God Surprise Me: Part Five
“I went to this conference and participated in a workshop that dug deeply into the scriptures on the passages that deal with homosexuality. As we all know, there are distinct differences in the way that people read them and interpret what they have to say.”
I came away with many new questions about what the Bible says on homosexuality. I have a meeting each week with a bible mentor. I often come to him with questions about what a passage says and how we should interpret it. This time I had a whole list which of course was too much for one of our sessions together. I decided to begin with First Corinthians chapter six, verses nine through eleven.
I walked into his office and said, “OK, I want to know. What does this really say? Can we sit down and tear this apart? Can we get to the real meaning of what Paul was actually saying here?”
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
This passage is one that I have struggled with for over 20 years. For some, this passage has brought a lot of comfort because it speaks to one of the most exciting things about the gospel. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” Anytime we see a passage that encourages us with the dramatic change that occurs when we receive the message from Jesus of a new life in Him, that is wonderful. However, this passage has also caused a lot of divisive discussion and for many, a wrong understanding of what it says, it has brought despair, hopelessness, and fear! “…… will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Do all gays go to hell? Do gossips go to hell? Do Slanderers go to hell? What about the greedy, do they all go to hell too? If so, we have a huge problem.
Within the “ex-gay” world, verse eleven; “And that is what some of you were.” Speaks to a significant change in Christ. But some take this verse to mean a change in homosexual orientation. This interpretation has led to a tremendous amount of controversy through the years. What does Paul really say here about change?
There is a common misunderstanding of verse nine; ” Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? “, and verse ten, ” will (not) inherit the kingdom of God” This confusion has brought many people to a tremendous fear for the salvation for themselves and for their loved ones who had admitted to being gay. The lack of a solid teaching on this passage has caused a tremendous amount of harm to endless numbers of people through the years. Many have taught this passage, or by omission, led people to believe that the gospel is centered on our behavior and therefore a good works oriented salvation. Paul speaks very heavily to those who “lead others back to the law” through many of his letters.
It is amazing that one verse can bring such a diverse reaction. From great hope, to tremendous fear and despair, it has appeared to me that some, with good intentions, have greatly misunderstood the real meaning and intention in Paul’s heart as he wrote these words. It became obvious to me that this verse has often not been understood and I my own mind, I needed to study it more deeply. The impact on people’s lives is at stake. I realized that further clarity was imperative.
My Own Mistakes
In years past as I would try to teach on these verses, I knew that the gospel was NOT contingent on anyone’s behavior. Therefore I knew that this verse could not possibly be saying that someone who was gay would not be allowed into the kingdom of God for eternity. So, my way of softening the blow (not conviction of what it actually said) was to teach that it didn’t mean the eternal kingdom, but rather was just referring to the “kingdom now.”
Therefore, I would often try to explain that if someone described in these verses could miss out on experiencing the goodness of God’s kingdom now but it didn’t mean they would be lost for eternity.
So, I felt settled in teaching that interpretation for many years. But I felt conflicted because I was not confident that is what it was saying. I just didn’t have any other answers.
The Context of the Passage
As my bible friend and I began to tear into this passage my understanding grew tremendously on why I was so unsettled on my previous teaching. My convictions were right, my mind had not grasped the real concept Paul was trying to convey. I asked the questions.
Who is Paul speaking to?
What was the surrounding culture at the time and how did it relate to Paul’s letter?
What is the larger story of this passage?
As my friend and I dug into the Greek language, the culture, the overall story, I was amazed! All of a sudden, these verses became abundantly clear. I was encouraged, hopeful, and passionate about what Paul was really saying.