As I reflect on all these man/woman relationship possibilities I can easily understand why many young couples choose not to get married. Since over 50% of marriages end in divorce and chances are that one of the couple’s parents have experienced divorce, it makes sense that they do not want to experience the pain and hardship that their parents went through. In fact, this is the number one expressed reason couples give for not get married. Therefore the estimation by Census Bureau that 4-8 million people live together goes without saying. Other reasons given for living in alternative relationships, "sex readily available;" "sharing of rent;" "more individual free time;" "lose their job or unable to care for themselves;" "no sexual strings attached;" "free to see others;" "you can love’em and leave’em;" "no legal entanglements."
Yet, even with all the so called benefits, there are deeper issues at stake. Biblically the issues become apparent:
"God blessed them (man and woman, Adam and Eve) and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Genesis 1:28)
"Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, . . . But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called `woman,' for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."
Solomon says, "Train a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it."
Jesus says of marriage, "But at the beginning of creation God `made them male and female.' `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Jesus as the creator of the universe and designer of marriage recognized that marriage is of course about sex and reproduction, but it is also about commitment (two becoming one), appreciation (bone of bone), faith (creator creation relationship), and the nurturing of children. These deeper elements are often missing from alternative sexual relationships.
Unfortunately cohabiting couples, friends with benefits, etc. do avoid divorce, but unfortunately they do not get lasting commitment and true respect. Why is this true? Because in these relationships partners can walk out at any time if they "fall out of love." Whereas in marriage, when a couple falls out of love, they make a commitment to work through the problem and even with help can and often do "fall back into love." This is the best held secret of life long marriages! This is where pastors and professional counselors can help and have been avoided in the past.
Statistics prove that God knows what He is talking about. In fact, one third of those who cohabitate before marriage will divorce within 2 years and two thirds will divorce within 10 years. The old saying, "You can’t teach a dog new tricks," rings through: No commitment before marriage is translated into no commitment in marriage. As a result, simply living together is not truly a "trial marriage" because there is no "life long public commitment (otherwise the relationship would be marriage!)" Thankfully, people today do want God pleasing commitment and life without divorce, but tragically they are trying to get in new ways that are temporary and often bring even more pain.
So what about marriage? God’s Word and experience should warrant us to promote marriage as a church. After all, children found in healthy marriage are more likely to grow up balanced. And the standard of living is often higher because husband and wife balance out their roles better (commitment is the key here). Healthy marriage provides commitment, acceptance, faith, and a place to nurture children. On a lighter note, one study found that the best sex is found in marriage as it compared sex in marriages to sex in cohabiting relationships.
What can we do as Christians? First of all where we have failed God calls us to repentance (sorrow, change in ones ways, and receiving of forgiveness). Where we have failed we are to accept Jesus forgiveness and move on covered with the forgiving blood of Jesus and empowered to change. Second, as we see others who have failed this area we should gently encourage them to see God’s will from the scriptures and the benefits of marriage. Where people have failed can encourage them to recognize God is able to pick up the pieces of broken families, broken hearts from cohabiting relationships, and even love and value children conceived from adulterous relationships. This does not mean we accept, ignore, or fund sin, but how often we hold sins against people who have repented. This is tragic. It irks me as a pastor to see people still not associating with people simply because they still look down a past sin. When this happens the true sinner is not the former adulterer but the one who continues to judge.
I would challenge you to encourage marriage and healthy singleness as good and pleasing. We as a church ought to celebrate anniversaries, promote children and family, value singles. We might even encourage dating as a good and God pleasing way of meeting a future mate. Likewise, we should support those who have gone through divorce, subjected to a broken commitment, or who have been widowed. As Christians, we truly have the medicine to help, God’s plan for marriage and forgiveness through Jesus. We should not turn sinners away, but help them. After all, if we do we must turn ourselves also away.