As society drifts farther and farther away from biblical roots we are seeing the crumbling of long standing social patterns. Life long marriage to one partner is no longer the norm. Sexual purity before marriage is rarely expected, and gay relationships are slowly gaining acceptance on social and religious fronts. Unfortunately, the church’s traditional ways of responding to immorality has garnered criticism from those inside and outside the church. As a result, Christians are floundering in how to respond appropriately to the eroding values and practices.
As believers seeking help to maneuver these social rapids, we can look to the One who has gone before us to show the way. Jesus came into a nation with complex social issues. The religious leaders were twisted with legalism and tainted by corruption. The population was divided in how to respond to Roman domination – by accommodating or wielding a sword. Apparently divorce and remarriage were being practiced but controversial enough that the religious leaders devised a plan to trap Jesus with a question about its legality. We can reap nuggets of wisdom by observing Jesus’ ways of responding to these social woes.
Be Aware and Ready
I’m always challenged by the fact that Jesus had ready answers to the sticky questions put to him. He was clearly aware of what the social issues were. He ate in people’s homes. He chatted, heard their questions, and observed their behavior. He had an uncanny ability to discern the underlying attitudes and values that supported social practices. But more than that, he had obviously processed the critical issues and knew God’s perspective. He was always ready with an answer.
Speak with Authority
More than that, his answers were always presented with authority. He didn’t wobble or waver with personal opinion or scrabble to say things in a “politically correct” way. He spoke as a messenger of God and all answers clearly pointed listeners back to God as the authority and His Word as the standard for determining truth and righteousness. No listener could go away without a clear picture of truth and its Author.
Call Sin “Sin” without Using a Sword
Looking over Jesus’ shoulder in Matthew 19:3-12, you can see Jesus authoritatively addressing God’s perspective on the issue of divorce and remarriage. He clearly demonstrated here how to address sinful practices and attitudes without attacking any person or group. He still called sin “sin.” Neither did He try to sugar coat the word “adultery.” Truth could land where it wanted, and He left the Holy Spirit to do the rest! He could love every person and still scatter truth.
Become the Approachable Go-to Guy
You can see Jesus addressing this hot-button topic surrounded by crowds of people, disciples, and religious leaders. Matthew’s details reveal that this was a discussion, not a lecture. One Pharisee asked the first question, another piped up with a follow-up question, and at least one disciple contributed his sage summary, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."
Some listeners were hanging on his every word, and others were testing him. But they all invited him to expound on his understanding. People loved to be around Jesus and listen. He was accessible and approachable. He was loving, humble, and personal. He offered fresh authoritative perspectives, and He was not predictable. It was almost guaranteed that listeners would not hear the same tedious answers they had heard in the synagogue.
I’m overwhelmed by Jesus’ wisdom and grace. His example challenges me to think beyond prattling against sin from my Christian cocoon. Neither is it an option to try to demonstrate unconditional love to my friends while ignoring the corrosive effect of sin on their lives. Instead of preparing an impersonal Christian treatise on sexual immorality, I’m challenged to engage in loving dialogue and prayerfully seek God’s perspective and answers. I refuse to be content with my shallow opinions. I want to be ready with authoritative answers when I’m invited to dialogue. And finally, I must persist in yielding to the chiseling work of the Spirit so my attitudes reflect the heart of the Father. Only then can I come close to imitating Jesus’ wisdom in addressing hot-button issues.
What approaches have you taken in responding to hot-button issues?