How would Jesus behave?

My previous post on the petition launched ahead of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly in support of the overture (motion) from the Presbytery of Lochcarron & Skye was my most viewed post ever.  I didn’t set out to say anything controversial and hoped to appeal to people to be calm, reasonable and gracious.

The question that I ended that post with was one asked by Christians all along the theological spectrum. ‘What would Jesus do?’.

This morning it struck me, and not for the first time, that one of the problems with this discussion is that Jesus said nothing specifically about homosexuality.  That leaves us with a bit of a vacuum when trying to answer the question ‘What would Jesus do?‘.  It means that we need to try to work out what Jesus might have said from his other teachings.  We also need to consider the rest of the Bible where again, little is said directly about homosexual relationships.

There are passages in the Old Testament in Leviticus, we read the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah and in the New Testament Paul has some words in Romans.

The problem for many is that these passages are in their view inconclusive.  For example, the passage about Sodom and Gomorrah tells of a host offering his daughters to visitors rather than them having sex with another man.  Not something we would see as acceptable now.  Paul’s words in Romans are the subject of much debate around the translation and context.  Is he talking about homosexual relationships or about the practice if ritual sex with young boys at the pagan temples?

I refer to these passages by way of illustrating the difficulty and complexity of the theological discussion.  Perhaps we need to move beyond throwing passages at each other and engage in a discussion about what the core of the Gospel is?

One of the biggest steps forward the Church could take is to begin these kinds of discussions is to start at the general rather than the specific.  As many will point out in the coming weeks, there are many things supported in the Bible that we have moved away from.  If the early church had not decided to admit those who were not Jewish to their membership then we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all.  Those decisions were often painful, often divisive.

So, let’s try to start again.

Let’s try to start from the question ‘How would Jesus behave?‘ because to be honest when I read the scriptures almost everytime I expect Jesus to do one thing He does something completely different.  What is consistent is how he does things.

28 thoughts on “How would Jesus behave?”

  1. I think you’re spot on here Stewart. I think that too often the Church becomes Phariseeical (is that a word?) about how i approaches the Bible and by taking it too literally we miss what Jesus is actually trying to teach us!

  2. People ofter forget that Jesus and God are one. If he was silent about something during his very short life, it doesnt mean we have no idea what he thought on a subject. We know God’s views on this! On top of this people often think that the only response that love allows is acceptance, could this really be true? The centre of the gospel message is not acceptance but forgiveness… very different!

    To be blunt, I can see no way anyone could read God’s word in it’s context and come to the conclusion that homosexuallity is anything but sinnful in God’s eyes. BUT, its only one sin among a myriad of others, like stealling, sex outside of marriage, sex with members of the same family, all forbidden in the bible, and many of which are considered wrong by our society. Its just that God’s standard is higher.

    It looks to me like people have forgotton the purpose of the Church (not cofs) which is to disciple all nations, and have allowed the world to to the converting and discipling. Just what kingdom is the Church called to build? I for one am proud of the gospel and its ability to save people from their sins. Romans 1:16

  3. Thanks Chris and Tommy for your comments. Good to hear from you both!

    I’d suggest that Tommy’s comment shows the danger of posting on anything related to sexuality.

    My posts haven’t been about the rights and wrongs of homosexuality. There are plenty of places people can discuss that. For the moment I’m more interested in the way we conduct the discussion about a topic that people have very real and well founded disagreements about. Nor am I suggesting that the only possible outcome of love is acceptance.

    What always becomes apparent is that many people have made up their minds about homosexuality. That means that there is no discussion to be had because neither could convince the other that things could change in either direction.

    The danger of both sides taking this stance in any discussion is that it rules out the possibility that God’s relationship with us is one which changes. Peter’s vision about clean and unclean food is a good example. Up until that point the church followed the Jewish purity code but they changed. Not everyone had that vision. It was Peter’s. Some of them didn’t believe Peter or want to change. But they discussed and decided. Things changed. The story of God’s relationship with us isn’t static and unchanging, however much we might want it to be because static and unchanging is easier. We all know where we are then.

    I’m not trying to convince anyone to change their mind yet. I’m not trying to get into a discussion about homosexuality either. I’m just making a plea that people approach the discussion with open hearts and minds ready to discern the will of God without drawing battle lines before a word is spoken.

    Thanks again for commenting. Hope you’re doing well!!!

  4. Stewart,
    I’m hesitant about entering this conversation here. However, I did like the way you changed the question. I’m not very sure about what would Jesus do? However, to ask how would Jesus behave? is a whole different question.
    In the gospels I read of Jesus being absolutely committed to his Father and achieving his Father’s will and purposes (under this heading – and nowhere else – would I include Jesus commitment to the Scriptures) and at the same time being kind, gracious, loving, perhaps especially towards those who were rejecting him and disagreeing with him.
    If only there was more Christ likeness in every church and in every Christian’s life.

  5. Frig it I don’t know, this is all bigger stuff than me and my 16-bit brain cn handle. I try to keep it simple…stupid – he would act as he has always acted. He lived a life of love and grace – Love God, Love Man. Is it dangerous to offer the naive and idealistic idea that the church would be different for the better if we started acting like this and dealt with the rest of it in time?! Or is this the time now?

    The one thing I know for sure is that if there’s anything churches like to get their ecumenical panties in a bunch over is Sex, who is having it, when and where and with whom they are having it, where as Jesus didn’t have so much to say on this. Infuriating really!

  6. Hi Stuart, I am doing well thanks. How are things with you?

    It is obvious from my post that I am not one to skirt round the edges of a debate, but give my thoughts as to what I see as the main points/issues. The problem you have in the cofs is the presbryteries, and the assemblies, which about 95% of all those who attend seem to moan about. But its what’s there and it does make a bit of a noise so I cant see how else you can debate this within that institution other that people speaking out and voting?

    I am part of an Evangelical church, but have no alligencies to any denomonation. I can assure you that we have no debate on the issue and i cant remember the last time we spoke about homosexuallity. We speak about how Christ died for the sins of many and enjoy being a part of what God is doing among the people in our community.

    How would Jesus/God behave? Matthew 4:17 He tells people to change their hearts and lives, then He lives in them to help them do this, to become more like Him. He is the example.

  7. Stuart,

    Thanks for this post – I think what you’ve keyed into here is very, very important. Although we disagree, we are all followers of Jesus Christ – and we need to follow his example in how we behave towards one another. I also appreciated your ‘Not in My Name’ post. It breaks my heart to see Jesus’ Church treat one of God’s children in this way.

    Tommy’s post above mine is interesting – he says there is no debate about homosexuality, and he cant’ remember the last time homosexuality was spoken about. I think this is very relevant to your question – How would Jesus behave?

    Best estimates are that approximately 10% of the population (give or take a few percentage points) is gay. That’s 1 in 10 – quite a lot people. Which means quite a lot of people in our churches.

    I wonder – what does a stated position that ‘homosexuality is evil’ combined with a lack of any discussion about homosexuality tell those who are struggling with this issue?

    Scott’s interview with OneKirk could probably shine some light on this issue…when he speaks of ‘hating and fearing a large part of himself’, I’m sure he speaks for many gay and lesbian Christians, who struggle along in churches who condemn homosexuality and then speak no more about it.

    I wonder – is this how Jesus would approach this issue, if he were physically here with us today? For myself, when I see the hurt, pain, self-doubt and self-loathing our current approach, as Christians, causes so many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ, I am in no doubt that we are not dealing with the issue of homosexuality in the way that Jesus would.

  8. Chris, Jesus was God and therefore He said a lot about the issue, He just chose not to repeat Himself.

    Carolyn, my stated position was that homosexuallity is sinful in God’s eyes, its not my opinion, its God’s standard. Also it is where the discussion starts with me, i then act like Christ and help people deal with the sin in their lives.

  9. Tommy, that last bit doesn’t make sense, I think it should read

    “my stated position was that homosexuality is sinful in God’s eyes, its not my opinion, its my opinion its God’s standard. Also it is where the discussion starts with me, i then act like Christ and help people deal with the sin in their lives.”

    How can you claim to have a perfect knowledge of God’s standard if (as I’m guessing you do if you take every word of the Bible literally) you also believe that man is also fallible. I object to people claiming something as God’s standard without the acknowledgement that this is to the best of their knowledge as a human who is imperfect.

  10. Iain, nah I think I will leave it the way it is. Try reading Romans 1:18-32 and come up with something else. Remember also to read my previous posts to get a true idea of my stance on this.

    I object to your sweeping statements about me claiming to have perfect knowledge of God’s standard. And you guess wrong if you think I take every word of the bible literally. I do however, believe the whole bible is inspired by God, as it has stood the test of time and that I would bet my life on!

  11. Tommy, I have absolutely no problems with your reading of the Bible, you are perfectly entitled to read it exactly the way it makes sense for you, all I’m asking is for a little humility. I also believe the Bible is inspired by God but I try and qualify my understanding of it by stating that it is to the best of my understanding and that I may be wrong and that is all that I was saying your statement should acknowledge too.

    My “sweeping statements” are my understanding of why no human can have a perfect understanding of God’s standard, we all try as best we can but I don’t believe any of us can understand it perfectly or should claim to, however clear a reading may seem to us. I appreciate that the use of “you” in my final paragraph may have made that comment sound like it was directed at you personally but it’s separation was meant to make it a general point, so I apologise if that lack of clarity let to any offence.

  12. Ok fine, but what about the Romans passage? At the end of the day, we have to engage with God’s word. I’ve read a lot of blogs recently about how we cant be sure what the passage is actually saying, but not many people are reffering to any specific passages.

    Stuart might not be happy about me pushing for an interpretation (its your own fault Stewart, you brought up the Romans passage in your intro 😉 but I cant see any other way forward than to engage with God’s word on the issue.

  13. Debate away… just as long as the discussion os conducted with respect I’m fine. You’ll note that I was careful in my post not to enter the debate at all. I simply highlighted that there was a debate to be had and the various theologians have interpreted the passage you are refering to in Romans as an attack by Paul on the pagan temple practices of ritualised sexual intercourse.

    My concern when I posted was about the manner in which this discussion often takes place, something I think Iain is trying to highlight.

    When we decide that we are right, that we know what something means beyond doubt, we leave no room for the Spirit to move. The other example I gave was that of Peter’s vision in Acts about clean and unclean food. At that point God changed the rules. I would hope that all of us, no matter where we start from on the debate about sexuality, would be open to really listening to each other because I firmly believe that the last word in Revelation is not God’s last word to us.

    I believe that God still speaks through people and that we must be careful to remember that we worship God, not the Bible. I agree with you that the Bible is the inspired word of God but I also know that it was written by falible men with issues and agendas and power at stake. At one point a group of men sat around a table and decided what would be in the Bible and what would not. Let’s just be a little careful about using a letter to a group of people in the first century as our only word on any subject and be open to the possibility that God might have more than that to say about anything, and that he might be saying it through you or me.

    I think if we conduct our discussion with that in mind then we’ll be much more productive.

    So, as I said, debate away… but play nice.

  14. My 2p-worth.
    The passage in Romans ought to be read as an injunction against destructive sexual relationships. The passage speaks of ‘lusts’ not love. It also speaks of other distorted desires. Judaism held a high regard for the ‘created order’ and so any deviation from what was intended (and the deviation is lust from love, not homosexuality from heterosexuality) resulted in God’s ‘punishment’ – the ‘giving over’ to those lusts and hence to promiscuous and ‘unnatural’ relationships. This, of course, needs to be seen within the context of Jewish morality codes (which stem from the ‘Holiness codes’ of Leviticus). It also needs to be read through the eyes of Jewish theology. The issue is cause and effect – bad things happened, therefore this is God’s punishment; good things happened, therefore this is God’s reward. The OT needs to be read with this framework in mind; particularly when we read of “what will happen, if you don’t do…” events. These have always been written after the events and so, in a sense, they are self-fulfilling prophecies.
    But what’s this got to do with Paul?
    Paul is a Jewish-trained theologian. He thinks in these terms. His moral framework is Jewish. So, what is the worst sort of sexual relationship to Jews? Abusive homosexual ones; pederasty for example, was a common one. So when one lives an uncontrolled, lustful life, the consequences are that God will ‘give you over’ to whatever sexual urges take your fancy.
    And where does that leave us?
    At best, the passage from Romans is still ambiguous – its primary concern is with ‘disordered desire’ (to borrow from Augustine) and the consequences of swapping selflessness for selfishness. At worst, it is a reflection of Jewish morality and theology which, in many ways, Christian theology has moved away from. I would accept that it does not hold out much hope for the acceptance of homosexual relationships, but we must be careful of using it as outright condemnation.

  15. We are leading the service at our church tomor morning on the story of Joseph and we will be looking at Abraham and Isaac also. When you read these chapters of Genesis, you keep asking yourself why? God seems to be doing it the hardest way possible and for the people involved it must have seemed like the plan was falling appart. However, when all is revealled, the phrase that comes to mind when reading about these people is “God knows what He is doing”. I believe it is a miracle we have the bible, and I believe that God has preserved the truth within it. He has given us His revealled truth because He knows what He is doing. It was no accident, and those men who put together the bible were used by God.

    I have my most difficult conversations with christians when the people I am talking to don’t fully trust in what we have written. My starting point is that I believe it, all of it, because I trust God to preserve His word. Remember also that God’s Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth and He will guide us into all truth. John 16:13

    The Acts passage:
    Did God really change the rules? I think we find Jesus approach to the Law was to show us the “spirit of the law”. The Law said you cannot commit adultery, but He said, if we look with lust, its the same thing. I think the “spirit of the law” would say that the food was never unclean but the obedience kept you clean. Jesus fulfilled the Law and so the ritual requirements were no longer necessary, the only thing left was to deal with was man’s sin, and that was the forgiveness Jesus offered, and it now did not require the ritual of sacrificing an animal.

    The Romans passage:
    Iv’e read it through loads of times now, and you have to be honest (come on) it is pointing to the sin of the whole world and the necessity of God’s intervention. You would need to read an awful lot into the passage to say he was actually only talking about this one thing that’s going on, and everyone else is fine to get on with whatever!

  16. Tommy,
    Re: Romans passage.
    Yes, it is pointing to the sin of the whole world and I highlighted the sexual sin primarily because that is what this discussion is about. But you’re right, this is not the sole purpose of this passage. If you want to take a step back, the passage is about idolatry first and foremost and the consequences of it. The ‘sins’ of the world, though, are not homosexuality. They are lust, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, etc (vv28-31). Why are these idolatrous? Because they are about worshipping/pleasing self, rather than honouring God. In Paul’s social context, such sexual intercourse was a purely physical act – it didn’t matter who (or what – one of Paul’s other condemnations of perversion uses a word generally used for bestiality) you had sex with, the issue was personal gratification and nothing else. In actual fact, you didn’t even need to be homosexual – it was simply about sexual gratification in whatever way pleased you. Sexual orientation wasn’t a factor. So, once again, the issue at stake here was not sexual orientation, but giving in to lustful. self-centred desire.

    I take exception to the suggestion that I don’t take the Bible seriously or treat it as trustworthy or that I don’t believe it. But nor do I take it literally and nor do I take it as being frozen in time. It is, after all, living and active, is it not?

  17. JohnO
    My most recent post was actually a reply to Stewart, I must have been writting it while you were doing yours, I never even saw your message till the page refreshed after mine was posted.

    However…

    You say the passage is talking about the deviation from love to lust? I can’t see that standing up under scrutiny. What is natural about love, what is unnatural about lust? Love is a choice. You are trying to read too much into what is being said. Is it not obvious that paul is saying that sex between male and female is natural and between people of the same sex it is unnatural? The emotions they feel toward each other doesn’t even get a mention, and neither does love!

    He was only using issues of homosexual relationships as an example of how far removed from God’s will the people were(are).

    God’s word is active and living in the sense that it continues to mean the same today as it did when it was spoken, and it has the same power to change people and make them right with God.

  18. Hi Tommy,
    Sorry, I should have looked at the timestamps.
    Love is a choice? Really? I don’t see that standing up under scrutiny 😉 Do you choose who you love? Can you truly love whomever you choose to?

    As for ‘living and active’ meaning that God’s word means the same today as it did in times passed – I beg to differ. You only have to look at how the OT is used in the NT to see differences in interpretation. You only have to look at the history of Biblical interpretation to see how much the ‘meaning’ has changed.

  19. JohnO
    Does God choose to love us? Is love a command? (Deut 6:5) “Husbands Love your wives as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25-31) We are commanded to do so, and we choose to obey (or not). Love is a choice, and it is an action, only a small aspect of it is an emotion. But love isn’t what the Romans passage is about is it?

    I see no discrepancies in interpretation beten OT and NT???

    Interpretation can change God’s truth can not.

  20. Does God choose to love us?

    No He doesn’t, He just loves us. It’s a matter of ontology, not a matter of choice. God loves us, pure and simple. Not a product of choice, just a statement of fact.
    We can be commanded to love, but true love cannot be compelled. I do not choose to love my children, I just do – it’s ontological, not a matter of compulsion or choice.
    We are creatures of emotion – we are called to love God (and one another) with our heart, mind, soul and strength. There must be emotional engagement. Sheer reason cannot produce love.
    The passage from Romans is very much about love – it’s about loving God, not idolatry.
    For when we love God, we do not need compelled or commanded to love, we ‘must’ love.
    And when we love God, our relationships reflect the Trinity; they show grace – that selfless, ever-giving, indiscriminate and extravagant love for all God’s creatures.
    This we cannot do without the gift of the Spirit, for, as sinners our desires are for self and self-gratification – the very things the passage warns against.
    Without love, this is where we end up.
    Is Paul speaking of loving, grace-filled relationships here? Absolutely not!
    Can we then extrapolate from this that he would condemn loving, grace-filled same-sex relationships? Maybe, but you’d really be stepping outside the passage to do this and be in the realms of eisegesis, not exegesis.

    OT/NT interpretation? Hmmm…. I think exploring this would take us off at too much of a tangent, but it’s interesting to note that Paul is one of the biggest culprits at plucking verses out of the OT and re-interpreting them to his own ends, often well beyond their original meaning. I’m not saying he’s wrong to do so, but that’s my point about scripture being living and active – with Spirit-led reading, it is forever opening up to us new understandings of God and giving us new challenges. If it didn’t it would be stagnant and useless.

    And if interpretation is allowed to change, how can meaning remain static?

  21. JohnO
    Sometimes I have no idea what younare talking about???

    I love my children as well, but not everyone loves their own children!

    How can we love our enemies? How can we love God? How can love be greater that Faith!? (Cor 13:13) Your view of “true love” seems to be limited solely to what you feel.

    I keep re-reading the Romans passage and cant find love mentioned anywhere. I can, however, see homosexuality mentioned as an example of how people have moved further away from God.

    I believe Paul was inspired in the same way the OT prophets were, and I see no discrepancies.

    Interpretation/Meaning? Question: How many legs does an elephant have if you call its trunk a leg? Answer: 4, it doesn’t matter what you call it, it will always remain a trunk.

  22. ‘Sometimes I have no idea what you are talking about’ is the point I’m trying to make about this whole discussion.

    I understand JohnO because I understand the language he uses. It seems perfectly clear to me what he’s saying.

    Why is it you don’t understand him? Is it the language he uses? Is it because you haven’t studied ethics and theology in an academic way?

    That’s the problem with interpretation. Unless we know what the words mean in their context then we don’t interpret, we project meaning onto something. So, rather than listen, question, engage and learn we trade statements without ever really talking about the same thing.

    So, I’ll go back to my initial point, again. There is a debate to be had. A discussion. That’s how we work out what we believe, that’s how we find God’s will. We need to have the discussion and to discuss something we need to listen to each other and hear what is being said.

    I believe that God STILL SPEAKS to and through people today in the same way that He did in Biblical times. That’s what Pentecost was all about. Or have I missed something?

    If that God does still speak to and through us then what has God had to say over the past 2,000 years? Or is the Bible the last word on everything? If it was then we’d still be treating our slaves well as Paul tells us to. We’d still be stoning people. We’d still not be wearing clothes made of mixed fabric. If the Bible is so easy to understand, so plain and obvious why do we need sermons and books and Bible study and all the other things we do to help us understand and interperet. So, perhaps God still speaks to us. Why pray if He doesn’t?

    So, for example, I think God tells us that keeping slaves isn’t ok, even though in the Bible Paul suggests that it is. Where does that leave us?

  23. I wouldn’t say the bible is easy to understand, but it certainly is not as difficult as yous are making it out to be. That is what I am struggling to understand. I also don’t think that academic theology is as necessary as you make out in order to understand God’s word. God’s Spirit is the one who reveals his word to us. I also believe that we can make ourselves blind to the truth as Paul suggests in 2 Thes 2:10-12

    I wouldn’t mind going over the slave/Paul issue but could you or JohnO comment on the points raised on my previous post.

    Thomas Millar BA(Hons) (In Theology)

  24. Tommy,
    This, by necessity, will need to be briefer than it ought – I really should be revising for an exam on Thursday.

    I love my children as well, but not everyone loves their own children!

    How can we love our enemies? How can we love God? How can love be greater that Faith!? (Cor 13:13) Your view of “true love” seems to be limited solely to what you feel.

    1John 4:8 “God is love.” This is not a description in the way ‘God is loving’ would be, but an ontological statement. It is a statement of the essential ‘being’ of God. God does not not choose to love his creation, he loves it because of who he is. He did not create, then choose to love. He created out of his love.
    We cannot love our enemies, indeed we cannot even love God, without the aid of the Spirit. The tragedy of Eden was our loss of ability to love fully as we lost our fellowship with God. The great hope of scripture is not that we will return to God, but that he will never turn from us. God’s covenant, his promise to us, his wish to redeem us, is an ongoing thread throughout scripture from first to last and continues today. That covenant is made in love.
    “How can love be greater than faith?” you ask. Because I can choose to believe (is that not what faith is?), but I cannot truly love through mere choice – it has to be something deeper (or indeed higher). Unless I ‘know’ the Spirit, in my heart and in my head, I can never really love, selflessly and indiscriminately, as God loves. That’s not mere ‘feeling’, but who we are as recreated beings, born of the Spirit.
    Love of a child approaches this, but there is always an opportunity to deny that love, just as we do for God.

    I keep re-reading the Romans passage and cant find love mentioned anywhere. I can, however, see homosexuality mentioned as an example of how people have moved further away from God.

    Does it need to be explicit?

    A question for you – how do you know your Spirit-inspired reading of scripture is true? How do you know you are not applying your own understanding to it?

  25. Tommy,

    No, I’m not going to answer your questions. JohnO has and will do that better than I could.

    Once again, I’ll refer you back to the post. My post is simply to highlight that there IS a debate and to ask that that discussion take place with graciousness and understanding. The examples I included were to highlight some of the differences in understanding that exist.

    I have no problem with you and John debating here, as long as you both (and anyone else that feels they want to join in) keep to that spirit (and John doesn’t fail his exams because of it!).

    Stewart Cutler (no theological qualifications)

  26. Looking back over all the previous posts, I feel its fair to say that I have been clear and fair in my approach to the subject in question. I stand by all that I have said and believe it reflects accurately what God says through His word.

    I believe the bible says the world is full of sin and that’s why Jesus died, and homosexuality is just one of those sins. This is where the Church comes in, to make disciples of all nations and is not to be led by popular thinking or the PC lobby. God’s views on sin will not change otherwise we make a mockery of the death of His Son. He paid the price!

    If the churches refuse to help people deal with sin in their lives then they cease to be what they were called to be.

    I do not see myself as static and unchanging, but rather standing firm with the truth of God’s word because on so many issues today, compromise would be a lot easier.

    Is the bible the last word on everything, not sure if I would say yes or no on that one but its deffinetley maybe!

    “All Scripture is given by God and is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right. Using the Scriptures, the person who serves God will be capable, having all that is needed to do every good work.” 2 Tim 3:16-17

    Take care and all the best for youe exams JohnO

    Tommy

Leave a Reply