In my last post, we began a discussion based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19. In that Scripture Jesus discusses three groups of people that are eunuchs (unable to marry). There are those that are born that way (either physically or mentally unable to marry), those that are made that way by men (which I’m suggesting includes those made that way by the fall of man) and those who choose of their own volition to remain celibate for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Today I want to focus on this last group.
Before we go any further it is important to realize how completely revolutionary this entire conversation would have sounded to the disciples who were listening.
The disciples would have for sure understood the first two categories that Jesus talks about. I can sort of see them nodding along as He talked. They would have understand that some are indeed born that way. That makes total sense even in their culture. I also think they would have understood the second group. They knew that some were indeed made that way by men. Now it is true that they may have thought that God was punishing them for some reason or something to that effect but they would have at least recognized those categories.
But the third category – choosing celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom would have been mind blowing to an Israelite at that time.
If you look at the Old Testament (which is what they knew as the scriptures) the entire way that the Kingdom advanced was through the Israelite people. In other words, they were the chosen people of God and they therefore really had two main roles to fulfill until God’s Messiah came and brought the Kingdom. That is: they were to follow the Law and keep the lineage going. The Kingdom literally advanced in this way: Following the Law and procreation.
The idea that the someone would choose not to participate in the latter was completely foreign to them. They had zero frame of reference for this. Unless I’m missing someone, the only person in the Old Testament that was in any way celibate for the Kingdom was Jeremiah but that was because even his celibacy was part of his prophesy. In other words Jeremiah was celibate to show the barrenness and destitution of God’s people as a result of their disobedience to the Law.
If you were an Israelite with no children, you basically couldn’t participate in the advancement of the Kingdom.
What Jesus is saying here blows the doors off of this. In fact in saying this, about all three groups, Jesus is saying that now His Kingdom no longer advances through procreation but instead through evangelization. This is really part of the scandal of the Gospel. Everyone regardless of status (including marital status) is both welcome in the Kingdom and able to help advance the Kingdom.
The third group would have been the most scandalous and mind blowing to them because in this case it isn’t just Jesus making a sort of allowance for those folks but going even further to suggest that there are those who actually choose it for the Kingdom!
This group of people make a choice and have a supernatural gift or grace given by God to live in this way. Celibacy for the Kingdom then is both a choice and a gift.
It is indeed a choice. Think of it this way.
We all make a first choice or vow to follow Jesus. This is without question the single most important decision any person ever makes. To submit our lives to Jesus or not. To respond to the gift of grace or not. To give everything to Him or not.
But we can also make a second vow. For some that means making a vow before God to another person (marriage) forsaking all others except for that person. But according to Jesus one can also make a different second vow – that is a vow only to Jesus forsaking ALL others for the sake of the Kingdom.
However by saying that this is a indeed a choice for the sake of the Kingdom Jesus is also saying that this is a supernatural grace. In other words some have this grace/gift and some don’t. As Paul says later – to some one gift is given to others another gift.
So in reality both marriage and celibacy are choices that we make and graces/gifts that we receive.
This is not that different from many other things we think of theologically. Even salvation – is it not both a choice and a grace/gift?
This is in my opinion what the scriptures elude to as the gift of celibacy. It’s not seasonal. It’s not temporary. It’s not a “you have the gift of singleness while you single and then the gift of marriage when you get married”.
This theology of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom changes everything. It is people making the choice and receiving the grace/gift. While marriage is a choice and grace/gift that paints a picture of God and His Church – the bridegroom and bride throughout scripture – celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is choice and gift/grace that points to the resurrection and renewal of all things that is to come. One is a picture of the Church’s relationship to Jesus, the other is a picture of our relationship with Jesus in the final heaven and earth to come. Hallelujah! Praise Jesus!
The ramifications of getting this, (or not getting this as is the case in at least the protestant church right now), are profound and many. There is not space in this post to go into all of them. But suffice it to say that in the least it means the following:
- Marriage is not the only way to holiness.
- Marriage does not advance the Kingdom, evangelization does
- We must create space for those that are called and gifted to this and honor the gift and their obedience to it.
- We need to teach our folks to discern which way they are called and then help them pursue it.
- We can quit falsely teaching people that just because they are unmarried that they all have “the gift”
- We should stop being the church for nuclear families only and instead widen our view of the church family.
In Matthew 19 Jesus rocked the disciples world view and changed the whole picture of the Kingdom. We need to be rocked by it again.