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Framing Healthy Marriages: Covenants vs. Contracts

A special Valentine's Day reminder about marriage.

Editor's Note: Adapted from a special message on family from Jay Mooney, chief ministries and resources officer for the Assemblies of God.

As couples begin their celebrations of Valentine’s Day, they are often framed with sweet sentiments and even sweeter treats. These acts of adoration are performed to show a spouse how much he or she is cherished by the other. Yet outside of a cherished act on a special day, Christian couples are in need of a revival of the marriage covenant and not just a renewal of a marriage contract.

While contracts are temporary and full of obligations and servitude, covenants are timeless and speak of relational devotion and service.

We serve an incredible, eternally faithful God. God is a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. In a world that has been lost to contractual complacency, driven by convenience and money, our God desires relational covenants. And while God never expects perfection, He desires for us to emulate Him and be covenant-making and covenant-keeping people.

In a covenant, God is bestowing His blessing on humans in both conditional and non-conditional terms. Our Father blesses us as we obey the terms of our mutually binding covenant with Him but, in all of His goodness and grace, also blesses us regardless of our obedience.

God chose us even before the beginning of time (Ephesians 1:4). Before the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, God had already established a covenant with us and knew that He would pursue a relationship with us.

Throughout Scripture, there are several different covenants that God makes, five of which are considered “major” because of their relation to God’s plan for our redemption from sin.

One of the first mentions of a covenant in the Bible is found in Genesis 6:18 in which God says to Noah, “But I will establish my covenant with you and you will enter the ark….” Just a few chapters later, we see the Lord establishing another covenant with Abram. Genesis 15:18 says, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram. He said, ‘I am giving this land to your children after you.’”

Old Testament covenants are binding but require rituals or sacrifices as acts of repentance. In the New Testament we see God revealing His son as a guarantor for those covenants, a way for us to keep our part of the covenant because we could not do it on our own. This guarantor offered total redemption for our brokenness, something no sacrifice could fully atone for, and a complete and eternal salvation, something no earthly priest could offer (Hebrews 7:22-28).

In one of Jesus’ final days on earth, He establishes a blood covenant in which He reveals that His blood will cover our sins and will become the only sacrifice required for salvation (Matthew 26:28).

While there are a few covenants God asks us to make, one of the most sacred we make on earth, outside of our relationship with God, is the covenant of marriage.

When we treat marriage as a contract instead of a covenant, we are allowing feelings and circumstances to dictate the terms of our relationship.

With love, there are certainly feelings and emotions that heighten our senses and draw us in our attraction to one another. But God’s design for marriage was a covenant, outside of feelings and emotions, in which two people choose to pursue each other every day, just as He pursues us.

In the Bible, covenants are often sealed by God, symbolizing His approval and declaration of the agreement. And just as He binds His covenants with a seal, so He binds the covenant of marriage. Matthew 19:6 tells us that God joins us together as one with our spouse under the oath of marriage. This signifies that it isn’t a paper certificate, a recitation of lyrical promises, or the declaration of an officiant that legitimizes a marriage; it is the binding seal of God the Father attesting to the vows made in His presence that creates a marital covenant. And while there are contractual obligations that come with a marriage, the commitment before God was designed to cast a reflection of God’s covenant with us, His sons and daughters, to a world living in the mess of temporary contracts.

As you celebrate your spouse today, take a moment to rededicate yourself to your marriage, both before God and before your husband or wife. Ask God to empower you with His Spirit to boldly live out the covenant you made on your wedding day. Each time you gaze down at the band or ring on your finger, remember the eternal promise you made to your spouse, which has been sealed by the hand of God, and which “no man can separate.”