So for the last month here at Cities we have been preaching a sermon series called Hot Topics, where we’ve been looking at some of the most pressing topics in our church and in our world, and for today’s sermon, we are looking at the topic of homosexuality.
And once again, just to be sure that you know, we do have a little event happening right now for our kids who are usually in service with us; many have already stepped out; but parents, if you want your kids to join them, now’s the time. And to be clear, we’re providing this option for kids this morning not because I’m planning to say anything inappropriate for children, but it’s that even just the grammar of 1 Corinthians 6 might be inappropriate (and I just want to explain a little bit about what that passage says).
That’s where we are going to be today, 1 Corinthians 6:1–11. And the plan is pretty simple. There are just three main parts to the sermon: First, we’ll read this text and establish the biblical, Christian position on homosexuality; and then second and third, we’re going to look at two implications that this position has for our gospel witness in the Twin Cities. So, overall, there are really two questions we are going to try to answer: Part One, what do we think? Parts Two and Three, what do we say?
1 Corinthians 6:1–11,
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?  Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?  Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!  So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?  I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers,  but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?  To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?  But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. 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.
What Do We Think?
The key phrase we’re looking at today is there in verse 9: “nor men who practice homosexuality.” And the context is that Paul is mentioning here a list of specific things that will keep someone from inheriting the kingdom of God. He’s been talking about the Christian community and what it means to live as Christians in this world. That’s verses 1–8, and I think his tone here is remarkable.
He says three different times, “Do you know know…?” “Do you not know…?” “Do you not know…?” Which means, he’s not saying strange things here. He’s not saying things that should surprise the Corinthians. But they’ve heard this before. They should get this. They should get, at the very least, the whole category in verse 9, that sin will keep someone from inheriting the kingdom of God. They know this!
Now when Paul says this phrase “inheriting the kingdom of God” that’s another way of saying something like “going to heaven.” He’s talking about being with God, in his presence, forever. But it’s intentional, I think, that Paul uses the word “inheriting.” He only does this a couple other times in the New Testament, and I think he does it here because he is alluding back to the Old Testament.
Back in the Old Testament, when the people of Israel left Egypt and made their long journey to the Promised Land, God tells Israel several times that they will only inherit or possess the land if they obey him and keep the covenant. So to make it into the Promised Land they have to listen to what God has said, obey the laws he’s given, most notably the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are the go-to summary of God’s moral will, and for Israel to inherit the land they must trust God and do what he says, summarized in the “ten words.” And so I think Paul has that in mind when he uses the inheritance imagery here, and mentions ten sins, ten prohibitions, in verses 9 and 10.
If you do these things, Paul says, you will not inherit the kingdom. Doing these things will eternally separate you from God. So this is a big deal. Paul is saying a hard thing here. We can all agree on that. And man, we need to be really clear about this.
Habitual, Unrepentant Sin
When Paul mentions these ten things, he does not mean: if you have ever done these things. We know he doesn’t mean that, for one, because he says in verse 11, “And such were some of you [!]” He is writing to Christians who used to do these things. So he’s not talking about having ever done these things. Instead, he is talking about habitual patterns of unrepentant sin. He’s talking about people who live this way. For example, when he mentions thievery — he’s talking about individuals who live as thieves, not people who have stole something before. There’s a difference. The issue that Paul is talking about is habitual, unrepentant sin that we just give ourselves over to. And that’s the issue because to live that way is incompatible with being united to Jesus. To live in repeated sin does not add up with faith in Jesus. The apostle John tells us this, 1 John 5:18 — “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep sinning…” Because as Paul says in Romans 6, we are dead to sin and alive to God. Sin does not have dominion over us. It doesn’t mean there is not a fight. There is certainly a fight, but the point is that, if someone is in Christ, it is impossible for that person to give themselves over to habitual, unrepentant sin. If they are doing that, it is evidence that they are not in Christ.
This is why we take sin so seriously at Cities Church. This is why, men, for instance, we do not want you to click where you should not click. Because if you keep clicking over and over again where you should not click it will send you to hell. This is serious. Hate your sin. Fight your sin. Do not give yourself over to a lifestyle of sin. Because if you do — that’s what Paul is talking about here — if you give yourself over to sin you will not inherit the kingdom of God.
That is bad news. The bad news comes before the good news. Hang in there.
What Paul Is Saying About Homosexuality
And notice now, what Paul says in verse 9. This is for our topic today. Among the sins mentioned here — things that if we live that way we will not inherit the kingdom of God — Paul says “nor men who practice homosexuality.”
And now, what that phrase mean? We need to know what this means.
Because again, to be clear, according to the word of God, “men who practice homosexuality” will not inherit the kingdom of God. That’s what it says here, so what is that?
Well, in the original Greek, Paul actually writes two different words here. If you have an English Standard Version like me it translates the two words into a phrase (“men who practice homosexuality”), but there are actually, specifically, two types of individuals that Paul mentions here. And I don’t want to get graphic, but the first individual Paul mentions here, the first word, means the passive homosexual in the act of sodomy (that’s what the word means), and then the second word refers to active homosexual in the act of sodomy. So Paul lists two people here, saying “nor this person” and “nor this person” — and that’s why the ESV just put them together in a phrase, “men (plural) who practice homosexuality.”
Paul is talking about two consenting men in the homosexual act. And it applies to women as well. The words here are specifically about men, but homosexual acts between women are also sinful, and we know that from Romans 1:26. There Paul, in Romans 1, Paul is talking about those who have rebelled against God, and he says,
God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Rom. 1:26–27)
So homosexual acts between men and between women are sinful. The Bible says that.
A Difference Between Attraction and Act
And now, there is one more clarification to make. According to the passage here, the issue is the homosexual act — and I just want to highlight that and point out that there is a difference between the homosexual act and homosexual desire.
A lot of times that desire is called same-sex attraction or same-sex orientation, and it gets at the reality there are some men who have an attraction to other men, and some women to other women, and while those are unnatural attractions according to God’s design, I want to be clear that an “attraction” and an “act” are not exactly the same. And this is really a category for us to have.
There is a lot more to say about this than we have time for today, but I mention it, mainly, because there are many who struggle with same-sex attraction, and it is possible for those people to struggle faithfully.
I get emails from people from all over about this. People who hear what the Bible says, believe what the Bible says, and who say, but still I have this attraction, and I’ve asked God to take it away, but he’s not taken it away, and I don’t know what to do! That’s what I mean by struggle. And if you’re there, I want you to know that you can struggle faithfully. Even with the attraction that you wish were different, you can resist the act, and you can please God in that resistance. You can struggle faithfully, and I want you to know that you can struggle faithfully here at this church, in this community. We want you here.
Okay, so let me wrap up this first part up with a summary. Putting it together, overall, the Bible teaches that homosexual acts between consenting individuals — between men or between women — is sinful, and will, therefore, keep people from the kingdom of God. Homosexual acts are sins that separate people from God.
That is the clear teaching of the Bible, and that has been the orthodox Christian position on this topic throughout all of church history. That is the position of Cities Church.
So we just want to establish that. This is how we think about this. This is our position. But the real questions get into: What do we say?
What Do We Say?
It’s not just what we think about it, but it’s how do we, from this position, faithfully share the good news of Jesus in our cities? What do we say? That’s what we need to know, so that’s the rest of our time this morning. And really, there are just two main things to look at here. There are two things we must say in order to have a faithful witness. It’s that we say: You’re wrong and you’re loved.
You’re wrong and you’re loved — and it always has to be both. So let me explain, staring with the first.
What do I mean that we say “you’re wrong”?
Well, because we believe what the Bible says, we hold to the historical, Christian position that homosexual practice is sinful, and that means we say to practicing homosexuals (and to those who affirm such practice) that “You’re wrong.” This is not okay. This is sin.
And in order for us to say this, it’s going to require that we we aware and that we be honest.
In terms of awareness, we should recognize that there is unbelievable cultural pressure for us not to hold the biblical position on this topic, and that, in fact, by holding the position we do, it will mean that we are vilified. It will mean that people will call you a bigot. To believe and say that homosexual practice is wrong will cause people to hate you because they will believe and say that you are full of hate. Right now, nothing will make people more angry than to say the things that I’ve said in this sermon. I’ve wrote an article about this topic a couple years ago and said these things, and the backlash online was insane. I even got a voicemail on my phone from an unknown caller saying they were going to rape me (I called the police). To believe and say that homosexual practice is wrong is crazy unpopular. It will make people not like you. We just need to be aware of this.
But also, we need to be honest. And this is the question we’re all faced with, as a church and as individuals. Will we cave to the cultural pressure and say something different from what the Bible says?
Are we going to cave to the cultural pressure? Because so many have. So many people, churches, who claim the name of Jesus have denied the Bible’s teaching and have affirmed and celebrated homosexual practice, which they call same-sex marriage (which is misleading for several reasons).
Every day I drive past the United Church of Christ in my neighborhood, and I see their big rainbow flag, and the tagline on it “God is still speaking” — and it breaks my heart. And I point at that church when I drive by with my kids, and I tell my kids, “That church does not believe what God says.” I want them to know. That church has made themselves not a church because they are forsaken the word of God.
Yes, God is still speaking, because he has spoken through his word — but here they are, in my neighborhood, calling evil good and good evil, and they’re saying that God is speaking it (Isa. 5:20). And they’re not helping anyone. They are misleading people. They are causing people to stumble.
And so we can’t. Because of what the Bible says, being aware with that’s going on and being honest, we say, “You’re wrong.” This is not okay. This is sin.
We say that, but that’s not all we say.
What I’m about to say is the greatest news in the entire universe, and the only reason I’ve been preaching this sermon is so that I could get here, and say what I’m about to say. It’s bad news before it’s good news. But there is good news.
And when it comes to homosexual practice, not only do we say “You’re wrong” but we also say “You’re loved.” We say you are loved! — loved by God and loved by his people.
Two Polarizing Voices
And I know that is jarring. Many can’t believe it, and won’t believe it, because in our society, many people consider disapproval and love to be incompatible. The “new tolerance” of our day considers it unacceptable to make a negative valuation about anything (except those who make negative valuations). They think that to disagree or disapprove of anything automatically equals hatred. And that usually leads to two polarizing positions on this topic of homosexuality.
On the far left you have those who praise homosexual practice and celebrate it as the hallmark of progress. And then on the far right you have those who hate homosexuals and are truly bigoted and evil. Those people are out there, and some of them might claim to be a church, too.
Those are the two extremes, and the two extremes reinforce one another. The far left says that everyone who disagrees with them must be the far right: If you don’t affirm, you hate. And then the far right says that everyone who thinks differently from them must be the far left: If you don’t hate, you affirm. See, that’s the way things are set up in our society. We are presented two options: Either you affirm or you hate. Either you celebrate or you despise.
And here we are saying no to both. Because of the gospel, we are saying something that absolutely nobody else can say. We are saying You’re wrong and you’re loved.
So we distance ourselves from both sides.
What Only We Can Say
We don’t celebrate those who practice homosexuality because we acknowledge God’s clearly revealed word that it’s sin. And we don’t hate those who practice homosexuality because we know that Jesus died for all sins. So we’re not the left because we say you’re wrong, and we’re not the right because we say you’re loved.
See, and we say this because these two words are the message of the cross, and every single person who has ever been saved by Jesus has heard these two words: You are wrong and you are loved. We must hear these words to be saved, and we have heard them. We have all heard them. “Such were some of you,” Paul says. We’ve all been there, one way or another.
We’ve all been there when the gospel confronts us, and we’re told that we’re sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. We’re told that we’re sinners and we’re so wrong that the wages of our sin is death; we’re so wrong that our rebellion against God deserves his judgment; we’re so wrong that our rescue required the death of the Son of God. That’s how wrong we are. And we’ve all heard that when we hear the gospel.
And also, when the gospel confronts us, we are told that we are loved. We are so loved that even while we were sinners, Jesus died for us. We did not make ourselves lovable to him. We didn’t do anything to make God want to save us. He loved us right where we were as sinners, right we are. God loves you where you are. And we’re so loved that even though we deserved God’s judgment, Jesus, in our place, suffered that judgment for us. We’re so loved by God that God, by his power, will secure us for himself forever. He will guard us, and protect us from everything that keeps us from everlasting joy in him. And no matter how far we might wander from him, he is the father who will welcome us back with open arms. He will do that. He does that. Because he loves us like that. You are so loved by God!
You are wrong and you are loved. That is what God has said to us all, and that is what we say to those who practice homosexuality, or any sin. As one pastor has put it, “It’s only the gospel that shows us we are far worse than we ever dared imagine, and far more loved than we ever dared dream.” You’re wrong and you’re loved. It’s always both, see. And that’s where the miracle is at.
That’s what is represented at this Table.
Both of these truths are here. This bread symbolizes the body of Jesus crushed for you, and this cup symbolizes the blood of Jesus shed for you. Why was his body crushed and his blood shed? Why? Because we’re wrong. Because we’re sinners. Because the only chance we have of coming back to God is if Jesus died for us, the righteous for the unrighteous. The bread and cup are saying that to us. It is crushed body and shed blood.
But also — it is crushed body for you. And shed blood for you. It should have been your body and your blood. It should have been me. I deserve to pay for my own sins. But he loves me. I am loved by God. We are loved by God, and so we remember it was his body and his blood for me.
This Table is saying that. And I want us to remember that this morning.
The pastors and deacons, and the band, can come forward. We enjoy this meal every week at Cities for the members of our church, but if you are a guest with us this morning, and you embrace this gospel message — You’re wrong and you’re loved — if you embrace and trust in Jesus, we invite you to eat and drink with us. . . .