The Bible begins and ends with marriage. It begins with the creation of the first man Adam and his bride, Eve, and it ends with the marriage of Christ (the “second Adam”) and His Bride, the Church.
Well, more exactly, the Bible begins and ends with God. “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1) to “…Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20.) But, frankly, that fact will only solidify the premise of this article. Considering, then, the prominence of marriage in the Bible, isn’t it shocking how ill prepared so many Christians are to enter into it? The thought, research, council, preparation, training, and financial investment that are given to the purchase of a new computer or the newest form of technology are invariably a far greater involvement than that of entering into a life-long covenant commitment that will require daily investment for the rest of one’s life. Crazy, isn’t it?
Sadly, marriage so rarely starts off on the proper foundation. In most cases, the initial romantic feelings seems to be the sole criteria of the relationship. Not that romance isn’t important! But it’s just the gift-wrap–it’s not the treasure– and it will ebb and flow with the circumstances and stresses of life. Let’s face it: arriving into this world with a self-focused nature of sin, then bombarded constantly with the intense reinforcement that drives the individual to satisfy his/her own selfishness, to find someone that will meet his/her needs and wants, he/she is totally unprepared to enter into a successful, lasting and satisfying “God-centered” covenant relationship.
It shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that so many marriages, even among Christians, are suffering and crumbling faster than sand castles eroded by the tide. The foundation isn’t there! Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. There is an answer.
Decades ago, as I planned for my upcoming marriage, I had a conversation with my youngest sister. “Sometimes I don’t agree with Dad,” I admitted. “Sometimes I get so upset with him! But even in the times when I’m most angry, or when I want to throw up my hands and say, ‘He’s never going to understand me!’ I can never quit being his daughter. I am his daughter, and even my anger can’t change that.
“That’s what it’s going to be like with my husband. I know there will be times when we disagree, or when I’ll be angry or frustrated with him and feel like I’m losing the romantic love for him at that moment– but I’ll still be his wife. It’s as real as being my Dad’s daughter. It’s the way it is, and nothing will ever change that. To divorce my husband because we aren’t understanding each other would be as silly as saying to Dad that I want to quit being his daughter.”
Considering that I was so immature and unprepared for marriage really, it must have been the Holy Spirit that gave that conviction, because it speaks of the serious commitment of a covenant relationship, and at that time I really had no concept of what a covenant was.
Marriage is a covenant. Entered into by mutual agreement, each makes promises to the other before witnesses, to fulfill the terms set in place by God Himself, in order to fulfill the greater good of them both, and for the ultimate glory of God, as together they serve God in a lifelong commitment.
In a marriage covenant, God requires marital faithfulness, submission, and love (see Ephesians 5:22-29 and Hebrews 13:4) in terms that are non-negotiable. Unlike contracts which consist of agreements written mutually by the parties involved, the marriage covenant is not subject to our opinions, changes, or stipulations. It isn’t the bride and groom that make up their own terms of agreement, although many try to do that. It is God Himself who sets in place the terms of the marriage covenant, and promises blessings to those that fulfill those terms. On the other hand, only a quick look around at the state of marriages today is evidence of the devastation (the ‘curse’ as the Bible calls it) that results from breaking the terms of the covenant set in place by God.
Agreement to these covenant terms requires serious obligations from each participant, and, yes, holds punishment for breaking the terms… which is an idea that’s hard to accept in our humanistic, ‘self’-centered world. Yet on the other hand, just think about the amazing beauty and grace that rewards God’s covenant, honoring the godly husband, and elevating the godly wife to a place of beauty and respect that had never been understood nor achieved until Christianity brought its wonderful affect (*more on that in another article)!
Marriage is purposeful and productive. The covenant is therefore based not upon fulfilling one’s personal happiness, but upon the ultimate good that will result from honoring the terms God set in place, to produce the highest good and beauty of marriage. Our friend, Pastor Tom Keziah, expressed the heart of the marriage covenant during his message at our daughter and son-in-law’s wedding. Unlike contracts that seek to maximize personal happiness, a covenant has a far higher and more excellent purpose. As he read from 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” Pastor Tom reminded the listeners that the ultimate purpose of the marriage covenant is to glorify God. To glorify God is to cause His dignity and worth to be shown and achknowledged. It means that we desire to communicate the excellence of God openly in whatever we do.
The highest goal and significance of marriage is not to gratify self, but to honor and glorify God. God is not only pleased with marriage, but He is glorified in it! Marriage, therefore, ought to be “God”-centered, or “Theocentric” in nature. Marriage here on earth is the picture that gives us understanding of the amazing covenant relationship between Christ and His Church, and thereby, God Himself is glorified in it. It’s probably the greatest testimony the world will ever see of Christ as He relates in love to His Bride, the Church. And if you think no one is even paying attention to your marriage, think again! It amazes me how “watched” we are! Again, just a few weeks ago, as Dan and I walked out of a building holding hands (yes, we still do that after 36 years) and talking to each other, a middle-aged stranger walking in commented, ”Man, you two look happy!” Why? Because we were holding hands and talking together? It sure didn’t take much to convince.
“God’s glory is the meaning of life, “ Pastor Tom said. “It’s the call of creation. It’s the interpretation of history, and the explanation of science. God’s glory is man’s path, and God’s glory is man’s destination. The purpose of marriage, therefore, is to glorify God.” The marriage covenant is “God-” centered in nature, established, designed and maintained by God to reflect His glory and fulfill His purposes.
Contracts, on the other hand, are “man”-centered in nature, as they begin and end with man and his purposes. In the attempt to guard a self-focused relationship, where the terms are defined merely by the personal happiness and fulfillment that the individual wants to get out of it, the world has reverted to conducting marriages based upon contracts, or “prenuptial agreements” instead of covenants, to assure the safety of each of their own assets in the possibility (or probability) that their marriage will eventually be terminated.
The marriage covenant is binding, and demands faithfulness. This covenant faithfulness reflects God’s promise that He will never break His covenant. God forever remains faithful. Through covenant faithfulness, the husband and his wife promise to fulfill the vows they make as a picture of Jesus Christ and His great faithfulness. If we truly understood and lived as though we really believed that marriage glorifies God, lives would be changed. Churches and whole societies would be transformed.
May God grant that we would see the greater purposes and the greater glory that’s reflected through our marriages to those around us.
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