Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. – James 1:19
On June 12th, a gunman entered an Orlando homosexual bar and opened fire killing 49, and wounding dozens more before being killed. When that happened, my first instinct was to write on it, but James 1:19 kept running through my brain. I decided to wait and listen to what everyone else said before writing anything, and to be honest, I almost deleted this. In my mind, there is already a plethora of voices speaking on this, and I though what good would it do for me to add my voice to the chaos. Then a lady from church emailed me and asked why I had not said anything. What follows is from a pastor’s heart and from a pastoral perspective. Because it is from a pastoral perspective, this will probably make all of us uncomfortable at some point. Whether you are a Christian, claiming to be a Christian, or a non-Christian, odds are this will touch a nerve at some point. As a pastor, I am charged, along with the other elders, with the responsibility and honor of caring for the people of God that He has entrusted to us. That means, on the front end you should know that no matter where you come from, or what brought you to this blog, my intention is to speak the truth of Scripture in love. To that end, I ask that you read this completely and judge the merits of what I have to say against Scripture. I have no interest in adding my own opinion. My opinion doesn’t matter for anything if it is out of step with the revealed Word of God. That is my authority and that is what Christians submit to. This is aimed specifically at believers.
From what I’ve seen on social media and in reading some blogs and articles, as well as news sources is there are two major dangers when approaching a topic like this.
oneThe first is the error of “loving” people without truth or at the expense of truth. I see this far too much in evangelical circles. Instead of getting our example of love from Christ who loved perfectly, we get it from the Beatles. “Love, Love, Love… All you need is love…” We reduce Biblical love to a hippie, feeling driven, emotion that is fleeting and can change based on the situation or based on the recipient. In our culture, love is equated with endorsement. We are unloving if we discipline our children or deny them anything. We are unloving if we exercise church discipline. We are unloving if we say hard truths that need to be said because they offend the listener. So danger number 1 is loving people without or at the expense of the truth. This is not a Biblical love.
The second danger is we pervert the truth or even say the truth, but say it in an unloving way. In other words, we bash people over the head with truthful facts, but don’t do it is a way that communicates genuine care and concern for the recipient. Paul said that “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2). Moreover, there are people who rip verses out of context or neglect the gospel altogether and while they may claim to be speaking the truth, and even have “proof texts” to back it up, they are not speaking out of a spirit of love.
Our goal as Christians is to speak the truth IN love (Eph 4:15). When we speak the truth, even in love, there will be opposition because the truth, no matter how loving the delivery, is not welcomed by the world. “The natural man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:14) Therefore, since our citizenship is not of this world (Phil 3:20), since we proclaim a message that the world doesn’t like (1 Cor 1:18; John 3:20; Amos 5:10), and since we are sojourners and exiles (Heb 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11), we can expect that even if we speak the truth in love, the world will hate us (Matt 10:22). That’s where John 15:18 is encouraging… As we follow Christ we are to remember that the world hated Him first because He spoke the truth. He didn’t compromise the message, soften it, make it more “relevant”, make excuses for it, or change it to suit the ears of His hearers, but He also didn’t say it without a genuine love and care for the hearer. That being said, what I have heard and read, in large part, reflects these two errors. My goal is to avoid both of these and speak the truth in love.
The Heart of the Matter
As expected, both sides of the political spectrum have responded, and both place blame in different places. For the republicans, they blame radical Islam. For the democrats, they blame access to firearms. Neither of these are to blame.
The real issue here is sin. Sin is a nasty word in our culture of relativism and progressivism. When you call sin what it is, you are intolerant and unloving. Cultural winds have caused many Christians to back down or be silent because of their fear of man and opinions of men.
The root issue here is sin. Stop for a second…
I’m sure some of you read “the root issue here is homosexuality”. That’s not what I said.
Sin. In other words, sinful hearts. While this man was tied to radical Islam, it was a wicked heart that caused him to walk into a bar and murder 49 people. Plain and simple. Mark 7:21-23 sums it up. The root issue in this, and every other wicked thing, is sin. By shifting the blame and focusing on the wrong things, we miss a gospel opportunity. The heart is wicked and deceitful. Let’s assume Cain killed Abel with a rock (the bible doesn’t say what he used, but for the sake of argument, work with me here). It wasn’t a stone that killed Abel. It was Cain and his wicked heart driving him to pick up a stone and murder his own brother. This event shows the depths of our depravity and how wicked we are apart from the grace of God. Sin… any sin… separates us from God and damages the image of God in us. It distorts it so we don’t reflect Him like we were created to. We aren’t in fellowship with Him like we were created to be. The gospel is the great solution to sin.
So how should Christians think about this?
1. We Should Mourn With Gospel Compassion
What happened in Orlando was a tragedy. One of the saddest things I’ve seen is professing Christians celebrating this. 49 people were murdered (we will come back to that in a minute). 49 people with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends who loved them. Real people, not just numbers in a news report died, leaving behind countless people who are mourning. Christians are called to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). I don’t see a qualifier in there. Compassion, true compassion for others, is a mark of Christianity (Col 3:12). In Matthew 9:36, Christ had compassion on lost people. The parable of “the good samaritan” is instructive in this case. The priest and the Levite (talk about the religious and pious) passed a man who had been beaten and robbed. Then a Samaritan… timeout… for context Samaritans were HATED by Jews. They wouldn’t even talk to them. They would add extra miles to their journey to avoid Samaria. For our context today in America, think ISIS. That’s the kind of cultural distain they had for Samaritans…. time in… A Samaritan had compassion on the man. Christ is showing that compassion matters. He closes by asking “which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” We should mourn. If for no other reason, we should have enough of a missional mindset to mourn because 50 people died without knowing Christ.
2. We Should See All Life As Valuable
As Christians, we fight abortion because it is murder. It is taking the life of an unborn child. It is taking the life of an image bearer of God. I fear that we have lost our theology of the Imago Dei (Image of God in Latin). All human beings are created as image bearers of God and as such, have intrinsic worth and value. The irony is those who are celebrating the death of these people would probably not celebrate the murder of an unborn child. Murder, whether in the womb, or in a bar, is murder. This is a sanctity of life issue as much as abortion is. Were these people sinful? Yes, but let’s remember what David said in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” If we hold that man was created in the image of God, even though sin has marred that image (I use the illustration of a cracked mirror), they still bear His image and have worth and value because of that. The gospel restores that image (see point #5). We can still tightly hold our convictions on sin while not losing our convictions on the Imago Dei.
3. We Should Pray
This one is so simple. Some whose voices are loud and don’t represent Biblical Christianity are rejoicing. They view homosexuals as enemies. Guess what Jack? Let’s assume they are enemies for a second… Matthew 5:43-48. Look it up.
4. This Should Make Us Examine Our Own Lives
In Luke 13:1-5, Christ is confronted with a question about some people who were killed. His response is to turn it on them. “No I tell you. But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” The point is that this makes us painfully aware of our own mortality. We will all die one day, whether at the hands of a gunman, in a car accident, cancer or old age, we will all die. We will all stand before God and either have our own “righteousness” (I put that in quotes because none are righteous by their works), or we will have Christ’s righteousness. Let’s forget about those 50 for a second… Do you know Christ? See, it is easy to get so focused on this event that we bypass introspection. It’s easy to point the finger, but hard to look into our own hearts. It’s easy for us to think it will always happen to someone else. And in that, we don’t consider our lives and take stock of whether or not we know Christ. Is Christ your treasure? Does your life reflect that He is if you claim He is? Do we live our own lives pursuing things of the world, desires of the flesh, or do we die to ourselves daily and follow Christ? When a tragedy happened, Christ used it to point back to those who were still alive. He called them to take that tragedy and look into their own hearts and ask not “what did they do that was so bad that this happened?” but instead “unless you repent, you will likewise perish”. We should not only apply this to ourselves (have we repented and looked to Christ) but we should use this approach in conversations with others. It can be done tactfully and graciously. “Did you hear about Orlando? That’s so sad.” “I did. That was an awful thing that happened and I feel so bad for those family and friends who are mourning. It’s also made me think a lot about my own life and what comes after this life…” (at this point you share the gospel) Boom… guess what? You just moved talking about this horrible event to offering hope to someone and calling them to follow Christ and you did it in a very Christ-like way.
5. We Should See God’s Grace
Now we will come back to that depravity of the human heart thing I mentioned above. When you heard the news, was your first thought to thank God for His grace in your life? Let me be really honest with you. It is only by God’s grace that you weren’t the gunman. That stings, but it is true. You and I, apart from Christ, are capable of far worse than we give ourselves credit for. Your internal moral compass, unless it is steered by God, will be guided by your sinful heart. It is only God’s grace that kept you from being in that bar. It is only God’s grace that causes you to wake up every moment. Was your first though of God’s grace, or was it something like “I’m sure glad I’m not that bad”? Read Luke 18:10-14. When we take God’s grace for granted, we tend to see people as “unsavable”. We forget our wretched condition when God sought us. Take a second and read 1 Cor 6:9-11. Yes, homosexuality is listed there. But Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit didn’t just list homosexuality and stop. He lists others, including heterosexual sin, idolatry, drunkards, swindlers, thieves, and the greedy. Any of those resonate in your life? How about Romans 1:29-30? Then in a striking sentence, Paul follows up the list in 1 Cor 6:11 by saying (to BELIEVERS) “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.” God’s grace is able to save the worst of sinners. Paul himself is an example of that. The point is this, homosexuality… AND OTHER SINS… keep people from the Kingdom. The gospel and God’s grace is the great inoculation to the sickness of sin. For more on the mercy of God toward sinners click here.
6. We Should Have A Gospel Urgency
There is no other way to put it… 50 people died without knowing Jesus. I know, I know… Only God can judge the hearts. There is perhaps a chance that a born again believer who struggles with same-sex attraction (which is different from openly living in unrepentant homosexual sin) succumbed to temptation and was at that bar but realized this wouldn’t bring him joy and wanted to honor Christ with his body so he was walking out when the attack came, but those who PRACTICE homosexuality don’t inherit the Kingdom (1 Cor 6:9). Those who live in open rebellion to God without turning to Christ and having their hearts, and by extension lives transformed by His grace do not go to be with the Lord. 50 people died without knowing Jesus and we can easily bemoan that, all the while failing to share Christ with our neighbors, co-workers, and friends right here at home whose fate will be the same apart from Christ. This event should jar us out of our complacency. If we can agree that the root issue here was sin, and that the grace of God through faith saves sinners, and we have people in our lives that don’t know Jesus, how in the world can we be content with making excuses for not sharing the good news that can save their souls!!??!! “But it’s not loving to point out their sin!” Actually, if you are really concerned about love, it is the most loving thing you can do. And guess what… you can do it without being a jerk. Speak the truth in love right? The problem is many of us fear speaking the truth (namely that we are all sinners and our sin has separated us from God and we are under His just wrath, but God sent His son to live a perfect life that we can’t live and die the death that we deserved and rise from the dead showing that His sacrifice was sufficient and acceptable to remove wrath and sin. In doing so, Christ takes away the sin that separated all who believe from God and gives them His perfect righteousness so that we may have fellowship and joy in Him for eternity) even when that truth is the one thing that matters most in the universe. Too many of us try lifestyle evangelism without telling anyone how they may be saved (which by the way is no excuse for not sharing the gospel and is a selfish, lazy excuse to not open our mouths. In other words, it’s scripturally indefensible). In essence, we deny Christ. The gospel is a message that must be proclaimed (see Romans 10:14-15 and 1 Peter 2:9-10) and we are the God appointed means to bring that message to the nations. What happened in Orlando should awaken an evangelistic zeal in us to be faithful ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20). Christ is the only way to be reconciled to the Father. Let us share Christ.
So how should Christians respond to the events in Orlando? We should recognize that the issue was first and foremost sin and have compassion on those who have lost loved ones. We should mourn with them and pray for them. We should realize that in the changing moral climate of America, God is still saving sinners and that you and I are no more deserving of God’s grace than anyone else on the planet. That it is only His grace that has saved us. We should be thankful for His grace in our lives and share that grace with others who don’t have Christ. We should love them Biblically. We should avoid the two dangers of superficial emotional “love” without truth, and truth without love. We need to be balanced and look to Christ as our example of what love is. He had no issue telling everyone that He was the only way to the Father, yet He did it with compassion and grace. It’s interesting that the times He was most angry was with those who thought they had it all together on their own, in other words the religious people who looked good on the outside, but were full of dead bones on the inside (Matthew 23). With the adulterous woman at the well in John 4, He confronted her sin in a loving and gentle way, while at the same time not compromising the truth. He was willing to suffer the reproach of men who wanted nothing to do with Him. He spoke to the ones who the religious people wouldn’t go near. He sought the broken and outcast, but He sought them with a message of hope and salvation. Let us follow that example. We can simultaneously stand firm against homosexuality and share the truth in love. We can be salt and light in a culture that needs the gospel more than ever. Let us remember that when we read 1 Cor 6:9-11 that we were counted among the people in that list and were objects of wrath (Eph 2:3) before we were washed with the cleansing blood of Christ by grace through faith. That’s a message worth telling.
This article is by Jon Hawkins. Jon is husband to Carlee, father to Finleigh and the pastor for Preaching at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Nebraska. He holds an MDiv in Biblical and Theological Studies from SBTS and will begin working on a DMin in Church Revitalization from SBTS in the fall.