2016 03 06pm Hebrews 13:4 Lord’s Day 41 Marriage as New Testament Sacrifice

As New Testament believers, we are still to offer sacrifices to God. This includes the way we think about and behave in relation to sex and marriage.

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

One of the questions in our recent Fellowship Group Bible studies was about the purpose of the law of God.  And most probably, during your discussions, you talked about the common, threefold division of the law into moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law.

  • And at its most simplistic, we usually say that God’s moral law (i.e. the 10 Commandments) is eternal and universally binding
  • The civil or judicial law was specific to the people of Israel but its principles continue today
  • And the ceremonial laws of worship and sacrifice are abrogated or fulfilled or ended by the first coming of Jesus Christ. So, as NT believers, we no longer have a human High Priest, for example, and we no longer have a temple in Jerusalem, and you and I no longer need to offer sacrifices to God.


Or do we?  Could it be that even as NT believers we are still to offer up sacrifices to God?  Well, as we shall see today, this is in fact exactly what Scripture requires of us in terms of our marriages, whether we are married or unmarried.  For in the verse before us today and as we consider its context, we shall see that NT believers are commanded to offer their marriages as a sacrifice that is pleasing to God.  And we shall see this as we consider the basis or background of this command, and then we will be ready to consider the command itself.  So they are our two, major headings today – the basis or background of this command and then the command itself.


  1. So let’s begin with the basis or the background to the command we read here in Hebrews 13:4.
    1. The Book of Hebrews was written to believers who were struggling with persecution that arose in part from having turned their backs on the Judaism they had grown up with. Their families had disowned them and they had been excommunicated from the Jewish synagogues and every aspect of life in the Jewish community.  And so, for some, there was a strong temptation to abandon the way of Christ and to return to the comfortable and familiar Jewish life.  Most basically then, the Book of Hebrews is a call to persevere or endure in the Christian faith.
      1. And the author makes his case by demonstrating that Jesus is greater than and the fulfilment of every aspect of the OT Jewish faith – He is greater than the angels, He is greater than Moses, He is greater than Aaron, He is the perfect sacrifice, He is the essence of the New covenant, and by Him we may know and have communion with God as our Father in heaven.
      2. And so, having canvassed the centrality of the person and work of Jesus to the Christian faith, we come to one of those very important NT ‘therefores’ in ch. 10:19. Let’s turn there quickly.  Therefore, [because of who Jesus is and what He has done], persevere in faith…  V23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.”  And v39 says, “We are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
      3. But there is also a very serious warning in v26, where we read, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
      4. And in case anyone would hear these words and object that the author of Hebrews just didn’t understand how hard it was for them, we then have chapter 11. And the purpose of ch. 11 is to provide a list of OT individuals who persevered in faith despite the fact that they did not have the knowledge of the person and work of Jesus that every NT believer has.  Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Gideon, Samson; all these persevered with just shadows and promises and vague outlines.  Look at 11:39, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”  None of them had Jesus Christ as you do, but still they persevered.  So you Hebrew Christians and you Christians today have even greater reason to do so.
      5. And so, as we come to 12:1, with that great cloud of OT witnesses surrounding us as NT believers, we are told to “lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely.” And we are to run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking      to      Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”  And that is the secret or the essence of the instruction that follows.  There is much we have to do as we live the Christian life.  But it can only be done looking    to     Jesus.
      6. So, ch. 13 now begins to itemize the “weight” we need to “lay aside” and the “sin which clings so closely.” And one of the first areas of sin which clings so closely that is identified is sexual immorality.
        1. Tim Keller was once asked why the Bible gives so much attention, positively and negatively, to sex. He replied that it’s because sex is the most delightful and the most dangerous of all human capacities.  He likened sex to fire, for fire can warm and purify and cook food.  But if not handled with care it can also burn, infect, scar, and destroy.
        2. And as we recall the stories in the Bible, we see many accounts of notable saints sinning in this area – think of King David, the “man after God’s own heart,” and his adultery, as perhaps the most obvious example.
        3. So the Lord Jesus spoke words of warning about sexual immorality. And almost every Epistle gives this area prominent and particular attention.
        4. And surely most if not all of us here will know the painful truth of this reality from our own experience or the experience of others we love. Sexual immorality in many instances and with many people is perhaps the temptation that the devil needs to put the least effort into as he seeks to entice people into sin.
          • If we think of this using a fishing analogy, while with some sins the devil might need to devise all sorts of colourful lures and really work the fishing line, with this one he really only has to drop it over the side of the boat and fish will jump on to the hook in a heartbeat.
        5. I suspect that if every one of us was required to come up the front and list the sins that we regret the most or struggle with the most, many of us, and especially us men, would probably have sexual sin somewhere near the top of the list if not right at the top.
      7. Well, what we have already said and what we shall see is that we can only ‘lay aside’ sexual immorality looking to Jesus. And if you cast your eyes down to 13:15, note what we read there: “Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.  Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”  As NT believers, our marriages and how we think and act in relation to sex, looking to Jesus, is to be a pleasing sacrifice we offer to God.


  1. This then is the basis and background to the command we read here in v4. So with that in mind, let’s now consider the command itself.  And we do this noting the three obvious parts of this verse: The call – Hold marriage in honour, the caution – Don’t defile the marriage bed, and the consequences – For God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous.  And we cant really separate the three parts of this verse from each other, for they together add up to one message, which is how our thoughts and actions in relation to sex either will or will not be a pleasing sacrifice we offer to God.
    1. And we are going to start where v4 starts and where Scripture starts and where we ought to start when we speak about sex and that is to say that sex within marriage is a good thing, a beautiful thing, a wonderful thing, a thing to be enjoyed. It is a gift of God.  I won’t list the verses or read the paragraphs but if you read certain verses in the Book of Proverbs you will see this made very plain.  And if you read the book of Song of Songs, you will see this made very plain.  And if you listen to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 warn married couples only to abstain from sex for prayer for a very short time, this is very plain.  May no one get the idea from you or me, which the Christian church has sadly and rightly been accused of in the past, that sex is a kind of a dirty necessity that only exists for procreation, but which we are basically against.  Sex is a good and beautiful gift of God that is to be enjoyed within marriage.


  1. But those words “within marriage” are very important. That is why our text issues this caution, “Let the marriage bed be undefiled.”
    1. Live your life in such a way that if you marry you will arrive at the day of your wedding pure and undefiled; do not engage in sexual activity before you are married.
    2. And if you do marry, don’t look outside your marriage, whether it be in thought or in action, for sexual activity. For that is adultery that defiles the marriage bed.
    3. You see, the world has downgraded sex to a fun activity. You can play video games or play cards or you can have sex – its all just fun.  Do it whenever and with whomever you like – it doesn’t matter.  There are a great many movies out there that feature storylines involving sex before marriage and/or sex outside of marriage.  And do you know what genre many of them feature in?  Romantic comedy.  We are supposed to laugh and be amused and think of it as all a part of romance.
    4. But look what God says here, “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality … will inherit the kingdom of God.”
    5. Engaging in unlawful sex or sex outside of marriage defiles the marriage bed and it deserves the punishment of God. And when we do this we are not offering to God a pleasing sacrifice.


Now, I realize full well that there will be those among us who have sinned in this area.  And given what I have just said, you might be wondering if there is any hope for you now; Is there the possibility of forgiveness for me?  Can I still hope for a happy marriage given that I have sinned in this way before or within marriage?  But I have to ask you to wait a few moments because we will come back and answer those questions soon.  OK?  Just hold on!


  1. For I want us first to think about what is at stake here in terms of our society. What is the greatest commandment?  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”  And the second is?  “Love you neighbour as yourself.”  And you may have heard before that the first 4 of the 10 Commandments have to do with our love for God and the last 6 of the 10 Commandments have to do with love for our neighbour.  So, the 7th Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” is part of love for our neighbour.  Congregation, what the Holy Spirit is saying in this text is that love for neighbour flourishes best in society when husbands and wives are committed to each other in mutual love (repeat).  To be sure, what we read here is about your and my personal  But when the marriage of God’s design is honoured in society and married couples work hard at being and staying married, love for neighbour will flow out of those homes and permeate all of society like a beautiful perfume.
    1. Our society, however, is currently doing all it can to dishonour God’s design for marriage and make marriage just one of several options that people may want to consider for their relationship, and make it is a easy as possible to exit your marriage when you want to. And the saddest aspect of all is that our society does all this in the name of freedom and tolerance and casting off the foolish ideas of generations past.
    2. Well, are the families in NZ in any better shape today? Are our prisons emptying?  Are there fewer lonely and abandoned elderly folk in care homes?  Is child abuse declining?  Are mental health clinics running out of work?
    3. Congregation, more and more people snigger at the 7th Commandment today. But Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  Our society is heading for a cliff and the fall will be dramatic and painful and costly unless there is a national recognition of this evil and others and a large-scale repentance.  And that is something we ought to pray for; we ought to pray that there would be a revival of faith in this land.


  1. But as we do that, let’s also see where there is need for reformation in the church in NZ, and in here (this room), and in here (our hearts).
    1. You see, in many churches today, nothing is said or done about couples who are living together and unmarried.
    2. And nothing is done when a married couple divorce for reasons other than adultery or desertion.
    3. And more and more churches are agreeing to have their ministers officiate at same-sex ‘weddings.’
    4. And if you read any statistical study on the subject of pornography, you will find that the percentage of people viewing it among those who claim to be born-again Christians is not that different than among a similar-sized group of people out there in the world.
    5. And why do you think it is that the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 5:4, “Let there be no filthiness … nor crude joking” among God’s people? Because you can sometimes hear filthiness and crude joking among the Lord’s people.
    6. And among God’s people you also find men and women who do not take care to dress in such a way that they do not draw attention to their bodies in a way that can foster the lustful thoughts of others.
    7. And then there is also the hidden sin of self-pleasure.
    8. And if those sins are among us as Christians, then we are kidding ourselves if we sign some Facebook petition to protest a sexually explicit movie and then pat ourselves on the back for being concerned about morality.
    9. What we need to be asking ourselves instead is Am I living like the “light of the world” that would attract others to Christ? Am I living like a “city set on a hill” such that others who have experienced the brokenness and pain of the world’s view on sex might be drawn to me?
      1. If you are unmarried or a widow/widower, do you affirm by your words and your behaviour that being unmarried and sexually pure (as it was for the Apostle Paul and the Lord Jesus) is noble, fruitful, and “good”?
      2. And if you are married, is your love for and commitment to your spouse so plain in your words and actions that if workmates or neighbours or friends were going through a bitter divorce or relationship breakup they might ask you what your secret is?
      3. You see, when Christians are in social settings and they make jokes about marriage being a longer life sentence than you get for murder, for example, or how useless ha-ha their spouse is at this or that; when they do that more easily than they would speak a loving word to their spouse or show some observable sign of tender affection, then we are not holding marriage in honour; We are failing to draw people to Christ by showing them something that is so honourable and lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
    10. And unless we become this kind of counter-cultural community, any zeal for better morals out there will fall on deaf ears.


“Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”  This is the call, the caution, and the consequences in God’s command.  This is why, as our Catechism answer says, “We should thoroughly detest [all unchastity] and, married or single, live decent and chaste lives.”  Are you striving to live a decent and chaste life?

Romans 12:1-2 says something very similar to what we read here in Hebrews 13:4 and its context.  It says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

You belong, body and soul, to Jesus Christ.  Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, do not play around with sex as the world does.  Let the commands of God be your guide in relation to your thoughts, your desires, and your speech, and your conduct in this area.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Think about that for a moment.  Isn’t that so much more to want than the fleeting pleasures of sexual sin?

  • Can you see how pleasing it would be to God that you count seeing Him as something far more desirable than giving in to sexual temptation?
  • Can you see how pleasing it would be to God that you ‘sacrifice’ gratifying your lust-driven urges, because of your love for Him and your thankfulness for His grace to you in Christ?


But as we finish, let me return now to those who are conscious of having committed sexual sin and wondering of there can be forgiveness or any possibility of a healthy marriage despite having sinned before or within marriage.

  • Earlier I quoted from 1 Cor. 6:9-10, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality … will inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul wrote those words to the members of the church of Christ in Corinth.
  • But listen to his very next words, “And such were some of you.” There were some in the church in Corinth who had been sexually immoral or adulterers or men who practised homosexuality.  “But,” Paul continues, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.”
  • If you turn to God and confess your sins and believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the price for your sins, you will be forgiven. You too can become one who has been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.  And whether you be married or unmarried, you can be one who honours marriage and who does not defile the marriage bed.


Here in Hebrews we are urged to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and to run with endurance the race set before us, LOOKING TO JESUS.”  And what this looks like in relation to sex is honouring marriage and not defiling the marriage bed.  That is the sacrifice we can offer that is pleasing to God.  May the Spirit of Christ enable us to offer this sacrifice.  May Jesus be the priceless treasure we value above all else.  Amen.