Jesus grew up in Nazareth, Northern Israel, the oldest of half-a-dozen half brothers and sisters. He worked until the age of 30 to support the family as a carpenter or stonemason (tekton) after his stepfather Joseph died. We know little about his formative years except for a visit to Jerusalem when he was twelve:
“And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.
So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”
And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.
Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:40-52)
It was unusual for a boy or girl in Israel not to marry in their teen years, circumstances permitting. Jesus knew early on that He had a different calling. He stayed single.
Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9:57-58)
Knowing He had a specific calling and a limited season for teaching and training, Jesus hand picked twelve followers who could carry on after He left. These young men, all evidently unmarried except for Peter, were energetic and teachable. Jesus had their attention. Their temperaments were all over the map. Few common goals in life united them. Their family backgrounds were generally not all the same. They had different personalities and ambitions.
What an assignment Jesus had in shaping up these men into the mighty apostles they would become after He left! Later in life some (or most) of them probably married when they could afford to live apart from mom and dad. The disciples dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus when He recruited them, drawn by His charisma and challenge. (See John 1:35ff) They were a motley crew and would only work together in harmony after their Leader had died.
Jesus began to speak publicly when He was “about thirty.” Three plus years later He was killed by the leaders of His nation. (See A Day in the Life of Jesus by Ray Stedman).
One teaching by Jesus upset these young men greatly. About two years into their internships, the disciples were provoked by what they heard Him teach about marriage. They pressed Jesus later for clarification:
“Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.
The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
And He answered and said to them, 'Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female,’ and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.'
They said to Him, 'Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
He said to them, 'Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.'
His disciples said to Him, 'If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.'
But He said to them, 'All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.'" (Matthew 19:1-12)
These words of Jesus have echoed down into history ever since. All manner of persons single or married, pagan or devout, young or old have been given pause by the wisdom of Jesus. He said that God’s intentions for marriage were absolute and that all sexual expression was to be limited to marriage. In a pagan (gentile) world this teaching proved to be preposterous—electric to be sure, yet fully in line with what Moses had taught 1400 years earlier.
It is now well known (but seldom taken seriously) that Moses was revealing the mind and values of our Creator—but that grace and mercy were given by Jesus, which also reflected the character of God. Moses and Jesus are not popular leaders in the world today.
But God is accustomed to being ignored and opposed. A few people in every generation do understand and line up with the heart of God’s calling us to wholeness and healing. Others among us seek to impose their values on the innocent and the naive. Being “merely married” today does not automatically mean wholeness and harmony in the family! Some have wrongly believed that being married guaranteed happiness and bliss in this life. Hardly! It is now clear that this myth has contributed to the alienation of countless Millennials from their parents! Marriage is a crucible where two broken persons strive together with Jesus daily with the result that two whole persons emerge and the marriage reflects the restored image of God in man.
“It Takes Three to Tango," in other words--and the Third Party in a marriage is supposed to be Jesus.
Of course all interpersonal relationships, (MF, MM, FF) should involve Jesus as Mediator and Healer. We are all so disparate from other persons that a lifetime is needed to know another person! People are unmarried for a dozen reasons: They are perhaps too young to marry. Their circumstances in life are restrictive, or no one has asked them to marry. Perhaps they fear intimacy? Or they prefer living sexually active lives without the commitment and responsibility of marriage (expediency). Their available role models of good marriages are few and unappealing, the “pleasures of sin for a season” are too powerful to resist—and on and on.
The Bible is very clear that sexual expression is honored and blessed by God only in conventional MF marriage. Millennials, gens x, y, z, are almost all sexually active these days. Each person on the planet is loved by our Creator! He does not desire that anyone should perish. Jesus is now courting a bride!
Alone but Not Lonely
Life Without Marriage
The Dry Tree
The End of Sex as we Know it.
Circumcision I -- Purity of Heart -- Circumcision III
The Revirginized Bride
But, the very low state of marriage today should be evident to everyone! The Apostle Paul may have been married earlier in his life, but he was single after his conversion to Christ and he remained single. He advises,
Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord." (1 Corinthians 7:25-35)
Among Jews, there is a the long-standing tradition of the Bar Mitzvah for boys aged 13 who are moving out of childhood into young manhood. At that time, the boy takes responsibility for his own actions, relieving his father of that responsibility.
In America today most boys are sexually active by the age of puberty. (See discussion in Stages of Manhood article.) The Bible describes the maturing process for boys growing up from childhood to mature manhood in this article. Today we have not only have many sexually active Millennials among us, but much hypocrisy in the older generation, where many marriages are far from holy. Both sides need the healing and wholeness Jesus offers! One clear teaching in the Bible is that genital sexual expression is intended by God to take pace only in marriage! (See: The Excluded Ones).
1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.
3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness,
15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise,
21 submitting to one another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5)
Age thirty is the time Levitical priests in Israel started their life work. (Numbers 4:3,30). Jesus started his public ministry at "about the age of 30." (See Chronology of Jesus.)
By the way, Jesus was utterly faithful to His Father from eternity past--no stronger bond exists anywhere. See: The Deepest Bond.
The only valid role model for what it means to be a man that I know of is Jesus. Families in America are all broken down now. There are few role models, folk heroes, for us to emulate.
The Roman Catholic Church prescribes celibacy for all her priests and nuns--which does not take into account the reality that celibacy is not given to every Christian, yet every Christian is called to take part in the work of the ministry. The division of churches into clergy and laity is actually condemned in the New Testament!
Not all men find abstinence from regular sex an easy road. Jesus actually knows the full gamut of temptation! He has already "been there" as it were.
"To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion." (1 Corinthians 7:9)
Should a young man find remaining single to be at first an attractive option, the Bible word “eunuch” is probably off-putting. But Jesus did note that men remained single for life happened for one of three reasons. Either a man had been born incapable of sexual expression biologically, or two, he had been castrated by men before puberty or three, he had voluntarily chosen a single life style of service into the world. Enforced celibacy of men who are not enabled by nature or calling to remain single is not on God's protocol list.
If you are looking for a Trailblazer to lead you on the way through the wilderness, Jesus is eminently qualified.
"Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16)
History has much to show us about castrated boys in the church choir whose biological development was arrested--snatched from them to enable them to sing as sopranos their whole lives. These men were the castrati.
Kings and potentates often castrated adult male prisoners of war to render them “safe” for working in the ruler’s harem of virgin girls. Eunuchs became most trusted by their masters whereas ordinary men were thought less loyal or found to be unreliable for hormonal reasons in many cases.
Isaiah the prophet had startling words of promise to any and all who were drawn to serve the God of Israel. They were foreigners (group one) or eunuchs (group two). The latter class included any and all single persons who were drawn to serve Jesus in a world where heterosexual marriage was the norm. Here are those timeless promises from Isaiah:
Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come,
And My righteousness to be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who lays hold on it;
Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Do not let the son of the foreigner
Who has joined himself to the Lord
“The Lord has utterly separated me from His people”;
Nor let the eunuch say,
“Here I am, a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
Even to them I will give in My house
And within My walls a place and a name
Better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
That shall not be cut off.
“Also the sons of the foreigner
Who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him,
And to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants—
Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And holds fast My covenant—
Even them I will bring to My holy mountain,
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
Will be accepted on My altar;
For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says,
“Yet I will gather to him
Others besides those who are gathered to him.”
What Did (Does) Jesus Look Like?
The average height of an Israeli man today is about 5 feet 9 inches. We are used to our folk heroes (Batman, Superman, The Lone Ranger, Captain Midnight, John Wayne...being over six feet tall. Even the military has certain height standards: short, but good, basketball players are rare).
We do not have any eye witness accounts of what Jesus looked like when He was here among us. We do have His full genealogy however. Evidently Jesus did not stand out in a crowd. The Apostle John was only a teen ager when he traveled with Jesus. When Jesus was crucified Jesus asked John to care for His mother (then about 50 years old). Tradition tells us John took Mary to Ephesus In Turkey where she lived the rest of her life. The other Apostles were all martyred but John lived to about AD 100 as Bishop of Ephesus. Late in his life, he wrote the Gospel of John, three Letters, and the Book of the Revelation. John left us an eye witness account of what Jesus looks like now:
Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,”says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:7-8)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith--the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)
Jesus evidently did not have any everyday spending money! "When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.” (The annual Temple Tax was 1/2 shekel per person. A shekel was about 25 cents). (Matthew 17:24-26)
Jesus the man was denied the joys of marriage and raising kids—for good reason. Yet the heart of God is all about the union on man and wife in marriage. From creation till now. The Old Testament portrays Israel as the wife of Yahweh. God was forced to divorce this wife because of her unfaithfulness, but the last chapters of reconciliation and restoration for Israel as restored wife are yet to unfold in history. See Hosea.
Jesus came first as a Jew to his own people. His rejection opened doors for Jesus and His disciples (now Apostles) to reveal God’s good favor to the entire world. But Jesus the bachelor has been given a partner in the life to come. This “calling out of a people for His name” is symbolized by the selection of a Bride for Jesus. She is to be a gentile virgin bride, a not-yet married woman. Furthermore the Bride of Christ is not one woman but several billion men, women and children —all who know and love Jesus. They are now bring readied for the return of the Bridegroom who will restore all things to wholeness and harmony.
Jesus is still a “single man” to this day. That will soon change! How much can He do through us who choose to stay single for whatever reason? I have met few people who are unconditionally available to Jesus. It has been said that there is no limit to what God can do through any man or woman who doesn't care who gets the credit. More than that, Jesus was unconditionally available to His Father. He never took matters into his own hands, never drew upon his own unlimited powers as God the Son. Do we not serve God with rewards in mind? Are we often selfless when we give? Do we expect to be paid back for our time and effort and investment? We can’t expect Jesus to use us if we ignore the same terms he gave His disciples!
Full circle back to Jesus and His band of brothers:
And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.
These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.
“Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
“Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.
“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10)
Single in Christ:
A Name Better Than Sons and Daughters
April 29, 2007
By John Piper
Thus says the Lord: "Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 2 Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil." 3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, "The Lord will surely separate me from his people"; and let not the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree." 4 For thus says the Lord: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. 6 "And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."
I will start and end with my main point and, in the middle, cover a wide terrain of Scripture to support it. My main point is that God promises those of you who remain single in Christ blessings that are better than the blessings of marriage and children, and he calls you to display, by the Christ-exalting devotion of your singleness, the truths about Christ and his kingdom that shine more clearly through singleness than through marriage and childrearing. The truths, namely,
1. That the family of God grows not by propagation through sexual intercourse, but by regeneration through faith in Christ; (1)
2. That relationships in Christ are more permanent, and more precious, than relationships in families (and, of course, it is wonderful when relationships in families are also relationships in Christ; but we know that is often not the case);
3. That marriage is temporary, and finally gives way to the relationship to which it was pointing all along: Christ and the church—the way a picture is no longer needed when you see face to face;
4. That faithfulness to Christ defines the value of life; all other relationships get their final significance from this. No family relationship is ultimate; relationship to Christ is.
To say the main point more briefly: God promises spectacular blessings to those of you who remain single in Christ, and he gives you an extraordinary calling for your life. To be single in Christ is, therefore, not a falling short of God's best, but a path of Christ-exalting, covenant-keeping obedience that many are called to walk.
Better Blessings Than Sons and Daughters
Now let's step back and look at the Scriptures. And here let me give credit to Barry Danylak for his research on this issue and his very helpful paper "A Biblical-Theological Perspective on Singleness" (2006). Let's start in the middle of the Bible at Isaiah 56:4-5,
Thus says the Lord: "To the eunuchs [those who cannot procreate but turn their lives into a unique service instead of marriage] who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument (2) and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off."
God promises to bless obedient eunuchs with blessings that are better than sons and daughters. In other words, God promises those of you who remain single in Christ blessings that are better than the blessings of marriage and children.
The Bigger Picture in Redemptive History
But to see this more clearly we need to get the bigger picture. In the created order that God put in place before sin was in the world, and in the covenantal order that God put in place with the Jewish people from Abraham to the coming of Christ, "God is primarily building his covenant people through the mechanism of procreation." (3) God was focusing his covenant-keeping faithfulness mainly on an ethnic people. Therefore, being married and having offspring was of paramount importance for one's name and one's inheritance and for the preservation of God's covenant people.
So in Genesis 1:28, the first thing God says to Adam and Eve is, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." And in the account of Genesis 2:18, when woman was not yet created, God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."
Abraham and Isaac
And when Abraham was chosen as the father of God's people, God took him out and showed him the stars and said, "So shall your offspring be" (Genesis 15:5). And when Abraham could not have a son because of Sarah's barrenness, Abraham said, "Oh that Ishmael might live before you!" But God answered, "No, . . . Sarah your wife shall bear you a son." In other words, the physical offspring mattered. And it would come in God's way.
God reaffirms the same to Isaac in Genesis 26:3: "I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father." Again physical "offspring" are crucial for the covenant.
David and Saul
These offspring are crucial not only for the preservation of the covenant but also because a person's name would end without children. So Saul asks David to swear that he will not cut off his offspring for the sake of his name. First Samuel 24:21: "Swear to me therefore by the Lord that you will not cut off my offspring after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father's house."
Levirate Marriage and Ruth
Remember the whole elaborate system of Levirate marriage—that is, the marriage of a man to his deceased brother's wife so that the name of the deceased brother would not be lost. The rule was that the first son born would bear the dead brother's name. Deuteronomy 25:6: "The first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel." That's an amazing provision for the perpetuation of the name through physical seed.
The most famous instance of this is when Boaz agreed to marry Ruth to preserve the name of Elimelech her father-in-law and Mahlon her husband. Boaz said, "Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day" (Ruth 4:10).
So you can see how crucial marriage and offspring and the preservation of a name and an inheritance were in Israel. No wonder that Jephthah's daughter asked for two months not to bewail her impending death but that she was never married. Judges 11:37-38a: "She said to her father,'Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.' So he said,'Go.'"
Isaiah's Prophecy: "He Shall See His Offspring"
All of this is the background that makes Isaiah 56:5 shine like the sun to eunuchs and others without marriage and children: "Thus says the Lord:'To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off." So without marriage and without children. these covenant-keeping eunuchs get a name and a memorial better than sons and daughters.
Where did this amazing promise come from? What's the basis of it and what is it pointing toward? Turn back to Isaiah 53. This is the great prophecy of the sufferings of Christ who "was wounded for our transgressions [and] . . . crushed for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5). In this chapter, we sometimes overlook these words in verse 10: "It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand."
He shall see his offspring. Here is a great prophecy: When the Messiah dies as an "offering for guilt" and rises again to "prolong his days," he will by that great saving act produce many children: He will "see his offspring." In other words, the new people of God formed by the Messiah will not be formed by physical procreation but by the atoning wash of Christ.
Which is why the next chapter (Isaiah 54) begins, "'Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,' says the Lord" (Isaiah 54:1). And this is also why our text (Isaiah 56:5) says that unmarried covenant-keeping people will have "a monument and a name better than sons and daughters . . . [and] an everlasting name that shall not be cut off." In the true people of God formed by Jesus Christ, monuments, names, offspring, and inheritances do not arise through marriage and procreation.
Jesus, Paul, and Peter
So when we come now to the New Testament, Jesus makes clear that his people—the true people of God—will be produced not by physical procreation but by spiritual regeneration. So he says to Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
And Paul says in Galatians 3 to the Jews and Gentiles alike, "Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. . . . In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith" (Galatians 3:7, 26). In other words, it is not physical descent from Abraham that makes you part of the covenant people of God but faith in Christ.
And Peter says that our inheritance comes not through marriage and offspring but through the work of Christ and the new birth: "According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:3-4).
So Jesus and Paul and Peter all say: Children are born into God's family and receive their inheritance not by marriage and procreation but by faith and regeneration. Which means that single people in Christ have zero disadvantage in bearing children for God, and may in some ways have a great advantage. The apostle Paul was single in Christ, and he said of his converts, "Though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (1 Corinthians 4:15). Paul was a great father, and never married. And let him speak for single women in Christ in 1 Thessalonians 2:7: "We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children." So it will be said of many single women in Christ: She was a great mother and never married.
A Radical Relational Reordering
Take heed here lest you minimize what I am saying and do not hear how radical it really is. I am not sentimentalizing singleness to make the unmarried feel good. I am declaring the temporary and secondary nature of marriage and family over against the eternal and primary nature of the church. Marriage and family are temporary for this age; the church is forever. I am declaring the radical biblical truth that being in a human family is no sign of eternal blessing, but being in God's family is means being eternally blessed. Relationships based on family are temporary. Relationships based on union with Christ are eternal. Marriage is a temporary institution, but what it stands for lasts forever.
"In the resurrection," Jesus said, "they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Matthew 22:30).
And when his own mother and brothers asked to see him, Jesus said, "'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,'Here are my mother and my brothers!'" (Matthew 12:48-49). Jesus is turning everything around. Yes, he loved his mother and his brothers. But those are all natural and temporary relationships. He did not come into the world focus on that. He came into the world to call out a people for his name from all the families into a new family where single people in Christ are full-fledged family members on a par with all others, bearing fruit for God and becoming mothers and fathers of the eternal kind.
"Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!" a woman cried out to Jesus. And he turned and said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Luke 11:27).
The mother of God is the obedient Christian—married or single! Take a deep breath and reorder your world.
"Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel," Jesus said, "who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30).
Single person, marriage person, do you want children, mothers, brothers, sisters, lands? Renounce the primacy of your natural relationships and follow Jesus into the fellowship of the people of God.
Let Him Who Is Able to Receive This Receive It
What shall we say then in view this great biblical vision of the secondary and temporary nature of marriage and procreation? We will say what Jesus and Paul said. Jesus said in Matthew 19:12,
"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."
We need not take this ("made themselves eunuchs") to mean any kind of physical sterilization any more than we take Jesus' words "tear out your right eye" to mean physically blinding ourselves. But it does mean that Jesus approves that some of his followers renounce marriage and sexual activity for the sake of serving Christ's kingdom. "Let him who is able to receive this receive it."
That is what Paul chose for himself and what he encouraged others to consider in 1 Corinthians 7. "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. . . . I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife . . . . I say this . . . to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:8, 32-33, 35). In other words, some are called to be "eunuchs" for the kingdom of God. Paul speaks about each having his own gift: "one of one kind, one of another" (1 Corinthians 7:7). In other words, "Let him who is able to receive this receive it."
So now we end where we began with all this Scripture in our mind. God promises those of you who remain single in Christ blessings that are better than the blessings of marriage and children.
If someone asks, wouldn't it be better to have both? The blessings of marriage and the blessings of heaven? There are two answers to that question. One is that you will find out someday, and better to learn it now, that the blessings of being with Christ in heaven, are so far superior to the blessings of being married and raising children and that asking this question will be like asking: Wouldn't it be better to have the ocean and the thimble full? And the second answer is that marriage and singleness both present us with unique trials and unique opportunities for our sanctification. There will be unique rewards for each, and which is greater will not depend on whether you were married or single, but on how you responded to each.
So I say it again to all singles in Christ: God promises you blessings in the age to come that are better than the blessings of marriage and children.
Uniquely Displaying the Glories of Christ
And with this promise there comes a unique calling and a unique responsibility. It is not a calling to extend irresponsible adolescence into your thirties. It is a calling to do what only single men and women in Christ can do in this world, namely, to display by the Christ-exalting devotion of your singleness the truths about Christ and his kingdom that shine more clearly through singleness than through marriage. As long as you are single, this is your calling: to so live for Christ as to make it clearer to the world and to the church
1. That the family of God grows not by propagation through sexual intercourse, but by regeneration through faith in Christ;
2. That relationships in Christ are more permanent, and more precious, than relationships in families;
3. That marriage is temporary, and finally gives way to the relationship to which it was pointing all along: Christ and the church—the way a picture is no longer needed when you see face to face;
4. And that faithfulness to Christ defines the value of life; all other relationships get their final significance from this. No family relationship is ultimate; relationship to Christ is.
To him be glory in the Christ-exalting drama of marriage and the Christ-exalting drama of the single life. Amen
1. I borrow here from the expression of Barry Danylak, "A Biblical-Theological Perspective on Singleness" (2006), p. 15. "The propagation of the people of God in the New Testament occurs not through physical procreation as in the Old Testament, but rather through spiritual regeneration." This is an unpublished paper and reflects Barry's present doctoral studies at Cambridge University. This sermon has drawn heavily on Barry's approach to the issue of singleness in the Bible.
2. The literal translation of the Hebrew is: "within my walls a hand and a name better than sons and daughters." For the sense behind the word hand (translated as monument), compare 2 Samuel 18:18 where Absalom says, "'I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.' He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom's hand to this day" (literal rendering, usually rendered "monument"). Absalom had built this memorial by himself and for himself (v. 18a). So he had extended his memory into the future by his own hand. Perhaps then the idea of hand is that the good that comes to us in the future or the memorial that keeps us in remembrance in the future is our ongoing effect as though our hand were still active.
3. Barry Danylak, "A Biblical-Theological Perspective on Singleness" (2006), p. 9.
Copyright 2007 John Piper. Used by permission.
This is an important topic! See Made in the Image of God. The image of God in man is both masculine and feminine at the same time. God is redeeming Adam and Eve and He seeks to redeem us who are very broken and lost! Jesus as the Second Adam is a whole person and we are not! Neither do we know ourselves well.
In the Old Testament, Israel is depicted as the wife of Yahweh (Hosea for instance). In the New Testament, the true church is seen as the intended Bride of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who personal builds His Church.
"I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against my church." (Matthew 16:18)
The Bride of Christ is not one woman but billions of men, women, and children who know and love Jesus. There is no need for sexual intimacy and procreation in the coming age. Nobody need feel cheated in heaven since Jesus will be fully available to everyone: to men, to women, to widows and orphans and to children! Eunuchs and foreigners will be welcome.
Wholeness brought about by God restores what we all lost “in Adam.” No two people are alike! God likes variety and individuality. The true church as a whole is the church Jesus Himself said He would build (Matthew 16:13-19) can be glimpsed in the Song of Solomon:
Who is she who looks forth as the morning,
Fair as the moon,
Clear as the sun,
Awesome as an army with banners? (Song of Songs 6:10)
Let marriage be considered honorable among all, and the marriage bed be kept undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:4-6)
Jesus Plain and Simple
The Sperm of God
Jesus our Trailblazer
Made in the Image of God
The End of Sex part 1 -- The End of Sex part 2
Yin, Yang, the Tao, and Wholeness
The Revirginized Bride
Who is Minding the Store?
The Unveiling of the Lord Jesus Christ
The Royal Road to Wholeness
Born Again and Adopted
Love and Relationships: Song of Solomon
The Wife of Jehovah, The Bride of Christ
I Can Not Come to the Banquet (Matthew 22)
The Fruitful Life
The Return of Jesus (with Bride)
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