Christian Marriage Sermon Notes

#6 The Marriage Covenant, Part II

 

Hosea 2:14-23

 

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.”

 

THEOS

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. 

 

THEOS

T: Taking Hold of & Tearing

H: Hierarchy

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.

 

T: Taking hold & Tearing: God sovereignty and graciously initiates the covenant by taking hold of the old order, separating/tearing his people out of it and inaugurating a “new creation.”

H: Hierarchy: Within this new order, God’s people are given a new name and new lines of authority are established.

E: Eloquence or Expression (as in verbal expression): God speaks to his newly constituted people, instructing them in the way of life appropriate for covenant. 

O: Objective physical Signs and Seals: Covenant signs and seals are given which are tangible memorials, even “witnesses” of the covenant.  In the Church we call these “sacraments.”  Usually blessings and curses are also enumerated in conjunction with these physical signs to encourage faithfulness to God’s gracious new arrangement.

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.

 

T: Taking hold & Tearing.  God takes hold of his people in Babylon and tears them away from that land, bringing them back into the Promised Land.  They must leave Babylon and become again a nation united in covenant with God.

H: Hierarchy.  Having been reconstituted, they are now renamed.  The Restoration covenant name for the people of God is “Jews.”  God himself now takes the name Yahweh Sabaoth (“Yahweh of Hosts”).  Furthermore, God’s people are now in a significantly different governmental arrangement than they were under the Mosaic or the Davidic covenant.  There are no more kings.  And they are told to obey whatever world empire God has established (Persia, Greece, and Rome).

E: Eloquence/Expression.  God renews his speech with the people, sending them new prophets (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, etc.).  The heartbeat of every covenantal relationship, since it is a personal relation, is words.

O: Objective physical signs and seals.  A new temple is built.  Sacrifices are restored.

S: Succession.  There is a great concern now for the perpetuation of the covenant, especially for the faithfulness of the Jews to witness to the nations (Esther).  Intermarriage with ungodly men and women outside of covenant is forbidden.  They are called upon to raise up a holy seed.

 

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.

 

1) T: Taking hold of & Tearing.  Every man and woman who come together for marriage must first be separated from their old life.  God takes hold of them and tears them from their old families and relations.  They are to unite together as a sort of new creation.  At the marriage ceremony, for example, the father of the bride “gives her away” and she must agree to leave that old family and be joined to her new husband.  The man must make the same separation.  They both must “forsake all others” and come together as a new family. 

2) H: Hierarchy.  They come together as equals in a new union: with a new name.  That new name is the husband’s last name.  The husband is the head and leader in the new family.  Under God they now have a new set of living instructions.  By coming together in the marital covenant, the man and woman now have new roles, a new hierarchical order to structure their lives.

3) E: Eloquence.  The new couple’s life is both inaugurated with powerful words as well as sustained by words, both the Word of God and the words that pass between them.  The couple listens to their first sermon together during the wedding ceremony.  Many more will follow, for they must learn what it now means to be united in holy covenant of marriage.  They must also learn how to speak to one another. They must learn a marital eloquence, if you will.

4) O: Objective Physical Signs and Seals.  Then, too, though the marriage itself must be maintained primarily with words, there must also be physical contact (hugs, kisses, caresses, holding hands, and so on), the most intimate of which being sexual in nature.  It is in conjunction with this physical sacrament, if you will, of marriage that all of the warnings and curses are associated.  Thou shalt not commit adultery.  Just as in the covenant between Jesus and his bride, the physical sacraments are where covenant loyalty as well as unfaithfulness will be revealed. 

5) S: Succession.  The covenantal love shared between husband and wife will then naturally (all things considered) produce children.  They will then grow up, leave their father and mother, and so on.  The covenant is perpetuated.

 

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:

 

1.  Taking Hold/Tearing: Under this general heading we would consider everything related to the way a man and a woman leave their old lives and come together as a new creation.  What is the essential relation between a man and a woman—why it is appropriate for men and women come together in marriage?  How the marriage should begin?  Questions about launching a marriage.  Questions about how a man and woman are separated from their former family and lives.  Who should get married?  Who should not get married?  Questions about the methods by which a man and a woman are brought together by God in marriage.  What’s the role of the parents, of romance, or dating?  The continuing duty of both husband and wife to maintain a fitting separation from all unhealthy relations with family or former friends?  The continuing privilege of covenant renewal by husband and wife: cultivating a life of forsaking all others and clinging to one another?  Then under this heading are all the questions relating to those who remain unmarried?  When is this proper?  How should we think of single adults?  How should they think of their own situation?  Does the Bible have anything to say to them?

2.  (Hierarchy) New Name & Authority Structure.  Under this point we ask questions relating to the distinct roles of husband and wife.  What does it mean that the husband is leader and head?  Is the husband leader and head?  What does submission mean?  Ought the woman to submit or is that cultural and dispensable in the modern world?  How ought God’s authority & the authority of his Word and Church function in a marriage?

3.  (Eloquence/Expression) New Words & Communication How is the marriage inaugurated and maintained by verbal communication? What is the significance of marriage vows?  How important are words in a marriage?  Does the Bible give us any guidelines about the way in which husband and wife communicate with one another?

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.