What’s the big deal with living together before marriage?

In the past three months I have had to turn down two wedding requests. The conversations began rather friendly going over the dates of the weddings and the details. Then the conversations got sort of tense when I brought up the topic of them living together. Neither couple was thrilled and both left pretty upset. This upset me too; I don't like hurting people's feelings...really. It caused me to work through this difficult question: What's the big deal with living together before marriage? I mean, is it really wrong? Do I have scripture to back this up? Actually, it was my wife who asked me if I had scripture to back it up. When I realized I didn’t, I thought I better work on it. If you're one of the couples that has asked me to marry you, please do not take this as a blast. I'm doing this partially to work through my own convictions and also so you, and anyone else in this situation, will understand what the Bible says about living together before marriage.

Judge not lest ye be judged!

The first objection to my declining to marry these couples might by: "Judge not lest ye be judged." The funny thing is that most people who quote this couldn't tell you where they get it from and they normally quote the King James Version just like I did. But you wouldn't catch them quoting anything else in KJV. Ok, back on track. Let's finish the verse because taking a verse out of context is always an abuse of scripture.

In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus says, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”
Critics would argue that to deny a couples’ request to be married by me is violating Jesus’ words. However, Jesus does not condemn judging others’ actions. He condemns judging people, especially when the one who judges is guilty of more heinous sins! Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus tells us to judge people by their fruit. Just 10 verses later in Matthew 7:15-18, Jesus tells us how we can tell who the false prophets are by judging their fruit. Jesus Himself judged the religious people, the Pharisees, for their wickedness.

So, clearly Jesus is not saying that Christians are not permitted to point out sins, to correct their brothers and sisters. Rather, Jesus says in verse 5 that first you are to take the log out of your own eye so that you will be able to clearly see the speck in your brothers. In other words, I’ve got to judge myself before I judge someone else. If there is unrepentant sexual immorality in my life, I’m in no position to call someone else on theirs. First, I have to deal with my own sins and then I can help them with theirs. While I’m not perfect, I have judged myself and I am not living in unrepentant sexual immorality and I have a responsibility to help my brothers and sisters, not only as a pastor, but also as a Christian.

Is pre-marital sex really a sin?

The most obvious response to overarching question about living together is that sexual immorality is a sin. The Bible tells us to flee from sexual immorality. But, how do we know God considers sex before marriage to be sexual immorality?
In 1 Corinthians 7:2, Paul addresses the sexual immorality issue. He says that the solution to sexual immorality is for each man to have a wife and each woman to have a husband. We get the sense here that because the only solution for sexual immorality is to be married, sex before marriage is immoral.

Not convinced? Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Is it ok to wear clothes that we didn’t buy? Is it ok to eat food we didn’t buy? (Ok, aside from the obvious exception of them being given to us.) We all know that to wear clothes or eat food that we did not buy is stealing, and stealing is wrong. To take advantage of the marriage bed, and the God-given blessings of it, before marriage is to defile the marriage bed and steal from God. Why we try to rationalize some things and not others is beyond me. Most people who willingly steal from God by having pre-marital sex would never consider walking out of Wal-Mart with stolen goods!

Sex before marriage is a sin, so what? First Corinthians 6:18-20 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
God is not some party-pooper constantly throwing a wet blanket on all our good times. He loves sex…REALLY? God invented it, so yeah REALLY. But, He knows that sex is like a train. On the appropriate tracks, it is used for lots of good – pleasure, intimacy, procreation. When it gets off the tracks, it brings destruction and chaos. We usually refer to the STD’s and the unwanted pregnancies, but perhaps the larger toll is the emotional damage done when these sexual relationships end. There’s an incredible bond that sexual intimacy brings and this bond was never meant to be broken. Kept in the confines of marriage, it isn’t broken except in death. But, when it is achieved outside of marriage, it is as fragile as glass.

We’re living together, but we’re not having sex. (Yeah right, but anyway…)

Perhaps some people living together are abstaining from sexual intimacy. They’re either lying through their teeth of they’ve got wills of steel (self-control for you less poetic types)! What would I tell a couple who says they are no engaging in sexual activity but wish to continue to live together? I think the pertinent answer would have to do with perceptions.
Not only are we told to flee from sexual immorality, we’re told there should not even be a hint of sexual immorality in our lives.
Ephesians 5:3 - But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.

What does it mean for there to be a hint of sexual immorality in my life? I’ve personally taken this to mean that I have to be really cautious about being alone with a woman in almost any context. I tend to fall in agreement with Billy Graham who said he made a commitment to never be alone with a woman other than his wife. In his lengthy ministry career, he never broke it. The thing about perceptions is that to the perceiver, the perception is reality. This applies whether that perceiver is the woman who thinks I’m making advances at her or the dude walking by that recognizes me from church and knows she isn’t my wife. In the spirit of Paul in 1 Cor 8:13 where he speaks about giving up freedoms for the greater cause of Christ, namely abstaining from certain meats or drinks lest he cause his brother to fall, I will always attempt to err on the side of caution so that no one can even THINK I’m fooling around. For unmarried couples, I would certainly say that living together makes it hard to convince folks around you that you’re not involved in sexual immorality. Unless you post a chastity pledge on your door, on your parking spot and wear it on your back, most people are going to assume the obvious.

You are Christ’s Ambassadors

You might say, “Who cares what they think?” Look back at what Paul’s real motivation for sexual purity was in 1 Cor. 6:18-20. It’s found in the last verse. This reminds us that we are not our own and that we have been bought with a price. Because we have been redeemed, Jesus owns us and we owe Him our lives and our obedience. But not only that, we owe Him the decency of representing Him well. One of the greatest tragedies of modern Christianity is this idea that I can be my own person and that my actions have no impact on the Kingdom of God. The early church knew that people who claim to be Christians yet live worldly lives damaged the church and brought disrepute upon her. Today, we’re so afraid to hurt someone’s feelings that we ignore blatant sins that everyone sees. Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 5:20-21, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God’s plan is to use His children to advance His Kingdom. We have a responsibility to be good ambassadors! Jack Graham said the other day that most Christians don’t share their faith because they know they don’t live like Christians themselves. They know that anyone who knows anything about them would immediately recognize the hypocrisy. They’ve been marginalized by their own lifestyle. Isn’t that an impact? Resoundingly, yes! Christians who live together before marriage disqualify their own testimonies. And they do it because it’s convenient.

Unrepentant sin

So, Brian, are you saying you never sin? Nope, I’m not. But, I don’t have to say that, or do that, to speak about this issue. The issue is not sin, but unrepentant sin. If a couple came to me and said, “Brian, we’re sorry for dishonoring God by living together and we want to make this right as soon as possible,” I’d be happy to marry them after deliberate pre-marital counseling. There’s a difference between someone who falls to temptation, repents, puts steps in place to prevent further falls and moves on and a person who falls and never repents. Repentance is not just feeling sorry for what we’ve done. Repentance is an action word; it involves turning from the sin. For a couple living together to show repentance would be for one of them to move out. Anything short of that is lip-service. In my life I’ve told God I was sorry a million times. But, I didn’t show repentance until I turned away and desired to never go back again.

Well, that’s about long enough. It has been really helpful for me to work through this and I hope it’s been helpful to you as well. Again, if you’re one of the couples that asked me to marry you, please do not take this as a passive-aggressive shot. As I told you personally, my desire is to see God honored in each of your lives. Still is. To anyone else who is living together, I hope you will prayerfully consider repenting. I believe God honors our decisions to do the harder rights!

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