Honor, Marriage and Sex (Hebrews 13:4)

 “Let us all be thankful that we are a part of an unshakable Kingdom and offer to God worship that pleases Him and reflects the awe and reverence we have toward Him, for He is like a fierce fire that consumes everything. 

Let your brotherly love continue.  Don’t forget to extend your hospitality to all—even to strangers—for as you know, some have unknowingly shown kindness to heavenly messengers in this way.  Remember those imprisoned for their beliefs as if you were their cellmate; and care for any who suffer harsh treatment, as you are all one body.  Hold marriage in high esteem, and keep the marriage bed pure, because God will judge those who commit sexual sins outside of the boundaries of marriage. (Hebrews 12:28-13:4)

Interesting: ‘philadelphia’ brotherly love continues as we honor God and each other first in hospitality and generosity, then in compassion, then in the realm of sex. 

“ The most crucial theological truth about sexuality is that God loves sex and evil hates it. God made us sexual, and He glories in his plan for our union and joy. Evil hates what God loves, and it has found that more harm can be done through sex then perhaps any other means. Often the chief battleground for the human soul is the terrain of sexuality.”  - Dan Allender

Talking about sex in church brings tension, and rightly so.  It is a subject that exists in tension in the biblical worldview. 

First, sex is ordinary, but it is also holy. On the one hand, sex is something natural and ordinary. God created it and called it good in Genesis 1. I’m pretty sure he made it fun so we would want to do it[1]– and, indeed, that is a strong urge almost all of us feel.   

On the other hand, it’s ‘holy’ in that is has been set aside for a particular and unique purpose. The Bible puts sexual sin in a category of its own as a “sin against our own body,”[2]which could probably be read our individual bodies or our corporate body of Christ. I think that’s because it’s the only act that is inherently covenantal[3]– it is a covenant initiating and covenant sustaining act.  Two become one. The line of autonomy is blurred (as it is with pregnancy that often follows). Nothing else we do inescapably does that. 

So it’s common, and it’s holy. It’s also a private act with public consequences.Sex is not meant to be a spectator sport. Even our secular laws make people get a room. Why, if it’s just two mammals enjoying each other? Because there’s more to it than just bodies in motion, and we instinctively know this.  (When we make it public – pornography, for example – we pay a price as individuals and a society.)[4]

Yet the consequences are very public. There are kids, for one. But how we act on our sexuality and our sexual urges is remarkably formative of our character. It inevitable impacts those around us, because the self that is formed by our sex life interacts with everybody. 

You’ve heard the phrase, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas"?  It's just not true (expense tabs, the debt, the compromises of morality, the memories, and the hotel towels).  The Hangoverwas a raunchy movie, but even it had the decency to point out that what happened in Vegas had a ripple effect. We can’t segment our lives. Our experiences are all connected. In the same way, we can’t separate the physical part of us from the spiritual part of us.  Our skin and the soul are connected.We are the “living stones” that build the temple of the church[5], so who we become is inescapably connected with what ‘the body’ of Christ becomes.

So it’s common and holy; it’s a private act with public consequences. It’s also embarrassing and exhilarating.If someone – say a 4-year-old - has ever walked in on you and your spouse, you cover up and lie about what you were doing.  And yet moments before that there was no shame, and rightly so.  #SongofSolomon

We have to be careful in church discussion that we don’t talk about sex in such a way that we present it as bad and somehow shameful. It’s not, though it can be if we misuse it. It is designed to be pretty cool. We hide ourselves when we do it not because something is wrong with what we are doing, but because what we are doing is holy and intimate and not meant for anybody else. 

So, it’s common and holy; it’s a private act with public consequences. It’s embarrassing and exhilarating. It also either unites/builds us or divides and destroys us.It is meant to initiate and reaffirm covenantal love, and in so doing joyfully intertwine our lives, not just our bodies. When done as God designed with a husband and wife who honor, love, and serve each other, it unites two people with ever increasing bonds of intimacy. Even the science supports this. When we have sex, our bodies release chemicals like oxytocin, endrophins, dopamine, seratonin and epinephrine. They all do good things.

But this same powerful act that can unite and build us can also be remarkably destructive. If someone is used or abused, treated as an object rather than a person, loved only when they “put out,” well, that’s terrible.  It leaves a scar that is almost unparalleled. There is something different and special and powerful about sex.

The mantra of the 60s was “make love, not war,” as if free, unboundaried sex would lead us to a life of peace and happiness. It does quite the opposite, actually. Neither individuals nor communities thrive without boundaries in this area. We aren’t designed to. We are inescapably sexually covenantal, and covenants thrive in boundaries.This is a passage directed toward men, but the principle behind it applies to all.

“Here’s what you should do to be satisfied: go home and drink in the pleasures of your own cistern, your wife (husband);enjoy the sweet, fresh water that has been there all along, flowing from your own well. Take care. Should your own springs, your body, be freely shared? Should your streams of water satisfy anyone in the streets? Absolutely not! They should be kept pure for you and you alone, not for sharing with strangers. May your fountain, your sex life, be blessed by God;may you know true joy with the wife (husband) of your youth.” (Proverbs 5:15-20)

Just two verses prior, the writer of Hebrews reminded us to share what we have with strangers. But not this. Not everything is meant to be shared. Some things are designed to be exclusive and protected. Why is this singled out in particular? There are three things of covenantal importance in the life of the Christian. 

·  Salvation (a covenant as the bride of Christ with Christ).I can have no other gods. Our ‘covenant’ is meant to be kept pure and undefiled. The Bible uses the language of adultery to describe idolatry. I prioritize the One in this covenant.

·  Church (we live in a covenantal community).I am in a community of similarly covenanted people. I dare not bring false or idolatrous covenants into the community. I prioritize this community as the one that will be formative.

·  Marriage (a covenant with a spouse).I can have no other lover. Our ‘covenant ‘ is meant to be kept pure and undefiled. I prioritize the one in this covenant; I bring nothing into my life or my house that will undermine it.

I am fairly certain that our understanding and experience of all three of these are intertwined, which means our understanding of covenant commitment in relation to God and the church community probably has an important impact on how I think about the other covenantal part of my life - my sex life (and the marriage in which that covenant is initiated and renewed). The reverse is also true. I suspect I will translate my view of and experience of marital covenant to the other covenants. 

What we do with our sex lives, both outside of marriage and in marriage, is of vital importance to the Christian and to the church. This is not a biological argument about design (which is worth studying). This is not even a sociological argument about the relational and societal messiness that follows sex outside of God’s design (and it clearly does). This is a theological argument.

There is something about ordering our sexuality within the framework of the Kingdom of God that is holy, and honorable, and for our sanctification.  What happens if we don’t pursue this sanctification? We exploit others.

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. This is the will of God: your sanctification. You should avoid sexual immorality. And live with your own wife[6]in a way that is holy and honorable. Not overpowered by lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. And that in this matter no one should exploit (take what is not theirs) or violate (go beyond boundaries) a brother or sister.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-6)[7]

 Here is what dictionaries say about exploitation and violation:

·  transgressing the bounds of justice (knows what ought to be done and constantly pushes the boundaries)

·  cheating and defrauding in trade and business (weighted scales – taking more than you should at the expense of the other)

·  increasing or lessening the value and prices of goods by the buyer and seller (cheapen something important so you can profit at the expensive of those offering it to you)

·  not keeping to the bargain, contract, covenant (you don’t understand the importance of commitment)

·  taking advantage of the weakness and ignorance of people (you spot those easily manipulated and take what you want from them)

Paul writes that sex outside of God’s design and purpose is a violation, and is a form of exploitation. On the other hand, treating people with honor and holiness is the opposite:

·  Enforcing the bounds of justice. You knows what ought to be done and protect that boundary.

·  Helping others flourish. If the scales are going to tip on the question of sex, it will be in favor of protection, purity and honor.

·  Attaching the proper value to people and sex.You increase the value of sex and intimacy by treating it like the precious gift it is, and you help others guard their purity. 

·  Keeping and honoring covenants. You understand that every relationship can train both people how to flourish in an eventual or existing covenant. You treat someone else’s future (or present) spouse like you want others to treat your future (or present) spouse.

·  Protecting the weak and vulnerable. In a world where so many people are vulnerable in this area for a lot of different reasons, you stand out because you protect those most in need of a hero.

That what purity and self-control can do.  That’s what a world looks like when people commit to holiness and honor. This is the will of God.  This is for your sanctification, and so that ‘philadelphia’ love can flourish in our midst. 

 “We Christians are called to be outrageously pure—to be a source of wonder and even derision to this glandular world. From the beginning to the end of Hebrews, the abiding concern of the author has been to so instruct the tiny Hebrew church that it would stay afloat on the increasingly hostile seas of first-century Roman culture. Their ship was a microscopic dot on the massive billows of the official pagan/secular enterprise—and eminently vulnerable. It appeared to outside eyes that the external forces could sink it at will. But the author knew that the internal threat to the church was far more deadly. 

 In fact, he knew that it could ride out any storm if things were right on the inside. He knows that nothing will sink a church faster than moral wavering in respect to sex, materialism, or mental outlook. Here is intimate advice regarding how to keep our ship afloat. It is so essential that any church that ignores it will founder and possibly even sink.”  - Kent Hughes

 Any church that embraces this teaching, on the other hand, will not only float, but sail. God is for His children; His boundaries are for the flourishing of His children; His love offers healing and hope and new life to any of us whose lives have been impacted by sin in this area. 


[1]“Be fruitful and multiply” has a great incentive built in :)

[2]1 Corinthians 6;18

[3]1 Corinthians 6:16  “And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” 

[4]“Let’s Talk About Porn: Is It As Harmless As Society Says It Is?” fighthenewdrug.org. https://fightthenewdrug.org/3-reasons-why-watching-porn-is-harmful/

[5]1Peter 2:5

[6]Many versions say vessel here. I am using a translation that makes clear this is about a husband’s wife. It’s not unusual for the biblical writers to refer to people as vessels. 2 Corinthians 4:7 “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels…” See also 1 Peter 3:7, which has a command to husband to treat their wives (vessels) with tenderness and care. 

[7]For context: the Gentile culture at that time was remarkably promiscuous. Roman men of means often had a wife, a prostitute and a concubine. One writer said women kept track of historical events by remembering who their husband was at the time. Jewish men made use of divorce to such a degree that when Jesus told his disciples that there should be no divorce except for infidelity, it set them back (Matthew 19).