I had a bunch of fun last night. Sunday nights are almost always fun for me because I get to team preach with our senior pastor at Union Hill. I could try to explain it to you but you really have to see it to get it. We agree on a passage ahead of time but we don't compare notes or script the delivery. Last night was particularly enjoyable because in preaching through the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) we arrived at Jesus's short instruction on divorce (Matt 5:31-32). This is not Jesus's only teaching on marriage and divorce but it did allow us to talk about our attitude about God's rules and how we picture God because of them. There wasn't time to say nearly all I wanted (never is!) so . . . .
First, a little background for those who didn't hear the sermon last night. In my observation, the church (not just preachers but the whole church) has shied away from talking about what God says about marriage and divorce in recent years. In my life this is because I know too many divorced people. "What difference does that make?" you ask. "Shouldn't you, preacher, be more apt to talk about God's ideal for marriage when you see it going down the tubes so often?" All true. The problem is with our normal attitude about rules. Even saying "rules" gives some of you an urge to break them and some of you an urge to shake your finger at someone. When it comes to God's rules, we all have the tendency to rebel against them when it suits us. Many of us also have the tendency, when talking about God's rules, to adopt a "finger-shaking" posture, tone, and attitude. "You better toe the line because I (oops, I mean God) says so. I (dang, I mean He) will get you if you don't!" To be sure, God has some definite rules that He is passionate about. The question I think we need to consider is why God has those rules. Divorce is a great example to consider. Just reading the two verses in question (always a dangerous practice) could lead to the impression of a harsh tone of voice. Actually observing a divorce can give us a great deal of insight. Why doesn't God want us to divorce? Because divorce causes pain and damage beyond our imagining. Not only is a marriage torn apart, but children are scarred, friendships are strained (hard to openly be friends to both parties of a divorce), and families are split all over the board. God wants us to avoid all of this. Marriage was intended for love and joy. Divorce ends the possibility for most of that in a painful way. God instructs us to avoid divorce for our good. There is much more to say here about marriage and what to do when it gets rough, but I want this to be less than book length!
When we (specifically, the church, Christians) have had the "finger-shaking" attitude about God's rules and watch a loved one go through divorce, suddenly our "angry eyes" don't seem appropriate anymore. What should we say? What can we do? If we had God's attitude from the first we could hug our loved one and say, "God never wanted you to go through this pain and suffering. He loves you and this is why He gave us the guide lines for life (rules) that He did. He still loves you as always and wants to forgive you and restore you to real life, His life." This response has, in too many cases, been stolen away by a fussy, critical presentation of the rules at the start.
It's easy to see this pro-people stance in many of God's rules. While stealing may seem to benefit me in certain short-term circumstances, all of us understand that prohibiting stealing allows us to live in relative peace. The benefits of prohibiting murder and adultery are also obvious, but what about the ones that don't come so easy? Does God want us to worship Him because He needs us to stroke His ego? Think of this. I could tell my children to ignore all the laws of our community, state, and country and those who enforce them. They are all just whims of the power elitists anyway. It would not take long for my kids' lives to be radically altered in a negative way by the local authorities because ignoring the laws and authorities doesn't make them not real. If there really is a good and loving God (a debate handled by others better than I ever could), then ordering my life around Him and His principles should naturally make my life the best it could ever be. Even God's command to worship Him alone is for our good.
Now let me get as controversial as possible in as nice a way as possible. As a whole, Christians have largely lost our right to talk about God's ideal for marriage in public because we have failed to live it out and when we have talked about it we have shaken our finger far too much. These are generalizations, I know but consider how those outside the church form their opinion of those inside. The current debate, of course, is who should be allowed to marry. Even Christians are divided somewhat but in most places where it has come to a vote, a majority of people have come out against allowing same-sex couples to marry. I wonder if this is because the majority of Americans are serious Christ-followers and Bible-believers (several other measurements would suggest not) or because of what we each find appealing or not. I suspect that a lot of the opposition and assuredly most of the venom is fueled by a personal distaste for the practice of homosexuality. Let me be clear, I am of the opinion that God teaches in His Word that marriage is for a man and a woman only. (Not even all heterosexual men and women are intended to marry but virtually no one is seriously discussing that!). The question that burns in me is why? Based on His other rules, I conclude that it is for our good. Some of you are screaming at your computer screen. Others are getting ready to madly type "atta-boys" in the comments. Stop. I don't need atta-boys though I like them as much as anybody. What I'd like is as many Christians as possible to stop shaking our fingers at the LGBT community (being angry is always easier when we consider a group or issue and not real people) and start talking to individual people about how loving God is and how His rules are an expression of His love. This is heavy lifting. Most of us (me included) have never tried to figure out how God's rules are good for us. We have spent much more time trying to figure out how to stay just inside of the "obedience line" while getting away with as much as possible in our personal lives.
I was reminded last week that our society is mostly consumed with the idea of personal liberty. Many of our policy and legislation decisions stem from the idea that anything that limits personal liberty is bad and I certainly think we should be careful about any decisions that limit someone else's freedom. However, Jesus promised us real freedom by giving allegiance to God. Paradox? I think it always works that way. "Taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalms 34:8)
P.S. While I was writing this, my dad sent me an email that I thought was excellent. I have included it below. As with all writings by others, I'm sure I wouldn't say all the things he is saying in the same way but I think the ultimate point is very good.
The teleos of the relationship between a man and woman
Why does the Bible detest homosexual behavior between a man and a man or a woman and a woman?
I suspect that heterosexual people focus mostly on the physical sex act and find that abhorrent and don’t think any further or farther on the primary reason or “teleos” of marriage.
Is it for sex only? Every man should marry a woman and have children? God apparently doesn’t think so because through Paul we find that if it’s possible to have a fulfilling life without marriage that is desirable. So if sex for procreation isn’t the teleos then what is?
Sex for the purpose of expressing our exclusive commitment for each other isn’t it because we would then have to have sex every time we wanted to say “I Love You”. We can at this point agree, I think, that sex isn’t the teleos of marriage.
Why did God make a woman for Adam in the Garden of Eden? Genesis 2:18 says “Then the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”. How is man’s life deficient without a helper is one of the questions and what is a “fit” helper is the other.
Procreation can’t be proven to be a necessity because Adam and Eve were intended to live forever and we get no hint that children were an asset to the enhancement of the original couple. So, out of silence at least, we can say that sex wasn’t a requirement.
Now we get to it. God made man with an incomplete set of characteristics therefore his outlook on the world was incomplete. This doesn’t argue the why, only that we know this to be true. Man tends to be a bit stronger than women. Men tend to take the short term outlook to problems. Men tend to be acters and not ponderers (Mary pondered all these things). Adam needed a helper, not for sex but to provide him with a complete outlook on the world that he found himself in. Women tend to
be nourishers. Women tend to take the long view. Women tend to ponder (see above). This is why God created woman instead of another man. Another man would only have added more of the narrow view points that were already available to Adam. This, then, is the teleos of the relationship between a man and a woman. That together they can properly understand their world and consequently they
together know best how to work it and care for it as God wanted them to do in the garden.
So, the argument against homosexuality is that two men have decided to settle for less than all that is available to them in the way of living the good life only in the fact that they cannot have the ability to see life from different complementary perspectives. Is God disappointed that they settled for less than he had planned for them? Yes. Is God disappointed in me or you for settling for less than all he had planned for us? Yes. So how do we minister to both you and me and the homosexuals appropriately? I don’t believe it is by condemning their life style by excluding them from our fellowship. We should welcome them in and ask them to try learning with us how to take hold of ALL that God has for us. And leave sex out of the discussion, that’s not the big deal.