Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
I want to speak on this subject not only because it is the passage for this Sunday in the letter to the Romans but because this behaviour is often referred to in the media today. For example, the Scottish parliament is voting in nine days’ time on the legalisation of the marriage of homosexuals. Again, one of my grandchildren at fourteen is confronting homosexuality in her school at various levels and she is frequently asking her mother about it. “What do Christians believe about this and why?” Mothers and daughters I imagine are having discussions about this all over the world. Again, we evangelical Christians can be pilloried as being ‘homophobic’ and anti-gay and I want to explain to you what our attitude is to sex and particularly homosexuality. I have the families who are here in our congregation very much in mind as my own daughter’s experience with her children will one day be theirs if it is not so already.
I preach on this with some reluctance. After decades of preaching I speak about it for the first time and I’ll probably never do so again. So much is mentioned on this theme in the media, especially on TV and the greatest blessing I can be to Christians is to speak to them of the Saviour Jesus Christ, his gospel and his teaching on the Christian life. But the writer of these words that are before us is an apostle of Jesus Christ, and what he says is exactly what our Lord and Saviour wanted him to say. So I am being faithful to the Lord to speak on this subject. Again I’m reluctant because some aspects of the subject can be complex and I want to address it all fairly. Yet I must say that the Christian teaching towards sex and marriage is very lucid. Again, I mustn’t be carried away with the very act of preaching and so say unwise and unhelpful things. I want to serve the Lord of the word and the word of the Lord in this message. I could well be bought by pleading eyes – I am a human being – and I do know that the Christian parents of children who’ve ‘come out’ as being homosexual want me to be a means of helping their children, not driving a bigger wedge between them and their mothers and fathers. Again there must be some people in the congregation who are beginning to think that they might be homosexuals and I’d say to them that you are most welcome to come and talk to me about it. I am unshockable. If you are unready to come just now then maybe I can plant some seeds in your mind.
Now I thought I might gain some help by reading Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermon on these words in his notable series on this letter to the Romans, but to my sadness I discovered that he completely ignored these verses, jumping over them to verse 28 and then ignoring also the last four verses of the chapter and continuing his series in chapter two. I think that these are the only verses he ignores in the whole epistle. No doubt the London culture of sixty years ago when he was preaching on this passage was very different from today, and maybe he considered these words to be too frank and outspoken and hardly necessary for the people who gathered to hear him on Friday nights in Westminster Chapel. That was an uncharacteristic error of judgment in my opinion, but it tells us what care has to be exercised in speaking on this theme, if he the supreme pastor had nothing to say on it. It also tells us what a gulf exists between my father’s generation and that of his great grandchildren. These little boys and girls are today meeting teaching about homosexuality frequently in their schools, but my father could not even say the word ‘homosexual.’ Today we have both male and female homosexual vicars and ministers and even bishops in the professing church. That was quite unthinkable sixty years ago, and then we also have the constant scandal of Roman Catholic priests abusing children. Again that subject was never spoken of then, although it was taking place, and little good was done by the silence of ignoring it. So Dr. Lloyd-Jones totally passed over this passage. I guess that just like some of you he wouldn’t enjoy one sermon dedicated to this theme, but he did not live in the 21st century. I only hope that I can surprise you and help you all tonight. I must honour the Holy Spirit who breathed out these words. I dare not grieve him or I will never know God’s blessing on my ministry. I dare not be wiser than he is. So let me start with the Biblical picture of sexuality.
- IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED MAN AND WOMAN.
God made Adam, and soon afterwards the Lord proceeded to say that it was not good for man to be alone. God commends friendship and togetherness. We are made in the image of the Triune God and our God was never alone. God was always Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the three persons in one God. So God created one woman for man, and introduced her to Adam. In the creation of Eve Adam met someone who was just like him, but someone who also was of a totally different gender – he stood before a glorious mystery, just as every man does before a woman – someone whom he could love and know in a very different way from the way he knew the animals in Eden. Eve was like him but who was different. All the mystery of a woman was there before Adam her husband, and from that time onwards Adam cleaved to his wife. So here is the Christian attitude to marriage. And in Genesis 2 we see that it has three elements. It is publicly acknowledged, permanently sealed and physically consummated.
So it was God who made sexuality and the sexual relationship. He made the different pieces of a man and a woman to fit together and so the two became one flesh. In this way the seed of the man was put right next to the egg of the woman, and that is where all of us began, all you boys and girls and all of us men and women started life in our mother’s wombs. That is not possible with just two men or simply two women. A woman cannot conceive a baby without a man, and a man cannot conceive a baby without a woman. The union of a husband and wife is simply the “natural relations” that Paul speaks of in our text. They are celebrated in the Song of Solomon, the delight of married love. The Scriptures honour the physical relationship. So it is very simple, the Christian teaching about sexuality; purity before marriage, and faithfulness within it. Marriage is between one man and one woman alone, and it is for life. So, what more can I say? Just in saying what I’ve said so far I guess most of us are filled with memories and regrets, guilt and shame. Our sins might not have been homosexual sins, but they are sexual sins nonetheless. There is no one here who does not need to listen humbly to this message and thank God for his mercy and forgiveness through the cross work of the Lord Jesus. Thank God that no sexual falls are unforgivable sins.
So let us proceed to the words of this text in Romans chapter one and verses 26 and 27. What does Paul say? He begins very radically by his choice of dealing with homosexuality within the context of this particular section which begins with verse 18 and the wrath of God against all kinds of sin. So sexual sins are an aspect of the focused judgment of Almighty God on rebellious fallen man. These verses are in fact one single sentence, and they are not some unrelated appendix. Paul is not departing from his theme of God’s wrath towards sin for one moment. He is not saying, “And by the way, I’ve got an opinion on homosexual activity too. Let me tell you . . .” No. It is all an endemic part of this section on the wrath of the Creator on the sins of his creatures. So what does he say?
2. ALL HOMOSEXUAL ACTIONS ARE AN EXAMPLE OF THE JUDGMENT OF GOD COMING ON THOSE WHO REFUSE TO BOW DOWN TO HIM.
Wow! That is Paul’s perspective. It is very much in your face isn’t it? This is the tough and relentless section of tonight’s sermon. It will last about four minutes in which I will be an advocate of what Paul says here under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I will give you the plain and obvious teaching of these words in four minutes. Notice there is no sweet build up regarding love and marriage but immediately Paul hits his readers with these words of our text. He sets out his beliefs about homosexual imaginations and fancies and actions quite fearlessly. Paul says that God had taken action about homosexual activity, and that God actually quite sovereignly “gave them over” to performing those acts of theirs. In other words God says that if you choose to get involved in homosexual activity and lifestyle then he’s decreed that that will become your burden and your servitude. If you are stubborn and defiant then God will give you over to that addiction. Your mindset will have become a homosexual mindset. God will give you that. Paul says that unbelieving and God-ignoring people are given over to what he describes here – notice his words – as shameful lusts and unnatural relations and indecent acts. Those are the three phrases he uses in our text.
Paul says that “even their women” are caught up in this. He phrases it like that because of the sadness he feels. Paul knows as we do that there is a longing in the hearts of most women for a tender loving husband whose children she desires to bear, but the relationship of two women has to be a barren relationship. A woman cannot bear a child without the seed of a man. But these women whom Paul talks about here quite voluntarily and freely are “exchanging” their natural sexual longings for unnatural ones. This is what Paul is saying isn’t it? I am simply at this juncture seeking to be faithful in explaining the words of our text. These unbelieving women have already exchanged the truth of God for a falsehood about no-God, and here there are women who have exchanged their natural sexual relations for unnatural relations. The men, he says, have gone on and they have stoked up the fires of sexual desire for those of their own gender until the flames burned ferociously. They became “inflamed with lust for one another” (v.27). “It is great having sex with men,” that is their boast. Some actually leave their wives to live and sleep with men. So in this section what Paul says is quite clear; there is nothing ambiguous about his words; he considers homosexual actions as shameful and unnatural.
Finally he concludes with this phrase, that men who are engaged in homosexual actions have “received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion” (v.27). I wonder what exactly he is talking about here. He could well be referring to the relationship itself with someone of your own sex, that that is the divine penalty. Or the penalty is the fact that we live in a moral universe and all of us have to stand before the judgment of God and be judged and be penalised by him for all kinds of actions including our sexual behaviour. Or again we all know that there are sexually transmitted diseases and that some of them are quite devastating. Whatever he is referring to this final phrase of Paul is that there is definitely a penalty that those who practice homosexual actions are going to pay.
O.K.? So that part is over. I have explained to you without compromise what I believe these verses plainly say. Now I must deal with contemporary objections to Paul and my own interpretation of him. There are of course a number of objections.
- OBJECTIONS TO PAUL’S TEACHING ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY.
i] What Paul calls ‘natural’ in Romans 1 is what is natural to you, or to you, or to you. In other words the apostle is not writing here about natural law. He is saying, so some claim, that if a heterosexual man should go and practice homosexual acts then that indeed would be wrong. That is going against his nature, but if a man is homosexual in his inclination then it is natural for him to do homosexual stuff, just as it is natural for a heterosexual to do heterosexual actions. So the claim is being made that homosexual actions are not sinful in God’s sight if you are a homosexual, but it is wrong to engage in them if you have “natural” desires. So these people who oppose what I’ve been teaching now are saying that since these men or women in our text have freely chosen sexual activity with people of their own sex then they can’t be condemned for that. They are simply doing what comes naturally to them and God is pleased with their lifestyle and behaviour. In other words, the claim is that homosexuals don’t choose to do what they do; they naturally are what they are. I reply by saying that that particular interpretation of the verses before us is just a perversion of the passage. Paul is talking of “the natural use,” and he means by that the natural attraction of the man to the woman, and of the woman to the man. It is heterosexual relations that are natural and right, and the active choice of the homosexual is to reject that in order to find people of his or her own sex, and Paul is saying that that is wrong in God’s sight. It is the result of the rebellion of man against God. Paul writes in fact of the ‘degrading passions’ of homosexual activity. Then there is another objection…
ii] Paul did not know of the natural occurrence of homosexuals in the world. Certain percentages are bandied about as being the number of people in a country who are homosexuals. It is claimed that only in the last decades have people been aware of how many there are all around us. So these objectors tell us that Paul was not aware of just how common and normal it was to be a homosexual. Again, I reply by saying that the ancient world knew very well what were homosexuals and what they did. The Greek philosopher Plato wrote of them centuries before Paul. So the apostle knew what was going on and what he was writing about. I do believe that the percentage of people engaged in homosexual activity in our land today is very small, certainly not one man and woman in every ten.
Certainly there is no unchallenged evidence of there being a gay gene. Its existence is fiercely disputed. Genes can direct many physical features in our lives, eye colour, height, colour of our skin, and there are also many gene anomalies that cause birth defects like Down Syndrome and Sickle Cell Anemia, but our genes don’t determine our ethical behaviour. No ‘gay gene’ forces particular sexual behaviour. You can be freed from weaknesses in your genetic code to live a life loving God and keeping his commandments. You can be delivered from all sorts of uncontrollable urges like selfishness (“I must have my own way”) and egomania. You can choose not to perform homosexual acts.
iii] How important or relevant is it to life today that an old book like the Bible should condemn homosexual thinking and desire and activity? “It has nothing to do with us,” it is said. In other words the homosexual lobby is, largely speaking, an anti-biblical Christian lobby. But the Bible is relevant and life transforming for everybody in the world who will read it and heed it. Jesus said that heaven and earth would pass away before the law of God would. What the Bible says God says. It is all God-breathed to its jots and tittles. In the Scriptures we are seeing what God our Creator requires of your life and mine; we are also seeing what are the parameters within which God will help you and me and empower you and me to live a life pleasing to him. All flesh is as grass and all the glory of man as the flower of the field. The grass withereth and the flower thereof fadeth away, but the word of the Lord endures for ever. Then there is another objection and it is this . . .
iv] Paul was influenced by Jewish ceremonial laws, but those laws have been fulfilled in the coming of Christ and now we are under the law of love. These objectors are thinking of such Old Testament scriptures as Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female. That is an abomination.” Also especially Leviticus 20:13, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Of course under the old covenant there were civil and dietary laws one reason for which was to make a dispensational distinction between how Israel was to live and how the idolatrous nations such as Moab and the Philistines lived. For example there was one prohibition that the old covenant people of God were not to eat a young goat that had been cooked in its mother’s milk. Now that is a very odd law and we think that its reason was because there was some idolatry and religious rite connected with that in the beliefs of the Moabites and others amongst whom Old Testament Christians worked and traded. “You are to be different from them,” said Jehovah, and so he stipulated that prohibition. They were like children in that dispensation living under many rules and regulations.
Those requirements are not operable today; they were strictly rules for Israel under the old covenant, but God has nowhere abolished his prohibition against homosexuality. God changed the laws against what foods we may or may not eat; the debate is there in the New Testament. Peter has a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven and there are all kinds of unclean animals in it and God tells him to take and eat from them all. So the food laws were for the Jews in the Old Testament; they are not for Gentile Christians today, but when God deals with lustful passions or sexual experimentation then God’s prohibitions are still binding.
What about the Old Testament death penalty for homosexuals? It is significant that there were no death penalties demanded for breaking the ceremonial laws, and in the Old Testament we must remember there was a godly and just civil government. This was a theocracy where state and church were one and religious offences as well as criminal acts against another were decided in the same court of law. That is not where we live now. Certainly the law today in Great Britain justly punishes a HIV positive man who deliberately hides that fact and infects men and women with deadly HIV. He serves a long sentence in prison for such sexual activity. That Old Testament law of capital punishment for homosexual actions I believe is pointing forward to the Day of Judgment. We would say that the prohibition is eschatological rather than contemporary. In other word it is not speaking to law-makers in our nation today and saying, “Hang them.” Homosexual actions by Christians are a matter of church discipline and rarely (except in the case I’ve mentioned and the abuse of youngsters) has it to do with the courts. I am not sympathetic with certain nations in the world demanding that the death penalty be instated on their statute books for practicing homosexuals. They are generally theocratic countries ruled by the mullahs and ayatollahs. I’m not sympathetic with stalking homosexuals, and photographing their movements, and policemen setting up schemes to trap them. That is not godly. I would oppose putting such actions on our statute book.
v] The homosexual has the right to exercise his or her desires. “Have I no right to enjoy my love for my girl-friend?” said a female student tearfully to me. No, our only right is to love God and obey him, and do his will. And freedom to disagree with what the Bible teaches is an illusory freedom; in reality it is bondage to falsehood.
- WHAT ARE WE TO DO? HOW THEN SHOULD WE LIVE?
I think there are a number of principles to guide us.
i] There are some people who have no desire for physical union with a member of the opposite sex. There are men who are friendly with numbers of women but they have no desire to settle down and marry one and have a family. It would be better for them not to marry, but to enjoy the privileges of the single Christian life and be the best kind of uncle to their nephews and nieces, to go out to visit missionaries and support the church. I suppose that John Stott and Dick Lucas are two such preachers who have happily lived very useful single Christian lives. The same is true for single Christian women. We have all benefited from them enormously. We have only thanks and respect for them.
ii] There are wonderful possibilities of Christian friendship between two men or two women. They may live under the same roof, and help one another and go on holidays, and they are aware in the vaguest way, because this does not enter into their thinking, that there is a line across which they may not go and do not want to go. If they do then that is the end of friendship and the beginning of sin. Jesus loved John who leaned against him during the last meal they had together. A man once came to Jesus asking him how he could gain eternal life and Jesus loved him. There were two sisters and a brother who lived in Bethany and Jesus loved them all, but there was no sexual connotation to that love of his for them or for us today.
During Jesus’ life he gathered with unbelievers and fallen men and women of all sorts, some of them guilty of great wickednesses. He never condoned their sin. He continually asked that they repent and ask for pardon. He called on them all to trust in him exclusively for salvation.
iii] The single Christian has to be very aware of the danger of the flash of an exploding rocket in his mind when a thought comes, “I am gay!” He can laugh at himself at that time, and see that thought as a fiery dart from the wicked one, and he can keep the shield of faith high and quench the dart. If he begins to entertain that notion and believe it increasingly and feed his mind and behaviour with such convictions that he is gay then his future is going to be one that challenges the will of God for his life. You consider the life of Rosaria Butterfield, the former lesbian professor of English in a New England college in America and how she believed and acted for a number of years as if she were homosexual. Then the great change took place in her life as she met ordinary Bible believing Christians and finally after some years she became a Christian. Today she is married to a pastor and they adopted a number of children because they could not have any children themselves after years of trying. She has written a fascinating book on her pilgrimage that you can get or order from the Book Shop or borrow from me. It is called, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. You can go to Facebook and see her speak and debate and answer questions for an hour. She is sweet and feminine and an earnest Christian. She has reversed that whole journey from being a homosexual – that journey that homosexuals want to say is utterly irreversible. She loves to hear Ted Donnelly speaking and she has prayed for him and written to him in his illnesses. It is one of the dictums set in stone by homosexuals that you can’t change if you’ve been a homosexual, and that it would cause havoc on such a person if I should force him to change. Well, that is true. If I forced anyone to be born again whatever background they came from then it would be a disaster. I could not do it. No one comes to Christ except the Father draws him to Christ. Change comes from the inside, and change is wrought by the sweet and tender and convicting work of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. There is the expulsive power of a new affection for the risen living Lord Jesus, and his love expels other affections from our hearts, as we sing, ‘Love divine all loves excelling.’
In his letter to the congregation in Corinth he says, “Do not be deceived neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God” (I Cors. 6:9-11). They had been homosexuals and they had been sanctified.
iv] A homosexual lifestyle is one you largely choose to take up and you dedicate yourself to it. You copy other homosexuals whom you meet; you do what they do; you value what they value; you disdain what they disdain. You become a servant of homosexuality. You put off a heterosexual lifestyle and you put on a homosexual lifestyle, whereas in regeneration and in love for the Lord Jesus Christ your Saviour, you put off homosexuality and you put on heterosexuality. Of course you can do that without the Holy Spirit. I remember a woman student who had a few girl-friends for ten years whom she lived and slept with. “I am gay” she said defiantly, and then when she became about thirty she fell in love with a boy and now for twenty years she has lived with him. She took up one lifestyle, and then she took up another.
A friend of mine is divorced and his daughter has been away in boarding school and has been a bit neglected by him and his wife. She has looked elsewhere for love. As a student she got a job behind a bar and she’s had a number of relations with men who chatted her up behind the counter, and then, having got what they wanted from her, they dumped her. She is fed up with men and then a sweet girl was kind to her and they moved in together and now she has told her father, “I am gay,” but if one day a tender and gentle man came into her life she would change again, and so I have encouraged him to think and hope like that. What she needs most of all is the Lord Jesus Christ, to know his love constraining her in how to live day by day.
The fall has affected our whole lives and relationships. It did at the beginning. Immediately our first parents rejected the will of God over them then Adam blamed his wife for what happened and blamed God for bringing such a person into his life. He refused to take responsibility for his action; “The temptation came; it was you Lord, who made that fruit so delicious and irresistible, and this woman you also made came and told me that it was great and I went along with her. Your fault!” We blame other people and we blame God and that is how homosexuals from a Christian background begin to act.
The fall of man has affected our relationships and our emotional lives. It has affected the health of our bodies. One man’s sin has brought death into the world. There is a member of my own family who has a chromosome deficiency. He will not be able to become a father without regular injections over many years. He is certainly a proper little boy. The fall has affected every one of us and given us various personality problems. But grace can lift us and put our feet on a rock and establish our goings.
You think, “Well I am facing two options and I can choose between these two. People have problems in marriages and somehow I think that being gay promises more happiness.” Please realise that there is a very heavy cost in the homosexual lifestyle. Do yourself no harm! In his book Straight and Narrow Tom Schmidt gives the following statistical analysis. Using recent research and the lowest statistics, among a group of ten randomly selected homosexual men you would find the following:-
(i) 4 out of 10 are currently in a relationship but only one of these is faithful to his partner
(ii) 4 out of 10 have never had a relationship lasting more than a year. Only one has ever had a relationship over three years.
(iii) 6 out of 10 are regularly having sex with strangers
(iv) The group averages two partners per person per month.
(v) 3 out of 10 are Alcoholics and 5 have a history of Alcoholic abuse
(vi) 4 out of 10 are heavily into drug abuse
(vii) 4 out of 10 have suffered acute depression, 3 out of 10 have contemplated suicide
(viii) 8 out of 10 will have experienced some sexually
transmitted disease other than HIV
(ix) 3 out of 10 have been HIV infected and one has Aids
There is much on a human level to be derived from rejecting homosexual activity. If you have not yet known the grace of God changing you and enriching you then you must come just as you are and put your trust in Jesus Christ to take away the guilt and shame of the wreckage of your life so far and receive him as your eternal friend who will be with you all the days that lie before you. Ask him to give you the Holy Spirit and new life. And never stop asking until you know he has heard you and blessed you.
26th January 2014 GEOFF THOMAS