Happy Friday. Today’s question arrives from a young man who listens regularly. “Hello, Pastor John, thanks for the podcast! Here’s the dilemma I face right now. My wife’s best friend is also a lesbian, and was recently engaged to marry another woman. My wife and I are unified in our decision that we will not be able to attend their wedding, based on all the things you talked about back in episode 191.
“However, we have heterosexual friends who are getting married who are currently living together and sleeping together before marriage. I think we would attend this wedding without hesitation. But my question to you is this: Are we inconsistent to not attend a homosexual wedding because we do not affirm their sexual lifestyle, yet be willing to attend a heterosexual wedding of unbelievers whose lifestyle of premarital sex we also cannot affirm?”
Not the Last Message
It may or may not be inconsistent, depending on other factors. So let me draw out something that may be implicit in what this young man is asking, and the paths of relationship he’s pursuing (or not) with both kinds of couples.
“The question is not merely whether the marriage ceremony is appropriate. It’s also whether the couple endorses a lifestyle of fornication.”
What I would want to be sure to say is that not attending the so-called wedding of a so-called marriage between two men or two women is not the last word about the relationship that you may have with these people. In other words, it may be exactly the right thing to do. I think it generally is — not to be affirming of that kind of relationship by attending that ceremony. Yet it may be the right thing to continue showing principled kindness to those folks in the hope of revealing the truth of Christ.
So I just want to make sure that not attending the ceremony is not the entire extent of our moral duty in Christ toward these people. If they are professing Christians getting married, that makes the relationship all the more difficult and complicated since the Bible says we are to disassociate from brothers, professing brothers, who live in this kind of sin (1 Corinthians 5:11). But if they are not professing Christians, there may be numerous ways in which we can extend the grace of God toward them in the hope of conversion.
I would say something similar with regard to the heterosexual couple whose wedding we do attend. That should not be conceived of as the last thing we do to put truth in their lives or to bring exhortation and admonition and conviction for their sin.
Now, having said all that, I think it is ordinarily wrong to attend the ceremony of the so-called gay marriage. But I think it is ordinarily right to attend the ceremony of a couple who has been living in sin, but in marrying are not in principle sinning.
In the first case, the ceremony is a celebration of sinful behavior. In the other case, it is not necessarily a celebration of sinful behavior. That’s why it’s not inconsistent to go to the one and not the other.
But there is a complicating factor that I should bring up, which the questioner may or may not have thought of. The issue concerning this second couple’s relation to God is not mainly their past behavior — past sexual sin — but their present convictions.
“Not attending the so-called wedding between two men or two women is not the last word about the relationship.”
If they are moving away from fornication because they are now persuaded it is sin, and they are marrying as a declaration of repentance and faith in Christ and a commitment to righteousness, then they are right with God. We should join them in the penitent and happy celebration.
But it is possible that they are not at all persuaded that having sex together as an engaged couple is sin. Maybe they would do it all over again in the same way. Many in our day, tragically, are deluded about this because of how superficially they submit to Scripture. They don’t submit themselves to God’s authority in Scripture. They just do what they feel like doing, and assume God is okay with it — like sleeping together before they’re married because they think they’re committed to each other.
It is clear from Scripture that not only is adultery — sexual unfaithfulness in marriage — sin, but sexual relations before marriage is sin as well. That’s clear. The very term sexual immorality as it’s used in these verses makes it clear: Matthew 15:19; Hebrews 13:4; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 7:1–2. All refer to fornication, or sexual relations before marriage.
This is what Paul says: “‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:1–3). That’s a clear teaching. If you don’t have a husband, or if you don’t have wife, then to have sexual relations is outside the bounds of God’s revealed will.
If the couple that we’re talking about here, whose wedding you’re going to attend, has only stopped doing the act of fornication, but has not stopped believing that fornication is right, then they probably (if they belong to a Bible-believing church) are in a position where they should be disciplined — because we don’t just discipline people for unrepentant actions of sinning, but also for unrepentant belief that sin is right or permissible.
Beyond the Ceremony
The reason for this is that believing that sinful behavior is permissible means, according to 1 Corinthians 6:9, that we endorse patterns of behavior that destroy the soul, which is like murder — murder in our heart.
“The issue is not mainly their past behavior — past sexual sin — but their present convictions. ”
“Those who do such things will not enter the kingdom of heaven,” Paul says (1 Corinthians 6:9). He’s talking about fornication, not just homosexuality. What complicates the question being asked, then, is that if the couple approves of fornication — they don’t think it’s wrong for an engaged couple to have sex — and they are professing Christians, then the Bible says, “Now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality . . . not even to eat with such a one” (1 Corinthians 5:11).
Then you’d have to ask, “Well, should I go to the wedding? I can’t even go to the reception.” The question is not merely whether the marriage ceremony is appropriate (which it is, in and of itself). The question is also whether the couple endorses a lifestyle of fornication during engagement, which the Bible says imperils people’s souls.
Everything I’ve said in answer to this question shows that the issues we are dealing with are deeper than simple attendance at ceremonies. They involve us in a kind of messy mixture of compassion and confrontation that is never easy.