The Marriage Covenant

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The Genuine Article

The Apostle Paul gave clear affirmation in his teaching letters that God’s design for marriage was not limited to a certain time period, but was the enduring pattern we must continually follow (Matt. 19:4–6; Eph. 5:22–33). The uniqueness of the one-flesh union experienced by a man and woman through sexual intimacy is a gift given to married couples and also a radically beautiful signpost to the union He shares with His people.

This spiritual mystery sounds strange to many people, but it’s amazingly true. In Ephesians 5:30-32 the apostle Paul calls the “signpost” reality of Christian marriage a “mystery” that is a reference to Christ and the Church (followers of Jesus):

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32)

Even many Christians in the Church today have been misled about the nature of true biblical marriage.  According to the spiritual, mystical understanding that St. Paul gives, marriage is not merely a legal document or just a “piece of paper” that may be thrown into the garbage can when it no longer seems genuine or binding.

Many young adults no longer desire a marital relationship in their lives, having been misled and deceived by our popular culture and the many broken marriages so prominent in the media and in the Church.

Just to use an appealing metaphor, or analogy, consider how the Mercedes Benz or BMW automobiles have become two of the most desired vehicles seen on the road today.  Most people will never drive, much less own, one of these automobiles, yet they are depicted constantly as the most coveted means of transportation, in spite of their enormous cost:

Consequently, numerous copies or imitations exist today in the new car lots, vehicles that look much like the original models in the Mercedes or BMW lots.  

Here is  a Photoshopped creation with a BMW grille and the rest from a Kia (source):

Richard Lentinello, for example, writes the following in Hemmings Classic Car,

I have very little interest in new cars, mainly because they all seem to be made from the same mold — well-made, yes, but boring in terms of design, nonetheless (Source).

Lentinello’s comments appear in a website that develops these ideas further, so it is worth looking at.  I can closely identify with the following quotation that certainly describes the culture I lived in while growing up, especially since my father purchased a 1958 Chevy station wagon:

The high-water mark for individual-looking cars was probably the 1950s and 1960s, when any schoolkid could tell a ’59 Chevy from a ’58. There were indeed a lot of great designs back then. But yearly model changes were incredibly inefficient and mostly happened with very little upgrade to the engineering under the skin. (Source)

Likewise, while young adults today may admire those who have what appear to be loving and solid marriages, they more and more are deciding that such marriages are impossible, for half of all marriages end in devastating divorces. Consequently, they have decided either not to form a marital union with another person at all, or instead merely attempt to form a good “copy” of what they think a good relationship is, usually based on the all-too-observable pleasures of having sex with another person and just living together, or the superficial appearances of what they consider a true marital union.  

Love (and thus, sex), rather than a solid commitment, are the BMW grill and chrome tire rims that are superimposed on a relationship that is extremely lacking in solid covenant commitments.

This propensity is far different from Scriptural admonishions. First of all, by faith, Christians enter into a spiritual union with God, becoming one with Him. This union is symbolized in the covenant we have with Jesus as represented in the communion we celebrate when we come together.  We remember His sacrifice as we partake of the communion meal, eating the bread and drinking the fruit of the vine, which symbolize His body and blood, while becoming one with Him.   

Christian marriage, like the celebration of communion, is also a mystical picture of this union, and, likewise, sexual intimacy uniquely provides a picture of the oneness that God shares with His people: two distinct and very different beings, joined together as an expression of covenantal love.

God first demonstrated His love for all human beings by making a covenant with Abraham.  These promises were sealed by God in the “cutting” of a covenant, a mystery we studied in another blog article titled  “A Great Mystery” (click to read about David’s covenant with Jonathan and God’s covenant with Abraham).  

The First Marriage

In the Book of Genesis, we read of the first marriage between Adam and Eve.  

The man [Adam] 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.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:22-24).

The “oneness” depicted in this account is significant, for it describes not only the “mystery” of marriage itself, but also the oneness that occurs in any true covenant.  The two parties become unified as they join together in marriage, a unique unity that only is possible for a man and a woman.  Adam recognized this unity for he realized that Eve was formed from his own flesh.  Therefore, the unity they had was real and vital.

A marriage ceremony, therefore, is more than a “rubber stamp” on a certificate.  Instead, it is the making of a covenant, witnessed by family and friends.  There is no “cutting” or shedding of blood, as with most covenants, yet the vows depict the kind of union that occurs in any covenant relationship.  

“Till death do us part,” or “for as long as we both shall live,” therefore, as parts of most marriage vows, are significant, for they reveal the main components of a “blood covenant” relationship.  It was believed that a covenant could only be broken if one of the parties died.

Today’s Degradations of Marriage

It is not surprising, therefore, that along with the substitutions and “copies” of true marriage relationships in today’s cultures, the ceremony of the marriage covenant has also been degraded into mere parties with raucous and meaningless dancing and alcoholic frolic.

Too often, the man and the woman have already formed relationships with others, becoming “one” with them, to the point where many young women have already had children.  Thus, they may have already been “married” to one or more persons.  

What About Divorce?

Does this mean that divorce cannot ever legitimately occur?  Jesus’ response to His disciples’ questions about divorce seems to say it cannot occur without resulting in the sin of adultery:

[Jesus] said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9)

However, I find two places in the New Testament that reveal when divorce may be permissible without sin (for the innocent party) in a marriage).

“It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)

But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. (I Corinthians 7:12-15)

These passages relate that the only valid reasons for divorce are adultery (unchastity) and desertion.  Even so, such cases are not absolute, for even broken marriages may be saved through prayer, devotion, commitment, and spiritual warfare.  And in the case of desertion, the Apostle Paul says that a believer is “not under bondage in such cases,” which should be interpreted as follows: “A believer is not prohibited from marrying again after a divorce.”

 

 

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