One word increasingly lost on our culture today is fornication. It has a simple definition, the voluntary sexual intercourse of two persons who are not married. Fornication is condemned in the Bible, and thus the word carries a stigma in our society. This is most likely why the word is fading from our vocabulary today, especially among our young people. If you wish to remove the stigma of folks having sex before marriage, you must remove the word from discourse.
Fornication is a sin. It is a sin against the Sixth Commandment. Fornication is a destructive sin not just because it is the breaking of a rule, but it is a sin against God’s institution of marriage. God ordained it that a man leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). He did this that the man may have companionship and joy in his wife and that the world would be populated with children. Fornication frustrates God’s design for marriage and results in brokenness and misery.
But whatever earthly consequences there may be for fornication – higher divorce rates, sexually transmitted disease, and poor mental health among them – the spiritual destruction resulting from fornication is even greater. When men and women act in open defiance of God’s plan for them in marriage, the final result is spiritual death. This has become a true spiritual battle for our churches today. As the stigma of fornication is removed, more and more our young people have become emboldened to engage in fornication. As we lament fewer and fewer younger folks in our pews, we must ask ourselves some honest questions: Is it because they are fornicating? Is it because they are putting their carnal desires before God’s Word and God’s plan? These are maybe questions which cannot be answered by polls and surveys, especially when it has become fashionable to tell pastors and congregations that they are the ones who must change in order to retain our youth. But for those of us who think theologically, they are legitimate questions. Fornication must have spiritual consequences in the lives of our youth, and absence from God’s house is a common symptom. If left unchecked, fornication will destroy our youth and rot our congregations at the core.
Many pastors and congregations are fighting the battle against fornication valiantly. It begins in strong catechesis of the First Article and Sixth Commandment. Our synod also has produced some good resources. Matthew Harrison’s Second Thoughts About Living Together is an outstanding resource for pastors and congregations trying to grapple with this problem. Though it is not well-known, it is perhaps the finest piece of work ever produced by our synodical president. The biblical case against fornication is open and shut. We just need to be willing to put in the work in fighting against it.
But even with all at our disposal, it feels like a losing battle. The culture is decidedly against us. That was determined long ago. Though God’s commandment is clear, though his institution of marriage is clear, self-professing Christians even engage shamelessly in fornication. Pastors give up the battle and simply marry cohabitating couples, leaving them without repentance and with hardened consciences. All the while, congregations continue to decline both spiritually and numerically.
In light of all these challenges, here is where I would like to mention Psalm 128. Read it well:
Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children’s children! Peace be upon Israel!
Most often it seems that pastors and congregations battle fornication in their midst from a catechetical angle, though often times it is too little, too late. While it is good to emphasize God’s commandment and the institution of marriage when battling fornication in our families and congregations this way, the Psalm allows us to look at this issue from another angle – a devotional angle. The Psalm paints a picture. It paints the beautiful reality that exists when God’s design is honored. A wife, children, blessing, prosperity – the Psalm puts in concrete language what perhaps our young folks miss out on when learning in confirmation class. Living according to God’s design is not merely following rules on a piece of paper, but generally speaking, it translates into a beautiful life.
Fornication does not make any of the promises found in Psalm 128. In fact, it robs you of these beautiful blessings. Fornication promises pleasure, excitement, and glamour, but it only steals. The longer young men and young women engage in fornication, the longer it is until they enjoy what the Psalm describes. When we look honestly at Psalm 128, any attempts Christians may make to defend fornication are rendered utterly absurd. The Psalm paints a picture of a better way. You cannot engage in fornication and pray this Psalm with an honest heart at the same time.
So if you have loved ones who are caught in a web of fornication, whether that be in cohabitation before marriage or in a licentious lifestyle, this Psalm is there to help you. To be sure, you can collect a litany of Bible verses and make a strong biblical case to persuade your loved one, but all that is really unnecessary. Show them Psalm 128. Show them the better way. Challenge them to pray this Psalm every day. The simpler you can make your case, the better.
To be sure, the carnal desire built into our nature is strong. Used wrongly, this desire can result in much destruction. It can destroy souls and churches too. Therefore we thank God that we can channel the carnal desire into something good – marriage. Fornication is the counterfeit to avoid, but marriage is what God has intended from the beginning. No matter how the world around us continues to change, it is his intention even today. Because of the blood of Jesus shed on Calvary, forgiveness abounds for those snared by fornication, and this forgiveness us sets us free. Covered by the righteousness of Jesus, we can learn it is possible to buck the trends of our society. We learn it is possible to break the cycle of fornication and move on. Having received that forgiveness, Psalm 128 helps us forge a path ahead, a path of much joy in all that our Heavenly Father has to give.