Editor’s Note: During the January 12-14, 2005 “FamilyLife Today” broadcast on “Covenant Marriage,” guest Fred Lowry refers to outlines and sermon notes from messages on the topic of Covenant Marriage. We’ve included the notes for one of these messages below. Use them in sermons or Bible studies as you teach about God’s desire and purpose for marriage as a covenant. (For additional outlines or sermon notes, contact Terry Perdue at www.firstbossier.com)
Recently, a man told me of his plans to divorce his wife of 30 years. “My wife is a good woman and has always worked at making me happy, but she just can’t do that anymore. It’s time for me to move on and find somebody who can make me happy. I know God wants me to be happy.”
Your wife is not responsible for your happiness. You are! Divorcing your wife and finding someone else isn’t the answer—and it certainly isn’t God’s answer.
This man clearly viewed his marriage as a contract to be broken—not a covenant to be kept.
What about you? Is your marriage a contract or covenant?
Every bride and groom – past, present and future needs to know:
- The difference between a legal marriage and a biblical marriage.
- The difference between a marriage based on contract and one based on covenant.
America is a contract-oriented society:
We like contracts because they have loopholes and bail-out options. It is fine to live by a contract, but we must love by a covenant.
Modern approach to marriage is to focus on personal rights and needs: “I deserve to be happy.” “I’m entitled to have my needs met.” “If this relationship ceases to give me what I want, if it gets tough or real boring, I can walk away.” After all, marriage is a contract, and contracts are made to be broken.
Society views marriage as:
- A social contract based on self-gratification.
- A commitment based on convenience.
- A terminal contract.
“I promise to love, honor, and quit whenever I want to.”
Example: It is easier in the U.S. to walk away from a marriage than from a contract to buy a used car.
Example: Marriage has been called the “least binding of all contracts.”
God never intended for marriage to be a convenience-based contract that we could easily get out of but a character-based covenant that we would be committed to for life.
God knew we couldn’t build marriage on:
- Lust. Marriage isn’t a cure for lust; self-control is.
- Physical attraction. Beauty fades and gravity takes its toll. (Example: I asked Leigh if she would still love me when I was old, gray and flabby; she said I do.)
- Feelings. Fickle, up and down like a fast yo-yo.
- Private contract. Easily cancelled and cast aside on personal whims and weaknesses.
Long-term marriage demands more than a piece of paper. It calls for the merging of lives and the binding of hearts.
- Contract is about legalism and leverage
- – Covenant is about love and loyalty.
- Contract is for “as long as we both shall love”
- – Covenant is for “as long as we both shall live”
- A contract calls for the signing of names.
- – A covenant calls for the binding of hearts.
- A contract is writing your name in ink across a piece of paper.
- – A covenant is writing the name of your mate across your heart in blood.
To marry in covenant is to form a bond strong enough that a mate’s heart can rely on it and a child’s heart can count on it!
- Covenant is the merging of hearts – two beating as one!
- Covenant is the blending of lives – two becoming one!
When it comes to marriage, the world has it all wrong. Covenant is the only adequate foundation on which to build a lasting marriage.
We must recover and reaffirm the biblical view of marriage as a sacred and permanent covenant.
When you enter a covenant marriage you are saying, “I am yours by covenant and you are mine by covenant and neither one of us is going anywhere.
Back to our opening question: Is your marriage based on contract or covenant?
|You had better do it!||How may I serve you?|
|What do I get?||What can I give?|
|What will it take?||Whatever it takes!|
|It’s not my responsibility.||I’m happy to do it!|
|It’s not my fault.||I accept responsibility.|
|I’ll meet you halfway.||I’ll give 100 percent.|
|I’ll be faithful for now.||I’ll be faithful forever.|
|I am suspicious.||I am trusting.|
|I have to.||I want to.|
|It’s a deal.||It’s a relationship.|
How you answer determines:
- How you approach your marriage
- How hard you work on your marriage
- How you see your spouse
If your marriage is a contract, you see your spouse as he or she is – faults, flaws and foibles. Every irritation can become huge. Assume the worst.
If your marriage is a covenant, you see your spouse not as he or she is, but as he or she can become. Assume the best. Overlook imperfections.
A contract magnifies faults. A covenant covers faults with love.
WARNING: Even a marriage that begins in covenant can degenerate into a contract over time.
I’ll do my part, if you’ll do yours.
I’ll meet you in the middle.
If you’ll do this, I’ll do that.
Marriage is a 50/50 proposition.
That’s not my role.
These phrases relate to terms and conditions and are contractual in nature.
A true covenant marriage is always a threesome: God, husband, and wife.
Example: A 3-Stranded Cord
I have two daughters. As they grew up, Leigh braided their hair and the hair of their friends. I never knew how. The kids loved it—they knew how to weave three strands together. It was a tight hold, beautiful and stayed in place. The third strand holds the other two. It is the same with a rope—three strands are better than two, four, or five. Why?
The third strand is constantly touching the other two—it is the strongest and the tightest. In covenant marriage, God is the critical third stand: husband/wife/God.
As Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, said, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
Covenant marriage, as divinely planned, is a binding together of three persons: a man, a woman, and Almighty God. As long as the couple stays in close contact with each other and with God, they have an unbreakable bond.
By God’s design, life’s two most intimate and sacred relationships are:
They are entered into and maintained on the basis of covenant.
- With your Master: by a blood bought covenant at Calvary, you are offered forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ as a free gift. It cannot be earned. It cannot be unearned.
- With your mate
If God operated on the basis of contract, we would all be doomed. I certainly would. I’ve broken many promises. I’ve defaulted. How about you? Yet God has given us unconditional grace, unconditional love and unending forgiveness.
Three things your mate needs that you can’t give apart from the power and grace of God:
- A love that is unconditional.
- A forgiveness that is unending.
- An attitude that is unselfish.
Covenant love is a tenacious love that never lets go. Never gives up. Never quits – but holds on with a bulldog tenacity regardless of what the other partner does or fails to do. Unconditional covenant love overrides feelings, fickleness and even failures.
What happens in a marriage when your worst nightmare occurs? You need to know in advance that it is possible to get through such a worst-case scenario. You don’t have to crash and burn. It is not the end of the world. In fact, it is possible to survive and soar again – you just need to know how to pull out of the spiral and set things back on course.
This is a passage from a book called The Irrational Season, in a chapter titled, “To a Long-Loved Love.”
No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again – ’til next time.I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters, something has been gained – and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is a mystery, and a gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.”
That is the power of covenant love. Covenant forgiveness is an inexhaustible forgiveness.
Hosea is one of the great love stories in the Bible. God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute and he does. Following the marriage, Gomer has three children. Hosea is painfully aware that he is not the father. Gomer left Hosea and drifted from lover to lover or client to client. Gomer ended up with nothing but hurt. Hitting bottom, she found herself stripped naked in front of a jeering crown of foul-mouthed men to be auctioned off as a slave.
As unbelievable as it sounds, Hosea was in that crowd of gawkers not to gawk and gaze but to buy and bless. Hosea bought Gomer back, not as a slave, but as his wife. In covenant’s inexhaustible forgiveness, God, rather than telling Hosea to abandon Gomer forever (which she deserved) told him to buy her back and love her again as his wife.
Hosea 3:1: “The LORD said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.'”