Marriage is a beautiful and sacred institution, created by God for procreation and as a picture of Christ and His Church.
Genesis 2:24 instructs, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
And in Ephesians 5:31 we read, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.”
The formula for a lasting, loving marriage is also found in Ephesians 5:
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.
. . .
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
The Apostle Paul painted a splendid picture of marriage, that of the wife loving the husband enough to live for him, and the husband loving his wife enough to be willing to lay down his life for her. That’s not a 50-50 formula–that’s God’s design of a man and a woman committed to giving 100 percent to each other and their marriage.
But modern America seems to believe it knows better than the Creator of the heavens and earth, the Grand Designer of men, women, and marriage. In a recent Barna study, 65% of all adults either strongly or somewhat agree that it’s a good idea to cohabit prior to marriage.
When comparing “practicing Christians” v. non-religious/non-believers, 41% of Christians agreed cohabitation was a good idea versus 88% of the non-churched:
Unsurprisingly, the most religious groups in America are the least likely to think cohabitation is a good idea. Most Christian teaching on pre-marital relationships encourages abstinence and other boundaries that tend to exclude cohabitation, and the data reflects these beliefs. Practicing Christians (41%) are highly unlikely to believe cohabitation is a good idea, and the stark contrast with those who identify as having no faith (88%) further demonstrates the acute impact of religious belief on views regarding cohabitation.
Let that sink in. Forty-one percent of so-called practicing Christians believe cohabitation is a “good idea.” Whatever form of Christianity those respondents are practicing, it most certainly is not biblical Christianity.
The Bible is very clear on sexual relations. God intended such intimacies to be glorious and exclusively for a husband and wife. Hebrews 13:4 cautions, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
The world concocts ideas that turn God’s principles on their head at its own peril. God’s admonitions are not to stifle our joy but to increase it.
Consider this. First Things First (FTF), “an award-winning not-for-profit organization dedicated to strengthening families in Hamilton County, Tennessee” responds to the “myths about living together.”
MYTH: Living together is an easy way to “try out” the relationship before committing to marriage.
Truth: While the idea of “test driving” a car before you buy it is a good idea, it doesn’t apply to marriage. Living together is basically a “pretend marriage” and nothing like the real thing. Couples who live together often have attitudes like: “I can leave any time,” and “My money vs. your money” that married couples don’t typically have. Married couples often have a stronger bond to each other because of their vow of permanence. Married couples also tend to have less volatile relationships.
The worn-out “kicking the tires” analogy is often employed when describing cohabitation. But the problem is, people are not cars. Living together teaches those involved to bail when one no longer satisfies the desires or fulfills the needs of the other or when things get tough. The attitude from the outset is “we’ll try this out, see if we fit.”
But here’s a relevant truth: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What that means is none of us “fit” perfectly because we’re imperfect creatures.
Cohabitation fosters an attitude of selfishness. It reinforces the natural desires of fallen humans to put their desires and need first. But marriage, as God intended, is about self-sacrificial giving.
Another myth addressed by FTF:
MYTH: Marriage is just a piece of paper.
Truth: Emotionally, physically and spiritually, marriage is so much more than a piece of paper. It is a commitment. Viewing marriage as only a legal arrangement strips it of its meaning and sets the relationship up for failure. If couples do not view marriage as a loving, committed relationship, divorce is almost inevitable.
The Barna findings showed that cohabitation was primarily seen as a way to “test the waters before taking the plunge.” But cohabitation as a test period is an abysmally poor training ground for marital bliss.
Indeed, studies bear out “shacking up” consequences:
…nearly a dozen studies from the 1970s into the early 2000s showed that men and women who lived together before marriage were far more likely to divorce than couples who moved directly from dating to marriage. In fact, on average, researchers found that couples who cohabited before marriage had a 33 percent higher chance of divorcing than couples who moved in together after the wedding ceremony. *
The plain truth is that what we practice we do. Men and women entering live-in relationships practice keeping their guard up, looking out for number one. Those couples, even if they end up married, will have entrenched attitudes and habits that erode the trust and unconditional love necessary to a happy, lasting marriage.
And what about children?
Psalm 127:3 tells us that “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.”
The divine plan was children within marriage–a man-woman union–committed to each other and loving only the Lord God more than spouse. That healthy, God-ordained relationship is the perfect setting for rearing offspring and imparting God’s transcendent values. The strong commitment of a mother and father to each other creates a secure home for their children.
In contrast, because cohabitation offers no real assurance of security, children learn to fear: every argument, every disagreement could signal the end of their family. Thus, not only is living outside of wedlock a dreadful precursor to marriage, it is also an insecure environment for rearing kids.
Barna’s study portends a dismal future for America. Our time-tested societal foundation has been the nuclear family, but as God’s guiding principles are ignored, ruin and heartbreak increase.
People are not meant to be traded in. Unlike cars, people are intrinsically valuable, meant to be treasured in spite of defects and mileage.
*One recent research paper suggests that premarital cohabitation may not increase the likelihood of divorce.
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