There is a strikingly unique call on a man’s life when he enters into the covenant of marriage. It’s a calling I personally could not fully grasp prior to entering in… and also one that I will most likely never grasp, even while in the midst of it.
It defies any contractual language, responsibilities, or expectations. It surpasses sacrifice, service, hopes, dreams, and even “love.” It cuts through the loudest and most deafening public opinions, personal anecdotes, and even the words I use to articulate what it actually encompasses.
The reason our society mocks the concept and sanctity (if I’m even allowed to use that word) of marriage is because we see the crushing weight of its implications on display every single day. We fall so TERRIBLY short in nearly every account that the true reflection of this covenant is like trying to get a clear picture of the sky above us by staring at the surface of water at the same time we are throwing rocks into it. Distorted. Blurry. Violent even. By our own doing. And it is ALL the result of treating this covenant as something less than covenantal.
I mean, we have plenty of scapegoats; each offered up on a silver platter as a self-serving excuse to forsake our calling in exchange for something appealing in the moment, but devastatingly fragile when exposed to the slightest strain. What if the failure of men to meet one single calling within this covenant resulted in exactly what we see today? But… what if men were humble enough to merely acknowledge and seek out this calling… and it altered the entire landscape of the mocked institution?
I won’t pretend to know firsthand the true sacrifice of this calling. Nor do I for a second believe that only men are to blame. And yet, when I read the scriptures providing the context to marriage, it becomes abundantly clear that the seemingly simple instructions to men regarding marriage represent an impossible task, but one that when pursued authentically, deepens our relationship with God and allows marriages to flourish.
Why does any of this really matter? Because marriage is one of the most sacred relationships a human can choose to enter, the foundations of which were set since the dawn of creation. The word covenant is used around 280 times in the Old Testament. While the concept draws similarities to contractual agreements we reach today, it is unique in that rather than being drafted between humans, a covenant is laid out by God for the thriving of His own creation. It is quite literally a contract between Creator and creation, and lays out the steadfast and unwavering promises of God.
Make no mistake. God’s promises are for the ultimate and infinite benefit of His creation. We should not foolishly buy the cultural insinuation that God has no knowledge of what’s best or most advantageous for His own creation.
God promised Noah that a flood would never again destroy the world.
“I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth”
God told Moses that if Israel obeyed His commands, they would be His chosen people.
Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me.
Through the Prophet Jeremiah, God promised to establish a new covenant, entirely unique from those made in prior generations.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
This New Covenant met its ultimate fulfillment in the death of Jesus Christ, who not only satisfied the over-arching promises of Old Testament covenants, but also established the precedent for ALL generations who had gone before or had yet to come.
In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.”
1 Corinthians 11:25
Again, why does any of that matter? Because the nature and expectations of God’s covenants were DIRECTLY related to His establishment of a marital relationship.
Under Old Testament covenants, God used metaphorical imagery to describe the covenant relationship with Israel, including Shepherd/Sheep, a Vineyard, and Bridegroom/Bride. Jesus came and authoritatively demonstrated His distinct place in each of these relationships, even signifying His unconditional love for creation through His own sacrifice… which brings me to ultimate calling of men in relation to God’s redemptive story for humanity.
For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.
In case you missed it, let me reemphasize that one…
“…love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.”
Jesus… God in flesh… laid out covenant relationships to demonstrate His PERFECT plan for creation… and established His PERFECT plan for marriages through the ultimate sacrifice… His own life.
The weight of those implications draws me to immediate repentance. Try and view marriage through the lens of God’s eternal covenant with creation… all is suddenly and blindingly revealed. Our complete and utter inadequacy. Our self-serving nature. The reprehensible view that this covenant is something unworthy, unimportant, or amusing. The disrespect of this covenant by being willingly ill prepared prior to entering in. All of these find me guilty. And all of these DISINTEGRATE in the light of God’s promise.
God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.
By God’s Grace, and His own sacrifice through Jesus, I am free to seek and pursue what this covenant means for my own marriage. What if I love Laura like Christ loves the Church? Laying my own life down every single day… to present her to God as glorious, without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish… holy and without fault. The power behind that is absolutely intimidating, exciting, and powerful.
What if those who have yet to marry took this covenant just as seriously? What if every marriage sought to fulfill this calling?
If you continue reading the Ephesians passage, Paul gives further instructions to men, stemming from this first precept. The message is clear… just as a man is joined to his wife in marriage, so too is Christ joined to His Church.
Understanding this relationship and wholeheartedly pursuing its implications is the stuff that changes hearts, minds, and culture.
Want marriage to be viewed as sanctifying and holy? Then we need to understand the grace of pursuing Christ through the sacrifice of our lives for the sake of our marriages. And by that grace, Christ will be so evident and compelling, that the covenant of joining one life to another in God’s eyes is no longer contractual terms or ambiguous notions… but is on display for His renown.
I pray that I am able to see the impacts of that in my own marriage. For better or worse. From this day forward.