Friday, April 12, 2013

Marriage: God's Holy Covenant of Blessing

CWK (Originally delivered 2007)

The oldest jokes in the world are about really serious things, like being married, or being hanged.
-GK Chesterton

Marriage: God's Holy Covenant of Blessing

Proverbs 2:16-19

16 So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words,
17 who forsakes the companion of her youth
    and forgets the covenant of her God;
18 for her house sinks down to death,
    and her paths to the departed;
19 none who go to her come back,
    nor do they regain the paths of life.

Marriage is, first and foremost, about God, and not man. Marriage is God's picture to display to the world the reality of Jesus Christ's love for the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Marriage is a state of blessing. A marriage has the power and potential to glorify God, change the world, and echo sweetly into eternity to the praise of God's grace.
Every rational agent acts for an end; and God being the most perfect agent, and his glory the highest end, there can be no doubt but all his decrees are directed to that end,"that we....should be to the praise of His glory," Eph 1:12 In all, he aims at his glory; and seeing he aims at it, he gets it even from the most sinful actions he has decreed to permit. Either the glory of his mercy or of his justice is drawn from them. Infinite wisdom directs all to the end intended. -Thomas Boston

Marriage is the demonstration of the mystery of Christ and the Church: "You will only have a noble life if you have noble views of your life (John Piper)." The Bible understands marriage to be a high and noble estate.

We have hijacked marriage, and made it into a human institution, with no more dignity that any other human institution. Marriage carries with it no more honor than playing in a basketball league, or joining a book club. So, we think marriage is about human happiness; about legal advantages; tax breaks; human emotion. We have demeaned marriage. What Brainerd says about the lives of most men would apply to the lives of most men even in the holy estate of marriage.
THERE is but one thing that deserves our highest care and most ardent desires; and that is, that we may answer the great end for which we were made, viz. to glorify that God, who has given us our beings and all our comforts, and do all the good we possibly can to our fellow-men, while we live in the world: and verily life is not worth the having, if it be not improved for this noble end and purpose. Yet, alas, how little is this thought of among mankind! Most men seem to live to themselves, without much regard to the glory of God, or the good of their fellow-creatures. They earnestly desire and eagerly pursue after the riches, the honours, and the pleasures of life, as if they really supposed, that wealth, or greatness, or merriment, could make their immortal souls happy. But, alas, what false and delusive dreams are these!  
David Brainerd, To His Brother Israel

We are like children in a remote tribe who have come across an airplane, and not knowing who made it, or what it is for, conclude that it is nothing more than a tree house to play hide and seek in. Marriage was made by God, with eternal significance. Marriage is about God. It is, in a secondary way, about human happiness -- but only if we first realize that it is about God, and His glory.

Haldane: Here (in Romans 11:33-36) God is described as His own last end in everything that He does. Judging of God as such an one as themselves, they were at first startled at the idea that He must love Himself supremely, infinitely more than the whole universe, and consequently must prefer His own glory to everything besides. But when they were reminded that God in reality is infinitely more amiable and more valuable than the whole creation, and that consequently, if He views things as they really are, He must regard Himself as infinitely worthy of being more valued and loved, they saw that this truth was incontrovertible.

INTRO: Blessing and Cursing

Sins against marriage are high sins against God: such deeds lead, not to blessing, but to cursing: to a life of sorrow and death.
Hebrews 13:4: Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
My strong desire to understand marriage comes from my own parent’s divorce...which I never got over. Many years after the divorce, I held out hope that God would somehow bring them back together. He did not, and to this day, there is a sort of ellipsis in my life: a space waiting to be filled. Divorce is not, "the end." It is just the beginning: the beginning of something bad. It's been said that divorce just means passing your problems on to your children. I'm proof of that. But the converse hold: Holy Covenant Marriage is passing on blessing to your children. 

Men, there is no better way to make a difference in the world, in the future, in the life of your own children, and the generations to come, than this: Love your wife like Christ loved the Church. Adultery, on the other hand, is like casting Jesus Christ in a porno movie.

Since marriage is about God, crimes against marriage are crimes against God: crimes against blessing and happiness and joy.

Proverbs 2:17-19: her house sinks down to death, and her paths to the departed; none who go to her come back, nor do they regain the paths of life.

To summarize Proverbs 2:17-19: Adultery is committing murder: a murder that will kill you dead. And, this is the kind of death that you don't come back from.

Another crime against marriage is divorce; Jesus compared divorce to the rending of a whole person in two: i.e. brutally ripping a person in half. The popular view of divorce would have us believe that divorce is two well adjusted people going their separate ways. Divorce is more like two halves of a man's body going separate ways. Divorce is a horror show. You've never yet seen a brutal madman in a horror movie do the kind of damage that divorce can do.

Mark 10:9, "What God has joined together, let not man tear asunder."

So, Adultery/Divorce = Death and Destruction. And, Covenant Marriage = Life and Blessing.

I set before you marriage; I set before you, as Moses once said, "Blessing and cursing. Life and death. Choose life!"

According to God, Marriage is a Covenant

Here's the opposite of the Covenant View of Marriage: “In my frustration, I was fast moving to the conclusion that I had two equally painful options: stay in my marriage and be miserable the rest of my life or get out, hope that God would forgive me, and pray that somewhere, somehow, I would find a happy marriage with someone else. (Gary Chapman, The Covenant of Marriage).”

1. Marriage is a Covenant.

A Covenant = a solemn enduring bond between two persons.

A covenant involves a promise to persevere in loving action toward the beloved no matter what. It is pledging yourself, not just to particular promises, but promises to a particular person til death do you part -- and, if you do part before then -- in death you will part.

Proverbs 2:17: In the public ceremony vows are made to God; God is listening.

Here's the importance of Covenant Idea: If you plan to stick it out, and be faithful, it will be easier to stick it out, and be faithful. Then, if/when, you persevere, you will come to the place of real happiness: Gary Chapman reported that 6 months after ‘hanging in there,’ real and powerful affection returned. This affection was deeper and more real than any affection he WOULD have achieved otherwise.

Couples should have this view going into marriage. If they did, they would not be prone to go in and out of marriages. I've been surprised, time after time, to meet couples who were about to get married who had no idea what they were getting into. In a sense, many who trip lightly into divorce weren't really getting married in the first place. They entered into a state of matrimony like a man crosses a state line, with only a passing glance at where they were on the map of the universe. They got married because they wanted a buddy to watch TV with, or someone to help pay the bills, and that's about it. This doesn't mean their marriages are invalid; it just means they will be an invalid in marriage.

We short change ourselves when we take a short view of marriage, and give up when things get difficult. In so doing, we deprive ourselves of a kind of deep and satisfying love that can only be produced over time, and under duress.

Of course, married people fight; of course they have seasons of painful distance. Who promised anything else? Still, it is through persevering past such season that real and deep love grows. You have to persevere to the 'end of the rainbow' to get the pot of gold.

The 'myth' of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow describes a powerful reality; we have to go a long way, past where other men would go, if we really want gold.

A shallow view of marriage leads to divorce, most naturally. A covenant view of marriage leads a couple to persevere in love -- and then -- lavish treasure.

This is how life works in general: if we will let go of our false ideals of always hankering after something new there is something new, wonderful, and extravagant waiting for us.

C.S. Lewis noted that many people are so busy bemoaning their lost youth that they never embrace and enjoy the fruits of adulthood and their elder years; many people are so obsessed with romance that they never find it in the one and only place they could find it: committed covenant marriage.

2.Marriage is a Solemn: Because God is involved

Marriage is a covenant: “to which God is not only a witness, but a party, for, he having instituted the ordinance, both sides vow to him to be true to each other. It is not her husband only that she (the woman in 2:17) sins against, but her God (Matthew Henry).”

When tempted with adultery in Genesis 39, Joseph says, "How can I do such a vile thing and sin against God?" Potipher's wife wanted this little tryst to remain between her and Joseph; Joseph saw it as a big giant evil between him and God. No wonder he ran out of the room.

God is highly insulted when marriage is slighted. Marriage is about God, and Jesus Christ, and his Church. It is not primarily about man; it is not primarily about "human happiness." Marriage is not a human invention suited to the whims of the passing opinions of man. Marriage is God's idea: His invention. It was founded by God to glorify God. And it will glorify God: it will glorify either his mercy or his justice. Married couples, you will glorify God, either as an object of His mercy, or an object of his wrath. When the ages end, and the human drama winds down, the drama of Divine Glory will echo forever; their will be a full display of the Glory of God, and we will be a part of it: willingly, as objects of God's love, or unwillingly, as objects of His just anger.

Hebrews 13:4: Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
It is, the chief end of God in the world to manifest his glory. Many think, especially infidel men, that God's chief end is the happiness of his creatures; but, from deep study of the Word of God for years, I see that it is not so. If that were his chief end, all would be happy. His chief end is diverse - it is self-manifestation. Had it not been for this, God would have remained alone in awful solitude. I would desire to speak with deep reverence on such a subject. This seems to be the reason why there are vessels of wrath as well as of mercy - that they might be mirrors to reflect his attributes. And I believe, brethren, when creation is done, and when redemption is done, that there will then be a complete manifestation of the glory of God.                                                                                                                                        - R.M. McCheyne
So, attacks on marriage demean God, and belittle His Holiness. Every act of adultery is shouting at God, "You don't matter." Every act of infidelity mars God's masterwork. God created marriage to be a portrait of His radiant love. Infidelity is like taking a carving knife to the Mona Lisa right in front of Da Vinci.

3. Marriage is a Bond: Loyalty is essential: ‘sticking to each other’

Couples take vows -- that is, solemn promises before God -- on their wedding day. Why? Because this is a serious matter. Why? Because the expectation, in myself and my beloved, of fidelity itself encourages fidelity.

The bond of marriage means, or should mean, that we now have an ally against all adversaries. This bond means we will never -- whether rich or poor, in sickness or in health, in good times and bad -- again be alone. This bond means that, even if all friends and family forsake us, we will not be utterly forsaken; our beloved with us will stand. This bond enables us to be secure and joyful as we face the future: "two are better than one." This bond means, over whatever path we walk, we will never walk alone.
You'll Never Walk Alone by Rodgers & Hammerstein
When you walk through a storm/ Keep your chin up high/ And don't be afraid of the dark/ At he end of the storm/ Is a golden sky/ And the sweet silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind,Walk on through the rain/ Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown/ Walk on, walk on/ With hope in your heart/ And you'll never walk alone/ You'll never walk alone.
The betrayal of this bond is a betrayal of the most holy, sacred, intimate, and sweet bond that exists among men. There is no greater betrayal on earth than the betrayal of marriage vows. This is a betrayal greater, far greater, than turning traitor to one's country. It is a betrayal more cruel than betraying our best friend because marriage is a far holier and higher state than friendship. Also, since God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden as a particular state of blessing, such a betrayal is a betrayal of God and ourselves.

In marriage, we have entered a state in which we expect our beloved will always do us good. In marriage, we make ourselves vulnerable to the greatest degree; we place our life in another's hands. Loving another deeply requires that we leave our backs exposed; we leave ourselves vulnerable. A solider goes to war with his comrades with the obvious assumption that none of them are going to shoot him in the back when he is rushing forward into battle. This assumption doesn't even need to be taught in boot camp; it is the warp and woof of being on the 'same side." So, the average soldier can rush forward into battle, and defend his mates, knowing that the man at his back has his back.

In marriage, we go forward believing that the man/woman at our back has our back. Betrayal of marriage is like shooting your fellow soldier -- the person fighting on the same side as you -- square in the back. Only, marriage is an army of two.

Further, since, "the two are one flesh," betrayal in marriage is a betrayal, in the deepest sense, of one's self. If we shoot our beloved in the back, it's a double-murder.

"Et tu Brute?" Caeser asked, feeling the sting of betrayal from someone close. The betrayal stung more because Brutus was, he thought, close as a brother. To a very great degree, the damages one can inflict on us depends on their proximity to us: the closer the relationship, the more surprising the wound, and the more severe the damage. This to say: you can't get any closer than marriage. A man who would betray his wife would betray anyone; he is traitor, destroyer of fidelity; after such a betrayal, his word can never be trusted again.

Chesterton: They have invented a new phrase, a phrase that is a black-and-white contradiction in two words  “free love”- as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.
The existence of Covenant Faithfulness requires not only exclusivity but also reliability:
(Covenant Love)... hebrew = chesed:
...belongs by nature to the realm of family and clan society... this most easily explains the combination of chesed and emeth as a hendiadys (Pr. 3:3, 14:22, 16:6, 20:28, 20:6 = faithful, abiding love) , because the close and intimate society of the family requires enduring and reliable kindness as an essential element of its protective function. Kindness can most surely fulfill its function of preserving and promoting life, and strenthening society, when it follows and is explained by certain social norms... the fruitful and productive common life of such a close human society (as the family) requires constant mutual kindness on the part of all its members. Chesed is the virtue that knits together society (TDOT pg. 51, vol. V).
"A loyal person is someone who is attached to other people for the long term based on a deep sense of what is due to them (In "The Ties That Do Not Bind: The Decline of Marriage and Loyalty," published in the Fall issue of In Character, James Wilson).

“If by my life or death I can protect you, I will. ”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved.”
― Martin Luther

“Master, go on, and I will follow thee/ To the last gasp with truth and loyalty.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

"A consistent Church is an amazing Church—an honest, upright Church would shake the world! The crowd of godly men is the crowd of heroes; these are the thundering legions that sweep everything before them. The men that are what they profess to be, hate the semblance of a lie—whatever shape it wears—and would sooner die than do that which is dishonest, or that which would be degrading to the glory of a Heaven-born race, and to the honor of Him by whose name they have been called! O Christians!" - Spurgeon

“He who is most cautious in making a vow is most faithful in keeping it.” - Rousseau

"When a man takes an oath... he's holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then - he needn't hope to find himself again."  - Robert Bolt

II. Practical Ways to Honor God's Covenant

This covenant must be honored day by day with faithfulness and consideration.

1. Faithfulness (See Proverbs 7)

We are talking about faithfulness in the little things. We all want to be faithful in big giant things, but this cannot happen without faithfulness in the teeny tiny things, "He who is faithful in little is faithful in much." Indeed, the way to the faithful in much is to start by being faithful in the little things. Men -- how do you speak to that women at work? Women, how do you dress at the gym when you know your husband won't see you? Men/Women: would you characterize your relationships with others as flirty? What kind of conversations are you having with others at the bank/grocery store/online?

Adultery is not romantic! (Proverbs 7:16-18); it is presented with ‘mystic appeal’ in the movies and songs of our day; but we need to get beyond the lights and mirrors, and consider the real consequences of adultery: going into adultery is like an animal going to the brutal bloody slaughter house (7:22).

If marriage is a Covenant, instituted by God for the displaying of Christ’s love for the Church, and the Church’s submission, then:

Adultery is like casting Jesus Christ (or the Church) in the lead role of a porno movie.

“Let marriage be held in honor among all (Hebrews 13:4)”...because God takes marriage very seriously, and judges those who disrespect his holy mystery of Christ and the Church. God will have his vengeance on those who mar His glory. No matter how much I try and terrify you regarding the consequences of adultery; I cannot terrify you too much. Some things really are worse than they sound; some deeds lead, not to one death, but a thousand deaths.

I heard an actress say: ‘My truth’ is that I want a certain kind of sexual liberation apart from marriage..." The problem? the God-ness and Christ-ness of marriage have been removed. We are not interested in ‘our truth’ which is biased and depraved, but in God’s truth.

We slight marriage, and think little of it for one reason, and one reason only: we slight God, and think little of him -- but, God is not mocked.

2. Consideration

Consideration: think of the other person; try your best to consider their needs, and nurture in your heart genuine care for them.

1) Proverbs 21:19; Quarrelsome (Contentious): there is always an argument or strife seething below the surface with this kind of woman. Vexing = angry and provoking to anger; a person who is always on edge, and leaves others on edge: a moody and disagreeable person who constantly lashes out, and always feels "offended." Such a person is a walking cauldron of pride; they only care about themselves. However, close relationships require that we be patient and kind with people: that we give them breathing room to be human, and that we overlook petty annoyances with a heart of forbearance.

In addition, we should deal early and honestly with substantial disagreements: and especially if they involve sin. DO NOT OVERLOOK sin in your beloved. If you love them, you wouldn't let them live unknowingly with a terrible disease like cancer; well, sin is a cancer. It will not only progress and destroy them; it will destroy your relationship.

Deal with this by: 1) Talking honestly RIGHT AWAY 2) If a sin has been committed, live out the gospel of REAL FORGIVENESS after there has been REAL REPENTANCE, and 3) For issues of disagreement, in which there's no sin, honor the principle of leadership of the husband (wives, see 1 Peter 3:1: win them without a word).

Proverbs 27:15-16 (cf. 19:13) rebukes, with a touch of humor, the nagging bride:

A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike;
16 to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one's right hand.

The takeaway here should be: this is no way to live. This will drive a person crazy. So, women, be considerate in your speech.


Man finds himself by giving himself away in devotion to what is objectively good and true and beautiful; the converse also is true, that he loses himself by narcissism. Witness the Greek myth of the boy, Narcissus, wasting away as he gazes upon his own image in the pool. It is impossible to lead a nation of narcissists, then, because there are no fully realized persons to lead. Narcissists do not endure the snow and the ice, with mere rags binding their bleeding feet...

...But to take an oath is to be willing to reject all such comforts. A man who says to his bride, “With this ring I thee wed,” is binding himself to her and to her good, come what may. He does not say, “I swear to be true to myself”—for then he might as well take the ring out of his pocket and ceremoniously place it on his own finger. He does not say, “I swear to make our relationship better, according to my personal beliefs about what that will mean,” since that is but a more convoluted form of the expression of self-love. Instead he subjects all that he is and all that he has to someone else. The promise brings into being a time-transcending social reality. It is precisely insofar as the bride and groom swear an oath that binds them regardless of their feelings and of the waywardness of opinion that they make something really new in the world, something whose kind is nonetheless as old as man himself.

-- Anthony Esolen, ‘Above all…to thine own self be true’?

No comments:

Post a Comment