By Terry MacCabe
When I was 18 I joined a cross-country speaking tour that visited public schools, churches, and community centers challenging young people to honor God with their bodies by living a chaste lifestyle. Living a chaste lifestyle simply means abstaining from sex before marriage and living monogamously after marriage. It was a whirlwind tour covering the vast Canadian landscape over 30 days. I committed to the project on the spur of the moment. (I received the invitation on Monday explaining I’d have to fly to Montreal in two days!) I believed in the message wholeheartedly and obeyed it personally. Today, I’m glad I did. It has blessed my life immeasurably. My wife and I have a relationship that is sadly uncommon in our day: one of love, devotion, openness, and interdependence.
Back then (1993), the message we delivered was received with skepticism by many. It seemed unreasonable—particularly to those with no connection to the church—to think there would be any reason not to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage if the opportunity presented itself. Not to mention that many were actively pursuing every opportunity to lose their virginity, or come as close as possible to doing so.
Today we are dealing with the fallout of those desires and attitudes. Many people continue to make bad decisions by living together before marriage, engaging in promiscuous behavior, and occupying themselves with inappropriate entertainment. Any minister will tell you that marriages are in trouble, and that he’s been blindsided by the breakdown of marriages he thought appeared strong on the surface.
In spite of the sad reality we find ourselves in, many young couples have maintained a chaste lifestyle. Others who have gone down the wrong road with their relationships have given their lives (and bodies) to Jesus and want to begin living righteously. The steps both need to take are the same.
The key verse we must consider in our discussion is Hebrews 13:4: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled” (English Standard Version). In 15 words the Hebrews writer lays out an elaborate philosophy on the subject.
The first point made by the writer is that marriage should be honored. It can easily be argued that there has never been a time in history, and certainly never before in the western world, when marriage was less honored. It is not uncommon to hear people suggest that marriage is simply a legal transaction and the marriage license little more than a meaningless piece of paper. What is important, people argue, is the love two people feel for each other.
This kind of wrong-headed thinking illustrates why that piece of paper is so meaningful. Everyone knows that feelings of love wax and wane in any relationship. There are seasons in most relationships when the amorous sensations diminish; that meaningless little “piece of paper” can hold the marriage together during those times.
Social scientists will attest that marriage is beneficial; married couples experience greater sexual satisfaction, make more money, have increased likelihood of affluence, experience less depression and fewer problems with drugs and alcohol, and live longer and healthier lives (physically and psychologically). To be blunt, marriage is the fountain of youth, wealth, and well-being that millions of people in our day are desperately seeking. Why wouldn’t we honor it? We’d be crazy to dishonor it by abandoning it and meddling with its definition.
So what does it mean to honor marriage? Just turn on any prime-time TV show to learn what it means to dishonor it! Virtually every popular show mocks the notion of chastity and purity. If we are really going to honor marriage in our own lives, we’re going to be offended by such entertainment; offended enough to turn off the TV (or at least switch the channel). We shouldn’t want to be entertained by movies and shows we know portray the false image of marriage that is destroying the family in our day. This shouldn’t seem like a crazy idea for us. Philippians 4:8 clearly tells us not to be “entertained” by such media when it tells us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
Keep It Pure
The writer of Hebrews tells us not only to respect the marriage ceremony, but also the marriage bed by keeping it uncontaminated. To many in our day this notion is laughable; there are those who actually argue that doing the opposite benefits a relationship by adding variety. Some social scientists tell us that “spicing up” a relationship by opening it up only brings grief and ultimately destroys relationships. This is such an important concept that God put it in the Ten Commandments when he told us not to covet (yearn to possess or have) our neighbor’s spouse. The Proverbs put it even more plainly: “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?” (Proverbs 5:18-20, New International; Version, 1984).
The answer to the question, “Why embrace an adulteress or another man’s wife?” is clear: It’s exciting, salacious, tantalizing, and thrilling, while our culture has convinced us that faithful monogamy is boring. If it is, it’s because we’ve made it to be, and what’s more, it doesn’t have to be. During the 2002 North American Christian Convention, Juan Carlos Ortiz said that he often asks businessmen who have been caught in affairs, “Why don’t you take your wife to a hotel for sex some afternoon?” They generally respond, “It’s not exciting. I can have sex with her anytime.” What they don’t realize is how exciting it can be to play out a sexual fantasy within the confines of a marriage relationship. Most fantasies that take sex outside of the marriage are exciting only until they are realized! After the fantasy is experienced, people come to realize that there was a painful downside that had not been considered because they were captivated by the lust of the fantasy.
Keeping the marriage bed pure doesn’t mean making it boring; it can be as thrilling as we choose to make it, but that requires keeping the marriage relationship outside the bedroom healthy as well. The reason many inappropriate relationships seem easy is because they don’t have the baggage or require the work of real relationships. It is sadly ironic that the fallout of an affair can often make the difficulty of a genuine marriage look like a walk in the park.
When God created the universe, the only thing that wasn’t good was that the man was alone; so he made woman, and said it was very good. Just as other things God made can be used with both good and bad intent, so also can the marital relationship. We save ourselves a great deal of heartache and grief when we live our lives the way God instructed us to live. Doing so brings abundant life and true freedom.
Terry MacCabe is a freelance writer in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.
God Loves Marriage
Happy Spouse . . . Happy House
The Best Game Plan for a Winning Marriage
by Pat Williams
The Greatest Love Stories of All Time
by Standard Publishing
Divorce the Divider: Lookout Special Booklet
What does God want for marriage? What does the Old Testament say about divorce? What did Jesus say? What did Paul teach? How should the church deal with divorce today?
The Call to Purity—Encounter Small Groups Lesson for Teens
Download easy-to-prepare, relationship-oriented small group sessions for ages 13-18.
Find out more at www.standardpub.com.