Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Life Together Questions

Recently I concluded a teaching series at our church on relationship issues called Life Together. As we finished up the series, I gave our people the opportunity to write out questions about the issues we covered. Here are the questions with my answers. They are not exhaustive, but hopefully they will fuel more biblical thinking. Some of the questions were edited to make them into actual questions or to shorten them.

1. What about polygamy (evangelical, not Mormons)?

This is a new one for me. Short answer: It's just as wrong. It's maybe even worse for the person who says they are evangelical (i.e. claiming that the Scriptures are authoritative for their life), but lives in contradiction to the Scriptures. Seems like someone is using an excuse to have multiple wives or multiple sexual experiences and using the Scriptures to support their sin. While polygamy was allowed in the Old Testament, it was never the ideal. The New Testament makes it clear that God’s standard for men is that they be the “husband of one wife” or a one-woman man (1 Tim. 3:2, 12). This was God’s design from the beginning with Adam and Eve in the garden. Polygamy messes up the picture of two becoming “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31). Plus, on a practical note, polygamy is craziness. I have a hard enough time being a good husband to one wife! Couldn’t resist the joke.

2. I’ve heard a lot of talks saying all sin is the same. Why then is there such visible “wrath” against homosexuality?

You are right that there are some sins, including homosexuality, that seem to receive more visible wrath than others (Gen. 18 & 19; Rom. 1:18, 26-27; Eph 5:3-6). However, I don’t think homosexuality is the lone sin that receives extra visible wrath – all sexual sin seems to be placed in a separate category because it distorts God’s original purpose so terribly.

I think when people say all sin is the same, the point is that all sin, regardless of how big or small we think it is, will ultimately result in eternal punishment apart from the work of Christ. In that sense, all sin is the same because all of it bears the same eternal result. Hypothetically speaking, if someone was to commit only one sin, one time, they would still have to pay for that sin by eternal punishment. That one sin has separated them from a holy, perfect God. So in that sense, each sin is on par with every other sin.

3. The Scriptural evidence against abortion is not totally clear; we have to deduce it from various texts. Therefore, was abortion a sin God intended for us to fight against?

Scripture clearly teaches that murder is sin (Ex. 20:13). And many other Scriptures indicate that God recognizes life beginning at conception (Ex. 21:22-25; Job 31:15; Jer. 1:5; Ps. 139:13-16). These two truths taken together indicate that abortion is indeed murder and therefore sinful. True, the second point is deduced from Scripture, but good deduction indicates that is the best way to understand the Scriptures view on when life begins. If then abortion is a sin God wants us to “fight against it” in the same way he wants us to fight against every other sin. Sin doesn’t have to be specifically named in Scripture for us to be assured we should fight against it (consider other sins not specifically mentioned in Scripture: internet pornography, insider trading, gambling, traffic violations, etc.).

4. What about sins that interplay (or result) from each other? For example, if you are raped, have the child, and end up giving the child a crappy life.

Yes, sin is messy, complicated, and damaging in its ongoing effects. Yes, it could be a bad life for the child born out of rape. But consider the alternative logic. Should you abort the child conceived by rape in order to spare her a terrible life? How do you know for sure if she will have a terrible life? There are many examples of God’s grace breaking into the life of someone who had it terrible growing up, only to embrace the Gospel as a young adult. The alternative is to abort (murder/sin against God) in order to spare the child possible (not even definite) trouble for the future. This is bad ethics. Is it ever right to sin in order to do right?

Another question to consider: As evil as the rape is, did God still know and allow it? And if he did, does he not have a purpose for it? He is a God of healing and grace. It seems that compounding the pain of rape with the guilt of abortion would only add to suffering, not help to heal it.

Ultimately, the answer to this question is found in our belief on the rightness or wrongness of abortion. If the fetus in the womb is a child at conception, then abortion is always murder and murder is always sin.

5. Can you talk about being motivated to love yourself correctly, your enemies more fully, and God more deeply?

More importantly than loving yourself correctly is being assured of God’s love for you. We make too much of the “love yourself” part of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus main point there is not to teach us about the importance of self-love, but to engage our hearts in seriously loving others. The Scriptures say little about loving yourself, but a whole lot about God loving us.

Solid meditation on the love of God (and perhaps counseling in some situations) would cure a lot of our self-esteem problems. Most of the time, our problem is that we have too much self-esteem or self-focus. Often pride and self-focus is masked as low self-esteem. So, we need Christ to show us that we truly do stink apart from Him. And then we need to be totally and utterly assured of His grace and love. He accepts us as we are, and then he radically changes us. We must embrace the process.

6. What about divorce?

Here is what we know. First, God hates divorce (Mal. 2:15-16). It is never the ideal. Even in the case of deep sin, God desires reconciliation. This is based on the deeper theological truth that He does not abandon his wife (the church) when she fails, but always seeks to reconcile. But where reconciliation is impossible because of the hardness of one party, God allows divorce in two cases. The first case is adultery (Matt. 5:31-32). The second is desertion by an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:12-16).

In my experience as a pastor, marital relationships headed for divorce rarely fall easily into one of these two categories. Often spiritual discernment and much prayer must be exercised, and it seems that the Scriptures give some leeway in arriving at the best solution. We must always remember that reconciliation is the ideal and divorce is not to be entered into quickly or rashly.

7. How do you decide when to have kids? What is the balance between being prepared and putting it off until life is “perfect?”

You’re asking the right questions. One, you assume that it is right to have kids. And two, you are trying to balance being prepared with taking too long. My advice is that couples wait a few years after they are married in order to develop their marriage. No hard and fast rule, but I think 2-4 years is a good time frame. If you have serious debt, school, transition, military service, or something else like that maybe you should wait longer. If he still needs to get a full-time job and you need to move out of your mom’s house then wait. Grow up, get a job, pay your own bills, and then have kids. Of course, maybe you should have been doing that before now, but better late than never.

A couple things to keep in mind on the other end. You will never be totally prepared, never have enough money, and it will never be totally convenient. If you’ve been married for a while and are pretty stable then have a child if God allows. The longer you wait the more independent and selfish you are likely to become. And you won’t even know if until your little baby arrives! They are God’s means of sanctification.

8. How do you change your view of sex if on the day-to-day level you don’t see it as God does?

Pray like crazy for God to change your mind and your heart. Ask yourself, Am I unwilling to change my thinking because I love sex more than God? Is sex an idol? Maybe that’s the issue. Or maybe your past and our culture has so shaped a distorted view of sex that it will take some time to come out of. For this, you need to immerse yourself in the Word. Read thoroughly and prayerfully what the Scriptures say about sex. Ask God to change your thinking, cleanse you of any sin, and help you to remove the things that are keeping you from thinking rightly on this issue. Get involved with other Christians of the same sex that are mature believers and process this with them. Be willing to remove any sinful habit or action that is holding you back.

9. You made a very strong statement along the lines of “If you are tolerant of homosexuality you can’t call yourself a Christian.” Clarify this, particularly relative to tolerating other sins.

The statement I made was “The Scriptural verdict is clear: homosexuality and abortion are sin. They are not something we can compromise on and still call ourselves Christians.” The point is that disagreement with the clear teaching of Scripture on any issue (homosexuality, divorce, sex, lying, gluttony, etc.) is inconsistent with what it means to be a Christian since the Word of God is the basis of authority for genuine Christianity. So that a person who consistently denies or compromises the teaching of Scripture cannot legitimately call himself or herself a Christian.

I do not intend to put homosexuality in a separate category from other sins, but I do believe it is a key area for compromise among churches and Christians in our society. For instance, the vast majority of Protestant churches would still teach that lying, stealing, and adultery are sins. But many of those same churches teach that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle. Therefore, homosexuality has become a key issue precisely because the Bible’s teaching is clear on it and churches continue to compromise that clear teaching.

Note the strong statements by Jesus and other biblical writers about the importance of following Jesus’ teaching. It’s not just “follow what I say and you’ll be blessed.” It’s more like, “follow what I say or you do not belong to me” (Matt. 7:21-27; 1 John 2:3-6).

3 comments:

  1. Jeremy, These are very helpful. Especially #9. I was recently leading a small group Bible study (ladies), and this very question came up. I wasn't sure how to respond, but asked them to turn to Romans 1:24 (and prayed silently that God would use his Word to direct us!). We read until the end of the chapter and the last phrase jumped off the page to me. "They not only do them but give approval to those who practice them." This is what seperates this sin from the others listed in Romans 1. There are not groups of people sitting around conference tables deciding whether they will give approval to gossip. The same can not be said of homosexuality.

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  2. Some very good thoughts here, but I was a little surprised by how narrowly you answered #8 when the question was so broad. What about other ways people view sex that isn't God's way - sex is a weapon, sex is an interruption, sex is only for procreation, sex is a sin (regardless of marital status)?

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