For a wide variety of reasons, men and women set up housekeeping without marriage. Some are drawn together by love. With some, it is an escape from home. With others, it is a "trial" marriage with the legal arrangements promised "later." With yet others, there is financial benefit, especially from Social Security and other government programs where two singles may be paid more than a married couple.
God, the Creator of all, has let us know His laws for living through the prophets in Scripture. He has said in Hebrews 13:4, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." (New International Version of the Bible) If a couple is not married, they are sexually immoral.
What is meant by "God will judge . . . ?" In Revelation 21:8 we read, "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars -- their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." (NIV)
What is the distinction between the immoral and the married? Marriage! It is a social and legal arrangement honored by God. The American Heritage Dictionary's first definition of marriage is "The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife." Sex without a legal contract is immorality. Sex with a legal contract is marriage.
God started marriages. Jesus said in Matthew 19:4-6: "'Haven't you read,' he replied, 'that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." (NIV)
The idea, the institution of marriage, belongs to God. He does not approve or disapprove of each individual couple. He approves of a legally responsible, life-long relationship for all.
Vaughn Elliott says "In all cultures of all countries, as far as I am aware, there always are and always have been certain rules to clearly define what marriage is. Of course, it does not always involve city hall; it does not always involve paperwork. But, in whatever society, it always involves third parties. It also involves certain public acts which are recognized by everyone as the exact moment of the wedding."
Elliott continues, "It is quite true that the Bible does not mention a specific ceremony that must be used to perform a marriage. Nevertheless, there is always something formal that involves third persons. In the Garden of Eden, Almighty God brought the bride to the groom and there were formal words spoken between God and the groom before the couple had sexual relations."
Later he says, "From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible recognizes the formalities of marriage in many different ways, and always with third parties involved. . . ." "From the Patriarchal Age until this day and age, it would seem that the most common marriage custom throughout the world is that of the father of the bride giving permission for her to marry."
There is a story in Genesis 34 that draws clear boundaries. "Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and violated her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, 'Get me this girl as my wife.'" (NIV)
Several things are apparent. The inspired writer says that he loved her deeply -- yet he violated her. Shechem knew that having a loving sexual relationship did not make her his wife. Sex without marriage is a violation of the woman's rights. Her rights are protected only in marriage.
In verse five, we read, "When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he kept quiet about it until they came home." (NIV) His daughter was not simply having an affair, she had been defiled. The language of Dinah's brothers was even stronger in verse 31. "But they replied, 'Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?'"(NIV) The reader can see how her brothers regarded sex outside of marriage!
What ingredient was missing that kept her from being a wife? Examine the words of the impassioned prince in verse 12:
"Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I'll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the girl as my wife." (NIV) The missing ingredient was the permission of Dinah's father Jacob for him to marry Dinah. That would open the path to a legal marriage.
From this story we learn that sexual relations are not marriage. Instead, they are a shabby treatment of the woman, no matter how she may feel about it.
Something like this is also embedded in the Law of Moses. Exodus 22:16-17 says, "If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride- price for virgins." (NIV) Note the father had the power to give or withhold permission even if the man paid the bride-price. It took the fee and the father's permission to clear the way for a legal marriage.
Our last story is the case of Tamar pleading with her half-brother Amnon in 2 Samuel 13:10. They both had King David for a father and she pleaded with Amnon to ask their law- maker father for permission to marry rather than force her. Marriage was the legal safeguard for Tamar.
Then Amnon said to Tamar, "Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand." And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, "Come to bed with me, my sister."
"Don't, my brother!" she said to him. "Don't force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don't do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you." (NIV)
Amnon ignored her pleading and the story turned out tragically. Sex is proper only within a legal marriage contract.
That something more than sharing bed and board is required for marriage is further seen in Jesus' words to the Woman at the Well in John 4:17, "'I have no husband,' she replied. Jesus said to her, 'You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.'" (NIV)
The woman understood. She knew that simply living with a man was not marriage and Jesus verified it.
God has spoken. All sexual relation ships are to be guarded by law. Any other arrangement is a sin and violates the woman's rights.
What to do for those that want to get this part of their life right and legal? Get married or break up. Marriage can be embarrassing. It may reduce our incomes. But it is using God's system properly. It can be a simple marriage, but make the relationship legal.
After marriage, face the past violation of God's laws. Ask His forgiveness for this and all other sins. This is why Jesus came into the world and why he died on the cross.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:24,25. (NIV)
Jesus arose to a new life three days after he was buried in the grave. We picture this when we change our view of sinning, are immersed (buried) in water and then come out a new, morally clean person.
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (NIV) Romans 6:4.
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