I live in Texas. Texans are known for putting a unique spin on anything. I once heard about a cowboy who was asked his opinion of differing views of sexuality. His response was simple, “I don’t care what people do sexually as long as they don’t do it in the street and scare the horses.”
I’ve come to share this wise cowboy’s feelings. In many ways, I’d rather not know much of anything about the sexual identity, orientation or activities of other people. I’d prefer that Hollywood and every other media source leave a lot, if not everything, to my imagination! But that is not the world we live in, nor is it the way God directs us to operate in the church and the world.
It’s been said that faith is “personal but not private.” This is true in many ways, including our sexual/relational lives. One of the challenges we face as Christians and as pastors is to rightly understand, teach and lead our churches to follow God’s design and intention for sexual holiness, and its public and private expressions of the grace and goodness of God.
With so much confusion, controversy and conflict around sexuality, we need first to commit fully to God’s authority in this area of our lives. God’s word speaks with clarity about human sexuality. Genesis makes clear that biological sex is a gift from God. Gender understanding and roles are more complex matters that have many factors, including differing cultures. Yet the concepts of masculine and feminine are real and important.
Being male and female is more than just being humans with different anatomy. This is one topic that deserves much more attention by the Christian community. Further, God speaks with clarity that Christian marriage is one man and one woman until death. Additionally, God declares that numerous forms of sexual expression such as lust, fornication, adultery, polygamy, homosexuality and bestiality are against his will and can only be defined as sin. These are not unpardonable sins, but they are sin just the same and therefore against his loving will and desire for us.
If we ignore God in these things, we will not flourish and will find him opposing us. In a fundamental way, our alignment with God and his best for us comes down to a Lordship-authority issue. Do we trust and follow God and his revealed word in every area of our lives or only when it feels appropriate to us? This is the first, primary, and personal question each person must answer.
The second question each Christian needs to ask is, “Do I love people who don’t agree with what God says?” What I’m asking here is a general disposition question, not a personal one. When we think generally about people who don’t follow what the Bible says, how do we think of them and how do we feel about them? Jesus taught (Mark 6:11) and Paul and Barnabas implemented (Acts 13:51), “shake off the dust on your feet” as a message and warning towards those who would not receive God’s truth.
I think this “dust shaking” teaching coming from the lips of Jesus and the lives of these two Christian leaders, came from a sad and broken heart for those rejecting God’s best for them, not from a spirit of anger and condemnation. We see this same sadness coming from Jesus when he wept over the city of Jerusalem as he anticipated its residents’ rejection (Luke 19:41).
The more challenging question is personal. It’s one thing to fight a culture war. When that war arrives in your office, friendships or living room it’s a different battle. How do we engage and relate with those close to us who are following ungodly relational/sexual practices and patterns?
Our challenge is to love all sinners regardless of their style of sin. However, the nature and context of sexual sin is unique. Whether it’s your adult child sleeping with someone they aren’t married to, friends who start swapping spouses, a coworker who abandons her spouse for someone who seems more appealing, or someone we deeply care about who “comes out” as gay, we face real challenges of how to relate in Christ’s redemptive love. How do we “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and do it well?
One of the most challenging questions I’ve faced personally and as a pastor is what God spoke through Paul to the Corinthians believers:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people (1 Corinthians 5:9–11 NIV).
This passage has a lot to say to us in both realms, the personal and the pastoral. When we know people up close, we usually have a sense of their relationship with Christ. All parents should know their children’s souls and every pastor is called to know the condition of his sheep. If those close to us claim Christ as their savior, we should remember that we are responsible for each other as sacred siblings. I am my brother’s keeper no matter how painful that can become. We are called to pray for, encourage, build up and to challenge each other to walk “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1; see Galatians 6:1–5).
There are many issues to think about here. Personally and pastorally it can get painful and messy. I’ve had some experience stepping into accountability conversations that redefined relationships long-term. Sometimes not for the better.
The reality we must all face is that allegiance to Christ or a lack thereof will define and redefine relationships at every level over and over again. Amos 3:3 says, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” When Jesus defined his family as those who know and walk with his Father consistently (Matthew 12:50), he was indicating that some of our natural earthly relationships will not be as picturesque as we would hope for.
We need the Spirit of God to fill us with wisdom in these relationships. We need his compassion and his courage when sin needs to be confronted in our closest relationships and our congregations. We need his comfort when those deceived by sin decide to continue their path away from Christ and his best for them. What we have to seek is a consistent loving and truthful life that desires the honor of God and the blessing of people, in that order.
Finally, as a pastor, this is why I believe we have to deny church membership to those who are living openly, and I would say defiantly, to the teaching of Scripture. No church I know of requires membership candidates to pass a holiness exam. We are all likely thankful, but perhaps we should seek such a tool.
However, implied and sometimes stated in the covenant of membership is a commitment by membership candidates to integrity and the willingness to confess and turn from all known sin as defined by God in His word. When it comes to sexual/relational sin, we have to realize the uniqueness of this kind of “standing” sin and how it relates to local church affiliation.
How comfortable have we as the church become with various forms of sexual sin? When was the last time you addressed it in a sermon or a Bible study?