Twelve Qualities that Should Characterize the Church’s Case for Natural Marriage


These qualities originally were named in parts 4, 5, and 6 of the series titled “Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel.” We highlight all twelve in this single post to make it easier for users to read and share.

Key point: Because marriage is about the gospel, the church must contend for marriage in the same ways it contends for the gospel.


Marriage is, and always has been, about more than individual adults alone. It’s also about children, the larger community, and the future of society. Recognizing this, Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet declare, “Marriage must be both taught and portrayed as an institution that is bigger than our desires, whims, feelings, and affections.”1


Marriage is about the gospel.


As Christians, we know as well that God-ordained marriage reflects Christ’s relationship with the church, and consequently, the gospel. Non-Christians cannot understand this aspect of marriage in a way they can explain. Even so, from, in, by, and through marriage, even unbelievers can grasp gospel-related truths, although they may do so unconsciously.

Recognizing all of this, the church must uphold and defend marriage as God designed it. We can call His design “natural marriage” because nature echoes what the Bible says about this foundational institution.

Never before has the church, society, and culture needed a clearer and more accurate message about marriage. In a BreakPoint commentary dated March 31, 2017 and titled “The Silent Suffering of Gay Men,” John  Stonestreet astutely observed that for a variety of reasons “the debate over gay ‘marriage’ and homosexuality has largely fizzled out…[a]nd that’s a shame, because so-called ‘progress’ isn’t bringing about the rosy picture we were promised.”

The church must reignite this debate! It is in a unique and strategic position to help society get out of the mess that has resulted from redefining marriage—and I don’t just mean redefining marriage through Obergefell. The meaning of marriage has been under assault for decades!


God’s people must teach the next generation of Christians why and how God’s Word is right about marriage.


To begin with, God’s people must teach the next generation of Christians why and how God’s Word is right about marriage. This includes explaining how natural marriage represents the gospel. In a previous post, we’ve already discussed two specific ways marriage does this. Explaining these connections, though, is only the beginning. What qualities must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage? Here are twelve.

What the Church Must Do

First, believers must contend for marriage with greater sincerity. All too often Christians and the church have ignored the marriage issue as too controversial. It will turn people away! People will misunderstand! Yet marriage really is about the gospel, and upholding God’s design can indeed help non-Christians see and understand God’s good news about His Son, Jesus Christ.

Second, we must uphold marriage with greater authenticity. We need to work on our own marriages and, with God’s help, bring them to a clearer representation of Christ’s relationship with His church. Churches must step up to the plate to teach and equip men and women to be better husbands and wives—and to teach young people to become men and women of God who will be better husbands and wives when they’re married.

Remember, though, that as important as good marriages are, we have a responsibility not just to have good marriages, but to uphold marriage.


As important as good marriages are, defending marriage isn’t just about improving marriages, but about upholding marriage.


Be Aware, Speak Up Often, and Never Misrepresent God’s Truth

Third, God’s people, both individually and corporately, must speak with greater awareness. This includes an awareness of

  • the hurt and pain associated with homosexuality (go here, here, and here),
  • the longings of children to have both a mother and a father, and
  • the benefits of natural marriage on individual and societal levels (go here and here).

With an awareness of these things, we become gravely concerned for our homosexual neighbors, family members, coworkers, and friends—and we become more determined than ever to expose the lie that limiting marriage to one man and one woman robs them of fulfillment and happiness.

There’s more. A primary reason we as believers defend marriage is because of its underlying meaning in the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we aren’t ashamed of the gospel, then how can we be ashamed of marriage as God designed it, for in it we see the gospel? This doesn’t mean we pick fights with those who disagree with us, but it does mean we are willing to engage with people on this important issue.

Fourth, we must uphold marriage with greater frequency. When was the last time you attended a Bible study, or heard a sermon, not on improving your marriage, but on God’s design for marriage and the importance of revering it and upholding it as an institution? Pastors, where are you?


Pastors, where are you?


Here is an article with links to Bible studies that will help Christians uphold marriage. These can be used as Bible studies or easily adapted as sermons.

Fifth, we must speak with greater clarity. The Bible is unambiguous about the fact that homosexuality is a sin (also go here). We cannot afford to be confused about this basic point; nor can we afford to present an unclear message about it.

In addition, a number of symbols God established to have specific meanings are being grossly and horrifically distorted. If the church does not seek to clarify this misinformation, who will? The need for clarity was the theme of one of my earliest posts at Word Foundations.

The Situation Is Desperate

Sixth, we must uphold marriage with greater urgency. A new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center “found that two years after Obergefell, the Supreme Court decision that required states to recognized [sic] same-sex marriages nationwide, support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally is at its highest point in more than 20 years.” The survey also found that while white Protestants in the evangelical tradition oppose same-sex marriage 59 to 35 percent,

younger white evangelicals have grown more supportive: 47 percent of white evangelical Millennials and Gen Xers—age cohorts born after 1964—favor same-sex marriage, up from 29 percent in March 2016.

Additionally, while African-Americans have generally been less supportive than whites of redefining marriage, since 2015 support among blacks has increased 12 points—from 39 percent to a majority—51 percent.

Overall, 62 versus 32 percent of Americans favor same-sex marriage. Contrast that to findings in 2010, when Americans opposed the idea 48 to 42 percent.

Without question, the pro-LGBT media have had an impact on societal opinion. Even so, another survey found that the number one factor compelling people to open their minds to idea that same-sex rights are needed “is knowing somebody who is gay.” I’m sure this is true in the church as well, especially among younger believers.

Why would knowing a homosexual cause a Christian warm to the idea of allowing same-sex couples to “marry”? Having a gay or lesbian friend or family member understandably personalizes this issue for us—but in the debate over the meaning of marriage, we must use our heads, not simply follow our hearts. This is not unloving, because authentic love never ignores the truth!


In the debate over the meaning of marriage, we as Christians must use our heads, not simply follow our hearts. Authentic love never ignores the truth!


Bible-believing Christians recognize all sexual activity outside of natural marriage as sinful and wrong, whether it is illegal or not. This includes homosexuality. So we must ask, Does knowing a drug addict compel us to support that person’s “right” to abuse drugs? What about knowing an alcoholic, or a thief? Do we support his or her “right” to keep behaving the way he or she is behaving just because knowing that person puts a face on this issue for us? Of course not!

Homosexual activists have succeeded in making homosexuality an identity in people’s minds, but in reality it is linked inseparably to behavior, and destructive behavior, at that! (Also go here). If we really care about someone, we will not shy away from telling him or her the truth, even though telling and hearing the truth might be difficult at first.

What About the Children?

Moreover, we must remember that children adopted by same-sex parents are being denied a mother or a father by virtue of the design of the “marriages” of their parents. These parents may be loving and may do a great job meeting many of their children’s needs. The children may appear to be happy, and all may seem to be well. None of this changes the reality the parents’ “marriage” is denying their children an extremely critical need—that of a mom or a dad. Children need both, argues social researcher Glenn Stanton in this short but excellent piece. He is absolutely right! (Also go here.) These children are real people—every bit as real as their adopted parents. Can we please acknowledge their existence and their needs? Let’s let these children, whether we know them by name or not, personalize this issue for us!


Read “Why Children Need a Male and Female Parent” by Glenn Stanton


Stand with Understanding

Seventh, Christians, both individually and corporately, must uphold God-ordained marriage with greater understanding and depth. Among other things, this means never using trite clichés like these.2

  • God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve! Never say this! It trivializes not only God’s creation of human beings as male and female, but also the challenges many young people face as they grapple with sexual feelings, cultural messages about gender identity, and what it means in practical terms to be male or female.
  • I love the sinner, but I hate the sin! Typically, a gay individual cannot separate his identity from his behavior. The same can be said of a lesbian.
  • Homosexuality is a choice. Certainly choices are involved in being homosexual, but homosexuality is complicated. Typically, people do not choose to experience same-sex attraction (see page 9 of this publication from the Family Research Council).

The church has a need to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the nature of homosexuality from a theological perspective as well. It is misleading to say things like, Homosexuality is no worse than any other sin if we don’t sufficiently clarify what this means. While even a sin that seems minor in our eyes is an affront to God and makes a person deserving of hell, on other levels, all sins are not equal. Furthermore, among sexual sins, homosexuality is unique in that it defies what nature teaches about human sexuality. Note the phrases “natural use” and “against nature” in Romans 1:26-27.

Furthermore, Paul wrote that God gave up those who refuse to acknowledge Him “to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.” Then he added, “God gave them up to vile passions” (vv. 24, 26). James Montgomery Boice notes that God’s giving people up in this way isn’t like His releasing a porcelain pitcher in outer space where it would float harmlessly away. Instead, His action is like releasing the pitcher on earth, where gravity takes over and pulls it fast to the ground!

Stand Wisely

These realities, along with Christians’ love for their homosexual friends and neighbors, compel believers to speak out. As it does, the church must exercise  greater wisdom. This is the eighth item on our list.

As we make the effort to learn what we need to know to become effective defenders of marriage, we also need to pray God will give us the right insights and the right words.

We know that our message is difficult to deliver and difficult to hear. Jesus didn’t sugarcoat the task, either. He told His disciples in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” This eighth item emphasizes the first portion of Jesus’ admonition—that we be “wise as serpents.”

Let us not forget that ultimately, we have good news for our country and for the individuals in it. Words the prophet Isaiah wrote centuries ago still have application today (see Isa. 55:6-7; 1:18). God forgives if we come to Him on His conditions!

Stand with Humility

Thankfully, God really does stand ready and willing to forgive. We need Him to, because we are in need of His grace just as desperately as is everyone else. As we are “wise as serpents,” therefore, we also must be as “harmless as doves.” This includes having the ninth item on our list—greater humility!

We are not better than anyone else, but because of God’s grace, we are better off! God gets the credit for that—not us, even though we had to receive his offer of grace by exercising repentance and faith (active trust in Jesus Christ).


As Christians, we’re not better than anyone else. Rather, we’re better off because of God’s grace, something He freely makes available to all who are willing to come to Him in repentance and faith.


Stand with the Right Perspective

Tenth, we must make our case with greater reverence and awe. The inspired writer of Hebrews declared, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (NIV). What a privilege we have to be guardians of marriage as God designed it, and consequently the gospel!

Eleventh, we must make our case for marriage with greater resolve. Closely connected with this is making it with greater authority. We always must be gracious, but we need not be on the defensive on this issue! We know we are right, not because our wisdom is superior to anyone else’s, but because of what we have learned as observers of nature and students of Scripture.

Against this backdrop, we never should be thrown off by statements like “Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality” or “Scripture condemns homosexual acts only in certain contexts.” The Bible is consistent in all that it teaches about human sexuality, marriage, and human relationships.

Jesus attended a wedding at Cana and thus celebrated marriage (see John 2:1-11).
painting by Maerten de Vos, c. 1596

Having greater resolve and speaking lovingly, yet with authority, we acknowledge a twelfth and final quality that must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage. We must speak with confidence. Let’s learn from the advocates of same-sex marriage. They now have what they sought for so long—government recognition of same-sex unions as marriage—because for decades they contended for this recognition without shame and with great confidence. They didn’t care what people thought of them. Why are we ashamed? Why are we hesitant? History and the truth are on our side!


Homosexual activists didn’t care what people thought of them when they relentlessly and repeatedly contended for same-sex marriage. Why should we be ashamed? History and the truth are on our side!


Speak Now!

As we have said, the situation is urgent. With marriage having been redefined by our government, our nation is changing in profound and ominous ways. With marriage under attack and the gospel threatened, religious liberty also is in peril! Even before the Obergefell ruling, Princeton Professor Dr. Robert George predicted how redefining marriage would affect religious liberty in America.

The church must speak now, lest it be forced to forever hold its peace.


The church must speak now, lest it be forced to forever hold its peace.


Are you willing to speak up? I know of no more worthy causes than marriage and the gospel!

To recap:

The Church Must Defend Marriage with Greater

1. sincerity
2. authenticity
3. awareness
4. frequency
5. clarity
6. urgency
7. understanding and depth
8. wisdom
9. humility
10. reverence and awe
11. resolve and authority
12. confidence

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The passage marked NIV was taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Note:

1Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet, Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014), 95.

2Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason (STR) cited these three clichés and discouraged their use at STR’s ReTHINK conference in Birmingham, Alabama on April 21-22, 2017.

Facing the Future with Confidence

The other day I heard a man say, “I owe it to Jesus Christ that I can walk down the street with my head held erect and my shoulders squared to the world. I owe it to Him that I can look a pure woman in the face and grip an honest man by the hand.”
Robert A. Laidlaw (1885-1971)—

At the close of the Book of Acts, we see that Paul was under house arrest: He “dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31). The year was approximately AD 61. Because of insufficient historical information, scholars have difficulty reconstructing events in Paul’s life beyond this point. Still, many believe the apostle subsequently was released from confinement, that he traveled and continued his preaching ministry, and that he later was rearrested and imprisoned once more in Rome. Between these separate Roman imprisonments, Paul wrote two of what we now know as the three Pastoral Epistles: 1 Timothy (written around AD 64) and Titus (around AD 65). He wrote the third, 2 Timothy around AD 67 during his second imprisonment, just before being executed under Nero.1,2,3

Both Timothy and Titus (see 2 Cor. 8:23) were Paul’s companions at various times on his missionary endeavors. At the time Paul wrote his letter to Titus, Titus was a pastor in Crete (see Titus 1:5).

Timothy was a pastor in Ephesus (see 1 Tim. 1:3). In his first letter to Timothy, knowing the pressures his “true son in the faith” (v. 2) was facing as a young pastor (see 5:23), Paul encouraged his protégé with regard to several matters, including the critical importance of combatting false teachings (see vv. 1:3-11; 4:1-10), spiritual warfare (see 1:18-20), corporate worship (see 2:1-15), church leadership (see 3:1-16; 4:11-16; 6:1-21), and the treatment of the church’s widows and elders (see 5:1-25).

When he wrote 2 Timothy, Paul knew his time was short: “Because Paul was at the end of his life, he thought of the kingdom of God as a present heavenly reality, a destination at which he was about to arrive (4:18). Even so, he looked forward to the future glorious from of the kingdom that would be revealed in connection with Jesus’ ‘appearing’ on earth again (4:1).”4 Keep in mind the observation that for Paul, God’s kingdom is a “present heavenly reality.” We will recall it in just a few moments.

It is in 2 Timothy that we look today for a strong word of admonition and encouragement. Paul told Timothy right off the bat that he was praying for him, that he missed him, and that he was appreciative of the spiritual heritage that had set the stage for Timothy to genuinely commit his life to Christ:

2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, 4 greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, 5 when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.

Then the apostle encouraged Timothy with these important words:

6 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

What does stirring up or kindling one’s spiritual gift have to do with the confidence that comes through God’s powerful, loving, and discerning Spirit? Plenty—and to Timothy as well as the thousands upon thousands of pastors who have served in churches since the 1st century, the connection was—and is—self evident. Effective church leadership relies not only on a repudiation of fear, but also on all three of the qualities Paul highlighted in verse 7 as characteristic of the Spirit God gives. One writer observes that power “works,” love “cares,” and self-discipline (another meaning of the word translated “sound mind”), “controls.”5

This isn’t just about pastors, however. All believers need courage, power, love, and self-discipline to exercise their gifts. Even so, the next verses establish with bedrock certainty that Paul’s encouragement to Timothy has application for every Christian. Continuing, Timothy’s mentor and spiritual guide wrote,

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

13 Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

Are you ever tempted to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ? Are you ever tempted to shy away from defending life, marriage, and the principles and values that God ordained and graciously gave to humanity through His Word and affirmed through His Son? It’s true that these are difficult days for Christians. Evil surrounds us, and it seems to be multiplying exponentially. Yet, even in the midst of this darkness, the confidence we need to point people to the divine light of Christ comes from God. It’s this simple and straightforward: The Lord “has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (v. 7).

Just ask Corrie ten Boom. In the throes of German’s occupation of Holland during World War 2, Corrie and her family defied the German government to save hundreds of Jews from extermination. Eventually they were arrested. Many members of Corrie’s family, including her father Casper, her brother Willem, and her sister Betsy, died in confinement or as a result of the conditions of their imprisonment.

corrie-ten-boom21-1024x634

In the latter part of 1944, Corrie and Betsy were imprisoned at Ravensbruck, a German concentration camp. Ravensbruck’s horrors truly were unspeakable. Cruelty, hunger, sickness, and death were overwhelming—but despite the barbarism and brutality, Corrie and Betsy held out the light of God’s love and God’s truth to the women in their spheres of influence. God miraculously had arranged for the ten Boom sisters to have a Bible, and with it they pointed others to divine strength, courage, warmth, comfort, and love. I quote Corrie at length to convey as much as possible the full extent of her experience.

It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls [of Barracks 8, where the women were assigned,] there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy. Will You carry this too, Lord Jesus?

Ravensbruck_camp_barracks

Barracks at Ravensbruck

But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were not shown. As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of and ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

Female_prisoners_in_Ravensbrück_chalk_marks_show_selection_for_transport

I would look about us as Betsie read, watching the light leap from face to face. More than conquerors.…It was not a wish. It was a fact. We knew it, we experienced it minute by minute—poor, hated, hungry. We are more than conquerors. Not “we shall be.” We are! Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible, The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory. 6

Now, recall at this point what we noted earlier about Paul’s perspective when he wrote 2 Timothy. The apostle, who was close to the end of his life, “thought of the kingdom of God as a present heavenly reality.”7 This was Corrie and Betsy’s experience as well. Betsy would enter God’s presence before year’s end, but Corrie would not pass from her earthly life until several decades later. She died in 1983 on her 91st birthday.8 Corrie and her sister were experiencing the reality of God’s kingdom in one of the worst places on earth. God’s Word had given them and the other women of Barracks 8 a window into His world. As they availed themselves to the Lord, they knew and experienced this world, despite the evil and darkness that surrounded them. Corrie continued,

Sometimes I would slip the Bible from its little sack with hands that shook, so mysterious had it become to me. It was new; it had just been written. I marveled sometimes that the ink was dry. I had believed the Bible always, but reading it now had nothing to do with belief. It was simply a description of the way things were—of hell and heaven, of how men act and how God acts.9

Corrie-Ten-Boom

Corrie ten Boom

There is more. Although she didn’t speak of it directly in the above quoted statements, it is clear Corrie ten Boom and her sister knew the courage of which Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:7 (see also Rom. 8:12-15). They experienced the power, the love, and the discernment and discipline God’s Spirit supplies. You see, fear is incompatible with the kind of faith the ten Boom sisters exercised. Fear simply cannot coexist with God’s Spirit.

What does all this have to do with us? Well, as we have said, Paul’s admonition to Timothy wasn’t just for Timothy; it is for us as well. Are we letting God’s Spirit, along with His Word, remind us of heavenly realities? I am not trying to say that we in America necessarily will experience horrors like those that took place at Ravensbruck; yet it is becoming quite clear that even in this country, it is costing more every day to live as a faithful Christian. Despite the cost, we need not be ashamed of the gospel or of any of the values and principles the Bible upholds. We can face the future with confidence because God’s Spirit, who resides within us, is a Spirit “of power and of love and of a sound mind.” He will enable us to see and uphold the reality of God’s kingdom, even before we arrive!

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1Holy Bible, ESV, Scofield Study System, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 1579, 1590, 1585.

2https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/paul/timeline.cfm

3“Timothy, Second Letter to” in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2003), 1599.

4Kendall H. Easley, Holman QuickSourceTM Guide to Understanding the Bible, (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2002), 335.

5Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 1110.

6Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherrill, The Hiding Place, 35th Anniversary Edition, (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1971, 1984, 2006), 206.

7Easley.

8Guideposts magazine, source for Ten Boom Family Timeline, in Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherrill, The Hiding Place, 35th Anniversary Edition, (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1971, 1984, 2006), 267.

9Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherrill, 207.