Thursday, December 15, 2011

Does your marriage suck?


I don’t even remember the preacher talking about it when we got married, or if he did I wasn’t listening.  Why didn’t someone force me to understand how important and central a “covenant” is to every relationship that I value.  I would never have gone through all this pain if I only knew ahead of time.  Maybe they did tell me and I just wasn’t listening because covenant sounds like a boring religious ritual and I am freeeee brother.  I am not dense or uneducated either, in fact I am really smart.  My brain works great, but my heart (and my mouth), not so good sometimes.  I went to Bible College and Seminary and probably taught a Bible study or two on covenant, but the concept of Covenant never penetrated my heart if it did in fact penetrate my mind. Maybe I could blame my mom or step-dad or American culture, and possibly even nature and nurture. I could definitely blame the Devil, but the truth is I probably didn’t want to hear it at the time. 

I didn’t realize how important covenant was until my wife and I were separated and the Lord Jesus loved me enough to connect me with a Messianic- Jew counselor who explained covenant to me with a uniquely cultural emphasis. I listened, because I was broken and had lost everything, usually that is what it takes for men. I was floored by the lightning speed the revelation of covenant traveled from my head to my heart and it is still an unfolding revelation today.

I am not going to bore you with a complete exegetical study of covenants in the Bible, but I am going to endeavor to communicate to you the intention and heart of God in his covenant(s) with us and by inference how our covenants then are supposed to work.  In simple terms a covenant is an agreement between two or more people to accomplish a specified purpose or goal.  The motivation and responsibility is of paramount importance.  The end goal or purpose is more important than fairness or equal distribution of the load of work or responsibility (Get ‘er done).  In other words if one of the members who made covenant was unable to fulfill their part for any reason, the other person(s) were still committed to see the covenant through, rather than seek a way out because of the high value placed on what was covenanted and in respect of theirs and the other person(s) honor. 

Covenants are important in all three major belief systems that trace themselves back to Abraham as their Patriarch (Judaism, Islam, Christianity).  It is important to note that God’s covenant was based on his nature, character and relationship rather than a binding contract.  Covenant is a solemn act and almost always accompanied by some type of sign or ceremony. Let me summarize some key points about covenant.

 God made covenant with Noah, declaring he would never again destroy life on earth with water and the sign or seal of that covenant was the Rainbow that appears in the sky after it rains as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to hold back the rain. The effect of covenant is that it always extends to future generations.

The covenant with Abraham ( Gen. 17) was reiterated at least 5 times in the Bible that he would be a father to many nations and that he would be blessed to be a blessing and that through him all nations on the earth would be blessed. The sign of this covenant is that the land of Canaan belonged to him and his posterity, again the covenant would extend to future generations. 

Abraham’s covenant was revised and broadened with Moses in Exodus 20/Deut. 5.  In fact the law that was given was the sign or confirmation of that covenant.  The Bible or Torah at the time was called the book of the law and viewed as the sign that confirmed the Israelites were God’s peculiar or specific people that were offered his love and protection in exchange for their devotion and obedience.  Again this covenant extends to the following generations.

God covenanted with David to establish David’s kingdom (through Christ) forever.  The sign of that covenant was the building of Solomon’s temple (Samuel, Chronicles) which we know did not last forever, but did extend to the next generation in the natural and continued through the descendant of David (Christ) and through him blessed all generations.  When we think of David, most of us consider the human covenant David made with Jonathan.  The promise to protect and bless the future generations of the other’s  line should anything happen to either of them and which was fulfilled when David invited Jonathan’s lame son Mephibosheth to dine with him at the kings table after Jonathan’s death ( 2 Sam. 7).

Baptism is a covenant, a commitment to identify and live our lives for Christ with the ceremony or the sign being the immersion in water and coming up out of it.  Communion or the Lord’s supper is a covenant ( Luke 22:20)  with the elements of blood and body or bread and wine symbolizing our oneness and remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice and coming kingdom.  Marriage is supposed to be a covenant, with the public ceremony usually confirmed with the sign or seal of a ring exchange. 

The prophet Jeremiah ( 31:31-34) speaks of God’s promise of a new covenant that is coming to the people of God. The people of God broke their end of the covenant, but God fulfilled his part and to accommodate for the lack on the part of God’s people he is announcing here in Jeremiah that he is going to revise the covenant and do our part too since we are unable!  He is going to make himself known and forgive sins which is the covenant sign of his following through and was accomplished through Christ.

  This is why Jesus declares during the last supper, this is the new covenant ( Luke 2, II Cor. 2&3, Heb. 8 & 13).  This new covenant replaces and supersedes the old covenant as Christ sacrifices and dies for us and we bond and re-bond ourselves to him every time we take the elements of communion.  Even so the blessings of those old covenants are accessed by faith for the people of God, funneled through the seed of Abraham ( Christ) in which all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Gal. 3-4, Romans 9-11). 

The power of the covenant in marriage is that it removes selfishness as you look beyond yourself to the next generations.  The covenant removes conditions and the possibility of emotional manipulation.  It makes us vulnerable and therefore real.  People married in covenant do not hold divorce or physical and emotional attention over each other’s head. 

Marriage is to be the deepest and most binding covenant we enter into besides our covenant with Christ.  It is a promise to love each other with the same covenant love with which God loves us.  Think about how God fulfills covenant and makes up both ends of the deal because we were unable to. This is the example to demonstrate and model for our children and their children.

With the understanding of marriage as covenant then, here are some principles that govern and define marriage:

  1. Broken only by death.
  2. You are willing to live and/or die for the other.
  3. Promise of commitment and faithfulness, expressed in a selfless and giving lifestyle.  ( If  husbands have to enforce authority over wife, they are missing it).
  4. You are in covenant for what you give, not what you receive.
  5. Covenant is enforced by character (not contract) and intimacy of relationship.
  6. People in covenant are transparent and vulnerable, teachable and correctable. They have a deep understanding (Yada) of each other.

That is why living together or Shacking up (“its just a piece of paper”) can never be a covenant relationship.  Many people who are indeed married, even good Christian people are not in covenant either as God has intended.  Instead the relationship is built on a foundation of fear and forcing someone else to meet your needs in a manipulative and selfish way.  “If you don’t behave like this for me then I am going to leave” is the sometimes unspoken declaration over the family which oftentimes contains children who are insecure and fearful feeling as if their family structure could disintegrate at any time. The power and commitment of a covenant marriage blesses the children with stability. Pastor Kris Valloton brings out in his excellent book “Moral Revolution” that one reason the woman has a hymen which breaks and bleeds during first intercourse is a covenant sign of the covering ( the blood) that Children were to be born into.  Without going into another topic completely, let me just mention that the marriage covenant was to be the boundary of sexual expression so that the fruit of the union or the next generations could be blessed. 

The transition from contract to covenant will revolutionize everything, and I ask for the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation ( Ephesians) to reveal it to you and make it real.

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