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Jesus and sexuality

Wedding limo in the rain in my neighbourhood
A few days ago, I gave a talk entitled Jesus and Sexuality.  Well, that's what I set out to talk about, but the emphasis shifted slightly as I began to read the relevant biblical passages. Let me explain. Sexual identity and gender issues are hot topics these days so I thought it would be a good idea to see what Jesus has to say about all this stuff.  Alas, Jesus does not spend a whole lot of time on the topic.  An obvious oversight on his part, one would think, since there were people engaged in all kinds of "questionable" sexual practices in his day (temple prostitution, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage) pretty similar to our times.  But Jesus doesn't really address any of these issues, not even when the religious leaders thrust a prostitute in front of him, allegedly caught in the act, and try to force him to take a position. And when he talks to a woman who is living with a man who is not her husband, the topic turns away from immorality to the longing for something eternal and lasting. Nope. Jesus doesn't get caught up in it. What he does spend a lot of time talking about is the kingdom of God: what it looks like, its counter-intuitive nature, the many ways it contradicts our conventional cultural and business practices, and how it is always much closer and more available than we imagine.

Since Jesus doesn't have a lot to say on the topic, I took a look at two of the main passages in the New Testament where homosexuality is listed as one of those sins which will send one straight to hell (I think that's how they are commonly interpreted).  First, 1 Timothy 1:3-11.  I won't reproduce it here, so take a moment to read it now if you like.  Here we have a letter from Paul to Timothy who has remained in Ephesus to continue working with the church there.  The first directive Paul gives is to steer clear of engaging in speculative and confusing controversies; instead, they are to focus on what God is doing.  Hmmmm, sounds kind of like what Jesus did.  Paul reminds Timothy that the goal is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (verse 5). Then he goes on to talk about the role of the law (made for the ungodly) and here we find the list which names, among others, murderers, the sexually immoral, those practicing homosexuality, slave traders, and liars.  Paul sums up the "unholy" like this: that which does not conform to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God (verse 11).  Basically, unholiness is anything that does not shine with the unique, pure radiance that comes from living in the presence of God.  One soon notices that this passage is not primarily about condemning certain sexual behaviours.  The focus is clearly stated in verse 5:  the goal is love.  Placing a spotlight on the "list" is a really bad interpretation.  In fact, Paul goes on to talk about the grace and mercy which were poured out on him, a horrible sinner, and he draws the reader's attention to Christ's immense patience in dealing with broken humanity (verse 16). He always bring it back to the love of God, the work of God, and our invitation to participate in it.

On to the next passage:  1 Corinthians 6:7-20.  Again, take the time to read it now if you can.  Here, Paul has received some bad reports about the church group in Corinth (divisions in the church, immorality, lack of remorse for unloving behaviour, irreverence for the Lord's supper, etc.).  He writes to the church people addressing these issues and in chapter 6, we see Paul taking them to task regarding their attitude of entitlement.  They would rather fight one another in court and treat each other with contempt, demanding what is owed them, than humbly let the matter go.  (One needs only read the Passion of Jesus to see that this is not how he responded to being wronged).  The Corinthians seem to be obsessed with seeing wrongs done to them punished to the fullest extent of the law; mercy is nowhere in sight, and this attitude, Paul indicates, puts them in the company of "wrongdoers."  This particular list of wrongdoers includes thieves, sexually immoral, idolaters, men who have sex with men, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers (verses 9-10).  But Paul does not stop there; remember, he is speaking against those who exact harsh and merciless judgement.  He follows "the list" with these wondrous, generous words:  "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" (verse 11).  Then we come to the section on sexual immorality which basically boils down to these two ideas:  People were saying, "I have the right to do anything" and Paul counters with "You are not your own.  You were bought with a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies" (verse 19-20).  The whole point here is that we are not free to do as we please, not if we have accepted the merciful gift of grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  We are then bound (our bodies as well as our spirits) to the purposes and ways of God.  We are temples (places of holiness and worship) of the Spirit of God.

In summary, here is what Jesus has to say about sexuality:  not much.  Instead, he focuses on the kingdom of God.  We might be wise to do likewise.  And here is what Paul has to say about sexual issues:  the goal in everything is love which comes from a pure (100% whole, not mixed) heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.  We are not our own, we are not entitled to do whatever we want.  We are in relationship with the most holy God and our bodies are to be locations for worship and holiness.  Freedom does not consist of giving in to every appetite of our bodies.  Freedom is the gift given by a generous God who invites us to participate in something much bigger than ourselves and much larger than any of our petty wants and desires (see the story of the woman at the well in John 4).  Freedom is Jesus not condemning us for our many shortcomings (see the story of the prostitute brought before Jesus in John 8).  Freedom is learning to say no to things that harm others and ourselves.  Freedom is saying yes to the kingdom of God.  Freedom is never letting anything get in the way of love, the kind of love that Jesus showed, the kind of love that does not demand, does not take, does not dishonour others, does not seek its own interests, does not keep a record of wrongs. The kind of love which protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.  The kind of love which would give its life for another. And that's a whole lot more demanding than going around condemning or condoning certain kinds of sexual behaviour.

All quotations from New International Version of the Bible.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Really interesting debate Matte. I feel drawn, above everything, to the idea that if we focus on loving others, we are emulating Jesus: that our core value should be inclusion of people through love. I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that I struggle to condemn when all have fallen short. I cannot cast the first stone. Hannah M
Anonymous said…
Thank you for emodying the teachings of Jesus in a powerful and thoughtful way. I really needed to read this today.

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