In recent years the practice of cohabitation has become increasingly common. Studies have suggested that 70% of couples today live together before they get married. This statistic does not even include the vast numbers who move in with each other but never marry.
This is radically different from the way it was just a few decades ago. It used to be that cohabitation was a great scandal in most people's eyes. Today though, it has lost much of its stigma and is virtually normalized.
Even the word "cohabitation" demonstrates the normalcy of the practice. In years past it was known as "living in sin." Then it came to be known as "shacking up." This was still a derisive term, but it was a movement away from the more basic notion of it being an offense against the law of God. Today cohabitation is the preferred term for couples who live together. It is a word that undoubtedly has a much more acceptable tone to it as it is sanitized of any real negativity.
Nevertheless, there continues to be the nagging echo of olden times that living together outside the bonds of marriage is not right. Though most would no doubt agree that it was taboo in the past, they probably not be able to say why this was so.
The simple answer is this: God said so. We could site numerous sociological reasons why living with someone outside the bonds of marriage is a bad idea. Studies show that it is a disastrous thing, including child molestation, economic upheaval, emotional strain, as well as divorce (if marriage is pursued). However, all these are but symptoms of the greater reality: God has declared that it should not be so.
In Hebrews 13:4 it says, "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous." This verse gives the two main reasons why cohabitation is unlawful. For one, cohabitation is for the purpose of indulging in sexual immorality. Some might posit other motives for sharing a living space. Finances is perhaps the one that most people will site. However, if the couple is honest they will admit that a shared bed and ease of fornication is the main reason for their arrangement.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, cohabitation is a dishonor to God's institution of marriage. People who live together do not give the rite of marriage its proper esteem mainly because they do not give proper esteem to each other. If they did, they would be married!
Think about it this way: When a couple lives together they are basically saying, "I don't care about you enough to commit to a life long loving relationship with you. I just want to have sex with you as long as I can. If things get rough or if someone better comes along, we can have an easy exit plan."
With such self interest at the base of a relationship, one wonders why you would want to even attempt it.
To honor marriage is to honor the one you marry. It is to love them enough to commit yourself to them through all circumstances (good or bad) till death do you part. This was God's original design, and it is the practice that couples are called to embrace.
Cohabitation may be countenanced by the broader culture, but that does not make it right. God determines what is right and what is wrong, and our living arrangements need to be based on His standard.
This is why couples who intend on living together need to take heed to this and do what is right in the eyes of God. They need to remain apart (and remain sexually pure altogether), until they have been properly wedded.
Those who have been living together need to remedy their ways as well. They need to confess to God that they have been living in sin and then seek to correct it. It may mean calling a pastor and asking if he would be willing to marry you at the earliest possible date. Or it may mean ceasing the relationship altogether and parting ways (after all, we don't want to add divorce to the string of sins that have already been committed if there isn't a possibility of a lasting relationship).
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.