Recently there was a news story about a Christian baker who was sued because he would not provide a wedding cake for a gay wedding. Didn’t he miss out on an opportunity to show Christian love and speak truth while still providing a service? Aren’t we supposed to love our neighbor?
James F. Pope
The United States Supreme Court is likely to rule on this case soon. Even without knowing how the outcome of the court’s decision might affect Christians, Scripture can provide guidance for your questions.
Christians do want to “[speak] the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) on all occasions. When it comes to marriage, Christians lovingly share the biblical truth that God designed marriage to be the union of one man and one woman (Genesis 2:22-24; Matthew 19:5,6; Romans 7:2).
What happens to that confession of truth when Christians engage in business transactions with people who define marriage differently? When Christians operate businesses, they interact with and provide services for many different people.
Christians will want to understand that their transactions with non-Christian churches or individuals are not endorsements of their doctrines or practices. When Christians sell their products to individuals who self-identify with unscriptural practices or ways of living, they are not necessarily approving or sanctioning the actions of their customers. If that were the case, then Christians would need potential customers to fill out an application form so they would not be guilty of doing business with those whose lifestyles or opinions were not Christian.
But there may come a time when Christians will refuse to be a partner in what is contrary to the will of God or will bring harm to others. A Christian will consider the role of conscience and will want to refrain from sinning against his or her conscience (Romans 14:23). Deciding what to do is not always easy. Christians will wish to choose opportunities to act as disciples of Jesus and to speak the truth in love, but one size does not fit all situations.
None of my business
When it comes to your questions, 1 Corinthians 5:12,13 is helpful in providing direction for Christians’ interactions with unbelievers: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” Those words come in the context of the apostle Paul’s directing the Christians in Corinth to take action with a church member who was impenitent over an incestuous relationship. The apostle instructed the Corinthians to implement what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 18: “If your brother or sister sins . . .” (vv. 15-18). Church discipline involves those within the church. We have no specific instructions from God on addressing personal sins in the lives of those outside the church.
Certainly, those words from 1 Corinthians chapter 5 do not mean that we close our eyes and ears to what is going on in the world. What those words mean is that the church does not have the responsibility or divine mandate to discipline people who are not part of the church.
So, where does this leave us? Yes, we want to love our neighbor, but because there is no manual that spells out in detail how best to live a life of neighborly love, Christians will wrestle with questions like the one you asked. They will seek to arrive at decisions that agree with biblical principles and that do not violate consciences. They will also seek to refrain from judging the motives of fellow Christians who arrive at different decisions.
Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 105, Number 04
Issue: April 2018
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