sexual relationship.  Human sexual activity outside marriage, whatever that may consist of is SIN.  So Jesus deliberately describes singles among his followers in very strong terms.  He calls them ‘Eunuchs’. A eunuch is not just a single person, it is a single person who is celibate, who abstains from sex.  A Christian Single is sexually chaste, in effect a eunuch.  Needless to say there are extremes and errors:-  

  • Roman Catholic Celibacy  Now please note that this is not an excuse for the RC practice of priestly celibacy.  The RC Church insists that its priests remain celibate – it doesn’t give them any choice in the matter.  if you want a career in RC priesthood, then you need to give up all your rights as a man or as a woman, for nuns.  By and large that hasn’t worked.  Throughout history, priests have given in to their carnal lusts, sometime fathering children by nuns or other woman, sometimes praising homosexuality with other priests, sometimes taking out their lusts on seminarians and of course, worst of all, the terrible paedophilia that has destroyed the reputation of the RC church and ruined the lives of thousands and thousands of young children.  Compulsory celibacy is not the same as what Jesus was talking about when he spoke of those who were eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.  there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.  There are some who simply want to devote their time and their effort to the Lord’s service, and who decide that to enable them to do so it is best to remain single.  This is not compulsory celibacy.
  • Over-Literal Interpretation.  There is another possible misinterpretation of this passage.  Around 200 years after the birth of Christ, a Christian theologian called Origen who taught in Africa (Alexandria) in ‘obedience’ to this verse, castrated himself.  There was even a group of men the 3rd-century Valesii, a Christian sect of eunuchs, who castrated themselves and their guests in the belief that they were thereby serving God.

Neither of these extreme errors is what Jesus is teaching his disciples.  Peter had a wife, and a Mother in Law, so he wasn’t celibate, the disciples were not being commanded to mutilate their bodies, the point that Jesus makes for singles, is singleness means what the old Puritan authors called ‘continence’ what we could call, ‘self control’ or sexual restraint.  It is celibacy outside marriage, and celibacy is difficult.  There will be temptation of every sort, on every TV programme, in every book or novel you read, every movie you watch, – you will see or read about sexually active singles, you will hear of their one night stands, and their conquests, your work friends and your relations will tell you that there’s no harm in it, that sex is fun, and everyone else is doing it, and the devil will see to it that all sorts of wicked temptations are placed in your way.  Its a difficult path, and a single believer will need help, spiritual and practical help, so we turn for that help to another passage…

 

3. Singleness is a Special GIFT!   Matthew 19:11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.  1 Corinthians 7:6-7 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. 7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.

Jesus says that the only people who are able to accept this teaching of sexual self-restraint are those to who it has been GIVEN – it is a gift.  The apostle Paul is an example.  He is single. 1 Cor. 7:7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. Yet we know that at one time Paul was married! He was a member of the Sanhedrin, (Acts 26:10) and one of the requirements for membership of that body was marriage! Was he a widower, or had his Jewish wife deserted him when he became a Christian? When he says in Philippians 3:8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, was he thinking of his loss of a wife, of marriage of the possibility of a family, one of the things that every Jewish man treasured and longed for?  We simply do not know.  What we do know is that Paul VALUED HIS SINGLENESS, Viewed it as unique vocation and calling, and prized it as a special GIFT from God, – just as others were given the gift of marriage and sexual relationships and families – so has gift was just as precious.

So, for Paul, singleness was about SELF CONTROL. Paul argues in 1st Corinthians that SELF CONTROL must characterise the lives of single Christians! 1 Cor. 7:9 If they cannot exercise self control let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” How can Christian singles exercise self control?

  1. See singleness as a VOCATION.  All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: and as a GIFT. but only those to whom it has been given. 
  2. Occupy the time, in service of the Lord.  Matthew 19:12 there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.  Christian singles can do much good in the church.
  3. Learn that there is an alternative to the wisdom of the world. The sexual liberation movement would give them advice such as, ‘always use a condom.’ There is an alternative! Say NO to sex outside marriage!  Reflect a clear consecration! Holiness of life must not just be done, it must be seen to be done. The Bible says, 1 Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Jesus final words on this matter are the answer to the disciples’s question.  He says in v12, He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.  It’s like a challenge,  it’s a tough challenge, but it is a special gift, and for those who can rightly accept it, there is blessing and much usefulness in the Lord’s work.

(Revised)

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