Who is your master?

In the last two posts found here and here I have looked at what Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-23. There Jesus gave two illustrations concerning how one in the Kingdom should view money–where ones treasure lies and what ones eyes see. The  last illustration is found in verse 24:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

At first glance it seems that this phrase “no one can serve two masters” is just untrue. I mean, some could respond and say “I serve two masters, I’ve got two jobs—I have two bosses.” But this response fails to understand the meaning behind the word “serve (an unfortunate translation).” The word in the original literally means “to be a slave.” It has to do with the relationship between a slave and a slave-owner. And with that understanding, Jesus’ words make perfect sense. As well know Scholar R.T. France put it:

No one can serve two master is patently untrue; we do it all the time…but a slave was not employed under contract, but was normally wholly owned by the person who had bought him or her.

Just like a slave is unable to devote his life to two slave-owners so Christians cannot be a slave to God and a slave to money. We have to choose one or the other. That’s really the meaning behind the words love/hate in this context—either we will choose God or we’ll choose money, period; you can’t have both! Unfortunately, some become a slave to money. Paul warned Timothy about it:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:9-10)

He even had friends who deserted him for it:

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:6)

But Jesus calls us to be a slave of His. This is really the whole point isn’t it? That we are single-minded in devotion to the Lordship of Christ. What he says goes; what he wills we will do; what he desires we desire. Money is nothing, only a means to make His name glorified! We are slaves of Christ! 

Being a slave is not the most relevant nor accepted picture I admit, but it is exactly how the New Testament describes us. We are slaves, and we are going to be slaves in one way or another. But when we’re slaves to Christ that makes us slaves to an enormously benevolent master! I heard well-known Pastor, John Macarthur, speak on this idea of slave/master recently. I loved what he had to say:

“I was doing a pastors’ conference with African-American pastors in North Carolina, and the subject came up. We were having a great time. We were in the football stadium at Wake Forest; it’s really kind of a neat place. We were up in this beautiful football complex with a glass window overlooking the football field; all these pastors where there. One of them said, “How in the world am I going to tell my congregation? How am I going to tell my congregation this message about slaves when it has such a stigma? What am I going to tell them?”

And I said, “Well, I’ve got good news for you. You have a loving Master who is all-wise, compassionate, generous, powerful, resourceful, protective, kind, merciful, forgiving, who takes you from being just a slave to making you a slave that is also a friend…Are you ready for this one?…and takes you from being a friend to a son, and not just a son but a joint-heir. And if you follow the rest of the count in the New Testament, you become a citizen of His Kingdom. Do you understand that no slave in the Roman Empire could be a citizen? Couldn’t own anything? Didn’t have any rights? Couldn’t give testimony to a court of law? Couldn’t be defended in court? This is a different kind of slavery. He provides everything you need; makes you an intimate friend and gives you full disclosure of everything that’s on His heart. First Corinthians 2:16, “We have a mind of Christ.” He’s revealed it to us on the pages of Scripture, and He makes us sons, and He makes us heirs and joint-heirs with His own Son and He–we could go on–He makes us reign with Him, citizens of His glorious kingdom.”

And so it is with us. We are slaves of Christ, not our money. For, how we view our money determines how we view God. May we see our money as only a means by which we store our treasures in heaven, view our lives through generous eyes, and never let it control our sole allegiance to Christ!

An Evil Eye

Two Visions

In my last post I discussed Jesus words in Matthew 6:19-21. There he focused on two treasures–treasures stored on earth and treasures stored in heaven. In verses 22-23 Jesus offers a second, more ambiguous illustration. But once you dig past the surface and discover what Jesus had in mind, it’s a sobering truth. Notice verses 22-23:

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

An evil eye or a healthy eye?

At first glance it seems quite obscure. But the more we ponder at the text, its meaning becomes clear.  First, Jesus says that the “eye is the lamp of the body.” What does that mean? Simply, that through our eyes we see things. That’s it. Jesus isn’t trying to be scientific; he is just trying to build a metaphor to teach a spiritual truth. Our eye is the way we see things before us. 

Then, he gives us two comparisons. First, we have “a healthy eye.” The word “healthy” here is important for us in understanding what Jesus means. The word carries two primary meanings: (1) undivided/single, and (2) generous. Usually and most often the word takes on the first idea, but I believe the context lends itself to the latter. The reason is because of how it fits with Jesus comparison of the good and bad eye as we will see. 

The clarity of what Jesus means here comes to light when we understand what he meant by the phrase “bad eye.” The phrase literally means “evil eye.” What is interesting here is that the phrase “evil eye” was a Jewish idiom that meant “stingy/greedy.” Take for example Proverbs 28:22 which says:

A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him (Proverbs 28:22)

The word “stingy” in the above passage means literally “a man whose eye is evil.” An evil eye therefore was used to describe someone who was greedy, and stingy. 

Therefore, when we read “bad eye” and “healthy eye” what Jesus is comparing is a “stingy person” verses a “generous person.” The one with a bad eye is full of darkness. They are unable to view the world through the lens of the Kingdom because of their greed and stinginess. On the other hand, those with healthy eyes are full of light. They are generous and understand that money is simply a means of investing in God’s Kingdom. 

Now follow me here, what Jesus is saying is this: the way we view Money—whether we are greedy or generous—carries over into the whole of a person! That means the way we deal with our money directly affects how we will live in every other area of our Christian life! In essence Jesus is saying “if you are greedy your whole life will be full of darkness, but if you are generous your whole life will be full of light.” That’s why Paul says so clearly in Colossians 3:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4)

So the question as Jesus puts it in the end of verse 23 is “how great is the darkness? This is a call to reflect on our own lives! Do we have evil eyes or good eyes? Are we greedy or are we generous? Do we view our money as wholly devoted to God’s Kingdom or do we view our money as ours, and long for more? What’s are view? We have only two choices.  The main point is the same:  How we view our money determines how we view our love for God

What do you treasure?

When we love someone there is nothing we wouldn’t do to make our significant other happy. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, when it comes to our relationship with our father in Heaven, we are ready to offer our lives to him, except for our wallets and purses. 

I have heard somewhere about a technique Africans use to capture monkeys. They put a banana in a small-mouthed jar chained to a tree. The monkey will reach in to get the banana, and get his hand stuck the jar. Because he refuses to let go of the banana, he is captured. He could have easily set himself free if he had just been willing to let go of his prized possession.

That is a picture of many who are trying to hold to their possessions and at the same time be devoted to Christ. But  there really is only two choices when it comes to our money and our relationship to God. A good place to begin the conversation about God and possessions is found in Matthew 6:19-24.

Jesus offers three illustrations that each point to two choices concerning how we view our money. I’ll discuss the first in this article and the next two in the following. Here’s what Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Two Treasures

Treasure on earth

You may not be able to observe it in the original but Jesus is doing a little play on words here (You can see in the original Greek how the two bolded words share the same verb stem:  Μὴ θησαυρίζετε ὑμῖν θησαυρος). He says literally do not treasure for yourselves treasures.

Treasures here simply refers to those things in your life in which are extremely valuable—your car, your house, your boat, your clothes, your food, your dog…etc. One person defines it as “that which is of exceptional value and kept safe—‘treasure, wealth, riches (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains New York: United Bible Societies, 1996, 620).’

 But is Jesus then saying that it’s wrong to have things? To have a home. . .to have a car. . .to plan for the future and have a savings account?

Simply answered, no. But there is a parable Jesus told in Luke that helps us get a grasp on exactly what “storing up treasures on earth” looks like. It’s in Luke 12:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:13-21).”

So what is storing up treasure on earth look like? We store up treasure on earth when we move beyond our needs and begin storing up our wants. This is admittedly a hard truth to swallow, but Jesus is telling us that our material possessions—our money—is not for the purposes of “stocking up.” But why?

Foolishness of earthly gain

Storing up earthly gain is stocking up for ourselves more and more stuff—for the sole purpose of stocking up stuff! That’s the goal! To make sure we have a lot of things in our possession! But Jesus says this is foolish! Why? Because our possessions are temporary. Observe the last part of verse 19:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal

In the time of Jesus one’s wealth was not indicated by paper currency. It was in metals (like gold and silver) and clothing. And one’s money was not stored away in a bank somewhere but was hidden in a safe place inside the house. 

Jesus says, don’t store your treasures on earth because the moths will eat away your clothing, and the metals and materials will “rust (literally “eating”) away, and thieves will (lit. “dig through” because thieves would literally dig through the walls of a house) steal your belongings. In other words, it is foolish to store up material possessions on earth because they only last a short while.

  • Our Iphones—become obsolete in weeks!
  • Our cars (we bought our first “new Car” in 2014, and after our kids got a hold of it, it was done!
  • Our bodies decay
  • Our things will eventually rot!

And yet, that’s what we tend to do. We get fixated on making sure we have enough stuff. We want the nicest things. We desire lots of money in the bank. And for what? What is it accomplishing? One day it will all be gone! Jesus says elsewhere: 

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul (Mark 8:36)?

As Christians we need to realize that the things in this life are temporary. This world is not our home. Listen to how Peter describes us in 1 Peter 2:11:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11).

That’s what we are: sojourners, exiles, and aliens to this world. This world is not our home! I like how the Christian Contemporary Band, Mercy Me puts it:

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place
Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow
I’ve never been more homesick than now

Treasure in Heaven 

So that brings us to the other choice: treasure in Heaven. Look at verse 22:

but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Jesus calls us to a better choice—treasure in Heaven. But what does that entail?

What is treasure in heaven?

I think Craig Blomberg in his commentary on Matthew put it as good as any: 

Treasure in Heaven is the compassionate use of material resources to meet other’s physical and spiritual needs, in keeping with the priorities of God’s Kingdom (Blomberg, Craig. Matthew, 123).

The Apostle Paul helps us understand what storing our treasures in Heaven looks like:

 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Storing our treasures in Heaven is simply thinking about investing our possessions/money with a Kingdom mindset. It means asking the question:  “How can I use my money—what I have over and beyond the physical needs of my family–to invest in the work of the Kingdom? 

The wisdom of storing treasure in heaven

Now, notice the wisdom of storing treasure in Heaven opposed to the foolishness of storing our money on earth in the next part of verse 20:

but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

When we store up for ourselves treasure on earth—for the here and now—we are investing in temporary and fading things. But when we invest our money in God’s Kingdom, it carries over eternal dividends! When we invest in the Kingdom God will bless us eternally in the future. I like how Mark Moore puts it:

It’s true you can’t take it with you but Jesus said you can send it ahead.

Furthermore, investing in the Kingdom means that we invest in the lives of others. We invest in seeing lives changed, people come to know Christ, people freed from the separation of God for eternity. That’s a true and lasting investment! 

The Main  Point

What’s the point to all of this? Here it is: how we view our money determines how we view our love for God. It’s right there in verse 21:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We have two choices: invest our money in ourselves or invest our money in God’s Kingdom. However, when  we spend our money one thing is inescapable—how we spend our money determines how we view our love for God. Moore is right when he goes on to say:

Our wallets are one of the best barometers of our spirits

See, when we truly understand what life in the kingdom is, we begin to view our money differently. Money is only a means by which we can help bring people into the kingdom! Therefore:

  • The car we drive
  • The boat we own
  • The house we live in
  • The savings account
  • The toys and things we have cluttering up our basement

All of these things and more are only seen as vehicles by which we can bring the Gospel to a lost and dying world—period. The way we view our stuff inevitably points to how we view God. If we store up treasures on earth we say that our wealth is more important than our worship! 

The Bridge that Leads Us from Anxiety to Peace.

An Anxious People

We are an anxious people. As I reflect on my small ministry at Sonrise it is consumed with conversations dealing with the anxieties people have over various circumstances in their lives. I think if Jesus were in many of our churches we would hear him say the words he told Martha on a regular basis, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. . .(Luke 10:41)”

In fact I am an anxious person by nature–I do not handle stressful situations very well. For example, it was Easter Sunday and I had decided to arrive early, before anyone had arrived so I could edit a few things on the church computer for the service later that day. My plan was to slip in, get what I needed done, and be back home before any of my kids had woken up. However, in just a few minutes I had managed to make everything that was supposed to be displayed on the screen at the front of the auditorium disappear. What button had I hit!? And how do I get everything back where it was!?

For the next hour and a half, in my pajamas, I stressed, wined, complained, kicked, and screamed as I frustratingly tried to fix the problem. But I only seemed to make things worse. My wife called me wondering where I was because now all of the kids were jumping on her bed wanting breakfast—what a morning! And the sad reality was, all of this was concerning me on the greatest day of the year—resurrection day! When I arrived a few hours later, with my family (and a not so happy wife!) I noticed everything was back on the screen just like normal. “How did you fix the screen!” I asked the sound guy. His reply—“the projector chord to the back of the computer was not plugged in.”

If the results of a simple google search is any evidence of how our culture handles anxiety than I’m not alone. Anxiety is most definitely an issue we all can relate to in one way or another. I’m sure if I were to write a book titled “the guaranteed cure for anxiety” It would sell millions!

Well, no need to hunt down any such book because there is a text of scripture I believe has that very answer. It’s found in two simple verses:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).”

In this text I see a bridge that leads us from the troubles of anxiety to the protection of peace.

The Troubles of Anxiety

On the one side of this bridge is Paul’s negative command in verse 6–“Do not be anxious.”

I think it goes without saying that anxiety is inevitable because anxiety is the result of both unavoidable and avoidable circumstances. It should be said from the start that anxiety resulting from our various circumstances is going to creep up. The issue I think in Paul’s command to “not be anxious” has to do with our continual consuming and fretting over our circumstances; that we allow anxiety to overtake us, and we have no intention to resolve it. It’s interesting to notice that this command to “not be anxious” is in the present tense. This suggests a continual state of anxiety–“Don’t continue in a state of anxiety…”

Now Paul had every reason to be anxious:

  • He was in prison (And yet “Joy” is mentioned around 12 times in this small letter!)
  • He is being afflicted by his own Christian brothers as they preach out of selfish ambition ( Philippians 1:15-20)
  • He has some who are becoming enemies of the cross which has brought him to tears (Philippians 3:18)

And the Philippian Christians whom Paul was writing to had every reason to be anxious as well:

  • There was external persecution being placed on the church (For example Philippians 1:27-29)
  • There were Internal struggles happening within the church (For example Philippians 4:2. Could you imagine this being read out loud in church!)

And yet, while all this is in the background Paul commands the church: “do not be anxious!.”And as it is for the Philippians it is for us who follow Christ as well! So what is the cure to anxiety, what is it that will take our fears and worries away? Verse 7 points us to the other side of the bridge.

The Protection of Peace

Paul says that on the other side of the bridge we discover the “Peace of God.” I take this to mean the very peace that resides in the nature of God himself. It’s similar to how Jesus himself described it in the Gospel of John.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27).”

This Peace Paul says, “surpasses all understanding.” I take this to mean  it is a peace that is incomprehensible; that when we face these anxieties because of our struggled circumstances we can’t explain the peace we have. We experientially know it’s there. It’s a “you know it when you see it” type of peace.
And then Paul says this peace that surpasses all understanding will “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” What does Paul mean by peace guarding us? What does peace guard us from? I think he means the peace we receive will guard our hearts against anxiety. It will keep us from going back over to the other side of the bridge again. This is why I say it is the “peace of protection.

So, if anxiety is on one side of the bridge and peace is on the other what is the bridge between the two? How do I get from anxiety to this incomprehensible peace that guards me from anxiety? That answer is tucked away in verse 6

And here’s what we discover:

PRAYER IS THE BRIDGE THAT LEADS US FROM THE TROUBLES OF ANXIETY TO THE PROTECTION OF PEACE.

Paul says “do not be anxious but pray! –not don’t worry be happy, but don’t worry be prayerful! When anxiety arrives in our lives we need the peace of God, and to get to the peace of God we must go to our knees and take our anxieties to our gracious father!

And notice how he defines prayer, he uses four terms that point to four different aspects of prayer

  • Prayer— a general term that simply means to speak to God.
  • Supplication—emphasis on a sense of need.
  • Requests—to beg or plead with a sense of urgency.
  • Thanksgivingthis is important! when we pray with thanksgiving we are in essence saying “God I believe that you are a good father who desires to take care of your children!” Anxiety says “God I don’t think you are a good father and I don’t believe you will take care of your children.”

Prayer then is the bridge that leads us from the troubles of anxiety to the protection of peace. You want peace from anxiety? Pray.

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
  All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
  Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
  O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
  Everything to God in prayer!

Can’t We Live Together Before We’re Married?

*This is part three of a series I  am doing on the Bible and sexuality. You can find part one here and part two here.*

The young couple sat across from me at the local Starbucks. They had attended my church for a few months and had now decided to meet with me to discuss becoming members. We were an hour into our conversation and things were going splendid. They were theologically sound, well spoken, and had a desire to serve the church with their talents. Then the conversation turned incredibly awkward. He lived locally and she was soon to move to the area but was still commuting to visit on the weekends. “So, where are you staying when you are here,” I asked the young lady. “well,” she shrugged, “I stay with him.” There was, what seemed to be, an hour long pause as I tried to figure out what to say next. Finding no easy way around it I simply, and as gently as I could, conveyed that one of the marks of a Christian is that we wait until marriage before moving in and having sexual relations with another person. To my dismay both were highly offended by my conviction. I tried to reason with the couple but it was becoming obvious that they were wanting the conversation to end. So, I asked to pray with them, and I never saw them again.

The Cultural increase of Cohabitation

That story reveals a common trend within our society today. What years prior was looked at as dishonorable, has now become the norm. One research group found that our culture is viewing cohabitation and premarital sex as completely normative behavior, they write:

“Cohabitation is the new norm. Shifting gender roles and expectations, the delay of marriage, and a secularizing culture are leading more American adults to believe that moving in together before tying the knot is a good idea. . . The majority of American adults believe cohabitation is generally a good idea. Two thirds of adults (65%) either strongly or somewhat agree that it’s a good idea to live with one’s significant other before getting married, compared to one-third (35%) who either strongly or somewhat disagree.”

Cohabitation in the life of the Church

But I fear this is not just a secular opinion; these views are finding their way into the church. I only can speak of this trend within the church anecdotally but I’m convinced that more and more of my peers are viewing cohabitation as a normative and decent decision. Those in my generation (Millennials) are the highest percentage of the population that view living together before marriage as a good idea. Moreover, the main “reason cohabiting couples are shacking up is in order to test the waters before taking the plunge.”

But while the culture shifts their views, on issues regarding sexuality, like moving shadows God’s Word remains the same. The Bible is completely clear about cohabitation—Sexual union is for one man and one woman in the bond of marriage for life. All other sexual activity is a transgression against God. Therefore, the call for the single Christian is one of abstinence, until they enter into the covenant of marriage. Many Bible passages could be cited to offer the backing for this thesis, but I’ll offer just three:

Genesis 2:24

In the opening pages of Genesis we read these familiar words: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24)” The biblical worldview offers no picture of “testing the waters” before committing in a covenant of marriage. Marriage is the only context wherein sexual union should take place.

1 Corinthians 7:9

Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 show that if someone is single it may be beneficial for them to remain as they are, because they can be more productive in working for the Kingdom. However, if one does not have the gift of singleness they are to marry, because “it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:9).” For Paul, cohabitation was not an option. Either the believer practices abstinence or they pursue marriage—there is no third option.

Hebrews 13:4

Finally, the writer of Hebrews offers a helpful reminder about the importance of marriage and the danger of defiling it. The writer admonishes, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous (Hebrews 13:4).”

Notice first that marriage is to be held in honor among all. This seems to imply that we should not even give the appearance that we are living with the opposite sex. I hear couples say often that there is nothing wrong if they are living together as long as they are not having sex. I think this is a fallacy. If two Christian people are dating they should be very cautious about even the wrong perception. If two people are living together it gives the allusion that they are married, and most people are assuming that they are having sex. The Hebrew writer seems to suggest that even the appearance of marriage should only be for those who are married.

Secondly, notice that when two people defile the marriage bed (i.e. have premarital sex) they will face divine judgement. Premarital sex is no small thing to God. Those who are in the midst of it should repent and either get married or move out.

A Call to Sexual Purity

Sexual purity is sadly becoming disregarded by most in our culture. In pursuit of testing the waters before committing to a life-long partner, many are choosing to live together and have sex before marriage. This activity is to be expected in the world; they neither have the Spirit of God nor desire the things of God. But for Christians to live this way is unacceptable. We are to be Holy as God is holy and that includes sexual purity until marriage.

How should we view homosexuality?

In the last post found here  I sought to outline four areas in which the Bible brings clarity on human sexuality. Here I want to discuss one particular sexual issue that has grown increasingly divisive in not only the world but in the church, namely homosexuality. As elders and church leaders one of our main priorities is the protection of our church from false teaching (see Acts 20:28-31). Therefore, one of the obligations church leaders have  before God involves clarifying clearly and directly what the Bible teaches on this important and sensitive topic.The following are 5 points regarding homosexuality that I believe are essential for Christians to unify on.

1. The Bible is clear—homosexuality is a sin against God.

I think it is important to clarify from the outset that homosexuality, like any sin, is wrong, a transgression, and should be rejected as a Christ-follower. We reject any modern connotation that homosexuality is something different than what is spoken of in scripture, and that any sexual activity outside the realm of biblical marriage, which consists of one man and one woman for life, is to be denied. Below are the most prominent passages in the NT that speak to this issue and make it clear that God opposes all forms of sexual immorality, including homosexuality.

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Romans 1: 24-32).”

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Corinthians 6:9-11).”

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1:8-10).”

2. Christians are called to love all people, including homosexuals.

It is abundantly clear that many in the church have failed to express genuine Christ-like love to the LGBTQ community. Too many lives have been destroyed by a Christians unloving and judgmental spirit. We have used the Bible as a club instead of a gift. And as a result many who could have found freedom in Christ have been totally turned off by it. This is simply wrong! Many times we have elevated the truth of the Bible above or without regard for our love for people. We must remember that Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and Paul said that we were to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We must maintain both truth and love when it comes to how we treat those in the world. 

3. Christians are to speak the truth to all people, including homosexuals.

So, does this mean we are to accept those who live openly homosexual lifestyles without exception ? Absolutely not. On the contrary, we are to show them the love of Christ by calling them to repent of their lifestyle and surrender their lives to Jesus. When Jesus said that true discipleship involved “denying oneself, taking up your cross, and following him (Luke 9:23),” that involved turning away from all sins of the flesh and being “born again (John 3:5);” to “walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).” Loving the world by accepting people where they are without calling them to repent is the opposite of love. True love is telling people the truth, and for those living a homosexual lifestyle it means calling them out of that way of living. The great news we have for those living in sin is that they can be forgiven! As Paul plainly put it in 1 Corinthians 6:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, emphasis mine)

Therefore, we can love someone while  not condoning their behavior. Loving someone is not synonymous with agreeing with everything they do. So, we love all people. Like the good Samaritan we are to help those in need no matter their cultural background or sexual orientation. But Like Jesus and the adulterous woman, we meet the need, but reply “go and sin no more.” We are to  love the broken, the sinner, the outcast but our love moves us to tell them the truth. If we condone their sinful behavior, forsake to tell them the good news of the Gospel, and call on them to trust Jesus with all their brokenness, it would bring into  question our sincere love for them. As Paul said: speak the truth in love, you can’t have one without the other.

4. We must remember that God is both loving and Just

God is love, and God is grace. But, we must never forget that God is also holy, perfect, and righteous. He is a wrathful God. Because God is holy and just it creates a predicament in us as unholy human beings having a relationship with Him. In all reality, God’s justice and holiness demand that we as an unholy people receive death. So, what hope is there for us? This is the good news of the Gospel. Because God is both holy and loving he desired for his creation to be in relationship with him, but it was impossible because of our unrighteousness. Therefore, he sent Jesus, his one and only son, to die in our place. Jesus’ death on the cross is where God’s judgment of sin and love for his creation collide. Jesus as a perfect sacrifice took on our sins so that we could stand justified in the sight of God. It’s not our works that save us, its His!

Nevertheless, we still have a choice to make. We can either except Christ’ sacrifice by faith, or we can deny him by rejecting Christ and remaining in our sin. This is where the rubber meets the road. For someone to stand justified in God’s sight, one must put their faith in Christ, repent of their sins and be transformed. This is the only difference between the open homosexual and the Christian—a change of mind, to repent and trust in Jesus. Christ demands a change of heart. 

5. Those who call themselves Christians have a higher standard than those who are of the world. 

One major area of confusion for many is the difference between the saved and the unsaved. When one becomes a Christian they have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers each Christian to live holy and sanctified lives. This does not mean that when one becomes a Christian they are automatically “perfect,” without sin. But it does mean that one is in a continual denying of oneself, repenting of sin, and a pursuing of Christ-likeness. One aspect that stems from this is that each Christian has a responsibility to help their fellow Christians grow in Christ (e.g. Gal. 6:1-2, Heb. 10:25).

Sometimes this means that when a fellow Christian is living or teaching falsely, it is the responsibility of the church to call them to stop and repent of their actions; this is called church discipline. Underlying this idea is a fundamental difference between those “in Christ,” and those “outside of Christ.” Believers are called to live holy lives. Unbelievers are unable to live holy lives simply because they have not been regenerated and saved by the Gospel. Believers need to live out the Gospel; unbelievers need to believe the Gospel. The best illustration of this is in 1 Corinthians 5 in which the church was openly condoning sexual immorality. The apostle Paul was appalled at such behavior and admonished the Church to remove the offender from membership. He then offers an important differentiation between those in the world and those in Christ:

 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[b] whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”(1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

As you can see Paul realizes that inevitably those who are in the world are going to live unholy lives. Thus, we as Christians have an obligation to take them the Gospel. To associate with those of the world does not mean condoning their behavior, but rather,  calling them out of it. However, for those who call themselves Christians, yet live in open and unrepentant sin, they are to be removed until they repent and acknowledge their sin. The reason is because such people are in danger of influencing other Christians to follow their false teaching/behavior. As Christians then, we have a responsibility to hold each other accountable for what we teach and how we live. 

Closing comments

We as Christians are called to love all people as God has loved us. However, sometimes love involves  speaking the truth even though it may sting. Someone who is living a homosexual life or teaches that it is ok to live a homosexual life is in error. Therefore, we as Christians have an obligation to speak the truth in love. For the unbeliever it means calling them to receive Christ by denying their sin and seeking salvation through the blood of Jesus. For the believer it means that we confront them in their error and call them to repent of their sin. If one calls himself a Christian and yet still lives in continual and habitual sin, they are called to leave the fellowship of the church, with the hopes that they will come to their senses and return to Christ. In the end we desire all people to come to know the joy that is in Christ. Amen. 

Pursuing Biblical Sexuality in a Sex-Crazed World

 

Our culture has become enamored with sex; it’s everywhere. From the shows that are deemed popular to the posts on our social media pages–sex is on the minds of a lot of people. But seemingly in an unhealthy way. C.S. Lewis in his popular work “Mere Christianity” suggests:

Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it; the Christian rule is, ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’ Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong (Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity, 95.).

If Lewis is correct and our human instincts have led us astray to the purpose and parameters of sexuality then what is the proper understanding of it? I want to discuss four areas the Bible addresses in regards to sexuality: (1) the creation of sex, (2) the purpose of sex, (3) the context of sex, and (4) the corruption of sex. 

The creation of sex

The first thing to realize is that sex, like all good things, was created by God. In his epistle James writes: “all good and perfect gifts come from the father.” Everything we see that is good—the beautiful sights of creation, the gentle touch of a newborn baby, all of the wonderful attributes we share (love joy, peace, kindness etc…), everything good is from God!  This is truly the most fundamental point concerning sex—God created it (and I’m glad he did!). At the very beginning he designed man and woman to participate in the activity of sexuality. In the Genesis account we see this clearly:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”—Gen. 1:27-28

Then the man said,“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.—Gen. 2:23-24

Sex is from God. 

Now because God is the creator and designer of sex, we must conclude that sex, as he intended it, is a very wonderful and marvelous gift. Sex is to be enjoyed by his creation—not to be suppressed or looked down upon.  But why? Why did God create sex? This leads us to our second observation:

The purpose of sex

Why did God create sex? Let me offer four reasons:

1. To create life.

One of the first duties given by God to his creation was to have sex in order to “fill the earth (Gen. 1:27-28).” What is significantly beautiful about this act, is that we as God’s creation, get to participate with God in creating life! This is what I love so much about our father—He has always longed for us to have a relationship with him, and by giving us the gift of sex, we are able to join in with him in the act of creating sacred life. 

2. For pleasure.

God has given us an entire book (the song of Solomon) in order to communicate this point. Throughout the book of song of Solomon we are given insight on one of the main purposes of sex—to have pleasure with our spouse. Here’s a quick sampler:

  • Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine. (1:2)
  • Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. (4:5)
  • Listen! My beloved! Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.(2:8)

      3. Intimacy

Sex brings forth an intimate oneness and unity. It’s interesting that the Biblical writers, in expressing the act of sexuality, used the word “to know.” So, for example the Bible says that Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived…” The idea “to know” someone in the Bible carries more than just mental assent. Rather, it carried the idea of intimate relationship with another. 

Sex, therefore, is much more than a physical act—it is a spiritual and intimate act that brings two people together—so much so that the Bible pictures sexuality as the union between two people. When two individuals come together in the act of sex, they enter into a dynamic and supernatural oneness. 

4. An illustration of Christ and the church

This pertains to marriage as a whole, but definitely involves the act of sex between the husband and the wife. One of the most profound teachings concerning sex and marriage is the idea that the covenant union between husband and wife is synonymous with the covenant union between Christ and the church. Paul points this out in Ephesians 5:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians. 5:31-32).

Therefore, one profound purpose of sexual union and marriage in general is to display and illustrate, in a powerful way, the picture of our relationship with Christ.

The Context of sex.

Does the Bible teach that sex is to be done in a certain context, or is sex open for anyone and at any time? The simple answer is that sex is to be enjoyed solely between one man and one woman in the context of marriage. 

The biblical teaching on this is severely clear from my perspective. For starters, the sexual relationship between a man and a woman is grounded in the Genesis narrative. From the beginning God has defined godly sexuality as being between one man and one woman; and as goes Genesis 1-3, so goes the rest of the Bible. As one sifts through the Biblical story it becomes evidently clear that sex was never to be exercised beyond the boundaries of covenantal marriage. In fact, a good portion of the Bible involves God’s rebuke and correction over the misuse and abuse of sexuality. For example, one of the earliest accounts of God’s judgment was on two cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) who had severely corrupted the purpose of sexuality. 

As one moves into the NT the teaching of sex within the context of marriage becomes even clearer. Jesus taught emphatically about the issue of sexuality stating that for one even to lust within the heart is a form of adultery (Matthew  5:27-30). By saying this Jesus raised the importance of sexuality.  

The apostle Paul dealt a good bit with the issue of sexuality. In 1 Corinthians for example, the church had gone in two extreme directions. On the one hand there were those who were abusing the gift of sexuality to its extreme. They were openly and proudly, having promiscuous sex in every way imaginary (5:1-6:20). On the other hand, there seemed to be those who rejected sex all together, even within the context of marriage. Sex was seen as a bad thing. Paul’s instruction for both these areas is sexual purity—that is, sex within the exclusive context between a husband and a wife. This is seen in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:1-5)

Many other passages could be mentioned here but suffice it to say that both the OT and the NT communicate that sexuality is to be enjoyed exclusively in the context of the covenant union of marriage. Hebrews 13: 4 summarizes well this teaching:

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous (Hebrews 13:4)

The Corruption of sex

We come now to our final observation, the corruption of sex. In the beginning sex, like all good things, was undefiled and just as God had intended it. However, the Biblical story describes an event we call “the fall.” Because of humanity’s free choice to rebel against God, creation as a whole became tainted and marred. As a result of sin, the world now experiences brokenness. This is also true of sexuality. Sexuality, as we have seen was designed by God for the enjoyment and intimacy of a man and a woman. However, because of the birth of sin we are now prone to abuse God’s good gift and use them for our own pleasures and desires. Whenever we as God’s creation act contrary to the nature and will of God it is called sin. God, in his sovereign plan has revealed to us how we are to live. Unfortunately, enticed by our own desires, humanity rebels against that will and chooses to live out their own ambitions. 

In short, any sexual activity outside of the marriage union of one man and one woman is outside of God’s desired will for us and therefore is sin. The Bible actually has a word that sort of envelopes all of these sexual activities into one, it is called “porneia.” Porneia (usually translated “sexual immorality”, or “fornication”) includes any sexual activity outside of marriage: sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, pornography etc…. To say it concisely, all sex outside of marriage is simply wrong from a biblical viewpoint. 

Grace and the Spirit.

Before I conclude let me briefly offer a reminder about the Grace of God and the power of his Spirit. I am very aware of the numerous and complicated situations revolving this topic. Furthermore, I understand that while these various biblical principles have been presented, these issues are not abstract; they involve real genuine human beings. I know personally individuals that fight daily the battles of sexual temptations and desires. So, as we discuss these topics, I think it is wise to know that if someone is dealing with sexual struggles, they need to know they are not alone. God is a God full of grace and he longs to fill you with his Spirit. And while it seems almost unbearable to overcome certain desires and temptations, God’s grace can and will give you the power to overcome any difficulty. This is exactly the point of Paul’s words in Romans 6:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:12-14).