The only time Jesus ever failed: Mature conversations about marriage, re-marriage, same-sex marriage

January 7, 2014

How does one communicate to the world the truth and nature of biblical marriage in a way that would cause them to re-think their views without sounding archaic in tone or uninformed in scope? Biblical marriage is the bonding of one man and one woman in a committed, covenant, loving union for the mutual fulfillment and completeness of both persons, for the procreation and raising of children, and for the stabilization and sustenance of a civil society (Gen. 1:26-31). If marriage implodes then so, too, does a civil, productive society. Any culture that demotes, demeans, demoralizes, diminishes, denigrates or re-defines marriage does so at its own peril. Cultures that eviscerate marriage will survive, but those same cultures will be, as Plato would argue, mere shadows of the 'real thing,' of the 'real idea.' How can we help our neighbors see and hear the truth in this matter of marriage?

I am always searching for creative and thought-provoking ways to talk about old truths in new ways. Why? Because we are not only deaf to the truth because of our sin, but we are deaf to the truth because of the 'doctrine of familiarity.' This doctrine states that a person can hear the truth so many times until he becomes immune to its nature and profundity. So, the ear of the sinner is not only sinfully deaf, but deaf to the truth because it is familiar. Sometimes familiar things cause us to yearn for novel things. Sometimes this yearning is appropriate. While other times it is destructive. In the case of marriage, we must argue that the familiar is not man-made tradition, but actually the way things ought to be. This is where Spirit-inspired, biblically warranted creativity comes into play. God can use the means of the biblically creative to place into the ear a new tone that allows them to hear an old truth.

Jesus, once again, comes to our aid. Jesus was the master of the parabolic, audible shock, causing people to hear eternal truths in new ways. This is the nature of parabolic speech. So, here's my feeble attempt to speak an old truth in a new way.

I have been often asked why Jesus never addressed the subject of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. The question goes, “Since Jesus is the pole star of the Christian faith and since he never mentioned either of these two purported sins, isn't it ok to embrace both, so long as one keeps the 'Jesus ethic' of loving others?”

This very simple, yet misguided argument is why a good number of people (even in the church) believe a person can affirm homosexuality and same-sex marriage and remain a fully committed Christian and church member. We must respond by acknowledging that struggling with a sin (as many do with all kinds of sexual sins) is totally different than normalizing and embracing sin. 

To answer this question I respond, “Jesus failed in this matter about which you ask. Jesus' failure, however, was not sin.” Their eyebrows raise. I proceed by saying, “Yes, Jesus was without sin. He was tempted in all points (I take that to mean, in every dimension of life), yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). Yes, Jesus was a failure in this matter. (I repeat emphasis) However, in spite of his sinlessness, Jesus failed in this matter, yet his failure was not sin.” By this time in the conversation they're totally confused. At some point, if I keep pressing my point they will ask, “Please, explain.”

I tell them, “Jesus was directly asked about or addressed the subjects of marriage, remarriage, divorce and sexuality just a few times (i.e. Matt. 5:27-30 to 19:1-12). Every time he was asked about this subject he failed (I pause for affect)…to redefine the subject.” My listener turns his or her head, like a trusted dog listening to a new sound. “Yes,” I say, “every time Jesus had the opportunity to redefine, redirect, expand, or eliminate the old meaning of marriage he failed to do so, but his failure was not sinful. Jesus did not sin in this matter because he was simply reaffirming old truths, truths that are eternal, biblical, material and beneficial. In fact,” I say, “Jesus went further by answering the question as to whether marriage is a man-made invention or a God-wrought union by taking the genesis of marriage all the way back to Genesis–pre-law, pre-institution. Heterosexual sexual identity and marriage were God's ideas. So,” I go on to say, “if Jesus were standing in front of you and you asked him about homosexuality or same-sex marriage he would fail again because he would say that he loves sinners, but so far as human sexuality and marriage goes nothing much has changed since creation.” I then ask them this question, “Why did Jesus fail in this matter in the way you're suggesting he did?”

Now I have them on the horns of a dilemma. They either have to confess that Jesus really did fail (sinned), which most people are uncomfortable asserting. Or, they have to demure to their next argument, abandoning their misguided appropriation of Jesus' marriage talks.

By this time, I have their attention. My interlocutor may not agree with me in the end, but I have taken away one of his or her main arguments for 'biblically redefining' marriage based upon an erroneous view of Jesus' supposed silence on such an important matter. He or she must come up with some new way to speak what is erroneous. Yes, Jesus failed at this point, yet his failure was not sinful. I'm glad he failed.

Do I have your attention?  

Kevin Shrum

Kevin Shrum is the Lead Pastor at Inglewood since 1995.  He recieved his B.A. in Theology from Missouri Baptist University and studied at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and has 35+ years of church ministry experience in Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. Read More by this Author