February 13, 1994

LOVE AND MARRIAGE

Marriage should be honored by all.    Hebrews 13:4

Sandra and Philip are in love.  Sandra is 26, Philip is 28.  They’re both single, and they met at the company where they both work.  They were attracted to each other right away.  Neither was a virgin by the time they met, but they wouldn’t consider themselves loose.  Philip and Sandra don’t believe in sleeping around with just anybody.  They both believe that you shouldn’t go to bed with someone unless you’re in love with that person.

They’ve both been in love before, and now they’re in love again.  They don’t feel ready to make a permanent commitment like marriage–Sandra’s parents went through a nasty divorce, and she doesn’t want to be tied down till she’s sure she’s got the right man–but both she and Philip agree that they’re serious enough to move in together.  If it works out, who knows?  Eventually, they might get married.  In the meantime, they’re going to enjoy their love one day at a time.

Amber and Jeremy are in love.  Amber is in grade 12, and Jeremy is in his first year at the local community college.  They met at a pizza place where Amber liked to hang out with her friends.  Jeremy worked there three nights a week, bringing out pizzas.  He served Amber and her friends on several different nights, and when he wasn’t too busy, he liked to hang around their booth and joke around with them.  One Friday night he told Amber that he had Saturday night off, and he wondered if she’d like to go to a movie with him.  That sounded good to her, and they had a great time.  Since then, they’ve been falling deeper and deeper in love.

There’s just one problem.  Amber grew up in a family that takes faith very seriously, but not Jeremy.  He has little interest in going to church, and he has no strong beliefs.  When Amber’s parents ask why she’s dating someone who isn’t a committed Christian, she replies, “We’re just dating.  It’s not like we’re getting married or something.  And besides, even if we would get married, I think that for a marriage to be happy, companionship is more important than having the same religion.”  Amber still believes most of what her parents and her brother believe–she believes that God exists and that Jesus is his Son–but she’s not about to let her family’s Christianity ruin her love life or keep her from happiness.  Amber loves Jeremy.  He’s good-looking, he’s smart, he’s funny–and Amber can’t imagine meeting someone who’s more right for her.

Mark and Julie are in love.  Mark is in his late thirties.  He’s divorced, with two kids that he still sees every other weekend.  He met Julie at a ball game.  He was there to watch his kids play, and it turned out Julie was there to watch hers.  Julie is married, but her husband wasn’t with her that night.  He was too busy with his work, as it seemed he always was.  Somehow Mark and Julie got to talking while they were watching the game, and they hit it off right away.  After seeing each other at a few more games, Mark and Julie started planning how they could spend more time together with just the two of them.

Now they’re in love, but they’re uneasy about it.  Mark is divorced, but he doesn’t really believe in divorce, and he’s never thought much of a man who would steal someone else’s wife and break up their marriage.  But how can he let go of Julie?  She makes him feel so alive.

Julie’s misgivings are even more serious than Mark’s.  She’s in love with Mark, but she also cares about her family.  She adores her three kids, and she also has at least some feeling left for her husband.  Still, no matter how much Julie cares about her family, she’s never felt about anyone the way she feels about Mark.  How can she possibly stop seeing him?  Doesn’t she have a right to be happy?

When Frank Sinatra first sang that marriage is an institute you can’t disparage, it was 1955, and most people would have agreed.  But times have changed.  Today Sinatra’s song is mockingly used as the theme of “Married with Children, a TV show which makes a laughingstock of marriage.  Marriage is disparaged, and meanwhile, more and more people look for love in non-traditional arrangements.

Sandra and Philip are in love, so they’re living together.  Amber and Jeremy are in love, so they ignore the fact that they don’t share the same faith commitment.  Mark and Julie are in love, so they carry on an affair that threatens to break up Julie’s marriage.  Many of you listening to me are in similar situations, or you know someone who is.  What should we make of all this?

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to think about the choices we make when we fall in love.  I’d like to suggest that we ask ourselves one simple question:  What does God say about love and marriage?  He’s the one who invented it.  What does God say?

A loving marriage where two people are totally committed to each other and to God–that is indeed something to cherish.  In the Bible, God tells us, “Marriage should be honored by all.”  We need to remember that as we make our choices involving love and sexuality.  “Marriage should be honored by all.”  That’s what God says.

A while back, Antioch College in Ohio tried to deal with the problem of date rape by stating some rules for sexual consent.  Among other things, these rules stated that consent isn’t real unless it’s verbal.  At every level of physical contact, you first need spoken permission.  If you want to hold hands, don’t just reach over.  First, ask.  If you want to kiss, don’t just look tenderly into each other’s eyes and pucker up.  First say aloud, “Would you like me to kiss you?”  If you want the contact to become even more intimate, don’t just move ahead.  First, get spoken permission.

The comedians and talk shows got a laugh out of these rules, though the problem of date rape really isn’t a laughing matter.  Other people said that even if date rape is a problem, Antioch’s questionnaire approach is a bit much.  Turning sexuality into a question-and-answer session, they complained, takes the romance out of it.  Still, many people probably agree with columnist Ellen Goodman, who said that some clear understanding of consent is badly needed and that women can’t enjoy romance and sex until they feel “free from fear, free from pressure.”

I agree that we need a good definition of consent.  Here’s a policy that’s a lot older and a lot better than Antioch’s set of rules:  You have legitimate consent to sexual intimacy only if both of you have said, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.”  That’s the only sex policy that works.  Try any other set of rules, and you’re just trying to manage immorality.

Why is marriage so important?  My church’s official teaching at wedding ceremonies puts it this way:

In putting his blessing on marriage, God intended that it would provide:  a context within which husband and wife can help and comfort each other and find companionship;  a setting in which we may give loving and tender expression to the desires God gave us;  a secure environment within which children may be born and taught to know and serve the Lord;  and a structure that enriches society and contributes to its orderly function.

In God’s plan, when marriage flourishes, so do men and women and children and the entire society.  We can’t make light of marriage or pretend it doesn’t matter.  There’s too much at stake.

Casual sex is one way of dishonoring marriage, but it’s not the only way.  What about couples like Sandra and Philip who fall in love and live together without getting married?  They say it’s okay as long as you love each other and you’re both willing.  But what does God say?  He says, “Marriage should be honored by all.”

So why is it that so many people think that “living together” is a good idea?  Some couples live together because they think marriage doesn’t mean much.  “Who needs a piece of paper or a wedding ring?  We love each other.  That’s all that matters.”

But not all who live together feel that way.  Some see marriage as a serious commitment, and they don’t want to make promises they can’t keep.  They don’t want their marriage to fall apart like so many others they know, and so living together makes sense to them.  They can enjoy each other for the time being, and they can also use it as an experiment to find out if they’re compatible.  If it works out, they can always get married later.  If it doesn’t work out–well, no harm done.

The irony of this is that, according to all the surveys, people who live together before marriage are much more likely to get divorced than those who don’t live together first.  And besides, it’s just not true that when people live together and then go their separate ways, there’s no harm done.  The Bible teaches that when two people are physically joined, they become one flesh. You become vulnerable to each other, and your lives become intertwined with each other.  If you then split up and go your separate ways, you lose part of yourself.

And what about children?  Millions of children are born to live-in lovers.  What about them?  Kids whose parents are living in a disposable relationship don’t have much security.  Is there anything they can really count on for sure?

Not only that, but a disproportionate amount of the child abuse in our society is at the hands of live-in lovers, and the kids most likely to join gangs are those whose parents don’t bother getting married.  When marriage crumbles, so does society.  Just open your eyes and look around.

God says, “Marriage should be honored by all.”  When you decide that you know better than God, that it’s okay to live together without being married, you betray yourself, you betray the person you love, you betray your children and your society, and you betray the God who created you for something better.  To really honor marriage, you must seek to remain pure before marriage and faithful within marriage.  The Bible says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4).  So on top of all the other trouble that comes with dishonoring marriage, you face the judgment of God.

Let’s look at another aspect of all this:  deciding whom to date and whom to marry.  Amber says it’s okay to fall in love with Jeremy, even though she claims to be a Christian and he’s not interested.  What does God say?

In Malachi chapter 2, the Bible says that some of God’s people have broken faith and done something detestable.  What is it they’ve done?  Marrying someone who belongs to a foreign god, who doesn’t have a commitment to the one true God.  This is so serious, says the prophet, that people who choose such marriages should be cut off from God’s people, even if they try to keep being religious and “brings offerings to the Lord Almighty.”

In the New Testament, God says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (2 “Corinthians 6:14).  In another place he says that a Christian widow is “free to marry anyone she chooses, but he must belong to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39).

God prohibits marriage outside the faith, and that also means you shouldn’t be dating outside the faith.  If you can’t say no to the offer of a date with a non-Christian, how are you going to break it off when you’re madly in love?

I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t have anything to do with people who aren’t committed to Christ.  Be as friendly and sensitive and cooperative as possible.  Treat people well, and tell them about your love for Jesus.  It’s important to have Christian love for everyone.  But romantic love is off limits.  God wants you to be one in body and also one in spirit with the person you marry.  If you serve Jesus, how can you ever be one in spirit with someone who ignores Jesus?

It’s a question of loyalty.  If you claim to be a Christian but you marry a person from another religion, or you marry a person who has a church background but whose faith means very little, you’re taking a giant step away from Jesus Christ.  You may think you’ll win the person over to Christ, but far more often, it works the other way.  God becomes less and less important to you.  You’re under constant pressure to put the will of your husband or wife ahead of God’s will, and the fact that you married that person in the first place is proof that when push comes to shove, Jesus does not come first in your life.

And there’s more.  When you marry outside the faith, you’re risking not only your own soul but also the souls of any children you might have.  What’s going to happen to your kids?  You can try to show them God’s way, but your spouse lives another way.  At some point, you may be tempted to resent your spouse for jeopardizing the children’s souls.  But you’ve got nobody but yourself to blame.  You’re the one who knew the way of Christ but chose someone who didn’t share your convictions.  You’re the one who chose to risk the souls of your children for the sake of your own happiness.

If you’re a Christian, God calls you to marry someone who makes your commitment to Christ stronger instead of weaker, and who has the kind of faith you’d like your children to have.

Let’s move on to another aspect of love and marriage.  What if you’re married to one person, but you’re in love with another?  Julie’s in love with Mark, and now she’s thinking about leaving her husband.  Mark and Julie say they can’t be happy without each other.  But what does God say?

In Malachi 2 the Bible talks to divorced people who are troubled because God won’t bless them.

You flood the Lord’s altar with tears [says the prophet].  You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings…  You ask, “Why?”  It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

Has not the Lord made them one?  In flesh and spirit, they are his.  And why one?  Because he was seeking godly offspring.  So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.

“I hate divorce,”  says the Lord God… (2:13-16)

When you’re madly in love with someone who excites you more than the person you married, you might wonder, How can it be wrong when it feels so right?  But the real question is, How can it be right when God says it’s so wrong?

I know that some people find themselves in situations where separation and divorce become a tragic necessity, but right now I’m talking to those who have decided to break their promises just because the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence.  For God’s sake, for your spouse’s sake, for your children’s sake, honor your marriage.  Don’t break faith.

Everybody these days is trying to make kids feel better about divorce, right down to children’s television.  On “Sesame Street” a little bird lives with mommy bird in one part of the forest, while daddy bird lives in another part of the forest.  The little bird sings, “Over there is daddy’s tree, and here is mommy’s tree.  They don’t live together but they both love me.”  Why should adults expect kids to adapt themselves to cope with divorce, when the adults refuse to adapt themselves to prevent divorce?  Grownups stop loving each other, and then wonder why their kids are worried that their parents will stop loving them.  Is it fair to expect four-year-olds and fourteen-year-olds to be more mature and flexible than forty-year-olds?  We should do all we can to support children of divorce and reassure them of their parents’ love, but if you want to help children the most, then don’t get divorced in the first place.

We can’t dishonor marriage and then say it’s okay because we live in changing times.  We may live in changing times, but if so, they’re changing for the worse.  No change can improve on God’s plan of two people committed to each other for life and committed to Him, the Lord of life.

God is faithful, and he expects his people to be faithful.  God keeps his promises, and he expects his people to keep theirs.  “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”  That’s what God says.

“Marriage should be honored by all.”  When you’re single, keep yourself sexually pure, and when you’re married, give yourself fully and joyfully to your spouse.  Enjoy the miracle that happens every time two people give each other the gift of themselves, when you promise to love each other and walk with each other and be one with each other no matter what.  If you’re not already in a live-in relationship, don’t start.  If you’re not dating outside the faith, don’t start.  If you’re not having an affair or considering divorce, make sure you never do.

But what if you’ve already blown it, and you’re hearing this message too late?  Well, in one sense it’s never too late.  God is not only the Creator who shows us what is right, but he’s also the Savior who can forgive us when we’re wrong.  This is can happen only when Jesus’ blood washes away your sins and his Holy Spirit renews your life.  So stop pretending you’re your own boss and bow before God.  Stop pretending that the choices you’ve made are okay.  Admit your sin and ask God’s forgiveness for Jesus’ sake.  Then start obeying God from this point on.

If you’ve been living with someone, confess your sin to God. Then either get married or else end the relationship.  Don’t keep living in sin.

If you’re dating a non-Christian, break it off before the relationship goes any further.  It’s hard, but you have to do it.  You can’t commit your life to someone with different loyalties.

If you’ve already married such a person, the situation is different.  You’ve made your promises.  You can’t erase the past.  Abandoning your husband or wife now would only make matters worse.  Seek God’s forgiveness for your past choice, and then pray for his help.  Pray that God in his mercy will yet win your spouse and children, and dedicate yourself to becoming an example of love and godliness that will help to win them (see 1 Corinthians 7:12-16).

If you’re having an affair, end it.  End it now.  Then seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of your husband or wife.

If you’ve already divorced your husband or wife to marry someone else, ask God to forgive you and cleanse you.  Then confess to the person you abandoned that you were wrong.  You’re bound to someone else now, you can’t undo the damage to all the people you hurt, but at least you can admit that you did wrong and seek their forgiveness.

God says, “Marriage should be honored by all.”  This means we obey the Lord’s will for marriage.  And it means that when we fail to obey, we repent.  We seek forgiveness from the Lord and from others, and we honor God’s will for marriage from this point on as best we can.

PRAYER

Father in heaven, thank you for the wonder of love between a woman and a man.  Help us to honor you, and to honor marriage as you intend.  Open our minds to know what you want, and strengthen our wills to do what you want.  Where we have failed you and failed others, please forgive us for Jesus’ sake, and renew us by your Holy Spirit.  Bring help and healing to the people we’ve hurt, especially the spouses and children who have suffered so much.  Renew our society and our world, that marriage may be held in honor by all.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.