When you view marriage as a set of expectations and responsibilities, you’ll get unhappy quickly. That’s what happens when you see marriage as a contract and not a covenant. In a contract, when you don’t get what you want, you can hold out on your responsibilities. A contract is built on a set of expectations – when you fulfill your part, I’ll fulfill mine. In a covenant, you come together and agree with one another to engage in the act of being married.
So, what is the “act of being married?” In the marriage covenant, you agree to follow the Biblical and relational mandate prescribed for marriage. Here are some Biblical passages to undergird your marriage covenant. This is more than, “I will love, cherish, honor and keep til death do us part.” Here’s what the Scriptures prescribe.
1.) An agreement to start a new relational family – “The man will leave his father and mother…” (Genesis 2:24) – Your marriage is the foundation for starting a new family unit. Because we have the responsibility to “be fruitful and multiply,” the family unit is the basis for procreation. Whether you choose to grow your family biologically or through adoption, your marriage is the foundation for beginning a new family unit.
2.) An agreement to seek and develop intimacy – “…and shall cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh…” (Genesis 2:24) – To cleave together as husband and wife is intrinsic to intimacy. It is a turning of affection away from your parents and onto your spouse. In the marriage covenant, you’re saying that your new family is your most important responsibility and you will seek intimacy (cleaving) with your spouse.
3.) An agreement to seek relational depth and vulnerability – “And the man and his wife were naked and they were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25) – A lot of times we equate this verse with sexual intimacy. It does connote that, but it’s more about vulnerability and a depth of relationship. The covenant of marriage gives you and your spouse a platform to share burdens together, to rejoice together and grow in your knowledge of each other. This progressive growth together requires vulnerability and a desire to walk together on a deeper level.
4.) An agreement to serve and submit to one another – In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul paints the picture of a husband serving his wife. The husband has a responsibility to care for his wife just as he cares for his own body. In the same passage, the wife is to submit to her husband. She is to submit to him in the same way that the Church is to submit to Christ. This is not begrudging submission but out of love and respect for her husband, she submits to his leadership. The marriage covenant is built to give you an opportunity to out-serve and out-submit to one another in a respectable and humble way.
5.) An agreement to point people to Christ – The marriage covenant between a man and woman is a picture of the same covenant between Christ and His bride, the Church. As a man loves his wife and a wife loves her husband, it reveals much about the love of Christ for the Church. By loving your spouse, you allow yourself an opportunity to witness to the covenant love of Christ. It is a perfect way to point to Christ and our need for Him.
It would be very difficult to achieve these things contractually. Being intimate requires emotion. Having relational depth requires commitment and affection. Those things don’t arise from a contract. When you recognize the covenant love of marriage, it allows you to fulfill the Biblical mandates for marriage.
When I officiate a wedding, I have the bride and groom recite unique vows as part of their vows to one another. I’ll close with this. I hope it resonates with you.
“I, ________take you, __________ to be my husband/wife. I take you as my husband/wife to have and to hold from this day forward; For the best and worst of times; In wealth and in poverty; In sickness and in health. I promise to love you with all God has given me for the rest of my life.”