Thoughts on Christ, Weakness, Insults, and Homosexuality

2011 Philippian Fellowship Meeting

Twin Cities, MN

Let me just add my thanks before I jump into where I’m going. It is an amazing thing we are endeavoring to do, and we simply couldn’t do it without givers who believe in that particular strategy. I think the second most common thing I hear when people come up to me and thank me for things is that it’s free. The first thing is that it helps.

It means a lot when it’s somebody in Nepal with no access to anything, or somebody with five kids and little resources, like the guy that showed up Saturday night a week ago and said, “I mooched off you for 10 years, and now we’re giving a little bit.” And I said, “Mooch away.” So thank you.


This is where we’re going. I have some thoughts on Christ, weakness, insults, and homosexuality from my front burner from yesterday. What I’ve done is push together a front-burner issue from my soul and the news of Jamey Rodemeyer’s suicide on Monday.

I see these things on the news, and I’m always asking how what we stand for relates to everything. It’s just the way my mind works. If something’s out there and has the attention of the culture, I want, if I can, to bring the supremacy of God in all things together with it. So I’m going to just walk through a whole lot of slides with you, and see if I can take you to where my soul was in my own wrestling to be godly, and where my thinking is in regard to a 14-year-old kid who killed himself because he was bullied, perhaps, because he’s struggling with homosexual desires. So that’s where we’re going.

Contentment with Weakness

Here’s the text that has been our fighter verse for the last week:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:8–10).

And I think what grabbed me personally from this is the word insults. Paul says, “I am content with insults.” I’ll tell you, if my wife doesn’t say what I want her to say, or somebody at church sends me a note I don’t want to get, I don’t feel content.

My default is anger and frustration leading to withdrawal and sullenness, and it’s not contentment going on in my soul. So this is a magnificent miracle that I would like to have happen more often in my life. That’s the text that got everything going.

Paul valued the experience of Christ’s power resting on him more than he valued being free from weaknesses, free from his thorn, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. So the reason he could be content, evidently, was because he valued Christ’s power resting on him.

The satisfying aim of his life was mainly to magnify the greatness of Christ, not to minimize his pain. If his value had been to minimize pain, then every time somebody insulted him or hardships came, or calamities came or weakness came, his anger would have come up and contentment would have gone away because his value was just taken away. But he’s worked it out here so that his value wasn’t taken away, because his value was, “The power of Christ is shown to be greater if I’m content in insults, and therefore I value Christ being magnified more than I value not being insulted.”

There’s the amazing experience that happens that we so long for. This is what we stand for as a ministry, this kind of contentment. This is Christian Hedonism at its core. He was content, or pleased — the Greek word eudokō — with “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” That’s amazing — just crazy. When the power of Christ rests upon Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9), he experiences this as “I am strong.”

Strong in the Strength of Another

Now we’re going to work on contentment and strength, and what they have to do with each other here. Ephesians 6:10 says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” You must be strong in the strength of the Lord. That’s a connection I’m drawing with what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 12:8–10. When the power of Christ is on him, he is content and Christ’s power is made perfect in his weakness. And it’s experienced as his power, according to 2 Corinthians 12:10.

So here’s a question: How do this contentment, this being pleased in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, and this being strong with Christ’s strength, relate to each other? That’s the question I have with these two texts linked together. What do Christ’s strength resting on me (that’s the first way he says it) and my contentment have to do with each other?

Paul says, “When I’m weak, then I’m strong.” Evidently, he is being strong in Christ’s strength. And so, somehow Paul being strong with the strength of Christ in his weakness has something to do with contentment that makes him able to be insulted and not lose his peace, his joy, and his core restfulness.

The Secret to Contentment

I want to understand this, and not only understand it but to experience it. So here’s where I think the answer is found. Now we’re in Philippians 4:11–13:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low (like insults, calamities, hardships, weaknesses) and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through (here it is again) him who strengthens me.

We’ve got this pair again — contentment and strength. You have it in 2 Corinthians, 12:9–10, and you have it in Philippians 4:11–13. And it’s the same thought complex of, “I have hardships, but I’m content in them.” Another way to say it is, “I am made strong for them.”

So here’s the same combination, contentment in humiliation, hunger, and need, with being strong in Christ’s strength. And Paul says there’s a secret that can be learned, which unlocks this contentment.

The Surpassing Worth of Knowing Christ

What is this secret, and how does it relate to the strength of Christ? That’s the next question, and I think the answer is found here in Philippians 3:7–8. It says:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

The key to this contentment, the secret, is experiencing the surpassing worth of Christ who loved me and gave himself for me on the cross. I must not just know it, I must experience it. He is precious beyond not being insulted.

He is infinitely more satisfying and more precious than being free from weaknesses, insults, calamities, hardships, and persecutions. He is infinitely more satisfying because of his worth — the worth of Jesus is Christ. And if I experienced that at my core being, I wouldn’t lose it. I wouldn’t lose it in my marriage, I wouldn’t lose it in the church, and I wouldn’t lose it watching some news item that ticks me off.

When Christ is so precious and so satisfying to you that you can count all other things as rubbish by comparison, then weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities cannot touch the core of your contentment.

Strength in Weakness

Now we’ll focus on strength. How does strength figure in here? In both texts — 2 Corinthians 12:8–10 and Philippians 4:11–13 — he moved from contentment to strength. The strength of Christ relates to this experience of the preciousness of Christ in two ways: First, it establishes Christ in our hearts as our supreme treasure. That’s what the new birth is. The new birth is taking out the heart of stone that treasures all the world and putting in the heart of flesh that treasures Christ above all things. And that takes infinite power. No human being can do that. This is why pastors feel so helpless when they preach; they cannot make happen what has to happen.

No human power in the universe can take out a heart of stone and put in a heart of flesh. Nobody can make people stop treasuring money or freedom from insults and start treasuring Christ above all. Do you want that to happen for your kids? You can’t make it happen. Do you want it to happen to your husband, your wife, your mom, your dad, your friend, or your neighbor? You can’t make it happen.

You might say, “Can’t you see this? Can’t you see that he is so infinitely valuable?” No, they can’t. And no human power ever is going to make them see it; only God can. That’s the first way the strength relates to the contentment. It establishes Christ as our treasure.

And then — and this is the variable sanctification piece that I’m struggling with and you’re struggling with — this power, this strength, enables us day by day, in varying measures, to experience that treasure as supremely satisfying, so that we have the inner impulse to resist depressing and enraging emotions, awakened by weakness from within and threats from without that powerfully threaten to ruin our contentment.

Indestructible Contentment

That the power of Christ, when it is exercised in full measure for us, enables us to so taste and experience the contentment of the treasure and the value of Jesus, that our contentment cannot be destroyed from inside by a weakness like a thorn, or from outside by an insult. They come at us and they hurt, but they don’t go to the core. They don’t undo us. They don’t take that central, steady, strong, solid contentment and ruin it. So we can keep walking. We can keep moving. We don’t lose it in our relationships.

Here’s my conclusion before we shift over to its application to homosexuality. Therefore, let our constant prayer, carried by faith in Christ’s word, be this: O Lord, by your great power grant me to know and to experience you as supremely valuable and deeply satisfying, so that my contentment in you overcomes the power of weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, to make me miserable and to make me mad — to ruin my joy or to make me retaliate.

The Contentment of Christ in the Sorrows of Life

I went in this direction in my conclusion because I know where I’m going with Jamey Rodemeyer and the bullying. Maybe you see it. You have a kid who is struggling with homosexual desires. That’s a weakness, that’s the brokenness in him, and it’s going to ruin him. And it’s there. It’s coming from within.

And then from outside, there are insults just being heaped on this kid, both online and in-person every day at school. You’ve got these two, and the text is all about those — weaknesses and insults. And I want this kid to have a deep, Christ-given, Christ-exalting new identity — to have contentment that enables him to navigate this horrible world he lives in. That’s where I’m going.

Here are the facts. Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, who was a high school student in Buffalo, New York, killed himself on Monday. In a video made last May, which I watched online, he described some of the bullying that he received. One wrote online, “Jamey is stupid, gay, fat, ugly. He must die.”

Another wrote, “I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would, so just do it.” In the video, he repeatedly said, “It gets better.” I mean, there’s a whole website out there started by Dan Savage called, “It gets better.”

I went on that website the other night and I couldn’t watch a video all the way through, where for eight minutes a kid said, “I’m about to video my call home to tell my parents that I’m gay. I’m going to tape it.” And I just did not want to watch this. It just seemed so intrusive into his life. And I thought, “Whoa, what is that?”

Unpopular Convictions

But anyway, he was saying it gets better. And then, he told his viewers — and knowing that he’s dead makes this so painful — “Love yourself and you’re set.” That was his final piece of advice to himself and to the world, “Love yourself and you’re set.”

He wasn’t set. Jamey was tragically stumbling in the dark. He appeared to have no gospel light in his life. He needed Jesus, and the insulting bullies need Jesus. So you have two issues, right? You have insulters and you have weak, collapsers in an identity crisis. How does Jesus meet the adolescent with homosexual desires and the bullies who insult him?

You see, I think we’re going to move to a situation in this country where holding the view that homosexual practice is a sin might get us in jail. I wouldn’t be surprised if that came down the line in just a few years. A lot of evangelicals are going to cave on this. They’re just going to cave, for all kinds of rationalizations. I think one of the things that we just have to do is when we speak, we speak in these two directions — we speak to the bully and we speak to the broken.

This is an attempt here. How does Jesus meet the adolescent with homosexual desires and the bullies? Here’s how the Bible helps us understand adolescents with homosexual desires and bullies. And if you wonder, I worked for years with a fellow who had come out of the gay lifestyle and was at our church. He had AIDS, and he died of AIDS. And he bred into me to never to use the word homosexual as a noun because from his standpoint, that was not his identity. This is the way he wanted me to talk, so I tried to build this into my vocabulary. He would say, “Don’t say I am a homosexual. Say I am a Christian with new life in Christ, who wrestles with these desires.” That’s the way he wanted me to talk. And I’ve tried to be consistent since then, though I’m sure I haven’t succeeded always.

Discerning Our Desires

Here’s the way I think the Bible helps us understand adolescents and bullies. When a taste for homosexual pleasure meets the human sin nature without Christ, the outcome is a movement in either or both of two directions — a movement toward the satisfaction of homosexual practice and/or a movement toward a crisis of self-identity. The thought may be, “Who am I? And is there any future for one like me?” Jamey obviously decided there wasn’t, and took his life at age 14. He thought, “There’s just no future for somebody like me at this school or on this planet.”

That’s what happens when a taste for homosexual pleasure meets human sin. When distaste for homosexual pleasure — I have this distaste, and I don’t think it’s evil — meets human sin nature without Christ, the outcome is a movement in either or both of two directions. It’s either a movement toward the satisfaction of hate and bullying and/or a movement toward finding identity and power in put-downs and the exaltation of self.

My deep conviction is that Jesus Christ is the only remedy for both of these crises. For both, he offers himself as the only remedy for the guilt of their sinful nature and its fruit. If they’ll receive him, his death covers it, and we’re free from condemnation. God accepts us and counts us as righteous in Christ.

So when I say, “This taste and this distaste meet sin,” what can solve that? Bad things are going to happen when these tastes, whether broken or not-broken, meet sin. And Jesus is the only one who has the solution to that sinful nature and our guilt there.

Second, for both, he offers a new identity in Christ. Not mainly heterosexual or homosexual, but a new creation in Christ — a son of God and an heir of all things on the way to perfect wholeness. What a miracle it would be if we could fold into our churches a 14-year-old kid who is manifestly effeminate, and everybody suspects and all this stuff, thinking, “This is not right,” and then builds into him that his identity is in Christ and that he is on his way to wholeness, whether it takes his whole life to meet it in eternity. That would be a miracle for that to happen.

The Power of Superior Satisfaction

Third, for both, Jesus offers himself as a superior pleasure and satisfaction, better than sinful sexual practice and better than the ego-trip of insulting and bullying. I’m arguing that the contentment we were talking about is the remedy, for both the brokenness of experiencing this weakness and the bullying of loving this put-down pleasure that someone gets out of insulting another. On the one hand, it’s the remedy for the pleasure of going towards homosexual practice; on the other hand, it’s the remedy for the pleasure of going towards bullying and insulting. It’s better. Jesus is better.

Fourth, for the adolescent with homosexual desires, neither the weakness of homosexual inclinations from within nor the torment of insults from without will be able to destroy the deep-rooted contentment that Christ alone can be for the human soul. I don’t know any other way to offer help to him than this. His solution was — and he got it from Lady Gaga — “Love yourself and you’ll be set.”

How many millions of people are being delivered that message and struggling? They think, “Love myself. Love myself. Love myself.” That’s not the remedy. It’s not the remedy. It is a false remedy. For the hateful insulting bully, the seductive lure of self-exaltation through put-downs and the pleasures of hurting what you despise will be severed by the superior power of the presence of Jesus, whose greatness lies mainly in his humble willingness to suffer for sinners, not condemn them.

The reason I put it like that is that if you savor Jesus — and Jesus is a humble sufferer — then you won’t be able to delight in putting others down. So the remedy for the despair of Jamey Rodemeyer and the hate of his accusers, and for us, is the same — “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” and, “I’ve learned to be content with weaknesses from within and insults from without.”