David Fields, May 17, 2020

I. What Marriage Isn’t: Not A Consumer Relationship

Why the legal marriage, the ‘little piece of paper’, isn’t our love enough? 

My answer begins with two questions: 

1. What do you mean by ‘love’?  And 2. Enough for what?

We instinctually want to make promises of committed life-long love when we are in the throws of romance. The romantic thing to say is something like: “No one will ever take your place in my heart.”  

A consumer approach to relationship says:

“I love you, but not enough to promise you total fidelity and care, even in the worst of times as well as the best.”  Translation:  “I’ll love you so long as I can get what I want out of you.”

That’s not actually loving the person, it’s loving what that person can give you – in terms of boosting our ego, making us feel special, or giving us a sense of adding to our sense of fulfillment in life.

“Sociologists argue that in contemporary Western society the marketplace has become so dominant that the consumer model increasingly characterizes most relationships that were historically covenantal, including marriage.  Today we stay connected to people only as long as they are meeting our particular needs at an acceptable cost to us.  When we cease to make a profit – that is, when the relationship appears to require more love and affirmation from us than we are getting back – we “cut our losses” and drop the relationship”  – Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

II. What Marriage Is: A Covenant Relationship

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to [or ‘cleave to’] his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Three Elements of the Marriage Covenant:

  1. Leave

In order to establish a new family with the emotional and physical security within the marriage, there needs to be an emotional and physical leaving of the previous family connection.

The marriage ceremony matters since: “There is to be no question that this particular man who has left his father and mother is now married to this particular woman and not another” – David Atkinson, The Message of Genesis 1-1

“Cleave” is the archaic English word often translated “united to”.  This is the word the Bible uses for covenant-faithfulness. The word in the Hebrew language meant to “be glued” to something – to unite to someone through a binding promise.  Each person makes promises faithfulness to the other, no matter what the future holds. 

“At the beating heart of any marriage is the delicate, fragile, often painful but potentially joyful relationship of two persons face to face in personal encounter.”  – Lewis Smedes

The Marriage Vows are Vertical and Horizontal

The promise is to God and then to each other, in the presence of God and these witnesses.

The traditional vows make a binding promise about what will be the case – the promise of future love, not just our present feelings.  

“I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful husband/wife.  For richer or poorer, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.”

Our vows keep us “tied to the mast” – they keep us from running out whenever our emotions and circumstances are driving us mad – and they will at times

More Than A Feeling:

The husband is told in Ephesians 5:28 that he ought to love his wife.  This word is one of obligation.  You cannot obligate a feeling.  That tells us something important: the command is not to feel love but to act loving.  That tells us about the nature of the love Paul is speaking of here.  Love, agape, God’s sort of love, is not just a feeling – though it often includes feeling too.  It is a commitment.  And that is what these vows are promising to the other: “I will love you – meaning, I will be committed to your good – for as long as we both shall live.”

“The two shall become one flesh” implies that the union of these two people is that they give themselves wholly to one another in every area of life – and that is expressed in and deepened through their physical intimacy. 

“The practical implications of this [love command is that]…husbands are to care for their wives physically and emotionally as well as, or better than, they care for themselves.” Frank Thielman, Ephesians

“When I care for her I’m caring for us.  When I look after his interests, I’m building our relationship.  When she thrives, we thrive.”

The one flesh union spoken of here transforms my goals into our goals; my plans into our plans.

III.  Why It Matters

  1. Covenant love is God’s kind of love

“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” – Genesis 2:25

Here “naked” refers to more than just their lack of clothing.  It is a way of speaking about the fact that they were completely open with each other, vulnerable, nothing to hide, no threat to each other.

That’s what the promise of a covenant can give us; a deeper, richer sense of security, where we can be fully known and fully loved.

“When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him – or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience.  To be loved but not fully known is comforting but superficial.  To be known and not loved is our greatest fear.  But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.  It is what we need more than anything.  It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”  – Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

2. We share this love with each other and the world

The ‘great mystery’ is that we are welcomed and embraced by the loving God, who found us at our worst and through Jesus’ death and resurrection, makes us his spotless bride. 

One of the reasons, then, I think as we look into the essence of marriage as a covenant, we see the exquisite beauty of God’s kind of love, and want to make that love known to all the world. 

Life Group Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you seen a marriage that isn’t perfect – none is – but that was capturing the essence of what marriage is intended to be?  What were some of the key features of it?

How do you see, or have you experienced, each of these as aiding a couple in growing in intimacy and love?

What are some of the challenges each presents?

How might you, or a couple, best meet these challenges?

Prayer: Take time to pray for the specific needs of your Life Group, and even as they pertain to the discussion above.  Ask God to give us, as a community, the boldness to express this same agape love with our neighbours and to stay committed to our covenant with one another as Christ’s bride, the church.