Marriage is Covenant Keeping
Recently, a friend and member of West Loop UBF asked me about my wife. He and his wife were wondering if Christy, my wife of 30 years, had any sins, since they were not able to detect any obvious sins whenever they meet or interact with her. Though it is obvious that my lovely wife is also a sinner, I was quite awed by what he said. I told him that it is one of the highest compliments that any man has ever given me. For to regard my wife as “sinless” in her public persona indirectly and partially points to the husband who has loved his wife by the grace of God and by the strength God provides (1 Pet 4:11). But I do know without a shadow of a doubt that the ONLY reason I have been able to love my wife for 30 years is because Jesus has loved me far, far more than I can ever deserve! This is the profound mystery of marriage (Eph 5:32).
What is marriage? Marriage is covenant keeping and commitment to Christ. Therefore, it is till death do us part. But the reality is that even as Christians, our marriages may be strongly biased by/based on “Something in the Way She Moves” (George Harrison, The Beatles, 1969), just like non-Christians. Then in the course of time, the song changes to “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’” (The Righteous Brothers, 1964). This may explain why Christians have similar divorce rates as non-Christians in the U.S.
Marriage by faith. I have taught “marriage by faith” for 25 years based on Gen 2:18-25. I coined the triple Ms (MMM): Man, Mission, Marriage by using 1) a negative and 2) a positive illustration: 1) Gen 6:1-6 where godless men married godlessly based on shallow sensual sexuality from one’s outward beauty. 2) Isaac’s “marriage by faith” with Rebekah in Gen 24:1-67. Though this “teaching” is not unbiblical, it is not the intent of the author to encourage Christians to marry like Isaac and Rebekah. To do so would be an incorrect or improper exegesis leading to a forced hermeneutics, which amounts to eisogesis. D. A. Carson, Professor of the NT at Trinity, said, “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” (Enjoy!) This is what churches through out history, including ours, have been guilty of, often without realizing it. What then is the meaning of marriage? How should we Christians view marriage?
MMM to CCC. To answer this question in a short essay would be impossible. But may I propose and suggest that according to the Bible, “Marriage is primarily Covenant keeping and Commitment to Christ.” (If you like to add another “C” it would be “Marriage is Covenant keeping and Commitment and Conformity to Christ.”) I got these words and phrases from John Piper. So I will change MMM to CCC. What does this mean?
God’s Utmost Love for Us is Expressed Through a Happy Marriage. Without quoting biblical references I will attempt to explain what I believe is God’s ultimate purpose for marriage. It is primarily to help us realize God’s utmost love for us through our marriage. To those who have a good long lasting happy marriage, you know that your happiness with one another is just a foretaste and a shadow of our ultimate marriage with Christ, which will be fully realized when he comes again. When we flop into the arms of our spouse and lover in ecstasy, it will not even compare to flopping into the arms of Christ when Jesus returns. When we look into the loving eyes of our spouse, it is just a reminder of that day when we will see Jesus face to face with him loving us with the deepest and fondest of affection. A Christian’s genuinely happy marriage shows the whole world that what God truly wants for man is our ultimate happiness, which will be perfectly fulfilled and fully realized at the Second Coming. In the meantime, a happy Christian marriage is a sign to the world and to the happy Christian couple that God’s love for us is immensely great.
God Redeems Marriage and Love Through Christ. Previously, I explained how in UBF we have tended to emphasize that Man Equals Mission. Though it is true that God created man and even marriage for mission, it is really not the primary purpose for creating man. God created man primarily to enjoy the love of God and the love of one another. This is what Jesus said (Matt 22:37-39). But we failed to love God and others/our own spouses, because of our sins of selfishness and self-centeredness, even as Christians. Only a restored and ongoing relationship with the Father, through his Son, by the work of the Spirit, are we able to love God and others. Thus, a loving and happy husband wife relationship and friendship can only be accomplished through the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. (Thus, “unhappy Christian marriages,” which is an oxymoron, occur when Christ is not central in the marriage or in their relationship.)
Commit to our Covenant with Christ by Committing to Marriage. Therefore, each individual Christian’s committed covenant keeping with Christ is absolutely foundational to a happy marriage. If Jesus’ love for me does not move my heart to tears and thanksgiving, I will not be able to love my wife (not to mention others) in a way that will build her up and sanctify her and make her more and more beautiful and glorious (Eph 5:25-27). When I sacrificially love, protect, provide for and treasure my wife (even imperfectly) as Christ loved the church (perfectly), I will begin to fulfill my mission as a man, a husband, a father and a steward of the world by displaying the love and glory of Christ through my marriage and my family. That is why the Apostle Paul’s requirement for elders and leaders in the church is how well they are managing their own family and household (1 Tim 3:4-5; Tit 1:6).
Would you teach marriage as covenant keeping and commitment to Christ? Should we emphasize that marriage is for mission, which Bible commentators do not do?