On marriage and singleness
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
October 14, 2018
Text: Matthew 19:3-15
Let the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Before we dive in, I want to give a little bit of a warning. Every now and again the text given will cover things that are uncomfortable, that might ping our conscience or make us explore things that we don’t necessarily wish to. However, this is a good thing, that we would think deeply about things that aren’t necessarily fun to think about. This morning is one such morning. I pray that you would be comforted if you feel broken, encouraged if you feel discouraged, and that your depth of understanding of the text would grow.
The lesson this morning is interesting and if we are not careful as we approach the text, it would be easy to miss the point. It would be easy to over focus on the goodness of marriage, and it is a good thing indeed, or the goodness of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, and that of course is good as well, or how good the joy of a child is. Yet, in the center of this section is the kingdom of heaven. All of these things point back to the kingdom, and we are reminded how important it is to keep out eyes focused on that. The center of all we do is to be the glory of God for the kingdom of heaven.
This is because as Christians we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, which exists in a state of already, but not yet. It already exists within the people of the church, but it is not yet fully realized. It already exists when we come together when we get but a foretaste of what it’ll be like, for we are still in the world. We still sin, we still struggle, we still have heartache over the hard words someone said or the loss of a loved one. But we know what eternity entails.
So, we are called to have dual citizenship, we are called to be good citizens of wherever the Lord has placed, to be a blessing to the community we are in, yet our eyes are not to linger too long on the world, but to continue with our focus ever kept the kingdom which our truest residency is in. The kingdom which we are adopted into through the blood of Christ. The kingdom which is built not of bricks and stones and bureaucratic paperwork, but is built through the spirit of God.
All we do, all we focus on must always be done for the glory of God, for the building of his kingdom, so whether we stay single that we may serve the kingdom with all we have, or get married to the glory of God, all we do is done for His glory.
This focus changes everything. It changes how we interact with our neighbors, how we love our spouses well, how we consider marriage, how we consider fidelity, how we approach every aspect of our lives, we can do so with introspection. Not the introspection that leads to guilt or bad feelings – but the introspection that leads us at times to repentance, to joy in the grace we find in Christ, and to desire to do all in goodness, to create beauty, do declare truth. For the fullness of goodness, beauty, and truth point back again to the heavenly kingdom.
Yet, what has this to do with marriage? For, this morning the pharisees seek to trip up Christ. They seek to ask him a question that had been hotly debated amongst themselves for centuries. There were two schools of thoughts on divorce, the first being the only terms for divorce was marital infidelity, the second school being that a man could divorce his wife for literally any reason, things even as trivial as burning breakfast one too many times.
This later view especially lead to some serious abuse, but the former could as well. Sadly, the view of women was quite low throughout all of antiquity, and so such views were not shocking. Yet Christ turns this question on its head. He responds with scripture, and he exhorts them “have you not read,” he says,” that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and a said ‘therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
We make a big deal about the sanctity of marriage in our age, and I think rightly so, but if we do not treat it as Christ has outlined above, I think we fail to grasp what it is we are called to, I think we fail to do as we are commanded. For the marriage body is the deepest of unions one can have with another person for the married couple is no longer two people but one.
This union doesn’t mean that you are joined at the hip, or one person can’t desire to go for a hike on Saturday morning, while the other wishes to sleep in, but it does mean that each person serves the other in the fulness of Christ, each person serves the other that Christ might be glorified in the bond, that the kingdom of heaven would be proclaimed. One of the most misused and misunderstood passage in the bible speaks of this fully – St. Paul writes to the Ephesians – “ wives submit to your own husbands as to the Lord…” he continues to expound what this means, but then turns and says “ husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
The command to give up our lives for the other in our marriage bond is two ways – both the husband and wife is called to die to them self, is called to lay down their desires in order to both glorify God, and to encourage the other in the marriage union. Far, far too often does one of two things happen. First – people get to the first part of the portion of Ephesians, and read wives submit to your husbands, clam up, close the book or move on to somewhere else and never grasp the depth of what St. Paul is doing here. Or they get to it, read it, and use it to rule over women it. Pointing and saying “ah-ha! You see you are to submit!” They say. Yet, neither of these things is what St. Paul wants, or is even saying.
No, within the bond of marriage, it is a mutual submission, it is a mutual dying to ourselves, that we would learn to work together, learn to lean on each other in the dark nights of our souls, learn to pray together, learn to preach the gospel to each other, learn to glorify God in all we do. St. Paul and Christ see in the marriage bond between a man and a woman the necessity for us to lose ourselves in the other, not in some passionate act – but in the act of dying, in the act of dying, as we are called to die to Christ, so we are called to die to our spouse – not that they other would rule over us, but that we grow closer, and the Kingdom of Heaven would be glorified.
As I approached this text – I had all of you on my mind. Most of you have been happily married, for some of you it has been longer than I have been alive. What a good and glorious thing this is! It is an encouragement to a young person to see this, yet, what can someone in my place add to your life. I think it is this – that we always need to be reminded of our need to die to self, it is that we always need to be reminded to put our spouse first – because in doing this, and when both the husband and wife do this, it glorifies God, and it is a little shining beacon for the kingdom of heaven.
The 39 Articles of Religion talks about this as they talk about whether or not Bishops, Deacons, or Priests may marry. The answer is yes, of course they may marry, but the reason is very specific, I think our Christian culture would do well to adopt this stance for all men and women as they mature in the faith – “it is lawful for them (clergy), as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.”
It is good and right to marry – not out of loneliness, or desire to be fulfilled, or a desire to have a friend to do fun things with – but so that it would better serve our godliness. That is to say – that marriage is designed by the grace of God to draw us into deeper godliness.
Yet, there are some who are better off staying single, there are some, as we will see shortly who are called to be devoted completely to the service of the kingdom of heaven. If this is your calling – whether young or old, there is no higher calling, and it is a very good calling indeed. But, hold that thought, there will be more on that in a moment.
The Pharisees push their question a little further – asking why Moses would have allowed for divorce to happen. Christ’s response drives us back to the importance of marriage, to the seriousness of the commitment – he did this he said – because of the hardness of your hearts. Marriage was never designed to be a temporary thing, and this can be hard for us to hear, for we live in a broken world. We live in a time when things come and go with ease, to make a commitment, especially a commitment that can only be terminated by death is hard.
But, this has always been hard – this has always been difficult for people to grasp and part of the divorce addendum of Moses was to protect the woman, because there was wisdom there – that a man, disliking his wife, may very well kill her to escape that covenant if there was no other way out. This would be a deeper evil, he recognized, than divorce, but in the Christian context Christ returns to the old way – save sexual immorality – marriage is forever.
We must make some notes on what this means – when Christ refers to sexual immorality – it is not simply an affair as some have assumed, but a whole plethora of violations of the covenant between a husband and a wife. It is a failure to delight in the other whom God has placed in your life and it is a seeking after something to fulfill you that isn’t Christ, and isn’t your spouse.
Now, it would be possible, again to take this, and push it to the extreme that some Pharisees would have pushed it to, and I do not think we wish to do that. Rather, we want to have a tremendous amount of grace to our brothers and sisters in Christ how have stumbled and fallen along the way, while also holding a strong view of the importance of marital fidelity in all things. We want to encourage those who are struggling, those who find themselves in a tough place, so long as their lives are not in danger, to persevere, to love each other well, to find a way to healing.
Sometimes health and healing are slow to come, but they can come in many forms.
In the case of physical and emotional abuse, and the breaking of the bond of sexual fidelity, divorce is permissible and in some cased decidedly necessary. In all other situations it is far better to struggle for a resolution of the problem without divorce.
I realize this can be a very hard thing to hear, and I realize some people may even be uncomfortable hearing this because of their own past. Yet, this is the good news – that Christ died for all of our sins. Christ died that you might be made whole, and adopted into the kingdom of heaven. Christ died to heal these wounds that you may be feeling this morning, so take heart dear friends, take heart for you are members of the kingdom of heaven, and Christ will use your brokenness to glorify him. Bring it to God in prayer, delve in to the scriptures, turn your heart back to Him again and again, seek a friend to talk to, to pray with.
I pray that the words I said are not received as harsh indictments, but a pointing to a deeper truth, that will in the end be of comfort for each and everyone of us.
And now we turn from marriage to eunuchs.
The disciples are shocked by what Christ has said and one or several of them say, we do not know, “it is better not to marry!” It would be easy to read this as some fear of commitment, for this is often what keeps young men and women in my generation from marriage, but that is not what is going on here. No, the reality of marriage in their time was that they might not meet their spouse until their marriage day. She could be a beast, she could be awful and cruel, or she could be wonderful and sweet. They would not know until that day, and if she was awful, it was of comfort to know that worse comes to worse they could say “umm, she keeps burning my toast, could she be gone now?” And they could probably have found a Pharisee to grant them that.
But, Christ does not provide for them much comfort – “not everyone can receive this saying,” he tells them “but only those whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
What exactly are we suppose to do with this? First we must understand two things – first a eunuch is a man who has been castrated. Secondly, the law of Moses was quite clear that men who do this by choice are not welcome in the assembly. That is to say a man who had damaged that portion of his body is not able to be a part of the religions community, so is Christ going against the Law?
No, let us also attend to the secular tradition of the time. Very often a wealthy person, or more likely a king or ruler would hire a eunuch to serve his household, especially the women. This was because he served no threat to the king. He could not sleep with any of the women. He could serve the king with the utmost attentiveness, because he did not have the desires of those who might sneak in with ill intentions.
This passage serves us well in our day and age. Our day and age says that in order to be fulfilled all our appetites must be satisfied. Whether it be our appetites for another person, our desire for rich food, our desire for possessions, all too often our culture says do not abstain, but take, take, take.
I wish I could say that the church is insulated from this, but it is not.
To an extent the church is just as bad as the world around us – too often the message given is that in order to be a complete person you must marry, in order to serve the church well, you must find a spouse that you can serve us better with. I hope, if nothing else, I stand a testament that this is not the case. If we seek to fill ourselves with anything other than Christ, if we see to find our satisfaction in anything other than our Lord, we will always find ourselves lacking, we will always find ourselves wanting more.
This is important for everyone to hear – whether married, widowed, divorced, or never married – unless our satisfaction is complete in Christ we will always be wanting. Our spouse cannot give it, nor can we ever find it in the arms of a lover. We are called to find our satisfaction in Him and Him alone. If we put upon our spouses this need to be fulfilled – they will always leave us wanting, if we say to ourselves, I will be happy once I find a spouse, we place upon him or her a weight that is not theirs to carry. No, it is Christ and Christ alone that fills us.
So it is that some are called never to marry. There are some that are gifted singleness for one reason or another, whether it be that they desire something that cannot be biblically justified, or simply that they do not have a desire to be married, or recognize that marriage would not assist them in their walk of godliness but only distract them. These are good and legitimate reasons to avoid marriage to crucify their desires, and to learn each day to delight all the more in the Lord.
Now, please, if you are considering not marrying – understand that when he is talking about eunuchs, this is hyperbole, he is not saying “go and castrate yourself,” no he is saying give up the desires of your flesh that your life may be burned to the glory of God. He is saying lay those desires down at the foot of the cross that the Lord would be glorified.
Here, Christ is saying – it is good for those who are called, and not all can do this, to give up that desire that they may serve the kingdom completely focused on the Lord.
So, whether single or married, whether struggling or joyful, we can serve the kingdom of Heaven completely for the marriage bond invites us not into ourselves, but out of ourselves that we might grow in godliness and focus ever more deeply on the kingdom. In singleness we can, by the grace of God focus exclusively on the kingdom, burning brightly for His glory.
Our lesson this morning ends with what seems to be a tangent, but I hope I have shown that our lives are to be about the business of the kingdom, and Christ finishes by telling us, how, ultimately we are to be about that business: “let the little children come to me,” he says, “and do not hider them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” How is it then that the kingdom belongs to the children?
The attitudes of children are a beautiful thing. The other day, I had the joy of helping a friend move a new swing set on to his property for his children. As we carried it into his yard, his littlest stood in the window and watched us, with excitement, and joy, and awe. We are called to come to worship with excitement, joy, and awe.
When a little child falls, and the first thing she does is look for her parent, it is instinctive. They look for the ones they know they are safe with. They know who will comfort them. When we fall, do we look instinctively for our heavenly father? Do we look for comfort from those whom we know are safe, or do we numb that pain?
Let us be ones who delight in the gifts of our father, who run to him when we are scared, or hurt. Let us curl up in his arms when we are weary, let us seek to find our comfort in Him. Let us pray that our hearts would be the hearts of little children when we relate to our heavenly father, for such is the posture we have been told to have.
This morning we covered some subjects that may be tough for some of us. Please take heart first in the grace that we know in Christ. Second – let us remember that no matter where the Lord has placed us, whether in a marriage that is a delight and joy, or a marriage that is hard, that is a struggle, whether in single celibacy, and no desire for marriage, or single celibacy that is a struggle, that longs for something more, whether never married, divorced, or widowed – that these places can be used to glorify God, that they can be used to learn to die our ourselves. Let us remember that Christ must be our fulfilment regardless of where we’ve been and where we are going.
It is in Christ alone that we will find our comfort, it is in delighting in this as a little child that we will learn what the kingdom is truly like. So, let our hearts and minds be conformed to the calling to be little children, and let us rejoice always in being residence of the heavenly kingdom.
IN the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.