Every pastor has been asked some version of this question: “My son/daughter is doing X which of course, as a Christian, I don’t approve of, but they want me to do Y; should I compromise so as to maintain the relationship?”
I’ve been asked that question twice this week already. And one time, it wasn’t an erring son or daughter. It was an erring mother. Sooner or later we will all have to figure out what we should do when we are asked to support or affirm loved ones who are actively engaged in sin.
Here are a few things I recommend you consider.
Are You Being Asked to Accept or Affirm?
To “accept” other people is to love them and show them kindness as they are when you encounter them. It is to have an open door and a ready smile, regardless of a person’s age, gender, race, religion, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation. As Christians we are called to show love and kindness to everyone, even those who hate us. Jesus said:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28 ESV)
A Christian should be prepared to greet all, love all, serve all and bless all regardless of their moral, ethical, or political beliefs and behaviors. However, a Christian cannot call light that which is dark and nor can we affirm that which God has condemned.
Jesus provides a perfect example of how to thread this needle in his encounter with the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus was eating a meal in the home of a prominent Pharisee when a woman, who was known in the city as a notorious sinner (read ‘prostitute’), began to wash and anoint his feet with her tears. Jesus accepted her presence and honoured her gesture by receiving it. Several of the men present began to grumble against him and he took the opportunity to speak about how those who have been forgiven much, love much. His words in verses 47 and 48 are particularly telling. He said:
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:47-48 ESV)
Jesus accepted the woman without affirming her past actions or behaviours. He called sin sin. In fact, he said that her sins were many. He did not whitewash her past in order to maintain the relationship. He accepted her, loved her and was kind to her without ever seeming to endorse the behaviour she was repenting of.
As Christians we should strive to imitate this level of discernment and this standard of compassion. If we are invited to eat dinner with the gay couple next door, we should go. We should accept their hospitality. We should bring a contribution to the meal. We should laugh, tell stories and build bridges. That is a good example of accepting your neighbours as you find them.
But if those same neighbours invite you to attend their same-sex wedding the following summer, you must decline. A wedding is a particular thing. It has a particular liturgy and part of that liturgy involves explicit endorsement. The event itself is a celebration of the union and Christians cannot celebrate that which God forbids. We can accept people as we find them, but we can never affirm them in behaviours that are sinful.
Are You Being Asked to Tolerate or Facilitate?
As Christians we are never encouraged to use force or intimidation to compel righteous behaviour in those around us. We are to be meek. We are to be salt and light. We are to invite and persuade. As such, we do not ask the hotel clerk if there are any adulterous or fornicating couples in the rooms to the right and left of us. We tolerate a variety of behaviours that are, sadly, commonplace in the world around us. We do not look down our noses or express contempt toward those behaving in ways that are contrary to God’s Word. Rather, we take our cue from Jesus, of whom it was said:
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36 ESV)
Compassionate toleration ought to be the default attitude of the Christian toward unsaved people wherever we encounter them in the world. Our co-workers and neighbours are likely to be engaged in all manner of activities that are contrary to design, ignorant of Scripture and destructive to the cause of human flourishing. We should reach out in love, kindness and clarity, seeking to point such people in the direction of salvation and godliness. We can be expansively tolerant of the things that unsaved people do around us, but we can never facilitate or actively enable sinful actions.
The New Testament holds people in general, and leaders in particular, responsible for the behaviours they permit within their homes and churches. A man is not to be considered for the role of elder if he permits his children to run riot in the home. Paul says:
“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5 ESV)
The implication is that, just as a father is expected to enforce a standard of Christian behaviour in his home, so also the elders must do in the church. Paul condemns the leaders in Corinth for allowing a man who was sleeping with his step-mother to remain in good standing in the congregation. He said:
“And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:2 ESV)
It is arrogant to think that we can permit what God has forbidden. To be a believer is to be in humble submission to what God says is right and true and it is to organize one’s affairs and one’s sphere of influence in glad accordance with those things.
As Christians we must find a way to be tolerant, kind and loving to people out in the world who are living in ways that go against God’s Word, but in our homes and in our churches we must insist on obedience and glad submission. Practically speaking, this means that we cannot allow our child (or our adult mother!) to live in our home in an immoral arrangement. Unmarried people ought not to share a bed. Same sex couples may come for dinner but are not to be offered overnight hospitality in the same room. We cannot facilitate behaviours that God has condemned.
Are You Prepared to Lose the Relationship?
When Christians wrestle with issues such as these it is usually because they wish to preserve a relationship with a family member who is engaging in sinful behaviours.
“What if my 25-year-old son, who is living with us until he can save up for a down payment, wants to have his girlfriend sleep over in his bedroom?”
“What if my mother needs to move back into our house with her lesbian partner because she can no longer afford to live in the retirement centre?”
“What if my daughter asks me to walk her down the aisle at her gay wedding?”
These are extraordinarily difficult questions that are being fielded by Christian people on a daily basis in our culture. Inevitably, at some point in the conversation, the question will be asked:
“Wouldn’t it be better to compromise on this principle, so as to maintain the relationship?”
The question reveals an assumption that we ought to be able to follow Jesus as Saviour and Lord without having to pay any significant relational costs. Surely Jesus would not expect us to obey him at the cost of good relations with our children. Surely Jesus wouldn’t expect us to submit to him if it meant disappointing our parents. Surely Jesus wouldn’t expect us to follow him if it came at the price of harmony in the home.
Where does that expectation come from?
It does not come from the things that Jesus said in Scripture. In Matthew 10:34-38 Jesus said:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-38 ESV)
Jesus advised his hearers to count on paying a steep relational cost should they make the decision to become his followers. According to Jesus, you cannot always maintain the relationship. Sometimes you will have to choose. Whoever chooses to maintain a relationship with a father, mother, daughter or son at the expense of obeying Jesus is not worthy of Jesus. If the price he paid for your salvation does not, in your mind, warrant significant relational sacrifice then you have not properly understood or esteemed it.
To be a Christian in the coming years, in this culture, will require us to count the cost.
O God, help!
Pastor Paul Carter
If you are interested in more Bible teaching from Pastor Paul you can access the entire library of Into The Word episodes through the Audio tab on the Into the Word website. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or Google Play.