The covenant of marriage is a testimony of love for God and the love a man and a woman share. It is a testimony to our love for God because He created marriage and said that it was good for a man to cleave to his wife.
The covenant of marriage has weathered a lot of storms over the many years since God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and from his side create woman whom Adam named Eve – the mother of all the living.
Marriage as God created it was never meant to be a burden or to create hardship. God’s design for marriage is that it becomes the standard bearer for what true companionship looks like.
What should be apparent to people and especially to Christians, is that companionship’s foundation is spiritual. That’s what Moses was describing when under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he wrote: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 3:24)
God’s reasoning is very clear – two is better than one.
Now this raises a question. Namely, in what way or in what context are two becoming one better than one alone? In other words why did God determine that man and woman are better together than alone? What are they better at? The answer to that question gets to the real heart of the issue concerning marriage.
God designed marriage for a purpose, and He has determined that two are better than one in accomplishing that purpose. That being true, then it is wisdom manifested to pursue and gain understanding of what God’s purpose truly is concerning marriage.
Many people in America today would likely answer that God has designed marriage to bring happiness into the lives of men and women who make this commitment to one another. I believe they are right in thinking this for God does desire that His sons and daughters find happiness in their lives.
But I think there is something even greater than happiness that God desires for His children through the covenant of marriage. What if God desired marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?
What if God designed marriage to draw us closer to Him? What if God is inviting men and women who come before Him, making vows and promises of love, commitment, and companionship, to draw into a most holy and righteous relationship through the challenges, struggles, joys, and celebrations that marriage certainly affords?
What if marriage in God’s eyes, is part of the grand plan of sanctification for those who choose this path?
Indeed, one Reformation era writer says that marriage is a perpetual exercise of mortification. That word mortification is an old Puritan word meaning to die to sin, and specifically to deny the desires of the flesh that ruin us all if we indulge them.
The Bible states it this way in the KJV: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die. But if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Romans 8:13)
Friends, if the purpose of God in marriage is simply to make us happy, then what do we do 2 years in, or 10 years in, or 30 years in when suddenly we determine that we just aren’t happy anymore? If happiness is the litmus test then most people would need a new marriage every 3-4 years.
The truth is friends, the philosophical movement called the age of Romanticism high jacked the biblical view of marriage and took it places that God never intended it to go. Love became all about emotions and as we all, well know, emotions are a very untrustworthy gauge of almost everything.
Love, friends, is a gift from our great God and it is designed to be best expressed in the covenant of marriage. But love must have a constant companion. That companion is holiness, and holiness is most beautifully expressed in our relationships with others.
I want to share with you a brief excerpt from Francis Schaeffer found in his book The Mark of the Christian. Schaeffer writes:
In John 13:21 Jesus said “We are to love all Christians “as I,” Jesus says, “have loved you.” Now think of both the quality and the quantity of Jesus’ love toward us.”
“The point was that, if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. Here Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.”
“Let us be careful, indeed, to spend a lifetime studying to give honest answers…But after we have done our best to communicate to a lost world, still we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gave is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.”
“This is the whole point: The world is going to judge whether Jesus has been sent by the Father on the basis of something that is open to observation.”
“The Christian really has a double task. He has to practice both God’s holiness and God’s love. The Christian is to exhibit that God exists as the infinite personal God; and then he is to exhibit simultaneously God’s character of holiness and love. Not his holiness without his love: that is only harshness. Not his love without his holiness: that is only compromise.”
“…we should never come to such difference with true Christians without regret and without tears. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Believe me, evangelicals often have not shown it. We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down. This can never show a real oneness among Christians.”
Schaeffer is right in stating that love, true biblical love, without holiness becomes compromise.
The Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:
9 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. 11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.
Friends two is better than one but a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. This is a marvelous truth from the Scripture and it is applicable most especially to marriage.
Sanctification is a lifelong process whereby God makes us holy. How does He do that? He does that through the transforming events of everyday life. Marriage as those of you who have been married for a while understand, calls us to an entirely new life of selflessness. When God said the two shall become one He really meant it.
Once married, your thoughts and your actions are refocused from self to your spouse. As a pastor I can testify that many issues couples face in marriage that threaten their commitment to one another, are centered on the inability to make this transition from self-focus to spouse-focus. Wives are to honor, to respect, and to love their husbands, and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church. That, friends, is the epitome of selflessness and it is a very tall order because our flesh fights against that.
So the question becomes this: can a man or a woman love and honor one another that way without Christ being their mutual focus? Can men and women become one as God intends them to be, without the third strand which is Jesus Christ? The answer is simply no, they cannot.
Marriage is wonderful, but unless both are children of God through faith in Christ, and unless both put Christ first as Lord in their lives, then a marriage can never be what the Lord meant marriage to be. This would always be true, but it is doubly true in a day such as our own which is so filled with confusion and tensions. It is only when each one puts Christ first that there can be a sufficient base. And though at first it might seem as though this would be disruptive to a marriage – to have even Christ put before the other one – yet it is not this way. This is so because, if we put Christ before the other person, we will then be able to love and be thoughtful of the other person in a way that would not be possible if that person was not put first.
Friends, the marriage relationship in which Christ is the third strand cannot be quickly torn apart. With Christ as the foundation and focus of your marriage you will experience the deep rivers of the fruit of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
You will understand the wonderful blessing it is to take responsibility to tenderly nurture the other’s heart; always watching over it to protect it and to defend it.
The beauty of Christianity is love. Love is expressed most clearly by the Father in Christ. For those who follow Christ, marriage is the most radical test of whether or not we, His followers, are becoming more like Christ every day.
Christians must understand that marriage is a testimony to the world of what pursuing God looks like. Marriage as God intends it to be, is a soul-deep companionship that grows stronger and deeper, year upon year, as we are drawn closer and closer into intimacy with Christ.
May God bless you, dear listener, as you embark on this great adventure of holiness. May your marriage point each other to what you need most of all in life – God’s love and active presence day by day.
Dr. Mike Spaulding