Should Everyone Marry?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 19:10 (Holman) His disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it’s better not to marry!”
Jesus’ high standard for marriage—one man, one woman, till death—terrified the disciples. The Apostles were ordinary guys, products of their raising. Easy divorce was all they had ever known. They had most likely seen lots of divorces work out well for husbands. They were culturally conditioned to think, if things go bad in a marriage, there’s always an easy way out. They had never bargained for anything as radical as what Jesus was presenting.
The disciples’ reply was not only staggering. It was also insightful. The 12 clearly understood what Jesus was saying. They got it! They didn’t agree yet—that came later—but knew exactly what He had commanded. They already knew Jesus wanted them to love others; they hadn’t yet applied it to their wives.
Their gut level reaction has an eerily modern ring to it, especially among young USA men. “Marriage is hazardous, too many restrictions, an inescapable trap, a miserable life. No easy door out? I don’t want to go in. Better no wife than a bad wife. Illicit sex is better than being lassoed in a permanent noose.”
This can start a bad domino effect. A young man shirks responsibility, won’t get a job, lives in his parent’s house, plays video games, refuses to marry, yet has sex. This pressures women to have sex in order to lasso a man, which in turn reduces a man’s need to marry. It’s a vicious cycle started with selfishness.
This selfish, “What’s in it for me?” contradicts what we are supposed to think about marriage. It is sad when followers of the God who said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (GN 2:18) prefer to say, “It’s not good to marry.”
What went wrong? Why do young USA men often think selfishly about marriage? They have to misunderstand something about marriage. God wants spouses to be deliriously happy with each other. Husbands, “Take pleasure in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful fawn—let her breasts always satisfy you; be lost in her love forever” (PR 5:18b-19). Hear the plea of a wife, “Oh, that he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is more delightful than wine” (SS 1:2). We wed as much for pleasure as to procreate. God made marriage for us to have sheer, open, unashamed joy with another.
How did USA men go from deeming marriage the pinnacle of pleasure to thinking it leads to depths of despair? They forgot Jesus’ promise, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (AC 20:35). Men (and yes, women too) err when they selfishly ask, “What’s in a marriage for me?” rather than pondering, “How can Jesus use me to bless a wife and family?” The thrill of marriage is in the giving. Ruth and I find our pleasure in each other’s pleasure. We both want to out-live the other so that we can help care for the other as long as they live.
Can marriage be tough? Yes, but it is foolish to walk away from a blessed, though possibly difficult, life due to fear of trouble. All of life gets lify. Trouble is everywhere. Don’t rob yourself of much over fear of little.
Our forebears understood a husband’s role. “Husband” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words “hus” (house) and “band” (bond). The early English word was spelled “housebond.” A husband was deemed the bond of the house.
It tarnishes our God-given role when we men, for selfish reasons, break up a home, or refuse to accept the duty of leading a home. Instead of being “housebonds”, too many have become “housescatterers” or “housedestroyers”. This is not to say everyone should marry. It is merely a statement that selfishness is not an adequate reason to stay single. Depravity hating restraints is not a valid basis for the decision not to marry. This raises the question, what is a legitimate reason to remain single? Jesus answered this in verses 11-12.
Matt. 19:11 But He told them, “Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those it has been given to.”
In other words, if you are a single adult, do not despair. Marriage is for most, but not all, people. Jesus does not expect everyone to marry. It is better for some never to marry or remarry. Before taking solemn vows of matrimony, pray much. This is a covenant relationship, not to be entered into lightly.
According to verse 12, there are three types of people Jesus felt should not marry. None of these categories allows selfishness as a permissible excuse.
Matt. 19:12a “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, . . .”
The word “eunuch” refers to anyone who is living a life of celibacy, abstaining from any sexual activity. Some from birth are disinclined to marry, due to physical, emotional, psychological, and/or temperamental reasons.
Matt. 19:12b “There are eunuchs who were made by men,. . .”
Some stay single through no choice of their own. Many single adults want to marry, but they have had no opportunity, no choice in the matter.
Castrated men, common in ancient times, were a primary example of this exclusion. The word “eunuch” derives from two Greek words meaning “care for the bed.” Kings, to keep from being jealous, or from worrying about their wives being raped or seduced, castrated the men who protected their harems.
Pagan priests were often castrated. Christians 100% reject any pagan notions of physical mutilation. We okay only essential medical procedures. We circumcise boys for health purposes, but oppose female circumcision, which is performed on about 2 million baby girls a years to decrease their sex drive.
Matt. 19:12c “And there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way
because of the kingdom of heaven.”
Some voluntarily abstain from marriage or any sexual activity for the rest of their life, not for selfish reasons, but to serve the Lord with all their time and energy. Jesus and Paul did this. Peter and the other disciples, though, were married (I Cor. 9:5ff). Neither condition was considered more or less holy; the issue was in which circumstance a person could be more useful for kingdom work. Nothing is inherently wrong with being married or with being single.
Tragically, Origen (185-254), an early Church leader, castrated himself as a young man with his own hands to curb lust. Church leaders condemned this, and Origen in later years admitted our text was meant to be applied spiritually.
The calling of our text is to voluntarily remain single, and abstain 100% from sexual activity. This option is available for never-marrieds, divorcees, and widows. If you are single and think this may be God’s will for you, no rash vow is needed to verify it. Just live in the present to see if celibacy is for you.
Catholic priests and nuns take vows of lifelong celibacy. Nuns especially emphasize they are married to Jesus. We disagree with this position, and grieve with Roman Catholicism due to its sex scandals, but we also admit, through the centuries, tens of thousands of priests and nuns have served the Kingdom well.
Many Protestants have also chosen the path of celibacy. I’ve known some who were in love, and ready to wed, but then had to choose Jesus over their fiancé. The world would be a poorer place without these committed souls.
A modern example is John R.W. Stott. Born in 1921, he spent his adult life, over 60 years, serving at London’s All Souls Anglican Church. In 2005 Time magazine ranked Stott as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Some say, if Evangelicals could elect a Pope, it would be Stott. He has written over 50 books, his last one at age 88, which have sold over 3 million copies. Stott, who has remained celibate his entire life, says with a wife and family he could never have written, travelled, and ministered in the way he has.
Maybe you who are single are called to follow his example. Have you considered taking a job that barely pays the bills, and giving the rest of your time totally to God’s work, mission trips, helping the poor, mastering the Bible?
Matt. 19:12d “Let anyone accept this who can.”
In other words, this is not for everyone. No universal matrimony law applies. To marry or not is totally optional. Our task is to earnestly seek to know God’s will. Only you can know for sure where you fit in the equation.
If you can stay single, remain celibate, and serve God wholeheartedly, do so (I C 7:26, 32-34). If you cannot remain totally celibate, marry (I C 7:8-9).