Misusing Scripture: Mark 12:31

Yesterday, the Equality Act passed the House of Representatives. It now goes to the Senate, where it likely will fail (current Senate rules require a 3/5th majority to invoke cloture and end debate). Though it likely won't be the law of the land in the immediate future, its ultimate passage is all-but-certain. 

Earlier this week, I read the text of the bill in question. Repeatedly it asserts that massive discrimination and hatred exists toward LGBT individuals in the United States. Now, I don’t doubt that sinners in our society have sinfully mistreated other sinners because of their so-called sexual orientation. At first glance, it seems that the Equality Act has a laudable aims—ensuring the equal protection under the law of all Americans. How could Christians disagree? After all, aren’t we called to love our neighbors as ourselves? 

This brings us to the topic at hand: what does it mean to "love your neighbor as yourself"? This verse, along with other oft-repeated commands to love others, are often used to insist that Christians drop their objections to gay marriage, transgenderism and the like. Love is, after all, broadly construed to mean unconditional acceptance of other people's choices; any disagreement with their lifestyle is seen to be hateful rejection; any refusal to affirm it is hatred. 

So what does Mark 12:31 mean, particularly in the context of today's ongoing debates about gender identity and human sexuality? 

In the context of Mark 12:31 (and its parallels in the other synoptics), Jesus is answering a question regarding which commandment of the OT law is the greatest. His answer is profound: love God and love your neighbor. These two commandments, argues Jesus, fulfill the entirety of God's Law. Loving God encapsulates the first table of the Decalogue, while loving one's neighbor summarizes the aims of the second table. In other words, you can't love God with all your being while simultaneously worshipping an idol; you can't love your neighbor while murdering him or committing adultery with him/her. Pretty straightforward, right? 

This fact alone makes it impossible for Jesus' command to mean that Christians ought to turn a blind eye to the very sins God's holy law forbids. The very passages this command (Deuteronomy 6; Lev. 19:18) comes from is inseparably interwoven with texts that affirm God's design for marriage and convey His holy prohibition against sexual perversion. If you don't believe me, just re-read Leviticus 18-20. 

So how do we love our neighbors? Quite simply, loving our neighbors  requires, not that we affirm them in their rebellion against God, but that seek to rescue them from it. That is, after all, what Christ’s love did for us (see John 3:16). Genuine love does not cheer someone on as they pursue the self-destructive path of rebellion against God’s created order (Gen. 1:27). Genuine love does not sit idly by while children are coerced into taking puberty blockers and undergoing genital mutilation. Genuine love does not surrender, in the name of tolerance, the life-giving tenets of the gospel such as the sinfulness of sin and the power of divine grace to transform sinners (I Cor. 6:9-11). Likewise, genuine love does not perpetuate acts of verbal homicide (see the Sermon on the Mount) against your neighbor or condone violence toward them. Genuine love, while respecting other people, kindly proclaims the truth to them, in order to win them to Christ. 

Christians, we cannot fulfill the Bible's command that we love our neighbors while simultaneously mocking and demeaning them. This reaction will never win them to Christ. 

Christians, we cannot fulfill the Bible’s command that we love our neighbor while simultaneously celebrating their rebellion against God—even if society deems that rebellion courageous. 

Christians, we cannot fulfill the Bible’s command that we love our neighbor while supporting the delusion that man, rather than God, is sovereign. 

As people of the cross, we must simultaneously affirm the inherent worth and dignity of our fellow image bearers, while decrying the ugly marring of that image through sin. We must proclaim the promise of that image's full restoration through the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

Let us love our neighbors enough to treat them kindly. Let us love our neighbors enough to speak the truth to them. Let us love our neighbors enough to offer them the genuine hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  


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