A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog titled Jesus on Divorce. My comments were based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 in response to questions about divorce and remarriage.
The disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching on divorce was to emphasise singleness as a better option than marriage – and Jesus didn’t disagree, and neither did the apostle Paul – both single men (Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2)
Then in Matthew 19:11-12 (NIV), Jesus makes a very interesting comment: “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.”
Jesus refers to three types of eunuchs. But what does He mean? I believe this is the only time Jesus taught on singleness and sexual diversity and His comments are still as relevant as today as they ever were.
Those who “choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” refers to those who by their own free choice and for the glory of God’s Kingdom, abstain from marrying. They voluntarily remain single and celibate and commit their lives to serving God and His people. We need to honour people who make this choice rather than treat them like second-class Christians because they’re not married.
“Eunuchs who were born that way, and … eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others” refers to those who are unable to function sexually within a heterosexual marriage.
People like that may choose not to marry at all or, if they’re already married, there needs to be honest and open communication between husband and wife about making a choice to keep the marriage together because of the many other positive things that their relationship can bring.
Examples of people Jesus may have been referring to could be those with a certain disability, impotence, people who have same-sex orientation or have had surgery that has rendered them incapable of sexual intercourse. It also includes those who are intersex – “a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male.” Intersex people, just like Jesus said, are “born that way”.
The interesting thing is that in Jesus’ day all of these people were excluded from temple worship, according to the Law of Moses. Consider Deuteronomy 23:1 (NIV), “No eunuch is to enter the congregation of God.” The next verse bans illegitimate children from “the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” These precious people were excluded.
But then comes a wonderful promise of a time when things would change. Isaiah prophesies this in 56:3-5, “Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’ And don’t let the eunuchs say, ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’ For this is what the Lord says: I will bless those eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me. I will give them—within the walls of my house—a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear!” (NIV)
In the New Testament we see the fulfillment of this prophecy in the story of the conversion of a eunuch who was an Ethiopian court official. He’d been to Jerusalem to worship God but of course he would have been disappointed by not being admitted to the Temple. The apostle Philip was led by the Holy Spirit away from a revival in Samaria to the Gaza desert in order to bring salvation to this one man – the Ethiopian eunuch. Read the story in Acts 8:27-39. It’s so inspiring.
Sadly, the modern church is still guilty of excluding those who are “different”. Those who are single or who don’t fit the heterosexual stereotype are often made to feel second-class, unwanted and unwelcome. Not only does this rob these precious people of the genuine Christian community they long for, it also robs the church of the gifts, compassion and energy these people can bring to the community of faith.
A dear friend of ours, Ps Lynette Tobin, is a wonderful example of revealing real Christianity at work in her outreach amongst the eunuchs in India. In Western countries they are referred to as transgender. I’ll conclude this blog with a description of this work from Lynette:
“We met the eunuchs five years ago through an amazing woman who was teaching them about the love of God. The leader of the eunuchs in that group was Phoebe, who has since died of cancer. She was such an inspiration.
Phoebe was born as a eunuch and the day she was born the Eunuchs seemed to know, and came and took him off his family and brought him up in their community. Many are born like that – man and woman – and they are castrated with a rock. Families throw eunuch children out usually around 13 or 14 because they are different, and they are then castrated. Others choose to be castrated themselves just like the scriptures say.
The Eunuchs in India are the lowest of the low and up until last year, they were not registered as a citizen of India so then could not get work or health cover. They live by begging and live in the most humble places and have nothing much at all. Phoebe died because she could not get health treatment. Praise God they are now recognised as human beings. Last year the law was passed in India that they could be registered and recognised. Eunuchs are quite feared and hated in India but it is changing. Many are coming to the Lord because of God’s amazing grace seeking them out, and there are many eunuchs who are spreading the Word of God.
Phoebe was recognised as a pastor and she brought many to the Lord. They look quite manly but have hearts of gold, and these ones loved the Lord with all their hearts.
Phoebe was in a Hindu Temple giving alms to the Hindu gods when Jesus came to her in a vision and told her He had a future for her and that she was precious in His sight (She knew nothing of Jesus). She gave her heart to Jesus and started winning many other eunuchs to the Lord. What an honour to meet these amazing human beings. Love Lynette.”
And so, if Jesus is seeking eunuchs out today, revealing his love to them and drawing them into relationship with God, what is our excuse to exclude such people from our churches? Remember God’s Word, “I will give them—within the walls of my house—a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear!” (Isaiah 56:5)