Living Together: Dishonoring those you love the most

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Hebrews 13:4

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called Hot Button Topics, and we are addressing a series of issues where the culture often speaks a different message to us than God does in his word. So far, we have looked at the topics of abortion, assisted suicide, alcohol and racism. Today we will look at the hot button topic of living together.

Living together is an especially important topic for us to address, because this is one area where the culture has deeply infiltrated the church. It’s not just people outside the church who are living together before marriage, but this has increasingly become the norm for people who were raised in church and those who attend church. As such, it is a pervasive problem in our society today which needs to be addressed by and in the church. (Read Hebrews 13:4 and pray.)


Marriage, which was created by God for our good, has taken some hard knocks lately. It is often laughed at, ridiculed or simply pushed aside as something unnecessary, unworkable, old-fashioned, out of date. There are the jokes people tell. One person described marriage this way – first comes the engagement ring, then comes the wedding ring, and then comes the suffer-ring. Or there’s the young couple who stood at the wedding altar and the minister asked the groom, “Do you take this woman for better or for worse? for richer or for poorer? in sickness and in health?” And the groom answered, “Yes, no, yes, no, no yes.”

We can laugh but the sad truth is that many young people have given up on marriage today. Many are afraid to even try. They say, “We’ve got a good thing going. Why mess it up by getting married?” They are living out the sad legacy that a generation of broken marriages have passed on to them. They say, “We’ve seen marriage and it doesn’t work.” I say, “If it’s not working, then let’s fix it.” It makes no sense to abandon God’s good intention for us just because we happen to have made a mess of things. Experience shows that when we abandon God’s principles, we only make things worse.

God’s good gift of marriage has many enemies today – extramarital affairs, easy divorce, busy couples without enough time for each other, an increasing acceptance of homosexuality – all of these tear at the institution of marriage in some way, shape or form.

But perhaps the greatest attack on marriage has come in the modern acceptance of couples living together outside of marriage; The numbers are staggering. 430,000 couples were living together in 1960. By 2015 over 8,000,000 were living together. In 1970 11% of newlywed couples lived together before marriage. By 1993 that percentage had increased sixfold (two-thirds of newlywed couples living together before marriage.) Our young people in increasing numbers are abandoning marriage as the primary environment in which a man and a woman live together as husband and wife.

And so, you hear the common phrase tossed around, “Let’s live together!” And you hear all the rationalizations, “Why not? Everyone else is doing it. We need to see if we’re compatible. We love each other. It makes sense financially. We’re going to get married anyways. We’re married in God’s sight – who needs a piece of paper from the City Hall?” And so, the question rings out, “Why not?” It deserves an answer, and God’s Word gives us some powerful answers “why not.”

This morning’s message has wide application today. It is a message for young people as you face these decisions in the future. It is a message for parents as your children face these decisions. It is a message for independent singles as you make certain lifestyle choices right now. It is a message for senior adults who have lost a spouse due to death or divorce and are contemplating living together with someone outside of marriage. And it is also a message for those of you who are living together right now, as you need to make some very crucial decisions about your relationship.

I must also warn you that this may be a hard message for some of you to receive. I pray that you will not receive it as a word of judgment, but as a word of grace – for Christ offers forgiveness and an opportunity to change at every turn. Actually, this message will probably not make a lot of sense to you unless you love God and care about his Word in your life. You see, my desire is not just to hit you with a commandment – “Thou shalt not live together” – but hopefully reveal to you the heart of God on this matter.

So why not live together? We often hear about unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Those are some obvious reasons, but we’re not even going to talk about them today. I want to go even more basic than that. Let’s assume there was no threat of pregnancy or disease. Why not live together? Because by living together you dishonor those you love the most. The Bible tells us you dishonor God, you dishonor each other, and you dishonor your family. Let’s take a look at each of these reasons in turn.

I. You dishonor God
   – Genesis 2:24-25; Hebrews 13:4

The first reason not to live together is that by so doing you dishonor God. Hebrews 13:4 tells us: “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) That word “honored” means “precious, something that is highly valued.” In other words, we should place the highest value on marriage and seek to honor it in every way possible.

God created marriage. It was the very first institution God gave to us; he gave it long before he instituted government or the church. Before the second chapter of Genesis closes out, God has already instituted marriage and blessed the first man and woman with this most precious of relationships. Thus, we read in Genesis 2:24-25 “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”

God instituted marriage first because it was basic and essential to all else that would follow. History shows that most nations rise or fall on the strength of their families. The U.S. Supreme Court declared in 1888 that marriage is “the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.” People who want to get rid of marriage are actually acting irrationally when you think about it. Without any forethought as to the consequences, they are abandoning a time-honored cultural institution which has held together the very fabric of society from the beginning of civilization.

We often hear the following words spoken at the beginning of a wedding ceremony. They sum up the Scriptural teaching about marriage in a beautiful and succinct manner: “Marriage is a holy estate which is instituted of God, regulated by his commandments, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, and to be held in honor among all people. From the creation God has established and set apart marriage for the welfare and happiness of mankind. In marriage husband and wife are joined together as one, reflecting the mystery of the union between Christ and His Church.”

So, marriage is to be honored by all. How then do we honor marriage? Going back to Hebrews 13:4, one essential way is “by keeping the marriage bed pure.” That phrase “marriage bed” is a single word in the Greek which at times can mean simply “bed” or “resting place.” But it can also refer to sexual intimacy, that intimate relationship reserved for husband and wife in marriage. The Scripture goes on to say that this relationship should be kept pure and undefiled, that we should not let anything tarnish or stain the relationship between husband and wife.

This tells us first that within the context of marriage the sexual relationship is pure and undefiled. That’s good news! God designed the intimacy and pleasure of the marriage relationship, and it is beautiful and pure in his sight.

But the text also tells us that this relationship of sexual intimacy can be defiled. We read that “God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Adultery and sexual immorality both defile the marriage bed. Adultery defiles the marriage bed by betraying the covenant of faithfulness which is at the very heart of marriage. Sexual immorality defiles the marriage bed by disregarding the marriage covenant of faithfulness. Sexual immorality is a broad term which refers to any sexual activity outside of marriage. It applies equally to pre-marital sex, homosexuality, incest, pornography and prostitution.

But the point we want to focus on right now is this. The couple that chooses to live together as husband and wife outside of marriage dishonors God by dishonoring God’s design for marriage and for sexual intimacy within marriage.

You may have noticed that so far I’m assuming that most couples who live together are also involved sexually. Well, you’re right! I am assuming that! And I think in most cases you’ll admit that’s a pretty fair assumption. Later on, we will address the situation of the couple living together who are not sexually active. But for right now, let’s continue to assume that living together also means sexual involvement. And so, living together dishonors God.

As mentioned earlier, some people say, “Well, we’re married in God’s sight — who needs that piece of paper anyways?” The truth is, without that piece of paper, you are not married in God’s sight! From the very beginning God created marriage as a public, legal, relationship between a man and a woman based on a public covenant of lifetime faithfulness to each other. Just because you live with someone or have a sexual relationship with someone does not mean you are “married” in God’s sight. On the contrary, God has a different name for that. He doesn’t call it marriage. He calls it sexual immorality! And Hebrews 13:4 says: “Let marriage be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

I often have people who are living together ask about getting married in the church. I always ask them “Why in a church?” and they usually reply they want God’s blessing on their marriage. I explain to them that God’s blessing on their marriage does not come by being married in a church, but rather by living in obedience to God’s commands. I encourage them to live separately and to save that “husband/wife” relationship for marriage. Very few are willing to do that. They want God’s blessing, but they do not want to follow God’s commands.

It has been said that we don’t break God’s commands; rather, they break us. On the insert in your bulletin, you will find some rather sad and sobering statistics concerning the results of those who have broken God’s commands in this area. (from Marriage Savers, by Michael McManus)

• The number of unmarried couples living together soared 19-fold from 430,000 in 1960 to 8.3 million in 2015.
• More than eight out of ten couples who live together will break up either before the wedding or afterwards in divorce.
• About 45 percent of those who begin cohabiting, do not marry. Another 5-10 percent continue living together and do not marry.
• Couples who do marry after living together are 50% more likely to divorce than those who did not.
• Only 12 percent of couples who have begun their relationship with cohabitation end up with a marriage lasting 10 years or more.
• A Penn State study reports that even a month’s cohabitation decreases the quality of the couple’s relationship.

Here are some more statistics relating to the children of cohabiting parents.
• Children of cohabiting parents are ten times more likely to be sexually abused by a stepparent than by a parent.
• Children of cohabiting parents are three times as likely to be expelled from school or to get pregnant as teenagers than children from an intact home with married parents.
• Children of cohabiting parents are five times more apt to live in poverty, and 22 times more likely to incarcerated.

So, for those of you who want to see if you’re compatible? Who are going to get married anyways? Who feel this will prepare you for marriage? Look at those statistics carefully. It has been said that statistically speaking, living together is not a trial of marriage, but rather a training for divorce. Which is exactly what Hebrews 13:4 says: “God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral.” Why not live together? First and foremost, you dishonor God.

II. You dishonor each other
   – Proverbs 14:12; Ecclesiastes 3:1,5; 1 Corinthians 6:18; Galatians 6:7-8; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:2-5

A second reason not to live together is that you dishonor each other. “Wait a minute,” you say, “but we love each other! We’re crazy about each other! We plan on getting married. We even have the date set. The invitations have all been sent out.” I still say, you dishonor each other. “But you don’t understand, times have changed, culture has changed, people accept this now. It’s no longer a shameful or dishonorable thing.”

The culture may have changed, but God’s Word has not changed and never will. You see, our culture used to reflect Biblical principles. That’s why living together used to be considered dishonorable. Culture has changed, but God’s Word remains the same. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18) By living together, you dishonor yourself, and you dishonor your partner.

Look with me at the other Scriptures on your insert sheet. Ecclesiastes 3 says: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven . . . a time to embrace and a time to refrain.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,5) The right time for a sexual relationship is within marriage – not the year before, not the month before, not the night before.

Proverbs 14:12 says: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12) People try to justify living together by saying, “Everyone’s doing it. It’s the new way. It’s accepted!” Proverbs 14:12 reminds us that although a way may seem right to you, in the end it leads to death.

Back to Hebrews 13:4, our main verse for this message: “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) Do you love your boyfriend or girlfriend? Then why would you invite God’s judgment into their life? Why would you willfully rob them of God’s blessing?

1 Thessalonians 4 says: “It is God’s will that you should … avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable … and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5) The word translated “wrong” in this verse is a word that means “to exceed your proper limits.” The word translated “take advantage” is a word that means “to defraud, to take more than you’re entitled to.” It’s the picture of a person who is taking what they want for themselves while selfishly disregarding the best interests of others. That’s exactly what we are doing when we live together with someone outside of marriage. We exceed the limits God has set for us. We take more than we’re entitled to.

Finally, Galatians 6 says: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8) The word “mocked” is an instructive word here when discussing living together. The English word “mock” means “to imitate, to pretend in order to deceive.” You can’t do that to God. And you can’t do that with marriage. Living together is literally a mockery of marriage. It’s a cheap imitation. It doesn’t stand up to the real thing.

And so, if you’re living together, in a sense, compared to marriage, you’re really just playing house. And if you’re involved sexually, you’re not only playing house, you’re also playing with matches, which means you could burn the whole thing down. And you could be scarred for a lifetime in the process. Why would you do that? It’s not worth it.

I submit to you that living together is not real love at all. It is selfishly putting your desire for living together before the honor of your partner, and that is not love. How often do you hear people say, “This living together thing is great. It’s got all the benefits of marriage without the commitment.” That statement displays a gross misunderstanding of what marriage is all about. “All the benefits of marriage without the commitment?” The commitment is the major benefit of marriage! It is the security of commitment that allows your relationship to blossom and grow in intimacy and depth. Living together lacks the commitment which is necessary for the relationship to reach its full potential.

III. You dishonor your family
   – Genesis 39:9; Exodus 20:12; Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 17:25

Why not live together? First of all, you dishonor God. Secondly, you dishonor each other. And thirdly, you dishonor your family. We never sin in a vacuum. Our actions always involve others. It’s a little like a nuclear blast. You may sin in the center, but others still have to deal with the fallout.

Christian young people, please listen to me. If you have godly parents who love the Lord, you will break their hearts if you go the route of living together before marriage. Proverbs 10:1 says: “A wise son [or daughter] brings joy to his father, but a foolish son [or daughter] grief to his mother.” (Proverbs 10:1) Proverbs 17:25 says: “A foolish son [or daughter] brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him.” (Proverbs 17:25) One of God’s Ten Commandments is “Honor your father and mother that it may go well with you.” (Exodus 20:12) I hope you care enough for your parents that you would seek to honor them rather than dishonor them.

If I had a daughter who wanted to move in with her boyfriend, I would set aside a time to talk with the boyfriend. I would tell him, “My daughter loves you, and therefore you are special to me. But you dishonor my daughter by choosing to live with her, and she dishonors you. And both of you dishonor your families. God will not bless this choice. I pray that you will reconsider.” I would say the same to my son if he were considering living with a girlfriend.

At the bottom of your bulletin insert is an open letter from a young Christian woman who had tried living together before marriage. Let me read it to you now.

“I wish I could tell every young adult in America that you truly will reap what you sow. Living together may seem wonderful initially … but eventually it creates more problems than you can imagine. I lived with my boyfriend for two years before we got married. I knew I was breaking my parents’ hearts, as well as my Heavenly Father’s heart! My boyfriend was not a Christian, but I figured I could change him if we moved in together. The ‘this-is-yours, that-is-mine’ mentality that enabled us to ‘successfully’ live together completely unraveled once we got married. We had become too separate and selfish, making it nearly impossible to become ‘one flesh.’ The honeymoon was over before the wedding day ever arrived.” (Excerpt from letter printed in “Family Feedback,” Focus on the Family, May 1994, p. 23)

How tragic! And how completely unnecessary. How much better to wait upon the Lord, to wait for his perfect timing, and to do it right – out of love for God, out of love for your future spouse, and out of love for your family.

Earlier we read the account of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, when Joseph was tempted sexually. Do you remember Joseph’s response? “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9) In the present context I would also add: “How could I do such a thing and sin against my future spouse and against my family?”

Why not live together? You dishonor God, you dishonor each other, you dishonor your family. Basically, living together dishonors those you love the most.

CONCLUSION: So, how do we apply this teaching from God’s word?

First, I would like to speak to those of you who may already be living together. Once again, I pray that you would not receive this as a word of judgment, but rather as a word of grace, an opportunity to change. God loves you, and he wants the best for you. Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well who was living with a man. Jesus spoke tenderly and lovingly to her, but he also confronted her with the relationship.

If you are living together, the first thing I would urge you to do is to pray. Take the Scriptures from the sheet in your bulletin, read God’s will in this matter, and then pray and ask God how he would have you respond to his word. He may speak to you about working towards marriage. Or he may speak to you about withdrawing from a bad relationship. Talk to him, seek his will, commit yourself to go God’s way. But either way, I believe God will direct you to change your living situation, to stop living together as husband and wife.

Some will say, “But that’s not practical; financially we can’t afford it.” I would still ask you, what is God telling you to do? Are you willing to sin just to save money? God will provide for you in amazing ways if you will put him first.

Others might say, “Well, we’re not sexually active,” or “We’ll stop being sexually active. We just want to live together until we get married, but we’ll abstain sexually.” I would applaud your decision to abstain sexually until marriage, but there are still good reasons not to live together, even without sex.

The first has to do with temptation. Let’s face it, living together, sharing a house, sharing a bed is not the best way to overcome temptation. If we’re truly serious about trying to remain sexually pure until marriage, the last thing we would want to do is move in with the person whom we love and to whom we are sexually attracted. The Scriptures tell us to resist temptation, to flee temptation, not run towards it.

Secondly there is the matter of your testimony. The Bible says to avoid even the appearance of evil. How does your decision to live together affect those around you? What kind of an example does it set for others? How will people who do not know about your commitment to abstain sexually view your relationship? Our testimony affects how people view Christianity and the church. Many have rejected Christianity because they do not see people living it out. Living together presents a poor testimony for Christ and his church.

And then thirdly, there is the matter of trivialization. Living together trivializes marriage. It takes away from marriage’s uniqueness. It pretends to be marriage. As we said earlier, it is really a mockery of marriage. And therefore, it dishonors marriage and goes against the principle of Hebrews 13:4: “Let marriage be honored by all.” I think it’s really sad when I hear a couple who had lived together and finally got married say, “It’s not that different.” They have really lost out on the joy and uniqueness of that marriage relationship which God intended for them.

A second group I would like to address is those couples who have lived together in the past but are now married. You may be struggling with guilt and shame from your past which could be hindering your present relationship with God and your spouse. Please know that God offers you forgiveness through Jesus Christ. We can never change our past, but praise God we can be forgiven and freed from it. Or perhaps you lived together in the past but don’t see anything wrong with it. Then you need to deal with that. At some point you must realize and confess it as sin before God and seek his forgiveness. You need to admit that it may be negatively impacting your present relationships and ask God’s help. I pray you would do that. God loves you, he longs to forgive you, he longs to help you.

Thirdly, I would like to address those who are thinking about living together. Perhaps you have been asking the question, “Why not?” I think we have just looked at some very good reasons why not. I guess I would ask you the opposite question. “Why?” Why would you willfully choose to dishonor God, each other and your families? Why would you willfully choose to step outside the pathway of God’s blessing? There is only one word for that, and it is either foolishness or rebellion. Don’t do it. Walk God’s way. Wait on Him.

Lastly, I would like to address the parents here today. Please pass on the value of marriage to your children. Share with them about the precious gift God has given us in marriage. Live it out; model it for them. If your child rebels in this area, continue to love them through your grief and through your tears. Never stop praying for them. Share with them how this decision dishonors their Lord, each other, and their families.

Living together dishonors those you love the most. God’s word tells us: “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)

© Ray Fowler

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Recommended Resources on Living Together:

Books: (* = highly recommended)
Before You Live Together by David Gudgel
*Married for God by Christopher Ash
The Ring Makes All the Difference by Glenn T. Stanton


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