(A brief disclaimer: I try to avoid making my posts as long and (somewhat) exhaustive as this one. I wanted to share a process, one from point A to point B. I hope you will read it through. Without reading it through, point B will not be seen. And while there may be many points other than B that could be reached, I believe that point B is a valid destination. The Truth is multi-faceted. Point B merely points--I believe--to one facet of the Truth.)
I've been reading Paul's letter to the Romans and God has really been clarifying some things for me. From 2001-2005--back before I turned my back on God after my divorce--I had a certain conception of Paul. He seemed arrogant to me. He seemed harsh. He seemed like the type that didn't even bother to dress the iron fist of God with a velvet glove. I attributed so many condemnation issues in the Church to the letters of Paul. I've heard many others voice a similar conception of him. But since God called me back in 2011, he has shown me a much different Paul. He has shown me a Paul who, due to his background, may come off as harsh but is really something quite different when we look past his own way of speaking and look to what God was saying through him. We're all imperfect vessels that God chooses to use. That said, our imperfections will certainly come out now and then when God is using us. If we can get past the appearance of what Paul was saying to see what is really being said, our conception of Paul will certainly be different.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse... Romans 1:20 (I'm using the New King James for this one.)
This verse popped out at me as I was reading it last night, but I didn't know why. I have heard it said that when we're drawn to a verse in such a way, the Holy Spirit is usually trying to tell us something. I took that advice to heart and grabbed my highlighter and put it to the verse. I didn't know why, but I knew there was something significant there that wasn't obvious. I made a note that questioned what exactly those invisible attributes are that are so clearly seen. His eternal power and Godhead, yes, but there seemed to be something more, something that springs from his eternal power and Godhead, something that is a result of his eternal power and Godhead.
For this reason [exchanging the truth of God for the lie, as expressed in verses 22-25] God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Romans 1:26
This was the next verse that caught my attention. I've heard a lot of people claim that this verse is a direct reference to lesbianism. I wasn't surprised when a cross reference in one of my bibles referred me to Leviticus 18:22. I am surprised, however, that such a flimsy reference would be used to label the above verse as referring directly to lesbianism. Leviticus 18:22 is about men sleeping with men as they would sleep with women. It is definitely a reference to male homosexuality, but there is no direct reference to women. I've always understood the passage in Romans to refer to promiscuity, prostitution, and the like. Perhaps lesbianism is among those things referenced, but it is not directly referenced. I highlighted this verse as well. The question still wasn't answered. It raised more questions than it offered answers.
Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.Romans 1:27
This verse does indeed point directly to homosexuality and there are several things that could be said about these two verses. First, Nature's way is, of course, to reproduce. Without reproduction, nature ceases. There is no nature without reproduction. We were commanded to be fruitful, to reproduce. And humans were created to reproduce heterosexually. It is interesting that so many gays and lesbians are nature lovers but they adopt and promote ways of being that deny nature's continuance. Perhaps homosexuality is not so wrong in and of itself--just as many other menial sins might not be so wrong in and of themselves. Perhaps it's that sexual gratification was meant to be a side effect of reproduction. It's sort of an encouragement for us to be fruitful. In this case, the sin of homosexuality is that it demands the gratification while denying the fruitfulness. Nature, as God created it, demands give and take. In the context of gratification and fruitfulness, homosexuality is all about the taking. It denies the giving. Homosexuality is not the root of the problem; the root of the problem is the heart. It is a heart problem. Homosexuality is a symptom, as the preceding verses (22-25) suggest. That said, if the root of this symptom is that it denies natural reproduction, what does that say about birth control or non-procreative sex or even sex after menopause or many other sexual manifestations? Where is the line drawn? Is there a line to be drawn?
Second, there is more of an emphasis on the sinfulness of male homosexuality than there is on female homosexuality. There are many direct references to the sinfulness of male homosexuality while we have to make assumptions about female homosexuality (such as in verse 26). Why is the sin of male homosexuality spoken of so directly? I don't think we need to get into detail as to the 'unclean' nature of male homosexuality. The point is that a man can practice the same uncleanness with a woman and never face the same finger-pointing as the male homosexual faces because the former can remain hidden in his uncleanness. So is the issue male homosexuality or the uncleanness that it leads to?
Third, what is "the penalty of their error which was due" as recorded in verse 27? Is it, as the following verses might suggest, that they are handed over into even deeper areas of debasement? Is it that they're pulled away from God yet further? Are they just left to drown in their sin, the conviction of the Holy Spirit long gone? Or does it refer to something else like sexually transmitted diseases? Sexually transmitted diseases have certainly not been monopolized by the gay community and probably never have been. Perhaps the penalty is a combination of the above.
. . . who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:32
When I came upon this verse, something struck me. Looking back at verse 20, perhaps one of the attributes of God that is clearly seen is an attribute of interconnectedness. I'm not going new age here. That's not where I'm going. There is something to be said for interconnectedness. God had to have had something of a conception of 'give and take' when he created our world. There are life chains and life cycles that make interconnectedness a necessity. The 'me' mentality is not compatible with the ways of God. We cannot take without giving back. I would submit that most--if not all--sin is traceable to some form of selfishness. We want to do things our own way. We want everything for ourselves. Sin is a result of a lack of love, agape love. We tend to prefer ourselves over others, while God instructs us to prefer others (Romans 12:10). It's necessary to prefer others to be in his will. That is the way of agape love. It's about acknowledging the give and take that God ordained. He created the world to be a community, not individuals surrounding themselves with walls. The 'me' mentality stands against the course of creation and the cause of God. We have to stand to serve the other, to prefer the other. The 'me' mentality only serves to destroy us and everything around us. Regarding homosexuality, that lifestyle is a mere result of a heart problem that prefers self over others because natural reproduction is ultimately being denied.
Verse 32 should be a sobering verse for all of us, for all of us are susceptible to the 'me' mentality in one or another of its forms.
Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads to repentance? Romans 2:1-4
Who are we to judge? Where is the one who doesn't possess some aspect of the 'me' mentality? Jesus. He's the only one. He sacrificed his own will and did the will of the Father. When we judge anyone else for having one or another aspect of the 'me' mentality we have fingers pointing back at ourselves. By pointing the finger, we nominate ourselves for judgment as well. It is nothing that we do that makes us righteous. It is all the goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering of God. It is the grace of God. "There but by the grace of God go I.' That said, what does finger pointing accomplish? Are we expecting one who is lost in sin to somehow walk out of it on his own? Do we really believe that we did such a thing in our lives and for ourselves? When we expect such feats from others, we've made Christ's death a vain thing. What does that say about our salvation if we make Christ's death a vain thing? I heard it said recently that when we judge we judge according to our strengths. I would add that, as Christians, our strength is in Christ. We can't hold those who don't have that strength to that standard. On the other hand, our weaknesses are innumerable. How about we start judging others based on our own weaknesses? I think we might find it a bit more easy to prefer the other.
. . . but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness--indignation and wrath. Romans 2:8
The self-seeking will receive indignation and wrath. Regarding the above commentary on our tendency to judge those who don't possess our strengths, it could be said that in doing so we become self-seeking. We want others to be like us. We want others to follow the standard we've deluded ourselves into believing we have set ourselves. In doing so, we've forgotten the lives from which God has delivered us. It is God's strength, not ours. God alone holds the right to judge others according to it.
. . . who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them . . . Romans 2:15
It is the law written in the hearts of Christians that helps them to accuse or excuse themselves. This law is meant to guide us as opposed to them. We are to judge ourselves as opposed to others. It's the old issue of the plank and the speck. We need to correct ourselves before we can start thinking of correcting others. (One who has been delivered from addiction is a wonderful vessel for God to use to help deliver the addicted. One who has suffered addiction knows what addiction is about. He won't go into it pointing his finger--that is, if he is led by the Spirit and not by religion. He knows the grace of God. He knows that nothing he has done has freed him. All the glory goes to God. In that case, what good is browbeating going to accomplish? It will only serve to condemn the addicted, for the addicted knows he can't do it himself and browbeating carries the implication that he can do it himself. Browbeating leads to a cycle of failure and death.) The law is written in our hearts. It is for us, not for others. God works with us all in different ways and with different speeds. We can't hold others accountable for what God has for us. The verses that follow (through verse 24) seem to support this notion. We have to get ourselves corrected before we can start criticizing others. Our own corrections are a lifelong process. We should be busy enough working on our own planks.
. . . but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. Romans 2:29
The law of the new covenant is by the Spirit, not by the letter. The letter of the law is merely to show us that we can't 'arrive' on our own. Our own strengths will inevitably fail. The letter of the law is simply the tool to lead us to a point at which we realize we need God. I experienced that in my own life, as has every Christian. The acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior did not erase completely the sin my flesh demands. It was simply a declaration of brokenness. "Jesus, I need you. I have nothing. Nothing of my strength means anything. I can't stop my sin and my sin is destroying me and everyone around me. I need you to guide me. I need you to lead me." It is simply a declaration that we need God. It is a commitment to remain loyal to him. It is not about religion. It is not about following rules. It is about following him as he leads us. We all still possess the 'me' mentality. God just doesn't see it if we acknowledge it to him, if we acknowledge it as failure, if we acknowledge that he is the only one who can strip it away, and if we acknowledge that we want him to strip it away. It's a heart issue. And the law of the new covenant is written on our hearts. We follow the law of God as he writes it upon our hearts, not as men would have us follow it. That way, we receive the praise of God, not the praise of men.
Paul wasn't a browbeater. He didn't push the letter of the law. He pushed grace. He pushed the letter of the law in the same fashion that Jesus pushed the letter of the law: he pushed it on those who abused God's grace when they should have known better. That said, we have a great responsibility when it comes to planks and specks. We have to deal with our own planks first, both personally and collectively as the Body of Christ. If there is something wrong in the Body we have to get that in check first before we can expect to have much impact on the world at large. God can certainly make good of us if we don't, but he can also make good of rocks. How much more can he use us if our focus is on letting him renew us--both personally and collectively? That renewal can light much more darkness than if our focus is on pushing the letter of the law on others.
We have to allow God to redirect our 'me' mentalities. We have to allow him to direct our self-seeking toward a self-seeking that desires his will for us. Yes, in this case, self-seeking is good. We want the self that God has for us. When we move in that direction, we can move into the interconnectedness that God intended for us because the selfishness of self-seeking will slowly begin to be stripped away by God and others will begin to see him in us in increasing facets of our lives.
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