Contract VS Covenant

This past weekend, I had the opportunity and privilege of officiating a wedding for some of our closest friends. The ceremony went very well and everyone seemed very appreciative of my words spoken in that moment. All glory to God for using any words I said to make an impact in any way, shape, or form.

One of the things I enjoy most about these types of opportunities is the time of preparing and putting together my message. This was the part of the ceremony where I gave the couple the “charge” and had an opportunity to talk about how the Gospel is at the center of the marriage relationship. It was a prime opportunity to also talk about the difference between the majority of our cultures’ view of marriage, which is primarily contractual, and how that is sharply contrasted to the biblical view of marriage, which is all about covenant.

I found this excellent comparison chart (below) from Brad Hambrick’s blog and found it very helpful in explaining the key differences between a contract and a covenant. There is much more we could say here on the topic of covenant and the biblical basis for it, but for the purposes of this post, this chart will suffice.

I’m no expert or theologian on this topic, but it seems to me that understanding the powerful imagery of covenant is critical to understanding what marriage is all about. When our relationships are rooted in covenant, there is a beautiful thing that takes place: our relationship becomes a mirror through which the world sees God’s desire to commune with His people in relationship. A contract says “what’s in it for me?” while a covenant says “what can I give or sacrifice for the sake of the other?”.

When two people enter into a covenant together to combine two independently separate lives into one Christ-centered and shared life, there will be tension! There will be moments of hardship, turmoil, and difficulty. If the relationship is based on a contract, then when a situation doesn’t seem resolvable the couple can execute the “termination clause” and therefore the marriage relationship isn’t worth fighting for because the foundation of the relationship was built on conditional statements and fulfilling certain requirements. A covenant also has requirements where each person fulfills their commitment to the other but there are no “termination clauses” and the foundation of the marriage is built on the Gospel. The Gospel informs us that no matter what circumstances arise, the commitment to the relationship is greater than our desire to be right, to “win” the argument or to even be justified. You see, in the midst of us being mistreated, suffering, or dealing with a relationship problem, our tendency is to get revenge, lash out or resign in order to “give them what they deserve” and that’s exactly where the Gospel comes in. The Gospel leads us to overlook the faults of the other unconditionally because that’s exactly what God did for us in sending Jesus to earth to suffer, die, and raise to life again in order to provide a substitute, once and for all, for all the faults of mankind.

What if God responded the way most of us do whenever we are wronged, hurt, or betrayed? Let’s just say it wouldn’t go well for us! God is so gracious and loving that He not only overlooks our sin and waywardness, but took it another step further when He sent Jesus to forgive us of all our short comings, purify us, and because of Christ, we are considered “holy, blameless and above reproach” (Colossians 1:13-14, 21-22).

Our response to our spouse, family, or friends in those moments of tension should mirror God’s loving response to us at our worst moment. This is why marriage is so important and why it’s important to understand that by making a covenant between yourself, your spouse, and God, you are promising to put God’s love and grace on display in your personal life through your marriage relationship! What a great honor, responsibility, and privilege!

I have been married to my amazing bride for almost six years now and I can definitely say that marriage is anything but easy. We both entered marriage with a less than realistic idea of what would lie ahead of us. We thought, like many young couples do, that once we were married it would be nothing but endless fun and magical romance until death do us part! Now, don’t get me wrong...we have tons of fun together, experience romance, and continue to seek things that bring us closer together, but those things are not the whole story. Along with seasons of joy and excitement, there have also been seasons in our life of intense pain, sorrow, confusion, and fear. In those moments, you simply must have a foundation to stand on that is made up of more than just emotions and romance! What holds this thing together when the storms rage? We had to ask ourselves that question multiple times as we journeyed through life together and experienced a lot of things we never imagined would be so hard.

It was in those moments that we came to understand the absolutely essential role of God in our lives, through the power of the Holy Spirit and came to rely on Him, not just exclusively each other, for our sustenance and security. Our foundation was shaken but not ruined because we both (individually and together) were putting Jesus at the center of our lives and allowing Him to transform us, together, in the midst of our struggles and hard times in life. Once it dawned on us that God was seeking to transform us individually and as a family, we embraced the tension of life’s up’s and down’s and began seeing that the more we embraced the tension, the more we were changed, forever, and for the better.

I liken it to the process of refining metal ore into fine pieces of precious metal, like gold for example. The metal ore, which is dug up and usually discovered in dirt, is placed in an incredibly hot environment to burn off any imperfections, and when it is finished, the dross (all the imperfections, dirt, etc) rises to the top and is skimmed off the top, thus leaving the metal 99% pure.

All of life, especially the marriage relationship, is an opportunity to let God turn the heat up on your life so that all the imperfections in you will burn off, rise to the top, be skimmed off, and leave you being a more refined version of yourself than ever before. This is all for His glory as well as our mutual joy as a couple and as a family.

Marriage is an incredibly wonderful blessing and opportunity that I am so grateful for. My pastor often says that “if you want to serve like Jesus, stay single...but if you want to be like Jesus, then get married!” I love that quote and have found that to be so true in the most positive way possible.

So embrace the tension and build your relationships on a foundation that truly can never be shaken, which is rooted in Jesus Christ. Follow Him and let Him transform and change you into the person He is making you to be and I promise you it will not be easy, but it will be worth it!

For those of you who are married, I would love to hear your thoughts on that idea of marriage being the context through which God has been changing and transforming you. Has this been your experience?