Compassion vs. Condemnation
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Compassion vs. Condemnation

Luke 15:1–32  (ID: 3647)

How are Christians to walk the fine line between affirming and reviling those whose actions declare them to be God’s enemies? That is the question Alistair Begg seeks to answer as he addresses the controversy surrounding the counsel he gave to a grandmother in the summer of 2023. Turning to Luke 15, Alistair reminds us that the inclination toward pharisaism is alive and well within all our hearts. It is something we always must guard against—especially as we press on toward purity and holiness in the midst of an aimless and confused generation.

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Luke and to chapter 13 and to follow along—I should say Luke chapter 15—and to follow along as I read from here.

Let me tell you what I plan to do. I want to say a word or two from the text here, somewhat briefly. I then want to give you some of the background to the influences on my own thinking in relationship to these things, and then perhaps some concluding comments. For those of you who’ve just arrived, and you say, “I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about,” well, just ask someone next to you; I’m sure somebody has some idea. And if not, it’ll become clear in the end.

Luke chapter 15, and we read:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’

“So he told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“‘Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she[’s] found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I[’ve] found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

“And he said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.” And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“‘But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’” And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

“‘Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he … received him back safe and sound.” But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, “Look, these many years I[’ve] served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” And he said to him, “Son, you[’re] always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”’”


A brief prayer together:

Our Father, we thank you for the testimonies that we’ve just heard of your grace and your goodness—the way in which you work mysteriously and wonderfully in the hearts and minds of men and women, showing us who we are and showing us how much we need Jesus and then bringing us to that wonderful closing reality of faith in him. We thank you that the heartbeat of you, the Father, is for those who are to be added to your family. And we thank you that as we read the Bible, we don’t have to stretch to find that application.

And so we pray that as we have these moments together now, given the framework out of which we come to this evening, we pray that the Holy Spirit will preside over all of my words, all of my thinking, our thinking, and that you will give to us a great sense of joy and delight in the privilege that you’ve granted to us of seeking to see unbelieving people become the committed followers of Jesus Christ. And it’s in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

All right. The context is set in the opening two verses: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled,” and the reason for their complaint was “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” And so he gives to us these three pictures: first of having sheep, all of them secure, one lost, seeking it, the joy that follows it; then this picture of either a necklace or whatever it might have been, and the loss of one of these pieces, and then all of the search for it, and the joy that is represented in that is nothing compared to the joy before the angels of God, he says, over a sinner who repents; and then he moves on to give to us the story of the two sons.

And clearly, the end of this chapter, which begins in verse 25 with the record of the older son, is Jesus making sure that the Pharisees do not miss the application of what he’s saying—that people would be able to hear this, and they would be able to say, “Well, I see myself in this. ‘I once was lost, but now [I’m] found’; I once ‘was blind, but now I see.’”[1] But perhaps other people listening would not make those applications at all. And there are two sons who are lost in this chapter. One is lost far away, and the other one is lost close up. And I want just to point three things out concerning this older son. His acknowledgment of his brother’s return is at best a grudging acknowledgment. And three observations.

The first is this: the discovery that this man hated to make. The discovery that he hated to make. He discovers, as we’re told in the text, that there was music, and there was dancing, and the celebration was already in place. He then dispatches, in verse 26, one of the servants to go and investigate. In fact, he asks the servant, “What is it that’s going on with all of this celebration?” And, of course, the servant tells him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.” The expectation, I think, would be, at least on the part of the servant, that this would be a source of real joy for this brother—that he would understand that his brother had been gone, had been lost to him and lost to the family in many ways, and now he was back. But the reaction of the elder brother is certainly not celebration. And we’re told that “he was angry” and he “refused to go in.” He could not celebrate the fact that his brother had come back and that his father had been prepared to accept him.

So, the discovery that he hated to make is also then followed by the sympathy that he failed to express. He sent a servant to find out what was going on. He could easily have gone himself, couldn’t he? But he didn’t want to be contaminated, I think, by the situation as it was unfolding. He sends a servant. The father doesn’t send the servant back by way of response, but the father comes back himself.

That, of course, is an important principle, isn’t it? That the father came out and entreated him. He came out and implored him. He came out and beseeched him. The perspective of the father is a yearning for both of his sons. He rejoices that one has returned, but he’s concerned because he has another one actually in his own backyard that doesn’t understand the reality of that which the other boy has discovered.

And what Jesus is making clear here is the fact that God is a seeking God—that God is seeking those who are far from him, whether they’re a long way away or whether they’re actually close up.  And the father goes out to both of them, you will notice. In the story of the other boy, he decides he’s coming back to his father. He’s prepared his speech: “I will say to him, ‘I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’” “And he arose and came to his father.” But then the very next phrase is so wonderful, isn’t it? “But [when] he was still a [great] way off, his father saw him.” How did his father see him when he was a great way off? Because he was looking for him. Why was he looking for him? Because the heart of the father yearned for his boy. There’s no difference here. Why does he go out and entreat him? Why does he go out and implore him? Because he longs for him.

God is a seeking God. He is seeking those who are far from him, whether they’re a long way away or whether they’re actually close up.

And the absence, you see, of forgiveness on the part of the older brother reveals something. It reveals that he doesn’t understand the nature of forgiveness—that he doesn’t understand what it means to actually be forgiven. And as a result of that, he doesn’t have the capacity to forgive others who need the forgiveness.

Now, if I can cross-reference the book which gave rise to the response to the grandmother which gave rise to the interview about the book… There’s logic in me parleying to here, because what I’m saying is unless someone understands the forgiveness of God and how we are so in the wrong with God… Whether you’re a religious pharisee or whether you’re a lost-cause, drug-addicted crazy person, the same grace of God is what woos us and wins us and brings us to himself. If we do not understand the nature of our predicament, then we never understand the reality of our forgiveness.  And in this book, that’s what I’m actually saying. Because we’re working from the Sermon on the Plain, and we are understanding the fact that Jesus…

Well, let me just quote it: “The proof that we understand how we have been loved by God, says Jesus, is [to] love … our enemies,” the “kind of love” that “is [only] possible” as “God enables us, [by the Holy] Spirit. … Lov[e] your neighbor as yourself, when the category of neighbor includes everyone you meet, including your enemies”—to do so “is a supernatural action, and it is an action that is … proof of our salvation. … This is supposed to be an uncomfortable challenge. It is certainly very uncomfortable to me.” That’s what I’m saying in the book. “Here is how I think through what it would mean for me to live out Jesus’ command myself. I think of people who are behaving in a way that rejects God and his ways.”

Now, what you need to know is that when I’m writing this, I am actually dealing with the circumstances that were in our minds when we studied Romans chapter 1—the reality of the finger in the face of God that is represented in those who have turned their backs on God, even to the point of their own sexuality being turned upside down. So when I write the line “I think of people who are behaving in a way that rejects God,” that is a comprehensive reality, but this is what is in my mind: who “[reject] God and his ways, that undermines what God says glues societies and families together.” What “glues societies and families together”? The reality of conjugal love in a heterosexual, monogamous marriage that produces children. They reject God, they reject his ways, they “do it publicly,” and they do it in a fashion that makes it absolutely clear that they have no interest in it “while mocking Christians as bigots.” That’s the context.

Naturally, I do not like them. But I am called to the supernatural work of loving them. Not ignoring them, not avoiding them, but actively seeking to bless them. I am not called to walk on past them, like the religious leaders in the Parable of the Good Samaritan; no, [I am] called to be like the Samaritan, who is the classic illustration of loving and lending and doing good without a calculator, [and] without the expectation of a payback.[2]

Now, that is, then, the context when a grandmother phones me up in tears and gravely concerned for the circumstances in relationship to one of her grandchildren. I’m not quoting the book to her. I’m only responding to her. She wrote a long letter. It sat on my desk for a long time. This happens to us all as pastors, all the time. And on that occasion, when I listened to her talk, my great concern was for her and for her relationship with her granddaughter. I wasn’t thinking about the nature of the circumstances in that moment of time. All I was thinking about was “How can I help this grandmother not to lose her granddaughter, who has already publicly turned her back on God and her back on God’s design and in every other way?”

And in the course of that conversation, I said, “You know, one of the ways in which to catch your granddaughter off guard is actually do the opposite of what she expects you to do. What does she expect you to do?”

“Avoid her. Stay away from her. Don’t get contaminated by the situation.”

I said, “Well, isn’t that interesting? So what would happen if you actually went?” Well, that gave great pause. And I said, “But you should talk to your husband. You’ve got to ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’”[3] Those were all the caveats that went around the conversation. But then I said, “Well, I think you should go. And why don’t you give her a gift?”

Well, how would I ever know that that would set the cat among the pigeons? Because after all, it was a personal conversation between myself and somebody that I’ve never met in my entire life. And it was born out of the kind of conviction that I was personally reckoning with myself: “I don’t like this. I’m opposed to this. I do not endorse this. I have no interest in this. But this is my granddaughter!” Now, it’s that context, then, that gave rise to that.

Now, I’ve got come back to the text, ’cause that was a deviation. The discovery that he hated to make; the sympathy that he failed to express. You see, what the problem is with this guy is that he views himself as the model son. He actually passes himself off in that way. He thinks he’s the model son, but he’s living in the father’s house like a slave. That’s his terminology: “I’ve never disobeyed your commands. I’ve been serving you.” You see, the Pharisees were committed to slavish, outward obedience while inwardly, they were estranged from God.  And they said to one another, “If only we can make sure that we don’t get ourselves contaminated by any of that, then surely we’ll be in a perfect position.”

But look at the way the fellow operates. And Jesus is telling this story in the awareness of the fact that it is these religious leaders who are opposed to him who will eventually kill him. Verse 29: “I never disobeyed you. You never gave me a goat. No, I didn’t get what I deserved. But this your son”—can’t even bring him to say “my brother”—“this your son”—actually, “this son of yours”— “who has devoured your property with prostitutes…”

Who said anything about prostitutes? Pharisees often complain loudly of sins they would be quite interested in committing themselves. Be very, very careful when you hear your pastor or your teacher or whoever it is lambasting a certain area of life, especially in the realm of morality. Time and time again you will discover that that loud protestation actually, sadly, tragically proved to be a very thin smokescreen for what was actually going on in the hearts of these people.

The last thing, by way of observation, is that there is in this a necessity that he refused to accept. He refused to accept the necessity of what had happened. The father says to him, “Son, you’re always with me. All that is mine is yours. It was fitting”—“it was necessary,” I think, in the NIV or the King James Version—“it was necessary to celebrate and be glad. This isn’t just something that I dreamt up on the fly. No!”

You see, the son, the religious person unchanged by grace, is always dealing in rewards: “Am I doing well enough? Am I accepted well enough?” So either they become horribly arrogant because they think they’re doing so well, or they become thoroughly depressed because they know they’re not doing well at all. “I didn’t get the rewards. I didn’t get the things that I deserve.” That’s essentially what he’s saying. “And this son?” Well, he doesn’t understand grace. He doesn’t understand it at all. The younger son had a song to sing that the older son knew nothing about:

In tenderness he sought me,
Weary and sick with sin,
And on his [shoulder] brought me
Back to his [home] again,
While angels in his presence sang
Until the courts of heaven rang.

Oh, the love that sought me!
Oh, the blood that bought me!
Oh, the grace that brought me to [your] fold!
To the sheepfold. “Wondrous grace that brought me to the fold!”[4]

In that conversation with that grandmother, I was concerned about the well-being of their relationship more than anything else, hence my counsel. Don’t misunderstand that in any way at all. If I was on the receiving end of another question about another situation from another person in another time, I may answer absolutely differently. But in that case, I answered in that way, and I would not answer in any other way, no matter what anybody says on the internet as of the last ten days. If that were the case, I should never have said it in the first place. People want me to recant and to repent. To repent? I repent daily! ’Cause I say a lot of things that I shouldn’t say. I mean, check with Sue. But the fact of the matter is, I’m not ready to repent over this. I don’t have to.

Now, let me say something that will be a little explosive. I’ve lived here for forty years, and those who know me best know that when we talk theology, when we talk stuff, I’ve always said I am a little bit out of sync with the American evangelical world, for this reason: that I am the product of British evangelicalism, represented by John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Eric Alexander, Sinclair Ferguson, Derek Prime. I am a product of that. I have never been a product of American fundamentalism. I come from a world in which it is possible for people to actually grasp the fact that there are nuances in things. Those of you who are lawyers understand this. Everything is not so categorically clear that if you put one foot out of this box, you’ve got to be removed from the box forever.

And so, I went back to prove to myself that that really is the case, and I dug out a book that I’ve had since I was in my twenties, Christ the Controversialist by John Stott. And in that book, he is tackling the challenges of living in the world without capitulating to the thoughts of the world. And chapter 7—and I’m sure this is going to sell a lot of these books. John is now in heaven, and it won’t matter to him. But chapter 7 is on “Responsibility: Withdrawal or Involvement?” So he writes an entire chapter on this question: How in the world do we manage to live in this way? And he outlines it by first of all identifying the attitude of the Pharisee, and he points out—and I’m not here to give you the whole book—but he points out that when, after the Babylonian captivity, the people were repatriated, the exiles came back, and they were absolutely determined that they would not be sucked into the vortex that was represented in the context to which they had returned. And they were committed to holiness, and they knew that God required them to be holy. But what they forgot was that the holiness was first of all a holiness of heart and mind and thought. Some of them then decided, “Well, we can go fairly close to the environment in which we’re living.” And that is true not only then; you can read it in Nehemiah—we’re reading there at the moment, in M’Cheyne—and you can see that happening: the question of marriage and so on.

As time continues and the Jews are living, for example, in the context of Greece, of Alexander the Great and so on, the infiltration of the culture into Judaism was such that there were two branches that emerged from it. One branch were the Hellenists who said, “I think that we can engage with the culture,” and in doing so, they surrendered some of their convictions. On the other side of the Hellenists were the Hasidaeans, or the Hasidim. The Hasidim are present in contemporary America, and some of you have friends who are part of that. You meet them at the airport and so on. And the Hasidim said, “No, under no circumstances are we going to get involved in any of this stuff.” Pharisees, actually, is an Aramaic term for “separatists.” And the Pharisees were the religious exclusives of their day.

In their determination to conform strictly to the law they held aloof from any and every contact which (in their view) might “defile” them. This entailed an avoidance not only of Gentiles, not only of hellenized Jews [whom they regarded as liberals], but of the “common people” as well, who through ignorance of the law no doubt broke it and as law-breakers were unclean.

The superior and scornful attitude which the Pharisees adopted towards the common people appears several times in the Gospels.

Including right here in chapter 15. “The Pharisaic doctrine of holiness, of separation from the world,” he says, “was a perverted doctrine.” The motivation to keep yourself pure and holy is a right motivation, but it was perverted by the way in which they applied it.

Instead of seeking to be holy in thought, [and] word and deed, while retaining relationships of love and care with all men, they withdrew from social contact with “sinners” and despised those who did[n’t] follow suit. They [basically] became a “holy club” …. [And] they [in the process] became harsh and censorious.[5]

And it is that which Jesus is taking on when he tells these stories and when he gives these parables.

If that’s the Pharisees’ attitude, what is the attitude of Jesus? Well, the attitude of Jesus is totally at variance with that of the Pharisees themselves. They “were scandalized by His free and easy fraternization with [these] people”:[6] “You can’t do that! You can’t go there!” That’s why it begins, “All the publicans and sinners said, ‘We’ve got to go meet Jesus!’ And the Pharisees were grumbling: ‘Can you believe this thing? He goes to the house of publicans and sinners! He meets with sinners!’” Bartimaeus, a blind guy! Even the disciples said, “Oh, be quiet, Bartimaeus.” And he has to turn to his boys, and he says, “Hey, don’t say that to Bartimaeus. Go call Bartimaeus.” And he gives Bartimaeus his sight.[7]

One of the six things which a rabbi was not permitted to do was to converse with a woman in public. That was a sure indication that you were “off base.” That’s why when his disciples came back after they’d gone away for the food, when you read that in the present context you say, “‘And they were surprised that he was talking with a woman.’[8] Why would you be surprised that he was talking with a woman?” Because rabbis don’t talk to women! The strictest Hasidim wouldn’t even be seen talking to their own wives in public. That’s how tight they wanted to draw the circle.

Pharisaism is alive and well in all of our hearts. We have to guard against it.

“The Pharisees would gather up their robes … in [righteous] horror” at the possibility of even coming within breathing space of a prostitute.[9] And she comes and breaks a flask over his feet. “This guy cannot be who he says he is. If he was really the Son of God, he wouldn’t be doing this.”

Loved ones, pharisaism is alive and well in all of our hearts. We have to guard against it.  The motivation for purity and holiness of life and circumspection and so on is absolutely unquestionable. The real challenge comes when we are confronted by issues that don’t just fit our clean little categories. 

“What distinguished Jesus from the Pharisees,” quotes Stott, “was, in a word, ‘grace’, The divine initiative which first seeks and then saves the lost sinner.”[10] He says of the older brother,

He represents those to whom religion is a matter of merit and its just reward, and to whom the concept of grace is unjust, even immoral. He knew nothing of the guilt which no human merit can expunge, nothing of the divine offer of an unmerited forgiveness, nothing of heavenly joy over penitent sinners. He was harsh, sour, self-righteous and pitiless. While others made merry, he [himself] stayed away and [he] sulked. In brief, he was a Pharisee. And of the Pharisees Edersheim could write: “theirs was not a Gospel to the lost: they had nothing to say to sinners.”

Christ’s fraternization with outcasts was interpreted by the Pharisees as an inexcusable compromise with sin; they did not see it for what it really was, an expression of the divine compassion towards sinners.[11]

Now, the challenge in this—and I’m going to wrap this up, because time goes—the challenge for me in this is I just assume—and I’m not going to assume it anymore—I assume that people are able to put two and two together and get four, not five or seven or nine or whatever it is. So, for example, in the last days, when this thing began, my daughter said to me, “Dad, you were way ahead of this game a long time ago, when Ellen DeGeneres came out, and you preached those sermons on the ‘gay debate.’ I mean, you’ve been so clear about this for all of your ministry. What is this about?” I said, “Honey, I don’t really know what it’s about. But yeah, that’s right.” And, most recently, in dealing with Romans chapter 1! So I assume that anybody who picks this up goes, “Oh, well, wait a minute. Whatever he’s on about there, there’s no reason for alarm, because after all, listen to what he said.”

And this is what I said in Romans 1, talking about this very issue: “So here’s the challenge: How do you do this?” In other words, how do you express the love of Jesus and do so in a way that doesn’t just compromise everything?

How do you honor God, obey his Word, and treat your neighbors and your friends and your family members who have decided to go [down] this [wrong] path? Some people have decided the way to handle it is by admonition—so you just simply stand up and keep telling them, “This is terrible,” “This is terrible,” “This is terrible.” Some people have decided—[“Well, we just won’t say anything at all.] Just let it go. Who cares, you know? It’s a big world. People do different things.” Neither is a possibility for a Bible-believing Christian. …

We are to treat with honor those who view us with hatred.[12]

Now, understand that this grandchild was an enemy of the gospel—an enemy, really, in the family circle by dint of her lifestyle. An enemy! And Jesus says you’re supposed to love your enemies.

Now, we can disagree over whether I gave that grandmother good advice or not. Not everybody on the pastoral team thinks I gave very good advice. And as I said, you know, on another occasion with a different person and a different context, the advice may be very different. But at least let’s acknowledge the fact that what we’re doing is we’re wrestling with biblical principle. And when principle for, let’s say, holiness of life comes up against the principle of love for your enemy, how are you going to put that together?

You’ve got a problem with the grandmother showing up, sitting on the front row, in a context that she absolutely despises? And sitting on her lap, nicely wrapped, with beautiful paper and a bow around it, is her gift—the gift of a Bible, for a granddaughter she knows has no interest in the Bible. But because she believes that the entrance of God’s Word brings light,[13] she is prepared to trust the Holy Spirit to do the work.

What happens to homosexual people, in my experience, is that they are either reviled or they are affirmed. The Christian has to say, “We will not treat you in either of those ways. We cannot revile you, but we cannot affirm you. And the reason that we can’t revile you is the same reason why we can’t affirm you: because of the Bible, because of God’s love, because of his grace, [and] because of his goodness.”[14]

Maybe I’ll just give you a couple of comments. There are one or two good ones—not many, though. And my friends and family have been saving me from the most strident of them. I’m grateful for that.

This… Yeah, that was a different one. Hang on. Don’t worry. We’ll be there.

This just came from somebody to Jeff, to me, from South Africa:

Please pass on this short message to Pastor Begg following the criticism he’s received over his statement concerning Christians attending a gay marriage.

Thank you, Pastor Begg, for your balanced Christian approach to what is such a difficult topic for Christians to deal with. You’re clear on the fact that homosexuality is not God-approved, but you’ve shown wisdom and compassion as you show how Christians who have made their position clear on this matter can still be a light to those who live in darkness.

I am one who agrees with your biblical view as to the sinfulness of these things and have myself been wrestling with how to advise people who have family members who are in gay relationships, etc., without compromising our Christian position on sin. I’m sorry that you’ve had such a negative reaction from others in our Christian family who have a more hardline attitude and seemingly misunderstood your position of compassion and see it as compromise. I don’t believe you compromised your position at all but have tried to show love and compassion.

As a fellow pastor who was a true prodigal son, it was only the saving grace and compassion of Christ that saved me, and the love of Christian parents who prayed for me over twelve years. Their compassion was not compromise. I knew that they did not approve of my sinful lifestyle, living with a woman. But they continued to love me and to uphold me. Their compassion is what I now see in your advice. Now be encouraged.

And then perhaps just one other, if I can find it, from a brother. This begins,

Forgive my intrusion. You probably need my encouragement less than I need to offer it, but I feel compelled to say I love you and thank God for you, for your ministry, your integrity, and your conviction. I can more easily walk with a friend who wrestles with how to show faithfulness and grace in a broken world, even though he arrive at a different conclusion than my own…

You get it? “I can walk with a brother who’s wrestling with how to show faithfulness and grace in a broken world, even if his conclusion is different from my own”—“I can do that easier than I can keep company with those who don’t even feel the tension and easily criticize a brother over a legitimate difference of opinion.” And then he goes on to say something gracious.

I wrote back to him. I said,

Brother, if there’s any benefit in finding myself in this storm in a teacup, it must surely be in discovering that I have friends. Your intrusion is most welcome. And given that you’ve taken time on this, your very special weekend, to encourage me is evidence of a selfless generosity of spirit that few of us can match. I value your friendship and send my love to you.

And so, hopefully this whole thing will just—this storm in a teacup will… Eventually, the teacup will fall over. There’s only so many things you can… I don’t know how you can keep this going, actually. The reason that I haven’t responded to any of the things in a personal way is because there’s nothing that I can really add that I think would make anybody believe me anymore. I think I can make it worse if I say more things, and it’s bad enough as it is.

My response to one grandmother whom I have never met was not in any way a blanket recommendation to all Christians to attend LGBTQ weddings.

And just one other thought. And I expect people to… How do they decide which bit they’re going troll through the social media, which bits they want to pick up? Where were they when I was speaking at the Christian college on the West Coast, and I had a lesbian walkout? And they shut the whole thing down and walked out, and the campus went into chaos for a week! You know why? Because I was explaining Ephesians chapter 5, and I made the most unbelievable mistake of saying, “The only place for sexual relationships is within a heterosexual, monogamous relationship between one man and one woman for life. Amen.” And at that they stood up and walked out. Well, why didn’t somebody catch that one for me?

But you know what? I’m glad they didn’t. And I’ll tell you why: because if I’ve got to go down on the side of one or the other, I’ll go down on this side. I’ll go down on the side of compassion, with people actually accusing me of just weakness, rather than go down on the side of condemnation, which closes any doors of opportunity for future engagement with those who know exactly what we believe about the Bible and about Jesus and about so on.

So, you know, I hope that this is helpful, I think, as long as you understand that my response to one grandmother whom I have never met was not in any way a blanket recommendation to all Christians to attend LGBTQ weddings.  It was nothing to do with that at all. If I was misguided in any way, it was I allowed my grandfatherly hat to take over. It was my personal opinion as I sensed what was best, as I learned about the individual and specific situation.

That’s as good as I can say. I hope that will be helpful to you.


We don’t clap usually.

Just as I pray, I want to read these words:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. …

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.[15]

“Herein is love,” writes John, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”[16] And so may the love of God and the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit fill our hearts afresh, unite our lives in the grip of the gospel, and enable us to reach out to an aimless and confused generation with the story that there is a sheepfold and a Shepherd who has actually given his life in order that we, who by nature are like sheep without a shepherd, may be brought into his safety.

Part us with your blessing, Lord. Watch over and between us in these days. And grant that every opportunity that we have to speak the truth in love we may seize. And we ask it commending one another to your keeping. In Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] John Newton, “Amazing Grace” (1779).

[2] Alistair Begg, The Christian Manifesto: Jesus’ Life-Changing Words from the Sermon on the Plain ([Epsom, UK?]: The Good Book Company, 2023), 50–51.

[3] Philippians 2:12 (ESV).

[4] William Spencer Walton, “In Tenderness He Sought Me.”

[5] John R. W. Stott, Christ the Controversialist: A Study in Some Essentials of Evangelical Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1970), 175–76.

[6] Stott, 177.

[7] See Mark 10:46–52.

[8] John 4:27 (paraphrased).

[9] Stott, Christ the Controversialist, 177.

[10] Stott, 180.

[11] Stott, 181–82.

[12] Alistair Begg, “‘God Gave Them Up’ — Part Two” (sermon), December 4, 2022,

[13] See Psalm 119:130.

[14] Begg, “‘God Gave Them Up.’”

[15] 1 Corinthians 13:1–7, 13 (ESV).

[16] 1 John 4:10 (KJV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.