Monday, April 25, 2016

The Christian Marriage – Part 1: Contract or Covenant?

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Genesis 2:18)

Before we share our message for this week, we would like to draw your attention to a vision the Lord Jesus Christ gave brother Glenn.

Vision of Rapture and Unfaithful Church

Given to Brother Glenn on April 21, 2016

It looked like a hot and clear summer day in South Africa, with people were going about their business, going to and fro, back and forth everywhere around me. This was the atmosphere in the vision I received from the Lord on the morning of April 21, 2016. When the vision started, I was sitting on a chair with my 4-year old daughter while having a conversation with a young lady who seemed to be in her early twenties. She had a beautiful face, but she had lost her youthful and lively appearance. I asked her, "Are you pure and undefiled?" Without hesitation she answered saying, "Yes, I am!". However, I could sense that she was hiding something and that she was not talking the truth because her physical appearance did not look good. In other words, she was a young lady in an old woman's body. She surprisingly continued and said, "I am unfaithful and I do have my moments of unfaithfulness".

As she was still speaking, I looked up into the sky and noticed some thick, boiling dark clouds rapidly spreading across the sky (Zephaniah 1:15; Joel 2:2; Amos 5:20). It happened so fast people around us did not even notice. Being awed by the phenomenal sight in front of me, I shouted with excitement to people around us and said, "Jesus is coming everyone, be ready!" My warning seemed to be too late for those around me, because suddenly my daughter and I were caught up into the air with everybody around us being left. I could feel the sensation of movement in my stomach. As we were ascending upwards, I loudly shouted with joy, 'HALLELUYAaaaH, HALLELUYAAAAH, HALLELUYAAAAH! until the cloud covered us (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). As we were ascending, a passage in the sky was opened and I saw the Lord's hand appearing from a white cloud as if He was welcoming us in. End!

Basic interpretation:  After wakening from the vision, the Holy Spirit explained to me that the young lady represents some unfaithful Christians who will not be ready when the rapture takes place. It is good to live the hope of the rapture daily. It does not matter how many times the Lord shows this incredible event,  He is reminding us to endure and remain faithful. I am personally and humbly grateful to the Lord for not only showing me the rapture but for reassuring me of my inclusion in the rapture. This is a true vision from the Lord, please take warning and be ready!

God Instituted Marriage

The Bible tells us that after God had finished the work of Creating the world, He put Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15). The Bible does not tell us how long Adam worked the Garden alone, but of all the fascinating living things the Lord had made, Adam could not find a helper comparable to him (Genesis 2:19-20). So the Lord had to create a new helper for Adam, out of his rib – a beautiful woman who he said was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:21-23). The Lord then proclaimed that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:3-9). This was the beginning of the institution of marriage, our topic for this week, which is part of a three-part series.

In Part 1 of this series, we will discuss the Biblical definition of marriage. In part 2, we will discuss on how to find the right marriage partner. In Part 3 we will discuss how to prepare for marriage, with a focus on differences between courtship and dating.

We would like to acknowledge that the topic of marriage is extensively discussed in the Church and there are thousands of books written on the subject. However, we therefore, are not presenting this series as an exhaustive resource on marriage, but rather as an “appetizer” to encourage you to study the Bible further on this subject and be taught by the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27).

Understanding Marriage

From our own experience and based on our interaction with other married couples, we have noted some couples enter into marriage blindly and make wedding vows without fully understanding what marriage truly means. Additionally, many movies have been made and books are written that depict romantic fairy tales, usually between unmarried people, and this has desensitized the modern generation on the seriousness of sexual sins. It is also interesting to note that many of the worldly artists making such romantic movies or music are often struggling with having and maintaining strong marriages in their personal lives.

Have you ever bought a house or car, rented an apartment, or obtained a loan from a bank? If so, chances are that you had to sign a page or several pages of documents written in legal mumbo jumbo, pretty much having you promise that rain or shine you will abide by the terms of the contract, however harsh they may be. In today’s world, many relationships, business or human, are defined by contracts, whether formal or informal. These documents outline what would happen in the event of termination or failure of the contract relationship prior to the agreed maturation date. Failing to uphold the terms or premature termination of the contract usually involves some form of penalty or punishment, for example, you will pay some fees or kicked out of your apartment, etc. Is this your view of marriage?

Unfortunately, many people today view marriage as a revocable agreement that should come to an end if one party violates certain conditions. The result: rampant divorce, both in the Church and in the society at large, leaving behind many broken families and wounded children. In turn, we are seeing many adults, young adults, and teenagers alike who have a laissez-faire, “anything goes” attitude towards marriage and sex, and the cycle continues. You might have seen Church pastors, worship leaders, Christian musicians, and other ministers of the gospel break their marriages, and wondered how they would preach on the subject and counsel married couples who are facing problems in their marriage and considering divorce. The truth is, this trend does not encourage people to humbly pursue forgiveness and reconciliation, whatever it takes (Luke 6:37; Romans 12:18; Matthew 18:21-35). As a matter of fact, some people, especially those who idolize their pastors or other men of God, might feel justified to end their marriages because Pastor so and so did it too (1 Corinthians 15:33). If we, Christians, truly understood the meaning of marriage and what we are getting ourselves into prior to getting married, we would have a better foundation for marriage and, consequently, be better prepared to effectively resist and overcome the onslaughts of the enemy who is bent on stealing from and destroying Christian marriages (John 10:10).

Contract or Covenant?

On the topic of marriage and divorce, the Pharisees asked Jesus whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason (Matthew 19:3). The Lord answered to them:

“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6 NKJV).

In the Lord’s response above, we see that He avoided delving into the controversy over divorce and simply pointed them to the truth on why married people should remain married. The Lord here also asserted the true definition of marriage, which is increasingly being rejected by the world today:

1. God, the Creator of man, made marriage to be between one male and one female – not one male and many females, or vice versa.

2. God ordained marriage to be a strong bond between one man and one woman, whereby a man leaves his parents and is joined to his wife in holy matrimony.

3. The two become one flesh in a marriage covenant, and should not be separated (Malachi 2:14).

In rebuking the people for their sins, the Lord spoke through the prophet Malachi, saying that the Lord no longer accepted the people’s offerings “because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (Malachi 2:14 NIV). What this means is that marriage is not simply two people making promises to each when they are getting married, but God is the witness. The Lord further states the reason why he made man and woman to be one in marriage, and not to be divided: “…He seeks godly offspring…” (Malachi 2:15), children who are destined to be citizens of heaven (Matthew 19:14). So we see a lot at stake in marriage, and this is not a responsibility to be taken lightly if one truly fears the Lord.

What then is a covenant, and how does it differ from a contract? You may be wondering. In the Bible, we see several major covenants that the Lord made with man:

  • God made an unconditional covenant with mankind (Adam) in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:26-30).
  • God made an unconditional covenant with Noah, which was sealed with the rainbow, after the flood (Genesis 9:8-17).
  • God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham to make him a great nation, and all his male descendants were to be circumcised as a sign of this covenant (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:18–21; 17:9–14).
  • God made an unconditional covenant with David, to establish his house and kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:8-16).
  • The new covenant, which is everlasting and is fulfilled through the birth, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13).

Differences between Marriage Covenant and Contract

In view of the covenants mentioned above, we see the following characteristics that sharply differ from the way contracts are made, and we highlight these in the context of the marriage covenant.

Marriage ContractMarriage Covenant
Contracts are made to cover a limited time period; the spouses are ready and willing to bail out of the marriage.Covenant relationships view commitments as permanent. In marriage covenant, one is released from the covenant (law of marriage) only if the spouse dies (Romans 7:2-3).

Contracts may require a witness to sign, but seldom invite God as a witness; the spouses have a limited understanding of marriage from the Biblical perspective.

The marriage covenant is also made before God as a witness (Malachi 2:14; Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Contracts are based on certain conditions – “if you do or don’t do this, then.....”.Covenants usually involve unconditional promises. The marriage covenant is unconditional love between the spouses (1 Corinthians 13:1-13); forgiveness, repentance, bearing with each other, and love abounds (Matthew 18:21-22; James 5:16; Colossians 3:13; 1 Peter 4:8).

Contracts are motivated by the desire to get something – usually in favor of the person initiating the contract.Covenants are motivated by the desire to share something. God made a covenant with man because of His love for us (John 3:16). People enter into covenant marriage because they love each other (Ephesians 5:25-33).

Contracts are initiated to protect one’s self-interest. An example is a prenuptial agreement.Covenants are initiated for the benefit of the other person. We see the Lord entering a covenant to bless His people, and likewise, in marriage, a spouse should honor the other above self (Romans 12:10).

Contracts require confrontation and revocation or penalty if the terms are violated.

Covenant relationships require confession and forgiveness (Matthew 18:15).
Contacts are broken when one of the parties fails to keep his/her promise.

Covenants are not broken, and the marriage covenant should not be broken; God hates divorce (Malachi 2:14). Those in covenant marriages honor their vows to each other and keep their promises before God (Deuteronomy 23:23; Ecclesiastes 5:5).
Contracts are negotiated and can be renegotiated if the terms are not favorable for one party. For this reason, divorce(s) and remarriage(s) are seen as options.The marriage covenant is sealed once and for all and is not up for negotiation (Matthew 19:4-6).

The Bible presents the story of the Gibeonites as an example of how the Lord expects us to honor covenants, even when it is a genuine mistake. The Bible tells us that the Gibeonites deceived Joshua into entering a covenant with them. Joshua did not consult the Lord, only to realize the truth too late and the covenant could not be revoked (Joshua 9:3-27). As a result of this covenant, the Israelites had to help the Gibeonites in their war against the Amorites (Joshua 10:1-15). Years later on, King Saul sought to destroy the Gibeonites "in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah" (2 Samuel 21:2) and consequently, during David’s restoration to his throne following Absalom’s death, Israel suffered a severe three-year famine as result of King Saul not upholding the covenant. From this, we see that God takes covenants seriously, including the marriage covenant as we have shared from Scripture (Malachi 2:14-16 NKJV).

Consider also, that despite the children of Israel being unfaithful to God many times, God was still merciful. He forgave them time after time and honored His covenant with them. The Bible does not command, encourage, or require divorce and remarriage. While divorce is permissible in the case of adultery—which is one of the most severely condemned sins in the Bible (Exodus 20:14; Proverbs 6:32; Hebrews 13:4; Revelation 21:8)—forgiveness is encouraged (John 8:10-11)

Consider also that Joseph thought to divorce Mary quietly before their marriage (during their betrothal) (Matthew 1:19). The Bible clearly does not endorse divorce after marriage, but in cases where hearts are hardened, divorce proceeds (Matthew 19:8). The divorced spouses should remain single or be reconciled (1 Corinthians 7:11). The Lord Jesus Christ also clarified that adultery is not just the physical act, but also looking at a man (or woman) lustfully (Matthew 5:27-28) and we are to have humble hearts to seek forgiveness from the Lord and forgive others just as He forgives us! (Matthew 6:14; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). Remarrying as a result of divorce may be legal, but the Bible says that it also committing adultery (Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:1-11). This is why Christians should carefully and prayerfully understand marriage responsibilities and not rush into committing themselves. Once you are committed, there’s no easy way out or “get out of jail card”. We have shared more on what the Lord taught us regarding adultery in The Sin of Adultery article.

In conclusion, God keeps His promises and He has called us to do the same in marriage, which is meant to display the great love God has towards the church (Ephesians 5:25). Therefore, before Christian couples commit into a relationship, it is important to understand marriage as a long-term commitment and one of the most important and life-changing decisions that people make which will impact future generations to come. The assumption we are making is that one already understands the seriousness of sexual sins (fornication, adultery, etc.) and is committed to seeking the Lord’s guidance and wisdom on marriage and saving intimacy to that time. In part 2 of this series, we will be sharing about finding the right partner.

To accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, please pray this Prayer of Sincere Repentance. For any questions or comments about this article or our ministry, please contact us.
In Christ,

Preparing for the Kingdom Ministry Team.

 Brother Abes and Sister Janet
Vision and message reviewed by Brother Glenn van Rooyen.