As always, sermon video and audio available on the sermon page.
Before I provide a synopsis of the sermon, I want to highlight three things: First, I distributed a video ahead of this sermon that highlighted an important framework I’m using. I hope you find time to watch it. Second, I am so proud of how people engaged on this Sunday. About 45 people stuck around afterward and had a robust conversation about how to be faithful. Lastly, please note that the sermon had two parts. Make sure you ingest both parts!
This week’s scripture included four different passages: Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:18-25, Matthew 19:3-12, & Ephesians 5:28-33. We had previously examined all four of these passages, but it was time to revisit all of them because they have implications for how we view same-sex relationships and approach people who experience same-sex attraction. Indeed, some of the connections are so obvious that many people wondered why I didn’t bring all this up earlier, back when we first encountered these texts. The answer to that is simple: before these things say anything same-sex relationships (including same-sex intimacy and same-sex marriage), they say MUCH MORE about complementary, heterosexual relationships — about God’s design for marriage and in turn, about cohabitation, casual sexual, divorce, abuse, and many other realities in relationships.
This is probably the biggest takeaway from the sermon: God’s design for marriage includes sex difference. Although there are six Bible passages that speak directly against same-sex relations, our understanding of God’s design for marriage is not based on those passages. Instead, we find a consistent Scriptural teaching on marriage—traceable from Genesis to Revelation—that establishes marriage as a covenantal bond between a man and a woman, intended to bring about a set of goods, including but not limited to procreation and bearing witness to Christ’s love for the church, that necessarily entail sex difference.
Concerning the six passages that speak directly against same-sex behavior, I briefly addressed them in this post from last Thursday. To summarize, I find that although it is correct that none of them speak to same-sex marriage as we currently know it, they are all unequivocal in their condemnation of various forms of same-sex behavior and intimacy. Since there’s zero ambivalence in these passages, we would have to find strong, compelling evidence in other passages if we were ever going to affirm same-sex marriage as part of God’s design. Unfortunately, that’s not what we find. This sermon attempted to explain that, via a week-by week, text-by-text review:
On Oct. 10, we sought God’s wisdom through Genesis 2:18-25. In particular, we focused on the Hebrew phrase found in Genesis 2:18-20, ezer kenegdo (for a summary, see this post). I stressed that this phrase most accurately means “a helper, similar yet opposite to, him.” There’s this very obvious complementarity in this phrase, a complementarity between ish and ishah (man and woman—Gen 2:23), such that they can become one flesh (Gen 2:24).
On Oct. 17, we were back in Genesis 2. This time, we explored Augustine’s three goods (see this summary). The first of those goods is procreation, which is not only implied in Genesis 2—they become one flesh and are naked and unashamed!, but it’s also directly stated in Genesis 1—they are to be fruitful and multiply. It’s almost too obvious to need stating, but procreation involves the complementarity of male-female relations.
The second good is fidelity. In Matthew 19, the Pharisees are asking Jesus about divorce and in response, Jesus quotes Genesis 1 and connects the phenomenon of marriage with the fact of our having been created male and female. He then establishes the case for fidelity by quoting Genesis 2: the man and the woman become one flesh and should not separate. Thus, marriage, for Jesus, is predicated on gender difference; it’s because we’re male and female that we have this thing called marriage and that we commit our lives to one another for better or for worse.
The third good is sacred bond, or sacrament. If we believe this, we believe marriage is a sign pointing to some greater divine reality. And indeed, the text from Oct. 24—Ephesians 5:31-32—makes that exact claim: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” This theme, of God as bridegroom and God’s people as bride, is pervasive throughout the scriptures: Old Testament (esp. Prophets), Gospels, Paul, Revelation. Thus, our sacred text uses the marriage between a man and a woman as the one of the defining metaphors by which we understand God and what’s God’s doing in the cosmos. It is predicated on complementarity and difference. Change this arrangement, and you end up distorting the spiritual reality to which it points. Alter marriage, and you end up distorting one of the primary pictures of the Gospel given to us in the Scriptures.
I could say more, but I think a simple review of the four passages from Oct. 10, 17, & 24 provides enough evidence for us to affirm that God’s design for marriage includes sex difference; i.e., a man and a woman. Moreover, I believe it requires an impressive feat of hermeneutical gymnastics to come to any other conclusion than this: same-sex sexual intimacy is ruled completely out of bounds for Christian believers.
As I emphasized in the sermon, I don’t say this to be cruel to people. There are some folks who will make us out to be hateful bigots because we say things like this. Those who accuse us of such hate & bigotry seem to have no empathy for the fact that this sacred text, a sacred text around which billions and billions of people have hinged their lives, is rather straightforward.
Of course, they also think we’re hateful because the church has a history of being hateful and they have rarely seen our profound love, care and hope. … which leads to the second half of this sermon, in which I focused on the sermon texts from Sept. 19, 26, and Oct. 3. All three of these sermons provide vital resources for our pastoral approach toward those that experience same-sex attraction.
For instance, we looked at 1 Corinthians 13—the LOVE chapter. This passage, esp. vv. 1-2, has huge implications for how we hold our beliefs (review it here). If we have not love, we have nothing! And we will, in fact, be a noisy gong! We have to admit that the church has dehumanized people (treating this as an “issue” instead of noticing a person), ostracized people (failing to provide space and hospitality for sexual minorities), and condemned people (failing to offer grace and hope). Lord, have mercy.
On October 3, we looked at 1 Corinthians 7:23-40 (see here). This is an important sermon because if we’re going to talk about relationships by God’s design, we need to talk about hope for the unmarried. Many people who experience same-sex attraction have found hope in singleness and celibacy = see this post about four people and a whole movement called Revoice.
All of this leads back to the first sermon in this series: a sermon on Galatians 2:15-21 focusing on identity in Christ (see summary here). We started here for a reason! Our primary identity is in Christ, not in our marital status, our attractions, or anything else!
By tracing through these sermons, I was able to tie together all the passages we’ve looked at so far: Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:18-25, Matthew 19:3-12, & Ephesians 5:21-33, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Corinthians 7:23-40, and Galatians 2:15-21. Hopefully it helps you! Lord, have mercy on us.
For Further Reflection
(1) As always, if you are in a small group, you should start with review. You should take some time to recall what the passages say and what I said. After reviewing what was said, you should review what it stirred up in you: Where did it energize you? Where did you sense resistance? Where did it get you thinking about people and circumstances in your life?
(2) Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if we are able to provide a biblical case that God’s design for marriage involves a man and a woman if we are unable to provide hospitality and hope for those that experience a pull in a different direction. What are you doing in your personal life to provide that? What ideas do you have for the church?
(3) For the Learning Hour, I aggregated a few resources that might be helpful for individual reflection and group discussion. Access them in this PDF.
(4) For thought and reflection: To me, this is one of the most practical litmus tests as to whether or not the Bible can affirm same-sex marriage: If I am in pre-marital counseling with a couple, I will focus on Genesis 2, Matthew 19, and Ephesians 5 so that we can talk about the ‘goods’ of marriage, the prohibition against divorce, and marital roles. However, how could I have any of those conversations if the couple before me consisted of two women or two men? None of these passages would make any sense in that context. I’d have to toss them aside and counsel them using some other resources. In other words, I’d have to toss the Bible aside in order to affirm their union. This seems like absurdity.