With this final talk (and strand group time together) I’m officially on 6 weeks of long service leave! This was a huge talk, with heaps to consider/think about. Lots of discussion ahead in our churches as we consider the five challenges at the end – what did you think?
And as always, if I missed anything or you heard different, let me know in the comments!
Love in a World of Love Wins | Talk 5 (Matthew 19:1-12, 1 Corinthians 13)
Introduction: A Rock that Stumbles
Unless you’ve been asleep for the past 100 years the issue of sexuality, gender and identity are the key flashpoints between the Bible and our Aussie society. It’s a massive point of tension and animosity – because this whole area is a big moral issue. One of the 2-3 big moral issues in which our Aussie society have rediscovered and hold strong moral beliefs.
For those in favour of the sexual revolution, this is a big issue because it’s a way of defeating bigotry. Transgenderism helps society become more tolerant, inclusive, fairer. This is a big deal and emotions are high. Who doesn’t want to support a movement against hatred and prejudice?
It’s also a heated issue because it’s part of an expression of the larger issue of a vision of human flourishing.
Today we’re going to see two different visions of love and how those who follow the Lord Jesus should live and act in the light of God’s vision of love, and how union with Christ shapes this.
The Aussie View of Love, Identity and Marriage
The Aussie view of love, at the centre, celebrates teenage infatuation. The feeling of being in love. The high emotions of it. Compare that to the old married couple who have gone through that and have settled into a quiet life of love and service. We can see this in our movies – the focus on the high emotions of getting together.
Love is about how the person makes you feel. So its greatest good is happiness and authenticity. When love fades you should leave the relationship, otherwise you’re living the lie. Don’t try and re-fan that flame. While Aussies promise to love each other that seems to be a holdover from the past. Usually, today when they say, ‘I promise to love you…’ it’s more like ‘I love you so much now that I am confident I’ll love you forever…’ It’s not a promise for the future but a statement of the present.
Part of the attraction of love for Aussies is that it has the potential to combine together happiness and authenticity – and that makes it pretty valuable. But it’s a vision that rejects any order for love. All our stories are about love overcoming barriers – the bad boy finding love, the popular girl and loner guy, two guys or two girls getting together, a lesbian couple where one discovers they are a man and transitions with the other deciding to stay because of their love for the individual. These are heroes of love because they defy convention – they persist and love conquers all, erases all barriers, defies all limits, accepts no orders, bows the knee to no Lord.
The love of our world answers only to itself. As the Beatles sang a long time ago: love is all you need. There is no order or greater structure that love inhabits. It lays down its own tracks. You can’t make it happen and you can’t stop it from leaving.
This sort of love is self-justifying. Love always wins and is always the right choice. Our society struggles to reject any story of love unless there is clear and obvious direct harm involved. If it cannot see that then love never needs to justify itself. These people love each other – that’s all you need to know.
This sort of love makes all demands on others – you are to celebrate it, not forbid or regulate it, to have no aspirations for the lover or loved. You are simply to applaud. Anything less is animosity and hatred.
In this vision, love is optional. Marriage is the climax of love – you’ve found the One, your soulmate. So you pour your house deposit amount into a wedding to show that you’ve made it. If this is what marriage is, then why would you deny that to a same-sex couple? Why can’t you approve of their love as well?
Marriage functions very differently in our Aussie society. Child-bearing is not crucial to marriage anymore. It’s all divorced, separate categories. So now you can have sex without marriage, love without marriage, marriage without children. In the light of this, we see that refusal to give the same thing to same-sex couples is bigotry.
Our rhetoric on love is so utopian that we’re pictured like angels. Yet our view of sex makes us like only animals – see porn and its effects.
True love in this context is to not just have a partner but to love yourself. To satisfy your own desires.
The Biblical View of Love, Identity and Marriage
The biblical picture is extremely different in five ways.
First – Jesus’ vision of love is cosmic in comparison to the Aussie vision. We can see this with how he handles the question of divorce in Matthew 19.
Matthew 19 is a bit of a flashpoint issue. In the day and age in which Jesus spoke these words, it was already a hard saying. It was a hard saying because it restricted male power over women and restricted the avenues for divorce. It restricted polygamy, a side woman, easy no-fault divorce… Jesus makes it clear that marriage binds not only the wife to the husband but also the husband to the wife. Sexual immorality/adultery is the key action for divorce. There is no such thing as irreconcilable differences or unhappiness as reasons for divorce. Attempts to leave marriage on those grounds is akin to adultery.
Unsurprisingly many people react to this teaching from Jesus like the disciples – this is too hard. Yet the call from Jesus is clear – this is how marriage and divorce work for Christ’s people.
But today it’s hard for a completely different set of reasons. It clashes with the way our world views sex, sexuality, and love. Inherent to what Jesus is saying is that sex and sexuality are to be expressed in marriage – between a man and a woman, biologically speaking. In a few words here Jesus says some hard things to push against the sexual revolution of our world.
It’s also hard to our world in regards to queer sex, same-sex, trans-sex – the words of Jesus presents the Genesis account as the only paradigm for sexual relations. The message ‘in the beginning he made them male and female’ is intolerant to our current sexual spectrum.
Yet note, in the early church, the same issue existed. To working-class pagans and elite pagans, this message of sexuality was a stumbling block. In the Reformation, the same thing happened as well – turning people off the gospel because of this news. Missionaries in Latin America found difficulty in getting men to remain faithful to their wives because it reflected poorly on their mothers who had not raised a real man who had a side-girl (!).
So, how does our world respond? It calls the biblical view, the view of Jesus, hate speech. Even if non-believers come to believe in the resurrection they still think this one issue, sexuality, is harmful. This issue is going to be around for a while.
Mark does think we’ll get better mileage from this issue if we see what Jesus is saying here isn’t bigotry, nor what Paul says. What will serve us better is starting with the process of grasping the broader vision of what the Bible says is a vision of humanity and sexuality. Jesus is saying what he says here is out of love – out of a cosmic view, which is so different from our Aussie society.
This cosmic view of love and humanity stretches back to Genesis. The story of the beginning of love is part of the story of the beginning of reality itself. It’s cosmic in this way, and so it is ordered and structured. We see this is Genesis 2 – God makes Adam a helper fit for him. God doesn’t just give Adam whatever he wants, he gives Adam a complement. In all of it no choice is given to Adam.
Sexuality in the Bible revolves around the sexes. No other number or combination works.
And yet, it’s also not enough to just have a guy and a girl. The two of them need to be married. A permanent binding together, in a safe space where each other have each other’s back, a unilateral commitment to each other, no space for divorce (unless the other abandons the relationship for another). You also can’t marry someone you’re related to, you’re also excluded from someone who doesn’t share the same faith as you. God is unbelievably micromanaging int his area in order to carve out space for marriage to flourish. This sort of love is being commanded, forbidden, and regulated.
This sort of love is not just about sex. It’s broader than that – it extends to your children, your neighbour, your enemy and to God. You can promise to love someone for life in a way you cannot promise to be infatuated with someone. This love is ordered, and so it received marching orders. It can be commanded, forbidden, regulated – you will not love this person this way, you will love this person this way.
Second – love is woven into a bigger story than itself. Love is grounded in the cosmos, but marriage is both woven into creation (Gen 2) and Eph 5 tells us it’s a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church. Marriage and our union with Christ both locks us into heteronormative views of marriage (no other combination works) but also suggests that marriage isn’t the ultimate horizon. It serves the greater reality of our union with Christ.
We also see in 1 Cor 13 that when Paul looks ahead to the fullness of creation to come he says ‘love never fails, whereas tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will fall away…’ When we know God fully as he knows us, love will keep on going. Love never fails in this way.
This is so profoundly contrasted to the rom-com vision of marriage. The NT says if you want to see what love looks like look at the Son dying for his enemies to restore them to his Father. Our human love is woven into a much bigger story – which points away from our love to God’s love as the original well from where all of our love is drawn from.
Sexual love that unites two as one flesh points to a bigger reality of our union with Christ as one.
So our goal in mission and evangelism isn’t to make heterosexuals – it’s to show that love is really shown by the cross.
Third – Jesus vision of love is fundamentally demanding and aspirational – not authentic and happy. Love is about other people, which makes demands on us the people doing the loving. 1 Cor 13 is the key passage here – love is not about how the other person makes us feel, nor about what we do (as though love is about just doing the right actions) – love is about being the right person before others. It’s to see yourself in union with the other and to see their interests ahead of your own. It’s to see other’s flourish ahead of your self-flourishing.
In this form of love, the burden is on you – not on others. The Cross demonstrates this – 1 John says the same: in this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us by sending Jesus to die for our sins.
This kind of love seeks what is genuinely good for the other person. It’s not interested in being authentic as it is to be aspirational. We seek to be like 1 Cor 13, to be like the cross. To live the kind of lives in which we lay down our lives for others. We help them to move towards what is truly good for them.
And so in this way we often come into conflict with those we love. We are always on their side, but we do not always endorse. That kind of love creates a union/bond between the lover and loved. What happens to them matters to you. Their welfare matters as much to you as your own. You rise and fall with their fortunes.
Fourth – this kind of love embraces limits and suffering.
A love that is ordered, and where we seek to put the other first, is one where you’re not focused on living a fulfilled life or overcoming the barriers to that fulfilled life. When we lose ourselves we find ourselves. Where we love God, seek his Kingdom, love our neighbour. It’s not looking inside to find your personal pronouns, but looking outside yourself and loving others. Accepting how you’ve been made by God biologically and loving others from that.
In this way marriage is like singleness – it’s shaped and centred around the cross. It opens us up to suffering and limits because we’re serving the other and not ourselves first, and for their good. It’s about embracing the limits and suffering of being committed to just one other person – and your own happiness is not your own goal in life. As a couple, you learn to love others in partnership.
Yet this is not limited to marriage – it’s a challenge for all of us. We all accept limits and suffering.
(err… did you miss point 5? I missed point 5…)
Living a Life of Love in Light of the Cross
So how do we live this? Five ways we can start this conversation and journey in doing this.
First – we need to be people who embody this vision of love, in the circumstances, we find ourselves in. We are to be people who stand for something rather than stand against something. Union with Christ, with all it says about humanity and flourishing, orientates us towards a different vision of love. This positive vision gives us our marching orders each day. It’s far more important that we get the richness of humanity than that we have the best answers to the flashpoints of our world today. It’s more important that we live the reality rather than have an intellectual grasp on it. People aren’t changed by perfect answers, they are changed when they see something different.
Own the scripture’s vision on these matters.
Second – we need to be people who say no to things as an expression of love. We say no to same-sex marriage and relationships, to the basic thrust of transgenderism, to heterosexual relationships that don’t fit in God’s vision – to no-fault divorce, to adultery, to porn, to making your marriage and family the most important part of life, to sex that hurts others.
When we say ‘no’ we say it in the 1 Cor 13 kind of way – gently, compassionately, humbly, generously, not in anger, bitterness or jealousy. The way we say no must express the reason we say no – which is our vision of love. And we need to do that with those who disagree with us strongly.
The issues of today will pass because remember society has no final goal. The flux will dissolve the certainty of right now. There’s no point, then, stumbling people in the present – make sure we get the manner right.
Third – as society invests more in their vision of love, the air we breathe will be to say that love is selfish. To be true to myself and my own desires.
Our community needs to learn, know, and practice a biblical love – a flourishing other-person centred love. Where we learn to love one another, and those who are angry and hateful towards us because we don’t share their vision of love. The Aussie vision of love ties love acceptance, and celebration together so closely that they don’t believe you can love someone without accepting and celebrating them.
Fourth – we’re going to have to learn better ways to care for people than we have. For those people who do get married in the future, there are going to be more problems for them than we have had. The issues of our world are not just out there, but also in here. Christians are finding it harder and harder to get married, stay married, and have good marriages.
We’re going to need to equip married people for marriage and to equip single people to be single. We’re going to need a large and healthy culture of supporting people in life-long singleness, especially for those who struggle with their singleness.
We’re also going to need to find ways to support sexual minorities. Our models haven’t been great. Stigmatising people to turn from their orientation and not take action has failed as a strategy – an approach not grounded in the gospel. Sin has to be a place where named, but the sinner is welcomed and loved.
We also need to avoid accepting and endorsing views that are contra-biblical. We have to find ways to sensitively help people see that their desires and orientations are broken.
All of this is going to cause suffering in people – suffering in marriages, in singleness, in not being able to embrace your sexuality/gender identity. Some will suffer more than others – support, bearing one another’s burdens rather than telling people to toughen up needs to be the culture we create.
Fifth – we need to be a community centred on something bigger than human love, to be a community centred on God’s love as displayed on the cross. It’s not our love that will save people – it’s the love of our Lord Christ. The most our love can do is point to that love, in the same way, that the most our marriages can do is point to union in Christ.
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