January 2010 - Vol. 36
Jesus’ Teaching on Singleness 
by Barry Danylak, continued

Remaining single for the sake of the kingdom 
Jesus proceeds to describe three classes of eunuchs, those who are so from birth, those who have been made eunuchs by men, and those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:12). 

The Jewish audience of Jesus’ day would have been familiar with the first two categories of eunuchs,  but the third category would have been a surprising climax.  Rather than refuting the proposition that it is better to remain single than to marry, Jesus suggests that there should be some who renounce marriage and procreation for sake of devoted service to the kingdom of God.  But Jesus gives two qualifications to the teaching.  First, verse 11 clarifies that this teaching is not for everyone, but only to those to whom it is given. 

Jesus still affirms marriage for some, but to whom?  While Paul in 1 Cor 7:9 makes marriage the explicit preference for those who burn with passion, Jesus does not specify either those for whom the teaching is given, nor those for whom it is not.  The implication is that recipients are to be self-determining.  In this case the teaching is not given to those who have strong longings for marriage whether this longing is because of sexual passion, the desire for intimacy, the longing for companionship, or the desire for children.  Rather, the teaching is given to those for whom such desires are not paramount.   But for these, the second qualification at the end of verse 12 then serves as an imperative.  “Let the one who is able to receive this (teaching) receive it (Matt. 19:12).” 

This qualification is radical in the context of traditional Jewish values.  For not only does Jesus affirm the legitimacy of one remaining single for the sake of kingdom service, he commands whoever is able, to do it.  Thus the church is faced with the prospect of keeping both qualifications in view.  It should not ever mandate singleness upon anyone that has a strong innate desire for marriage, but nor should it discourage it from any who are able to faithfully undertake it. 

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[This article is excerpted from A Biblical Theology of Singleness, copyright  © Barry Danylak 2007, published by Grove Books Limited, Cambridge, UK. Used with permission.]

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