IS LIVING TOGETHER BEFORE MARRIAGE REALLY WRONG?
Living together without the blessing of marriage lacks the lifelong sacrificial commitment that so characterizes Christ and His church.
Rev. Matthew W. Rueger, Author
Jan. 1, 2020
There is more than one reason why living together before marriage is not consistent with a redeemed Christian life. The most obvious is that it goes against the 6th commandment; “Thou shall not commit adultery.” It is understood that couples living together are also sleeping together. Naturally the 6th commandment applies to all sexual acts outside of marriage, not just to couples living together. The seriousness of breaking the 6th commandment is discussed in several places in the Bible:
"Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness...drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Gal 5:19, 21
"But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints..." Eph. 5:3
"Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell..."
"Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul. Wounds and dishonor he will get, And his reproach will not be wiped away." Prov. 6:32-33
"Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge."
"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God..." 1 Thess. 4:2-5 3
God’s ethics about sex are also defined positively under the Gospel in terms of the new holiness God has given us.
"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, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 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 Cor. 6:9-11
"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you." Phil. 4:8-9
"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." James 1:27
"Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For "the two," He says, "shall become one flesh." But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 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 Cor. 6:13-20
Any acts of adultery, whether a couple lives together or not, violate both God’s law and the very image of Christ which is supposed to dwell within God’s redeemed children. Living together is about more than just breaking one commandment about adultery. Living together represents a persistent ignoring of God’s Word and God’s will. Continuing to live in opposition to God’s Word makes couples who choose to keep living together guilty of unrepentant sin. Repentance means recognizing sin and turning away from the offending behavior back to God and His will. Living together is a public announcement that two people do not believe they have to follow God’s will. If a couple is repentant they will naturally stop living together.
Yeah, but we love each other!
Love is all the more reason why one should wait until marriage to live together and have a sexual relationship. If one truly loves another, he or she will care about the soul of that other person. He or she won’t want to put the soul of that other person in a bad way with God. In fact, they will embrace self-denial for the sake of the other’s greater good. Love for the Christian is not the same as lust. Physical attraction is a natural part of love, but the correct God-given outlet for that natural attraction is marriage:
"...but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion." 1 Cor. 7:9
What if we promise not to have intercourse?
Abstaining from sexual intercourse is a great and God-pleasing start, but it is not the only issue involved when a couple lives together. The other issue, which will remain unresolved, is the witness of godliness the couple gives to the world.
Christians are to see their lives as living and breathing billboards to the world. They are advertisements of what Christ can do in the life of a person. His holiness, His love of God above all else, and His love for His fellow man even at the expense of self should characterize the Christian life. A couple who continues to live together, even if they promise to abstain from sex, still sends a message to others that is not consistent with a redeemed life.
One group that’s particularly susceptible to influence are the young who do not yet really understand the whole 'sexual conduct' thing. They see an unmarried couple living together and get the message that it must be okay. They grow up thinking, “I saw them do it and no one seemed to care, so I’m going to do that too.” And they do. They grow up, move in with their boyfriend or girlfriend, and live in sin. If, however, they saw couples date and grow close to each other without having to live together first, then they would be more inclined to copy that behavior in their own lives.
Living together becomes all the more serious when one or both of the individuals involved has children. The message the children grow up with is that it must be okay to ignore God’s Word. They might go to Church or Sunday school, hear that it is wrong to live together before marriage, and then go home to watch mom or dad ignore everything the church says. Will small children understand better if mom or dad explain they don’t really have sex and just live together? No, because little children don’t know what that means (and shouldn’t at that age). All they know is that their parents live together like every other married couple and just aren’t married.
Such a situation doesn’t just teach children it’s okay to ignore that one commandment; they will grow up thinking God’s Word as a whole is just words that they can ignore when it proves inconvenient. Parents can unwittingly teach their children to leave Christ and abandon His salvation just by their conduct.
Christians need to be mindful of how their actions might influence others. St. Paul’s experience with this is recorded in 1 Corinthians 8. He wasn’t dealing with questions of sexual ethics, but questions of idolatry. The issue was whether it was acceptable for him and other Christians to eat food that was offered up to idols. Why this was a big issue was because of how it affected “weaker brethren.” Idols were nothing to mature Christians. It wasn’t a sin to eat food offered to them because they were nothing more than blocks of wood and stone. But if weaker brothers saw Christians eat such food, they might get the idea that Christians were honoring false gods. They might get the impression that Christians were trying to serve multiple gods. On the one hand they at Christ’s meal of bread and wine, and then they ate the meals that were held in the names of other gods. Their actions had religious implications.
The question Paul had to answer was whether it was OK for Christians to do things which might be innocent in themselves but which also might cause others to have problems in their faith. Paul’s conclusion was:
"For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble." 1 Cor. 8:10-13
The application to the matter of living together is this: even if a couple knows in their own hearts that they are not committing adultery anymore, their actions might very well cause others to stumble in their faith and be embolden to move in with their boyfriends and girlfriends. Our Christian witness does matter and how others follow our example should be part of our concern for their souls.
From Luther’s Large Catechism:
"Inasmuch as there is a shameful mess and cesspool of all kinds of vice and lewdness among us, this commandment applies to every form of unchastity, however it is called. Not only is the external act forbidden, but also every kind of cause, motive, and means. Your heart, your lips, and your whole body are to be chaste and to afford no occasion, aid, or encouragement to unchastity. Moreover, you are to defend, protect, and rescue your neighbor whenever he is in danger or need, and on the contrary to aid and assist him so that he may retain his honor. Whenever you fail to do this (though you could prevent a wrong) or wink at it as if it were no concern of yours, you are just as guilty as the culprit himself. In short, everyone is required both to live chastely himself and to help his neighbor do the same." Tappert, p 392, meaning of the 6th Commandment, Luther's Large Catechism.
"Let it be said in conclusion that this commandment requires everyone not only to live chastely in thought, word, and deed in his particular situation (that is, especially in the estate of marriage), but also to love and cherish the wife or husband whom God has given. For marital chastity it is above all things essential that husband and wife live together in love and harmony, cherishing each other whole-heartedly and with perfect fidelity. This is one of the chief ways to make chastity attractive and desirable. Under such conditions chastity always follows spontaneously without any command. This is why St. Paul so urgently admonishes husbands and wives to love and honor each other.? Here you have another precious good work — indeed, many and great works — which you can joyfully set over against all “?spiritual estates?” that are chosen without God’s Word and commandment." Tapper, p. 394, meaning of the 6th Commandment, Luther's Large Catechism
So what are we supposed to do if we are already living together?
Being a Christian means living from Christ’s forgiveness. What a couple should do once they understand their currently living situation isn’t pleasing to God is what any person should do once they see that they have sinned. They should put a stop to behavior that offends God and give an answer to those who ask, explaining that they love God first and have repented of their sin.
There are two possible resolutions to living together. The first is the best – separate. “But” the objection goes, “it costs too much to live separately.” That may be true, but then again money isn’t our god and we don’t serve it over Him. The second solution is to get married immediately. Ceremonies in Church can always wait to a later date when the couple can do a reaffirmation of vows before their friends and relatives. Again, marriage isn’t about having a party and inviting all the friends and relatives, it is about living God-pleasing lives and serving Him as our Savior and that may (will) require sacrifice.
When sin is involved, it is never a solution to say, “I need to continue doing this for now because it’s too inconvenient to stop.” When something is identified to be at odds with God in one’s life, then faith demands an immediate cessation of that activity.
"Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord..." Acts 3:19-20
"But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" says the Lord God, "and not that he should turn from his ways and live?" Ezekiel 18:21-23
Our God is first and foremost a forgiving God. But He is also a God who does not ignore sin or give pass to those who want to keep serving sin. Christ’s life and death are all about our deliverance from sin – deliverance from being punished for our failings, deliverance from serving sin. If we have fallen into sin, Christ calls us to repentance, turns us back to Him, and forgives us. He sets our lives right again so that sin does not become our master, but we become its master. With Him we can refuse to give in to urges that harm the soul and we can lead God-pleasing lives.
How does the church respond?
It is the policy of our congregation that if a couple is continuing to live together, then they would not be able to be married from our Church or by our pastor. If they agree to separate as a sign of repentance, then the wedding could be from our Church and by our pastor. If they agree to be married immediately as a sign of repentance, then the Church could be used at a later date for the reaffirmation of vows.
In addition to this, the couple would be treated as anyone else who is unrepentant. That is, they would no longer be welcome to receive communion because communion is a meal only for the repentant. 1 Cor. 11:27 is clear that those who commune with an unrepentant heart eat and drink judgment to themselves. The Church loves even the unrepentant so much, that it will not allow them to put themselves in danger of judgment. So as long as they remain living together without repentance the Sacrament of the Christ’s Supper is not available for them.
If the sin persists long enough, the Church may have to begin formal action to remove that person from membership. Indeed if any person persists in unrepentance, they have removed themselves from the Church and from Christ. The congregation will eventually acknowledge that separation from salvation by removing them from the congregation’s roles. This would only be done after Matthew 18 had been patiently followed and the offending parties were given every opportunity to turn away from sin and back to Christ for mercy.
God created marriage to the proper context for man and woman to live together. He stated that marriage is the only union that reflect two becoming one flesh. It is such a God-pleasing union, that in Ephesians 5 God’s Word compares husband and wife to Christ and His Church. Christian marriage is a holy union reflecting the oneness of Jesus with His people.
Living together without the blessing of marriage lacks the life-long sacrificial commitment that so characterizes Christ and His church. Regardless of the loving feeling the couple may have, it is contrary to God’s will for man and woman. Therefore, as with any sin, one must turn from it, receive Christ’s forgiveness, and lead new, different, holier lives. In Christ such a repentant life is possible for all His children.