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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Balmer

There's no "sin" in "single"

This is a sermon preview for the second week of our Kingdom Family Values series. Visit FBCM’s website to listen to our livestream.

 

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

 

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” - From Matthew 19:1-14 (NIV)

 
Jesus refuses to be boxed in

We often bring with us a lot of assumptions about marriage. The Pharisees in our scriptural passage this week did the same.


"When you get married..." is a common way to begin a statement regarding a young person's future. I think I heard it more than a few times when I was growing up. Notice, it's a "when" not "if": the assumption is essentially everyone will marry.


But an increasing number of people are single in our culture. And it's not just younger people, but older people who have never married or find themselves widows or widowers.


In a world often built around couples, even if it's not spoken aloud, it can perhaps feel like there really is "sin" in "being single."


Jesus's remarkable words about marriage startle his disciples, and should perhaps startle us. This week we'll see how singleness, far from being a sin, can serve as a witness to the hope of the Kingdom of God.


Despite the popular refrain of your spouse being your "other half," often heard even in churches, the Kingdom math for marriage is that 1 (whole person) + 1 (whole person) = 1. Or, as Jesus puts it, "The two become one flesh." (Mt. 19:5; Gen. 2:24) That is the original design of marriage, but not the vocation of every human being.


He points out: not everyone will marry, but some will serve the Kingdom of God by not marrying.


Jesus's teaching on marriage and singleness has plenty to challenge our assumptions.


Jesus is focused not on the law (the legal document) or the celebration (the wedding) alone, but on marriage as God originally designed. Jesus has challenging words for us for all our assumptions about marriage and singleness.

Jesus refuses to be boxed in: he points us to God's good intent

  1. Rather than talking about what our legal rights to be wielded against one another might be, Jesus talks about what God's good design for a marriage relationships are.

People come with an intent to "test" Jesus, by questioning him about the Law (Torah).


Jesus' response shows us that he refuses to play that game. As Esau McCaulley, a New Testament professor at Wheaton College, points out:


"Jesus' argument here suggests that the norms for Christian ethics are not the passages that are allowances for human sin, such as Moses' divorce laws. What matters is what we were made to be. Jesus shows that not every passage of the Torah presents the ideal for human interactions. Instead some passages accept the world as broken and attempt to limit the damage that we do to one another. This means that when we look at the passages in the Old Testament we have to ask ourselves about their purpose. Do they present a picture of what God wanted us to be or do they seek to limit the damage arising from a broken world?" -Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation As An Excercise In Hope (Downers Grove: IVP Acaademic, 2020), p. 139.

2. Jesus, himself unmarried, points out that there are opportunities to serve the Kingdom for both the married and single.


Some hear Jesus's words, and find the command so lofty that it would be better not to marry. This was in a society in which marriage was expected as a standard part of life.


Jesus points out that there are more ways to serve God than to be married. He brings the example of eunuchs. A eunuch was maimed by others to serve in a royal court or prominent household in a way which made procreation and marriage impossible. Jesus points out that some, who are single, who do not have biological children, can and do serve the Kingdom of God in important ways.


Early Christianity was noteworthy in that it honored both vocations (callings in life): marriage and singleness.


Jesus refuses to be boxed in: he points us to God's good intent for the whole Kingdom of God.

3. The whole church has a responsibility to share the good news.

Our own culture is often very confused on reasons to, or not to, marry and have children.


Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon point out that children are not possessions of their parents. And parents are not the only ones with responsibilities for teaching children.


In fact, we are free not to have children because we trust the next generation of the church will exist not because of procreation, but because God adds to the church through faith and baptism.


This is very important for us to realize this coming week: when two babies are dedicated in our congregation. It is the responsibility of the whole church, not just their parents, to share the Good News of Jesus with them in the hopes that, one day, they will be baptized.

But we are also free to have children because we trust that God holds the future and that, even in a chaotic world.


Or, as Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon put it:


“The vacuity [that is, emptiness] of our society is revealed by our inability to come up with a sufficient rationale for having children. About the best we can muster is: ‘Children help us to be less lonely.’ (Get a dog; children make parents more lonely, not less.) And, ‘Children help give meaning to life.’ (Such children are seen as another possession like a BMW.) “Christians have children, in great part, in order to be able to tell our children the story. Fortunately for us, children love stories. It is our baptismal responsibility to tell this story to our young, to live it before them, to take time to be parents in a world that (although intent on blowing itself to bits) is God’s creation (a fact we could not know without this story). We have children as a witness that the future is not left up to us and that life, even in a threatening world, is worth living — and not because ‘Children are the hope of the future,” but because God is the hope of the future. “If we lack good reasons for having children, we also lack good reasons for deciding not to have them. Christians are free not to have children not because of most contemporary rationales (‘I don’t want to be tied down.’ ‘I would not bring children into this messed up world.’), but because we believe in the power of God to create a people through witness and conversion rather than through natural generation. The church must be created new, in each generation, not through procreation but through baptism. “It is our privilege to invite our children, and other’s children, to be part of this great adventure called church. Christians ought to ponder what an amazing act of faith it was for Jews in the face of constant and death-dealing Christians and pagan persecution to go on having babies. People of God do not let the world determine how they respond to tomorrow.” - Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989), pp. 59-60.

You can see how it is not just families as we might imagine them: a mom and a dad, two-point-five-kids- and-a-white-picket-fence which matter here. The whole church plays a role.


The whole church matters. The whole Kingdom family serves the Kingdom of God. After this hard teaching about marriage, Jesus, the single savior, shows us just that. Immediately after this teaching, Matthew tells us:

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” - Matthew 19:13-14

A Korean Jesus welcoming children. Jesus is wearing a Joseon-era scholar's hat.
Kim Ki Chang's "Life of Jesus" depicted Jesus in a Korean Joseon-era context. There is a copy of this print in the church conference room. This is the depiction of Jesus blessing the children.

The disciples try to keep children from Jesus, but he prays for them and blesses them.


You don't have to be a parent to do that. It's the role of the whole church to participate in, and celebrate, the work of the Kingdom with one another.


"Do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these."

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