In the previous section Jesus spoke of matters of marriage. I commented that I did not fully understand that section, as it seemed quite harsh.
It is clear also that Jesus’ disciples struggled with this teaching to for in this section they said, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” (Verse 10) When they said it is not expedient, they were saying it is not a good idea or it is not profitable to marry. They were saying that if there was this possibility of divorce and adultery as the fallout of a marriage if the marriage went bad, then it might be better not to get married at all.
Jesus then said, “Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.” (Verse 11) In essence he was saying that they were right, but not everyone would be able to abstain from marriage and remain celibate. Indeed very few would be able to do so. In fact the disciples and apostles of the Lord, including Peter were married as Paul stated when referring to himself and Barnabas, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (1 Corinthians 9:5)
Paul and Barnabas were not married and had no wives because they chose to be that way. Paul said of himself that he was not sexually inclined and thus did not need to be married. While giving instruction on marriage he said, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:7-9) He did not feel the need for marriage because he was not sexually inclined, and this was the same message that Jesus was giving in this section of Matthew.
Jesus indicated that not many men would be able to receive the saying that it was not expedient to marry. For men and women have natural sexual desires and urges which they need to exercise, and Jesus and Paul were saying that if they were to exercise those urges, they should do so by being married. To refrain from exercising such urges would be difficult for many people because it is a natural urge.
Jesus went on to speak of eunuchs saying, “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. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (Verse 12)
A eunuch who has been so from birth was a person like Paul. Some people do not have much sexual desire. For them there is no need to marry because their sexual urges are weak and they can keep it under control. Then there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men. These are men who are castrated and in so doing lose their sexual desire as those parts of the body that produce the sexual drive hormones are removed. Although not a practice today, castration was common in days when kings had harems. Eunuchs were used as guards and bed keepers in the harems for they had no sexual desire and could be trusted with the king’s harem.
Finally there were those who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. These people made a conscious decision to remain celibate for the sake of their calling. It was their decision and they needed to exercise self-control over their sexual passions and desires. Although Paul may have had minimal sexual desire, he may also have fallen into this category too. It may have been a conscious choice of his to remain celibate.
But regardless of the reason for being a eunuch, Jesus said that not many people could accept such a teaching for sexual desires are strong in people. And if that was the case, as Paul wrote in the verse quoted above, “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” (1 Corinthians 9) Marriage is better than suffering under a strong desire and being aflame with passion.
Paul also showed, “he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.” (1 Corinthians 7:38) Marriage brings with it a host of other matters. A married person is concerned about affairs of the earth. They are concerned for the wellbeing of their wife or husband, which takes away their focus on the Lord. An unmarried person can remain totally devoted to the Lord and be free of the hassles that will inevitably arise in a marriage; how to care for their partner, have they upset them, chasing after kids, anniversaries, leaving the cap off the toothpaste, leaving the toilet seat up, etc. The unmarried person does not have any of these issues about day-to-day life that a married person suffers. And yet still the married person needs to keep their devotion to God alive as well. That is why Jesus and Paul suggest a single person would do better than a married person because they do not have the same number of distractions.
They are not opposed to marriage at all, but are just saying it will be easier if a person has the capacity to remain single. Not all people have the capacity to do so and so it is better that they marry. But they need to be aware that they will have other issues because they have married than someone who has the capacity to refrain from marriage.