“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:6-9 ESV)
God-willing, Sue and I will celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary next month. We are looking forward to it. Except that this year’s celebration will be vastly different because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Every year during our anniversary week, we would holiday overseas. Japan is our favourite country hands down!
But beyond the happy times in a marriage, what can sustain it through the hard times and, for that matter, cultivate it towards all that God intends for its thriving? When tested and questioned by the Pharisees about divorce, Jesus went beyond the mere question about rules, i.e. the grounds on which divorce was allowed. He went back to what God our Creator intended for marriage.
God intended our life to be built on relationships, far more than rules. And the fundamental relationship between God and His crowning creation—human beings—is called a covenant. In the days of the ancient Near East, a covenant is a binding agreement established between two unequal parties—a suzerain and a vassal. The suzerain began the covenant by identifying himself and the past acts that he had done for the vassal. The terms and conditions that both parties entered into and agreed upon were then spelt out, with the accompanying benefits when the terms were adhered to and the consequences when they were violated.
However, when God entered into a covenant with His people, He placed the detrimental consequences upon Himself, even for His people’s failure to uphold their covenant obligations! In Genesis 15, in a covenant ratification ceremony, God passed between the dead animal pieces while Abram (later known as Abraham) was asleep. It was a symbolic and prophetic act on His part expressing that if and when the terms of the covenant were violated, the consequence of death was to fall on Him alone. That enacted parable pointed to the future event on the first Good Friday, when Jesus Christ—the Son and the Lamb of God—bore the full consequence of death as a penalty for our sins. Thanks be to God our Creator, Covenant-maker and Covenant-keeper!
In the same way, God intended marriage to be built upon a covenant. Contrary to what many people believe, marriage is not meant to be a contract whereby two parties sign on the dotted line anticipating that there can be escape clauses, compensation when damages are incurred, etc. That entire approach is half the battle lost! The Straits Times on 28 Jul 2020 reported that in Singapore the number of divorces in 2019 continued its steady increase while that of marriages continued to decline. In fact, the number of couples who ended their marriages by divorce or annulment in 2019 was the highest in at least 20 years: 7,623 (i.e., an average of 21 marriages per day)! Imagine how different marriages would look like in our society (and others) if they were built on covenants rather than contracts!
In a marriage covenant, a man cleaves to his wife and they become one. Till death (not divorce) do they part. It is a lifelong, yet day-by-day and moment-by-moment, decision whereby a husband takes up his God-given responsibility to love and lead his wife. And a wife comes under her husband’s God-given authority and follows him. Through all the good and hard times. As a result, both persons mature and change. And their marriage deepens and thrives. Studies have found that the key non-negotiable and must-have ingredient for a marriage to last is the “old-fashioned” word called “commitment”. This means that couples need to enter into marriage believing and expecting that it will last for a lifetime. That is essentially what a covenant is about. God in His covenantal faithfulness said to us: “Never will I leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5). Indeed, God’s love and faithfulness toward His people is forever!
God built His relationship with us on a covenant and intended that we likewise build our marriages on a covenant. May the Church be filled with God-honouring and God-reflecting marriages that showcase to a hurting and broken world the original blueprint of God’s covenantal relationship with us through His Son. May many struggling couples thus find hope for their marriages.
This year, for a change, Sue and I decided that we would spend our anniversary week in a silent retreat. For we believe that it is in cultivating our relationship with God that our marriage will be cultivated towards all He intended.
Written by Pastor Edmund Wong
We encourage you to check out some recommended resources below on Christian marriages. May God bless you.
“God’s Heart for Marriage”, by Rev Dr Chua Chung Kai: https://sermonresources.cefc.org.sg/file/1581
“Experiencing the Mystery of Marriage”, by Rev Dr Chua Chung Kai: https://sermonresources.cefc.org.sg/file/370
“Fidelity in Marriage”, by Dr Stuart Briscoe: https://sermonresources.cefc.org.sg/file/836
“The Case For Marriage”, by Dr Sean McDowell: https://sermonresources.cefc.org.sg/file/28
Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?, by Gary Thomas
The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, by Timothy & Kathy Keller
The Mystery of Marriage, by Mike Mason
As For Me and My House: Crafting Your Marriage to Last, by Walter Wangerin, Jr
You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity, by Francis & Lisa Chan
ARTICLES & VIDEOS
Various resources on marriage, by Focus on the Family: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/
Various resources on God’s design for sexuality, by Dr Juli Slattery: https://www.authenticintimacy.com/