For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish... We have heard these words repeated in many wedding ceremonies, and if you are married you have likely said them yourself! What does it mean to be in a covenant marriage, and how does it enrich our lives and fulfill God’s purpose?
Throughout history, there have been different cultural definitions of what constitutes a marriage. Yet, at the heart of biblical marriage is a covenant before God to cherish one another and continue to grow as one. At the heart of a covenant marriage is a desire to not just ‘get through’ life together but to thrive together. It means to love, encourage, and cherish one another while constantly seeking Christ in our relationship.
The first mention of marriage in Scripture is in the Garden of Eden, recorded in Genesis 2:24: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Covenant Marriage as presented in Scripture is not something to be taken lightly, but makes up the foundation for the family, the community, and the bedrock of a strong and healthy society.
What Is the Meaning of Covenant Marriage?
In non-biblical terms, a covenant is essentially a legal, binding agreement. When you get married, take out a loan, lease a house, or sign a document, you are entering into a type of covenant: an agreement in which both parties make certain promises to one another. In biblical terms, a covenant between God and people holds great significance and forms the foundation of how God interacts with people. When we approach marriage as a covenant, we are truly making a lifelong commitment, a joining and binding contract that cannot be broken, and only grows stronger and more meaningful with time.
A Covenant Marriage in Legal Terms:
From a legal perspective and not to be confused with covenant marriage in the Bible, there is a type of marriage in Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana referred to as ‘covenant marriage.’ This legal term of ‘covenant marriage’ and the laws that accompany it basically give the couple an opportunity to limit the grounds for divorce at the time of their marriage or later. There are also usually requirements before marriage such as premarital counseling and signing a specific license for covenant marriage. The point of this type of marriage, legally, is to make divorce more difficult. Traditional marriages require a license and two witnesses, there are no limitations in place to make divorce more difficult. Only one to two percent of couples in these three states choose this type of marriage compared to traditional marriage.
What Does the Bible Say about Covenant Marriage?
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” - Ephesians 5:21
The Bible declares marriage as the most important relationship one can enter into aside from their relationship with God, and Ephesians 5 gives us perhaps the most detailed explanation of how this plays out. Ephesians 5:22-23 has become among the most controversial passages in Scripture, especially in today’s culture. Yet, there is a full, beautiful meaning in the full context of these verses that reveals the beauty of what covenant marriage truly is: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior”.
On the surface this appears to suggest that the wife is inferior to the husband - just a submissive servant - and this interpretation has drawn scorn from many who seek equality. However, as we continue into Ephesians 5:25,28, we see that there is another side to the coin: ”Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” In this passage, it is reiterated that in a covenant marriage the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.
In full context, this passage does not present a wife living in submission to a dominant husband. Instead, this is a picture of two people in mutual submission to Christ, and a wife submitting to a godly man who leads the home spiritually and who loves his wife more than he loves himself. As Christ was crucified for the sake of his ‘bride’ the Church, the covenant husband is willing to endure the same for his wife he has given himself to in marriage. This is the most beautiful of love stories. A story of mutual love and submission, of two individuals ever-growing more and more into one, entwined within the love of Christ and for one another.
What Is the Purpose of This?
Covenant marriage has many purposes and meanings, but the primary purpose is to live out the example of the relationship between Christ and His Church. Just as Christ has made an unshakeable, unbreakable covenant with His bride the Church, so we in covenant marriage make the highest commitment to one another. When marriage is not taken as a serious covenant, this is where the trouble comes in. Unhappy marriages that merely ‘keep it together for the kids' or marriages that fail and end in divorce are a result of one or both parties not fully engaging in the covenant. When this happens, it is heartbreaking and leaves deep scars.
This makes security and trust a main aspect of covenant marriage. In a true covenant, both the husband and wife have set aside themselves for one another and make sacrifices to grow together. In a covenant marriage, grounded in prayer, Scripture, and mutual love, there is always a way to resolve problems, to find forgiveness and respect, and to draw near to one another while drawing near to Christ. The effects of a covenant marriage can extend for generations, providing a blueprint for those who follow us of how to create not just a house but a home where Christ is honored, and people are truly cared for.
What's the Difference between Marriage and Covenant Marriage?
"...You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.” - Malachi 2:13-15
If we take one thing from the above passage, it is that a covenant marriage is not to be entered into lightly! In a perfect world, there would be no difference between a covenant marriage and just everyday marriage. After all, marriage in and of itself is the highest of covenants we enter into before God and others. Yet, we know that this is not always reality.
While divorce rates have gone down over the past few decades, many are simply avoiding the commitment of marriage altogether. According to a recent study, marriages, in general, are lasting longer, and that is great news! However, the other side of the coin is that marriages are lasting longer because fewer people are joining in marriage.
According to Pew Social Trends, as of 2019, 53% of adults 18 and older are married compared to 58% in 1995 and 72% in 1970. At the same time, the percentage of Americans cohabitating has increased from three to seven percent. The Joint Economic Committee in the U.S. Congress reports the marriage rate continuing to decrease, especially in a pandemic year; the rate fell from 6.9 - 6.5 marriages per 1,000 people from 2017 -2018. In 2001, the rate was 8.2 marriages per 1,000 people. Additionally, Pew Research discovered of the adults (one-in-seven) who have never been married in the U.S. 58% say they would like to be one day, 27% say they’re not sure, and 14% say they do not want to be married.
Though it’s good news that divorce rates have decreased and look to be continuing that way, the decrease highlights that rather than commit to marriage, many are simply opting to avoid it altogether. This often leads to a home where children are raised by a single parent, or by parents who are uncommitted to a marriage. This can lead to a lack of stability, lack of security, and lack of a foundation coming from a solid, committed, covenant relationship.
What God Has Joined Together
“The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” - Genesis 2:18
Marriage continues to be the most beautiful ceremony we engage in. This is because within marriage we find deep and wonderful meaning. We see the beginning of a new life and an adventure of two people joining their lives together, entwining their hearts as one in the presence of God, friends, and family. It is the highest of vows. Near the end of a traditional marriage ceremony, we often hear the phrase, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” This phrase, drawn from the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:6, reminds us that marriage is a covenant initiated by God, which we agree to join into. When we commit to a covenant marriage, we are joining our hearts together in a supernatural way that only God can orchestrate.
- Joint Economic Committee
- Institute for Family Studies
- Pew Social Trends, Barely Half of U.S. Adults Are Married & Marriage and Cohabitation in the U.S.
- Pew Research
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/yehor
Jason Soroski is a homeschool dad and member of the worship team at matthias lot church in St. Charles, MO. He spends his free time hanging out with his family, exploring new places, and writing about the experiences. Connect on Facebook or at JasonSoroski.net.