I recently read this book: Washed and Waiting, Reflections on Christian Faithfulness & Homosexuality by Wesley Hill (updated and expanded edition), Zondervan 2010, 2016.
It will take a few words to get to what the title of my post is about…
First a mini book review. I do recommend Washed and Waiting. Wesley Hill is an evangelical Christian with same-sex attraction since his youth, and he has chosen a life of single celibacy rather than disregard biblical teaching on this issue. In other words, he is a celibate gay Christian. He could not get rid of his same-sex attractions, and acting on them was not an option either. The book is honest, and he shares his struggles. The back cover of the book says: “He offers a fresh perspective, advocating neither unqualified ‘healing’ for those who struggle nor accommodation to temptation, but rather faithfulness in the midst of brokenness.”
The back cover says in a larger font: “Is there a place for celibate gay Christians in the church?” – a question we should all ask ourselves. If someone in your Sunday school class said they were a celibate gay, how would you respond? It is an issue we should all consider. We need to be able to welcome such individuals into our fellowships, and not assume they just need to somehow be healed from it or marry the opposite sex.
What I actually want to focus on in this post is…friendship and the relationships Christians are to have with each other. I think we have a crisis of friendship in our society, and similarly the relationships that Christians have with each other in the church are often shallow and superficial. There is also a major idolatry of family that contributes to a neglect of friendship.
I have already blogged about such things. What does this have to do with this book? Well, if you are a celibate gay Christian, you need relationships of depth with others – friendships and spiritual relationships with other believers. But in our day, these things are hard to find. Here is an excerpt from the book, where the author Wesley Hill is actually sharing something a friend shared with him. Please read it carefully.
“We must call into question any notion that the supreme expression of human love is found in marriage…The ancients did not contend this (consider Plato’s Symposium). And neither does the Bible. The Old Testament suggests that there is love between men greater than that found in marriage (2 Samuel 1:26). But so does the New Testament. According to Jesus, there is no greater love than the sacrificial love of one friend for another (John 15:13). It is not peculiar that in writing the greatest discourse on love found in the New Testament, Paul chooses to put it, not with his discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 (here love is not even mentioned), but in the context of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 13! And even when agape love is discussed in the marital context of Ephesians 5, it is sacrificial love that is the model for marital love – not the other way around. Marriage is a venue for expressing love, which in its purest form exists, first and foremost, outside of it. The greatest joys and experiences God has for us are not found in marriage, for if they were, surely God would not do away with marriage in heaven. But since he has already told us he is doing away with it, we, too, can realize that the greatest things God has to give us are not to be found in marriage at all.” – page 132-133
Yes! – to so much of that! Read it again! Ponder. Think.
I’ve heard John 15:13 my whole life, but never quite let the implications of it hit me. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” There is no greater love than the sacrificial love of one friend for another! Wow. This clashes with what I observe among too many Christians today. Sacrifice for family is the ultimate.
Same for 1 Corinthians 13, which is often thought of as for weddings and about marital love. Nope. In context, it has nothing to do with weddings and marriage – but about relationships within the church.
We exalt marriage, family, parenthood. Friendship and fellowship with other believers is neglected and downgraded. It is.
Maybe you don’t see this fact because you are so tight with your family??
We may socialize with other believers, but genuine fellowship is hard to find. We have confused socialization and fellowship. They are not the same thing.
It has become a trend to refer to your spouse as your best friend, and that bothers me. I have never thought of my husband as my best friend. He is my husband! Of course, we talk about many things and have a close relationship, but that is different than how I consider friendship. I see this trend of “spouse as best friend” as another example of the idolatry of family. You’ve got all you need in your family – your spouse is your best friend, and you have the greatest love of being a parent. So who really needs deep friendships and spiritual relationships within the church?
Those of us without children, such as myself, hear it said that you can’t really know love until you have a child. Yes, we do hear this! Certainly, the special love a parent has for their child is a unique bond, but it is rather rude to say that those without kids can never really know love! Ditto for how marriage can be exalted as the supreme form of love.
Hmm. Jesus was God incarnate. God is love (1 John 4:8) and God loved the world so much he gave us Jesus (John 3:16). Yet Jesus never married and never had children. But according to some Christians now-a-days, those not married or married without children are defunct. Jesus did, however, have close friendships – with certain of his disciples like Peter and John, and Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. John was even called “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
If you take typical things heard in the Christian community, and apply them to Jesus…
- Jesus could not have really known what it is to love because he did not have a child.
- Since Jesus was not married, he failed to experience the ultimate expression of love.
- Jesus missed out on the closest type of friendship since he did not have a wife to call his “best friend.”
This exaltation of marriage and family is not a biblical view. Don’t misunderstand, family is important. We should not neglect our family. The Bible instructs us to honor our parents, and care for our own. But family has been idolized in a multitude of ways. Friendship and spiritual relationships with other believers are neglected.
Have we forgotten about the family of God? Wesley Hill further notes:
“The New Testament views the church – rather than marriage – as the primary place where human love is best expressed and experienced. In the Old Testament, marriage was viewed as the solution to loneliness (Genesis 2:18,24), Now, however, in the New, ‘the answer to loneliness is not marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ.'” – page 132
Some married people are lonely. Perhaps one reason for this is that we expect too much from the marriage relationship? We have put all our eggs in one basket, and place an unfair burden on our spouse. We have forgotten about the significance of friendship with others, and forming spiritual bonds with those in the church.
It actually makes a lot of sense that a single, celibate male – our Lord Jesus Christ – pointed to the importance of friendship and warned against over-focusing on our family.
Today, those among us who do not fit the traditional nuclear family paradigm – Christians like Wesley Hill, those single for other reasons, and those married but without children – may have unique sight and insight to see and perceive things that the church at large is failing to. Yet these types are often marginalized, and their input not valued. “What could they possibly know or understand? I mean they don’t have a spouse and/or children!” – This should not be so.
*Another post to come about how our hyper-sexualized culture has also led to a decline of friendship. Link HERE.