************ Sermon on Hebrews 13:4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 25, 2000
"Keep the Marriage Bed Pure"
For most of our sensual and secular neighbors, sex is one of the things that make life worth living. Their magazines and conversations focus constantly on this topic. And, the person who is reported to sleep around a lot is regarded as a celebrity. Tragic, isn't it? What can they say, where will all these people end up, on the Day of Judgment?
Yet, at the same time I must say that the Bible presents sex as a legitimate joy in the present world – if it is used rightly.
The key to living Christianly is to order and direct your life in such a way that everything, including sex, receives its proper place.
It's like your house. The fire should burn in the furnace or in the fireplace for that is its good and proper place. But if the fire is to burn in the middle of the living room, the whole house will soon be in ruins. If sex has its proper place in your life it adds to the joy and warmth of Christian living. But if it is allowed to enter where it doesn't belong, the fire runs wild and the house is destroyed.
People today are hopelessly confused about their sexuality. For vast numbers the word "love" means nothing more than a tumble in some bed. Many look upon an affair as a badge of honor. All the old foundations of permanence and fidelity seem to have eroded away. Bewildered by the modern confusion, many sincere people today struggle to define their own sexuality.
Within the last twenty years our culture has undergone some very drastic changes, even upheavals, in the area of sex. Look, for instance, at how the concept and understanding of "safe sex" has changed. Within the public consciousness, it used to be that the only "safe sex" was sex within the confines of marriage. In the late sixties and early seventies, with the advent of the birth control pill, "safe sex" was understood as sex without pregnancy. Today, "safe sex" is sex without the AIDS virus. Notice, the public consciousness no longer recognizes sex as belonging to the domain of marriage?!
The crying need today is for people of faith to live rightly and faithfully, as God's children, in their use of sex. Let me say this is desperately needed today. The need today is for Christians to stand up, to be counted, to live faithfully and rightly in the area of sex.
I Past Christian Responses to Sex
A How did people Christianly handle sex in the past?
In the Middle Ages the monastic response to sex was the vow of chastity. Monks and nuns renounced sex and marriage and vowed to live a life of celibacy. In doing this, they were saying far more than a negative word. What they were doing was renouncing sex and marriage in order to be married to God, to be free and open towards His presence, to be totally available for His service.
Their vow of abstinence is a witness against today's unrestrained self-indulgence. It reminds us that discipline and self-denial have a place in the Christian's life.
We badly need to hear this today: today, when most people have no place, space, or time for God in their lives; today, when all seem to serve the god of self-indulgence and pleasure; today, when people avoid self-discipline as if it were the plague.
B Church history tells us about another response as well. The seventeenth and eighteenth century Puritan response to sex was faithfulness. It was their conviction that companionship was the primary purpose of marriage and, contrary to what most people associate with the Puritans, it was also their conviction that a healthy sexuality was a vital part of this companionship.
We need to hear this today too: today, when people flit from marriage to marriage and relationship to relationship with the greatest of ease; today, when divorce is epidemic and adultery is rampant; today, when far too many Christians treat sex as something dirty and degrading.
II Sex and Marriage Honored by Scripture
A What does Scripture teach us about sex and marriage? Our text states, "Marriage should be honored by all."
Biblical scholars are pretty well agreed that the Jewish Christians to whom this letter of the Hebrews was sent were influenced by teachings that denounced marriage as detrimental to godliness and sexuality as opposed to spirituality. These Christians needed to hear the words of our text: "Marriage, sexuality, should be honored by all." There is nothing dirty, demeaning, or unspiritual about sex and marriage.
B The opening chapters of Genesis has much to say to us about sex and marriage.
It becomes readily apparent in Genesis that our sexuality is related to our being made in the image of God: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them: (Gen 1:27). Strange as it may seem, our sexuality, our maleness and femaleness, is somehow related to our creation in the image of God.
Our sexuality, our being male and female, is not just an accidental arrangement of the human species, not just a convenient way to keep the human race going. No, it is at the center of our true humanity. We exist as male and female in relationship. Our sexualness, our capacity to love and be loved, is intimately related to our creation in the image of God.
A close reading of Genesis 1 & 2 reveals that God spoke all of the creation into existence except for human beings. Everything else in creation was voiced into being. But to create Adam He took the dust of the earth and breathed into it (Gen 2:7). That union of earthy dust and divine breath gives us one of the finest descriptions of human nature. As for Eve, God did not voice her into being as though she were a part of the inanimate creation, nor did He breathe into dust as though she were separate from and unrelated to man. God used the rib of Adam to underscore their interdependence – "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh," as Adam expressed it (Gen 2:23). The two of them interwoven, interdependent, interlaced: no fierce rivalry, no hierarchy of authority, no independent autonomy. What a beautiful picture.
Next, we are given the confession of covenant fidelity that sets the pattern for marriage even today: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). I'm not sure if you realize how extraordinary a statement this really is. Don't forget, the culture back then was intensely patriarchal – even after marriage, sons stayed at home under the rule and authority of their father. Yet the Bible speaks of a man "leaving" his parents and "cleaving" to his wife.
Finally, the scene closes with the most refreshing comment of all: "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame" (Gen 2:25). Here we have a beautiful picture of two whose sexuality was integrated into their entire lives. There was no shame because there was wholeness. There was an organic unity between them.
Scripture's conclusion is this: marriage, sexuality, should be honored by all. It is one of the most beautiful gifts God has given us on this earth.
III Adultery and Sexual Immorality
A We also know the tragic conclusion to the story of Genesis, how the man and the woman rejected God's way and fell into sin. The poison of that fall ruined everything. It ruptured the relationship God had with Adam and Eve. It soured marriage and distorted sexuality.
It is for this reason that the Bible speaks against sexual sin. Our text says,
(Heb 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.Notice, our text specifies what it is that dishonors marriage and makes the marriage bed impure: adultery and sexual immorality.
B It is true that in God's sight all sin makes one worthy of eternal death and damnation. Yet, Scripture tells us there is something special about sexual sin. "Flee from sexual immorality," says Paul. "all other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body" (1 Cor 6:18).
What makes sin against one's body so special? We can take note of a couple of things. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of the Most High; as such, it is a holy place, a sacred place, a place where no impurity ought to be found. Furthermore, as the body is raised up in the resurrection it has eternal as well as temporal significance. Therefore, we should "flee from sexual immorality." To this we can also add that no sin has as many negative consequences upon marriage, family, and relationships as does sexual sin.
C As already mentioned, our text specifies two kinds of sexual sin: adultery and sexual immorality.
Strictly speaking, adultery is a sin that can be committed only by someone already married. According to the dictionary it is voluntary sexual intercourse between a married man or woman and someone other than their marriage partner.
Within the marriage relationship, adultery is simply devastating. It hits at the very heart of marriage. It destroys the "one fleshness" that exists between a husband and wife. It violates the spiritual aspect of our bodies.
D Our text also specifies and condemns "sexual immorality." Every sexual sin other than adultery is included in this category. Let me specify some of them.
A disturbing feature about modern society is pornography – pornographic magazines, pornographic internet sites, pornographic chat-rooms, and pornographic message groups. Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, sees nothing wrong with pornography. He thinks it is nothing but a celebration of our bodies. What is wrong is that it creates a fantasy world that reality can never match. What is wrong is that it displays people as mere sexual objects to be used and abused for one's pleasure.
Another distortion of sexuality is homosexuality. God created man for woman and woman for man, not man for man and woman for woman. God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. God created man and woman to complement each other, to be a two-in-oneness.
Let me also mention sexual abuse. The figures are highly disturbing. Did you know 25% of all girls and 11% of all boys are sexually abused before the age of 18? Did you know that in at least 75% of all child sexual abuse cases the perpetrator is someone the child loves and knows – like a parent, a brother, an uncle? Did you know most prostitutes have been sexually abused as children?
You may wonder why I am mentioning this sin. You may wonder if this sin happens in Christian families and even in Christian Reformed families? Yes, it happens in Christian families. Yes, it happens even in Christian Reformed families. It happens not just in the families of "fringe" members either, but also in the families of leaders: pastors, elders, deacons, and Christian school teachers. In fact, did you know that the incidence of child sexual abuse is as high in the church as in society at large?
I am afraid that for too many years the church has engaged in a cover-up when it comes to incest and sexual abuse. Too often victims, when they approach church leaders, are told to forgive the abusers, instead of being delivered from them. We have often multiplied the anguish of victims by extolling the virtues of turning the other cheek, and by avoiding straight talk about sexual abuse.
Boys and girls, young people, if someone tries to do something to you, do not hesitate to tell your teacher or your minister about this. And moms and dads, when your children ask you what I am talking about this evening, do not hesitate to tell them what I cannot say from this pulpit.
Finally, I need to mention pre-marital sex. That too comes under the category of sexual immorality. I was shocked by what a Christian Reformed pastor said to me a number of years ago. He told me that the girl is pregnant in 90% of the weddings he officiates at. This illustrates a growing problem: among many teens and singles, even within the church, pre-marital sex is considered to be normal, acceptable, and appropriate. In response to this the true love waits campaign
That is why I am so thankful for the vow of celibacy that many teens
E We should listen carefully to the warning of Scripture: "God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." There is no forgiveness and no salvation for those who do not repent of sexual sin. Rather, there is reserved for them the terrible judgment of God. "Flee from sexual immorality," says Paul. "All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body" (1 Cor 6:18).
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us listen to the words of Scripture here: "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral."
If you are struggling with sexual sin in your life, there is forgiveness if you repent. And, there is also victory over this sin. I can't say it better than the song we will shortly be singing:
Christian, do you battle
Satan's power within,
all his striving, luring,
tempting you to sin?
Christian, do not tremble,
do not be downcast;
arm yourself for battle,
watch and pray and fast.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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