Living in Rome Without Doing as the Romans Do . . .

6 Nov

Mark 10:5-9, “And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.  But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.  For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh:  so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.  What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’” 

       

Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage [is] honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”

 

I have been writing about gay marriage a bit, as the 2012 election approaches with the Democratic and Republican parties divided on this issue.  Legalization of gay marriage is a plank in the Democratic party platform this time around.  While many Republicans may be okay with the concept of gay marriage, there are also many people who oppose it.  These people are now all, by default, in the Republican party, if they feel strongly enough against gay marriage to vote their convictions on it . . .

 

I have a word of encouragement for Christians who are traditionalists on marriage.  That would involve believing that God gave marriage to be a lifelong commitment to monogamy and to each other by one woman and one man.

 

It has become fashionable to believe that the Christian church (universal body of believers belonging to Christ) has replaced Old Testament Israel as God’s chosen people on earth.  I may take that concept on theologically one day (it is part of Covenant Theology, which tends to be believed more widely by Presbyterians and Reformed theologians than by Baptists), but the part of it that I want to look at here is the way it has skewed people to think that Christians, particularly American Christians, can set the moral standards for everyone around them. 

 

When that idea worked (in Old Testament Israel), it worked brilliantly.  Anyone who was not Jewish but who joined the Jews in Israel (when it was a free nation) agreed to live by the high moral standards of the Jews which included (yes, say it again . . .) marriage as a lifelong commitment to monogamy and to each other by one woman and one man.

 

I have no problem with Christians holding up Old Testament Israel as their ideal for society.  It was a good time, in many ways.

 

However, not all of the history of the Jewish nation given in the Bible involved Israel as a free nation with the power to set its own moral standards.

 

I have been thinking of the world into which our Saviour was born. 

 

Jesus was born into this world in Bethlehem, but He spent His childhood in Nazareth, a dusty backwater in Galilee.  Galilee, and all of Israel, was under the dominion of the Roman Empire at that time.

 

What were the moral standards of the Romans like?  They were a continuation of the pagan practices of the Greeks.  These mores included:  prostitution (including temple prostitutes attached to the pagan cults), incest (which was regarded as favorable if emperors engaged in it because marrying their sisters strengthened their claim to the throne), polygamy, and pansexuality.

 

I use the term “pansexuality” because there was not a concept then of exclusive homosexuality or lesbianism, but, rather, highborn Roman men would marry a woman but continue to have sex outside of marriage with other women, with lower-born men, and with adolescents of either gender.

 

Yet Jesus and Paul gave the instructions on marriage that are quoted at the beginning of this post. 

 

They seemed serenely unaffected by the paganism around them, didn’t they?  Why was that?

 

I believe it was due to both Jesus and Paul confiding completely in the sovereignty of the Father and His good created order for His world. 

 

They knew that God created marriage as a good thing.  They knew that He created it to be an exclusive relationship between two people of opposite gender.  One that lasted as long as both of those people were alive.

 

And both Jesus and Paul focused on getting this instruction to the people who belonged to God’s family, knowing that the teaching would be nonsense to non-believers.

 

Pagans, hearing God’s moral standards, would perceive God to be a spoilsport.  They would never understand that God’s good created order was meant to protect them and to allow them to thrive. 

 

Only believers, empowered by the Holy Spirit, can fully understand that God places boundaries on our lives in order to enrich them. 

 

Jesus and Paul left non-believers alone morally, but sought to get them to join the family of God.  

 

Is it really any different now?  Are we not in post-Christian America, with lots of paganism surrounding us? 

 

Surely we can speak truth into our society and vote our consciences, but . . . if other voices prevail and gay marriage becomes the law of our land or if polygamy returns or if incest becomes something that is regarded as no one’s business among consenting adults (as at least one mainstream publication has recently suggested), will we let that destroy our joy in Christ?

 

I hope not, for our own sakes as believers.

 

God is sovereign and God will be sovereign, with or without us.

 

But woe to us if we let the sins of others around us destroy our joy in Him.  Woe to us if we let a pagan subculture in the U.S. cause us to lose hope in God’s ultimate victory over the forces of darkness.  Woe to us if we ever lose sight of the message that Christ died for sinners, all sinners, and that He wants us to go tell them He loves them.

 

He saved us from the dark stain of our own sins, didn’t He?  Is there anything too hard for Him?  Is there any sinner beyond His grace?

 

Politics matter and it is a good thing to be politically engaged. 

 

But there is a world beyond this world and that one will last forever. 

 

 

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