Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
Jesus replied, ‘The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.’
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”’
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9–11
After a term-long focus on how to follow Jesus in our hyper-sexualised age, it seemed right to dive into what Scripture says about what it means to be sexual beings. So we’ve asked Dr Andrew Goddard – an assistant minister, ethics lecturer, researcher, and consultant for the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith project – to help us do just that. Over these four weeks, he reflects on the living Word and what it looks like to live it out on our frontlines.
As we follow the story of sexuality across Scripture, we come to the new creation. There is so much that we do not know about it, but it’s noteworthy that Jesus and the rest of the New Testament speak about marriage in relation to the age to come.
Faced with a tricky question from the resurrection-denying Sadducees about whose wife a repeatedly married woman will be in the age to come, Jesus makes it clear that the life we are destined for is a life beyond marriage and reproduction.
Too often churches forget this and exalt, even idolise, marriage and the family and present these as the best, even only, way of life. We need instead to recover the long tradition in which Christians have seen the life of singleness and the call to celibacy in the context of intimate friendship and community as a powerful witness here and now to our shared future destiny beyond sex in the age of the resurrection.
But this limiting of marriage to the present age is combined with the depiction of our future relationship with God as the fulfilment of earthly marriage. Our destiny of fellowship, even union, with God is what the ‘one flesh’ covenantal commitment of marriage in the present should point us towards. Marriage is as a sign and foretaste of the great gift that is to come. The Old Testament witness relating marriage to God’s covenant love, refocussed on Christ and the church in Ephesians 5, will then become the reality as the earthly form ceases and all in Christ are revealed as his bride.
Our calling now – whether married or single – is therefore to understand ourselves, and to live faithfully, in the light of the end of the story, the new creation.
That future lies the other side of God’s judgment which, as Paul reminds us, covers our whole lives, including our sexual lives. Wonderfully, Paul’s warning about not inheriting the kingdom of God comes in the context of grace triumphing over sin.
Although we were living in ways that led us away from sharing in the wedding supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), Paul sums up true gospel inclusion – ‘But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God’. We are therefore now to live as those who, as New Testament scholar Wes Hill puts it, are ‘washed and waiting’.
Dr Andrew Goddard
Andrew is Assistant Minister at St James the Less, Pimlico and teaches Christian ethics at Ridley Hall, Cambridge and Westminster Theological Centre.
How might we shape the communities and relationships we’re part of, so that they point to our future relationship with God in the age to come? Join the conversation in the comments below.