Tuesday, August 23, 2016
GOSPEL UNITY & GENDER!
GOSPEL UNITY & GENDER!
Jesus Outside the Lines – Part 4
by Jeremy Fair
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined[d] to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin[e] a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
We’ve previously considered how our culture is plagued by political division, racial division, and class division and it will come as no surprise that there is also division on the issues of gender, sexuality, marriage, and many other related matters. But, what about the church? Is there also division and disunity in the church when it comes to gender, sexuality, marriage and all of the related matters? I believe there is. Over the last 20-30 years, the church has experienced growing disagreement and disunity over these issues and it’s staggering how quickly things have changed.
Consider: 50 years ago, only 9% of identifying Christians believed that homosexuality was biblically acceptable. In 2007, that number had risen to 25%; and now, in 2016, 54% of identifying Christians believe that homosexuality is biblically acceptable and there are similar trends when it comes to same-sex marriage. Many of these changing perspectives are generational. For example, millennials, people that are currently 15-35, are twice as likely as their parents to view homosexuality and same-sex marriage as biblically acceptable and here’s what I want you to understand, those differing views and this apparent generational divide has created division and disunity within the church and we’ve got to figure out a better way to respond than just saying, “Stop it!”
It’s clear from our passage that sexual sin, sexual brokenness, and sexual divisions are not new problems and they aren’t uniquely American problems. 2,000 years ago, the Corinthians lived in a licentious culture where sexual immorality was rampant and the church was not immune.
It’s tempting to believe that if the culture wasn’t politically polarized then the church wouldn’t be polarized, if the culture wasn’t bigoted then the church wouldn’t experience bigotry, and if the culture wasn’t sexually decadent and immoral then the church wouldn’t have any problems with sexual immorality. It’s tempting to believe that the culture is the cause of all our problems but that just isn’t the case. In the previous chapter, 1 Corinthians 5, Paul tells us that there was sexual immorality by professing Christians that was so abhorrent that not even the pagan licentious culture of Corinth approved of it. Or consider chapter 6 verse 20, Paul wrote, “for you were bought with a price.” He’s referring to the blood bought sacrifice of Jesus, which means that he is addressing Christians. Here’s why that is important: It clearly shows us that the problems of sexual immorality were not just problems in the Corinthian culture but also in the Corinthian church. It shows us that professing Christians within the church did not all share the same views or practices and that was one of the things that threatened their unity. So, we can’t simply say: Well, this is the culture’s problem and if we fix the culture then it won’t be a problem in the church.
Woody Allen once said, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” He said that as an excuse for his own sexual immorality but perhaps he was onto something. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart and the only way to experience unity in the areas of gender, sexuality, marriage, etc. is to address them at a heart level and to recognize that our hearts, the hearts of Christians, can just as easily pervert and distort these issues as the hearts of non-Christians within the culture. Just like politics and race and class, we are not immune from sexual brokenness and sexual divisions.
I. God’s Purpose for Gender and Sex
With that in mind, the first thing to consider is God’s purpose for gender and sex. Is it too simplistic to say that God’s purpose for gender and sex is His glory? It may sound simplistic but it’s true. Throughout this passage Paul holds up the complimentary nature of male and female and summarily says in verse 20, “So glorify God in your body.”
Regardless of everything else that we might say about gender and sex, what we absolutely must say is that the purpose for the distinct genders of male and female and sex between males and females is for the glory of God. But I think we can go further than that; the way that we glorify God in our gender and through sex is by complimentarily displaying His image. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” God created two distinct genders in His image, not one but two, so that we might reflect His image in a complimentary way. When God created male and female as distinct genders He created more than bodies with differing anatomy; He gave a heart and soul; He gave a mind and emotions. We don’t merely display the image of God externally; we possess the image of God internally. We are thoughtful, loving, creative beings because we are made in the image of God. His image runs through and through. Our whole being, of which the body is but one part, is for God. This means that gender is not something to fulfill our own design or for self-glory but to fulfill God’s design and His glory.
In a similar way, the use of our bodies for sex fulfills God’s glorious design. Yes, sex is enjoyable and meaningful and serves for procreation but ultimately, sex is meant for the glory of God and it only magnifies His image and gives Him glory when it takes place between the two distinct and complementary genders. Now, that doesn’t mean that all sex between a male and female magnifies God’s image or gives Him glory. Paul gave an example of this in verses 15-16, the example of prostitution. It’s clear from his use of the masculine pronoun and the feminine noun that he is talking about sexual relations between a male and female but this kind of sex obviously doesn’t magnify God’s image or give Him glory because it isn’t between a husband and wife.
You see, in the same way that gender is more than our body, sex is more than the joining of our bodies; sex is the joining of our beings. In verse 16, Paul reaches back to Genesis 2:24 to the first marriage of man and woman and says, “The two will become one flesh.” God has designed sex to be a physical, emotional, and spiritual union. This means that sex, which magnifies God’s image, brings Him glory, and fulfills His design is sex that occurs between a male husband and a female wife; sex and marriage are inextricably linked by design.
II. Our Perversion of Gender and Sex
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and eaten so much that you literally felt sick? You knew the fajitas were on their way but you still polished off that second basket of chips and queso. Paul uses a similar example to show us the slavery and sickness of sexual sin. Food is meant for the body; it has a purpose. That doesn’t mean that eating is simply utilitarian; we are meant to enjoy the very thing that nourishes us, but there is still a purpose.
When we wrongly enjoy food and start gorging on food we become a slave to it. And Paul says that when we wrongly enjoy sex and stop using it the way that God intended we become a slave to it. Is there any term more fitting to describe the decadent immoral approach of our culture to sex than slavery? We have taken God’s glorious design of gender and we’ve taken His wonderful gift of sex and perverted it. So, the second thing to consider is our perversion of gender and sex.
Let me explain the fundamental way that we pervert gender and sex. Our sin nature despises authority and convinces us that we are independent; that we don’t have to answer to anyone. We wrongly believe that our bodies are ours alone; they belong to us, so we can be whatever we want to be and do whatever we want to do. But, that is simply not true. Everyone answers to someone; all of us live under the authority of God. He made us and we are dependent on Him. That is true for everyone whether they believe in God or not. However, for the Christian, there is a special kind of ownership, authority, and dependence. Paul says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” Jesus paid a price with his body to redeem our bodies; he shed his blood to ransom us from our slavery to sin, including our slavery to sexual sin. Therefore, Paul says, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”
Even though we were bought with a price, even though Jesus has ransomed us from the penalty of sin, including sexual sin, we still pervert and distort gender and sexuality. There is something about sexual sin that is so woven in to our fleshly nature that we cannot see it for what it is and we do not see how enslaving it is. Paul says, “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Here’s his point: When we remake gender to suit our own longings, when we engage in sexual practices that distort God’s purposes, whether that is homosexual practice, heterosexual adultery, the use of pornography, or any other non-glorifying behavior, we are not only sinning against God, we are not only sinning against our fellow man, we are sinning against ourselves and we are refastening the shackles of slavery that Christ has removed.
There’s an old illustration, perhaps you’ve heard it and perhaps it’s helpful. Fire is a good gift. It gives light and heat and beauty. When fire is used rightly, when it’s tended and contained, it can be a blessing. But, when a burning log is taken out of the fireplace and put on the carpet in the living room, the blessing becomes a burden. Gender and sex are gifts from God; when viewed rightly and used rightly, they display His beautiful image. But, when we replace God’s purpose with our preference, beauty becomes ugly and destructive.
III. Christian Practice of Unity on the Issues of Gender and Sex
Pretty much everything stated thus far is traditional Christian teaching. Throughout history, there have been very few disagreements about the Bible’s teaching on the distinctiveness of two genders, the normative practice of sex between a husband and wife, and the gift of marriage between one man and one woman. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone agrees or that the church is unified on these matters. There has always been some disunity and today, there is perhaps more disunity than ever. I don’t think that saying, “Stop it!” is a sufficient response; I don’t think that cursing the darkness helps to shine a light. I think we have to thoughtfully engage with professing brothers and sisters on these matters and seek the peace and unity of the church. So, the third thing to consider is the Christian practice of unity on the issues of gender and sex.
First, it must be said that unity on these matters has to be grounded in truth. We may disagree on which political candidate is best and we may disagree on the validity of movements like Black Lives Matter; the Bible doesn’t address those things specifically, but the Bible is clear on God’s purpose for gender and sex and the Bible is clear on the nature of sexual sin. So, please don’t hear me saying that we must abandon truth for unity.
I’m not saying that we should soften our views on these matters; I’m saying that we should soften our hearts towards people with whom we disagree.
Each week I see Facebook posts that champion the subjective nature of gender or the legitimacy of homosexual practice or the acceptability of same-sex marriage. And many of those posts are from covenant children, children of the church, young people that I am convinced are true God-loving Christians. Again, most of it represents a generational divide. Friends, if we are going to engage millennials and reclaim them to the church, if we are going to engage our culture and display a winsome love, then we must hold the truth but set aside the rancor.
So, let me offer a couple or practical points that I hope will help us pursue unity. First, we need to develop relationships with people with whom we disagree. How would you have responded if you were a member of the church in Corinth and learned that a fellow brother or sister was engaged in sexual immorality or struggling with sexual sin? It’s very easy to take chapter 5 verse 2 and apply it wrongly. It says, “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” There is certainly restorative discipline that needs to happen when a Christian continues to engage in sexual sin but Paul does not mean that we should isolate ourselves from sinners. We cannot restore a sin condition, we can only restore a sinner, and that requires relationship.
Too often we create categories of sin and we refuse to enter into relationship with certain kinds of sinners. Even if a person is not engaged in sexual sin but disagrees with us on the nature of sexual sin or sexual identity or marriage we struggle to enter a relationship with them. Friends, God has chosen to use us as His ambassadors of restoration to Him and we can’t represent a restoring God when we refuse to befriend certain people.
Second, we need to listen to those with whom we disagree and learn how they view these issues. It’s so tempting to gather our biblical arsenal of arguments against sexual sin and fire it at anyone who disagrees but remember, it’s a heart issue and unless we listen and hear their hearts we’ll never apply the Gospel to their deepest need. A sexually broken persons deepest need isn’t chastity or conformity, it’s heart transformation.
A book that I recommend is The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian whose sexual practice changed when her heart changed. Of course, the book primarily deals with Dr. Butterfield’s experiences as a lesbian, her conversion to Christianity, and the issues connected to homosexuality; nonetheless, it is a good book that generally deals with how we interact with people and love them. She makes this point: “Homosexuality – like all sin – is symptomatic and not causal – that is, it tells us where our heart has been, not who we inherently are.” That is so important!
Homosexuality and all sexual sins are issues of the heart, so we must get to the heart by listening to the heart.
Later, she tells a story of listening to a woman who was a member of an Evangelical church but living in a closeted lesbian relationship. Butterfield writes, “No one in her church knew. Therefore, no one in her church was praying for her. There was no confession. No repentance. No healing. No joy. Just isolation. And shame. Someone had sold her a pack of lies that said that God can heal your lying tongue or your broken heart, even cure your cancer if he chooses, but he can’t transform your sexuality.” The woman said, “If people in my church really believed that gay people could be transformed by Christ, they wouldn’t talk about us or pray about us in hateful ways.” Then Butterfield asks, “Christian, is that what people say about you when they hear you talk and pray? Do your prayers rise no higher than your prejudice?” We must listen, we must learn, and we must love!
This is the fourth and final message in a series titled, "Jesus Outside the Lines," preached by Jeremy Fair, Sr. Pastor @ Christ Presbyterian Church, Tulsa, OK.