The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost June 8, 2008
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
742 [TLH alt. 27], 790 [TLH alt. 624], 625, 51
Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
In the name of the Lord our God who created marriage and gives it as a rich blessing on this earth, dear fellow-redeemed:
If we consider the progression of the ten commandments we find God’s very logical approach. The first three commands deal specifically with our love toward Him. These commandments are called the “First Table of the Law” and are summarized with the passage: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
Commandments four through ten are the “Second Table of the Law” summarized with the passage, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). God uses the first command of the second table (4th commandment) to protect authority—the authority He places here on the earth. In the fifth commandment God protects life itself—our own personal existence. Then, as Luther points out in his Large Catechism, God moves from our own life to the thing next in importance: the life and well-being of our spouse. However, the sixth commandment is more than just the well-being of our spouse because it applies to all of us whether married or not.
The sixth commandment, like all of the other commandments, goes beyond what is superficially recognized by the world. When we talk about the sixth commandment we are talking about God’s will concerning dating and general purity of living. It is where God speaks to us about how to know when we should marry and if we should marry. It is how God directs His will for us inside of marriage. It tells us what we should teach our children about these things.
In other words, the sixth commandment presents a very large topic. Today we will only begin to scratch the surface as we consider that God protects marriage. We can’t begin to approach all the fullness of God’s direction, but hopefully this will be the beginning of a renewed and ongoing study for each of us as we seek to protect marriage and the honor of it as God wills.
Today’s theme is: STOP! Marriage is Protected by God. Does the word “stop” seem a little out of place? Why is it there? It is there because God protects marriage with great fervor and seriousness, so it is important that we STOP in daily life to recognize that value of marriage, that we STOP to honor marriage and give it its due, and that we STOP from demeaning marriage, or defaming it, or committing adultery.
STOP! before entering into sin that would diminish the honor of marriage.
STOP! before rushing into marriage as if it were a decision that is as easy as whether you should get chocolate or skim milk at the store.
STOP! before belittling marriage whether by conversation or the kinds of entertainment we pursue.
STOP! before engaging in and enjoying crude humor that demeans sexuality, intercourse, marriage, and all that God protects with this command.
STOP! and think about marriage and what it means and how God protects it.
As we stop to study in the Word of God we learn that I. God defines and blesses marriage, II. Anything that adulterates marriage is a sin, and that III. Opportunity abounds to honor marriage.
The creation of marriage goes back to the Garden of Eden and the creation of woman for man. When God made Adam the only part of creation that wasn’t complete was the creation of Eve. Before creating Eve, God brought all of the animals to Adam so he could name them. As Adam went through animal by animal and gave them their names, something else was brought home to Adam in a very clear way: There was not a companion—a comparable mate—for him. Adam had the opportunity to exercise his God-given wisdom to name all of the animals, but the other part of the exercise was so that Adam would see that he was unique from the rest of creation. This way when God created Eve Adam would see that God had made a very specific partner—a helper comparable to him—and nothing else in creation could fulfill that role.
After God formed Eve He brought her to Adam and Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” Then God adds: “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:23-24).
By God’s creation and His perfect design in a perfect world, He made one woman to be matched with one man to provide the helper comparable and make the perfectly matched set. Adam and Eve weren’t identical, but that perfectly matched set made a union in their marriage that God would bless. One man plus one woman for a lifetime is God’s design for marriage.
As we read through the Old Testament there are examples of noteworthy believers who had more than one wife. We can confidently say that this was not God pleasing. Everything in Scripture points to God’s will and design for marriage as one man and one woman. Furthermore, an examination of why the Old Testament believers had multiple wives reveals that sin was involved.
For example, Abraham had his wife, Sara. But following Sara’s sinful urging, Abraham took Hagar, Sara’s slave, to be a wife and he had a son with her. Sara doubted whether God would ever fulfill His promise to give Abraham a son through her and they grew impatient waiting for God’s timing. Abraham and Sara sinned by taking matters into their own hands and the result was two wives (Genesis 16:1ff).
Abraham and Sara’s son, Isaac, had one wife for his lifetime. But Isaac’s son, Jacob, had two wives, Leah and Rachel. He also had children by two other women—the slave of Rachel and the slave of Leah. This arrangement was also due to sin. Jacob wanted to marry Rachel whom he loved. But Laban, Rachel’s father, tricked Jacob and gave him Leah, Rachel’s sister, as his wife. After marrying Leah, Jacob also married Rachel. Later when Rachel was not bearing children for Jacob, she convinced Jacob to have children with her slave. Once this happened Leah, not wanting to be outdone, gave her slave to Jacob as well. Again, it is easy to see the sins that led to all of this.
In the book of Malachi, God speaks about the purpose and the blessing He gives to marriage. His words come in the midst of a rebuke against the unfaithfulness of Israel, but in the process of the rebuke God also describes marriage beautifully. God says (Malachi 2:14-15):
“…the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth
“Wife of your youth” is God’s description of the emotional, infatuation-driven love that a young man and woman have for one another in their early years of marriage—the time when they simply cannot imagine being parted from one another.
with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion
God describes a life time companion—a companionship that goes beyond the early stage of love which has deepened into a stable, settled, ongoing, deepening love
and your wife by covenant
Marriage is a covenant and God refers to the vow and promise that is made.
Then God goes on to say,
“But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring…”
God’s blessing inside of marriage is to give offspring. God gives parents the commission to raise their offspring in a godly way so that they themselves are godly—children of God—who honor Him with their parents.
In God’s design of marriage He gives the thrill of young love that matures into the blessing of companionship—a teammate for life. He gives the blessing of children and sexual happiness within marriage. From early love to lifetime companionship to the covenant nature of marriage, all of this is part of God’s design, will, and blessing.
God uses the close intimate relationship of marriage as a picture to illustrate His relationship with us. In Scripture God pictures the Church—the believers—as the bride of Christ. In Ephesians, God makes this connection: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word…” (Ephesians 5:22-26).
This illustration goes two ways. God uses the picture of husband and wife—the closest possible human relationship on the earth—to give a taste of the closeness of relationship that we share with Him. On the other hand, when we think about God’s great love for us that becomes an example and a model for the love that we should have for one another inside of marriage. So wives are to submit themselves to their husband’s leadership out of love just as we submit to Christ’s leadership out of love. And husbands are to love their wives with a self-sacrificing, unselfish love just as Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us.
God’s design and will for marriage includes tremendous blessing. So it is not a wonder then that the writer to the Hebrews says, “Marriage is honorable among all.” Marriage is something to honor, to hold in the highest regard. It is precious and costly. God led the writer to the Hebrews to use the same word to describe marriage as He led Peter to use when describing Jesus’ blood sacrificed for us. Peter wrote of “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19), and with the same word the writer to the Hebrews identifies marriage as precious among all. Think of how valuable and honorable and precious the blood of Christ is, and that is the kind of honor and value that God ascribes to marriage.
Marriage is honorable among all and the marriage bed—the whole sexual aspect of marriage and everything that would take place in the marriage bed—is undefiled, but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. God protects marriage so that He can bless it. As part of His protection of marriage, God also says that He will judge those who sin against marriage.
What defines adultery? Adultery is usually used to describe unfaithfulness between a husband and wife. Fornication is broader. Fornication includes all sexual immorality and impurity—any sin against the sixth commandment. Lest we fall into that trap of assuming that only the obvious sins are part of the sixth commandment, we can approach the definition of adultery in a little different way.
To adulterate something is to add something impure into it, to corrupt it. To adulterate marriage, or to commit adultery, is to corrupt or pollute marriage, to corrupt God’s will for marriage. When we understand adultery in this way, and that is certainly the full meaning of the sixth commandment, we find many things that adulterate marriage and God’s will concerning marriage, and every one of these things is a sin.
Certainly the most obvious sin against the sixth commandment is a husband or wife being sexually unfaithful to a spouse. But husbands and wives can be unfaithful emotionally and in other ways long before they are unfaithful physically. Because they have not loved their spouse with the perfect love of Christ, they have adulterated God’s command for marriage and thereby sinned against the sixth commandment.
One of the more common and also obvious ways that marriage is adulterated is through pre-marital sex. This sin may take the form of living together sexually without marriage as if it were a game, as if it didn’t matter, as if God has redefined marriage—which He has not. Any sexual relations prior to marriage adulterates God’s will for marriage. Such sexual activity is absolutely, without question a sin! And it doesn’t matter who suggests otherwise whether it is Hollywood, your next door neighbor, a close friend, or even a church.
Premarital sex adulterates God’s will for marriage, it is a sin, and yet it is very common. We become unwitting accomplices and are involved with this sin if we see it and ignore it as if it were nothing. Luther wrote in his Large Catechism that if we “…wink at this as if it were no concern” we are just as guilty as the culprit himself. Our society does wink at this adultery and thereby winks at a breaking of God’s Law.
Those who become caught in the sin of premarital sex and/or living together may eventually come to the point when they are married, but they may not have come to an understanding in their heart that what they have done is sin, and with no understanding of sin there can be no repentance of that sin. If such an individual does not repent of the sin, becomes married, and then believes that it all just goes away because he is married, he is wrong. If someone supposes that just by being married everything is fine with God even without genuine repentance, he is being deceived. Just being married does not undo the sin. Being unconvinced and unrepentant of a sin means the sin is retained and stands unforgiven. We need to recognize our sin, repent of it, go to Christ for forgiveness, and then bear fruits of repentance which may very well involve marriage.
Another way in which God’s will for marriage is adulterated is through lustful thoughts in our hearts. Matthew records Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, “…whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). You don’t have to actually have a physical affair or actually engage in premarital sex to involve yourself with breaking the sixth commandment. Lustful thoughts—whether those directed toward a specific individual or just in general—adulterate God’s will because He wills for us a pure life that focuses on His blessing and which reserves the sexual part of our natures only for marriage. Lustful thoughts and desires do not coincide with this will.
Our society is filled with encouragement to adulterate marriage through lust. Much advertising is selling sex or using sex to sell. A great deal of advertising wants you to lust after someone of the opposite sex and then buy the product because of what you’ve seen, or to be like the images in the ad, or to be able to hang out with people like those in the ad. Advertising and entertainment try to stir up our base emotions and if we fall into the trap we just end up adulterating God’s will.
Homosexuality is likewise an adulteration of marriage and again very common in the world around us. When we speak God’s Word against homosexuality we are not suggesting that the individuals engaged in homosexuality cannot repent and receive forgiveness. We are using God’s Word to identify a sin. God’s will for marriage is one man and one woman, not two men, not two women, not some other combination. Anything that differs from God’s design adulterates God’s will.
In Romans, Paul writes: “Professing to be wise, they became fools…Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due” (Romans 1:22-27). God couldn’t be more clear. Homosexuality is a sin because it contradicts and adulterates God’s will for marriage.
God also speaks very clearly against divorce. He says in Malachi, “The Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce for it covers one’s garment with violence,” says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 2:16). There is nothing more plain. God’s will concerning marriage is one man plus one woman for a lifetime. God does allow a “Scriptural divorce” in the case of unfaithfulness and desertion. In those cases, the spouse who was wronged can seek a divorce without sinning, but God still hates even these divorces because of the sin of unfaithfulness that adulterated His will and broke the marriage.
“But what if I find out after I’ve been married that I don’t love this man and it just isn’t working out?” This question highlights the importance of entering marriage carefully, giving it the honor that it is due before making the decision to marry, and to work at maintaining your marriage once you’ve entered into it.
Pornography and anything else that exposes what God intends to be a gift for marriage, adulterates marriage and is sin. The jokes that make light of sexual anatomy or that make fun of sexuality and the gifts God intends through it are sin. The whole line of entertainment that in some way demeans the sexuality of human beings and parades what is intended to be intimate, close, and private within marriage, adulterates God’s will and breaks the sixth commandment.
A lack of love between husband and wife adulterates marriage. They may be very happily married and faithful, but every time the husband fails to show Christ-like love to his wife he is breaking the sixth commandment. Every time a wife fails to love her husband and arrange her life under his leadership she sins against the sixth commandment. Whenever someone despises marriage in some way or fails to live up to God’s perfect standard in anything related to marriage, this adulterates God’s will and breaks the sixth commandment.
In the midst of all this adultery we have a wealth of opportunity to honor marriage and to glorify God. One of the first and best ways to do this is to proclaim God’s Word.
When we look at the adultery that is present in our world we find just how much sin there is in our lives and in the lives around us. We need to preach God’s Law. We ourselves need to be reminded and the world around us needs to know what God expects and what His will for marriage is. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “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 homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Sin condemns and leads to judgment eternally in Hell. To pursue sin, whether against the sixth commandment or any other, leads to eternal death and Paul doesn’t mince words when he says exactly that. Paul includes the sins that we’ve been discussing—homosexuality, adultery, fornication, sodomy. God’s Law needs to be preached to expose sin.
In the very next verse Paul says, “and such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11). To hearts convicted by God’s Law comes the sweet news of the Gospel that announces the forgiveness of sins through Christ Jesus. Some Corinthian Christians had lived in these sins, but through Jesus those sins were all forgiven.
Every one of us has in some way, at some time, sinned against the sixth commandment. Such were some of you…but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified. Take hope, confidence, encouragement, and joy from the knowledge that the blood of Jesus Christ washes away all sin including those against the sixth commandment. Where there is repentance and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ, the sins are no more and it doesn’t matter which sin against the sixth commandment it is, they are all washed away. One of the best ways we can honor marriage and glorify God is to proclaim this Gospel message to hearts that have been convicted by God’s Law.
We, having being cleansed and set free from sin by our Savior, are equipped and encouraged in our Christian living so that we can, like Old Testament Joseph, flee from situations that are sinful and tempting (cf. Old Testament reading). We can out of Christian concern rebuke and encourage friends, neighbors, relatives, and family members who are caught in sins against the sixth commandment. We are equipped to show them God’s will and to rebuke their sin, rather than wink at it as if it is of no concern. We honor marriage and glorify God with lives that reflect His will and by seeking to restore those who have fallen into sin.
Martin Luther wrote in His large Catechism: “Marriage is no matter for jest or idle curiosity, but it is a glorious institution and an object of God’s serious concern.” We have the opportunity to honor marriage and to glorify God when we treat marriage, not as just some custom that people can follow if they wish, but as something very valuable and precious—a glorious institution and something about which God is very concerned.
We glorify God and honor marriage when we don’t try to force marriage. At times there can be an expectation that marrying is what people need to do. That is certainly God’s will for many individuals, but the apostle Paul also wrote about the special blessing that God gives to some individuals so they are able to remain sexually pure even apart from marriage. If God gives that gift to an individual and it is God’s will that the individual remain single throughout his lifetime as Paul did, that is a blessing. We honor marriage when we understand that God gives the gift for singleness and He gives the gift of marriage—both according to His will.
If I am single but have the desire to marry, I honor marriage and glorify God when I pray and strive for contentment in my singleness as I await God’s will for my life and submit to His time frame for blessing me.
I honor marriage and glorify God when I don’t enter marriage lightly, but consider it to be one of the greatest—if not the greatest—decision I will make in my lifetime. If I so honor marriage I will approach it with prayer and care by using God’s Word and seeking His guidance.
We honor marriage and glorify God when we treat our marriage with honor—when we honor our spouses and when we don’t talk disparagingly about our spouses in front of anyone. If I have something ill to say about my spouse or if I have a complaint, my spouse is the one to whom I need to speak. We have something to work out. No one else should know unless I’m seeking godly counsel from a fellow Christian. I honor marriage when I uphold the honor of my spouse in that way.
I honor marriage and glorify God when I maintain purity in my life. Paul points out that my body and life is not my own, it has been redeemed at a costly price. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
We honor marriage and glorify God when we forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us and seek to enable one another and encourage one another to hold marriage in the highest regard
Stop! There are so many opportunities to witness to God’s truth concerning marriage and to glorify Him. Marriage in our day—and it’s nothing new—is being trampled underfoot and forgotten. Don’t let that happen. God designed marriage, He created it, He blesses it. Proclaim God’s will and design. Take the opportunities to uphold the honor and preciousness of marriage. If marriage is a gift God has given to you or will give to you in the future, treasure it and protect it—God does and that’s His will for you as well. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.