Chapter 5 of Sexuality & Holiness: Remaining Loving & Biblically Grounded in a Rapidly Shifting Culture
Preaching the whole truth
One of the most common arguments on alternative relationships to that of one man and one woman is the view that Jesus never actually spoke against it, therefore He must be OK with it.
“After all, doesn’t loving our neighbour mean accepting whatever they choose to do with their lives? In this vein, anyone opposing same-sex relationships is effectively a modern-day Pharisee, trying to impose irrelevant legalism and law on another individual. Plus, let’s not forget that Jesus spent most of His time opposing such legalistic people.”
I’m sure that either you have heard this argument before or used it yourself…
Well, let me be completely honest with you: I have spent so much time agonising and praying on exactly this scenario, and I have zero desire to be deemed a Pharisee! I have told God that I really don’t want to do what Jesus warned us not to do:
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck, and they were thrown into the sea.Mark 9:42, NIV
I don’t want to cause anyone to stumble in their walk with Christ regardless of age, ethnicity or gender etc.
I’ve prayed on this topic and asked God a terrifying question: What if my view of sexuality is turning people away from Jesus?
It’s a possibility that literally petrifies me!
Then, at the same time, I think to myself, something like this…
But, God, if I teach the wrong gospel and misinterpret the Bible (perhaps because I want to make it easier for people to enter heaven) then surely, I’m in an even greater danger?
One of the things that helps me in this situation is to remind myself that the gospel is not about getting people into heaven; it’s about getting heaven into people. Or, put another way: The gospel is not about getting people into the kingdom of God, it’s about getting the kingdom of God into people.
So, how do we do this? It’s actually very simple and means highlighting four key things to individuals:
- All people have turned to their own ways rather than living as God originally intended for us: this is what the Bible calls sin.
- However, His one and only Son, Jesus, became a man, walked the earth, died on a cross to pay the penalty for our sin, and rose to life three days later conquering death.
- That if anyone believes what I have just written, turns back to God and sincerely asks for forgiveness, He will forgive their sins and grant them eternal life.
- God will then send His Holy Spirit to live within them, to guide, equip and empower them to live a new life honouring to Him.
This transformation is expressed further in Romans 12:2 (NIV) which says:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Interestingly, I hear this verse thrown around a lot in church as though it were a proof text confirming the instant transformation that takes place when becoming a Christian. In reality, it’s a verse intended for all of us as believers in our ongoing journeys becoming more like Jesus; to invite the Holy Spirit daily to help us in aligning ourselves with God’s will rather than the will of the world. It requires cooperation with the Holy Spirit, and it involves sacrificing our old way of life for a new way of life in the Spirit:
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free.Romans 8:2, NKJV
It’s not about shaping the kingdom of God in such a way that men and women can receive it; it’s about a supernatural reshaping of the human heart so that they are willing to embrace the kingdom at any cost.
We can see this in Jesus’ teaching when He shared the parable of the Precious Pearl and the willingness of the man featured in it to sell everything he had. Only then was he able to take hold of the precious pearl which represented the overwhelmingly precious kingdom of God (Matthew 13:45-56).
Are you willing to give up anything for this eternal kingdom or, more importantly, for your relationship with God now and into the future?
It may cost you all your money, your ambitions, your comfort zones, perhaps even be detrimental to your health as it was for Paul and Peter… It may even cost you your sexuality.
That’s something to stop and consider, isn’t it?
And I don’t discount myself from that scenario. What if God had asked me to remain celibate and make a deliberate choice not to fancy my wife when I was considering searching for a life partner? Would I have had the guts to accept that eventuality? And just because He did not, does that mean it is fair of me to expect others to do something that seemingly goes against their inclinations for their own future happiness?
I can’t ask that of you, myself; but I can point you to Jesus. I wonder what He is asking you to give up for Him.
So, Jesus never spoke about same-sex relationships…does that mean he’s ok with them?
Well, Jesus never spoke about taking drugs… so, is it OK? He spoke about giving back to Caesar what was Caesar’s, yet He never directly condemned offshore tax evasion (see Mark 12:17). He never spoke about incest… so, is that OK? Well, while most would probably say, “No, absolutely not!” let me throw something controversial into the mix. In the age we live in where we often hear ‘love is love’, if it’s a case of two consenting adults… in theory, incest should be OK, right?
OK, so you see where I am going with this.
Jesus didn’t directly speak about many things. Yet, this doesn’t mean He approves of them in our lives today.
A friend of mine who has a Doctorate in Theology was asked the question recently, “What are we meant to continue to obey from the Old Testament if we are under a new covenant of grace?” My friend’s answer was profound. He said, “Well, if it’s in the Old Testament and we are meant to continue with it, you’ll find it in the New Testament.”
My first thought was Hmm, that sounds a bit too simplistic, and I don’t think it’ll work. However, I was proven wrong when I started looking for myself. Let me assure you, it’s a very reliable litmus test. I recommend you try reading the Bible with my friend’s approach in mind, it’s truly eye-opening!
That’s pretty much where we get to with Jesus on the same-sex relationships question. He doesn’t stand on a mountain and directly say, “Thou shalt not lie with someone of the same sex.” However, He does get drawn into a conversation on marriage and divorce, and His response is very helpful indirectly on this topic of same-sex relationships.
Jesus on marriage and divorce
Let’s look at what Jesus says in Matthew 19:1-12 (NIV):
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
It’s helpful to start by considering the context of this passage.
The Pharisees were looking to trap Jesus in a debate of their day as there were two schools of thought that were circulating at the time. Whilst some followed the teaching of Rabbi Shammia, who held a stricter, more traditional view of marriage which permitted divorce only for marital unfaithfulness, others followed the teaching of Rabbi Hillel. In contrast to Shammia, Hillel took a more relaxed view whereby divorce could be obtained for reasons of minor disappointment with the wife’s performance in her duties. Hillel’s line of thought was to say that something as simple as not performing well in her domestic tasks, provided just cause for a husband to request a divorce.
By questioning Jesus on this subject, therefore, the Pharisees deliberately sought to expose and trap him into saying something that would not please his listeners. The Pharisees knew that, had He sided with Rabbi Shammia and his strict views on divorce, Jesus would have been unpopular with the many men at that time who wanted to be able to divorce for any reason they chose. On the other hand, they knew also that if He opted to side with Rabbi Hillel, He could be accused of having a relaxed view of Scriptures that had been handed down to the Jews by Moses. Either way, it seemed they could trap Him easily – or so they thought.
That’s a bit of the context but what is more important with regards to our question of Jesus’ take on same-sex attraction, is His response to the Pharisees. It’s really valuable that Jesus says several things in this passage relevant to our topic of understanding what relationships are affirmed by God.
In verse 4, Jesus does something very important for us; He begins His explanation by pointing His listeners back to Adam and Eve. He affirms His belief in the Genesis account as being literal and not allegoric. He also affirms that we are ‘made male and female’; that this was God’s original blueprint before sin entered the world and corrupted His good and pleasing creation.
Then, in verse 6, Jesus gives us an understanding of the way we were created to be. He talks clearly of one male and one female coming together, cleaving from the parents, and becoming one flesh; two key, distinct ingredients of masculine and feminine DNA, which, we can all concede are necessary in order to conceive and bear a child. It is the creative order that cannot work in any other way. It means sex is both a physical and spiritual act, and Jesus affirms this relationship saying, ‘What God joins, let no man separate’ (v.6). So, we can see that faced with the question of relationships and divorce etc, Jesus points back to the beginning. He directly affirms the blueprint of a relationship between one man and one woman, and it is important for us to recognise that it is the only sexual relationship between two people affirmed and spoken of positively in the whole of Scripture.
In verse 8, Jesus also says something very important in His reply to why Moses first permitted divorce. He starts by addressing the heart of the people listening, telling them that their hearts are hard. But then He continues and says something easy to overlook but vital: ‘but it was not this way from the beginning’ (v.8).
Jesus unapologetically tells the religious leaders that their hard hearts have caused them to sin and break God’s original blueprint set out in the beginning. Then, He goes on to tell them the bottom line: ‘I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery’ (v.9).
The first thing we learn from Jesus here, is that, whilst He doesn’t directly speak of same-sex relationships, He does challenge wrong teaching on relationships and divorce. Even more importantly, He challenges wrong teaching by pointing to the way it was in the beginning.
In other words, if you want the right answer to what a biblical marriage is, look at the model of the male and female who God joined together, blessed, and commanded to multiply on the earth in Genesis.
The only reason the world goes astray from this blueprint is because the human heart is corrupted by sin… hard hearts.
Now, it should be explained at this point, if you stand for relationships between one man and one woman, then you also need to be fair across the board. It would be extremely unfair to overlook the question of heterosexual sexual relationships before marriage or living together, for instance. And, in fact, the view of divorce in the Church needs to be reviewed and acted on according to Scripture, something I have been pondering repeatedly in my heart. It’s so easy to talk about the debate of the day being same-sex relationships when, in fact, we may find we have a hypocritical view on other areas between heterosexuals, such as those mentioned in this paragraph.
The purpose of my book is to specifically consider same-sex relationships, but it would be remiss of me to omit this, so I wish briefly to say that all of us in the Church are accountable for our actions before God.
This means we all have a responsibility to choose His ‘good, pleasing and perfect will’ (Romans 12:2, NIV) for our lives if we are sincere in our commitment to let Him be Lord of our lives. For those who are not yet married, to choose either to co-habit or engage in sexual relations, therefore, is to act contrary to this.
Now, it doesn’t end there, though.
Jesus on eunuchs
In verse 10, the Pharisees find this teaching hard to swallow and confess it would be better not to marry at all than to live with such demands. To which Jesus gives another profound response, which can contribute further to our thinking around same-sex relationships.
After affirming relationships between one man and one woman as ordained by God in the beginning, and then rejecting divorce on the basis of men’s whims, Jesus continues by giving an alternative option… Jesus says: ‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others — and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it’ (v.10).
Not everyone can accept this word!
Not everyone can handle relationships as set out in the beginning between one man and one woman.
Not everyone can cope with the idea that only in marital unfaithfulness may a divorce be granted.
Yet, Jesus goes on to give the only other option for those who cannot accept His teaching on the Genesis blueprint of one man and one woman.
He uses a eunuch as a figurative term for someone who voluntarily abstains from sexual relationships and marriage for ‘the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ and presents three different types of eunuch. First, He concedes that that there are some who are born eunuchs meaning they were born without genitalia required for having sexual relations. Then, He talks of others who have been made eunuchs meaning they are forced by others not to have sexual relationships and marry. Finally, He refers to one other eunuch and it is this type which needs to be highlighted here, because it is especially relevant in considering the Church’s interaction with today’s growing LGBTQ+ community. Jesus speaks of those who choose to live like eunuchs, ‘those that choose to stay celibate for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (v.12).
In other words, Jesus describes individuals who choose a path without marriage and without sex who choose deliberately to pursue the kingdom of God, to follow God’s instruction and God’s purpose for their lives.
True, Jesus may never have spoken directly of same-sex relationships; however, as scholars like Grenz state, He did speak of those who would lay down their personal sexual desires for relationships to pursue a kingdom-life that honours, pleases and serves the Lord.
So, the answer is, Jesus does address same-sex relationships indirectly in this passage by affirming what marriage is, and what we should do if that marriage model is not for us.
A note of encouragement
Now, I know this is not an easy thing for all of us to read or accept, so I want to give a word both of warning and encouragement. Anyone who finds it easy to point the finger at those in same sex-relationships should be careful and kind. How would anyone like to have loving desires towards someone and be told they cannot enter that relationship? It’s basically like telling a husband they are no longer allowed to be with their wife. It’s painful – of that we cannot be in doubt! And those who choose the kingdom over their earthly desires for a relationship should be loved and supported with incredible compassion.
Furthermore, I believe that anyone who chooses to be celibate for the sake of the kingdom of God deserves a heavenly commendation and a greater crown (see James 1:12, Revelation 2:10) than anyone like me who has feelings for the opposite sex and is allowed to marry the wife of my dreams.
Whilst I write this book and believe in what I write, I have wrestled so much with the burdens that this likely brings to many – and can only imagine the pain it must involve.
If you, reader, are among those struggling, I want you to know that you are truly on my heart.
May you know that I am totally for you, as your brother in Christ.
By no means do I want to underestimate the sacrifice you are facing as you grapple with this issue of what Jesus says concerning same-sex attraction.
So may the words of Jesus encourage you – as only He can:
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.Matthew 19:29, NIV
Mike is Senior Pastor of Reigate Baptist Church in Reigate, Surrey. He and his wife Rachel have three children and together serve their community, lovingly and faithfully. Mike is passionate about pursuing Jesus and pointing others to Him, helping the Modern-day Church of believers to know and love Him better.