Marriage is a Covenant, not a Contract

 Genesis 2:19–25 (NASB95)

19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. 

In mid-January we took two Sunday mornings to study why biblical sexual morality is a hill to die on. We learned a lot about the modern sexual revolution and the thought processes behind it. There are a number of things we can say to people who are caught up in the lies of that movement, but what must go along with our words is biblical wisdom: skillfully living out God’s truth about sexual morality in all of our relationships. My dad used to tell me that some things are better “caught than taught.” You might say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” So let’s show a confused, watching world that God’s plan for relationships are infinitely better than anything the devil has to offer.

For the next 3 weeks, let’s look at three principles from Proverbs on marriage. Note: if you’re single, these principles still have some application to your relationships, so read along with us.

1.  Marriage is a Covenant, not a Contract.

Marriage was originally intended to be a covenant between a man, a woman, and God – for a lifetime. But that has not been the experience of a tragically growing number of people both inside and outside of the church! There are more than 1 million divorces in America every year (that’s a divorce every 37 seconds). As a result, 1/3 of American children are not living with their natural fathers. Some think the solution is simply to “live together,” or to have “marriage contracts” instead of a covenant for life (like a driver’s license or passport that can be renewed, or you can just let it expire).

God didn’t just tell us about the marriage covenant, but He modeled it for us in His commitment to Israel (see Hosea), and in Jesus’ commitment to the Church (Eph. 5:22-34). God takes covenants seriously (see Gen. 15 covenant with Abraham; Joshua 9 covenant with the Gibeonites). In Prov. 2:16-17, Solomon warns his son about the adulteress that forsakes her covenant with God and with her husband. First, she grows estranged from God and then from her spouse. Ultimately she isn’t committed to anyone but herself.

Because marriage is a covenant, it requires a sacrificial commitment. In the New Testament we can see that in the word love (agape). It is the love of your will. It is a sacrificial commitment to the person loved. In the Old Testament we see it in the word for marriage (kiddushin) which means sacrifice. Marital love is sacrificial love. Although it often has feelings or is accompanied by feelings, it is ultimately a commitment to sacrificially give to the other person.

Because marriage is a covenant, it is also a permanent commitment. In the passage above in Genesis 2, we are to leave, cleave (be glued together), and become one flesh. In Mt. 19:6, Jesus said that what God has joined together we are to let no man separate. When we are committed to leaving and cleaving, we can experience that blessed gift of being one flesh (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually). True intimacy and transparency are possible when there is permanency. There is the freedom to be ourselves because we aren’t worried about being rejected.

Because marriage is a covenant, it is a sanctifying commitment. That is the way Jesus loves us, His bride (Eph. 5:25-27), and the way He wants us to love one another. Gary Thomas wrote a book over 20 years ago with a provocative title: “Sacred Marriage: What if God designed marriage to make us Holy more than to make us Happy?” Just as iron sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17), God designed relationships to help us grow in holiness. God gave us His Word to sanctify us (Jn. 17:17), so the more we study and apply God’s Word in our marriages, the more we will grow together in holiness.

Because marriage is a covenant, it is a grace-filled commitment. Grace is the atmosphere in which we live and love. God’s grace enables us to be patient, kind, not jealous, not boastful or arrogant, not rude, and not easily provoked. And when our spouse fails in one of those areas, grace enables us to be quick to forgive and restore and believe the best of the other person. Knowing we are not on a performance-based acceptance treadmill, frees us to be real and imperfect, yet still loved. What a relief to know that I’m not loved if or because… I’m just loved. And it won’t change when the aging process takes away some of the things that attracted us to each other in the first place.

Is that a description of your marriage? It can be! By the grace of God, we can have covenant marriages all the way to the finish line. If you need help with that, please let us help. Our elders, Life Group leaders, and biblical counselors are available to help you experience and enjoy marriage as God designed it.

Let me close with a true story as recorded by Becky Zerbe in an article she wrote for Marriage Partnership magazine (Spring 2006), titled, “Penning a Marriage.” Her husband, Roger Zerbe, suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s disease, and journaled this to his wife after a particularly troubling bout of forgetfulness. It’s a beautiful illustration of Covenant Marriage:

Today fear is taking over. The day is coming when all my memories of this life we share will be gone. You and the boys will be gone from me. I will lose you even as I am surrounded by you and your love. I don’t want to leave you. I want to grow old in the warmth of memories. Forgive me for leaving so slowly and painfully.

Blinking back tears, Becky wrote:

My sweet husband,
I will continue to go on loving you and caring for you—not because you know me or remember our life, but because I remember you. I will remember the man who proposed to me and told me he loved me, the look on his face when his children were born, the father he was, the way he loved our extended family. I’ll recall his love for riding, hiking, and reading; his tears at sentimental movies; the unexpected witty remarks; and how he held my hand while he prayed. I cherish the pleasure, obligation, commitment, and opportunity to care for you because I remember you!

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