Jesus’ truth is two-sided: love, acceptance, understanding, and compassion on one side, and calling people to faithful obedience on the other.
I was floored, in part because Mark talked about his first infatuation in the same way I’d describe mine with a girl. It wasn’t just physical desire; he really felt toward guys what I felt toward young women.
As we shared our individual struggles, one reality became painfully clear. My desire for sexual purity would soon be aided by God’s best remedy: I was about a year away from marrying my wife. Mark knew he might never be able to marry; his struggle for sexual purity could mean abstinence for his entire adult life.
Mark didn’t “choose” to become infatuated with other men. He told me several times, “If I could flip a switch and be sexually attracted to females, I’d do it in a second. You think I’d choose this struggle?” His family of origin was almost text-book for many struggling homosexuals, so I didn’t have a difficult time believing him.
Mark wasn’t helped by supposed Christians who tried to convince him that there was a way he could be obedient to God and practice homosexuality. They may have thought they were being kind, but Mark is too intelligent to believe the more-than-dubious arguments that try to explain away Scripture’s clear mandate that holy sexuality is limited to a man and a woman who are married for life.
Mark understood that we have no right to “edit” Scripture. Part of being humble is accepting our Creator’s clear teaching about how life should be lived and how it shouldn’t be lived, including God’s mandates for sexual expression.
It’s not just gays who struggle with unfulfilled sexual desires. One of my best friends was hit by a drunk driver just two months before he graduated from high school. He has now lived in a wheelchair for three decades. Scott would love to have a wife and be sexually active, but he realizes Scripture’s teaching is clear: If he’s not married, there is no holy sexual expression. Some might say, why not try to find a willing “partner” who doesn’t want to marry Scott but who would have “compassion” on his situation and occasionally “play around.” Maybe his true friends might even spring for an occasional visit from a prostitute.
For the spiritually healthy, even the suggestion of such activity is repugnant. Neither situation describes healthy sexuality, because God designed sex to be much more than mere physical release, it is part of an intimate and spiritually significant relationship. Any other expression is a desert mirage that promises relief but does nothing to fulfill our true thirst for real intimacy.
One young woman wrote to me asking for prayer after her husband suffered a severe industrial accident. It appears that she and her husband will never again be able to perform sexually. The wife is in her twenties; she didn’t sign up to forgo normal sexuality at such a young age, so who could fault her for finding a “willing accomplice” on the side to meet such “legitimate” needs?
God, for starters. And, I’m sure, her husband might have a legitimate problem with it as well.
Sexual frustration in the face of God’s seemingly exclusive commands about sexuality aren’t just the province of those struggling with same-sex orientation. It cuts across the entire church.
How should God’s people respond?
A Two-Sided Truth
Jesus provides a perfect example for us in John chapter 8. A woman is caught in adultery and the Pharisees want to stone her. Since she was caught in the act, by definition there was also a man involved, but he’s conveniently missing, so modern day readers can see the duplicity of this woman’s accusers.
Jesus’ response is wonderfully caring in a two-sided way. First, he defends her by chasing off her accusers. With clear compassion, he asks, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she replies.
“Then neither do I condemn you.”
This is the first half of Jesus’ brilliant response. He knows she’s being treated unfairly, and he won’t join in on the self-righteous judgment spewing out of the Pharisees. He’s not going to stone her, even though he is without sin himself, because he came to save the world, not condemn it. He gives her the gift of acceptance, of love, of understanding, of mercy.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there, does he? No. His is a two-sided message. After demonstrating loving compassion, he adds, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Some people want to say, “I won’t condemn you. I’m only supposed to love, not judge,” which they define as excusing anything and everything. That is a false, one-sided approach. We are not allowed to stop there, if we want to respond as Jesus responded.
Others only judge. They fail to demonstrate empathy, instead almost callously applying God’s hard truth, without any undertones of love or compassion. This, too, is less than Jesus.
Our challenge, our struggle, our call is to uphold God’s high standards while still demonstrating Jesus’ compassion and empathy.
Can I be honest with you? I really hurt over Mark’s struggle. I got married very young — at 22 — and the thought of having to go my entire life without being sexually active is more than I could bear apart from God’s grace. In fact, I don’t know how I could maintain my integrity, traveling as much as I do now, if I didn’t know my wife was at home, waiting for me when I got back.
I grieve for my friend Scott, I grieve for the young wife whose husband was injured. I hurt for them. It must be really, really tough, and whenever I speak to them or about them, I want them to see and to know that I am so very sorry for the struggles that they must face.
But at the same time, to represent my Lord, I must also say, “I’m so sorry, but don’t fall into a life of sin.”
As followers of Christ, we should be known for our compassion first, but a compassion that is always undergirded by God’s truth, including his prohibitions. We feel for the young, unmarried woman who is pregnant, and we will do all we can to provide her with medical care and loving concern, but that doesn’t mean we can approve of abortion.
We feel for the young man who is drawn sexually to other men, but that doesn’t mean we serve him by pretending God accepts same-sex expression. We will pray for his healing, we will walk with him as he allows God to heal his sexual nature, we will try to create a community of healthy, God-honoring relationships, but we must not, we cannot, endorse same-sex activity.
Yet through it all we must avoid proclaiming the prohibitions as if we don’t care. It is wrong not to care. It is less than Christian to be hard-hearted toward a brother or sister in a difficult state of sexual frustration.
How cold we must seem sometimes when we act as if sexual purity is not that big of a deal. The sexual drive is a major deal, and as one who has been sexually active in marriage for over two decades, I have no right to dismiss the very painful struggle behind God’s command for those in frustrating circumstances who can’t at the moment express or enjoy themselves sexually.
I urge God’s church: Without compromising on God’s truth, spend some time gaining God’s heart and compassion for the very real struggles of those in difficult situations.
Let’s show the world we do care. Spend some time in prayer, asking God to open up your eyes to the very real struggles, the tremendous hurt, the fear, and the loneliness that those trapped in sexual frustration must endure. In fact, I might even go so far as to say, keep your silence until God has so opened your eyes. We need some to speak up — in this day and age, that is essential — but let it be those who speak not just with Jesus’ truth, but also with Jesus’ tone.
May we never compromise on biblical truth, but may we also remember that Jesus’ truth is two-sided: love, acceptance, understanding, and compassion on one side, and calling people to faithful obedience on the other.
Copyright 2006 Gary Thomas. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Gary Thomas is writer in residence at Second Baptist Church, Houston, and author of numerous books, including The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not About Who You Marry, But Why?.