Just yesterday I had the privilege of serving at the wedding of a young couple in our church. We’ve been meeting for several months as they have made their way through the five counseling sessions that are required. We’ve been talking about important topics that will affect their relationship, making plans for their big day, and reading lots of Scripture to give them guidance as they try and maneuver the minefield of marriage. I always tell young couples that being married is the greatest joy that I have ever known, but that it is also the most difficult thing that Connie and I have ever done. It is enough to have to try and adjust to living with someone who does things differently than you, putting someone else’s needs above your own, and not getting what you want when you want it, but when you add in all of the other potential pitfalls that husbands and wives face in daily life then you can easily understand how I can talk about maneuvering the minefield of marriage. I could spend all of our time this morning talking about the various hidden mines that can potentially destroy a marriage, but our Scripture from Hebrews this morning draws our attention to most deadly. Won’t you read with me from Hebrews 13:4.
4Marriage 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 NIV)
Marriage is holy. It is a gift designed and given by the hand of Almighty God. There may be many today in our society who would question the sacredness of marriage, but God says that marriage is holy, sacred, and it is to be honored by all ‘ not just those who are married, but by all people. We have a problem today in that marriage, and the institution of marriage, has become the brunt of jokes because so many marriages have been the source of heartache, dashed dreams, and dismal disappointment. When you consider that 50% of marriages end in divorce and that an even higher percentage of second marriages end in divorce then you should have no problem figuring out why so many people have a sour taste in their mouth when it comes to marriage.
The problem is not in marriage itself, but in the way that we understand the purpose and God’s plan for marriage. We should never get married because we are looking for someone to make us happy. We should never get married because we’ve finally found someone who meets all of our needs. We should never get married simply because we think we are in love. None of these reasons will hold a marriage together through thick and thin. We should pledge ourselves to a lifetime commitment to our mate, our husband or wife, because we know in our hearts that God has called us to love and honor, learn from and live with the person He has chosen as our partner, friend, lover, and ministry mate. We should get married because we know that God has called us to a lifetime of serving Him with the person He has led into our lives.
Now, I have to be real honest with you and confess that I didn’t get married for these reasons. I have only come to learn these lessons after many gray hairs, trying for many years to make Connie into the person I wanted her to be, and almost destroying the most precious gift that the Lord has ever given me. I got married because Connie was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was fun to be with and I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life without her. Those reasons were real, but they are like trying to use a weed eater to trim trees ‘ you may think you are getting the job done, but it will be far from the ideal because weed eaters are just not designed to trim elms or oaks.
God has designed marriage and if we want to experience all that He has planned for those who enter in to this holy institution, this holy relationship, then we must follow His plan and seek to understand His purpose for marriage. Trying to maneuver the minefield of marriage without the owner’s manual will only lead us to despair, and oftentimes, the divorce court.
Even if two people get married for all of the right reasons today that does not insure them a lifetime together. There are so many things in our society that can tear at the fabric of a marriage and destroy the trust, love, and commitment of a husband and wife. In our time of study today we are going to take a look at the single greatest reason why so many marriages fall apart today. I want to read you the same Scripture we read earlier from Hebrews 13:4, but this time I want to read it to you from The Message, Eugene Peterson’s wonderful translation of the New Testament. Read along with me in whatever translation you have with you so that you can see how descriptive Dr. Peterson is in his translation.
4 Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband. God draws a firm line against casual and illicit sex. (Hebrews 13:4 The Message)
This is such an important lesson, a call to action, for us today because so many marriages are ending because of someone else, because either the husband or the wife has failed to honor their marriage by going outside of their marriage for sexual intimacy or fulfillment. The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior estimates that “More than one-third of men and one-quarter of women admit having had at least one extramarital sexual experience.” Now you need to recognize that these numbers by the Janus Report are based upon those who have admitted their unfaithfulness. There are many others who are living secret lives that will eventually destroy them, but they are trying to live in two worlds for as long as they can. There are men and women who are having affairs, online tryst, or dabbling in pornography that have set their house on fire and are not even aware that eventually it will fall in on top of them. They are like Jody Bergin.
Jody Bergin never meant to become a statistic. The well-educated father of three was married 25 years before it happened. Now he represents one out of every 10 men who is attending church and dealing with a sexual addiction. Like thousands of other Christian men secretly struggling in the pews today, Bergin’s journey into addiction began online. He says that the ease of access to Internet pornography reactivated a dormant, long-term addiction. Ultimately, the discovery of his secret cost him everything: Jody says, ‘I lost my marriage, the role I cherished as a daddy, job opportunities…legal problems resulting in more than $100,000 fees, retirement income and support obligations, significant financial difficulties, loss of friendships, loss of credibility and trust in the eyes of some.’ ‘At times over the last few years I have thought there would be no tomorrow because of pornography,’ he adds, ‘but the sun has been coming up every day. I’ve been able to come to a better place but not until I found freedom from pornography.’ (New Man Magazine, Porn Again? March 25, 2002.)
I’ve got news for you. The threat of getting caught, losing our marriage, losing respect in the eyes of our kids, losing our income, or losing our status symbols or positions in society are not reason enough to avoid the pitfalls of sexual temptation in any form. When you or I begin to contemplate, think about, and fantasize about someone other than our husband or wife then we take the first step to destroying our marriage. We lose the sense of honor that is due our marriage and the door is open for any and every thing. We must honor our marriage, our mate, as a gift from the hand of God. The Greek word that is used in verse 4 means, ‘precious, valuable, of great worth, held in honor, highly respected, priceless, or rare.’ The word is used in one other place in the New Testament. In Acts 5, the same word is used to describe the way that people looked upon a highly respected teacher named Gamaliel. Read along with me in Acts 5:33-34.
33When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. (Acts 5:33-34 NIV)
In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the same word is used in Psalm 116 to describe the death of one of God’s people. Read along with me in Psalm 116:15.
15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15 NIV)
Marriage, the holy union of a man and woman, is to be viewed by all people as precious, valuable, of great worth. Marriage is not to be viewed as disposable, tolerable, or the cross that one must bear. It is not to be viewed this way, but apart from honoring marriage as a gift from the hand of God we will eventually come to this conclusion.
The dishonoring of marriage by sexual sin of all kinds is so prevalent in our day. Many would say that never in the history of the world has promiscuity and infidelity been so rampant in a society, but I would disagree. In the Inter Varsity Press Bible Background Commentary we read about the ancient Greek world.
Many ancient writers spoke of honoring the ‘(marriage) bed’ (the ‘bed’ was an idiom for intercourse); one story goes so far as to emphasize a virgin’s purity by noting that no one had ever even sat on her bed. Male sexual immorality was rife in Greco-Roman society, which also accepted prostitution. Pedophilia, homosexual intercourse, and sex with female slaves were common Greek practices until a man was old enough for marriage. A few Greek philosophers even thought marriage burdensome but sexual release necessary. (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
Sound familiar? I guess it does. Today, in our society, we are seeing history repeat itself. When people lose their reverence for God, when they lose their fear of the consequences of their behavior, when they lose their passion for living life according to God’s perfect will then there is absolutely nothing that they will not do in order to try and find happiness, escape, and excitement.
The second command of Hebrews 13:4 is, ‘keep the marriage bed kept pure.’ The marriage bed is to be kept pure, but what does that mean? Are we supposed to make sure we have clean sheets on the bed each week? Not a bad idea, but that is far from what the Scripture is trying to teach us. The marriage bed, as we read earlier in the IVP Commentary, is a euphemism for the sexual intimacy of a husband and wife. It is a way of saying husbands and wives are to enjoy one another, and only one another, in an intimate, sexual way without coming right out and saying it. You see, there use to be a day when folks didn’t just flaunt their sexuality, it was holy and precious, but that day is long passed for many people today.
The husband and wife are to keep themselves pure from anything that will defile the precious gift of sexual intimacy that God has given to them. The Greek word for ‘defiled’ means, ‘not defiled, unsoiled, free from that by which the nature of a thing is deformed and debased, or its force and vigor impaired.’ God has given us, who are married, one thing that we do not share with anyone else on the planet and that is our physical relationship. We share conversation, hugs, prayers, and much more with those around us, but we are not to share our bodies with one another.
God’s gift of sexual intimacy is a wonderful gift from God, but it is much like the gift of fire. If you use fire in the right way then you can cook a meal, warm your house, or burn trash. If you use fire in a way that it was not intended to be used then you can burn down someone else’s house, destroy lives, and even burn a meal. If you build a fire in the fireplace of your home then it will be a wonderful blessing for everyone in the house, but build it in the middle of the living room floor and watch what happens. That is precisely what is happening in many homes today. The fires of passion have crept out of the bedroom, outside of the covenant that husbands and wives made before Almighty God, and the fires of passion are burning down homes, hearts, and the futures of our families.
Kirby Anderson writes in an article I read just this past week.
The seventh commandment says “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Nevertheless, this sin has been committed throughout history. Today, though, adultery seems more rampant than ever. While tabloid stories report the affairs of politicians, millionaires, and movie stars, films like “The English Patient,” “The Prince of Tides,” or “The Bridges of Madison Country” feature and even promote adultery. Family therapist and psychiatrist Frank Pittman believes “There may be as many acts of infidelity in our society as there are traffic accidents.” He further argues that the fact that adultery has become commonplace has altered society’s perception of it’and infidelity is so common it is no longer deviant.” (Kirby Anderson, Adultery and Society, http://www.infidelity-infidelity.com)
How do we deal with this rampant infidelity going on in so many marriages today? That is a great question! The only way to deal with it is to come before the presence of Almighty God, confess our sin, seek forgiveness, and stand guard over our marriages. The Church should hold the biblical standard of purity high without compromise, without having to explain God’s mandate, and ourselves — and the Church should seek ways to help folks who have fallen so that they can be restored. The Church should be a place of healing and reconciliation for marriages that have been undone by infidelity, but the Church has been silent. The Church should be a place where people can learn about the gift of sex, how it is to be understood and enjoyed within the confines of marriage, and how to overcome sexual temptation and avoid the sure destruction that comes when sexual urges are allowed to run wild, but the Church has been silent.
I know the tragedy that has been going on in the Church with those in leadership who have abused those that the Lord has placed in their flock. My heart breaks for those who have been abused and I pray for those who have abused children and others in their congregation. At the same time, I will tell you that the Church is equally guilty for avoiding the issue of sex altogether. We have young people growing up in our pews that are being educated by our society that they should explore the urge, that the only restraint that needs to be heeded is to practice ‘safe sex,’ and that there are many avenues to explore so that they can discover their sexual identity. In our day, in our society, it seems to me that the only truly alternative lifestyle to the norm of society is to save yourself for marriage.
This past week one of the biggest recording artists of our day, R. Kelly, was indicted by the court system in Chicago on 21 counts of child pornography. The story is that R. Kelly videotaped himself having sex with a 13-year-old girl and the video got out. This is not the first time that Robert Kelly has gotten himself in trouble with underage girls. He has had three lawsuits brought against him for having sex with underage girls, two of the lawsuits he settled out of court. In 1994, when he was 25, he secretly married 15-year-old singer Aaliyah who tragically died this past year. When the late singer’s parents found out about the marriage, it was quickly annulled and both artists subsequently refused to comment on it.
With all of that baggage you might wonder how the folks responded to Robert Kelly on Wednesday of this past week when he made his way into the courtroom. Adoring fans wore R. Kelly t-shirts and waved banners greeting him with thunderous support. Kids, this is not the way to live your life. A thirty-five-year-old man having sex with a 13 year old kid is not something to celebrate ‘ it is sick. It is a sign of the times and God is calling the Church, He is calling you and me to be living examples of purity regardless of our age or marital status.
So much attention is focused on teenage promiscuity today, but you have realize that it is adults who are saturating our society with sex. It isn’t kids who develop the ads for Abercrombie & Fitch ‘ it is adults. It isn’t kids that made movies that are full of sexual images and themes ‘ it is adults. The Church needs to challenge adults to live sexually pure lives, to walk with integrity when it comes to sex, but the Church is silent.
We have single adults sitting in our pews who have never been married or have been divorced and we refuse to tell them the truth because we don’t want to lose their tithe check and their weekly attendance. I have had single men tell me, ‘Mike, can you honestly expect me to be celibate even though I was married for 10 years and having sex with my wife as often as I wanted.’ My response is always the same: ‘I am not the one expecting anything ‘ God is.’ The Bible gives us advice if we can’t control our sexual urges ‘ get married.
The Church and the leaders among us need to stop tip toeing around and speak God’s truth in love so that we might help those who are in sexual bondage, help those who are married to remain on guard for their marriages, and help those who are single avoid the heartache of living outside of God’s plan for sexual intimacy.
In the March issue of New Man Magazine there was an interesting and convicting article about our silence and its consequences for those who sit in our pews. The article states,
With sexual addiction on the rise in the church today and so many Christian guys trying to cover it up, it would be helpful if believers could see one another transparently–past appearances and to the place of struggle. Instead, an unwritten policy seems to guide how churches handle sexual addiction. Like the controversial policy on homosexuality in the military, churches seem to be saying: ‘We won’t ask you about your sexual problems, and please don’t tell us about them either.’ According to Scott Oja, the men’s pastor at East Hill church in California, ‘We’re so uncomfortable and awkward addressing sexual issues that the church is becoming a breeding ground for shame and secrecy.’ That’s the feeling that Jackson gets as he visits churches or counsels Christian addicts. He believes pastors seldom address sexual addiction from the pulpit because they are afraid to open a Pandora’s box. (New Man Magazine, Porn Again? March 25, 2002.)
We are in the midst of crumbling marriages this very morning. There are those among us who have had affairs and it has eaten away at the foundation of trust and love that was once shared. There are others among us this morning that are wondering if the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. There are many women who feel insignificant this morning. You married a man who cherished you, he promised to always love and honor you. He use to tell you how pretty you looked. He would call just to say, ‘I love you.’ Today, you can barely get a word out of him. There are many men today who feel like a sexual noose around your wife’s neck. You wonder where the love has gone. You remember when she never had a headache, when she wasn’t tired, and when she use to make the first move. Today, you’re wondering where the love has gone? For both men and women there are those that you work around, those who live on your block, work out at the same gym, or frequent the same restaurants you do who have taken an interest in you. Ladies, there is a voice in your head telling you that he makes you feel special. Men, there are voices in your head telling you that she wants you. Those voices are lying, they are deceiving you, they are demonic and they need to be rejected. You need to listen to the voice in your head telling you to keep the marriage bed pure!
The third aspect of this verse that we can’t overlook before we close this morning is, ‘God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.’ When we are tempted to give in to sexual temptation we must always consider that we will stand in front of Almighty God one day and answer this question, ‘Mike, you know that cute little blonde I gave you when you were just a young man?’ ‘Yes Lord.’ ‘Mike, what did you do with My gift to you? Did you honor her, Mike? Did you love her, encourage her, support her, pray for her? Were you faithful to her all the days of her life? Were you Mike?’ I cannot bear the thought of having to stand before God and confessing to being unfaithful to the commitment I made to Connie and to God.
There may be some of you who are here this morning and what I have just said pierces your heart. You’ve already violated your vows, you’ve defiled the marriage bed, you’ve compromised your sexual integrity by having an affair, getting involved in pornography, or some other sexually deviant activity that you know is not right. Right now you are just feeling empty. I have good news for you this morning. God is the Restorer of everything that is broken, He is the Rebuilder of everything that has been torn down, and He can rebuild your marriage, your character, your walk with your mate and Himself if you will only turn from your sin and seek His restoration. There may be others who are single among us. You may be a teenager or an adult, but you are single and you have given in to sexual temptation. Now you are reeling from its effects on your soul. My friend, God can replenish your soul and raise you up so that you might walk in integrity with Him once again if you will just cry out to Him this morning. Won’t you do that even now?