Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never fail you nor forsake you." Hence we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?"
Uphold the Preciousness of Marriage
Our focus this morning is on verse 4: "Let marriage be held in honor among all." The word for honor more commonly means precious in the New Testament. It's the word used in 1 Corinthians 3:12 where Paul speaks of "gold, silver, and precious stone." It's used in 1 Peter 1:19 in reference to the "precious blood" of Jesus. It's used in 2 Peter 1:4 to refer to the "precious and very great promises" of God.
So when Hebrews 13:4 says, "Let marriage be held in honor among all," we should hear the ring of preciousness. The Bible is telling us this morning: Let marriage always be thought of as precious. Let it be treasured like gold and silver and rare jewels. Let it be revered and respected like the noblest, most virtuous person you have ever known. Let it be esteemed and valued as something terribly costly like the long, black, marble Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. In other words, when you think of marriage, let yourself be gripped by emotions of tremendous respect and sanctity. In relation to marriage cultivate the feeling that this not to be touched quickly or handled casually or treated commonly. In God's eyes marriage is precious and therefore he says, "Let marriage be held in honor among all."
Christians as the Salt of the Earth
My aim this morning is to call you, in the name of Jesus and for the glory of God and for the good of yourself and your community, to be in sync with God about marriage and out of sync with secular western culture.
We've been reading through Luke as a family this summer, and last Tuesday we got to the end of chapter 14 where Jesus says, "Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." Jesus calls for a radical detachment from things for the sake of the kingdom. Then, seemingly out of the blue, he says, "Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste how shall its saltness be restored? It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill; men throw it away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
What's the connection? I suggested to the family (and now to you): Christians are the salt of the earth to the degree that we are out of step with the values of the world and in step with the values of God. All the nations seek what to wear and eat and drink and drive and play with. But you must be free of all that and seek the kingdom first, and then you will be salt.
The world is like a blah piece of hamburger. It needs salt to preserve it and make it have the spice of eternal joy. But so much of the church today is taking its cues from the world—the TV and Radio and magazines and newspapers and secular culture-shaping voices—that the church turns out to be just another piece of blah hamburger. And when the church lands on the world, what you get is NOT a salty hamburger but two pieces of blah unsalted hamburger.
So I am calling you this morning to be out of step with the world on the matter of marriage. To get your cues for how to think and feel about marriage not from the spirit of our age but from God, who made heaven and earth and everything in them—including marriage—for the glory of his name and the good of his people.
The Salty Context of Hebrews 13:4
Let's look at the context of Hebrews 13:4 to get the flavor of this command to honor marriage. It really is a salty context. This is not a blah list of rules for Christian behavior. It's a context of love and compassion and confidence and hope and freedom. In other words, it's salty.
- Verse 1 says, "Let brotherly love continue": keep on loving
Christians. Build a fellowship of deep affection for each other.
- Verse 2 says, Don't just love familiar Christians; love strangers
too. Show them hospitality. God will surprise you with unexpected
- Verse 3 says, Love the prisoners and the ones who are
So, love fellow believers, love strangers, and love prisoners.
Then comes verse 4: Honor marriage and keep the marriage bed pure. Followed by verse 5: Don't love money—"Keep your life free from the love of money." Followed by the liberating promises that God will never leave you or forsake you, but will be your helper, so you don't need to crave money if you trust God.
Now I think this is a salty paragraph. This is radical Jesus-kind-of-living. Don't love money. Trust God. Love Christians, love strangers, love prisoners, love the hurting. And right in the middle of all that radical, salty, non-world-like, God-like way of living, it says, "Honor marriage. Keep the marriage bed pure."
I don't know how you hear this command. Here's how I hear it, and I hope you do too. When it comes right in the midst of Love Christians, Love strangers, Love prisoners, Love the hurting, Don't love money, Trust God to take care of you—when "Honor marriage" comes right in the middle of that kind of God-talk, I hear it as good news. Honor marriage is like Love Christians. Honor marriage is like Love strangers. Honor marriage is like Love prisoners. Honor marriage is like Don't love money because God wants to take care of you.
And so when I see at the end of verse 4, "God will judge the immoral and the adulterous"—that is, God will judge those who defile the marriage bed, God will judge those who dishonor marriage—when I hear that warning, I don't hear a trigger-happy God. I don't hear a quick-tempered God just waiting to zap a fornicator or an adulterer. What I hear is the sober, truthful reinforcement of love for people. God loves it when we love Christians, and he loves it when we love strangers, and he loves it when we love prisoners, and he loves it when we don't love money but trust him for our needs, and he loves it when we honor marriage. Why? Because love is good for Christians, and love is good for strangers and love is good for prisoners and not loving money is good for our souls and honoring marriage is good for us and for our society. And therefore God would be unloving if he did not judge those who demean marriage and defile it and cheapen it and ridicule it and treat it with contempt.
So I hope you get the flavor of this passage. It is wonderfully salty. It has a lot of God in it and a lot of love and a big helping of ultimate issues like the warning of judgment and the promise that God will never leave us or forsake us if we trust him.
Specific Ways to Hold Marriage in Honor
So when I call you this morning to honor marriage, to keep the marriage bed pure, I hope you hear it as part of the overall call of Jesus to simply be a radical, free, loving, counter-cultural Christian.
Now let me draw out some specific ways to hold marriage in honor.
1. Don't Confuse It with an Abomination
First, don't confuse marriage with homosexual or lesbian relationships.
Standing Against "the Mainstream Societal Trend"
In March Minneapolis became one of 19 American cities to treat homosexual and lesbian "domestic partnerships" with some kind of legal standing. City employees can now get sick and bereavement leaves when their "domestic partner" is affected.
Minnesota, like every other state so far, does not permit legal marriages among same sex people. But more and more the "partnerships" are endorsed and legal rights are granted in almost every other way. The Star Tribune reported (May 31, p. 13A), for example, that one group estimates that there are 10,000 children of lesbian couples conceived through artificial insemination in America. The Minneapolis School District has offered parenting classes for lesbians and homosexuals since 1987. Minnesota has no state law prohibiting adoptions by homosexuals or lesbians. The Children's Home Society has no policies on placing children in homes of same-sex partners—so the article said.
That article closes with these words, "The lesbian baby boom is just a reflection of mainstream societal trends . . . Marriage is in . . . " Biblical Christians who care about being the salt of the earth will stand against this "mainstream societal trend." There is one basic reason: lesbian and homosexual "partnerships" are not marriage, they are an abomination before God. Leviticus 18:22 says, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." (Cf. Leviticus 20:13.) Paul makes very clear in Romans 1 that a society that increasingly rejects God will increasingly degenerate into homosexual activity (vv. 26–27) and, as people are given over by God more and more to a base mind, they will make an increasingly forthright case that these things should not only be permitted, but approved (v. 32).
My point here is simply this: to call homosexual or lesbian relationships marriage, or to treat them as marriage, is to treat an abomination as marriage. And that is the exact opposite of holding marriage in honor and keeping the marriage bed undefiled. So the first way to honor marriage in our day is not to confuse it with the abomination of homosexual or lesbian partnerships.
God Is Not a Killjoy, but Is Opposed to What Kills Joy
In the beginning God created man male and female in his own image, and he blessed them, and said be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth . . . "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 1:27–28; 2:24). This is the glory of the precious and honorable reality called marriage: one man and one woman cleaving to each other alone in covenant commitment and one-flesh sexual union until death separates them.
God's judgment on homosexual and lesbian relationships is not because he is a killjoy, but because he is opposed to what kills joy. And our opposition to such partnerships is not because of some knee-jerk homophobia, as they say again and again, but because of a settled and reasonable conviction that God knows better than anybody what is good for us and for society.
2. Don't Commit Fornication or Adultery
The second way to honor marriage is to not commit fornication or adultery.
That's what the second half of the verse says: "Let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and the adulterous." The word translated "immoral" means those who commit fornication in distinction to adultery. The writer has two ways in mind of dishonoring marriage and defiling the marriage bed: adultery and fornication. Both at root commit the same evil: having sexual relations with someone who is not your lawful spouse. It's called adultery if you are married; it's called fornication if you are not married.
But both are a dishonor to marriage and a defiling of the marriage bed, because God made marriage, and marriage alone, as the one holy and safe and ultimately joyful place for sexual relations (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:2). The text says that God will judge fornicators and adulterers because they dishonor marriage and defile the marriage bed. In other words, God's judgment falls on unrepentant people who destroy what is meant for joy.
That word "repentant" leads to a third and final way to honor marriage and keep the marriage bed undefiled (though there are many more).
3. Live Out Forgiveness and Joy and Hope
We honor marriage when we live out the clean and happy future of our unclean and forgiven past.
The text says, "God will judge fornicators and adulterers." Just like 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 says that "fornicators and adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God." But then the very next verse says, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."
So there is judgment on fornicators and adulterers, but not all of them. There is escape from judgment for some. Hebrews teaches this message very clearly. In Hebrews 9:27–28 it says, "Just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."
So you can see there WILL be a judgment. But Christ has borne the sins of many—he has taken the judgment for their fornication and their adultery upon himself. And now he is coming, not to do that again, but to save us from the final judgment.
Or look at Hebrews 10:12–13, "When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins [for fornication and adultery], he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet."
So again you see two things: Christ took sins like fornication and adultery upon himself and paid their penalty in his own death. BUT there is coming a time when his enemies will be made a footstool for his feet. There is a judgment.
Two Groups of People
So what we see is that there are two groups of people: those whose sins are covered and forgiven by Jesus (8:12: 10:17–18), and those whose sins will come down on their own heads in the judgment. The difference is in turning from sin and coming to God through Jesus for forgiveness and help. Hebrews 7:25, "Jesus is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him."
Turn from fornication. Turn from adultery. Draw near to God through Jesus, and he will save for all time. He will enable you to live out a clean and happy future from an unclean and forgiven past.
Why This Kind of Living Honors Marriage
And my point is: this living out of forgiveness and hope honors marriage. And the reason it does is because God created marriage to be a living drama of the loving relationship between Christ and his bride the church (Ephesians 5). And so the people that honor this intention best are the people that live out the very forgiveness and cleanness and joy that God designed marriage to portray.
There is so much more that could be said. And I don't doubt that God is speaking to you in ways that I never dreamed he would. So I leave the rest for the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God and prayer in your life. May God make us a very salty people for the good of our decaying society.