Monday, January 18, 2016

Living Christian in a Gay World, part 2 - What the Bible Says

Part 2 – What the Bible Says
2 Timothy 3:15-17

Introduction
            Views about homosexuality have shifted tremendously in our society to the point that the Supreme Court has even ruled that all 50 states must recognize same sex marriages and cannot prevent homosexual couples from getting marriage licenses.  This message is the second in a series that seeks to understand how to live as Christians in a world that has changed the way it sees homosexuality. 
            Last week, I implored you to make love your highest aim as we consider this issue.  Love is the key and our time today will be productive only if you have an attitude of genuine love—regardless of what you believe about homosexuality.  Please listen today with an open mind and a humble heart. 
            Regardless of your opinions on the issue of homosexuality, it is vital that everyone understand that Christian teaching about homosexuality is not arbitrary.  How Christians live and what we teach is based upon the Bible.  Let’s begin this message with a passage that reveals the role of Scripture in our lives. 

2 Timothy 3:15-17
15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 

The Bible is the Foundation for What We Believe
            The Bible is an irreplaceable treasure that tells us everything we need to know to receive salvation through Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the inspired Word of God that speak to us, challenge us, inspire us, and guide us.  As verse 16 said, “…Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives…”
God speaks to us in a number of ways—through the traditions of the church, through our reason and understanding, and through our personal and communal experiences.  All of these are important and help guide us.  However, we always rely on the Bible as the firm, unchanging foundation of our faith because sometimes our traditions are flawed, our reason is limited, and our experience is too subjective to be reliable.  Scripture is the timeless and authoritative foundation that teaches us how to live Christian in a gay world.  

 
Jesus and Scripture
            Jesus is a perfect example of the authoritative role of Scripture to guide us.  Jesus founded his teaching and worldview on the Scriptures of the Old Testament (at the time, the New Testament had yet to be written).  Jesus directly referenced Scripture no less than 53 times in the four Gospels[i] saying such things as:
·       Matthew 9:13 – Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture…
·       Matthew 12:3 – Haven’t you read the Scriptures…
·       Matthew 21:13 – The Scriptures declare…
·       Mark 12:24 – Your mistake is you don’t know the Scriptures…
·       Luke 20:17 – Then what does this Scripture mean?
·       Luke 24:7 – Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
·       John 10:35 – And you know that the Scriptures cannot be altered… 

Clearly, Jesus had a high view of Scripture and offered it to His followers as an authority to know and follow.  If the Son of God understood the authority of Scripture to guide the faithful, shouldn’t we also rely upon the timeless, unchanging Word of God to guide the way we think and live?  The teaching of the Christian Church for 2,000 years has been an emphatic yes.  And the view of the Methodist movement from the beginning has been:  [the Bible] “…is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”[ii]
If we want to understand the will of God concerning homosexuality (or anything else), we must understand what the Bible says about it. 

What the Bible Says About Homosexuality
Therefore, I want to share what the Bible says about homosexuality.  There are five primary passages in the Bible that deal directly with homosexuality.  The fact that there are only five reveals two important clues about homosexuality:
1.     The status of homosexuality was not debated as often in societies during biblical times as it has been in our times.  If it were a topic people debated regularly, there would be more references to homosexuality in the Bible—whether it be stories about homosexual persons, rulings about it or prophecies from God on the issue, commandments concerning homosexuality, etc.  This doesn’t necessarily mean homosexuality was not as present in the past as it is now, but it may mean that the acceptability homosexuality was not in question as much in biblical times as it has been over the past few decades in the western world.  It would seem the matter was general settled for almost everyone in biblical times.

2.     Secondly, the small number of references to homosexuality in the Bible also reveals that although homosexuality has become a very big issue for our society over the past 50 years, it was not considered nearly as important a topic in biblical times.  The Bible devotes far more time to teaching about love, helping the needy, seeking God, etc. than it does to homosexuality.  Furthermore, Scripture spends much more time speaking against sinful behaviors like dishonesty, lack of compassion, and idolatry than it does speaking against homosexuality.  This would lead me to believe these were (and are) more important issues than homosexuality.  The way I see it, homosexuality has become disproportionally important for us in the 21st century.  It was not as important historically.  Furthermore, I don’t think it is as big of a deal to God as people today have made it out to be. 

Even so, people want and need to know what the Bible says about homosexuality.  So, let me briefly outline the five passages that deal directly with homosexuality. 

Genesis 19 – Sodom and Gomorrah
            The first direct reference to homosexuality is found in a fascinating and also disturbing story in Genesis chapter 19.  The story says God sent two angels to investigate two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, to determine if they were so wicked they must be destroyed.  While the angels are staying in Sodom with a man named Lot, Genesis 19:4-5 says, “…all the men of Sodom, young and old, came from all over the city and surrounded the house. They shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!”  God determines the cities are so wicked He must destroy them.  Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed just because the men practiced homosexuality; however, their attempt to rape the angels visiting Lot (who they thought were men) revealed the depths of Sodom and Gomorrah’s depravity.  Every last person in the cities was wicked to the core and deserved only judgment and destruction.  So, although the passage is about general wickedness and judgment (and not specifically about homosexuality), the story does reveal a very negative view of homosexuality.   

Leviticus 18 and 20
            The next references we find concerning homosexuality are in the 18th and 20th chapters of Leviticus.  Leviticus is a book of law that reveals how God expected His holy people to live in Old Testament times.  Leviticus 18 lists forbidden sexual practices.  Among the sexual practices forbidden are: adultery, sex with close relatives, and sex with animals.  Leviticus 18:22 specifically deals with homosexuality.  It says, “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.”  Leviticus 20:13 repeats the prohibition adding in the punishment for homosexuality at that time.  It says, “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.” 
            We should reject the idea of capital punishment for the practice of homosexuality.  Any form of violence, intimidation, persecution, or bullying of homosexual persons is abhorrent to God and to rightly-guided Christians.  However, these verses from Leviticus specifically show that homosexuality was considered a very serious sin in Old Testament times.  People often observe that religion in the Old Testament was much harsher than the religion Jesus revealed in the New Testament.  So, let’s look at the next three scriptural references about homosexuality that are all found in the New Testament. 

Romans 1:18-32
            The next reference is from Romans 1:18-32.  In this passage, the Apostle Paul argues how sinful the world is and how our sin blinds us to truths about God that should be obvious.  As an example, he points to homosexuality, which Paul says is obviously contrary to nature.  Since people have turned their back on God, Paul argues God has let people reap the shameful rewards of their sins.  Romans 1:26-27 says:

26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.

            So here in the New Testament as in the Old, we again see homosexuality regarded as sin contrary to God’s plan for humanity. 

1 Corinthians 6:9-10
            The next passage is from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which list the types of sinful behavior that could keep a person from inheriting the Kingdom of God.  It reads:
Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” 
            It is important to note here that homosexuality is listed alongside some other sinful behaviors that don’t seem as big a deal to people today as homosexuality—for homosexuality is listed right alongside greed and drunkenness and cheating.  So while we might make a big deal about a gay person and how we should treat them in the church, why don’t we make as big a fuss about these other sins that are far more prevalent and just as important to God?  Is this not a double standard we should recognize and expel from our way of thinking? 

1 Timothy 1:8-10
            The last direct reference to homosexuality is 1 Timothy 1:10.  This passage also lumps homosexuality in with a list of sins the writer assumes everyone in his audience knows are sinful.

"The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching…"

            Here again, we see homosexuality (something many people today consider a serious sin) listed with other sins people don’t seem to mind as much like lying or breaking promises.  None-the-less, homosexuality is clearly considered unacceptable behavior that is contrary to God’s plan for humanity in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. 

Jesus
            Jesus did not say anything directly about the issue of homosexuality in Scripture.  Some people point this out as a justification for the acceptance of homosexuality among Christians.  However, that’s not really a reasonable position if one sincerely considers the life of Christ. 
Jesus was very accepting of people traditionally considered outcasts and sinners of society.  His detractors maligned him for eating with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes.  However, Jesus never condoned sinful behavior and always looked to forgive and lift people out of their sinful lives.  Furthermore, we have already seen how Jesus stood upon the teachings of the Old Testament—referring to Scripture over 53 times in the Gospels to support his teachings.  Since we see what the Old Testament teaches regarding homosexuality, it doesn’t make much sense to assume Jesus disagreed simply because he didn’t explicitly restate the Old Testament’s teaching on the issue.  Jesus’ audience would have already assumed homosexuality was a sin.  There is no record or reason to believe this was even a question Jesus needed to address.  His silence on the issue supports the idea that Jesus saw homosexuality as a sin as did most people of his time.
In Mark 7:21-23, Jesus said, “21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”  Given Jesus grounding in the Old Testament understanding of sin and righteousness, Jesus must have understood "sexual immorality" to be defined by Leviticus 18–which includes all the things we’ve already mentioned including homosexuality.
There is a more obvious reason to believe Jesus saw homosexuality as contrary to God plan because of what he did say about human sexuality.  Jesus explicitly states God’s plan for human sexuality to be within a monogamous, heterosexual marriage in Matthew 19:4-6.  4“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
So we see that Jesus taught the traditional view of heterosexual marriage handed down from the beginning in Genesis and that never changed all throughout Scripture.  The only alternative to heterosexual marriage Jesus offers comes a few verses later in Matthew 20:12 when he says, “…some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” In other words, you can enjoy God’s gift of sexual union within heterosexual marriage or you can remain unmarried and refrain from sexual relations.  These are the only two valid options offered in the Bible or by Jesus. 

Conclusion
            I know this post was longer than usual.  We had a lot of material to cover, but I felt it was important for everyone to actually see what Scripture says about homosexuality to show why the Church teaches that homosexuality is a sin outside of God’s will for humanity.  It’s because the Bible teaches it—and not just in one place or in one era.  The Bible is clear about homosexuality from the beginning to the end.  And as 1 Timothy 3:16 say, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives."
Some congregations have changed their opinion about homosexuality, just as have many in our society.  Many in the United Methodist Church wish to change our official stance (and this will be debated at our next General Conference this May).  However, such a drastic change departs from our Scriptural foundation.
The truth is, society’s opinions on various topics change as easily as our taste in clothing—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  (Do you remember jelly shoes?) The beauty of the Bible (and the challenge also) is that is does not change.  It is an anchor that holds us to the Truth while the changing tides of public opinions swirl around us.  Scripture connects us to the timeless principles of God.
I understand that it is very difficult to maintain a biblical view of homosexuality given the unpopularity of that opinion in our times.  It is even more difficult because we all have friends, family, or loved ones who struggle with homosexuality.  You may personally struggle with homosexuality.  It can be very tempting to just set the scriptural witness aside and say, “There’s nothing wrong with homosexuality.”  And this is what some people have done.
I would encourage everyone—whether the issue is homosexuality or something else—to allow the Word of God to change you instead of trying to change the Word of God.  It is not an easy path to follow, but it is the best path and one that Love calls us to pursue.  Therefore, I urge you to pray fervently that God would give you courage to stand up for the Truth and a love that never gives up.    Jesus said, if anyone wants to follow me he must die to himself, take up his cross and follow me…




[i] 17 times in Matthew, 10 times in Mark, 14 times in Luke, 12 times in John
[ii] Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church, Article IV – http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/confession-of-faith