Cohabitation? No!

Title: Cohabitation? No!

Text: Hebrews 13:4

Time: August 18, 2008

It’s very popular today for couples who are in love to simply by-pass marriage altogether and just move in together, live together as man and wife but without the benefit of marriage, to shack up, to cohabit – and most everyone is ok with that, or so it seems. Even the older generations of parents and grandparents, those who we’d think might raise an eyebrow or raise questions or even offer objections, seem to lack any energy to challenge the practices of newer generations. Even the Christian church, generally speaking, isn’t making much of a case against couples living together without marriage. Most pastors speak little of the subject from the pulpit – maybe they are afraid they might drive away the members of the younger generation who do attend church on Sundays. Or maybe church leaders feel to object is futile, or maybe it is already a lost cause in our modern times. But for whatever reasons, there just doesn’t seem to be much opposition to the practice of living together before marriage that is becoming almost as popular as marriage among some age groups. Well, I for one, as a Christian, as a pastor and church leader, I for one, wish to present a vigorous objection to the sinful and perverted practice of living together or as it’s also called “shacking up” before marriage. It’s a clear violation of the will of God as clearly expressed in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. It is blatant disobedience to Christ, the Apostles and all the prophets. But worst of all, it makes a mockery of real, holy Christian marriage, because it cheapens the institution of holy matrimony as outlined in the Bible and handed down for 2000 years in Christianity. Hebrews 13:4 states, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” There are many other verses that I could site as evidence against cohabitation. I could site passages in the Old Testament. I could site passages in the New Testament. But let me start somewhere, with this one verse in the Book of Hebrews as just one example among many that warns against cohabitation. Now we might excuse the sinful disobedient lifestyle of “shacking up” among the pagan sinners as just another evidence of the state of spiritual unbelief; how can we expect unconverted sinners to do anything other than what sinners do – sin? So we might cut the unregenerate sinners some slack — not excuse them, because after all they are under the law and wrath of God for their sins and need to confess and repent and commit their hearts to God through Jesus Christ for salvation. But we might cut them some slack for their sins until they convert to Christ. But we cannot excuse in any way professing Christians from following the pagan world into living together before marriage; it’s inexcusable, it’s a no brainer for anyone who has made any kind of commitment to Christ. It’s an inexcusable sin for a Christian to cohabit, it’s sexual immorality, it’s fornication. But let me unpack this particular verse and explain why it’s wrong and a grave sin.

First, Cohabitation dishonors true marriage and defiles true sexuality. Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure.” Cohabitation dishonors true marriage as God intended for a man and a woman. God has clearly given us his will regarding men and women in marriage, and cohabitation isn’t it. In fact, cohabitation is the opposite of true marriage; it’s a cheap substitute, a dirty and perverted imitation of God’s real intent for men and women in relationship. Genesis 2:24 states, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” God has ordained marriage as the only one-flesh relationship sanctioned by his will. Every other form of one-flesh relationship, including cohabitation, is a distortion and perversion of God’s holy will. What makes it so tempting is that living together before marriage shares many of the same qualities of true marriage, but that’s the danger — it’s copy or imitation of the truth draws careless people into it thinking that it can be a true and right way. I’m told that the best counterfeit money is fake money that looks almost real. I’m told the best false diamonds are those that look closest to the real diamonds. And the most dangerous forms of male/female relationships are those that look the closest to the true, holy, and right forms ordained by God. That’s why cohabitation is so popular today – it looks and feels something like the real marriage relationship. For example, there can be real sharing and companionship in shacking up, just like real marriage. There can be teamwork and partnership in cohabitation, something like real marriage. There can be closeness and intimacy in living together that imitates or copies closely the real marriage intimacy and togetherness. But just as all lies and all counterfeits, cohabitation – in the end – fails because it isn’t the real thing. It’s just a cheap imitation of real marriage. Yes, it may look just like a real marriage. Yes, it may share many of the same things as a real marriage. But it’s missing the most important and essential thing of a real marriage – commitment. Some couples say, “Well, we’re going to try out living together, sort of a trial run marriage, and if it works out, then we’ll get married.” But they fail to see what is essential in real marriage – a life-long commitment. You can’t try out a life-long commitment to another person. You are either committed to this other person “till death due you part,” or you aren’t. If you are trying out commitment to another person, then you aren’t by definition committed long-term to the person. The essence of real marriage is a life-long covenant between two people, and cohabitation isn’t that.

Two, cohabitation is just plain old sexual immorality, fornication. Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Extra-marital sex is adultery; pre-marital sex is fornication. Both are grave sins and wrong. Cohabitation may appear to be similar to a real marriage. It may sound like a real marriage. But when it comes right down to it, it’s just plain old sexual immorality, fornication, pre-marital sex — nothing more, nothing less. That’s why I like the term that became popular in the 60s of “shacking up,” because it sounds cheap and dirty and low-class and that perfectly captures the essence of living together before marriage. It is cheap, it is dirty and it is low-class. The irony is, in using the phrase “low-class,” that many of the lower class have more class than many in the middle or upper class in respect to morality and marriage. Many lower class, lower income persons know enough to get married and not just live together as animals, but many of the middle and upper class persons think they are so special they don’t have to follow the normal rules and regulations God gives people. So I use the phrase, not as an insult to the lower economic class, but as an insult to those who are morally bankrupt for thinking they can get away with substituting “shacking up” for holy matrimony. Now the real tragedy of the situation today is that most of the people “shacking up” or living together without marriage are so-called Christians. The Catholic church has very strong teachings on marriage. It’s very strict about who can marry whom and against divorce and very strong on marriage and children, but many, many Catholics cohabit. But it’s not just Catholics, but also Protestants of all types cohabit too. What’s really disappointing is the large number of evangelical couples who forgo marriage and simply live together. They know better, supposedly, because evangelical churches are supposed to be preaching the Bible on Sundays and following after the original teachings of Christianity to a greater degree than other churches. But even among evangelical churches, especially among the mega-churches that are sprouting up, where there is no accountability among individuals amidst the thousands who attend, cohabitation is flourishing. Why is this? Because these churches are trying so hard to relate to the contemporary world and not alienate themselves from the modern population that they fail to teach God’s Word against living together. Instead, they only preach the positive benefits of marriage, which indeed is a good place to start, but it isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to state the positive features of God’s will, it’s also important to state the negative consequences of disobeying God’s will also. It isn’t enough to talk up marriage; cohabitation must be talked down. Many pastors and churches are failing to discourage people from living together.

Third, God will bring judgment or discipline upon those who disobey his will concerning marriage by cohabiting. Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” According to the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” And that is no more true than in the case of cohabitation. Not only does “shacking up” mock true marriage and replaces it with a cheap and dirty substitute way of man and woman living together, it also brings with it God’s judgment upon the couple who enters into this sinful lifestyle. There’s another old phrase that I like to use that again captures the older peer pressure prohibition against cohabiting, it’s the phrase “living in sin.” The phrase “living in sin” particularly offends those professing Christian hypocrites who live together without marriage because it bothers their sinful consciences with the use of the word “sin.” Why not call living together without the benefit of marriage what it is? It’s sin. And not only is it sin, it’s living in a perpetual state of sin, of un-confessed and un-repented sin. Now there is the sin of sexual immorality called fornication, which is basically a single person having sex before marriage. That’s wrong, that’s sin. I don’t need to prove that from the Bible because it’s taught in both Old and New Testaments. Everybody knows the Bible teaches against sex before marriage. I don’t need to prove that, I hope. Now that’s sin. But cohabitation is even worse. It’s fornication on a regular basis. It’s living in fornication. It’s not sneaking around, hiding one’s sexual immorality; it’s living in that sexual immorality out in the open, unashamedly, blatantly. That’s why it’s worse. Singles who commit the sin of fornication, or sex before marriage, often feel guilty, as they should. That guilt feeling should prompt them to confess, repent and cease and desist of all sexual immorality. It should motivate them to return to God and God’s will for their lives and keep themselves from future sin. But cohabitation is not only mocking holy matrimony, it’s mocking God. It’s shaking a defiant fist in God’s face and saying, “I’ll live together in sin with or without your approval because it’s what I want to do and you won’t stop me.” Now couples don’t put it that way, but in effect, that’s what they are doing, flaunting the moral laws of God, the Bible, and the church. For that, God’s judgment will come upon them, which is already seen in the fact that the vast majority of cohabiting couples don’t stay together. And if and when they finally do get married, their marriage usually ends in divorce anyway; it fails. Why? Because God’s blessing wasn’t upon them because of their sin and disobedience.

So in answer to the question: should a couple live together without marriage, the answer is clearly “No.” The famous Lord’s Prayer starts this way: “Our Father which are in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Anybody who has or who does pray that prayer should never even think about living together without the benefits of marriage. Why? Because the prayer is a prayer that God’s will, God’s kingdom in heaven, might come to dwell on earth, in our lives and in our society. How can one pray that prayer in sincerity and then turn around and disobey God’s will in respect to marriage. In God’s ultimate plan, God’s will in heaven, couples don’t cohabit, they don’t “shack up,” they don’t live together in sin. They make sacred promises to one another — which is what the essence of a marriage is — and they pledge themselves to be faithful to one another for life. They aren’t testing out their marriage for a time, or entering a kind of “trial marriage,” or as it is called in our sinful divorce culture, a “starter marriage.” They are entering into a life long covenant with each other till death does them part. In a real marriage there is beauty and order and security and love. In living together in sin, there is ugliness and disorder and insecurity and lust – cheap substitutes for the real thing. Why would anyone ever, then, enter into such a fake arrangement? There are many superficial reasons why couples think it better to rush ahead, by-pass God’s blessings, and force through their own sinful wills in cohabitation. Many say that they need to for financial reasons. But there can always be other financial arrangements made; cohabitation is never the financial necessity that some couples like to claim it is. Where there is a will, there is a way. Still other couples say that they honor marriage so much that they want to make sure they are compatible so they won’t get married prematurely and then divorce later. But as we’ve seen from Hebrews 13, living together in sin doesn’t honor marriage, in fact, it does the very opposite, it cheapens marriage by setting up a tempting alternative to marriage which lures many ignorant people into sin. “Marriage should be honored be all, and the marriage bed kept pure.” There is only one way to fulfill this scripture and that is to marry and not cohabit. Only then will the blessings of God flow from heaven to earth in relationships between men and women. God has a good will for men and women – and it’s called marriage. Cohabitation is outside of God’s will, it’s sin, and it leads to ruin and sorrow and ultimately judgment. Don’t ever be tempted to live together without the benefits of marriage. If you are ready to live together, get married; get God to bless your relationship. Don’t relationships need all the blessings from God they can get, especially today.


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