7-10-6 Eunuchs for the Kingdom
1 Cor. 7 and Mt. 19 suggest a conscious decision to be single, to make oneself a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom (does this mean for the sake of the work of the Gospel of the Kingdom?). If we do this, then all the positive language of 1 Cor. 7 comes gloriously true: we are " better" , " happier" , more 'profited' than the married and singles who haven't dedicated themselves. This is what we are promised, and this is what we will receive. We'll know the answer to the (so insensitive!) comment from married believers: " So when are you going to settle down, then?" . It'll be this: " I reckon I'm more settled down than you are..." - although politeness will forbid us to actually say it. Our attention to the things of this world, career, home etc. will go right down, the fear of future uncertainty as far as relationships goes just disappears. Now there's something to live and die for, something to consume every waking moment (and our subconscious thoughts as we sleep). There's the joy, peace and comfort of having at least pledged in our hearts a total commitment- even though, of course, our pathetic nature will hold us back. No longer will we be plagued by the knowledge that we just don't control our sexuality as we should do. We are promised that if we are eunuchs for the Kingdom's sake, we will be able " to attend upon the Lord without distraction" .
It won't be possible to make this commitment to being eunuchs for the Kingdom, to decree in our heart, and then just go on with the average Christaian life: attending a few meetings, doing our readings in 15 minutes a day. We'll have far more energy than that. It has been rightly said that physical sexual activity needs to be separated from sexuality as a whole in any self-analysis. This is true. If that sexuality is expressed, the need for explicit sexual activity is not there very strongly. And according to 1 Cor. 7, it is possible to express one's sexuality, one's marital energy (or however we want to think of it) in spiritual ways. People in love will do anything; find money for the 'phone calls, find time to write, to travel, to meet, shift priorities so things are possible. And these really are the sort of things, in relation to spiritual life, that our lives will become full of. Exactly how we express our released energy is of course an individual thing. I can personally provide you (unless more than I think take up the gauntlet I'm laying down!) with enough correspondence course students to keep you busy all day every day.
The Sake Of The Gospel
The most obvious way for fit people to give off all their new energy is, I suggest, in the mission field. There are many countries full of isolated new converts who only get a visit once every few months, if that. The hassles of travel and arranging visas, of working to get the money, of preparing exhortations and studies for them, looking up Bible readings beforehand and sorting out some comments, learning a new language, encouraging them in local preaching, worrying about likely future problems in those young ecclesias...all this is a 25 hour / day job. It can take your soul, until you lay your head down each night with no energy left to fantasize about someone you met yesterday; and up early in the morning, no lolling in bed in the twilight, half-conscious world of meandering thoughts. And there is a joy, a peace in all this. You see it in Paul, framed in the NT records as our hero, especially as he neared the end in 2 Tim. 4. He speaks so often of his converts as his children; and this is absolutely true. This is how you will feel to those you convert. The sense of parental commitment, pride, jealousy, intense joy and sadness, all of these needs are partly met by the experience of preaching, converting and nurturing in the faith. This really is an option to having physical children; who may very well (on average) turn away from the things you hold most dear, and perhaps pull you along with them.
Of course, the question will arise: 'But can a devoted spiritual life as eunuchs for the Kingdom fully compensate for all the human pains and desires for married life?'. Whether the compensation is complete in every aspect is to some degree irrelevant, because the promise of the Spirit is that we have the potential to be happier, better, more profited, less distracted, if we are devoted to the Lord rather than married. And in any case, this question makes the huge assumption that married life has no pain and that it fulfils all the desires we have when single. This is incorrect; it doesn't fulfil all those desires, and in any case it presents a new set of pains and struggles. It would seem that having spiritual children does compensate for having natural children- there is something eternal about spiritual parenting, whereas if our natural children don't accept the faith, our relationship can only be for this life. And even then it will be filled with the agony of knowing that we have brought them into being only for them to reject the love of God in Christ, and to have to face the consequences; for knowledge brings responsibility, the call of God is in the Gospel. Of course, there is the ineffable sorrow of one's converts turning away. But in a truly committed life, one is bound to convert at least some who will hold on.
Plastic Christians No More
The result of a lifestyle like this as eunuchs for the Kingdom is that our sensitivity increases dramatically; what I would call our realness increases. No longer will we speak and write empty platitudes and sound stern but irrelevant warnings, as plastic Christians going through the motions. There will be a fire in our soul. And it's a spreading flame, you'll find that without meaning to, you become an inspiration to others. No longer are we just hard-faced 'copers', coping with life, while we grow into a rock inside, locked up inside our armour. We become real, brethren and sisters that others feel they can relate to and pour themselves out to. I'm sorry if it lowers the tone rather, but there is an extract from a children's story which I feel sums all this up:
'What is REAL?' asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. 'Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?'
'Real isn't how you are made', said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real'.
'Does it hurt?', asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes', said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt'.
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up?' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'.
'It doesn't happen all at once', said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand'. (1).
Paul at the end of his days was like the Skin Horse, a true pattern for all eunuchs for the Kingdom; and there are contemporary Christian examples. But as the story says, don't think that if you make this big commitment the new personality will come overnight. It does take time. There is a beauty, as Paul twice stresses in 1 Cor. 7, in the devoted single life; the sense are opened up, we can feel pain and pleasure without the self-absorption in these things which tends to be the result of a life dedicated to achieving one's own pleasure.
There are caveats which need to be sounded. As we have shown, it seems Timothy started walking out across this water, but faltered. Some found it necessary to still have girlfriends. And especially, we must beware of making zealous Christian activity an escapism; a way of running away from ourselves and our personality problems. We are not just asked to be eunuchs in our hearts (Mt. 19) or remain unmarried (1 Cor. 7). We are asked to be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt. 19), to concentrate on pleasing Christ (1 Cor. 7). We mustn't turn to zeal for the Gospel as singles in the world might turn to painting or alcohol or sport or their career; we mustn't use commitment to the Gospel as eunuchs for the Kingdom just to get ourselves out of our own inner problems, using it as some kind of self-help therapy. This is not what the Spirit is teaching. We are asked to weigh up the choice before us ( 1 Cor. 7:37) and decide in favour of a life dedicated to the Lord Jesus, to giving to others, rather than benefiting ourselves.
Singleness And The Church
The fact is, we live in a Christian community where the majority have got married, in ignorance of the option of singleness. Our community makes abundant use of the concession to marriage, so much so that we have come to assume that this is the norm. But if we are going to seriously follow Paul in his example, as he so often bids us (and 1 Cor. 7:7,8 says that this extends to his attitude to marriage), if we are really going to come to terms with Mt. 19 and 1 Cor. 7, then our community attitudes need to change. The pressurizing of singles to marry must stop if we are going to be serious about these passages. We need to get away from the idea that brethren and sisters aren't on the road to maturity unless they're married. Somehow the married leaders of our community must become aware that they are naturally going to relate better to married believers; they must find time in their thinking for the single community, especially those who may have purposefully devoted themselves to the single life. Particularly our perception of the usefulness of single sisters must change; their role isn't only to look after the kids in the crèche and make (those!) cucumber sandwiches for gatherings. The question has to change from " Why don't you get married?" to " Why did you get married?" . There must be partnership between marrieds and singles, without marrieds passively envying the freedom and wider-ranging devotion of the single eunuchs for the Kingdom. The relationship between Aquilla and Priscilla and Apollos and Paul seems a beautiful case study of this.
There has been a marked increase in emphasis on family-based church activities. Exhortations repeatedly refer to family life and children. This is not in itself wrong. My point is that if it is over emphasized, the atmosphere created within the ecclesia is that marriage and family are the ultimate form of service to God, that this is the expected path for single converts. Instead, the option of singleness ought to be talked about far more. And this shouldn't be so difficult, seeing that one never hears it spoken about at the moment. Of course, most of our writers and speakers are married, they're evidently not eunuchs for the Kingdom, and it's only human and natural that they will be shy to say anything that appears to make their own life-decisions look somehow second-best. As with so many other problems facing our community, we need a true, thorough-going humility, both to the word and to our past blindnesses.
(1) M. Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit (London: Heinemann, 1993), pp.4,5.