You may have seen in the Classified Ads: “For sale, cheap, one wedding dress, size ten. Worn only once, by mistake.”
And then there is the woman in the marriage counselor’s office describing her marriage: “At first it was ideal, then it became an ordeal, and now I want a new deal.”
If you haven’t noticed, marriage is having a tough time these days. Not just your marriage or my marriage, but the whole idea of marriage.
It’s not just the radical feminists who officially view marriage as an oppressive institution.
It’s not just the hedonistic philosophy of the Playboy lifestyle that views marriage as an inconvenient obstacle to personal fulfillment.
It’s not just the Hollywood jet set where men and women live together and have children and then laugh when someone asks about marriage, and say, “we don’t have any plans.” And then change partners like they change underwear.
You expect it from those places. But it’s also in our next-door neighbors, where the moving van shows up one day and only half the stuff goes in and the children are crying as dad gets in the car and drives away from their lives and begins his new life with his young secretary.
It’s even in the church, where couples suddenly announce, “we just can’t get along anymore and we know God wouldn’t want us to be unhappy.”
But there is a voice rising out of the din and discontent. It is the voice of God reminding us that marriage was his creation and his gift.
We say frequently, “God hates divorce.” And he does. But do we forget to remind people that God loves marriage? What stands in the way of happiness in marriage and fulfilling relationships is not the irrelevance or the obsolescence of marriage. It is, as Jesus says, “the hardness of our hearts.”
But as we are prone to do, we place the blame elsewhere. It’s his fault, her fault, it’s nobody’s fault. Marriage has never been an easy, no hassles, little effort endeavor. And in an age where anything that requires effort gets the short shrift, and marriage is ridiculed and maligned, we all-too-easily buy the line, “well, it must not have been meant to be.”
But that voice still rings out – “In the beginning, it was not so…”
It’s strange that an exhortation written 2000 years ago would be as relevant today as then. Our Hebrews writer says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
God’s perfect plan from the beginning has always been the lifelong union of one man with one woman in an intimate relationship that is mutually serving and supporting – Gen. 2:24 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
This marriage relationship has always been at the core of God’s plan for the family, for the birth and rearing and nurturing of children. For companionship and partnership, for love and fulfillment.
To be sure, there has never been any such thing as a perfect marriage, because there has never been a perfect human being who has entered into marriage. And God has been able to bring happiness and blessing out of some of the tangled messes we’ve gotten ourselves into, but it’s always in spite of, not because of the way we’ve managed our relationships. God is wonderfully merciful and forgiving.
But even with all of our weaknesses and failings and imperfections, the relationship between a husband and a wife in marriage is the most perfect of relationships. It gives the full opportunity for the filling of every relational need we have – but most of all it is perfect because it is designed and created by the one who is perfect.
When the writer tells us to honor marriage, it begins with an attitude that flies in the face of the modern mindset.
Our world dishonors marriage by treating it as a relic from the past the enslaves people and keeps them from achieving real happiness.
Our world dishonors marriage by treating it as an unnecessary and sometimes destructive addendum to an otherwise beautiful relationship they don’t want to ruin by getting married – too many strings attached.
Our world dishonors marriage by treating it as disposable. It’s a good idea, but basically a temporary arrangement that is good for as long as it fulfills my needs, but when I tire or become bored, I’m free to move on.
Honoring marriage begins with an attitude that holds up the ideal of marriage – in the eyes of our children – that through our own relationships exemplifies marriage in the eyes of the world. Honoring means we hold up examples of great marriages, that we provide opportunities for growing and enhancing our marriages, that we encourage struggling marriages with support and affirmation. Honoring means the church speaks with one voice to ourselves and to the world in affirming God’s call to the commitment and permanence of marriage.
Honoring begins with an attitude, but that’s not where it stops. It takes that attitude and integrates and implements it in a personal way into our own relationships.
Lots of folks think having great marriages is a wonderful ideal, but they’re not willing to put in the work it takes to make it work in their own. They’re willing to settle for second-best, or just enough to get by. That’s dishonoring marriage.
We’ll say, I’m in favor of marriage, but mine has too many problems to resolve, and I don’t love my partner any more, and God will just have to understand why I’ve decided on divorce. That’s dishonoring marriage.
Honoring marriage means absolute commitment, not just to the institution of marriage, but to make my marriage the very best it can be. It means being willing to do whatever is necessary to make my marriage, not just survive, not just tolerable, but a delight to my partner and a delight to God.
Honoring marriage means we need to set an ideal for our children. We need to begin teaching them at a young age that marriage is for life – that marriage is intended to unite two lives in a relationship that glorifies God.
And we need to encourage our children to date and marry Christians. I’m puzzled by parents who allow and encourage their children to date and marry unbelievers and then when their children leave the church and leave the Lord wonder, “what went wrong?”
Paul wrote, “do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” Only in the Lord am I going to find the real joy and happiness that God has planned for my marriage. A Christian uniting himself or herself with an unbeliever only sets that marriage up for years of tension and conflict… at least compromise, at worst separation from God.
And then, the writer speaks plainly and bluntly: Keep the marriage bed pure. If marriage has suffered at the hands of the world, sex has been absolutely devastated. Sex has been ripped off the pages of the Bible, and out of the context of marriage and been defiled, made common, cheap and dirty.
We’re inundated with the message that sex is a casual, recreational, non-committal kind of transaction between a male and a female (or otherwise), with no strings attached, no consequences, no permanent effects. And we’re buying the lie. We are so constantly exposed to messages of tolerance and ambiguity toward pre-marital sex, homosexuality, pornography, and extra-marital affairs, that we just find it difficult to be judgmental and intolerant toward any of it. But the Hebrews writer says “God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” God takes sex seriously. He created it for the exclusive, covenantal relationship of marriage. Anytime we take it out of that context, we have violated God’s will.
Any time a husband or wife violates their covenant with their spouse by uniting themselves sexually to someone other than their spouse they have not only violated their covenant with their spouse, but with God. That kind of violation starts long before they end up in a motel room. If you’re at the office and you start noticing a co-worker and making opportunities to be around them, and flirting with them, you have taken that first step down the road toward adultery. When you start confiding in them and allowing them into that place of emotional intimacy reserved only for your partner in marriage, you are halfway there. Red flags should be waving, sirens should be screaming. If you do not take action quickly to end it, Satan will make sure you have the opportunity to destroy your marriage.
An attitude of faithfulness is cultivated long before we enter into marriage. I’ve heard people talking about getting it out of their system before they get married, as though somehow if they have enough sexual encounters and engage in enough immorality before marriage they will burn it all out and be content with one partner in marriage. And the sad truth is that they are merely setting a pattern for their lives. They don’t burn it out, they entrench it.
When the writer adds “the sexually immoral” to “the adulterer” who is under God’s judgment, he is broadening the scope of God’s will for sex to any person, married or unmarried.
The Greek word “porneia” includes premarital sex, any kind of intimate touching or caressing, pornography (whether you buy a magazine, watch it in a movie, or pull it up on your computer screen). It includes homosexuality, bisexuality, and any other kind of perversion this world can come up with.
Regardless of how the media or Hollywood might have redefined these as natural and appropriate, in God’s definition they are still sin.
The tragic fact is that these are not just sins of the world or temptations that allure the weak and immature. The messages and stimuli overload our senses, and desensitize our avoidance systems to sin.
We are subtly, yet strongly being lured to accept the unacceptable, tolerate the intolerable – and participate in that which is ungodly and immoral. And in so doing, defiling our relationship with our mates, our relationship with God and bringing his judgment upon us.
The writer’s exhortation to keep the marriage bed pure, affirms the exclusiveness of the sexual relationship, and promises God’s blessing upon those who honor his will.
The message here in verse 4 is a positive one. It presents a counter-culture in a world where God is ignored and sex is exalted. It says God is the Lord of all of our lives. He designed marriage, he created sex and he wants us to experience them in all of their wonderful beauty and holiness. But that can only happen where God is obeyed and marriage is held in honor and the marriage bed is kept pure.