Meditations in Hebrews 13: 56. Moral Ethics (1)
Heb 13:4 Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
God’s design: In the next two verses we find two examples of what I will simply call moral ethics. The first is about marriage and sex and the second is about attitudes about money. One of the things many people do not like about the Bible is that it lays down specific rights and wrongs according to God’s design for mankind but people do not like being told what that design is and therefore what is behaviour running contrary to it.
Design for Marriage: Perhaps nowhere is this rebellion against God’s design seen as clearly today, as in the whole question of marriage in the Western world. Marriage design is seen in the earliest pages of the Bible: “A man will leave his mother and father and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) One man plus one woman who separate themselves from their families and become a new single unit, a foundation stone of civilisation.
Oneness: The apostle Paul spoke of the oneness that comes from this uniting suggesting it is far more than merely a physical uniting. The Message version is particularly good at expressing what he wrote: “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modelled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realise that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.” (1 Cor 6:16-20). In other words, what you do with your body is important to God because your body houses the Holy Spirit and when there is a legitimate God-blessed union of husband and wife, there is a unity that includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. THIS is God’s design order and therefore anything less than this cannot receive His blessing.
The failures of Co-habitation: Living together and having sexual relations without commitment is what today is referred to as co-habitation, not only a sign of rebellion against God but also a sign of lack of security. Surveys of cohabitation clearly show that such relationships are more likely to break up than marriages and, even more, those who cohabit before marriage but then get married, are more likely to break up than traditional marriages.
Features of Divorce: When Malachi said that God hates divorce it wasn’t only referring to spiritual breakup but also to marriage breakup because God knows the harm that is done to individuals when there is a marriage breakup and, even more, the harm that is done to the children of such a family breakup. Jesus confirmed the Law of Moses that permitted divorce but only because of the hardness of heart of the individuals concerned who cannot receive counsel and help and grace to restore that which has been damaged by infidelity.
Adultery: Infidelity in respect of marriage is called adultery, the crossing the boundaries of a marriage so a sexual relationship occurs between a member of the marriage and a third party. God’s feelings about this are quite clear: “You shall not commit adultery.” (Ex 20:14). General prohibitions against immorality are found in the New Testament (see 1 Cor 6:9 and Eph 5:5) The apostle Paul spells it out: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thess 4:3-7)
Again his instructions as to how to take control of yourself is are clear: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Col 3:5,6) and “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” (Eph 5:3)
It is sometimes suggested that in the modern church in the West these instructions are often forgotten or ignored. If we do, we do so at our peril for there will come an accounting before the Lord. There are no excuses; merely because others live and behave in ways contrary to God’s ways, that gives no allowance to us to do the same. This may become one of the key ways that Christians stand out from unbelievers and in so doing they will reveal a better way.
God’s order for Pre-Marriage: Many modern young people appear to have no sexual boundaries and as, many a TV series has shown, find it incredibly difficult to find love. Starting a relationship in God’s order of things starts, I would suggest, in becoming friends which is a meeting at intellectual and emotional and social levels. Physical intimacy may begin before marriage but consummation should always be left to after the marriage. Anything less than this leaves guilt and fear.
The teaching here by the writer to the Hebrews is ultra clear: “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” i.e. marriage is a relationship God-style and anything less than that may mean adultery or simply immorality (anything outside marriage) and that means being answerable to God and that may be painful. Let’s not go that way!