As a teacher, I work under a contract that has been negotiated between my teacher’s union and my school district’s board. Both parties come to the table and discuss a multitude of issues regarding what certified employees such as myself are able or expected to do/not do. I understand the amount of work that goes into this whole process, and I appreciate the people who lead the charge on both sides of the equation. A lot of time and effort goes into negotiating the deal, compromising or agreeing upon what would be acceptable for both parties involved, as well as for the people they represent. Usually at the end of this arduous process, the two sides have arrived at an imperfect yet mutually beneficial agreement that lasts for whatever time frame is indicated. All is well for now.
But when it comes down to it, the entire contract is in place because neither side fully trusts that the other will do the things that honest, loyal, and devoted employers and employees naturally should do. My contract, for example, states that I may be required to provide “a statement from a physician when absences exceed 8 full days per school year.” Obviously the folks who wrote that stipulation in my contract don’t trust that I am using my sick days appropriately if I have to be out more than 8 days in a given school year. I am not saying this is necessarily unreasonable. In fact it would be very unusual for me to ever be out anywhere close to that many days in a school year. All I am saying is that the reason this contract exists is because of distrust. Each side thinks the other side is only out for its own good. In the cases of many contracts, that is likely so. A contract is created when two or more parties enter into an agreement and need to protect themselves if anything should go wrong. It can be revoked at any time if either party doesn’t uphold their end of the bargain. Also, since the two parties agreed upon the terms of the contract, the whole thing can be considered null and void if both parties change their minds about how they want things to work. They can simply agree to no longer hold each other to the terms of the contract, and move on.
Marriage, which is typically viewed as a contract in our society, was in fact never meant to be a contract at all. Contracts are created by the people who want to make an agreement with each other. Marriage, however, is God’s idea. He created it. He had created everything in the universe, up to and including man, and it was all good. But then you see the first thing in the world that is not good: man being alone.
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one. He gave names to all the livestock, all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals. But still there was no helper just right for him. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.
“At last!” the man exclaimed.“This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.’”
This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.” -Genesis 2:18-25 NLT
This is the picture of the first marriage. God’s the one doing all the major action in these verses. God saw that it wasn’t good for man to be alone. God saw that none of the animals of the earth would do the job. God formed woman out of man’s body. God gave the woman to the man. God set the whole thing up. Adam just stands back and says “YES!!” This whole operation was established by God so that the two would unite into one. So they could have someone that they would be with forever and be completely vulnerable and open with, and never feel ashamed of themselves around. THIS is the picture of marriage. This is a covenant established by God and given to His people, not something the people came up with and scribbled down on a piece of paper, in hopes that signing it would somehow link them together for the future. Not even close.
Marriage, your marriage and mine, are reflections of God’s love for us. The allegory of Christ coming back for His bride is no coincidence. If we follow what God has established as a marriage, then we as a couple will reflect that kind of union. The trouble is, we are all messed up people. We look at our marriage as a contract that we agreed to, but now things might be getting too tough to deal with and we don’t really agree to that stuff anymore…and so if we no longer agree, then those signatures are null and void, right? We can just agree to forget the contract and move on with life. After all, God wants us to be happy, right?
Not exactly. God wants us to keep our promises with integrity and work through our issues using His strength until we can get past the hurt, the pain, the indifference…whatever. The main goal of a marriage is not to be happy, although if we do it right, we definitely will be. Does that mean that every minute of every day will be all dreamy and wonderful? Nope. Does it mean that my spouse will always do what I want him to? Um, no. Does it mean that we’re both getting all the sex we want exactly when we want it? Not so much. But it does mean that your relationship is built on trust, not distrust. You enter into a covenant (a solemn, binding pledge) with each other and with God for companionship and mutual love & intimacy. It’s not a list of things you sign because you don’t really trust that the other will do them. It’s a pledge to God that you will love this person as He has loved us. You will serve this person as Christ served us. You will do whatever it takes to uphold the companionship and intimacy of the relationship in order to show the world that love really does exist, and it only comes from God.
God’s Word gives us an understanding of how serious our vows are to God. “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” Ecclesiastes 5:5. Clearly God is showing us that if you’re not ready to take a vow to Him or to another person, you shouldn’t make the vow. Making a vow or a pledge means you will fulfill it and see it through. There’s no expiration date on marriage vows prior to the death of one or both of the spouses. So if you are ending your marriage because the two of you cannot see eye to eye, or because you love the person but are no longer “in love” with them, then you have broken your vow – left it unfulfilled – to your spouse and to God. He is clearly displeased with that. These may feel like harsh words but truth is sometimes not easy to hear.
So, okay…let’s say we agree that marriage is a covenant, not a contract. What do we do when things go wrong? What do we do when we aren’t having those feelings toward each other that a husband and wife should have? What do we do when we are hurt, taken advantage of, or just simply not in love anymore? We take our hurts to the one who created the covenant. He sees you. (See Yahweh-Roi, Genesis 16) He knows what has been going on. He understands you’ve been hurt and that your spouse is not being the person He created him or her to be right now. He gets it. He has been with you every step of the way, no matter how ugly things have gotten. But the One who created everything is the same One who can do anything. We have to give our hurt back to Him to deal with, not just start feeling around for the lever to the escape hatch.
In honoring our vow to our spouse and to God, we have to be able to look at them with His eyes. This fight will be won through prayer…asking God to let you look at your spouse again and see them as He sees them. But there’s another important prayer…asking God to reveal the ways that you have not fulfilled the vows you made, asking God’s forgiveness for those parts you’ve played in your marriage deteriorating to this point. In the majority of cases where a marriage has gone downhill, there is not one offender and one helpless victim. Usually the problems are an accumulation of years of instances where we disappoint, try to control, shoot backhanded comments, expect too much from someone, lie, cover up, redirect emotions to inappropriate places, take each other for granted, etc… In only very few specific situations is a bomb dropped in the middle of a marriage by one spouse while the other party did not contribute in any way to the problems.
So how do we know for sure if we are behaving in a way that marks our committment to the covenant we made with God and our spouse? There are many places in scripture to look, but one of the most direct and comprehensive sections in God’s Word that speaks to how the marriage relationship works is found in Ephesians 5:21-33. Here it is in The Message translation, which I believe gives us a lovely and accurate perspective:
21Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.
22-24Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
25-28Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
29-33No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.
As you can see, God clearly has great plans for us in marriage. He wants women to understand and support our husbands in ways that show support for Christ.” How do we show our support for Christ? We pray, we learn about His ways, we align ourselves with the things we see Christ doing so we don’t damage His reputation. Are we doing that with our husbands? Are we taking time to pray for them, learn about what he is interested in and what things are dear to his heart? Are we aligning ourselves with him and showing our support by making sure we build up our husbands instead of tearing him down? Hmmm… And men: is everything you’re doing bringing out the best in your wife? Do your words evoke her beauty? Are you helping to make her whole by loving her sacrificially and going all out for her?
Uh-oh…I can see both spouses squirming in their seats right now.
God has given us a “love marked by giving, not getting.” What time, resources, or energy have you given your spouse this week that shows how much you love him or her? Think….anything? THAT is how Christ loves the church…He gives everything of Himself in order for her benefit. And the church responds by putting her faith in Him and showing respect for the love He’s given and the sacrifice He’s made, gladly submitting to His leadership. It is a beautiful thing born of mutual trust. That’s how God keeps His covenant with us. And that is how we are to keep our covenant as well.
“…Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” -Jesus, (Mark 10:8-9)