“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Heb. 13:4).
Over and over again, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews emphasizes the vast superiority of the person and work of Christ to all who came before Him. This teaching, however, is not given only for the sake of teaching but also to exhort us to cling to Christ. Given the greatness of Christ Jesus, we must run the race of faith with vigor, and the only way we will be able to do that is if we strengthen ourselves so that we may find endurance (Heb. 10:35–36; 12:12–13).
One of the many practical ways we can strengthen ourselves is to show love for our brothers and sisters in Christ (13:1). As we encourage one another, show hospitality (v. 2), and identify with the suffering of Christians in prison (v. 3), we demonstrate the great love Jesus has for us and remind each other of the love we must show to Him.
Today’s passage teaches us that we can also show love for the brothers, and thus strengthen ourselves, by holding marriage in honor (13:4). It is unclear why this command was needed for the original audience. Some have speculated that either asceticism or a sexual libertinism had been influencing the congregation. Either choice is a possibility since the early church faced both issues. For example, 1 Corinthians was written partly to combat the asceticism and sexual immorality that was rampant in the Corinthian church.
Though either influence is possible, the specific commands in the rest of this verse would imply that perhaps the original audience was facing sexual libertinism in the congregation. In any case, we are told that honoring marriage means that we honor the marriage bed (v. 4). The sexual relationship between husband and wife is a precious gift from God and is to be kept undefiled.
Doing this of course means avoiding such obviously gross practices as adultery and sexual immorality (v. 4). Sexual immorality would involve any kind of practice expressly forbidden by Scripture. Yet it would also cover any practice within the marriage that degrades or demeans the spouse and does not respect them as the image of God. Such practices also violate God’s law and are thus immoral.
When we honor marriage, we maintain it as a God-glorifying relationship that draws us to Christ and not away from Him. As God’s will for marriage is honored, so too is His will for all of His people.
Whether we happen to be single or married, this command applies to all of us. We are to avoid anything that could, whether in the present or the future, bring defilement to the marriage bed. Look at your life, and seek to learn how this command applies to you. In prayer ask God to make you obedient to His will for marriage.
Passages for Further Study
Gen. 1:27 & 2:24; Lev. 18 1; Cor. 6:12–7:40; Eph. 5:5