Volume 30, Number 5
To many, it seems quaint, and at worst incredible, to even question the morality and value of living together before marriage. It is more and more acceptable in our society nowadays for young men and women to “try it out” before committing themselves to a life-long relationship.
But living together really is not a good preparation for marriage. One secular book on marriage states that there is “no relationship between whether or not a couple lived together-and how easily they adjust to marriage, how happy they are in marriage, and how satisfied they are with their sex life in marriage” (page 11, The First Year of Marriage, Arond and Parker). In fact, Arond and Parker say that couples who lived together before marriage have significantly lower marital satisfaction than those who did not cohabit before the wedding. It is eye-opening to note that during the same time period in which living together before marriage has become acceptable, the rate of divorce has skyrocketed. Living together, instead of helping cement relationships, has taught young people that commitment is optional.
The claims of those who promote the practice of cohabitation have had roughly thirty years of testing by which they may be examined. Living together is an artificial situation that usually collapses when one partner walks out. There is no security for the partners and none for the children born to the illicit relationship. In 1950, the illegitimacy rate (the rate of births for women who were not married) was 3.9%. In the 1990s, the illegitimacy rate for the same group is 28%. Persons studying these trends draw a direct parallel between the rise in illegitimacy, the rise of crime, and the stress on our social and governmental structures. Many children are growing up in homes in which there is no marriage commitment, and hence no security. These children often find their security in gangs where commitment is required and is acted upon.
H. Norman Wright, a prominent Christian marriage counselor, notes the benefits of waiting until marriage to live together:
1. No guilt (of having offended God).
2. No fear (of having to build a marriage on an unexpected pregnancy).
3. No comparison (of the spouse with a previous “live in”).
4. Spiritual growth (in placing physical desires under the Lordship of Christ, and in developing self-control).
5. Greater joy (in fulfilling that which is saved for the marriage relationship).
Churches and ministers need to set standards that uphold the sanctity and permanence of marriage. Preaching and counseling should reinforce the Scriptural stance that sex outside of a permanent, lifelong marriage relationship is wrong. It is far better to offend a few by a high standard that exalts sexual purity and marital fidelity, than to transgress Scripture and offend God by a low expectation that encourages fornication and divorce.
Couples engaged in fornication, and wanting to be married in the church or by the minister, should be asked to repent of their sin and refrain from those practices before a church wedding takes place. Congregations in a given area could band together in a community marriage policy to create a high community standard among the churches, and prevent a couple from “shopping” to find a church with relaxed standards.
Further, Christians ought to be taught the Scriptural truth that their bodies (and their sexuality) do not belong to themselves but to God (see the book entitled Eros Defiled, John White, InterVarsity Press). Fornication, and any other sexual sin, are sins that God roundly condemns and will judge. The Bible flatly says, “Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers–none of these will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
However, the good news is that God will forgive those sins and heal them, when the sinner is penitent. The very next sentence in the Scripture above says, “And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). There is forgiveness and cleansing in the blood of Christ for the repentant sinner!
On Living Together Before Marriage
By Harold S. Martin
The practice of men and women living together without the commitment of marriage is so common in our day that the United States Census Bureau in the late 1970s coined the acronym POSSLQ (for Partners of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters). The Bureau in 1993 said that 6,085,284 unmarried opposite-sex partners now live together in the United States. In fact one noted liberal Episcopal clergyman says that the church should establish a liturgy to bless the relationship of couples who choose to become domestic partners without the promise of marriage.
We are living in a self-centered and pleasure-oriented society. Bible standards related to righteousness and morality are falling by the wayside. More and more couples are living together apart from the marriage bond. The trend is alarming. The flippant attitudes of those who “shack up together’ is even more startling. Large numbers of people seem to think that couples should live together before marriage to see if the relationship will work out.
There are a number of social reasons for the rising practice of cohabitation: 1) A general breakdown of personal morality. 2) The changing sexual values in society. 3) Extended adolescence and later marriages. 4) The availability of more effective methods of contraception. 5) Tax laws which sometimes make marriage a disadvantage financially. The primary factor, however, is related to the general human rebellion against the laws of God.
Committed Christians believe that sharing bed, breakfast, and bills apart from a marriage bond is a violation of the will of God. And so, to the hundreds who are asking, “What’s wrong with living together before marriage, anyway?”–we offer the following paragraphs as a Christian response.
1. LIVING TOGETHER AS HUSBAND AND WIFE WITHOUT BEING LEGALLY MARRIED IS FORNICATION.
Fornication is defined as “sexual intercourse between unmarried persons.” It is a sin which God forbids. The Bible says, “Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolators, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers-none of these will inherit the kingdom of God” (1Corinthians 6:9-10). And again, God’s Word says, “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers” (Hebrews 13:4). It is a sobering thought that “each of us will be accountable to God” (Romans 14:12).
2. GOD DESIGNED SEX TO BE ENJOYED BY ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN WITHIN THE PERMANENT SHELTER OF TOTAL COMMITMENT TO EACH OTHER IN MARRIAGE.
Any deviation from this model is a violation of God’s law with some serious consequences. Jesus speaks of a woman who was living with a man who was not her husband (John 4:17-18)a case of unmarried cohabitation. When Jesus spoke of her private life she quickly changed the subject. Jesus did not regard cohabitation and marriage as being equivalent in meaning.
3. CHRISTIANS CALL CHRIST THEIR MASTER AND WE SUBMIT TO HIM AS OUR LORD AND LEADER.
Because of this principle, we cannot do exactly as we please. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 speaks clearly about what this means: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” And God says that the proper place for the sexual relationship is within the bonds of honorable marriage. To fornicate is immoral; it is a sin against the Holy Spirit who dwells in the believer’s body.
4. SEX WITHOUT THE BINDING COMMITMENT OF MARRIAGE CHEAPENS ONESELF AND THE OTHER PERSON INVOLVED.
Love without commitment is not really love at all, but rather it is lust. Marriage alone provides the security from the fear of being used, and seduced, and then abandoned.
Why is marriage so important? Why do we need to receive the church’s blessing and be registered by the state? Why do we encourage couples to save the sexual relationship for marriage? In order for a relationship between a man and woman to continue over the years, both partners must give each other their word completely. That is one of the reasons for a public wedding. Both need the support of the community.
Walter Trobisch in his little book entitled, I Married You, describes the three aspects of a normal marriage: 1) The legal or public ceremony. 2) The personal act of consent and commitment. 3) The physical sexual union. (The sex act alone does not constitute marriage, for if that were true, there would be no such thing as fornication, because as soon as individuals engaged in the act, they would be married.)
Marriage is a public vow which makes the commitment more difficult to break. We treat marriage as a public contract, so that we will be reminded in our darker and sadder days, of the importance of our obligation to love and cherish and nurture our chosen spouse with genuine care.
Out of fear of losing her boyfriend, Lisa decided to give in and have sex with him. In the end, she lost him anyway-and then she felt used and humiliated. Many teenagers fall into the trap of “sex or else.” The boy says, “if you loved me, you would become intimate with me.” But when the girl gives in and consents to having sex, she often ends up getting dumped and is badly hurt.
5. VIOLATIONS OF GOD’S STANDARDS OF MORALITY CARRY CONSEQUENCES WHICH FOLLOW LATER IN LIFE.
Some of the many consequences of cohabitation and fornication are misplaced trust, unplanned pregnancy, venereal disease, and the negative Christian witness which the cohabiting lifestyle presents to the world.
Sex outside of marriage always does some kind of damage. It leaves some people grieving because they can no longer claim virginity. Others carry dark secrets about things they did in the past. Some are afraid of getting pregnant, or getting some disease like AIDS.
Another consequence of cohabitation is the greater likelihood of divorce if the couple later decides to marry. The National survey of Families and Households found that couples who cohabit before marriage are 50 percent more likely to divorce. The same survey also found that unmarried couples living together are twice as likely to be unhappy in their relationship, as are those who are duly married. Michael McManus says that cohabitation is not preparation for marriage; instead, it is training for divorce (page 39, Marriage Savers, Zondervan, 1995 edition). A University of New Hampshire study found that “cohabiting couples show higher levels of aggression than either daters or married people” (Time magazine, September 5, 1988, page 54). A Brigham Young University researcher says, “We find strong evidence that the marriages of those who have cohabited are less satisfying and more unstable than those who didn’t cohabit before marriage” (USA Today, October 7,1993).
The family therapist, Laura Schlessinger, says that people who move in before making a marriage commitment are people who have not learned to practice delayed gratification. They want the benefits of a solid relationship before investing the time and effort to build a solid relationship. Later, when the road gets rocky, these folks won’t invest the time and effort to sustain the relationship either. Schlessinger says, “Having sex too soon, moving in without commitment … are the behaviors of basically immature, let-me-feelgood-now people.”
Those who urge a period of unmarried cohabitation in order to test the sincerity and durability of their loveoverlook a common characteristic of human nature. It is the sense of being bound that helps love to become stabilized. The couple that is firmly committed to the principle of lifelong togetherness, has a much greater chance of experiencing a genuine lasting relationship, than the couple who regards their domestic habitation as being subject to termination.
6. LIVING TOGETHER BEFORE MARRIAGE IS AN OFFENSE AGAINST GOD’S LAW AND IS AN INJUSTICE TO ONE’S PARTNER.
God’s original command in creation was that male and female should “cleave” (or “cling”) to one another in covenantal partnership, that is, in marriage (Genesis 2:24). A man shall leave father and mother, and become united to his wife, and they two shall become one flesh.
Our objection to living together before marriage is based upon the biblical teaching that sexual activity outside of marriage is an offense against God’s law. We are told in Ephesians 5:3, “But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (NIV).
The Bible has no direct teaching on what should be involved in a marriage ceremony, nor does it tell how the ceremony should be conducted to make it a valid transaction. However, marriage has always been a public event. There has always been a specific point at which persons were recognized as being married. The Bible has specific regulations about the sins of adultery and fornication. It is assumed that the community will know who is married and who is not married. Marriage is not a private affair. It takes place within the community. And the Christian is a member of a special community–the Body of Christ. Our entire life (including our role in marriage) is lived out as a member of this special community. In the wedding ceremony, the couple makes pledges in the presence of family, friends, the church, the state, and God. When this commitment has been expressed–then the man and woman are ready for physical consummation. This pattern is in harmony with the teaching found in God’s Word.
A public marriage ceremony demonstrates that we take seriously our responsibility to a larger society-including our friends, family, neighbors, and fellow Christians. We do not live to ourselves. We live as members of a community whose approval is important, whose love is desired, and whose reputation is esteemed. A marriage which occurs under God, before an audience, and ratified by the laws of the state is a strong statement of intention. It says that the couple intends to worship God, to contribute to the welfare of the community, and to put the commitment to persevere in the marriage on public record.
The marriage bond bestows meaning upon the couple’s sexual activity as expressed in the phrase “one flesh.” It highlights the complete interchange of the two selves, as in the bride’s delightful statement in the Song of Solomon, “My beloved is mine and I am his” (Song of Solomon 2:16). Marriage confirms the mutual commitment and bonding of a man and woman by specifying and guarding certain expectations and responsibilities. In cohabitation, by way of contrast, there is mutual exploitation within the possibility of potential flight. And that does not tend to promote strong and lasting relationships.
A Hallmark Card says, “I can’t promise you forever, but I can promise you today.” This is one of the newest love cards for the 1990s–no commitment–just warm fuzzy feelings. And then when the mood changes and the fuzzies are gone, the earlier “love” and “respect” begin to fade. Living together before marriage is not an effective way to test the compatability of potential marriage partners. Living together without marriage usually does more emotional harm than good. Total commitment is what makes a lasting and good marriage. And yet—commitment is what cohabiting couples are purposely avoiding. Couples who mate before they are mates, tend to rely on sexual intimacy to keep them together. Strong human relationships require more than that. Couples who share the same roof before the public marriage ceremony often build a shaky foundation for their life together.
Our churches need to call for a renewed commitment to chastity and to the sacredness of sex within marriage. Kevin Ray, in the July, 1993 edition of Disciple Renewal, says, “There is a powerful movement today to ignore the clear teaching of Scripture regarding human sexuality. This problem is pervasive. In our society, living together outside of marriage is now acceptable. Divorce is viewed as an easy alternative to the struggle of making a marriage work. Children are being taught in our public schools that sexual activity is acceptable as long as it is done ‘safely.’ Homosexual behavior is being promoted as normal human sexual expression. The perversion of biblical teaching regarding human sexuality threatens to undermine society and is bringing great division to the church of Jesus Christ. On the issue of human sexuality, we have abandoned the God-given standard, and are therefore in danger of incurring God’s wrath. This is a point where the church must be called to faithfulness.”
The church needs to reach out to those who are suffering the devastating effects of venereal diseases, and make their days as pain-free as possible by offering the peace of Christ-but we must also teach abstinence from sexual encounters outside of the true and honorable marriage bond between a man and a woman.
DO RIGHT A THOUSAND TIMES, AND YOU MAY NOT HEAR OF IT ONCE. DO WRONG ONCE, AND YOU MAY HEAR OF IT A THOUSAND TIMES.