Honor Marriage

Series: Better: A Study of the Christian Life in Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Oct 6, 2013

Hebrews 13:4

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 13.  We’re going to be looking at the fourth verse today, but before we look at that verse I want to ask you to look back to Hebrews 13:1 and follow your eyes down the page to verse 4 and actually go farther to verse 5 so that you understand the flow of thought.  The author of Hebrews is telling us how to live the Christian life.  Much like the apostle Paul in the first eleven chapters of the book of Romans tells us the glorious theology of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and then follows that with a gigantic “therefore” in Romans 12, and from Romans 12 to 15 tells you how to live the Christian life in light of God’s grace, so also the author of Hebrews has spent most of this book arguing that Jesus is better.  

Hebrews 13: What to Love, and What Not to Love

But now, here especially in chapter 13, he’s telling us how to live the Christian life in light of our better Savior.  And he started, of course, in this chapter in verse 1 giving us a series of exhortations about love.  And I’d like you to just look at what he says.  First he says, “Let brotherly love continue.”  Then in verse 2 he says, “Show hospitality.”  In verse 3 he says, “Remember those who are in prison and those who are mistreated.”  In verse 4 he says, “Honor marriage,” and in verse 5 he says, “Don’t love money.”  Now pull back and get a big picture of what he’s doing.  He’s saying love Christians, love strangers and guests, show love to people in prison - and I think he has there especially in mind believers who, for the sake of Christ, have been imprisoned.  And my friends, there are hundreds and thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ in jails right now around this world because of the testimony of Jesus.  Love Christians, love strangers and guests, love prisoners, love those who are mistreated - and again, I think he has in mind those who are being mistreated, those who are being hurt, those who are being persecuted because of their witness to Jesus Christ.  Love Christians, love strangers and guests, love prisoners, love those who are mistreated, honor marriage, don’t love money. Isn’t that interesting?  He’s telling you what to love and what not to love!  

A Timely word

That is hugely helpful in our materialistic, secularized, relativistic culture.  We love money; we don’t love marriage.  When you look at our culture, we love money a lot - “Materialism-R-Us.”  Marriage not so much.  And the author of Hebrews is saying turn that around.  Think like a Christian.  Think from your Bibles.  Be out of sync with the world. Be in sync with the Word.  The world values money.  The world values materially.  The world values stuff.  We value marriage.  Money is to be used for the glory of God but it’s not to be loved and worshiped.  When we have it we thank God for it and we use it well and we share it generously.  When we don’t have it we trust God to provide what we need.  But we don’t love it—ever.  Marriage, ah - that we love!  And our spouses especially we love.  We hold it in honor.  You see what he’s doing here?  He’s saying to these Christians and to you and me, “I want you to have a view of how to live life that’s derived not from your culture, not from the society, not from the prevailing cultural mores and norms, but what’s drawn right out of Scripture.  I want you to get your values, I want you to get your priorities, I want you to derive your ethics, I want you to get your morals not from the world but from the Word.  I want that to be the shaping influence on you.”  And so we’re going to zero-in on one specific exhortation that’s part of this section of Hebrews 13 that’s about what we ought to love.  Hebrews 13:4.  

Now before we look at it, there are three parts to this one verse.  Be on the lookout for them. The first part is, “Let marriage be held in honor among all.”  The second part is, “Let the marriage bed be undefiled.”  The third part is, “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”  Those are the three parts of the passage that we’re going to read.  Let’s pray before we hear God’s Word.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and it is a timely Word but it is a heavy Word.  This passage could be discouraging to faithful believers this morning.  Lord, don’t let it discourage a single, faithful believer.  You don’t mean Your Word to discourage a single, faithful believer.  You mean it to encourage us.  On the other hand, Lord, there could be some of us in this room that desperately need to hear this verse and we could just close our hearts off from it because, very frankly, it offends us in some way.  Our own sensibilities may have been informed so much by our world and our culture, our time, our situation, that we don’t want to hear it.  Lord, help us to close our mouths, open our ears, hear Your Word and believe it.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

This is God’s Word.  Hear it in Hebrews 13 verse 4:

“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

This is such a timely passage.  It was extremely relevant - and we’ll see the context in which it was originally given in - it was extremely relevant for the first people who heard this book read, this sermon preached, or had this book before them in a scroll or in a binder and read it for themselves.  It was very, very relevant for them and for situations that were going on in their culture.  It is just as timely for us today.  And what’s the big message.  The big message is this - God wants us to be out of sync with the world and in sync with His Word about marriage.  We live in a world that does not honor marriage.  For the foreseeable future, we are going to live in a world that does not honor marriage.  And God is saying to us, “I don’t want you to get your attitude or your practice of marriage from the world, from the culture.  I want you to get it from the Book, from the Word.  I want you to be out of step with the world; I want you to be in step with the Word.”  That’s really huge.

I. Honor Marriage

A number of years ago, one of Anne’s former professors, David Wells, said something that helped me understand this better than anything I’d ever heard.  He said this.  “Worldliness, worldliness makes sin look normal and righteousness look odd.”  Worldliness makes sin look normal and righteousness look odd.  It’s our job as Christians to reject worldliness and to understand that it is righteousness that is normal and that it is sin that is not only odd but offensive to God.  And that’s the battle that we face in this issue of marriage, isn’t it?  If you believe in marriage as God defines it in the Bible, you are looked upon as a bigot, as hateful, as narrow, as unloving, and perhaps as a homophobe.  And I want to say, what I’m about to say in this message has nothing to do with partisan politics.  It just has to do with the Bible.  Marriage is pre-political.  You understand that.  No government invented marriage.  Marriage existed before there were governments.  God invented marriage.  Jesus said that God invented marriage.  In Mark, Jesus said that God invented marriage and He points us right back to Genesis chapter 2 and the last verses of that chapter where Moses talks about a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving unto his wife.  Jesus said that God invented marriage, and because marriage is pre-political, no government has the right or authority to redefine it; no government.  Marriage is the permanent union of one man and one woman.  That is what it is; that is what it always has been.  That is what it always will be.  It is un-redefinable.  Jesus had a position on that.  And to say that is not to be hateful towards people with same-sex attraction.

A God-ordained means of Deepest Joy

I want to commend to you a book that’s just been written by a Christian who is a Bible-believing evangelical who struggles with same-sex attracted.  His name is Sam Allberry and in that book he says this.  “I studied the Scriptures from cover to cover and I realized that what the Bible says about marriage and what the Bible says about sexuality is not some sort of collection of isolated texts.  It’s woven into the very fabric of God’s good plan for us so that marriage between one man and one woman is good for us.”  It’s not that God is a gigantic killjoy in the sky, just waiting to rain on your parade.  It is that when He says something is to be a certain way in His Word He says that for our joy.  And he says it’s not to be another way - for our joy.  You cannot reject God’s Word and have deep joy.  

That’s one of the reasons I love - we just had a wedding ceremony at the church last night.  We honored marriage.  And I love that in the marriage service that’s prescribed in our Book of Church Order it requires us to say every time we have a marriage that marriage was instituted both for the glory of God and for our happiness.  Isn’t that beautiful?  Not for the glory of God so that you’re miserable for the rest of your life.  Or it’s all about your happiness; who cares about the glory of God?  No, it’s for the glory of God and for your happiness together.  You can’t separate that.  What God hath joined together let no man put asunder.  His glory; your happiness.  Because what God commands in the Bible is for the joy of all peoples.  And when we reject it, just like Adam and Eve, we don’t get more joy we get not only less joy, we get no joy.  You get superficial sham joy for a while, sometimes.  You don’t get deep joy.  

Honoring a God-Ordained Definition 

So the definition of marriage is not about being hateful.  First of all, it’s about being Biblical.  I didn’t think this up.  I didn’t.  Young people, for the rest of your lives you are going to live in a culture that looks at you with a squint if you say, “I think marriage is between one man and one woman - period.”  This world’s going to look at you like you’re nuts or you’re hateful.  And I want you to remember you didn’t make this up.  This existed thousands of years before you were a gleam in your daddy’s eye!  And it came from God’s Word and you want to honor that.  You want to honor marriage.  You want to honor marriage by accepting God’s definition of what marriage is.  Understand this - there’s no such thing as same-sex marriage.  That’s like saying, “I’d like some oxygenless-oxygen, please.  I’d like some hot-cold please.  I’d like to see more peace-loving war-mongers.”  To say, “same-sex marriage” is to say a contradiction.  It’s literally an oxymoron.  It does not exist; it cannot exist because God has not left that for our definition.  One of the ways that you honor marriage, my young friends, is by accepting what He says.  I don’t want you to be angry and mean, nor do I want you to be indifferent and defeatist.  I want you to be Biblical and happy because you believe what the Bible says because you want joy for other people.  You’re not there to rain on their parade; you’re there to be a blessing to them.  Does that make it hard for your friends and your relationship with them when they themselves, all they’ve ever known is same-sex attraction and it sounds to them like you’re saying to them that they can never have love?  Sure it makes it hard.  Sure it makes it hard. You don’t think that I have dear friends who I love with all my heart that I have to work through that with in my relationship?  You don’t think I have that?  I do.  You’re just going to have it more and more openly.  And you’re going to have this choice - do I stand with the world or do I stand with the Word?  Do I go with my experience or do I go with “thus saith the Lord?”  That’s the bottom line my friends.  You can’t honor marriage and redefine it.  

Disclaimer: There’s more than one way we can dishonor marriage

But let me quickly say, there are lots of other ways that we can dishonor marriage without going so far as the Supreme Court.  We can dishonor marriage with our words.  Men, have you ever been in a group of men and the phrase comes up, “Well where’s the old ball and chain?”  You mean my wife?  Women, ever been at lunch and a husband comes up - “Men, can’t live with them; can’t shoot them!”  We want to honor marriage in the way we speak about it.  The wives of this congregation should know that even when their husbands are not around their husbands are speaking words of respect and esteem about them.  And the husbands ought to know that as well.  There ought to be a culture in which we magnify the meaning of marriage, in which we show that even in our words we uphold its preciousness.  And let me say, my friends, that holds true even and especially if you are in a hard marriage.  I know you a whole lot better than I knew you seventeen years ago and there are some sweet marriages in this congregation and there are some hard ones.  And you know what, brothers and sisters?  I’ve learned from both of them and I’ve had my soul blessed by both of them.  I love it with you’ve been together for forty years and you still love one another so much that you can’t stand it.  I love that.  And I love it when you’ve been together for thirty years and it’s been hard every year but you’re not giving up.  And you’ve almost lost hope that it will ever get better but you’re not going anywhere.  God blesses me through you in both of those circumstances and everything in between.  We want to honor marriage in this congregation.

II. Honor Purity

Second, we want to honor the marriage bed.  That’s what the author of Hebrews says.  Honor marriage, honor purity, heed the warning.  Honor marriage - verse 4, first part.  Honor purity - there’s the second part.  Look at what he says.  “Let the marriage bed be undefiled.”  Now this congregation is either in Palestine, maybe in Rome.  Commentators argue, but it’s definitely predominantly Jewish Christians.  So these people were ethnically Jewish and previously religiously Jewish and now they’re Christians.  Because of that we know that they had a pretty strong healthy marriage culture.  I mean look, the marriage/divorce rate in the 1st century in the Jewish culture was a lot better than it is now.  They would blush at our divorce rate.  Nevertheless, even in Jesus’ time, there were rabbis who were undermining marriage.  There was one particular rabbinic school that said men had the right to reject their wives if their wives displeased them.  Hello!  That kind of opens the barn door, doesn’t it?  And Jesus went after that hammer and tong because He saw that that was the camel’s nose under the tent to destroy a marriage culture.  And my friends, ladies and gentlemen, we live in that! Nothing helps you to stay together in this culture.  The law doesn’t help you, the Supreme Court doesn’t help you, the culture doesn’t help you - nothing helps you!  I hope the church helps you a little bit.  I hope your Christian friends help you a little bit.  But there’s just nothing to hold back the impulses to do whatever you want to do.  Jesus saw that coming and He fought it.  And this pastor is probably dealing with that too because these people were out of that Jewish culture and maybe they’ve been exposed to that sort of laissez-faire view about marriage and divorce.

A Libertine Response

On the other hand, they were in a dominant majority culture that was a lot like ours where anything goes.  Bless their hearts, even the Romans had not redefined marriage the way that we have done, but beyond that, they pretty much let you do anything you wanted to do.  You could be a married senator and have an eleven year old boy as your companion.  You could have as many concubines as you wanted to have; totally legal.  And Christians were trying to live the Christian life in a culture where this was going on everywhere.  We know it was crazy because Paul talked about a guy who was in the Corinthian church who was in a relationship with his step-mother.  And the author of Hebrews is saying, “Don’t get your ideas about purity from the culture around you!  God has a different set of orders!  Keep the marriage bed pure.”

An Ascetic Response

And then, and then, doesn’t this always happen - you get one extreme over there and what happens?  The opposite reaction.  Then there are people who were saying, “Well if you really want to be godly you just need to give up on sex altogether.”  They would argue this in marriage.  “If you really want to be godly, if you really want to know God, give up on sex in marriage.”  Or, others would say you should never get married in the first place.  You should abstain from all sexual pleasures.  I mean it was a crazy world.  It’s a crazy world now.  And into that context this author says, “Honor the marriage bed.  Keep it pure and undefiled.”

Honoring marriage before and apart from it

How can we do that?  Two ways.  You can do this before and apart from marriage.  If you’re single this morning you can help honor the marriage bed, even if you’re never marriage, by the way that you relate to your friends, especially to the opposite sex, and especially to those who are married.  Because people who are married, eighty percent of them, think that they married the wrong person. And they think, “If I had just married the right person it would be great,” and you’re just being encouraging to them, you’re just being comforting to them, you’re just letting them cry on your shoulder a little bit.  And then the thought enters their mind, “You’re so understanding.  You understand my problems.  I wish my husband understood my problems like you understand my problems.  I wish my wife understood my problems like you understand my problems.  Maybe you’re the one.”  You can honor the marriage bed and keep it pure and undefiled by not allowing that fantasy to begin.  And sometimes when you’re in my office and you’re sharing with me the deep things of your heart and the troubles of your marriage there’s a little bubble above my head while I’m being sympathetic to you and trying to help you, and I really am trying to help you, and that little bubble says, “Boy I hope they never find out what a bad husband I am.  Please Lord, don’t let them go and ask Anne.”  Because I really do want to help you, but I don’t want to act like I’ve got it all together.  And if you were just with somebody like me it would be better.  You see, that’s one of the lies that Satan uses.  

Honoring marriage by a personal commitment to purity

You can keep the marriage bed pure before marriage by being committed to purity yourself.  In our culture, it is expected that immorality will happen before marriage and it’s even condoned in Christian settings.  When I first got here to Jackson, a church officer in a Presbyterian church gave a key to his son on the night of the senior prom and said, “Son, I know that you’re going to have sex with your girlfriend.  Don’t do it in a car on a deserted lane.  I’ve gotten a hotel room for you.”  There is such an expectation that that’s just going to happen and we make little jokes about it and we turn a blind eye to it and sometimes, God help us, we facilitate it.  You have no idea what that does to men and women many years later.  There are people in this room who’ve committed that sin and through tears and broken hearts have repented and they’ve come all the way home to their Savior and the Lord has changed their life and the Lord has even blessed them in their marriages.  But they would stand up before you and they would say, “Do not go where I went.  There are consequences that I pay for every day.”  You can honor the marriage bed before and apart from ever being married and you can honor the marriage bed in marriage.  There may be someone here today planning to commit adultery, right now.  Please read the next phrase in this verse.  Your soul is too precious to put everything at risk. 

III. Heed the Warning

There’s a third thing I want you to see here - heed the warning.  Honor marriage, honor purity, heed the warning.  Be certain of God’s judgment.  Look at the words - “For God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”  Now I want you to understand this very clearly.  God is not saying that adultery and fornication is the unpardonable sin.  That is very good news because there are very many of us who could not be pardoned if it were the unpardonable sin.  And I don’t say that on my own authority; I say it on the authority of Scripture.  The apostle Paul says, as he writes to the Corinthians, “Some of you were adulterers, but you were washed and sanctified and glorified.”  We have men and women in our congregation who have committed adultery and through grievous tears have come to repentance and God, in His kindness, has restored their marriages.  But none of them would counsel you to take this word of warning lightly.  They can show the scars of their hearts to you.  And so the author of Hebrews is saying heed God’s warning.  Listen to the definite language - “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”  That doesn’t mean that there is no forgiveness for the repentant.  What it means is, for those who will not turn, for those who persist in that sin, there is certain and terrifying judgment.  And for all there are consequences.  Heed the warning.  

A Picture of Permanence and Encouragement to Press On

The world is not going to help you honor marriage so we have to decide - are we going to be in sync with the world or are we going to be in sync with the Word?  I want to apologize to you for not doing a better job of honoring marriage in my time with you.  Dr. Tom Elkin, our Minister of Marriage and Family Life, just a year or so ago in minister’s meeting one Friday morning said, “You know what?  We don’t make a big enough deal about the people in our congregation who have been married thirty, forty, fifty years.  We ought to draw more attention to that.”  And I think he’s right and I’ve done a bad job of that.  And it’s one of the things I think we need to do a better job.  Not to discourage people - not to discourage single people who have longed to be married and have never been married.  Not to discourage divorced people - because there are divorced people in our congregation, some of whom, for no fault of their own, some of whom are the most godly people that I’ve ever met.  Not to discourage people in hard marriages as if there’s this blissful state that a very tiny chosen few experience and they’ve been locked out at the door.  But to encourage all of us, all of us, that there are some who say “I do” and they “I do” until they die.  And don’t you feel like you need that sometimes?

I was stopped by a lady at the door after the first service this morning.  She said, “I’ve been married to my husband for sixty-nine years.  I never dated anybody but him.  We fell in love in high school.”  And she said, “I’m still in love with him.”  One of our elder emeritus stopped me and he said, “I never dated anyone but my wife” and even when she had forgotten who he was, he loved her with tears.  I need that.  I need that.  I need that encouragement.  We want to cultivate a culture here that honors marriage.  My friends, you have no idea how radical and powerful that is.  You don’t have to form a political action group, you don’t have to pick at anybody, you just have to stay with your spouse and not give up and keep on going. Who knows, who knows, how you may glorify God and help your brothers and sisters.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.  Use it in our hearts and lives.  Forgive us of our sins.  Help us where we have no strength.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Now let’s sing number 720 together because there is blessing in a happy marriage and home.

Receive now God’s blessing.  Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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