Christian Marriage Sermon Notes
#6 The Marriage Covenant, Part II
Pastor Jeffrey J. Meyers
Repetition is the essence of learning. So says the old dictum. So says the Bible. So therefore do I preach once again on marriage as a covenant. This morning, once again, the whole Bible is my text. I will read Hosea 2:14-23 as another example of the way in which the Bible coordinates covenant and marriage. God’s covenant with his people is a marital union. God’s marital union with his people is a covenant. Herein we discover the essential contours, not only of the divine-human bond, but also of the human-human bond of marriage.
Read Hosea 2:14-23 & Prayer for Illumination.
First Things First
At their wedding day, when a man and woman walk up the isle, or better when the woman is brought to her groom by her father, the two are not yet in a covenantal relationship with one another. They are friends. They are in love. They are committed to one another, even engaged, etc. But as yet their relations are informal and non-binding. Once they go through the marriage ceremony (which is itself structured according to the basic contours of the covenant!) they are in covenant with one another under God. Every marriage is a covenant.
If you don’t know what a covenant is, if you don’t appreciate the gracious, merciful, loving covenant God has made with us, especially the shape or form that it takes in our lives, you are not likely to understand adequately the marriage covenant. You will be more likely to fail as a husband or wife. We have an entire Christian culture of people that do not know the Old Testament, and consequently do not appreciate the crucial fact that the marital union is more than merely a social or even moral arrangement. It is a covenant.
Last Sunday’s sermon was a lot more crucial than I realized when I delivered it. Understanding something of the covenantal dimensions of the marriage union will greatly aid us in living together as husbands and wives, in being faithful to one another.
This is not your usual sermon series on marriage. True. I have not jumped into the duties of married couples right off the bat. So far I have used the fist five sermons to give the covenantal, gospel backdrop for marriage. Far too often pastors and teachers dive into the moral requirements of marriage without providing a covenantal orientation, without firmly rooting marriage in God’s own covenantal dealings with his people. God’s Word does not do this.
Even when the duties of marriage are discussed, as in Ephesians 5, they are not done so for strictly legal or moralistic reasons. Paul cannot quite bring himself to discuss marriage apart from Adam and Christ and the Church. Am I wrong? Paul begins with the chief roles and duties of husband and wife (love and submit), but it doesn’t take him long before he begins to “got off track” we might think—talking about Christ and his bride, his body, the Church.
In the midst of telling us how Jesus nourishes and cares for the members of his own body, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones, which is his bride, the church, he then quotes Genesis 2:24 (“for this reason a man shall leave his father . . .”). The covenantal marriage bond between a Christian man and a woman takes place because of Jesus relation to his bride. Paul can’t even keep these to relations separate and distinct. What is he talking about? Human marriage or Jesus and the Church? He ends us with unexpected answer: “This is a great mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:33). This exact same tendency to blend discussion of the divine-human marriage with human-human marriages may also be found in all of the prophets—most notably Hosea and Ezekiel, but even the Proverbs and the Song of Songs.
Marriage is not merely about obeying a set of moral dictates, but as I have been saying all along, trying to be faithful to the Bible, it is vitally connected to the mystery of God’s own relationship to man and especially God the Son’s husbandly love for his bride, the people of God—both Israel in the Old Covenant and the Church in the New Covenant. In other words, the covenant between God and man, between the Lord and his church, is constitutive of all human marital covenants. When we begin to see this astonishing connection, then understanding the contours of God’s covenantal way of dealing with man in creation and in each administration of the covenant of grace in the Old and New Testaments will become the means by which we understand the marriage covenant.
A User-Friendly Covenant
As I said last week, God has not given us a simple sentence-definition of a covenant. Rather, he has told the story of how he has entered into covenant with man so that we can appreciate the richness of this very dynamic covenantal relation. He has also left us with covenantal documents that exhibit the form of his covenant (the book of Deuteronomy being one of the most helpful). This is why last week I dragged you through most of the Old Testament in order to help you see the distinguishing features of God’s covenantal relations with man, especially with his people in the successive unfolding of the covenant of grace (as Reformed theologians have called it). As I brought that sermon to a close I asked you to apply what we discovered from our survey of the Old and New Testaments about the covenant to marriage. Every marriage is a covenant.
Now, this morning I simply must give you a better handle on the basic dimensions of God’s covenantal work. I fear that I was not very user-friendly last week. For fear of being too pedantic, for fear of pigeonholing such a rich, multi-faceted relation as the covenant, I did not give you discrete points or a numbered outline of God’s covenant. I spoke of the process by which God enters into covenant without giving you some graspable handles to hold onto.
But this morning, if you will promise me that you will not elevate the simple structure that I am about to give you into something rigid and absolute, I’ll provide you with a way to remember the distinguishing features of a covenant. A five-fold way of reckoning the form of God’s covenant with man as well as the form of a man and woman’s marital covenant before God.
Before I do so, however, I need to make a few qualifying comments. I do not mean to suggest that this five-fold way of enumerating the dimensions of covenantal arrangements is the only way to slice the pie of this rich relationship that the Bible calls a covenant. There have been other Reformed theologians who have analyzed this covenantal sequence using a three-fold, a four-fold, a six-fold, a seven-fold, even an eight-fold model. Models like these are helpful in that they quantify for us something of the amazing richness of God’s covenantal dealings with man. But no one model can capture the richness of God’s covenant.
The five-fold model that I give you this morning is like a map that helps us appreciate a rich landscape by giving us some identifiable features from which to orient ourselves. Those who use different numerical models will almost always include everything that I have discussed, even if they sometimes lump some items together or separate others out and made a individual “point” out of them. There are always fuzzy boundaries between these “points.”
This five-fold way of describing God’s covenant has been given a convenient acronym by a friend of mine, Ralph Smith (a missionary in Japan). He uses the Greek word for God (theos) to help us remember these five aspects. I’ve changed a few of his names, however.
T: Taking Hold of & Tearing
E: Eloquence or Expression
O: Objective Physical Signs and Seals
S: Succession Arrangements
If you have read my sermon notes from last week (#5) then you will see that I have changed some of the names associated with each of the points. For example, I’ve changed “transcendence” to “Taking hold of & Tearing.” I’ve done this to get rid of some of the abstract language and call attention to the actions that are being performed by God. THEOS is as good a way as any to remember the distinguishing dimensions of the covenant. Let’s flesh it out a little more.
S: Succession: God provides everything needed to perpetuate the covenant.
Now that we have the basic outline down, let’s apply it to our understanding of one of the OT covenants. Take the Restoration Covenant (Ezra & Nehemiah) as an example. This is one I did not discuss last week. From what you know about God’s covenant renewal of his people in Babylon after the exile, follow along with me.
Here, then, are five, relatively easy to remember descriptions of God’s covenant making process. An acronym: THEOS. What does this mean for marriage? I did this at the end of last week’s sermon. I’ll do it again using these helpful handles.
In conclusion, all I can do this morning is outline for you the cash value of all of this in outline form. The basic application is this: whenever there are problems in marriage, it will always be traceable to a failure in one of these dimensions of the marriage covenant. If a marriage is in trouble, the answer lies in renewing the marital covenant—usually by giving renewed attention to one or more of these crucial aspects of the covenant. A critical failure in one dimension or another will have global effects in the marriage. Here’s the five-fold covenantal structure again, this time with a list of the questions/issues under each heading:
4. (Objective Physical Signs & Seals) Physical & Sexual Intimacy. What is the role of physical contact in marriage? How does sexual intimacy function in marriage? Is sexual intimacy good? What does the Bible say about marital sexuality? How is it abused?
5. (Succession) Arrangements for the perpetuation of the covenant. Here we discuss all the issues related to what children mean to a marriage. Are they essential? Are they dispensable? All the questions involving how marriages change with children. Why is this? What are the dangers involved for a couple’s own relationship when there are children present?
As we move through this series, I will doubtless think of more issues to deal with under these five covenantal dimensions. I would also solicit your help in this. But for now, as we close, I am giving you fair warning in advance. Husbands and wives, I am about to enter into the second half of this series on Christian marriage. It will focus on the details of the marital relations. From this general outline you can see where I am going. Since we all have problems in our marriages, begin to ponder these things now. Begin to work on whatever dimension of your marriage covenant that needs attention now.
For a covenant to endure there must be continual covenant renewal—a periodic self-conscious working through this dynamic structure of marital relations. This is exactly what the Lord himself does with us every week. He graciously brings us, his Bride, through this exact same covenant renewal sequence on the Lord’s day. Without this scheduled, weekly renewal we would eventually abandon our husband, the Lord Christ. Without some sort of daily, weekly renewal of our marital covenant, we will fall out of love and rush headlong into all of the snares of the devil.