|Study 11: Life in Christ
Introduction | Holiness | The Use of Force | Politics | Worldly Pleasures | Bible Study | Prayer | Preaching | Ecclesial Life | The Breaking of Bread | Marriage | Fellowship | Questions
We will begin this section by considering the position of those who are single at the point of baptism. We have discussed in Study 5.3 the need to marry only baptized believers. There are a few passages, coupled with the examples of Jesus, Paul and others, which encourage those who are single to at least consider the option of remaining single so as to totally commit themselves to the Lord's work (1 Cor. 7:7-9, 32-38 cp. 2 Tim. 2:4; Matt. 19:11,12,29; Ecc. 9:9). "But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned" (1 Cor. 7:28). Many of the apostles were married (1 Cor. 9:5), and marriage as God intended is designed to bring many physical and spiritual benefits. "Marriage is honourable in all, and (the use of) the bed undefiled" (Heb. 13:4). "It is not good that...man should be alone", unless he can manage a high level of commitment to spiritual things, and therefore God instituted marriage (Gen. 2:18-24). Therefore, "Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord...a prudent wife is from the Lord" (Prov. 18:22; 19:14)
We are given a balanced summary of the position in 1 Cor. 7:1,2: "It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" (cp. v 9).
The implication of these verses is that indulgence of sexual desires outside marriage is fornication. Warnings against fornication (sex between unmarried people), adultery (sex where one or both parties are already married to other partners) and any form of immorality are frequent throughout the New Testament; almost every letter contains them. The following are but some of these: Acts 15:20; Rom. 1:;29; 1 Cor. 6:9-18; 10:8; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:3; Jude 7; 1 Peter 4:3; Rev. 2:21.
In the light of all this repeated emphasis, to fly in the face of God's clearly expressed will is serious indeed. Whilst sins of momentary weakness, if repented of, God delights to forgive, (e.g. David's adultery with Bathsheba), to live a way of life which is regularly doing these things can only result in condemnation. Paul frequently spelt this out: "Adultery, fornication...and such like: of the which I tell you before (the judgment seat), as I have also told you in time past, that they which do (continually) such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God" (Gal.5:19,21), therefore "Flee fornication (cp. 2 Tim. 2:22). Every sin that a man doeth is without the body, but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body" (1 Cor. 6:18).
It is becoming accepted almost world-wide that young couples can live together before marriage, enjoying full sexual relationships. The use of the term 'common law marriage' to describe this is a complete misnomer. Marriage for the believer must be marriage according to God's definition of it; we cannot let a definition of marriage created by the flesh-pleasing world around us have supremacy over God's statements regarding marriage - after all, marriage was instituted by God rather than man. Biblically, marriage is comprised of at least three elements:
1. Some form of marriage ceremony, however simple. The record of Boaz marrying Ruth in Ruth 3:9-4:13 shows that marriage is not a relationship which is just drifted into; there must be a specific moment when one becomes fully married. Christ is likened to the bridegroom and the believers to the bride, whom he will 'marry' at his second coming. There will be "the marriage supper of the Lamb" to celebrate this (Rev. 19:7-9). The relationship between husband and wife typifies that between Christ and the believers (Eph. 5:25-30); as there will be a definite point of marriage between us, so there should be a wedding between believers which begins their marriage, typifying the union of Christ and ourselves at the judgment seat.
2. God's marriage to Israel involved entering into a mutual spiritual covenant of faithfulness to each other (Ez. 16:8), and this should also feature in the marriage of believers.
3. Sexual intercourse is necessary to consummate the marriage (Deut. 21:13; Gen. 24:67; 29:21; 1 Kings 11:2). Because of this, 1 Cor. 6:15,16 explains why intercourse outside of marriage is so wrong. Intercourse signifies, in physical terms, how God has joined a wedded couple together (Gen. 2:24). To be joined as "one flesh" in a temporary relationship is therefore an abuse of the bodies God has given us. He has designed them in order to be able to consummate in physical terms what He has joined together in marriage.
From this it follows that couples 'living together' before marriage are actually living in sin. Unless they formalize their relationship by getting properly married - or separate - there is no point in them being baptized.
A complication arises in some cultures in the developing world in which there is no conception of a marriage ceremony or contract for ordinary people. A couple may have been living together for many years without these things, regarding themselves as married. It is the advice of the present writer that in such cases those performing the baptism should explain the position to the candidate for baptism, and get them and their partner to sign some form of marriage agreement. The relationship should then be registered with the relevant civil authority as soon as possible.
Those who are baptized, whilst their partner is not, should in no way leave them (1 Cor. 7:13-15), but rather make every effort to love them, and thus show by their manner of life that they have a genuine belief in the true God, rather than just having changed religions. 1 Peter 3:1-6 encourages those in this position that doing this can, in itself, be a means of converting the unbelieving partner.
The principles governing marriage are epitomized in God's statement regarding it: "a man (shall) leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). This striving for unity between man and wife in as many ways as possible is analogous to our continuous effort for unity with Christ, through overcoming the fundamental sin and selfishness of our natures. This striving is against ourselves rather than against Christ or our partner. The more we succeed in this, the happier and more fulfilling our relationship will be.
However, we are living in a real world of sin and failure, of inability to fully rise up to the supreme standards of holiness which are set us in the Bible, and in the example of the love of God and of Christ. The ideal standard set in Gen. 2:24 is of one man and one woman, living together in total unity for life.
Believers must be prepared to accept that sometimes this standard will not be attained both in their own lives and in those of other believers. Husbands and wives may argue and lose that unity of mind which they should have; it may be physically impossible to consummate the marriage; a man may have several wives, taken before his baptism, if living in a society where polygamy is allowed. In this case he should remain with the wives, but not take any more. The apostle Paul, a masterful blend of human sympathy and staunch adherence to Divine principles, therefore advised that separation was possible in extreme cases of incompatibility: "Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried" (1 Cor. 7:10-11).
This stating of an ideal standard, but willingness to accept a lower standard as long as it does not flout a basic Divine principle (e.g. that adultery is wrong), is quite a common feature of Scripture. Paul's advice in 1 Cor. 7:10-11 is akin to 1 Cor. 7:27,28: "...Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife (i.e. remain single). But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned". However, wilful divorce is an institutionalized flouting of God's principle that man and woman should recognize that He has joined them as one flesh, even if on practical issues they find this hard to put into practice. Christ's words are painfully plain:
In this whole area of sexual relations, the flesh is a dab hand at making plausible excuses to justify the indulgence of the natural desires. Those who find themselves in particularly tempting situations will only find the strength and spiritual stamina which they need from a repeated meditation upon the verses quoted in this section. Some have sought to justify homosexuality and lesbianism as legitimate, natural desires. However, there is no doubt that such practices are wholly abhorrent in God's sight.
The basic principle of Gen. 2:24 exposes the sin of homosexuality; it is God's intention that man and woman should marry and cleave to each other. God created woman to be a help for Adam, rather than another man. Sexual relations between men are repeatedly condemned in the Bible. This was one of the sins for which Sodom was destroyed (Gen. Chs.18,19); the apostle Paul makes it very clear that persisting in such practices will incur the wrath of God, and exclude from His Kingdom (Rom.1:18-32; 1 Cor.6:9,10).
The fact of having once been involved in such things should not make us feel that we are beyond God's help. There is forgiveness with God, that He should be given loving reverence by those who experience His forgiveness (Ps. 130:4). The ecclesia at Corinth had its fair share of repentant playboys: "Such were some of you: but ye are washed (in baptism), but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified (by being baptized) in the name of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
The complaint that one has no natural attraction to the opposite sex is effectively an accusation that God is unfair in forbidding us to commit homosexuality, but creating us with that overpowering temptation. God will not let us be tempted above what we can reasonably bear without making a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). Through excessive indulgence of any aspect of the flesh, one can reach a point where this is naturally what one is like. Thus, an alcoholic or drug addict cannot live without a regular input of certain chemicals; but he is required to change his mental outlook, and with the help of therapy return to a balanced, normal way of living.
Homosexuals must go through the same process. God will confirm men's efforts in this; if they totally give themselves over to the indulgence of their natural desires, God will treat them as He did Israel of old:
Only the wilfully blind can fail to see in this an explicit prophecy of AIDS, and the bumper crop of other sexually transmitted diseases which our depraved world is now reaping.