A word to pastors preaching in the aftermath of Obergefell v. Hodges

I am a pastor. I preach the word of God regularly to the congregation that I serve. And this morning I am thinking about and praying for other pastors across the country who will be ascending the sacred desk tomorrow morning to deliver a message to God’s people. Some of them are wondering what to say in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that seems designed to marginalize our ancient faith. I don’t know that I have anything particularly earth-shattering to offer here, but I would like to encourage you pastors in several specific ways as you prepare.

1. Be Biblical

“We do not preach ourselves But Christ Jesus as Lord” (2 Cor. 4:5). We are not the subject matter of our own sermons. Jesus is. And we do not know him by what we have conjured from our own imaginations. We know him as he has revealed himself to us in the scriptures. That is why if we want our people to know the man, we have to proclaim to them the book—because the book testifies about him (John 5:39).

Pastor, your job tomorrow is unchanged from last week. You must preach the word. That is your task. If you haven’t been doing that up until now, that needs to change. Right now. Make it your aim to preach verse by verse, passage by passage, through as many books as you can until they cart you off or lower you in the dirt. Teach them the whole counsel of God and don’t hold anything back (Acts 20:27). They need all of it, and your job is to give it to them.

You can’t deliver it all in one sermon, so don’t try. But you can start this work with one sermon. Let tomorrow be that day, and don’t ever look back. I promise that you won’t run out of material.

2. Be Courageous

The apostle Paul tells us to preach the word “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). That means that you deliver the goods when it’s popular and when it’s not. It means that we preach Christ’s word when people congratulate us and when they actively oppose us. And as the Supreme Court and public opinion are going against us, there is no question that you will face opposition—maybe even from some in your own congregation. But don’t be cowed by that.

Right now, your people need you more than ever. They are facing difficulties at work because of their unpopular views on marriage. They are facing ostracism from certain circles that they have always run in. The social pressure to conform is ratcheting up on them. That’s what the folks in my church are facing. No doubt your people are facing the same. How will they stand if you don’t?

God’s people will rally to the truth. Take your stand. Wave the flag high so that the troops will know where to muster. Tribulation and opposition will arise, but that is no reason to back down. The sheep know the voice of their Shepherd. Be his mouthpiece, and they will come (John 10:27).

3. Be Practical

When Paul commands us to “preach the word,” he also says “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). This means that we preach in the imperative mood. We are not giving a theological lecture. We are in fact telling people in the name of Jesus what they ought to believe and to do. We are also telling them what they ought to disbelieve and repent of. That means that we know the challenges that they face and we speak directly to them.

We tell them to repent of sexual immorality and to put on Jesus Christ and to make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust (Romans 13:14). We tell them that they should expect opposition if they follow Jesus (John 15:18) but that we will ultimately overcome (John 16:33). We tell them to love their gay neighbors in the name of Jesus, to reach out to them, and to practice hospitality to them. We tell them that love is not at odds with truth—even the truths that are unpopular. Truth and love are only in tension for those who are resisting them. Real love always rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6).

In short, we do not trade in theological abstraction. If you preach the Bible, your stock-in-trade is the nitty gritty. So go there.

4. Be Holy

There is an old saying about pastors that is worth repeating here. “If your output exceeds your input, your upkeep will be your downfall.” If you are preaching a message that you yourself aren’t following, you are going to have to maintain an exterior appearance that is at odds with who you really are. And keeping that hypocrisy up can’t go on forever. Ultimately, you will be exposed and discredited.

And so a good servant of Christ Jesus isn’t just teaching the word. He’s living the word, constantly nourished himself by the words of the faith and of sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6). The apostle also commands us, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16). That means it’s not just your teaching that has to be right. You have to be right. You have to have integrity.

Pastors, one of the greatest gifts you can give to your congregation is your personal holiness. Do not neglect this. John Calvin said it this way,

There are two things of which a good pastor should be careful; to be diligent in teaching, and to keep himself pure… Doctrine will be of little avail, if there be not a corresponding goodness and holiness of life [comments on 1 Tim. 4:16].

There is more that can and should be said, but these are the things I will be praying for you as you preach tomorrow.

Godspeed, brothers.


UPDATE: I received a note from a dear friend and pastor saying that he intends to draw a line in the sand from the pulpit tomorrow. He plans to read the “An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage” to his congregation, though he says he is overwhelmed at the battle ahead. To him, I say this. We’ll be holding the ropes for you and all the others who will be doing something risky tomorrow. You are not alone, brother.

33 Responses to A word to pastors preaching in the aftermath of Obergefell v. Hodges

  1. Boyd Johnson June 27, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    Thanks for this good and helpful word. Praying for you as well.

  2. Miguel Echevarria June 27, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

    Good word, Denny. Thanks.

  3. dr. james willingham June 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm #

    It reminds me of the story of Hugh Latimer who was taken to task for preaching a sermon the King of England did not like. The following Sunday he stood in the pulpit, then walked to one side of it and said, “Hugh Latimer, do you not know that the King did not like your message last Sunday, and he is able to take away your life?” Then he walked to the other side of the pulpit and said, “Hugh Latimer, do you not know that God can send you to hell, if you do not preach the message that suits Him?” Then he took his position behind the pulpit and preached the same message that he had preached the previous Sunday, and the King was impressed enough to bear with him. That is the best my memory can recall of the matter from more than thirty years ago.

    • Ken Abbott June 27, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

      That sounds very much like Latimer. John Knox was another such for uncompromising preaching. Would we had Latimers, Knoxes, and Whitefields aplenty again.

  4. buddyglass June 27, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

    “We’ll be holding the ropes for you and all the others who will be doing something risky tomorrow.”

    Is reading the declaration on marriage risky? Guess it depends on the congregation. In many of the congregations shepherded by the signatories of the declaration on marriage it would likely be more “risky” to say something like this.

    • Daryl Little June 29, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

      Depending on the angle you look at it, you are sadly correct Buddyglass. From the view that sees the gathering storm outside, the gay marriage issue is the larger issue. From within the church walls, defending the biblical, permanence view of marriage, divorce and remarriage, will get you drawn a quartered in many places.

  5. Jonathan Charles June 27, 2015 at 10:32 pm #

    Isaiah 3: 12 is something you supposed followers of God need to read and preach…

    No where in the bible does God punish his people for patriarchy ( male hardship)
    But there always seems to be warnings and punishment for male
    Something you Christians call servant leadership…
    Adam was the best servant leader when he watched Eve sin…

    But hey Christian men are too weak to preach against feminists
    Don’t expect them to preach against the gay agenda!!
    I guess my comments have been hitting the nail on the head as they keep getting deleted…

    So how many female justices voted nay?!

    • buddyglass June 28, 2015 at 10:03 am #

      Passivity….Something you Christians call servant leadership…


      Some verses on servant leadership, btw:

      “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”

      “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

      “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

      • Ken Abbott June 28, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

        Agreed. Servant leadership, properly understood, is no passive thing.

  6. Clare Walker June 28, 2015 at 10:08 am #

    Thanks, pastor! I am a Catholic, and I believe all denominations must unite in defending our common heritage of the ancient Christian teaching on holy matrimony and natural marriage! I think we also must accept that we’re living in not just a post-Christian culture, but an aggressively anti-Christian culture. They have backed us up against a brick wall and we can’t go any further. By God’s grace this wall is The Cross.

  7. Curt Day June 28, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    Playing the Christian persecution card here is rather disingenuous. For one thing, the Supreme Court ruling explicitly states that religious views that same-sex marriage will be protected. Second, we are using a model of thought that says that either one rules over others or one is marginalized. Thus, since the Christian view of marriage is no longer in society’s driver’s seat, this post says that we are being marginalized. There is another model of thought that says we are to share society with others as equals. The result of such a practice is that neither our faith in Jesus nor those who believe that same-sex marriage is valid are marginalized. Having been in the driver’s seat for so long, we have not wanted such a model. Perhaps, that is the biggest opposition some have had to our beliefs about marriage.

    • Ken Abbott June 28, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

      Mr. Day appears to think this is a matter of grasping at privilege and power when it is more aptly put as a question of the accord of Christ with Belial.

      • Curt Day June 28, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

        It’s more like learning to let go of privilege and power. Realize that we could have just relied on evangelism to oppose same-sex marriage. But instead, we wanted to control legislation and, in a society based on freedom of religion, force our religious views on people who do not share them. Instead of speaking as prophets, we wanted society to act as a supplemental disciplinary arm of the Church by having them marginalize those from the LGBT community. We insisted on a king-of-the-hill battle while we could have just played side-by-side as peers.

        • Christiane Smith June 28, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

          much wisdom in what you say here, CURT, not unlike the gift of wisdom spoken of in Scripture: “He set in order charity in me” (Song of Songs 2:4)

          It is said in the Church, this:
          “Christian morality is not a form of . . . self-denial, a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults,” but is an invitation “to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others”

          The presenting of moral teachings must be done within the context of the entirety of Our Lord’s message, and not in isolation from any part of it. Only then, will holy preaching be ordered to reach the heart of the one who is to receive Christ.

          • Curt Day June 28, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

            I appreciate your note. In addition to lovingly invite people to respond to God’s love, we need to distinguish what society should hold people accountable to and what the Church should. And with the former, if we believe in democracy, then we need to share society with others as equals.

        • Ken Abbott June 28, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

          Not surprisingly, I completely disagree with your characterization of the matter. It is not a matter of “marginalizing” anyone, but taking a stand for the good and the true and the beautiful as against the evil and the false and the ugly. Again, what fellowship does light have with darkness? Should not Christ’s people seek to promote godliness? You speak as though the truth of God were a matter of plebiscite and that all should be on a level playing field as though ungodliness has legitimacy. Mr. Day, sin is cosmic treason. It has no right to be. We who are of Christ are captured and converted rebels. Should we yet make common cause with those who still shake their fists at our Lord and King? By all means, evangelize and seek to persuade and serve all in love and humility and if need be and the Lord so calls lay down our lives for the sake of the Name. But let us hear no more of playing side-by-side. There is not a single square inch of all creation that Christ has not claimed as his, and he is even now putting his enemies under his feet as a footstool. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess his Lordship, whether gladly and with exceeding joy or with wailing and gnashing of teeth. It may not come today, it may not come tomorrow, it may not come for another ten thousand years. But that day is coming.

          • Curt Day June 28, 2015 at 6:47 pm #

            I would agree with you if we worked to treat those in the LGBT community as equals including supporting same-sex marriage in society–not in the Church. But the history of how we have treated those in the LGBT community in the nation begs to differ. Homosexuality was once criminalized. Then it was legal to harass homosexuals and have the right to fire them for their sexual orientation. And when resisting the legalization of same-sex marriage was failing, some Christians worked for the passage of Jim Crow type laws in the name of religious liberty–religious liberty and property rights was a defense for some Jim Crow practices and laws. In addition, many of us said that we must prohibit same-sex marriage in society lest people think it was normal. So how is that motivation not an attempt to marginalize those in the LGBT community?

            Let me ask this: Isn’t the following of other religions idolatry? And yet, we believe that people should have the right to worship as they see fit. So how is it any different to allow people to engage in different sexual orientations?

            Sin is cosmic treason. But we have to determine what sins society should prohibit knowing that the Church should oppose all sins. And we have to determine that because society is not the Church. And we can oppose any sin by preaching God’s Word.

            You assume that I believe same-sex marriage is acceptable biblically speaking. And you insist on that point though I already stated that we should oppose same-sex marriage. The difference here is that I said we should oppose it through evangelism, not legislation.

            Finally, before claiming every single square inch of the world for Christ, you need to read the NT passages on Church discipline to see that society is a place people who cannot be in good standing in the Church can live. IN addition, you need to read Martin Luther’s The Jews And Their Lies. Because the your preferred treatment of those in the LGBT community is in line with the treatment Luther suggested for the Jews because of their unbelief. And Luther added that if those in society did not punish the Jews for their unbelief, then they would be complicit in their unbelief.

    • Gus Nelson June 28, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

      Curt: First, while I think it’s nice you actually believe the Supreme Court majority when it says it will protect religious liberties, the Supreme Court has been whittling away the First Amendment right to “exercise” religion for years, attempting to keep it solely within the four walls of church buildings. Second, without question now that the Court has recognized a Constitutional right to gay marriage, there will inevitably be legal confrontations about what that means when it bumps up against the First Amendment. Given recent history (for instance, the New Mexico Supreme Court in the Elane Photography case – the photographer was told she would have to subordinate her religious beliefs to the right of gays to have what they wanted if she wanted to stay in business) it is clear there will be a legal marginalization of Christian belief.

      • Curt Day June 28, 2015 at 9:30 pm #

        First, can you give examples of the whittling away of first amendment rights by the Supreme Court?

        Second, the case you are bringing up about the photographer really brings up the Jim Crow laws. For there were people who supported and followed the Jim Crow laws and practices for religious reasons. So it isn’t the marginalization of Christian beliefs your example brings up. For it was merely our beliefs, then we would be talking about people who merely preached or confessed those beliefs who would be in trouble. The example you bring is about whether business people can practice discrimination even for religious reason. And we need to understand what that discrimination in business means in a Capitalist economic system like our own system. And btw, it wasn’t the photographer’s religious beliefs that were in question, it was her business practices.

        • C. M. Granger June 28, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

          As I recall, her business practices were determined by her religious beliefs. If we are not to support SSM in the church, we cannot support it in our culture and civil law. Christ has one kingdom, not two.

          • Curt Day June 29, 2015 at 4:19 am #

            C.M. Granger,
            There is a point to which that can’t be done. And discriminating against certain groups can’t be done in the name of religion. Such discrimination was practiced during Jim Crow against Blacks and some who practiced this discrimination did so in the name of religion.

            Now when you say Christ has one kingdom, not two, are you saying that we must force society to adopt laws that reflect the rules and morality of the Church? If so, how do you not call what you advocate a Christian version of Shariah law?

            • C. M. Granger June 29, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

              Curt, we’ve been doing it in the US until the 1960’s, more or less. Christian morality and ethics have nothing to do with Shariah law.

              • Curt Day June 30, 2015 at 8:34 am #

                C.M. Granger,
                And Shariah law has nothing to do with Christian morality dominating society except that religion is being used to at least partially dominate society. But what about those who don’t share our religious views on marriage? What rights do they have? The difference between how we’ve approached that here and how Shariah law approaches it is that Shariah law is a bit more violent than we are.

                • C. M. Granger June 30, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

                  As a Christian, I’m called to follow Christ and support or defend what is pleasing to Him. I believe the morality revealed in Scripture is that which is good, right, and true. What others believe is not my concern. I’m not called to support or enable any form of sin, and neither are those who are in the kingdom of Christ

                  • Curt Day June 30, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

                    C.M. Granger,
                    I fully agree with your first sentence. I also fully agree with your second sentence. Where we disagree is whether Christ calls us to force that morality on others. I see no justification for forcing that morality on society in the NT. In fact, when one looks at the Scriptures talking about Church discipline, it seems that society is to have a bit more freedom in terms of certain moral principles than what would be allowed if we were to force that morality on society.

                    • C. M. Granger July 2, 2015 at 1:20 am #

                      Our whole judicial system is based upon “forcing” morality on others. That’s why it’s a crime to steal, slander, murder, etc. And there were social stigmas attached to being a liar, an adulterer, etc.

                      If Christian morality is good, right, and true as it comes from God and reflects His holy character, it should hardly trouble someone who follows Christ to insist that it be our moral standard as a culture.

  8. Barbara June 28, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

    I drove home tonight grateful for pastors in our church who consistently in their teaching and in their prayers expressed grief at what appears to be the passive judgment of God upon us as our nation is given over to its lusts; leading to the ultimate destruction of our neighbors if they will not repent, but also recognizing that judgment begins in the house of the Lord and so they encouraged each of us toward seasons of fasting and prayer, for actively searching out and repenting of our own sins, open or hidden, whatever they may be, rather than pointing out the sins of others, for this is where true healing and true revival will begin.

    last name Jackson (I don’t know how to add it)


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