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Covenant Not Contract

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.

 

SERMONS

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

BOOKS

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/

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Daily Devo

Daily Devotional Journal

Scripture:
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3a
Mon, 26 September 2022

A Great Last Days Danger

Observation:

What significant observations can you make about the Thessalonians?

Deeper Reflection
THERE ARE TWO BATTLEFRONTS IN SPIRITUAL WARFARE: affliction and deception. Satan can be the source of affliction, “prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” by inflicting “suffering” (1 Pet 5:8-9). The target of attack in affliction is our faith. And so, we are to “resist” Satan in suffering by being “firm in your faith” (1 Pet 5:9). Satan is for sure the source of deception, “disguising himself as an angel of light” through his servants, false teachers and deceitful workers who “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor 11:13-15). The target of attack in deception is truth. But faith and truth are interrelated. The basis of our faith is truth, and we build our faith on truth. When we are attacked through affliction, we can know it, because we can feel it. But when we are attacked through deception, we may not know it, because we do not see it. Deception is: We are deceived and we do not know that we are deceived.The Thessalonians were afflicted by persecutions (2 Thess 1:4) and attacked by false teachers, teaching that “the day of the Lord has come”, and they were “quickly shaken/easily unsettled in mind” and “alarmed” (vv.1-2). And Paul urgently warns: “Do not be deceived” (v.3). It was the Thessalonians’ “mind” that was disturbed and destabilised. Deception is more potent than persecution. “In fact, the intellectual assault on Christianity is often fiercer than the physical.”37 Do we know how to detect deception? We can discern deception only by knowing the truth and having a right heart.
37 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Thessalonians, The Bible Speaks Today (IVP, 1991), 156
Application:

How can I keep myself from being destabilised and deceived by false teachings?

Prayer:
Lord, grant me a strong desire to seek to learn and live by the truth of Your Word. And as I do so, may the Spirit of truth teach me and guide me in knowing and understanding the truth, that I may grow in wisdom and be able to detect and discern false teaching. But most of all, guard my heart and keep me from falling into self-deception.
Prayer Pointers:
  • Give thanks and praise
  • Pray for leaders
  • Pray for significant people
  • Pray for those in need
  • Pray for self

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