Well, I want to discuss with you what in our culture has become an important topic and a point of question for many, many believers. And I don’t know how else to set this up other than saying the question says, “Okay, how do I relate to my gay neighbor? How do I relate to this person who’s living this lifestyle that I believe the scripture is very clear in saying it’s outside of the boundaries of God’s plan for human beings? It’s wrong. How do I have a neighborly kind of relationship with these people that are now living next door to me?” And I want to start with the negative before I talk about he positive because I think there are mistakes that we make that need to be addressed.
First, I would say it this way. It’s wrong to treat anyone with prejudice because of a single sin. Now, think with me. Who could live under that standard? If you took the thing that I struggle with the most and I want you to understand, Paul Tripp is not yet sin-free. Paul Tripp is still susceptible to temptation. I still have areas of weakness that are struggles for me more than other areas. Know this, we all sin, but we all don’t sin the same. We don’t all have the same struggles.
How horrible would it be for me if because of that one single area of my sin, you discounted me completely. You shunned me. You were horribly awkward and uncomfortable around me. You didn’t know how to talk. You didn’t know what to say. You didn’t treat me with the common sort of normal cultural things you do with everybody else.
How weird and hurtful and threatening would that be? But that’s often what happens to us with this issue. We have a level of prejudice. We have a level of awkwardness that is just wrong. I think it’s wrong also to sort of name a person by their area of sin and sort of walk away. “Well, he’s a homosexual,” and that sort of is a summary document of everything about that person. No, we don’t say, “He’s a greed,” and walk away. Or, “He’s a glutton,” and that’s a summary definition of everything in that person’s life. But we tend to give ourselves the liberty to do this in this particular area.
There’s a second thing and this is going to take a longer discussion. And I want to take you to places where, maybe, you’ll be uncomfortable. Maybe you’ll come to understand things that you haven’t yet understood. It’s wrong to view any human being as a single sin on two legs because human beings are dramatically more complicated than that.
God, in the glory of His created majesty, created complicated, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional human beings. It’s hard ever to properly capture the dynamics of a single human being in a single sentence because we’re more layered than that. We’re more multi-faceted than that. Think of spiritual growth. It’s possible to be mature in one area and immature in another because of the multi-faceted nature of the way God’s created us.
And so, even spiritual growth isn’t a single thing. It’s a variety of things. And so, I may have really grown to be a generous person, but I’m really impatient. That means I’ve matured in one area and I’m still quite immature in another area. So you have to understand that complicated nature of human beings, but in order to understand how to relate to this gay neighbor, you have to understand the theology of common grace.
Now, common grace means that everyday, God pours out His grace on all of humanity. The sun shines on us all. The rain nourishes our earth. Plants grow. Animals feed us. Culture enhances us. All of that is the goodness of God. It’s God’s providing and restraining grace.
Take traffic, for example. If you took just what’s in the heart of most human beings (“I’m the center of my world and all I care is what I want and I couldn’t give a rip about the person next to me. And I want to get to where I want to get to as fast as I can get to.”), you would think the most dangerous thing you could ever participate in is ever getting in a car; you’d have to be a complete idiot. But everyday, self-centered people are restrained by God’s common grace.
And so, what that means [is] that God’s common grace is nqot just His exercising a corporate restraint and provision because He’s a God of mercy, and He loves us, and He wants our life to be able to work, and He wants us to enjoy things that we never earned or never deserved just because He is good; so I get to see the lily and I get to hear the music. But His common grace is individual. That grace allows people, who don’t love Him and aren’t serving Him, to do good things, to create good things, to be kind, to be gentle, to be respectful, to care about important things.
One of the sweetest, kindest, gentlest, most loving men that Luella and I know is a gay man. We love being around him. He’s always encouraging. He’s always interested in our life. He always asks us how things are going. He’s welcoming and hospitable. He’s kind. He’s a guy who, if he saw you shivering, would take off his jacket and hand it to you.
Now, for me to recognize that is not to endorse his lifestyle, but it just means I quit being prejudiced because I recognized that this man can’t be defined by a single thing. Don’t treat your gay neighbor as if his gayness robs him of the rest of his humanity and you don’t need to treat him like you would treat any other human being. That’s not the nature of sin and denies the common grace of God that allows us to live in a human community and not be constantly under threat. Why does God’s grace restrain? Because He loves us. Today, God’s mercy will rain on all of us because none of us could sustain His judgment. And that’s everybody. Everybody is object of God’s mercy.
Third thing I would say is we need to stop asking the law to do what only grace will accomplish. There is a role for God’s law. We should not be law-haters. We should be law-lovers, but we need to understand the function of God’s law. God’s law does a beautiful job of exposing sin. Paul says, “If it were not for the law, I would not know wrong.” God’s law is a wonderful guide for your everyday life.
When Israel came out of captivity, they had not a clue how to live. And so, God brought them to the base of Mount Sinai and He gave His people His law. That giving of he law was itself a grace. These were already people He had chosen. These are already people He had redeemed. He was now telling those people how to live.
But here’s what you need to understand. The law has no power whatsoever to rescue or transform a person’s heart. It’s only the grace of God that can do that and so, you want to lead, in your relationship with your neighbor, with the gospel. You want to hear the law, not thrown as a grenade from a distance in an act of judgment and condemnation, walking away. You want the law always to be wrapped in the context of the transforming power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ because what needs to happen inside of that heart of that person will never happen by the function of the law. It will only happen by the operation of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am going to say what I said before in another podcast. Lead with love. Be known, not as a judge, but as a loving friend, as someone who is ready to serve, ready to give, ready to help, ready to care. Make your relationship with that gay person attractive. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this person knew what you stood for, but was comfortable in your presence because of the way you responded to them, loved hanging around with you, knew your moral convictions, but knows that you won’t judge them and walk away and shun them from that point on? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our churches were places where gay people could come and hear the gospel, and we would love them?
Now, here’s what you need to understand. Love and truth are not in opposition. They’re not opposing forces. You don’t have to compromise truth in order to love someone who needs truth. If you look at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is actually love and truth that kiss on the cross. God would not compromise what is right and true in order to bring us into relationship with Him. That’s why Jesus needed to die.
And so, you don’t have to be afraid that living a life of love is compromising truth. In fact, the biblical methodology is “speaking the truth in love”. It’s truth speaking in the context of a wholesome, loving relationship. And so, these are two things that God has given us that are meant to work in cooperation with one another.
I’ve headed at this, but I want to say more about it. Be helpful and hospitable with all of your neighbors, but particularly, with everyone who you would tend to be prejudiced against and they would tend to be threatened by you. Look for ways to serve. Look for ways to be generous. Be generous with your time. Be generous with your money. Be generous with the skills that you have in your life. Be generous.
Listen. The Bible is a generosity story captured by the words, “For God so loved the world that He [You know the next word? He] gave…” He gave the most important gift that could ever be given, the most precious gift that He could ever give. It’s really the gift of Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. So be a giving, serving person. Be hospitable. You want to break down threat. You want to open up opportunities. Invite people into your house with their feet under your table, eating food you have lovingly prepared. It is disarming.
There was, several years ago, a debate that took place at the University of Pennsylvania between a man who represented what was then called the Urban Family Council. It was put together to protect the sanctity of the family. The debate was with the leader of ACT UP. ACT UP was the most politically aggressive of the gay rights group. And the moderator of the debate asked this question, first of the man who represented the Urban Family Council.
“If your daughter came home one night and said, “Dad, I have to talk to you. I’m a lesbian. I’m no longer going to hide this. I’m going to live that lesbian lifestyle. I’m going to do it without shame. And I don’t know what I think about what you believe, but I’m not going to honor your moral convictions.”
The moderator said, “What would you do?” The leader of the Urban Family council said, “I would get up. I would walk across the room. I would throw my arms around mg daughter and say, ‘I love you. You’re welcomed in our home because you are out daughter. There’s nothing that you could ever do that would make me love you less. I will love you to the day I die. I love you. You’re my daughter.’” He turned to the leader of ACT UP and he said, “Do you have a response?” And he pointed over to the guy he was debating with and he says, “I wish that man was my father.”
That’s the gospel. That’s the manner of life that we were called to live. Now, that man was in a debate. He had made the truth that he believed clear. But in that example, he pictured the power of gospel love and disarmed this aggressive man who was arguing for another lifestyle. Now, did that man make a radical change in his life? Not that moment, but those two men were going to have a conversation because walls have fallen down in this moment of love.
Well, a couple of other things. Always speak truth as someone who needs it. Don’t stand above anybody. You have been rescued by truth. You are being rescued by truth. You will be rescued by truth. Moral arrogance is horribly unattractive. Humble awareness of how you’ve been rescued by truth is way more attractive. Always speak with the knowledge that you need everything you’re saying. Don’t look down on people. Don’t speak down at people. Don’t act as if you’re a grace graduate, when you are in desperate need of grace.
Remember that no matter how long you walk with Jesus, if you did it for a thousand years, you would need grace the next day as much as you needed it the first day that you believed. And what that does is your awareness, your admission of your need of grace softens and tenderizes your heart towarda people who need grace. It’s self-righteousness that enables me to be prejudiced and condemning.
It’s only when you think you’re a law-keeper that you use the law to condemn other people. And it’s when you understand that you can’t even keep your own standards, let alone God’s standards, that you want the same grace that you received to be received by others in your life.
That just reminds you that you, too, are a rebel rescued by grace. You don’t like to be told what to do. You don’t like to be told how to do it. You don’t like to be told that you’re wrong. You don’t like it when people disagree with you. You don’t like it when people question the way you live. You still have a bit of a rebel heart in you and you should understand the person that looks at the call of God and just thinks, “It’s crazy. I don’t want to do this.”
There are times in the life of every believer, where you fall into thinking that you’re smarter than God. If you’re a husband and you’re yelling at your wife, and you think that’s going to be okay, you’re thinking at that moment that you’re smarter than God. And what God says is not okay and won’t turn out okay, you’re convinced will be okay.
If you’re yanking your child down the hallway and slamming him into a chair in an act of socially acceptable Christian violence; and you think that child will still respect you and love you, when everything that the Bible says is that is crushing to the heart of that child, you’re a rebel and you think that you’re smarter than God.
If you’re looking at websites you shouldn’t look at and you’re a Christian; and you think that won’t pollute you and won’t enslave you, you’re a rebel and you’re thinking you’re smarter than God, and you know better, and you can control this thing, and it will turn out better.
There are moments where we share identity, more identity, we would think, with people that we would condemn and be prejudiced against because we still are not free of the rebel spirit within us. How about remembering that you’re a rebel, rescued and restrained, not by your righteousness, but by the power of a Redeemer and move out toward people who are living in ways that you know are wrong with that kind of humility? Humble people are just way more attractive. Humble people are less threatening. Humble people make good neighbors. Humble people say hard things in humble ways, giving them a chance to be understood. And know that the sin that grips your neighbor is not the one that you struggle with, but you still struggle.
Maybe impatience is wreaking havoc on your marriage. Maybe greed is eating up your budget. Maybe long-held anger is harming relationships. Live as a person who needs grace with people who need grace. And don’t ever write a person off because of a single sin in their life. Know that people are more complicated than that. Know that God’s grace allows people to be contradictions, where this person is embracing something that’s bad, but they do good and kind things that just, again, preaches the presence of God and His mercy and His grace.
And know the power of love. It is the most powerful force of transformation in the universe. And be generous with your time, your money, your skill. And know the power of hospitality. Bring people into your life, whose lifestyle you would reject. Cook for them. Entertain them. And again, as you do that, you give room for God to do in those relationships what He alone can do. Know your limits. You have no power to change anyone. Lasting change in a person’s heart is always the work of grace. Live as an instrument of that grace and watch that grace operate.