In the Bible, marriage is referred to as a covenant (Berit) relationship:
Covenant: “an agreement that brings about a relationship of commitment” dictionary.com
The word used for this covenant is the same as the word used to show the
“perpetual covenant between the Almighty and man or the people of Israel (Gen. 9:9; 15:18; Ex. 31:16),” according to jewishvirtuallibrary.org
Contract (hozeh), the word used overwhelmingly today to describe the marriage agreement is very different in meaning!
Contract: “a written or spoken agreement, especially one concerning employment, sales, or tenancy, that is intended to be enforceable by law.” dictionary.com
Why is this important? Why should be be concerned with how marriage is defined in our society? Because the way that we define something influences the way we choose to treat it.
For example, Love can be defined as an emotion, or as a commitment. When one defines it as an emotion (infatuation would be a better term for this often fleeting feeling) then when the feeling is gone, (and scientifically, according to Dr. Gary Chapman, this feeling is constantly sustainable for 2-3 years in the strongest cases(5 Love Languages)) the person feeling it believes the just “aren’t in love anymore.” It becomes something that is beyond their control, something they can do nothing about.
If love is viewed as a personal commitment to a person stemming out of mutual trust, respect, and admiration for the character of the person, when the “in love” feeling is no longer sustainable: when it becomes more of a once in a while special reminder rather than an every day constant; the couple would still be able to maintain that committed relationship because it is understood that love is not beyond our control: it is a choice to stay committed to that person, to work life out, to be their other half if you would, as they would be committed to be yours. It is not to be played with, betrayed, or forgotten. By all means, the “in love” feeling is very fun while it lasts, but fostering a deeper relationship is very important.
If we take this concept in to our conversation about marriage, what can we then conclude? If marriage is a contract, what does that mean? Contracts are legal obligations; a kind of “you follow through with your end, and I will follow through with mine,” type of thing. Have we seen this in society in recent years? I would say the answer is an astounding yes!
“You wrote in your vows that you would cherish me always. I don’t feel very cherished, so I am not going to respect and honor you.”
“Well if you aren’t going to respect me on this…”
You can see how this could turn in to a downward spiraling relationship very quickly. Nobody is going to ever measure up to our expectations of what a perfect partner should be because…guess what…nobody is perfect. Focusing on their contractual obligations to us will just make marriage seem like a chore, and eventually both wife and husband will be worn out and feeling unloved. We see so many marriages falling apart these days, and much of it is caused by this type of reasoning. “if you would only, then I would”
How wonderful it is that marriage is not a contract as our society would like to define it! What hope there is that marriage is defined as a covenant! God, divinely inspired Paul to write to the church of Ephesus, and in the letter, God commands (through Paul) “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.” (Ephesians 5:25a) How did Christ love the church when he gave himself for her? He suffered long for her. He showed longsuffering, and committment(“He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross“-Philippians 2:8) These are not things to be taken lightly. This means that when you are going through things in marriage, you go through them together. You struggle the struggle, you sludge through the gunk, and sort through the baggage, and when you come out on the other side of the situation, after bringing things to God together you are stronger for it.
Christ loved us with an overcoming love: a love that overlooked our sins against heaven because he was our reconciliation. (“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8)
Christ did what he did for us out of love, I guarantee you, it was not always fun. (I do not say this in jest, but to make a point) I am sure he did not wake up one morning and decide that it would be enjoyable to die on a cross for our sins! In fact, the night he was taken in to custody he was sweating blood because he was praying so hard to be released from the burden if there were any other way!
Jesus Christ gave up his very life, and suffered terribly because his love for us was so great that he would do anything to obtain our righteousness. He now stands in the gap for us with God. He offered himself as the holy sacrifice to cover our sins, and he is our high priest in heaven, constantly exhorting us before God. In the same way, we should lift our partners in prayer constantly.
Jesus’ love for us is eternal. God forgives us of our debt(sins) how much more should we forgive others their debt(against us). How about changing things from today on? What if we decide to act towards our spouses the way that Christ acts towards us: Regardless of how they treat us, regardless of whether they acknowledge it or not? Maybe then we will see a change: when we treat this relationship the way it should be treated: as a covenant where we expect to give rather than a contract in which we expect to receive.