Why Do We Make
The Marriage Covenant from the
Marriage has been a
social institution in just about every society since the earliest
times. Marriage traditions and customs differ greatly from culture to
culture, but nearly every culture has them. Have you ever wondered why
marriage was culturally relevant; even in primitive societies? Though
the ages men and women of all races and religions have chosen to
single out a time and place to "unite in marriage." Customs guide it;
laws govern it; society respects it. Why is that it is that only
within the past few decades has traditional marriage been set aside or
rejected all together?
One reason is the
moral laxness that pervades the United State since the 1960's. Sex
outside of marriage is no longer considered sinful, even by many
people that go to church. "We love each other, that is all what
really matters," is the mantra of the post modern generation. The
prevailing wisdom of this group says, "We don't need a piece of paper
to make it right."
Another reason is
that in the past 30 years our society has lost a sense of what
marriage really is. Having "divorced" marriage from its cultural and
biblical moorings, it is left to drift on the uncertain current of
people's personal opinion.
Why is marriage
important? Why do we take vows and what is their significance? Is a
"piece of paper" really important? Does the Bible require marriage?
Does marriage have any benefits to those who choose to engage in it?
These are important questions to consider.
In almost every
culture marriage has two cornerstones: vows and sexual intercourse.
In fact it is both of these that legitimize and legalize a marriage.
In the western world it is the vows that form the legal commitment and
sex that "consummates" those commitments. In most states a marriage
that is not consummated with intercourse can be annulled. Divorce
dissolves a marriage, but annulment voids the marriage completely, as
if it never happened.
It is interesting
that marriage vows and sex are so closely associated. Biblically
speaking it is considered morally wrong for a couple to have sex even
one minute before a wedding ceremony and totally acceptable, and even
expected, that they would after the ceremony. What takes place in the
ceremony that legitimizes sexual intercourse?
Marriage has two
parts, one is legal and one is spiritual. Both are activated by the
vows. Legally the vows form a verbal contract to become one; sharing
property, debt and other privileges and responsibilities. This is why
a couple can not just get "unmarried." They have to go to the court
system and have a judge legally terminate the marriage. Spiritually
the vows create what the Bible calls a "covenant." A covenant is a
spiritual agreement, governing the relationship. Because of the vows,
couples are united, both in the eyes of the society in which they live
and before God which spiritually joins them together. Just as a legal
agreement can not be broken without consequences, so a covenant can
not be broken without consequences.
Consider what God
had to say about this covenant and the spiritual consequences in
Malachi 2:13-15 (the last book of the Old Testament).
here's a second offense: You fill the place of worship with your
whining and sniveling because you don't get what you want from GOD.
Do you know why? Simple. Because GOD was there as a witness when you
spoke your marriage vows to your young bride, and now you've broken
those vows, broken the faith-bond with your vowed companion,
your covenant wife. GOD, not
you, made marriage. His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of
marriage. And what does he want from marriage? Children of God, that's
what. So guard the spirit of marriage within you. Don't cheat
on your spouse. "I hate divorce,"
says the GOD of Israel. ‚Ä¶. I hate the violent dismembering of the
'one flesh' of marriage." So watch yourselves. Don't let your guard
down. Don't cheat" (The Message Bible. Emphasis mine.)
This portion of
scripture was written about 400 years before Jesus Christ was born, at
a time when the nation of Israel was in moral decline. Even though
they remained outwardly religious, they had moved away from the true
worship of God and their moral obligations. Adultery and divorce was
rampant. It was not uncommon for a man to divorce his wife and get a
new one. Our society today is much like that of ancient Israel when
God spoke these words.
Notice the emphasis
placed on the vows and the covenant. God says He was witness to the
marriage vows. You might also note the consequences of their
covenant-breaking (adultery and divorce). These people were
worshipping and praying, but they were not getting answers to their
prayers. God points out that the reason is breaking their marriage
vows. God is serious about the vows we take and the covenants we
make. Spiritual things happen when we make covenants. Spiritual
things happen when we break them too.
When a couple trades
vows before God, the Bible tells us that God unites them. That is why
Jesus said, "what God has joined together, let no man put asunder."
This article is not about the evils of divorce, but rather the power
of the wedding vows and the covenant that was created before God and
Covenant is the
central theme of the Bible. In fact the Bible is divided into the Old
Testament (covenant) and the New Testament (covenant). The word
covenant actually means "cutting" and when two people or two groups of
people make a spiritual agreement it was called, "cutting covenant."
In the Old Testament an animal was slain and divided in two (hence the
idea of cutting) and the parties making the covenant passed between
the two pieces of the animal signifying the seriousness of the
covenant. In effect they were saying, only death can end this
covenant and if I break it you can kill me. The familiar strains of
"until death do us part," in the traditional marriage vows probably
came from this concept of cutting covenant, because this is exactly
what the couple does.
aspect of the marriage covenant was sexual intercourse. Sex was the
seal or bond of the covenant. As we mentioned earlier, a marriage
that is not consummated by sexual intercourse can be voided as if it
never happened. Since covenant had an element of the shedding of
blood involved, so the consummation of the marriage covenant also has
the shedding of blood. In the best case scenario a woman is supposed
to be a virgin when she gets married. The first time she has sexual
intercourse the hymen is broken and blood is shed. It could well be
that this 'seal of purity' was God's way of ratifying the marriage
We've looked at what
a marriage covenant is in a spiritual sense and even some of the
consequences for breaking our marriage covenant. Now let's look at the
benefits of the covenant relationship.
When a couple
exchanges wedding vows they are creating a moral, legal and spiritual
commitment to each other. Those vows are meant to hold them together
in tough times. They were promises made to each other. "For better or
worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health." These pledges
were meant to be a comfort to the spouses; a promise that someone
would walk with them through the difficulties of life and not bail out
as soon as things got tough. Since both parties were going to make a
long term 'investment' in the relationship spiritually, emotionally
and financially it is only fitting that some sort of guarantee is
have and to hold; Forsaking all others and keeping only to your
spouse," were promises particularly related to the sexual union. A
couple vowed to each other before God and man to remain sexually pure
with each other. What a concept. Very few people want to marry a
person that they know will cheat on them. It was this part of the
covenant vow that legitimizes the sexual union.
Another reason God
requires a covenantal relationship to guard sex is that children are
the natural result of marriage. God told Adam and Eve to, "be
fruitful and multiply." God wanted children to be brought up in a
loving stable environment. The hard truth is that the devastating
effects of single parent families have impacted our society in ways we
can not imagine. It does make any difference if the parents were
never married or if they were divorced, children most often pay the
price emotionally and socio-economically. (Please note I am not
condemning people in either situation. I am only stating that the
result has been catastrophic to modern society in terms of emotional
turmoil and economic impact, not to mention the problems related to
education, discipline, sexual abuse and more.)
God wanted parents
to stay together, work out problems and provide emotional and moral
foundations for their children. When the family is a cornerstone of
society, the world is a better place.
The bottom line is
that marriage is about commitment. Commitment forms the basis of the
moral, legal and spiritual privileges and responsibilities associated
with marriage. It is precisely this issue that cause many couples to
live together, rather then get married.
What is the big deal
about a piece of paper? It is easy to see that the piece of paper is
not the real issue; it is the moral, spiritual and legal commitments
that govern the relationship that are the heart and soul of marriage
and family. Couples want the benefits of marriage: companionship,
sex, financial advantages (they don't have to rent to apartments and
pay double bills) and other things, but do not want to make the
commitments that have traditionally defined marriage in almost every
culture for over 6000 years.
A couple may say
they are committed, but until that commitment takes on moral, legal
and even spiritual ramifications it is really no commitment at all.
In God's economy it is the loving, self-sacrificing commitment of
covenant that legitimizes marriage, not the fleeting emotion of love
or desire. If a couple is committed to one another there is no reason
at all that they should not be willing to say the words in public and
enter into a covenant relationship.
God placed His
blessing on marriage and children. He promised to listen to the
unified prayers of the Christian couple and bless their children. In
the turbulent uncertainty of the 21st century, having God's
blessing might be a really good idea.
About the Author:
Dr. Steve Highlander holds a doctorate in Pastoral Theology from Faith
Bible College in Independence, MO. and is a Certified Christian
Counselor with the Association of Scriptural Psychology Therapists. Dr.
Highlander in is involved in mission work and serves as dean of
Acts Ministry University, a new
online bible College. Steve and his wife Brooke, who holds a
doctorate in Scriptural Psychology, operate
C3M Ministries. C3M stands for
Church in the Third Millennium and is dedicated to helping the church
return to her New Testament moorings of faith and practice. For
free audio and print resources visit
What Does the Bible
Say About That?
Quotations From the Bible
God doesn't have a problem with
sex, He created sex and has told mankind that within the bounds of
marriage that it was to be enjoyed by husbands and wives.
Here are some plain scriptures
that warn us against sexual immortality
"Let marriage be held in honor
by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge
fornicators (those who have sex outside of marriage) and
"Shun fornication (sex
outside of marriage). Every sin that a person commits is outside
the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself.
I Corinthians 6:18
"Do you not know that
wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived!
Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites
(homosexuals) ónone of these will inherit the
kingdom of God."
I Corinthians 6:9-10
"But as for the cowardly, the
faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators
(sexually immoral), the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars,
their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which
is the second death."
"So God let them go
ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a
result, they did vile and degrading things with each other's bodies.
Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they
deliberately chose to believe lies. So they worshiped the things God
made but not the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever. Amen.
That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the
women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged
in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual
relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did
shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within
themselves the penalty they so richly deserved. When they refused to
acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their evil minds and let them do
things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every
kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting,
deception, malicious behavior, and gossip."