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The Marriage Bed

By Mike Mazzalongo     Posted: Sun. Oct 23rd 2016
This lesson reviews the basic instructions God provides concerning the subject of sex in marriage.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, here in the U.S. the number of live births to single mothers in 2015 was 1,606,870. This number represents 40% of all babies born in this country. It seems that this group grows larger year by year as families break up, as parents abandon their marriages, as children are born to parents who are not married and do not intend to be married. There are less fathers and mothers caring for their own children even though children continue to be born, because more and more people do not know or care about God's commands concerning sex, and the births that result from it.

Defiling the Marriage Bed

There are many passages in the Bible dealing with sex, but one verse summarizes well God's will for our sexual activity.

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled;
- Hebrews 13:4a

Note the instructions here.

Marriage is to be held in honor among all

God's view of marriage (one man, one woman for life) is to be respected not just by Christians but by everyone. This means that laws established to permit homosexuals or lesbians to marry are wrong in God's eyes. This also means that parents are to accept and respect their children's marriage and not manipulate to change or to hurt it. This means that the marriage bond is not to be broken or attacked by outsiders, and that all are to respect their own vows within this union.

Marriage is something that God has created for mankind and this institution should be protected and respected by everyone.

The marriage bed is not to be defiled

The marriage bed refers to the intimacy of the couple which includes their sexual relationship. This relationship should not be defiled, this is God's command. The author goes on to mention two ways that this relationship is defiled (made dirty or impure).

  1. Fornication: The Greek word translated into the English word fornicate refers to someone who indulges in illicit sex. This is sexual activity outside of marriage (includes homosexuality, pornography, heterosexual activity before one is married). It is interesting to note that the writer says that fornication (or sex outside of marriage) spoils or defiles sex within marriage. We are 2000 years later and psychologists tell us that much of the dysfunctional sex within marriage can be traced to sexual activity that has taken place before marriage.
  2. Adultery: Adultery is when a married person has sex with a person other than their spouse. Nothing kills a marriage faster than unfaithfulness, so much so that Jesus gave this as an exception to the rules on divorce (Matthew 19:9). When I counsel people who have done this, they give reasons why they have cheated (it just happened; I did not mean for it to happen; I love this other woman/man; my wife/husband does not understand me). Of course these are just excuses to cover the real reason for their adultery (they did not pay enough attention to their partners; they allowed themselves to get too close to some other person; they did not deal with their lust right away thinking they could "handle it"; they did not stop until they got caught or got to the point where they hated their spouse). Whatever the reason or failing, adultery destroys the marriage bed and few marriages survive it. As a matter of fact, few marriages that are a result of adultery are healthy because they are built on the ruins of a previous marriage.

The Consequences of Defiling the Marriage Bed

The Hebrew writer not only establishes the institution of marriage as holy and lists the things that defile it, he also warns of the consequences.

for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
- Hebrews 13:4b

Note that both fornicators and adulterers will be judged. Our society today makes a distinction between these two sins. Adultery, cheating on your spouse, is still seen as wrong. For most people it is still unacceptable to be unfaithful to your partner. Fornication, however, is ok as long as it is consensual and you are careful not to contract any diseases or get pregnant. Therefore, having sex before marriage is fine, as is living together before marriage. People wholeheartedly approve of homosexuality and lower their standards on books, movies, etc., because society says that these things are all acceptable.

In light of these attitudes I have a question for us to consider: Since when has social custom replaced God's word? For example, it was custom for the Canaanites to sacrifice their babies, did this make it ok? It was custom for the Greeks to enjoy pedophilia (sex with children), did this make it ok? It was custom for the South to own and trade slaves 150 years ago, did this make it ok? It is now custom to have sex before marriage, to live together before marriage, to have children without being married. Does this make it ok, just because it is custom or socially acceptable?

As Christians we have to make up our minds once and for all. Is our conduct (especially our sexual conduct) going to be guided by custom, by what others do, by what we feel like, or will it be guided by God's word? Society says that sex between any two free consenting adults is fine and nobody's business. The Bible says, "Let [...] the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers will be judged." Not only is there a directive as to when sex should take place, there is also a warning that those who violate this command will be judged and punished.

In this verse the Hebrew writer does not give the details of what the punishment will be, but Paul does in I Corinthians 6:9:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals..."

As Christians we understand that those who refuse Christ and do not obey His gospel will not be saved. But Paul warns that even Christians who revert back to unchristian behavior will also be condemned.

Christians living in the Roman Empire during the first century were sorely tempted to be sexually impure. They lived in a wicked and sexually depraved society. Many came from pagan backgrounds where sex was used in their religious rituals. Because most were slaves they were subject to sexual advances of their masters or to use sex in order to gain favor. Today, we live in a different society but the temptation to be sexually impure is just as great. Actually, we live in a sex-saturated society where the level of sexual morality is low. There is very little encouragement by leaders to be pure sexually. Many churches are lax in speaking out against impure sexual practices going on in their congregations, and several denominational churches openly embrace and promote practicing homosexuals for ministry and church leadership. Make no mistake, however, God's word means the same as it did then. God will punish fornicators and adulterers.

How to Keep the Marriage Bed Undefiled

Remaining sexually pure or regaining sexual purity is difficult but not impossible. With this in mind, I want to describe different ways to help make your marriage bed holy and acceptable to God, and totally undefiled for you and your partner because an undefiled marriage bed is key for a happy marriage.

1. Commit Yourself to Personal Sexual Purity

Impurity, sexual uncleanness, fornication, adultery, all of these things happen gradually in our lives as we lower our standards, develop bad habits and friends, and consume improper sexual material. The first step to sexual purity is a commitment that what you think, what you dwell on in your heart, what you say and do and allow others to do will be pure sexually and acceptable to God on His terms, not yours. This means that you commit yourself to the boundaries that God has established concerning sex. For example, impure thoughts, when they come, float through your mind and do not become permanent guests. This means that if you are not married, you do not engage in sex with another, whether it is foreplay or intercourse; and if you are married, your total sexual experience is focused on your spouse, no one else, real or imaginary. Personal sexual purity requires that if you are engaged or in love, you wait until you are married before living together or having sex.

Some think that getting married or engaged erases the fornication that takes place before marriage. The only thing that removes sin is repentance and baptism for the non-Christian, or repentance and prayer for the Christian. I tell Christian parents and young people not to ask me to perform their weddings if they choose to have sex or live together before marriage and refuse to repent of this before the actual wedding. Getting married is a good thing and setting a better course than living together or having casual sex, but it does not deal with the sexual sins that come before it. As Christians we must deal with our sins, whatever they are. John says,

8If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
- I John 1:8-9

People who live together, have sex before marriage and then get married thinking that the wedding takes care of everything are deceiving themselves. If you come to me in this situation I will ask you to deal with your sin first, and not continue in it, then we will plan the marriage. Why? I want your marriage bed to be undefiled when you enter into it.

2. Seek a Like Mate

In II Corinthians 6:14, Paul says that believers are not to be yoked or teamed up with unbelievers. He lists several reasons, but all of them point to the same idea: non-believers are different than we are, especially when it comes to the marriage bed. Two Christians who are committed to personal purity will have a better chance of maintaining sexual control and a faithful marriage bed than a mixed couple where the non-believer uses society's standard for sexual conduct. Marriage does not transform a fornicator or an adulterer, they just bring their sins into the marriage bed with them.

3. Ask for Forgiveness

I realize that for many, this lesson comes after the fact. You may be single but have already lost your virginity. Some may be into second or third marriages. And there are those who have cheated, had children out of marriage, lived together before marriage, and the list of sexual sins goes on and on. You may be asking, "How do I commit to personal purity; how do I purify my marriage bed this far down the road?" Thankfully, we have a God who is not only merciful but who can make straight what is crooked, make whole what is broken and make pure what has been defiled by sin.

In I Corinthians 6:11, Paul, in talking about fornicators, adulterers and other sinners says,

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

What we cannot do with any amount of trying, God can do through His mercy and grace. For those who have managed to keep themselves sexually pure, He can help maintain that state and guide them to a marriage bed that will be joyful and undefiled. For those who have sinned, who have failed, who have spoiled what was meant to be clean and holy, He can restore to a pure status through the blood of Christ, accessed by the non-Christian through repentance and baptism and renewed by the Christian through confession and prayer for forgiveness. God's forgiveness cleanses sexual sins, purifies the conscience and makes holy the marriage bed defiled by sin.

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Dr. Stafford North
Professor of Bible
Oklahoma Christian University