I’ve had Romans 12:2 on my mind and heart a lot the last few weeks. In the first eleven chapters Paul is basically laying out theological truth after truth for the Roman Christians. He begins chapter with a transition of sorts. He is about to share how to live this out and what it might look like. But he starts with this in 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
It’s the second part that has had my attention lately. The idea of not being conformed to this world. Not being conformed to this age. In other words not being transformed away from Jesus but towards him. Not following the fads, directions, lifestyles, or flow of the culture. Really, we shouldn’t be following anyone but Jesus. And we should be leading. We can test what is happening around us and lead with what is good. We should be leading others towards Jesus, at least whoever might follow.
In Matthew 20 Jesus tells another parable. It is the story of the landowner and the workers that he hires at different times during the day. In the parable the landowner goes and hires men first thing in the morning and tells them he will pay them the daily wage. They agree and get to work. Then at 9 AM, 3 PM and 5 PM he goes out and finds others promising them a just wage for their work if they start right away. They all go. At the end of the day he pays them all. He starts with those hired at 5 and pays them a full day’s wage. Then he does the same with those he hired at 3 and at 9. Finally when it comes to those he hired first, they think that he will pay them more. But he doesn’t. They complain about the “injustice” because they got paid the same as those who started only a short while ago. The landowner says that it is not unfair. He paid them what they agreed to. He says who are they to challenge what he does with his own money and asks if they are envious of his generosity.
Now people can read this a lot of ways. It’s actually a really tough parable. I think first when we read scripture it’s important to think about what it meant to that group of people at that time. Jesus was in the middle of many confrontations with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The heat is getting turned up as we are approaching the time when they would look to kill Jesus. One of the things that they are most mad about is that all sorts of “sinners” seem to be allowed into this kingdom that Jesus keeps talking about and they seem to be on the outside and they don’t like it. After all, they’ve followed all the rules. They’ve been in this since the beginning. They should be first, not last.
Luke 7:36-50 tells an interesting story that I think is often misinterpreted or glossed over. Jesus is at the home of a pharisee who has requested dinner with Jesus. Let’s push pause right here before we go further.
One of the mistakes we make reading the gospels is that we often turn the Pharisees into one monolithic group. They were not. They were actual people. And Jesus loved them too. Yes they got a lot wrong. Yes many of them did not like Jesus. But Jesus didn’t hate them. He loved them. He kept loving them all the way through the end. Even when He was challenging them He was doing it to try to get them to see the truth. He asks them once – who will save you from hell?! Jesus was trying to get them to get it. Just like everyone else. And some of them were interested. Obviously this Pharisee was curious.
I’ve been sharing a series here on the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s a well known story that we typically think of as a call to be a good person to others. In the first post I shared that I’m not so sure that is what the parable is actually about. In the second I asked us to think about why we don’t stop – why we pass by someone we should help. Today, I want to look at the whole thing completely differently and most likely in a way you’ve never thought about it before. I certainly had never thought about it this way before in my 30 years of knowing and sharing this story.
Many of the early Church Fathers from the first 300 years or so of Christianity saw this story in a different way. They saw it as having something to say about the story of the gospel and Christ.
One of the problems in our culture when it comes to singleness is that the word single is too broad. It means far too many things. As I’ve stated before here, this is especially a problem in Christian culture because there are varying scriptural instructions for different groups of unmarried people. There are at least the following biblical examples of marital status: The married, the divorced, the widowed, those not yet married, those celibate by birth, those celibate because of the fall of man and those who are called and choose Celibacy for the Kingdom. Needless to say, all of these are different.
But in our culture we have added a group that amazingly I’ve never directly addressed here at the blog. That is those couples that live in cohabitation.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the idea of suffering. This has not been brought on because of personal suffering. I am in a season right now where I don’t feel a lot personal suffering. But I have had many seasons where I have. This was especially true when I was single.
What has brought on these thoughts is that I have friends who have suffered and I’ve seen a lot of confusion in the singleness arena about the idea of suffering. For example there is the idea that celibacy is too great a cross to bear. That it is unfair that we are asking those who are not called to Celibacy for the Kingdom to suffer. The idea that it is unfair to ask those who are unmarried and wish to be or those that are celibate due to the fall of man, to remain celibate is to ask them to suffer unfairly.
I want to offer a few thoughts here about suffering in general and then bring it back to singleness.
One of the fun things about writing this blog over the last few years is the questions, thoughts and ideas that readers bring via comments and emails. Today I wanted to write a post in response to an email question I received a while back.
A young lady wrote in and asked:
I want to know why modesty in dress is considered so important for men’s purity of thought.
I dress modestly. I have no problem with that. Doesn’t bother me. . .
But, I don’t really believe that normal, average women are physically appealing to men when the women who men want to look at are strippers, porn stars, prostitutes and lingerie models. The women who men pay to see are surgically enhanced with silicone parts and fake hair, nails, tans, noses, breasts and eyelashes. That’s not what most average women look like. We don’t meet that physical gold standard of beauty or physical attractiveness.
So why do we have to worry about men lusting after us when we’re not the ones they want anyway? They’re looking at the iPhones, not me or other women who are around.
This email actually raises several different questions and thoughts. We are talking here about modesty of dress, men lusting, how attraction works among other things. Let me address a couple of points here that might be helpful.
We have been looking for the last few posts at celibacy with what Jesus teaches in Matthew 19 as the background. We have looked at the overall picture, those that are born in a way that makes them celibate for life (either physically incapable or without the mental capacity for marriage), made that way by the fall or those that choose Celibacy for the Kingdom.
Last time we started to look that the second category – those “made that way by the fall of man“. In that post I promised a post about those that are attracted to the same sex but remain celibate. Today that is exactly what I want to talk about.
Today I want to talk about the second of the three groups of people that Jesus talks about in Matthew 19 who are unable to marry. You can see the general overview from the initial post here. But as a quick refresher, Jesus said that there were three ways that a person could end up a eunuch (unable to marry). The first was that they were born that way (physically or mentally unable to marry). The second was those that were made that way by man (which I am suggesting can include those that end up there because of the fall of man). The third, which we will discussed in the previous post, are those that choose celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.
Today I want to focus on the second group, those that because of the fall of man, because of sin, end up celibate.
In my last post I posed the thought that sexual attraction and sexual desire are not the same thing. I believe this it true in general by the way. In other words attraction of any kind is not the same as desire of the same kind.
The question that follows though is this: Is sexual desire for someone other than your heterosexual spouse a sin?