A Surprising Confrontation
Romans 1 has a rough reputation for those with same-sex attractions. At first glance, it looks like gay people are singled out from the rest of humanity, and that feels very isolating. Looking at it closer, though, and especially looking at Romans 2:1, we actually find that Paul is doing the exact opposite. He’s not isolating anyone. He’s grouping us all together, and he’s not being subtle about it.
Romans 1 is about all of us, and when Paul mentions homosexuality, he’s doing two things. First, he’s baiting you to judge gay people so he can later call you out. Second, he’s telling us important things about our sin problem.
Paul starts Romans with a conspicuous use of “they” language. Look at those people. Can you believe what they do? They deserve what they get. As readers, we join in. “That’s right, Paul, they do deserve it. How could they do things like that? It’s shameful. It’s unnatural.”
But then awkward things begin to happen. Paul says “they” are filled with covetousness. “They” are envious and deceitful. “They” are heartless and ruthless. “They” disobey their parents. “They” are prideful. I think at this point, even the most self-deluded reader is now realizing that Paul’s “they” isn’t just talking about gay people. What started off as a comfortable distance from which to judge others has now become something uncomfortably close to home.
Then Paul finally closes in on us in Romans 2:1. “Therefore YOU have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another, you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” What started off as “those people” has suddenly been turned on its head. Every last thing in Romans 1 was not about “them.” It was about me! Not my spouse, not my co-workers, not my boss, not my friends, not my kids. It’s describing me.
A Surprising Similarity
There’s something else that’s important to realize. We practice “the very same things” as those we want to judge. When you spin in anxiety about that deadline at work, when you placate your emptiness with entertainment, what you’re doing is no different than a gay person’s sinful lust. It merely looks different on the surface. Both of you are reaching past God for things you believe are better than Him. This means you understand those who seem different from you.
Our Shared Worship Disorder
Paul uses homosexuality to tell us important things about our shared worship disorder. He uses sexuality to highlight that we were made to be intimate with God. With that relationship severed, we reach for a broken intimacy that mirrors Him poorly. He uses homosexuality to highlight that our chosen separation from God is unnatural and shameful.
- Broken Intimacy: “They” aren’t living out broken intimacy. We all are. For those of us who are married, how often is our deepest Earthly desire to serve our spouse and embrace them even when they hurt us? How often do we choose comfort over community? How frequently do we pray for our friends instead of thinking about ourselves?
- Unnatural: “They” aren’t unnatural. We all are. Or do we think it’s perfectly in line with God’s plan for most of our thoughts to revolve around worldly rest, comfort, and security? Is this world our home? Is it mirroring God’s nature for us to focus on the attractive and wealthy while disregarding the poor?
- Shameful: “They” aren’t shameful. We all are. Is it honorable to fail to be generous with the the church and the most vulnerable among us? Is it honorable to be impatient and harsh with those around us when we’re feeling bad?
We all share the same worship disorder. You understand your gay friends. Frankly, you understand everyone you previously thought was different from you. Can you relate completely? No. But when you ask good questions and listen well, you’ll find that on the ground level, we just aren’t that all that different from one another. We share the same disease, and we need the same rescue.