In the previous post, we noted the need for Christians to understand and appreciate the highly emotional nature of human identity and sexuality, to speak out for a biblical perspective, and to be ready and willing to suffer honorably for opposing the LGBTQIA agenda. Here we conclude our mini-series by examining three more responsibilities the church has toward God, itself, and our society, starting with a need to be loving and compassionate.
Be Loving and Compassionate
We begin here because as Christians, we serve and seek to be like a God who’s compassionate and gracious (Psalm 103:8), whose essence is love (1 John 4:8). What becomes more difficult is knowing what love actually looks like in action. This is especially important because so many have cited “love” as the reason why homosexuals should be allowed to marry. But what does the Bible—not our culture—say is genuinely loving and compassionate?
C. S. Lewis gives great insight into competing cultural concepts of love when he says this through the pen of his demonic character, Screwtape: “We have [undermined marriage] through the poets and novelists by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually short-lived, experience which they call ‘being in love’ is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding. . . . [T]he idea of marrying with any other motive [than being in love] seems to them low and cynical. . . . They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion. . . . [A]ny sexual infatuation whatever, so long as it intends marriage, will be regarded as ‘love,’ and ‘love’ will be held to excuse a man from all the guilt, and to protect him from all the consequences, of marrying a heathen, a fool, or a wanton.” (The Screwtape Letters, 81, 83-84.)
To understand love, then, we need to better understand God and not be taken in by a mere “storm of emotion.” And perhaps we need to begin at a place of contrition and confession. God loves us through constant care, communication, and patient self-sacrifice. While we were sinners and enemies of God, Christ gave His life for us (Romans 5:8). We say that we love God, but have we really obeyed and worshiped Him as Lord? He loves us with a everlasting love, but have we truly believed in and embraced that love? The church needs to begin by looking at itself and revisiting its understanding of God’s love. It’s likely we need to confess that, like the church in Ephesus, we have left our first love (Revelation 2:4) and forgotten what biblical love really means and looks like.
Only then will we know how to show God’s perfect love to others in its multifarious forms, for love is multidimensional. Too many people, Christians included, try to define love too narrowly and fail to understand the fullness of love’s many expressions. Love warns, love overlooks, love rebukes, love comforts, love waits, love acts, love withholds, love gives. At first glance, the list appears contradictory, but it shows how love’s concrete applications require supernatural wisdom and strength. Loving others means that we offer them what they need—not necessarily what they want—when and how they need it.
When we consider the LGBTQIA movement, we have already noted our concern about human flourishing and the wellbeing of those caught up in the lifestyles of the movement. But we also need to look back at ourselves and recognize we have not always expressed this concern in a loving way. Nor have we always treated movement supporters and activists as human beings. We are all made in God’s image whether we acknowledge it or not. For Christians, this is the basis for showing respect and love for every human being, Christian or otherwise.
The story of the Good Samaritan makes it clear we are to love our neighbor, whoever they are, regardless of ideological affiliation and lifestyle. Yes, love is not soft. It includes warnings, prohibitions, and rebukes. We cannot exclude that from our notion of love. But love is also humble and actively cares for and seeks the good of the other, even when the other hates and seeks to harm us; yes, even when that person wishes to be our enemy (Luke 6:35).
If we understand the burden of love and are honest with ourselves, we all have much to apologize for. We have to remember we are all marred by sin and endowed with finitude. These should become a source of humility that gives us pause when we begin to feel righteous indignation. There is a place for this, yes, but only Jesus expressed it untainted by sin. For us, it usually it comes with mixed motives and a tendency to forget our own limitations and sinfulness.
Again, we should not be afraid to speak, but we must be careful when we do. We should not be too quick to condemn and too slow to see the ways we dishonor God in our manner of condemnation. Genuine love involves being with people, asking sincere questions and entering into the mess of other people’s lives, hearing their hopes, dreams, wants, needs, fears, pains, heartaches, victories, and losses. It includes knowing their beliefs systems and understanding the reasons why they hold them, even when we strongly disagree. In short, we must “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).
Sometimes in our evangelical zeal for truth and righteousness, we forget to show love for others simply by caring enough to ask questions and listen. How can we expect people to listen to and consider our perspective if we fail to demonstrate this kind of listening love? As Millard Erickson puts it, “We will need to enter into the other person’s perspective, to think from his or her presuppositions. It means that we will have to listen . . . rather than just talking, which tends to be an occupational disease of both clergypersons and sometimes of lay Christians.” (Postmodernizing the Faith, 155.) As we listen, we discover how to pray for people, and not just how to argue with them. And pray we must, for that is something no one stop us from doing and it taps into the only One who can really change the heart of a nation, one person at a time.
In addition to all this, we have to be an actively caring community that does more to care for people than simply sing worship songs and share biblical information once a week on a Sunday morning. That’s important, to be sure, but I wonder if too much of the church’s effort is spent “putting on a show” rather than getting our hands and feet dirty in the real-life trenches of meeting the needs of sinful people where they are, no matter who they are. For much of His ministry, Jesus embraced and hung out with sinners, not because He agreed with them, but because He loved them and wanted them to know there was a radically different way of knowing and being and doing in this life, as well as the life to come. Some wouldn’t listen, but many others did and saw their lives transformed by His life and message.
The church has always lived in a strange dual reality with regard to moral offenses against God and His plan for our lives. On the one hand, we are called to oppose and expose sin (Ephesians 5:11) as well as admit and forsake it in our own lives (Proverbs 28:13). That constitutes our prophetic and exemplary role in our own Christian community, as well as in the community at large. But we are also called to be the compassionate hands and feet of Jesus toward those being crushed by the fallout of sin.
As time passes and the consequences of sin plays out in the lives of individuals and the community, many will be deeply damaged and in need of care and healing. When the rest of the world abandons and flees from its wounded and dying, the church is called to give love and care at the deepest levels of the sinner’s being, not because we are better than they are, but because we too are sinners saved by God’s grace. We too have experienced a new hope and a fresh opportunity to see our foolishness and licentiousness redeemed and transformed into something beautiful and good. In short, God gives us beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3).
But here is a closing word of caution: We cannot assume that being kind to and reasonable with those involved in this movement will somehow help us be liked or produce a change of heart and mind. We do not know what the outcome of our care will be, and we should not love and serve others simply because we want to see a certain result. We love and serve broken people because it’s what Jesus would do. His righteousness was a self-giving, sacrificial goodness that poured itself out for all who would repent and come to Him in loving and humble trust. Similarly, we must love with God’s unrelenting love. This is a tough love, but also an active and tender love seeking restoration for those trapped in sin (Galatians 6:1).
Help Those in the Church Struggling with Their Sexuality
As I’ve already emphasized, there is a danger in the way evangelicals sometimes express our love for and commitment to truth. In our zeal to condemn wickedness, we sometimes forget that apart from the grace of God in Christ, we too are wicked. And we sometimes forget that wickedness remains in our lives and in our midst. No one is yet perfect or beyond doing what is evil, no matter how long they have walked with the Lord.
I say this because when a Christian young man or women finds him or herself struggling with their sexuality, they are potentially forced to live in a church context where they hear constant condemnation, but very little compassion or understanding for what they are going through. We are so well known for what we are against, but seldom do we consistently present a glorious vision of all that we are for. Our perpetual denunciations—especially of sins and temptations we rarely, if ever, have to wrestle with—can push church-goers to remain silent and suffer alone with the shame of their struggle. And this is yet another tragic consequence of our smug sanctimoniousness.
While I personally may not struggle with homosexual desires, for example, I certainly struggle with inappropriate sexual desires in general. The church needs to do a better job of explaining the critical difference between temptation and sin. And while it’s not always easy, we need to do better at condemning sin while simultaneously giving assurance to sinners that this is why Jesus died in the first place. We need to create safe environments where we can be honest with each other and bring our struggles and failures into the light. We need to stop pretending we are perfect or better than everyone else and admit that we also struggle with sin and temptation on a daily basis. As we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another we can be healed (James 5:16), and we learn by personal experience that the power of sin is broken not through hiding it, but openly admitting and fastidiously forsaking it.
We have already noted some of the lies our culture perpetually perpetuates but the church has to do a much better job of helping its people be well informed and fully equipped against the lies and foolishness of our sex-obsessed, sin-infused culture. To use just one illustrative example, there is a common belief in our society today that sexual fulfillment, like food and shelter, is both a need and a right. But this is both false and demeaning. People can live very well without ever having sex, and through the ages, countless people—Jesus included—have fully resisted sexual temptations and lived productive, healthy, fulfilling lives. We must help people see the fallaciousness of assuming that sexual libido cannot be controlled or that sexual intimacy is somehow superior to or necessary for genuinely satisfying emotional intimacy. By God, it is not! Any idiot can have sex and know almost nothing about the other person. This is why prostitution is such a booming business worldwide. But precious few know the richness of real emotional intimacy that only comes through a true and abiding friendship.
1 Samuel 18:1 says, “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Only a superficial person would assume that this kind of deep intimacy must include sexual intercourse. What people need and long for is genuine human friendship, but our culture has lied to us by telling us we need sexual relations to be human, happy, and fulfilled. The church must not only teach against such insidious nonsense, but also provide greater opportunities (like small groups) for people to experience the kind of deep intimacy that comes through healthy interpersonal human relationships.
As I noted in the previous post, Christians struggling with homosexual attractions and other disordered sexual desires have to face some very tough choices. They can succumb to these desires. They can resist temptation and sublimate these desires by remaining celibate, an arduous but ultimately rewarding road. Or they can seek some sort of discipleship program and/or conversion therapy that tries to bring about a transformation of their desires so that they might eventually be attracted to and marry someone of the opposite sex. This latter option carries a great deal of controversy with it because as I previously explained, the nature of sexuality is complex and not fully understood. In addition, the power of sexual desire is not easily controlled, nor is it easily redirected.
Again, being a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) does not automatically eliminate all desires of the flesh which continually to wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). It may well be that for those with same-sex attractions, God’s call is to a life of celibacy and singleness. That may sound like a harsh sentence in a culture such as ours, but scriptures like 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 make it clear that this struggle is better embraced as an opportunity to serve God with singular and undivided devotion.
I fear the church has let the cultural noise drown out and make preposterous a biblical perspective on such issues. If we fail to teach—and especially live out ourselves—God’s sometimes hard but liberating truths, we are guilty of loving the world rather than loving and serving Him alone. In the end, that is the task and goal of every believer, no matter what struggles we are facing in our lives. The church must help all Christians everywhere know and obey God and keep His word, no matter how hard or countercultural that may seem (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Anything less is vanity and chasing after wind.
Accept the Sovereignty of God’s Purposes and Plans
When all is said and done, we must remember that God is not on the same schedule as we are regarding His purposes and plans. We sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye on how and when God brings about His will for us and His world. We sometimes think—even if we don’t come out and say it—that we could handle things better than Him. This is a lie. God alone is wise and good and powerful enough to find the best possible path to the best possible world for all living in it.
Yes, sometimes the wicked do prosper. Sometimes the righteous perish and are seemingly unrewarded in this life. Sometimes evil people gain power and influence and fame. These are mysteries that can trouble those longing for God’s righteousness and will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Ultimately, God will have the final say in all these matters. In the meantime, we are called to trust and obey Him faithfully, leaving the times and seasons in His hands. This is not the end of the world, but rather another opportunity to see God at work and to more fully trust Him in the midst of tough times.
In closing, it should also be emphasized that the church’s mission is far greater than the LGBTQIA movement. God’s calling for us is so much broader and more significant than mere concerns over human sexuality and sexual ethics. This is not to say these aren’t important, but it is to remind us not to forget the overall purposes God has for us as Christians—to live out and share the gospel in a world that desperately needs Jesus. Even if we win the battle on the sexuality front, we could lose the war if we fail to emphasize the message of God’s love and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. No matter what challenges we are facing inside and outside the church, God remains sovereign, and His gospel must ever and always remain the place where we begin and end, for His grace and goodness remain infinitely greater than our vilest sins and deepest fears.