Caroline from Derbyshire, England, asks, “Dear Pastor John, how should I handle friends or family visiting overnight who are non-Christians and are sinfully living together or who are living in same-sex relationships?” Similarly, Wayne asks, “Pastor John, how far should I go to impose my values on non-Christians or even nominal Christians when they stay in my home? For instance, what if an unmarried couple wants to share a bed when spending the night in our home? Should I insist they not share a bed, even at the risk of destroying the relationship?”
Not Their Judge
I don’t find this question easy, first of all. Some might think it is a no-brainer. I don’t, because I agree that, in general, we are not responsible for the sins of unbelievers. In the church, among believers, we seek to admonish each other, encourage each other to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, and discipline those who are unrepentant in flagrant sin. But what about those outside?
Here is the key passage (one of our elders preached on this a couple of Sundays ago): Paul says, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world. . . . For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:9–10, 12–13).
Make No Provision
I feel the concern that Caroline and Wayne express of not wanting to police the bedrooms of unbelievers and have such a policing drive people away when you were hoping that a friendship might lead them to Christ. But what makes it difficult is that there is another thing we want to avoid besides undermining the relationship; namely, we want to avoid communicating the message that we are indifferent to their sinful behavior — behavior, in fact, that Paul says will bring them to ruin, bring the wrath of God on them (Colossians 3:5–6).
“Don’t make provision for your own fleshly sin. Don’t put anything out there as a base of operations for it.”
Add to that the concern that the common expectation in our culture is that guests generally conform to the expectations of the host without feeling controlled or policed. And here is a third thing that makes it difficult: the possible application of Romans 13:14. It says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
Now, I know that this applies first and foremost to our own behavior. Don’t make provision for your own fleshly sin. Don’t make it easy. Don’t plan for it. Don’t put anything out there as a base of operations for it. But might it not also have implications for our participation in other people’s flesh? We are not called to police the private sins of unbelievers. But neither are we called to make provision for them in our own home.
Delicate and Humble
So, my answer is a non-absolute encouragement. This is what seems to me to be wise given all those factors: a non-absolute encouragement to live the kind of life and speak the kind of robust faith up front — up front at work, in the relationship, and at school, so that people know we are Christians with standards drawn from Scripture. It is not a shock if we bring something up. We seek to do so delicately and humbly.
I told Noël, my wife, and my daughter about this question and got their input. Noël is always wise when I bring these things up to her. She said, “You know, how you talk about it is going to make all the difference.” That is right. And so, humbly and delicately, you might say something like this: “You know, as a Christian I think sleeping together is something that God reserves for marriage. That is what he taught us in the Bible. I know you don’t see things that way, and I don’t want that to drive a wedge between us, but it would make me feel better if in my home you stay in different rooms tonight.”
My daughter added, “When anybody that I go visit gives up their bedroom for me, I feel honored, because it probably cost them, right?” You don’t have that many bedrooms to go around. Somebody is sleeping on the couch. It would be awkward for you to put one of them on the couch, because then they are going to feel like: “Oh, they made it difficult.” Instead, you give them your bedroom. The guest room to one, your room to the other, and you go to the couch. She thought that would possibly have an impact for good.
“Communicate both a desire for the relationship and a firm conviction about sexual abstinence outside marriage.”
That simple statement communicates a desire for the relationship to continue and sends the signal that you have firm convictions different from the surrounding culture, which is what the world really expects from serious Christians. It will be far less confusing for them when you talk someday about what it means to follow Jesus. It would prove awkward if they said, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a problem with us sleeping together since we did it at your house.”
That is my estimate of the situation. Communicate both a desire for the relationship and a firm conviction about sexual abstinence outside marriage.