Many young couples are living together before marriage for one reason or another. How can Christians talk to friends or family members who are making this decision?
The country was midway through the pandemic when my younger brother announced his plans to move out of my parents’ house. My family was astonished when we found out his plans involved moving out of state and in with his girlfriend after dating long distance for just under a year.
As a Christian household, we experienced a multitude of emotions. When someone we love or care deeply about makes a decision we fundamentally don’t agree with, we can easily react in anger, shock or maybe even grief.
But the words that follow are usually neither constructive nor edifying. Romans 15:14 tells us that we should be “filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.”
So how do we “instruct” or counsel a loved one against a decision that runs counter to God’s Word? The first step is to seek knowledge.
My Christian upbringing had taught me that living together before marriage was bad, but this situation inspired me to look to the Bible for myself to find out what exactly it has to say about living together before marriage. I found one story that specifically speaks to cohabitation — it’s the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman.
How Jesus confronted cohabitation
John 4 gives us a perfect example of how Jesus lovingly interacted with a person who chose to cohabit. In this passage, Jesus was passing through a Samaritan town on the way to Galilee. There He meets a woman at the well drawing water, and He asks for a drink. She is obviously surprised by this request since, in the culture of the time, Jews and Samaritans rarely spoke or interacted with one another.
In this story, three things stand out about how Jesus approached the conversation in a loving, edifying way.
Jesus engaged the culture
Jesus and the Samaritan woman first strike up a conversation and discuss issues of the time, both social and spiritual. For example, the woman asks, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (verse 9) and “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” (verse 12). Jesus moves the conversation gradually to the spiritual: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (verse 14).
Framing your conversation in the culture of today is important. More families, including Christian families, are cohabiting before marriage than ever before. Living together before marriage is the new normal for many young adults in their romantic journey.
An article on the Institute for Family Studies website reports on research from the National Marriage Project. The article says that the most common reasons given for couples cohabitating are “convenience, financial benefits, or to ‘test a relationship.’ ” These reasons can be attributed to shifts in culture, so framing your discussion with the current culture in mind is helpful.
Jesus pointed out the sin
When asked about her husband, the woman replied that she had no husband. In verse 18, Jesus confirms and points out the truth of the situation, saying, “for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” He certainly didn’t shy away from pointing out the sin she was caught in.
The Scriptures may not explicitly talk about living together with your significant other, but using God’s commandments and instructions, we’re able to deduce that sexual immorality is a big deal to our Savior.
Jesus lovingly corrected
Instead of condemning or shaming the woman living in sexual sin, Jesus offered her grace and compassion. In response, the woman went about town proclaiming the works of Jesus, and the Bible says that many “believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39).
Jesus spent more time developing a relationship with this woman and intentionally revealing Himself and the Gospel to her than He did dwelling on her sins. Only one sentence is devoted to calling out her sin; the rest is all about hope, redemption and forgiveness.
The beauty of the Gospel is that we are not stuck in sin, but are given the chance to repent, turn away from it and be forgiven. We must not forget that, as Christians, we’re ultimately ambassadors of God’s grace.
God's Blueprint for a Healthy Marriage
What the Bible actually says about living together before marriage
If we are to lovingly counsel someone in God’s grace, what does the Bible actually say about living together prior to marriage? There are no verses that explicitly use the word “cohabitation” (or the ancient language equivalent). Instead, we can look at what God does mention.
In Genesis, when God is creating and ordering the world, He looks at His creation and says that it was good. You know what God said was not good? For man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). So He created woman and the marriage covenant, saying, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” (Genesis 2:24) and that was good.
Don’t let that escape you. When God was creating a perfect world, He counted marriage among the good and perfect things that he had made.
Then came the fall of man, and sin entered God’s perfect design. Satan offered a distortion of God’s good plan, seducing and tricking Adam and Eve into seeking wisdom on their own terms — outside of God’s good and perfect plan.
Satan presented a counterfeit of God’s covenant. That’s ultimately what living together before marriage is — a counterfeit — instead of the perfect covenant of commitment God offered to His beloved creation.
As scholar Galena Rhoades writes, “But by living together already, both parties have likely developed a thought pattern of ‘what if this doesn’t work out,’ thinking you could just move out and move on, which can undermine that sense of commitment that is essential to a thriving marriage.”
An example of loving instruction
God is likened to a bridegroom and the church as His bride. God modeled the marriage vow, His perfect covenant of commitment, to His people again and again throughout the Scriptures. He did not walk out on His people when they misbehaved or turn away when things got hard.* His grace didn’t walk away from the woman at the well living with a man who was not her husband.
We’re all capable of falling for Satan’s counterfeits, including the temptation of cohabitation under the guise of financial responsibility or convenience. The good news is that God does not allow us to sit in our sin forever.
He offers redemption and grace. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
We have hope, and so do our loved ones who have fallen into temptation and immorality.
*Focus on the Family is dedicated to bringing healing and restoration to couples who are struggling in their marriage. But God’s design for marriage never included abuse, violence or coercive control. Even emotional abuse can bruise or severely harm a person’s heart, mind and soul. If you are in an abusive relationship, go to a safe place and call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit them online at thehotline.org.