Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Would God Really? (Homosexuality in Biblical Context)

Today's topic may be the one that creates the most tension within our culture. The discussion of homosexuality within the Christian spectrum, in particular, has often created hurt feelings, anger, and a lack of brotherhood and fellowship. Today I will address this issue with three concerns in mind: creating parameters for what "homosexuality" means, examining the biblical evidence concerning homosexuality, and finally providing a brief selection of pathways forward for the church in their stance toward homosexuality. I ask that if you read this, you commit to reading it fairly, within the context of this post (the framework for this post), and please respond in a way that shows gentleness and respect. Due to the seriousness of the topic, I will delete any comment that is rude, abusive, or non-productive--you have been warned).

The Scope of Homosexuality

The dictionary definition of homosexuality is "sexual desire or behavior directed towards a person or people of one's own sex." This is important because this will help us to limit this discussion. The issue of homosexuality has come to include a number of issues that miss the heart of the issue for a Christian. Issues of shared medical information, home purchase, and many others like it are important issues, but not central to the debate that has grown within Christianity over the past 40+ years.

The issue at stake for us, as Christians, is simply this: What does the Bible teach about sexual desire and sexual relations between members of the same gender? That is the scope of this blog post. Remember, for the Christian, this is not a matter of our comfort with same-sex sexuality, rather it is a part of our attempt to understand how our lives should fit into the rule of God that he has promised is coming into the world. We seek not our own agenda, but only that we would become obedient and submissive to God's design and plan for our world. With the definition in place, let's look to the Bible!

The Biblical Doctrine of Homosexuality

There are two key words to understand that deal with the issue of homosexuality in the Bible (I will focus on the NT because that is where my language skills and knowledge are primarily rooted). The words are "malakos" (GK μαλακος) and "arsenokoites" (GK αρσενοκοιτες). Let's look at each word, discuss how each is used, and then look at one other important passage of note.

The word malakos literally means "soft" or "soft skinned." It is used primarily to refer to young boys (before their skin was calloused by hard work) that were sometimes kept for sexual relations. This is a practice that most in our culture consider detestable, and is illegal for good reason. We use the term molestation to describe this type of activity. The Bible uses this term referring to this practice once (1 Corinthians 6:9) and it is clear that this activity is not acceptable in God's kingdom. It is important to note that, while condemning this practice, Paul also condemns drunkards, greedy people, and fornicators of all kinds. In other words, this is sin. The interesting thing is that verse 11 points us to the beauty of the gospel, but that will wait until our final section.

The second word, arsenokoites, is found infrequently in Scripture as well. It is literally a compound word that means "one who beds a man." This is a clear reference to homosexuality as we would define it. So what does our holy book say about these men? The same thing it says in the last section of the molester and greedy person. In fact, 1 Corinthians 6:9 is one of the only passages to use this word as well! Homosexuality--sexual relationships with people of the same gender is sin. This is perfectly clear. Once again, however, we must await the end of Paul's thought in verse 11--keep waiting, it is coming!

There is one other key passage that we must remember as we continue this discussion: Romans 1. Romans 1 speaks clearly that, due to men's rejection of God, the world became warped. It became so warped that people think and do wrong without thinking it is wrong. What type of wrongs? This passage mentions those who are envious, disobedient toward parents, faithless, ruthless, gossips, slanderers, and many more. The passage does give the most time discussing sexual sin, and particularly homosexual activity. The passage declares it is sin because it is "unnatural." Biblically speaking, unnatural has to do with how God made the world, not carnal desire. Our desires, which to us are natural phenomena, are all affected by the sin that has warped the world. Once again, the verse tells us that sexual relationships between those of the same gender is sin.

The Rest of the Biblical Doctrine

Sadly, many Christians cease their discussion of homosexuality in Scripture with the points mentioned above--it is sin, sin, sin. Yes, it is sin. So what does that mean for us as Christians trying to live among those engaged in homosexuality? The two passages that have been discussed point to two keys to the Christian responding to homosexuality in a godly fashion.

First, Romans 1 flows directly into chapter 2 (No Duh!) Chapter 1 concludes by talking about how sinful the world has become. Chapter 2 then points to the Christians and says quite strongly: "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that god's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth."

We are not allowed to judge! We have no right to send anyone to hell. We have no right to condemn someone else because we ourselves have been on death row! God judges. He makes the call. Also, this does not mean that we cannot call homosexuality a sin--at that point we are simply speaking the truth of Scripture. However, speaking truth and attacking another person are different things entirely.

Second, we turn to 1 Corinthians 6 again (focus on verse 11 this time). Homosexuality is sin, as well as many other things, and then we hit verse 11, which is so important that I am going to make it bigger:

And that is what some of you were. 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.

Once again, we are brought to a marvelous truth! This passage isn't meant as a weapon to sling in judgment, but a reminder of grace! We were those sinners! We have made those mistakes, and our transformation into something new is not anything short of the miraculous grace of God Almighty! Our hope was in Christ, and those currently still in sin have hope only by the gospel truth of grace!

This is so crucial to realize: The Christian response to a sinful people is not judgment, but the gospel. The GOOD news. We must realize that we have the urgent responsibility of showing the one true hope, not of condemning.

So what do we do?

How do we make it practical? Great question! If, like me, you believe that homosexuality is a sin, and you believe that the only hope for all sinful people is the grace of God through Jesus Christ, then I have four suggestions for you:

  1. Make it personal not political. This is hard for us to do, but I think we need to realize that the fight to legislate, either for or against homosexual rights, is missing the point that Jesus makes. We need to seek personal relationships with those practicing homosexuality. It is in the midst of relationships that we can guide them toward God's grace, and allow them to choose for themselves what to do with the gift he has given them.
  2. Be careful with our words. Words can't be taken back. Words can hurt and sting. We need to learn to not say things, joking or serious, without carefully thinking about how it will affect our testimony to the world.
  3. Pray for our hearts. The truth is, most Christians like myself still struggle with some form of sin or another. We have been saved by Christ, but we are not yet perfectly conformed to God's design for our lives. We need to pray often that we would look more like Christ. After all, how can we point out someone else's struggles if we are doing nothing to work on our own?
  4. Readjust our focus. Homosexuality is an important discussion. However, if we really want to see people coming to know Christ, we need to focus on the issues that Christ focused on in his ministry. Perhaps we need to improve marriages and family life within the church, work on serving with Christ's compassion, and creating the type of community that the early church established.
These things are not an exhaustive list, and this blog post is merely a foundation. It is merely a re-examination of the bedrock of our faith, making sure we are actually reading what it says, and not just assuming we know.

What do you think? How can we be true to Scripture completely? How can we speak truth about sin and do so without judging? How do we effectively proclaim good news to those who are lost in sin?

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