The Government’s consultation on same-sex marriage closes at midnight tonight. Over 100,000 individuals and organisations have replied. Filling in the on-line form I was allowed a maximum of 200 words in expressing my opinion. Here’s what I wrote…
There are many reasons why the current definition of marriage must remain.
Firstly, throughout the world, across all cultures & times, marriage has always & only been defined as an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes this point very clearly in Article 16.
Secondly, it has been acknowledged by even Tory MPs that the idea that marriage can be redefined but only for civil marriages is deeply flawed. Any legislation will quickly be challenged by homosexual couples wishing to undertake a religious ceremony and a likely result is that religious institutions will be compelled by law to marry homosexual couples against their own right to freedom of conscience.
Thirdly it should be remembered that there is no electoral mandate for such legislation. No political party included ‘gay marriage’ in their manifesto and therefore the people of the UK have not been giving the opportunity to express an opinion at the ballot box. Finally the consultation process itself has been deeply troubling.
Through-out the period Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone has repeatedly insisted that the Government will proceed with legislation regardless of public opinion.
A quite brilliant article in the Telegraph on Peter Tatchell, gay marriage and the role of the State
Brendan O’Neill writes in the Telegraph on the domestication of Peter Tatchell
His conclusion is sobering ‘The gay marriage campaign will end up expanding the remit of the state, granting it the authority to overhaul an ancient institution, redefine our relationships, and rebrand is all as “partners’ rather than husbands or wives.’
Preaching through a series on the 10 commandments on Sunday we reached the 7th . Yesterday I posted the first part of the sermon on the relationship between sex and marriage. Today the second part looks at God’s purpose in the 7th commandment.
What is the 7th commandment?
The seventh commandment reads ‘You shall not commit adultery’. Pretty much every Jewish adult who first heard those words of God would either have been married or engaged to be married. Every adult could expect to be married by the age of 20. So in that culture the biggest challenge to honouring God with your body was remaining faithful to your spouse. But the commandment clearly speaks against all kinds of sexual sin.
Paul in Ephesians says ‘ Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity.’ The word there for sexual immorality is porneia and refers really to any sex outside of marriage.
So why is faithfulness in your marriage so important to God?
We’ve been learning over again in this series is that each of the commandments that call on us to ‘love our neighbour’ depends upon a more fundamental commitment to ‘love God’. There is a right and necessary ordering of the commandments. It is the nature of our relationship with God that compels us to remain faithful to our spouse.
Covenant faithfulness in marriage is an expression of our covenant faithfulness to God. As God is faithful to us and as we are to be faithful to him so we are to exhibit the character of faithfulness in all our relationships, especially marriage. As his people so we want to be like him, to say to the world how great it is to have God as our God and so being faithful to our promises is part of saying thank you to God for being faithful to his.
I was at a wedding a while back, chatting to a non-Christian couple. They asked how long my wife and I had been married and at the time it was something like 10 or 11 years. One of them was surprised that having married so young we had lasted so long and then the other commented ‘it’s only the Christians who stay married.’ Sadly, in a fallen world marked by sin that is not always the case but it often is.
Our faithfulness in marriage is a reflection of God’s faithfulness we reflect God’s character as the faithful one who loves us with a never-breaking love. A husband and a wife are in their marriage to model the exclusive relationship between God and his people.
What makes adultery so serious it is both one and the same time a betrayal of a spouse and a denial of our God.
In Genesis 39:9-10 Joseph refuses to betray Potiphar by sucombing to the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He refuses out of loyalty to an earthly master. But more fundamentally he recognises that to break a human marriage is to ‘do a wicked thing and sin against God.’
The 7th commandment is given by God to protect marriages, to protect children in marriages and to protect God’s own name and reputation in the world.
Jesus and marriage
No wonder then that Jesus in Matthew 19:3-6 issues a solemn warning that it is God who joins a couple together in marriage. Through marriage they are now to be considered as one person (v.6) and therefore Jesus issues a command ‘let not man separate.’ It is not that it is impossible but rather that it is should not happen.
And the consequences for those who do break this commandment are serious. In the book of Hebrews Christians are reminded of the seriousness of honouring God with their marriages. 13:4
Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Yesterday we saw that sex outside of marriage damages ourselves. Today that it dishonour’s God and we are warned judgement awaits those who dishonour God through adultery or sexual immorality.
Tomorrow’s post looks at how we all break the 7th commandment and how through Jesus we can keep the 7th commandment.
I’m preaching through a series on the 10 commandments at City Church at the moment and last night we tackled the thorny issue of sex under the heading of the 7th commandment. Below is a slightly expanded version of the first part of the sermon.
I don’t know what invention of the past 100 years has done most to change the very way in which we live. You could make a case for TV, the personal computer, the jet airplane but I wonder whether the real answer is the contraceptive pill because it has revolutionised our attitude to sex.
Sex is now – if we want it to be — something purely for recreation rather than procreation. It has for women in particular become a means sexual liberation.
So in our western culture sex is essentially now thought of as a bodily appetite to be indulged. We have lap-dancing clubs in our city-centres, brothels in the same communities as our students and pornography in our bedrooms. Women’s magazines run lead stories on how to perfect sex technique, some men’s magazines are little more than ‘soft’ porn and in the past week Birmingham’s gay pride march was officially listed as part of the City council’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
We’ve never lived in a more openly sex-mad society but as J.John has noted ‘the problem in our sex-saturated society is not that we think too much about sex, but that we think about it so poorly.’
It might be easy to think that Christianity, by contrast, is anti-sex and looking back through the history of the church there have been times when that has been the case. At best sex has been thought of as a necessary evil. One book I read on the subject this week made the point that the excesses of the Catholic church that kick-started the protestant revolution included a list of holy days on which sex was prohibited that numbered 183 days a year!
Clearly the track record of the church has not been good and yet when we read the Bible we certainly don’t find it speaking negatively about sex one entire book, the song of songs is given over to a celebration of romantic love.
In one talk tonight I can’t possibly say everything but I want to start with
A. The setting of the 7th commandment – God’s purpose for sex
In the Bible we discover that sex is a God-given gift. He is the one who has made us sexual beings. He invented sex and he intended it for pleasure. Sexual desire is therefore proper and natural and God even wrote a book about it in the Bible called Song of Songs. So no Christian should feel embarrassed by the subject.
But sex also has a context. Sex is a God-given gift for a God-given purpose — God intended sex to be a sign and a seal of the union of two lives.
In Genesis 2:24 we discover that marriage is the act of giving ourselves to another a) exclusively ‘leaving father and mother’ and b) without reserve ‘united to his wife’. Sex is then the bodily expression of that union ‘and they will become one flesh’.
Sex is therefore the body-language of marriage. One writer has said;
To be naked with another person is a symbolic demonstration of perfect honesty, perfect trust, perfect giving and commitment. It is one of the key ways in which we experience loving faithfulness in a total relationship
No wonder then that the Bible not only permits sex in marriage but actively encourages Christians to keep sex alive in marriage.
In Proverbs 5:19 we read
may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer —
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.
And then Paul in 1 Cor. 7:3-5 reminds Christians that they should not abstain from sex within marriage.
Michelle Weiner Davis in a book entitled The sex-starved marriage has written ‘sex is an extremely important part of marriage, it offers couples opportunities to give and receive physical pleasure through which they connect emotionally and spiritually. It builds closeness, intimacy, and a sense of partnership. It defines their relationship as different from all others. Sex is a powerful tie that binds.’
And this is why sex belongs in marriage. You see it really does do something to us when we seek to separate the physical intimacy of sex from the context of marriage.
Tim Keller in the meaning of marriage writes:
Unless you deliberately disable it, or through practice you numb the original impulse, sex makes you feel personally interwoven and joined to another human being, as you are literally physically joined.
So to protect yourself against the pain of giving your heart to someone who might not be there in the morning you disconnect the physical act of sex from the emotional intimacy it is designed to breed. And now here’s the problem – if you’ve practised that disconnect – if you have disabled it – what happens when one day you get married? There is a real danger that sex in marriage will not be able to do what it is designed to do.
Tim Keller expresses it this way ‘sex outside of marriage eventually works backwards, making you less able to commit and trust another person.’
All of the statistical evidence shows that when we separate sex from marriage through pre-marital sex we bring that delayed baggage into marriage. Meg Jay a clinical pschologist has written a remarkable chapter entitled the co-habitation effect in The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter – and how to make the most of them
Living with someone may have benefits, but approximating marriage is not necessarily one of them.
She gives an example of one woman who describes her cohabiting relationship
‘A year of two into it, I started wondering what we were doing. Everything about it was fuzzy. That fuzziness ended up being the most frustration part. I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife. That made me really insecure. There was a lot of game-playing and arguing. I never felt like he was really committed to me. I still don’t obviously.’
Jay concludes: Couples who ‘live together first’ are actually less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce than couples who do not. This is what sociologists call the cohabitation effect.
Quite simply the more sex outside of marriage in a society the shorter the marriages in that same society become.
So sex is a God-given gift for a God-given purpose
In the next post why God has given the 7th commandment and how we break it.
Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture shows us how the gospel works to make forgiveness possible.
As the nation celebrates Christians, in particular, have reason to give thanks. For we recognise that governing authorities are put in place by God. Paul says in Romans 13v1, there is no authority except that which God has established.
And there can be few countries in the world where Christians have enjoyed greater freedoms and blessing than we have under the reign of our Queen. Anyone living in the UK during the past 60 years has, by and large, enjoyed peace rather than conflict, economic prosperity rather than decline and freedom of worship.
Paul calls on us to pray for those in authority – 1 Timothy 2 reads:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior,4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Around the world today many Christians are living under leaders who refuse to acknowledge God let alone honour him and as a result they live under fear. I wonder whether we stop to think and stop to thank God for the privileges we have enjoyed during the past 60 years.
In her coronation vows 60 years ago the Queen promised to govern with fairness and mercy and she has. She may be a figure-head for our nation but she is a figure of consistency and of Christian character. John Stott was an honorary chaplain to the queen for over 30 years and spoke of the reality of her Christian faith. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that she may be the last monarch who is Christian in my lifetime.
I want to finish with a quotation from her Christmas Day message in 2011
The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
‘For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’
Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.
God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.
In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today.
It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.
So even if you don’t intend to wave flags or dress in red, white and blue I do hope you’ll join in giving thanks to God for a Queen who for 60 years has fulfilled her duty before God and the nation with utmost consistency.
- Be realistic about your expected salary in this economic climate!
- If you’re doing a professional job expect your first few years to be tough. Growing up is hard! Trust God and man up!
- Don’t think of your first job as an extension of your degree; act maturely, work hard and earn respect for what you do
- Keep in close contact with your friends and even closer with your God.
- See your work as part of your service of Him, rather than a way of paying the bills so you can serve elsewhere.
- Read ‘Thank God it’s Monday by Mark Greene which is awesomely inspiring.
- Be prepared that you might find work hard, get challenged and feel rubbish! Your identity and worth more than ever needs to be rooted in Jesus and his grace.
- You don’t need to know what their plan is for the rest of life, or even their plan for next month; they do need to remember that Jesus is our shepherd and we are His.
- Go to sleep before midnight during the week. Trying to catch up with a cat nap in the loo’s at lunch, will not cut the mustard in the world of employment. Not that I ever did that…
- Pace yourself: you have to get up early, every day, for more than just a term. It is a shock to the system when you don’t have a month off every 13 weeks.
- Get into good habits & don’t despair: it does get easier to do.
- Read Maximum Joy by Julian hardyman
- Meditate regularly on Psalm 86:11 – ‘Unite my heart to fear your name.’ By guarding your heart closely in the ocean of secular culture you will be able to stand.
- Find a faithful church, plan to go, and initiate serving!
- Be regularly accountable in the deep places with a believer you trust
- Set up standing orders for giving so as not to be mastered by money
- Worship through work as if for God and not for men
- Ask your church if they can help you find a mentor. Someone 5 to 10 years older in the same kind of work
- Remember the fall and don’t be idealistic about work. The workplace is a still filled with sinners, just like you.
- Work out on what moral issues you will need to make a stand. Ask you mentor for advice on these areas.
- Be quick to tell others that you are a Christian but do it in a non-freaky way.
The single best book that I’ve come across for starting work is Working without wilting.
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