Singleness & Spirituality

Singleness & Spirituality

In the 2018 blog posts, I intend to focus on family and relationship matters as they relate to the spiritual life. I plan to share insights by way of both book reviews and devotional thoughts from God’s word. As you seek God in this new year, I hope that you’ll follow along, that you’ll be blessed by the content, and that you’ll receive some direction about where to look further for spiritual wisdom in relational and family matters. Our vision here at West is for Jesus to fill every heart, head, and hand. I pray that these articles may be one way of leaning into that vision.

With Saint Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, love is in the air! I’ve been taking the same beautiful gal out on dates at this time for nearly 13 years now, so for me, the decision of “Who?” has been settled. Now, the decisions are narrowed to “Where?” “When?” and “How do we secure a babysitter before everyone else does?!” However, many of my friends are still asking that first “Who?” question, and they’re not just asking it for February 14th, but they’re asking it about their lifelong partner. “Who?”

Unique Challenges to the Single Life

I want to acknowledge the unique challenges of the single life today, at least the ones I am aware of. I add that disclaimer, because honestly, I don’t know what it’s like to be single today. I was single over fourteen years ago. Things have changed. Yet, some things are timeless for any single person of any era. Single people today wrestle with God about their marital status; some single people may be disappointed. You may feel like you missed your only chance to be happy, and you are still blaming yourself. Others wonder if they’ve waited too long. Impatience short-circuits the spiritual development needed to prepare you for what is next. The single person may find it difficult to find his or her place and voice in the church’s vision, mission, and goals. You may be dating someone right now, and you are looking for guidance. Finally, some of you are boiling angry that the thing that people notice most about you is your singleness, instead of the gazillion other wonderful things about you (Cue: SCREAM!!! Go ahead; let it out.).

In 2011, I performed a cultural assessment on the layers of the world’s voice and message to people, particularly in the areas of romance and singleness. The world has something to say to you, but it is the way of folly. The way of folly always leads to a grave of many kinds of spiritual death. The single, faithful Christian set on purity and pursuing God will receive ridicule from the world. Virginity today is mocked instead of treasured and protected. Unfortunately, single people who seek refuge in the church often encounter an even more perplexing, profound, and painful mockery. I have talked to single adults throughout my years and places of ministry who have experienced blindspots in the church when it comes to singles. For example, the church hurts singles when it carries the unspoken “rule” that marriage is the rite of passage into true adulthood.

Unique Joys in the Single Life

I also want to encourage the unique joys of the single life. It can be a season of unique friendship. The single life may provide a unique opportunity for adventure, education, career advancement, and spiritual maturity. It is a time for your skill in living to develop in areas such as finance, responsibilities, exercise, and trades and crafts that will benefit you and others. It most definitely presents a time of unique Christian ministry—particularly in connecting with and edifying children, tweens, and teens. Don’t worry; I’m going to catch myself here: Single adults also have a unique ministry to the church and its adult ministries. A faithful, single Christian adult is able to write, teach, and minister with a clarity, conviction, and boldness that sometimes escapes married people because the affections of our hearts are divided. Paul—a faithful, single Christian—called married people out on this, remember?

He wrote,

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another . . . I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:6–7, 26–35).

I have had the privilege to serve with an array of solid, single people throughout my pastoral ministry. They don’t simply acquire joy, but they spread their joy to those around them. They are often very self-less with their time, resources, and giftedness. The church is the body of Christ, and single people are significant members of the body—both historically and today.

Harmonizing with God’s Voice

Single friends, keep seeking God. Harmony is a wonderful sound to experience. God’s voice is clear, constant, reliable, and trustworthy. We must find his voice on the matters of the spiritual life. I’d like to share a number of harmonic voices that have helped me explore God’s wisdom on the single life. This list is by no means conclusive; in fact, I would love to hear from single people about what they’re reading these days on Christian spirituality and the single life. I hope that in the end you are able to find your voice and add it to the harmony. Here are a few resources that impacted my life in a way that matured my spirituality as a single person and a couple of newer ones that I recently encountered:

Oldies But Goodies

  1. The Bible — Well, duh Captain Obvious. I know, but seriously; consider all of the single writers and characters of the Bible (e.g., Jesus, Paul, Jeremiah). Still further, consider the characters whom we observe both as single and married (e.g., Joseph, David, Ruth, Naomi, etc.). Clearly, God employs people who are single to advance his purposes on the world stage. God made us, understands us, and cares for us. What kind of theology of the single life might you gain from studying God’s word from this perspective?
  2. He That Is Spiritual — I’ve read this book several times. I’ve gone back to it again and again when teaching on the spiritual life. It was written by Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1918. The book is an exposition on the (1) Natural Person, (2) Spiritual Person, (3) Carnal Person (the Christian who should be mature, but isn’t), and (4) Spiritual Infant (a new Christian). For Chafer, the key to the spiritual life is understanding the ministries of the Holy Spirit available to you in Christ alone. As a single person, this book helped establish me on a path of seeking the filling of the Spirit and of trusting in his works of grace in my life. It helped me put away some childish things and embrace the responsibility for my spiritual life.
  3. Basic Theology — It doesn’t have to be this particular theology for you, but every single person should work though a volume on basic Christian theology. What do you believe? It’s important for you to know, and it’s important for you to be able to share. I went through Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology numerous times. I used it for teaching early on in my ministry.
  4. Wild at Heart — Aimee, my wife, reminded me the other day how important this book was to me when we first met. She’s right. Wild at Heart was written by John Eldridge. This book is for men, but ladies, I hope you can find something that is equivalent. There comes a point in every adult’s life where they have to face their past—things that were in our control and things that were not but affected us nonetheless. This book helped me confess, heal, and advance as a man who wanted to experience God.
  5. I Kissed Dating GoodbyeThere are actually some interesting, current developments going on with this 90s–2000s classic. For me in my own experience, it exposed the sexual and emotional sewage in which I had been swimming. It showed me the lies that I’d believed about love, trust, dating, happiness, purity, and more. It helped me discern what matters at 50. It caused me to be honest about the sickness in my heart. It challenged me in the area of genuine friendship. Joshua Harris had some wise things to say back in 1997 that are still relevant today; however, he may be presently fine-tuning his thoughts on IKDG. As a new Christian in 2001 wondering what on earth Christian spirituality in dating was supposed to look like, this book helped me.
  6. The Book of Romance — Harris’ book deconstructed my non-biblical worldview for dating, but Tommy Nelson’s book helped build something new in its place. Nelson looks at the biblical book of the Song of Songs, and paints a beautiful picture of what romance can be like for the person who loves God.
  7. Passion and Purity — Elisabeth Elliot’s book interwove the spiritual life and the romantic life by means of her own story. As a man, the book gave me insight into a woman’s perspective. A new edition was released in 2002. She’s real about our passions; she’s tenacious about purity. She understands that whatever estate we may find ourselves in, our lives must be brought under Christ’s control and lordship.

Newbies

  1. Just Do Something — Every Christian at some point has to have a frank conversation about “God’s will” for their lives. If you’re like me, you needed more than one conversation to clear the fog. John MacArthur has a sermon that I have listened to again and again for years. More recently, Kevin DeYoung authored this book. I love the subtitle: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will OR How To Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc.
  2. Gospel Fluency — In the Christian’s spiritual life either at the beginning or at a point of revival or re-commitment, he or she must encounter the reality that the gospel of Jesus Christ is EVERYTHING. When it is replaced by some counterfeit, the whole of Christianity crumbles. Jeff Vanderstelt places the gospel on the throne of the spiritual life.
  3. Exploring Christian Theology — If Ryrie is a little too old school for you, then try this three-volume set. Don’t worry; each volume isn’t too terribly long. The authors are professors whom I spent time with in seminary, and they have really put together a great beginner’s theology that also connects with the devotional life.
  4. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy — And may I add, single guy. Bonhoeffer was engaged, and he has some other books on that particular topic. However, his engagement was cut short. Eric Metaxas’ biography shows how God was at work in Bonhoeffer’s life and how he redeemed the time during evil days.
  5. Your Money Map — This book by Howard Dayton is one in a long line of succession from Larry Burkett’s influence. As a single Christian, one of the most beneficial things I did was to complete a financial workbook that gave me a sense of what God has to say about money. Single or married, a person needs to know how to handle money, or it will handle you!
  6. Living Together — In a world where cohabitation is on the rise and viewed as a smart thing to do, this book offers biblical insight and wisdom on the matter, particularly for those who find themselves in a situation to give advice. It’s written by my former pastor, Jeff VanGoethem. All the research says the same thing—cohabitation lays a poor foundation for marriage as a sacred covenant and as a life-long commitment. Single adults need to wake up about this, and the church needs to know how to approach the trend with grace and truth.

There are many more books that could or should be included. but these are some with which I have become familiar. I hope that you’ll let me know what book or stories God has used in your life as a single person. Face the challenges with courage. Embrace the joys with great delight. Remember that Jesus loves you; he has not lost track of you in the crowd. May the church be blessed by your presence.

Navigating Relationships in the Christian Life: Singleness and Marriage

Singleness

A lady wanted to marry four different men in her lifetime. She said each one would help her with the four things she needed most. First, she wanted to marry a banker. Second, a movie star. Next, a clergyman. And finally, a funeral director. When asked why, she answered, “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!” (Chuck Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life).

Well, that’s certainly one way of looking at it! Last Sunday at West Lisbon, we began the last of four sermon series that have highlighted our core Biblical and Historical Principles: (1) The Worship of God, (2) The Gospel Mission, (3) The Spiritual Life, and (4) The Family. Last week, we sought to recover God’s vision for the family, which starts with recognizing God’s original intent and purpose in creating humanity. He created us to be his image-bearers, singing us into being (Gen.1:27), and he blessed humanity, giving them special power and privilege to fill the earth with the image of God and to carry our his purposes in history. This Sunday, May 15th, we’ll look at how strong singles strengthen the mission of the gospel (1 Cor. 7:25–35).

In light of the series and our current sermon topics, I decided to write to you about navigating relationships in the Christian life. It is my hope to employ my experience and the Bible to give direction to those who are single with no intention to marry right now, others who are single and actively seeking a potential spouse, and even those who are presently engaged to be married to another. At the end, I’ll also reference some further reading on the topic.

At the beginning of 2002, I was a new Christian, in the middle of college and undecided about my degree and career path, and engaged to be married. By the end of 2002, I was still growing in my Christian faith with a new burden to learn from the Bible what it meant to be a Christian man and servant-leader. I also switched colleges in order to study Bible and Theology. I was no longer engaged to be married. I wondered if I ever would get married, if God had called me to a life of singleness, and if I was capable of being a godly husband. In hindsight, I see so many things that I did wrong, but I did one thing that was very helpful to my spiritual growth—I took two years to read, study, pray, and develop relationships with other godly men with the aim of becoming one myself by God’s grace. There was nothing magical about two years, it just happened to be the period of time that God gave to me to figure some things out. There are six principles that I learned to navigate during that time that I want to share with you and which I hope are helpful to your walk with Christ: Mission, Love, Purity, Trust, Loyalty, and Community.

Navigating Mission

Did you know that you were created for a mission? Not just any mission, but God’s mission. Genesis 1:26–28 explains that God made humanity for the purposes of bearing his image and ruling as his representatives on the earth. Image-bearing refers primarily to the spiritual side of our identity. Remember, God is spirit (John 4:24), so the way in which we bear his image is spiritual. In Genesis 1:26 and 28, God also blessed humanity with dominion over the earth. Tony Evans describes this dominion as

ruling on God’s behalf in history so that history comes under God’s authority.

God sang you into existence (Gen. 1:27), and he created you for the ultimate mission. Life is all about this mission. It also implies that there is opposition. Why else would God’s rule and dominion need to be established so that the earth is filled with his image-bearers? Satan opposes God and his rule, and therefore, he opposes humans and their God-given mission. We are God’s representatives sent into enemy territory.

Reading in Genesis 3, we discover that Satan gained what appeared to be a key victory over our first parents. In the temptation, Adam and Eve failed to bear God’s image, and they failed to exercise their dominion over the creatures of the sea, air, and land by submitting themselves to the snake. Sin shattered the image-bearers; humans surrendered their dominion to the enemy. However, God resolved to continue his plan to fill the earth with his glory and dominion. Now, the mission is not so much about procreation as it is spiritual rebirth. Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3; cf. Titus 3:3–7).

Notice how the rule of God is now tied together with the new birth by the Spirit. How do we participate in this mission of new birth leading to a recovery of God’s rule? We must proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. His faithful death and resurrection regenerates the soul, restores the image-bearing mission of humanity, and makes way for the kingdom of God on the earth.

If you are single, have you methodically and intentionally thought through the implications of the gospel mission on your life? Is God finished utilizing your single years for his “gospel-schooling”? Remember,

For we are his poem, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

If you are considering marriage or are already married, how is God calling you as a couple to give your lives for the gospel mission? Humans were created for image-bearing and for God’s dominion. Jesus saves us to restore this mission. This is bedrock. This is why you exist. It’s why you’re here, and his grace has everything you need to live a life of significance—single or married.

Navigating Love

I once bought—hook, line, and sinker—into our culture’s description of love. Even Merriam-Webster is too simplistic when it comes to defining love,

a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person; attraction that includes sexual desire; the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship; a person you love in a romantic way.

Notice the words . . . feeling . . . attraction . . . romantic. For sure, this is one side of love—companionship, affection, feeling, and romance—but our American concept of love ignores the key element of love—choice that leads to selfless action. Biblical love is the love that denies oneself for the benefit and interest of others. The love of God for us through the work of Christ is described in this way.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3–5).

Later, the apostle John writes,

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers (1 John 3:16).

This kind of sacrificial love is demanded of husbands in Ephesians 5:25.

When we are born again, believing in Jesus Christ, God begins again to shape us into his image-bearers. The Holy Spirit indwells us, and his presence is accompanied by a fruitfulness, part of which is this kind of love. I learned years ago that the single life is a training ground for this kind of sacrificial love. There are tons of opportunities to learn and yield to the Holy Spirit, so that he may shape you into a person who chooses to love. There are parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, nephews, nieces, co-workers, friends, fellow Christians, and others with whom you can share life together and develop this Christ-like love. If you’re single, has God finished using your single years to school you in sacrificial love? If you are engaged, are you ready to love in this way? Do you feel that your fiancé is also prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to thrive in your marriage and mission? If you’ve been married awhile, where are you struggling to choose to love? What is preventing you from laying down your life for your spouse?

Navigating Purity

When I was born again in 2001, God opened my eyes to the sexual sewage that I had been swimming in for years. I needed to change my mind about sexuality. Instead of assuming that I knew what was proper, I needed to humbly receive God’s clear teaching on the theme of purity in the spiritual life of one who has been born again and who was being restored in Christ to bear God’s image again. Psalm 119:9 has always stuck with me from those days, “How shall a young man keep his way pure?” asks the Psalmist. He answers, “By keeping it according to your word.” Therefore, God has something to say about purity, and since he is the designer of our sexuality, then it seems best to let him speak into this area of our lives.

As the sexual sewage of the world continues to accumulate more and more, God’s truth about purity continues to set us free. The real question is, do you want purity? Do you really want to be pure? Do you really want what the Holy Spirit wants for your life? Stop treating purity like it’s some line, as if you’re still pure so long as you don’t break some rule you’ve set up for yourself. Purity is a direction of the heart. You either want it, or you don’t. You either love what God loves, or you don’t. If you don’t, find in God the grace you need to repent, and allow the word of God to renew your mind. If you do, then you can trust that he will continue to direct the desires of your heart into paths of purity.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday (Psalms 37:3–6).

Don’t make purity a cloudy mystery. God has not left us to walk around aimlessly in some sexual fog. Be authentic and honest; let’s be real, and stop justifying immorality. God’s will on sexual purity is not confusing; it’s very clear. From the beginning, he designed sexuality to be experienced within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. He has sanctified the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4; cf. 1 Cor. 7:3–5). He hasn’t changed his view. His design still works best for his glory and our enjoyment. Remember, the works of the sinful nature are obvious—they’re not mysterious—and they are trying to deceive, destroy, and to rob you of genuine sexuality, worship, relationships, and order (Gal. 5:19–21; cf. 1 Thess. 4:3–8).

Do you have a heading? Is the compass of your spiritual life pointed in the direction of purity? It is best to find this heading while you’re single. Establish a direction and a delight in purity before you enter into a relationship. Don’t enter a relationship unprepared. Be ready to lead toward purity. If you are already in a relationship in which you’ve lost purity, take the necessary steps to regain purity. If you’re dating or engaged and purity has been lost, get out of the relationship, or in the very least postpone any big plans. Sexual immorality clouds discernment and vision. Saying the “I-dos” won’t all of a sudden create a culture of purity in your relationship. Remember how urgent Jesus was about handling the temptations of the world, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matthew 18:7–9). If you are married and immorality has crept into your marriage, get help quick. Don’t try to bear the burden alone; let spiritually mature brothers and sisters walk alongside you so that you may begin to imagine a pathway into healing and perhaps even restoration.

There’s more to say, but for now, let’s conclude part one of Navigating Singleness and Marriage in the Christian Life. In the June Messenger, we’ll pick up part two and learn to navigate trust, loyalty, and community. Here are a number of books to pick up for further reading and help in navigating the waters of singleness and marriage:

This Momentary Marriage by John Piper (http://www.desiringgod.org/books/this-momentary-marriage)
The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller (http://www.timothykeller.com/books/the-meaning-of-marriage)
Our Story . . . His Story by Rick Rood
I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris (btw, some Christians hate this book; but it helped me tremendously)
Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris
Not Even a Hint by Joshua Harris
Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn (http://www.everymanministries.com)
Every Woman’s Battle by Shannon Etheridge (http://familylifetoday.com/series/every-woman-s-battle/)
Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot

I hope that part one has been encouraging to you and that these resources equip you for godliness and for experiencing God personally and in your relationships.

Where To Go from Here? Christian Local Church Ministry following the SCOTUS Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

It almost isn’t news anymore. Things come and go so quickly these days in the news. However, the Supreme Court of the United States’ (SCOTUS) decision to nationally secure the right for same-sex couples to marry will no doubt have ripple effects for years to come.

For me, I have been reading about this issue, probably just like you have been. I have read news articles and numerous Christian responses to the SCOTUS decision. Some churches are employing the decision to make a shift themselves on the issue, becoming more accepting of the idea of monogamous, same-sex relationships. Other churches are digging in their heals and getting ready for a wave of religious intolerance like the USA has never seen.

In recent weeks, I have personally received two requests to respond to the issue. One came from a family member who received a disturbingly persuasive argument for same-sex marriage that claimed to be biblical, and the other came from a pastor friend whose daughter attends a church in New York City that recently shifted its stance on the matter of same-sex marriage to become more inclusive. Therefore, I imagine that just as I am receiving emails or letters like this, you probably are too.

I don’t know that I will add anything new to what many have already said—so much ink has already been spilled. However, I do want to at least provide a summary of some things that have already been said. Additionally, I think it is important for us to understand why some evangelical churches are shifting on this issue. Finally, where do we go from here as a local church? It is inevitable I think that some of us will have interactions with homosexuals—whether at work, friends or friends of friends, and perhaps even family members. And we need to be ready to respond in truth and in love.

Why Are Some Churches Shifting on the Issue?

The first and perhaps the major reason churches are making this shift is due to an improper hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the art and science of acquiring the meaning of Scripture; that is, it is interpretive method. Some evangelical Christians today are looking at the major texts that touch directly on the issue of homosexuality (e.g., Gen. 19:5; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9; and 1 Tim. 1:10) and opening themselves up to interpretive methods that aren’t necessarily new, but rather are becoming more publicly preferred in our politically correct climate. I can sum these up into three.

The Postmodern Hermeneutic says that the Bible can say whatever the interpreter wants it to say. There is a movie that illustrates this problematic interpretative method called The Book of Eli. As the story goes, there is one Bible left in the whole world, and Eli has it. Throughout the story it is clear that God is with Eli to protect him and his word. But there is a bad guy. The bad guy knows that whoever has that book can use it to control people; the person who has the “word of God” can make it say whatever he wants in order to make people feel divine obligation to do what he says. President Mark Bailey of Dallas Theological Seminary once wisely stated that,

The inability to exhaust all knowledge does not mean that we cannot know some things.

The point is that, “No,” you may certainly not use the Bible to make it mean whatever you want it to mean. The Spirit of God in the church has a history of interpretation. The Bible many times even interprets itself. So, in the case of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, neither side can simply make the Bible say whatever they would like it to say. The Bible, believe it or not, has its own voice.

The Abused Redemptive Hermeneutic is an unfortunate use of an otherwise good hermeneutic. The redemptive hermeneutic at its most basic level helps us to understand trajectories in Scripture. For example, I think most biblical scholars would admit to redemptive movement in the role of women in religious service as you move from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament. The idea of male headship is continuous throughout Scripture in places like the home and in the pastorate; however, there is also a movement with the nature of salvation in the gospel that further redeems the role of women in the religious life of God’s people. For example, the priesthood of all believers applies to women too. Women receive gifting from the Spirit too in order to help build the church. Whereas in the Old Testament, women were more limited in the religious life and service. The idea of slavery seems to also experience transformation from the old to the new. Not only, does Paul call both slaves and masters to a commonality in Christ, but his letter to Philemon concerning the runaway slave Onesimus was socially different because of the gospel’s implications. Coming to the homosexuality and same-sex issue, I feel that this redemptive hermeneutic has been abused. The reason is because Scripture itself never ever indicates any change in trajectory with regard to homosexual relationships and practices. From the Old to the New, the message is the same—homosexual desire and practice are forbidden. Sexual immorality is treated the same; Marriage is treated the same.

Lastly, the Silence Hermeneutic is probably the most frequently used interpretive method that I see being used in writings on the issue right now. It goes something like this: “Since the Bible does not directly address the issue of monogamous, same-sex marriage and since Jesus himself never spoke to that issue, we can best respond to these relationship by love, acceptance, and inclusion within the body of Christ.” Such adherents would explain away the previously mentioned Bible passages (e.g., Gen. 19:5; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9; and 1 Tim. 1:10) as referring to a kind of exploitive homosexual behavior (such as rape or pederasty) or to an idolatry-based homosexual behavior. The problems with this way of understanding the Bible are very important. First, the Bible never addresses the idea of same-sex marriage because it forbids such sexual possibility. The Bible clearly forbids sexual possibilities with certain people and even with animals; for example, the Christian man is forbidden to consider the sexual possibility of a relationship with another man’s wife. It doesn’t matter if that man chose or did not choose to have feelings for another man’s wife, nor does it matter how strong those urges are, rather it matters that God has forbidden the sexual possibility of such a relationship. Therefore, because the Bible forbids the sexual possibility between a male and another male or a female with another female, we can easily correlate that same-sex marriage is a forbidden relationship. When the Bible uses the phrase “sexual immorality” or in the older versions “fornication” to translate the Greek word πορνεία, the phrase is functioning as a sort of “catch-all” for all of the sexual deviations from God’s original design for human sexuality. I personally see continuity between the Leviticus descriptions in chapter 18 with Jesus’ reference in Matthew 19:9 and with the apostolic decree at the end of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28–29. So, the question begs, does the Bible view same-sex desire and sexual possibility as sexual immorality (which would preclude the idea of same-sex marriage)? In my view, this is exactly the biblical category to which it belongs, along with premarital sex, adultery, adulterous lust, exploitive sex, incest, idolatry-related sexual practice, etc. Second, the claim of some that Jesus never spoke to the issue is deceptive. When he was asked about divorce (as recorded in the Gospels), his answer was very clear, and the source on which he built his answer happened to be Genesis 2:24 and the broader Genesis 1–2 teaching on the topic of marriage. Therefore, he uses Scripture to provide a proper interpretative answer to the question about divorce (Mark 10; Mathew 19). I think it is fair and safe to assume that he would go back to the exact same place if he were to have been asked whether it was lawful for a man to marry another man, or for a woman to marry another woman. He would go back to the ideal set forth at the beginning. So, we must not trample all over Scripture in order to carry out a desire to become more inclusive and welcoming.

Where Do We Go from Here? Teach Truth; Love Well

My aim here has been to interact with the Scriptures and to assess how other churches are failing to faithfully interpret Scripture on this matter. I realize there are other matters weighing into the discussion, such as the more secular and material arguments for allowing same-sex marriage in the context of a democracy where every person is not a Christian. However, I am a Christian, and we are Christians here at West Lisbon, and for our part in this democracy of ours, to the best of our ability, we begin with what our God has spoken because we believe that adhering to his word leads to general blessings for ourselves and for those whose lives we touch (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:12–16). So, what is a church like ours to do in the midst of this wave of sexual immorality in our culture? Well, I’m convinced that we must continue to teach the truth of God’s word, and we must continue to love as Christ loves. We cannot afford to weaken on these two fronts.

On the truth front, we must faithfully teach God’s design for sexuality between one man and one woman in a committed marriage relationship until death breaks that covenant. We need to uphold this truth not only in the context of same-sex marriage discussions, but also in the face of the cultural trend of no-fault, easy divorce. Starting with our young, we need to instruct them about God’s ideals of sacrificial love and purity as something worth fighting for in relationships, thought-life, and technology consumption. We need to continue to help young people think and pray through the biblical expectation of the lifelong covenant of marriage; help them enjoy their single years pursuing the Redeemer and other significant friendships; prepare them with wisdom about finances and education decisions. We must teach the truth about sin and about the dangers of sexual deviation from God’s design. We must continue to teach the truth about gracious God who loves sinners and who wants to give them power to overcome the slavery of sin in their lives.

In an ideal world and in ideal scenarios, everyone just believes the truth at an early age and brokenness is minimized, and we all sing, “Shout to the Lord.” But what about for those of us who “come broken sexually to be mended, wounded sexually to be healed, desperate sexually to be rescued, empty sexually to be filled”? What about those of us who come to the church a sexual mess? Is there any hope? Yes, there is, and this hope begins to be experienced by the broken person when the church members love well. One of the ways we can love well is by being super passionate about seeing God gift to a person authentic humanity in Christ. If you are passionate about seeing such a thing develop, then you’ll be friends with the broken person. You’ll share God’s story with the broken person. You’ll sacrificially offer your time to the broken person. With specific regard to the same-sex issue of our day, I am convinced that part of authentic humanity—as God intended it in the beginning and which he is giving anew in Christ—is our respective male-ness or female-ness. We were made to be either male or female. I believe sin clouds the capacity of our respective genders to glorify God. Remember, God created us male and female to bear his likeness. This image-bearing potential is restored in Christ, so one of the ways that we love well is by affirming gender distinctions and by helping develop true manhood and true womanhood for the glory of God.

For Your Personal Study and Devotion

As I said earlier, a lot of ink has been spilled on this topic. Here, I’d like to list a few things to read and offer a final prayer for the church and for our world in general. You should be able to Google search all of these articles and books:

“The Bible and Same-Sex Marriage: 6 Common But Mistaken Claims” by Dr. Darrell Bock for The Gospel Coalition

“40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags” by Kevin DeYoung for The Gospel Colation

“Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?” by Dr. Denny Burk for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung 

The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard B. Hays

Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by Williams J. Webb

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

I also have been reading those who would be on the opposite side of this discussion, and if you would like some of those references, I’d be happy to give you those privately. Just let me know.

Consider the context of Romans 1:18–32, I’d like to leave you with a challenge to pray for the spiritual awakening of our nation. Personally, I think there is a deeper spiritual issue in our nation than homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I would say that these things are symptoms of a bigger, more dangerous, underlying problem. The problem is this: there is a sweeping neglect and suppression of the knowledge of God among Americans, even in the church. We have lived so long in comfort, ease, and recreation, that we have largely forgotten our desperate need for God. Pastor Tony Evans has many times said that the church is the spiritual immune system of the nation, if the immune system is weak, then you will begin to see the effects in the broader culture. What if God is turning us over to the decline in Romans 1:18–32 because we have stopped hungering and thirsting for him? And what if the church is at the center of the problem . . . and the solution? What if one of the ways you can minister to the homosexual community is by praying for personal revival that will lead to awakening in the church that will snowball into revival in the nation? God made and saves us to worship him; if we forget him, things always decline.