I’ve been hesitant to enter into the same sex marriage debate. I confess that I’m not much for confrontation. And when something is talked about too much, I quickly tire of the same words flying through the air loose of their meaning. And in apathy and tiredness sometimes, I don’t want to have an opinion. Nor do I want to go to the effort of giving reason for a certain stance. Its much easier to just think what you’ve always thought, or do what those significant others in your life or circles are doing. But in an effort to submit all things to Christ, including my own temperament & comfort, here are some thoughts…
Equality has certainly become one weighty word. And its meaning changes depending from whose lips it comes from. It has come to be the basis of the argument to change our marriage laws. With the word being all over media, stuck on telegraph poles, on walls of small businesses, on flags freely waving from balconies, and all over Facebook…it got me thinking of somewhere else I had seen that word: in Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. Inked on a page in a context where its true meaning was revealed. A meaning that transcends time and culture. A truth embodied.
A divine equality not grasped for as it took the form of a man.
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others…” Philippians 2:1-4
The first bunch of characteristics in Philippians 2 describe what its like to be united to Christ: comfort from his love, common sharing in the Spirit, tenderness and compassion. How much more should we crave the experience of this union with our Lord & Saviour! Before we rush off to do anything…we need to sit here.
But it does have a flow-on effect. It affects the way we relate to others: like-minded, same love, One in spirit & of one mind, nothing done out of vain conceit or selfish ambition, in humility valuing others above myself, looking to the interests of others. I need so much help in this…it doesn’t come naturally. Thankfully our union with Christ results in unity with others! Unity with his people. Tethered to him, these traits will grow.
These attributes sound very similar to the motivation behind some Facebook posts I have read recently, of my friends who are campaigning on the “yes!” side. And indeed, God commends to us that this is how we should relate to others. These are the traits we should be striving for as people united to Christ!
But what would happen if the passage ended there? This beautiful picture of union with Christ and others, and the relational humility that it pictures?
Firstly, we wouldn’t know what it would look like to have “one spirit and one mind”. What if we are all in disagreement? All divided on our opinions? Whose mind do we seek oneness with? If anything, this debate has been a fracturing of friendship & community. Love is love. But what does love look like? Where is the common ground for unity & oneness that we are craving? And how do we “in humility, consider others above yourself” when every second “other” we meet has a different view? At some point there will be a hierarchy of “others”, someone else’s view above the next person’s view.
Is this what God intended by this passage? Thankfully not. God in his wisdom went on to show us what it looked like embodied. Far more than idealistic words of a society we can’t attain, he put flesh on them so we would know what it would look like. He showed us whose mind we needed to align ours with…
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…
There is our benchmark. There is a grounding point. The mindset of Christ Jesus. What does that look like?
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father”.
It looks like a divine equality not grasped for.
A divine equality not to be used to his own advantage.
He made himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant, humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…even death on a cross.
Not grasping for divine equality manifested itself in obedience. On earth he was about one thing, “not doing his own will but doing the will of His Father”. And this is the same mindset we are to have.
You might be thinking, ‘how does this relate at all to the debate we are having around marriage?’ Or you might be outraged thinking, ‘is this saying that those who are unable to marry are the ones laying down their rights, while those who can marry, lap up their status in society?’
I think we can all agree that this is not the picture we read earlier in those beginning verses of Philippians 2. So how does it apply? The key divider in this passage is not, those who are voting ‘yes’ and those are voting ‘no’. Under Christ we are all equal. The only division is ‘who is God’, and ‘who is not God’. We are not equal with God. That is the only inequality. And it must be so, for God to be God. And because of that, equality can’t look like us redefining what wasn’t ours to define in the beginning. There are problems there that were explained earlier. Jesus did not grasp for a divine equality that was his… he humbled himself to obey the Father perfectly. Why? Love. To redeem us…a broken people.
Love is love, but it looks like obedience to Someone who is greater. It looked like obedience to His Father. Yes we are equal with each other: we are all made in the image of God, we have all been broken by the effects of sin, we all fall short of the beautiful glory of God, and we all need a Saviour. We all naturally want equality. Not marriage equality per se but equality with God! That is the bigger issue here. We want equality with God and we want to make things about what WE want them to be about. Not just in marriage, but in ALL of life. That’s why we needed a Saviour. All of us.
Marriage was never designed to be about me. It was designed to be about God. To reflect Christ and his church. And he designed that reflection to be between a man and a woman. ‘Well that’s easy for you to say as a heterosexual, married woman!’ But is it really easy for me to say? Do I naturally, wholeheartedly make every part of my marriage about God? Do I in every action, thought and word towards my husband, reflect the honour of Jesus? No. In fact in many ways, every day, ‘I consider equality with God something to be grasped’ and I’m not in nature God! But I very much act like I am in the way I live in little moments through out the day. In fact, marriage has showed me how selfish I am.
But we have a wise, good, faithful and loving God, who has so designed marriage that each of us, need to depend upon him to have the mindset of Christ. I need to fight the temptation to make something about me, that wasn’t meant to be about me.
Is marriage the ultimate place we find comfort, love, common sharing, tenderness & compassion? No. That is only found in Jesus Christ. And when you come to him, you find all those things and more. You also find a loving embrace into a community of broken people, who are seeking to make life about God, and not about them. They will fall short, they will stuff up, but Jesus is remaking the brokenness. It might not be popular. It might be hard. But that is the beautiful harmony of love and truth…without either being neglected.
Tim Keller  summarises it delicately:
“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.”
Christians will have two tendencies in this debate: to share the truth without love (=harshness) or two seek to love without the truth (=sentimentality).
As we look to Jesus & the interactions he had with others, he never compromised on the truth yet he did so with love and compassion. Lets strive to do the same.
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