Sunday, December 4, 2011
GODLY HOMES IN AN UNGODLY WORLD (8)
The Marriage Covenant
Today we continue our study of the home. Having addressed preparation for marriage and some things one needs to consider before getting married, today we want to talk about the marriage ceremony. In this lesson we are going to examine the marriage covenant and spend a little time examining the vows we exchange.
a. Throughout this study we have noted how our society’s views of marriage are not in harmony with what the word of God teaches. There is less reverence for “the marriage bed” as God defined it than in times past. Divorces are handed out unconditionally and frequently, almost at a rate of 1 divorce for every 2 marriages. Part of the problem is our society’s failure to respect the word of God in all matters. There is simply not the commitment that God demands in far too many families. One reason for this is a failure to see that marriage is a covenant and not just a contract.
b. What is a contract?
i. A contract is an agreement between parties that in writing agree to specific terms to do something.
ii. While not always the case, a contract is based upon lack of total trust between parties. It is designed to protect all parties (from your standpoint – especially you) from being taken advantage of. That is why when you buy a car, even though your credit rating says you are trustworthy and pay your bills, there is all kinds of technical language and detail to ensure there is not some “loophole” for you to get out of what you agree to do for someone else - whether buyer or seller, partnerships or the giving and receiving of services.
iii. It is a legal document that can be upheld and enforced unless ALL parties agree to change it, terminate it, or disregard it.
iv. Many marriages today are treated as simply a legal contract. Many do not even put, “Until death do us part” in their vows and it is intentional. And we see prenuptial agreements in which one contractually protects their material assets should the marriage fail. I personally believe that a prenuptial agreement is SINFUL. It demonstrates a lack of trust that is NECESSARY in a godly marriage and it violates the very foundation of marriage which says that you mutually share what is yours with your spouse (cf. 1 Cor. 7:3-4, etc.)
c. What is a covenant?
i. While marriage involves a legal agreement (such as a contract), it is much more. IT is a covenant.
ii. A solemn agreement or promise, sometimes confirmed by sacrifice or by sharing in a meal, by which two or more parties commit themselves to the rights and responsibilities demanded by their relationship and their agreed course of action, and accept the serious consequences of breaking faith.
iii. The word in the Hebrew language is Berith. According to Nelson’s Bible dictionary, it probably originated from a root word meaning “to fetter.”
iv. The idea of a covenant is established early in scripture and is referred to often. The term covenant is used some 318 times in the NKJV (292 times in KJV with the word testament being used in place of covenant in other passages; 321 times NASU, etc.).
v. It’s primary use deals with the agreement between God and His chosen people. The emphasis is upon a solemn relationship in which both parties agree to be loyal to one another. In the case of the nation of Israel and other godly men it meant that they agreed to serve God exclusively and with total loyalty and avoid all other gods. It is a term that when we understand it explains our need for total commitment to God and Jesus Christ.
1. Gen. 15:1-18 describes an occasion when the Lord made a covenant with Abraham. Abraham is still childless and offers to God an heir of his servant Eliezer. God tells him that is not the plan. The Lord instructs Abraham to bring several different animals (3 y/o heifer, female goat, & ram. Also a turtle dove and a young pigeon) and to divide them in two down the middle. Abraham does so and when he falls asleep he has a vision in which he sees a torch and a smoking oven passing between the two portions of sacrificed animals. The Lord speaks and that same day “the Lord made a covenant with Abraham” (vs. 18) promising him the land and that he would be a great nation. This was a HOLY CEREMONY in which God entered into a covenant with Abraham. IT was a solemn occasion with a solemn promise between them.
2. Sometimes it is used in reference to God’s promise to people – Gen. 6:18 (Noah), 15:18 (Abraham), In Gen. 17, where God converses with Abraham about the promised seed the word is used some 13 times.
3. Sometimes between men – Gen. 21:32 – Abraham and Abilmelech; David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18:3).
4. The children of Israel (Deut. 29:9-14), including the Law of Moses.
5. The Ark of the Covenant was in the temple and in the place where God met with the people of Israel concerning their sins.
6. The New Testament is referred to a covenant, found most predominantly in Hebrews (see Hebrews 8-10) where we find the New Covenant replacing the Old Covenant. IT is this New Covenant that we are under and which gives us hope if we are faithful to our responsibilities within this agreement.
d. The difference between a covenant and a contract
i. A covenant is based upon trust - a contract is based upon distrust
ii. A covenant is based upon unlimited responsibility - a contract is limited liability
iii. A covenant is life-long and not to be broken – a contract can be voided by mutual consent. For example: The rainbow was a covenant from God to man that he would never again destroy the world by flood (Gen. 9:8-17).
e. Marriage is a covenant
i. Mal. 2:14 – where he speaks of violence to the marriage covenant with divorce
ii. Prov. 2:17, speaking of the adulterous woman who, “forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God.”
iii. Ezekiel 16:8, in describing Israel’s unfaithfulness, analogy is made to a covenant with God and them. It is a context in which Israel is accused of harlotry.
iv. Ephesians 5:22-33, when Paul compared the husband wife relationship to that of Christ and his church, you see the example of something more than a contract. IT is an agreement.
f. The bottom line is that when we enter into marriage we are entering into a covenant with one another and with God that is binding for life (cf. Rom. 7:1-3).
a. A few years back, I came across some material that emphasized how many of the traditions associated with our marriage ceremony are based upon respect for the covenant of marriage and the solemnness of this occasion before God. There was a booklet entitled, “The Wedding Covenant” in which he outlined some of these things.
b. Some of the significant attributes of a wedding ceremony include:
i. As a ceremony begins, the groom enters first - Because he is the one who initiated the covenant.
ii. Sometimes a white runner in unrolled down the aisle just before the bride enters the room. This represents the purity of the covenant one is about to enter into. The bride walks on this pure runner signifying that she entering into this covenant. The bride’s family and friends are on one side and the groom’s family and friends on the other. In purity she walks between them.
iii. The bride is given away by her parents pursuant to Gen. 2:24. It also demonstrates approval of the man and the union.
iv. The white wedding dress is symbolic of the bride presenting herself pure to her husband.
v. The veil she wears is a symbol of modesty and submission (cf. 1 Cor. 11:10)
vi. The saying in some ceremonies, “If there is any cause…” while it sounds silly demonstrates the seriousness of the covenant being entered into.
vii. The rings while round demonstrates an unending love and devotion, but their REAL significance is a declaration to the world that you belong to one another.
viii. The pronouncing of husband and wife is an announcement before witnesses that this marriage is valid and that the marriage HAS begun.
ix. The guest book is a list of those present who WITNESSED this wedding ceremony. Consider this when you hear of a couple giving up and wanting to divorce. As witnesses you ought to seek to remind them of the sacred vows they exchanged with one another and before God for life.
x. The signing of the marriage certificate signifies the legality of this marriage. It is signed by witnesses
xi. Other things could be added to these, but the point is that there is spiritual significance in the ceremony and it is related to a respect for the institution of marriage according to God’s word. May we never take such things lightly.
a. Today, marriage vows differ widely for a number of different reasons. Some of them are not good. But, if we are serious about our vows we will ensure that they contain a substance that demonstrates an understanding of the covenant you are entering into.
b. Vows are not to be taken lightly
i. Ecclesiastes 5:1-5 warns clearly about being careful what we vow.
ii. Malachi 2:14 finds some in Israel condemned because they had dealt treacherously with the wife of their covenant. They had broken their vows and God despised that.
iii. Deuteronomy 23:21-23, “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth.”
c. In marriage we must not forget that God has joined us together (Matt. 19:6). He is witness when we vow to become husband and wife.
d. Sadly, our society is often flippant about these vows and will sunder them at will for many different reasons, but we must NEVER FORGET that even though man may recognize such a break of this covenant, GOD DOES NOT! That is why we have spent so much time examining what Jesus taught in Matt. 19:8-9.
e. The traditional vows we exchange: NOTE: When I am performing a ceremony I will require that these words or words similar to these will be exchanged, or I am not going to take part in it. That includes the wife being willing to promise to obey and/or submit to her husband and the husband promising to be faithful.
i. I ______________ take you ___________ to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife. By stating yours names you are declaring your willingness to enter this covenant and be the spouse you ought to be. It needs to be said with an UNDERSTANDING of what you are entering into.
ii. To have and to hold from this day forward – starting today you will be exclusive to one another in matters of marriage. Your spouse will be before others in your responsibilities. It also demonstrates that you desire to be companions with one another (cf. Eccl. 4:9-12)
iii. For better or for worse – one thing is certain in any marriage. If it lasts any length of time there are going to be problems. You are going to experience great times and low times. There are going to be times when you disagree with one another or maybe are even angry with one another – it is during those times that the strength of a relationship is tested. You have to work through these problems and love each other even during these challenging times. I have heard it said that there will be times when you will not like each other, or your love for one another is not as strong as it ought to be. During these times your friendship and dedication will carry you through. Read 1 Cor. 13:4-7 and note how “love suffers long and is kind.”
For richer or poorer – one of the biggest sources of problems within a marriage is
money problems. When there
is not enough money to live it can cause undue stress.
When this is true because you have mismanaged your resources the
troubles may be even greater because they were preventable.
AND sometimes too much wealth can destroy a relationship when you
become dependent on thing and begin to love money (1 Tim. 6:6-10).
When you exchange vows, you must be there for one another when you have prosperity and when you have want.
In sickness and in health – it is easy to stay with one another when you are both
healthy. But what happens
when you get a little older and medical problems set in.
Your spouse suffers a debilitating illness.
Will you stay faithful to and take care of your spouse?
Or will you abandon them?
Sadly, many leave when the health situation deteriorates.
What about during those little illnesses? Do we take care of one another then? Our wedding vows before God will not excuse us when times like this deteriorate.
vi. Wives vow to love, honor and obey – whenever I perform a wedding ceremony, this HAS to be understood and it is included. A wife must be willing to submit to her husband. Young ladies, if you are not willing to submit to this man and obey him (Eph. 5:22-24, 1 Peter 3:5-6) he may not be the right one for you. WE will have more to say about this in a couple of weeks.
vii. Husbands are to love, honor and cherish – while men sometimes have a problem dealing with emotions, it doesn’t change their duties toward their wives. 1 Pet. 3:7 challenges us men to love our wives and dwell with them with understanding. Ephesians 5:25-33 deals with the length to which you ought to go to protect your wife and to treat her with the respect she deserves – you love her as your own body. You must understand this and be unselfish as you take on your role for the good of your family. Will you commit to this in your vows?
viii. Till death do us part – a realization that only death will bring this covenant to its conclusion (cf. Rom. 7:1-3). The marriage vow is an acknowledgment that it is for life. We have discussed this extensively thus far. NEVER forget it! It is truly sad that too many today leave this promise out of their vows.
I could not conscientiously perform a wedding ceremony where the couple refused to include these thoughts in their vows. Friends, when we stand before God and a multitude of friends and family and exchange vows we are declaring who we will live the rest of our lives with. May God be at the forefront of such decisions.
 Manser, M. H. (1999). Zondervan Dictionary of Bible Themes. The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. Grand Rapids, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse.