• Homosexuality: Two “simple” commands

    February 26, 2012

    The apostle Paul said it best, I think. “The Law is good if one uses it properly” (1 Timothy 1:8, emphasis, mine). IF one uses it properly. And people before and since have been debating how exactly one does that. During Jesus’ time on earth, the Pharisees thought they had this figured out, as do some churches today. The Law says what it says. We should do what it says. If we would do what it says, God would be pleased, and pleased to send the Messiah. Strict obedience to and enforcement of the Law would garner God’s approval.

    Jesus seemed to disagree. Strongly. The Messiah was already among the Pharisees, though they couldn’t (wouldn’t?) recognize him, and Jesus appears to say that strict obedience to the Law had led to unjust treatment of the “innocent.” (Remember, the “innocent” were technically guilty of violating the Law concerning the Sabbath. See my post, “Homosexuality: Jesus on the Law”.) Unless I’m misunderstanding Jesus, if there is ever a choice between sacrifice and mercy, between obedience and mercy, mercy wins. “Go and learn what this means,” Jesus said, “‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice'” (Matthew 9:13). So a strict enforcement of the letter of the Law does not seem to be a proper use of the good Law, and it does not seem to bring God’s approval.

    Jesus could say this because of how he viewed the Law as a whole. He says in Matthew 22,

    37 … “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

    Again, I’ve added the italics. What a radical statement! ALL of the Law and EVERYTHING the Prophets preached all of it; every single bit of it hang on fulfilling two “simple” commands: Love God; love people. Any use of the Law that does not promote these two things is not a proper use of the Law hence why Jesus could say those who’d technically broken the Sabbath Law were innocent, and hence why I think the commands in Leviticus concerning male homosexuality, and the terms malakoi and arsenokoitai in the New Testament, must refer to some abusive or exploitive aspect of homosexuality. A strict prohibition against even loving gay relationships does not seem to promote love of God or mercy toward people. A prohibition against slavery, prostitution and religious sex rites would.

    But anyone who’s tried fulfilling even those two “simple” commands love God, love people knows how simple they are not. I like how Paul puts it in Romans 7.

    “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting … Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good [i.e., the Law] to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.”

    So the Law, far from helping us love God and love people, only serves to show us how incapable we are of successfully doing either! We don’t love God, not very well anyway. And we don’t love people, particularly when those people are people we don’t like very much.

    Basically, the Law points out our failure. It doesn’t help us live well. It doesn’t help us love. And if we’re not loving, then I think Jesus would say we’ve missed the whole point of the law in the first place, for ALL the law and the prophets hang on the two commands to love.

    So this Law that is good accomplishes nothing good in us. Why then do some insist on turning the Law into a rule book for life and then judging how good we are by how well we succeed at the law? That is a recipe for misery and self-loathing, for the law only points out how utterly awful we can sometimes be. No wonder Paul says all who depend on the law are “under a curse” (Galatians 3:10)! His words, not mine. If you insist on trying to keep the strict letter of the law to gain approval from God or to simply be a good person, and if you insist on others doing the same, you are under a curse, and you are putting others under a curse. Could that be why Jesus said one day to the Pharisees,

    “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15).

    I wonder how many of our churches are worthy of such a rebuke.

    One of my favorite contemporary authors is Andrew Farley. He has a passion for Christians understanding their freedom from having to futilely try keeping the law. (And in case you’re wondering, Farley is not in favor of gay relationships, so I am not getting my theology only from people who agree with me on this issue.) Farley says Christians should have “no relationship with the law.” No relationship at all. That sounds outrageous, and outrageously far from what some churches teach. It also sounds, at least to me, very much like what the apostle Paul taught, and so in the next Gay Post, we’ll look further at what Paul said concerning the Law.

    Posted in: The Gay Posts

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