Title: …And A Forgotten Gift
Text: Matthew 19:1-12 part 2
FCF: We often struggle surrendering our desires and practices to the immovable Word of God
Prop: Because Jesus is the Word of God, we must humbly submit to God’s Word.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 19. Last week was part one of this sermon. If you did miss it, I’d encourage you to go back and listen to it on our website, YouTube, or our podcast. To briefly review what we need to make sense of the message today, we must start by describing the scope of this narrative portion of Matthew and the subsequent Discourse. Building from the concepts of the previous discourse, where kingdom citizens are like little children, in that they are humble and needy of God, now we have episode after episode of Jesus interacting with Jewish people as he heads toward the cross. And these Jewish people, from the religious elite, all the way to Jesus’ own disciples, prove that they do not need God, nor are they humble. But before we continue reviewing from last week, let us first read again this passage of scripture. I am in verse 1 of chapter 19, and I am reading from the NASB again, but follow along in the version you prefer.
Last week we saw that the religious elite valued the law over the God of the law. We saw how Jesus revealed that their lifting the Mosaic law up, even over God’s intent from creation, reveals that they have no need of God, so long as they keep His law. Jesus reveals that divorce was a concession made to the Israelites because they insisted on being unfaithful to their wives. God gave them law in general to lessen the stench of sin until He would deal with sin itself.
[Slide 2] As we discussed last week, there are really two, house-keeping, applications that allow us to see exactly what Jesus is saying. The first is that the scriptures teach a complementarian view of the two sexes and not an egalitarian view. Egalitarian means that men and women are absolutely equal in status, value, function, and role. Meaning that everything men can do, women can do, and everything women can do, men can do. But complementarianism means that men and women while equal in value and inheritance in the Christ – are not equal in God given roles, nor are they equal in responsibility toward God and humanity. In egalitarianism, we understand that whether you are a man or a woman, it makes no difference, and gives you no direction or purpose. It imposes no need of another sex upon you. But in complementarianism, which comes from God’s Word, we see that your masculinity or femininity is of core importance as it displays ½ of the image of God in mankind. Your sex gives you purpose, direction, and imposes on you an undeniable need of the other sex. We are dependent on one another. Especially in marriage, but even in society.
The second house-keeping application led us to understand sexuality as being one man and one woman, bound in marriage for the duration of their natural lives. And that any immorality, which is sexual unfaithfulness, is a breach of the covenant made between each other and God. Whether that occurs before marriage or outside of it.
[Slide 3] This led us to the first of 2 applications we are to take from this text. For the glory of God, we ought never to divorce. That so far as it depends on you, you never divorce. We noted that only in two cases in scripture is remarriage allowed after a divorce: Adultery and when an unbelieving spouse desires a divorce from a believing spouse. And in all other cases for divorce, remarriage is not an option. We also noted that church discipline should be the primary means employed to restore relationships and prevent divorces. To rebuke husbands who are abusing their wives. To reprove wives who are ruling over their husbands. To correct a believing spouse who is seeking a divorce. Even to restore marriages where sexual unfaithfulness has occurred. And we do so until either there is repentance, forgiveness, and a restored relationship, or until the unrepentant are excommunicated, treated like unbelievers, and they are permitted then to divorce their believing spouse.
And the pinnacle of truth behind all this discussion of divorce and remarriage, is that God’s design has always been, one man and one woman together in marriage for their natural lives. When this is not the case it tarnishes the image of God in man, it distorts the picture of Christ and the church, and it pollutes the roles laid down by God for Mankind from creation.
This week is much like last week. We have two more house-keeping applications we must deal with, along with our 2nd application of 2, and then finally at the end of all this… we will bring the main point from last week, and the main point from this week, and join them together to finally see what Matthew is actually wanting us to see.
So let’s not linger… after all this discussion of divorce and remarriage, the disciples respond to what Jesus has just said.
I.) Jesus is the Word of God, so we must reveal the gift of celibacy to those whom it is meant for. (10-12)
a. [Slide 4] 10 – The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.”
i. His disciples assumed that Jesus was saying that it was almost impossible to get out of a marriage, especially if they wanted to remarry.
ii. The reason we know that is because they concluded that it would just be better to never marry and not deal with the possibility that they are in a marriage that does not satisfy them, which they cannot get out of, and even if they could, they could never remarry.
iii. Jesus really IS teaching in this text, that adultery is the only reason for divorce that has remarriage as a valid option afterward.
b. [Slide 5] 11 – But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.
i. What statement? Jesus’ on divorce and remarriage?
ii. Well if that was the case, it would pretty much negate everything Jesus just said. If God’s design was one man and one woman wed for their natural lives, but not all men can accept the statement… It makes this whole thing very awkward. And while Jesus could be saying – yes this is a tough standard that few can meet…. It is much more likely that Jesus is responding to the disciples statement that they made in jest.
iii. That it is better not to marry. Their complaint at the rigidity of His command is taken as a serious suggestion by Jesus.
iv. What is His comment on it?
v. Not all men are able to bear this concept. Not all men are able to be single for their lives.
vi. But, there are those who have been given this specific gift.
vii. Well how does that work? Jesus explains…
c. [Slide 6] 12 – For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”
i. What in THE world is Jesus talking about?
ii. To really understand what Jesus is getting at we need to understand what a eunuch is.
iii. The term eunuch was used as an official title or office given to a caretaker of a ruler’s estate. It can also mean cup bearer or manager.
iv. In Middle Eastern and Far Eastern cultures, eunuchs came to be used primarily to watch over the house and particularly the wives and concubines of a wealthy ruler.
v. As we learned from the historical record of Joseph, such a position could no doubt cause problems between the wives, concubines and the servant. Dwelling in close proximity to the ladies, with the master away, it often ended in infidelity.
vi. So the practice came to be that these men would be castrated, preventing the ability to be intimate with the master’s harem. So you have these two meanings of the word eunuch.
vii. [Slide 7] Back in the 80s the term “boss” was used to describe not only a person who was in charge, but also that something was really cool. A boss would be in charge and above everything else… so the thing or person that was boss, was someone or something that excelled above the rest. We even have an expression today that is a derivative of this, when someone says “like a boss” – when you have done something very well or in the coolest possible way.
viii. [Slide 8] Eunuch would be similar to this, in that the title and this practice of castration became one and the same. To the extent that someone being called a eunuch could either refer to his position or be a euphemism for his condition, or both.
ix. So which is Jesus talking about here when He mentions eunuchs? Based on the context it is quite clear that He is not referring to only the position of a eunuch. He isn’t talking about simply being a cupbearer. Because the whole context has been about divorce, remarriage, adultery, and sexuality. There must be the actual practice of castration involved.
x. And since he brings up three different examples of this, two of which are obviously not associated with a job, we can safely conclude that the position of cup bearer is not what is being discussed.
xi. Jesus is talking exclusively about the inability to be intimate with a woman. And He does so with three examples.
1. Those who are eunuchs form birth. In other words, those who are impotent. An actual medical condition that does not only affect those who are older.
2. Those who are eunuchs made that way by men. In other words, those who were forced into castration due to slavery.
3. Those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. And this is really where all that discussion of the word eunuch comes in. Because if it always means castration, impotency, or becoming some sort of slave to a ruler, then this could lead you down some rather uncomfortable conclusions.
4. Indeed, Origen, an early church father, misinterpreted this passage of scripture and castrated himself.
5. Instead of a physical reality, this is talking about a spiritual vow or commitment. That for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, a person chooses to make themselves remain celibate. Single. And unattached. There are a few reasons we interpret this figuratively and not literally.
a. No one in their culture would “want” to be an actual, castrated, eunuch. Greeks and Romans would consider a eunuch a half-man, and they were pitied or despised. For the Jews, castration was abhorred, primarily because, a castrated person was not to be considered part of the assembly. Deuteronomy 23:1.
b. Paul, Jesus, John the Baptist and perhaps others of the disicples were single, but there is no mention in scripture or extra biblical references to their castration.
c. In other passages of scripture, as recently as Matthew 18, Jesus required the plucking out of eyes and the cutting off of limbs to avoid sin. Obviously this was hyperbole to represent the extreme nature of the lengths one would go to, to keep from sinning. And so, to make yourself a eunuch would not mean literal castration, but the radical means by which to deny yourself sexual intimacy and attachment for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
d. Furthermore, in early church writings, the word eunuch was used synonymously with celibacy.
d. [Slide 9] Application: But if this was indeed, a vow of celibacy, this leads us to something that we must address. Today in the Roman Catholic church, every member of the clergy is required to take a vow of celibacy. And the concept behind this is, that all clergy are devoting themselves to the kingdom of heaven. And so they do not have time for relationships like wives and children, because they have been devoted to the work of the kingdom. And that seems to make sense on the surface, but that isn’t at all what Jesus is saying. They have deduced that since Jesus says that a person can make a vow of celibacy for the sake of God’s Kingdom, then if you want to get serious about the kingdom of God, you must take a vow of celibacy. But this isn’t what Jesus is saying. You don’t have to be single to be serious about the Kingdom of God. And although Paul and Jesus were unattached men, Peter we know for sure had a wife. And in the qualifications of an elder, if celibacy was required, why would Paul say that the elder should be a one woman man? Shouldn’t he have said he should be a no woman man? A eunuch? If you want to get serious about the kingdom of heaven, there are several ways to do it, but all of them come down to repenting and believing. And for some, that may specifically mean committing to singlehood. But not for all. In fact…
i. [Slide 10] Most in this room would probably not be able to do what Jesus is talking about. And that doesn’t mean you aren’t fulfilling God’s will for you… because Jesus just talked about how God designed marriage. To be married, doesn’t make you less than someone who is not married.
ii. Instead, with Jesus’ final words here, He treats this as if it is, really, a spiritual gift. An ability used for the Kingdom of God that others may or may not possess.
e. [Slide 11] Application: With all that we have learned up to this point, there is one final side application that we have to get to. You may not be aware of this, but this passage of scripture is one of the primary scriptures that people go to, to prove that there is such a thing as Homosexual Christians. Despite Jesus’ clear instruction that male and female monogamous, sexual, relationships are the design of God and the complementarian nature of that relationship notwithstanding, this concept of what exactly is a eunuch in today’s world, leads many to conclude that the eunuch of today, is a person who does not have heterosexual attraction. The argument for this comes down to the idea that a eunuch that is a eunuch from birth, is not a male that is impotent, but rather a male that is not attracted to females. So rulers would choose men who were not attracted to females to care for their harems, knowing that there would be no threat of infidelity. Flowing into this also is the Greek and Roman cultures view of Eunuchs as half men or effeminate. When you interpret words and their usages strictly, and not letting words mean multiple things in multiple scenarios, this is one of the traps you can fall into. Therefore, to make yourself a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of God, no longer means singleness but rather homosexuality. So not only is homosexuality not a sin, but in fact, it is a special ability granted for the purpose of furthering the kingdom of God. And this logic has even infected conservative fundamentalism, in that some have adopted a similar interpretation, not to justify homosexuality, but instead to say essentially, that people without attraction to the opposite sex, have been granted the gift of singleness and should remain unmarried. With both of these there are two fundamental flaws in interpretation that they make that cause their application of this text to fall apart. First, is that this passage is talking about attraction. To be a eunuch said nothing at all about whether or not you were attracted to the opposite sex. In fact, in the case of being made a eunuch by men, that actually points to the opposite conclusion. Because if there was no attraction, why castrate the person? Therefore, based on this passage, you cannot conclusively show that those who struggle with same sex attraction, or even a lack of opposite sex attraction, have been given the gift of singleness. Perhaps the person would be called to singleness, but that is not on the basis that they lack opposite sex attraction, so much as it is because they wish to be single for the sake of the kingdom of God… like the text says. The second major flaw in seeing eunuch as a short hand way of saying a homosexual is that there is absolutely no evidence from the ancient world that anyone ever considered eunuch and homosexual to be the same thing. In fact, the concept of a strict homosexual unattracted to the opposite sex is not even part of the ancient world… in that what we do encounter in the ancient world would better fit under the definition of bi-sexual. So there is no historical or cultural evidence whatsoever to suggest that a eunuch from birth means possessing same sex attraction or even lacking opposite sex attraction. And being labeled as effeminate must be seen more as being called a coward or a sissy than being a homosexual. We addressed this in our study of Galatians when we looked at the works of the flesh. So this passage does not talk about homosexuality or attraction at all. It is talking about physical ability to be sexually engaged. And so making yourself a eunuch would involve vowing not to be sexually engaged.
[Slide 12a] The second major application for today is what is God’s view on celibacy?
Again, this discussion goes beyond this text. There are other places in scripture that this is addressed. But from this text alone we see a couple key components of the celibacy discussion.
[Slide 12b] First, that it is not within the abilities of most to do. And I don’t mean that it is only for a higher tier of Christians, only those who are super spiritual. Instead, it is just not something that is possible for most to be able to turn off. You can’t simply turn off your desires for sexual companionship. So ability and giftedness is really what we are talking about.
[Slide 12c] Second, not only is it not within the realm of possibility for most, but as Jesus established already, being married and having children is also a God-given plan for relationship between men and women. It is not lesser or even a fail safe for those who aren’t resolute enough to be single. That is a false assumption. To be married is a normal and God honoring practice, just like celibacy.
[Slide 12d]Third, celibacy seems to be a special call and even gifting for some. They are unattached and free of distractions or responsibilities that would limit their service for the kingdom of God. Which points us to two things, 1 the reality that having a spouse and children is demanding on time and energy… Something that if you are married with kids you know. And 2 that the bible expects you to care for your wife and children, even when that means the ministry suffers. Because ultimately your wife and children are part of the ministry, and your first priority.
[Slide 12e] Paul speaks of this gift in I Corinthians 7: 25-40. We’ll not take the time to read that this morning, but write the reference down and look to it later. Essentially Paul is expanding on what Jesus has said here. That singleness provides opportunity for service that those married with children cannot afford. But he also says that to marry is not to sin. In fact, it is, as Jesus said, in the Father’s will.
So how do you know if you are called to a life of celibacy?
I would say that this is determined the same way you would determine a spiritual gift. Are you currently single and content? Do you have other spiritual gifts that God is using for ministry right now as you are single? Are you satisfied in companionship of friends or do you long to be completed by another for your natural life? Have others recognized God’s blessing on your singleness? Have you ever given thought to singleness or spent time praying and fasting for it as a real possibility for your life?
These are questions that all single people really need to wrestle with, even those who are dating. Although we know that most are not given this gift, it almost seems that some churches would even discourage it. And even culturally, I feel like to make this vow and accept this gift of singleness, is seen as something to be avoided like the plague. But, Jesus says if someone can accept it – then they should. Not that it is preferred over marriage, but to see it as a gift that God has given and to use it. Even if it is temporary.
Looking at these two primary applications of this text, it may be difficult to see exactly why Matthew included all this at this point.
What does God’s view on divorce and remarriage, and celibacy have to do with the grand scope of the book of Matthew, and furthermore, how does that speak to us?
The Pharisees put Moses above God. And the disciples put convention above the Kingdom. In both cases, we see Jesus taking on His rightful role as the Word of God, interpreting God’s intentions for marriage and celibacy.
And this is really where Matthew desires to take this entire Narrative. Jesus has the authority to take the scriptures and apply them as they should have been applied all along. Not as a temporary measure to hold off the sinfulness of His people – but the ultimate desire of God to reclaim a people for Himself. A people who are holy, set apart, for His glory.
[Slide 13a] So for us, this speaks to a universal problem we have.
Even we, fast forwarding 2000 years, do not see divorce and remarriage, and celibacy as God sees it. We still need adjusting, which is really only the symptom of the deeper problem. Which is that our desires and practices do not always come into line with the Word of God. Even for those who are being sanctified.
So moving forward in this Narrative, time and time again, we will see Jesus telling them… no, you have been understanding the scriptures incorrectly… Let me explain what God actually wants.
[Slide 13b (end)] The challenge for the Jews was, will you hear and heed the teaching of the son of God? Will you submit to the Word (capital W) and follow Him?
And that, I believe, will be our challenge as well. Will you disregard what you think you know, what you hold dear, what you have always been taught to be true… for the sole reason that the Word of God says differently? Will you govern your life by God’s Word? Will you follow Him? If not, over the course of the next several weeks, you’ll meet people who chose the same. Their stories are sad and at times unbelievable. Don’t be another unbelievably sad story. Purpose in your heart today, that if God’s Word says it – then you will submit.