MARRIAGE LIVE Pt 1: Living Covenant Together

Pastor Terry Inman

07-15-2012

 

Marriage is at risk in our culture and not just because of attempts to redefine it to include “same sex” unions. More and more young couples are opting for furniture instead of wedding rings. Households of married partners in America have now dropped below 50 percent.

Some view weddings, vows and licensing as outdated and unimportant. Marriage vows are ceremonial and sentimental but are typically not taken very seriously.  Some vows last longer than the marriage.

The fear of commitment is a major factor. Over half the marriages in America are preceded by some form of cohabitation or pre-marital sex and nearly half of the marriages end in divorce. There is no evidence that sampling ahead of full commitment contributes to a lasting marriage.  

The bible calls marriage a “covenant” between a man, a woman and our creator. Today we are going to talk about “Living Covenant Together”. 

Marriage is not a convenience to be broken when it’s too challenging. The Scriptures define “covenant” as a sacred and binding relationship that is meant to last a lifetime. The traditional wedding vow, “till death do us part” is being short changed for, “when it doesn’t feel good anymore.”

In ancient Israel when two people entered into a covenant with one another, a goat or lamb would be slain and its carcass would be cut in half. With the two halves separated and lying on the ground, the two people who had formed the covenant would formalize their promise by walking between the two halves making this vow.  

"May God do so to me [cut me in half] if I ever break this covenant with you and God!"You get the feeling that a covenant in those days had just a little more substance than today. From what I have heard in years of counseling victims of divorce it actually feels like you’re being cut in half. 

At our wedding day almost 44 years ago Mary’s Father who officiated said, “Murder maybe but divorce never”! Of course that got a good laugh but I knew he was serious. I have never given divorce a second thought.

Let me show you some of the results of that decision. Last week we spent a week in Montana with five of our seven son’s families. We hosted half of our grandkids, eleven to be exact, and their parents in a large vacation rental on a working ranch near the Yellowstone River.

A few years ago Mary invested her inheritance in 40 acres there. She is really a cowgirl at heart. We went hiking, fishing, swimming, canoeing shooting, rodeo-ing and sightseeing. Mostly we did plenty of eating!

It was beautiful, maybe not exactly restful. But more importantly it was memorable. Once I worked though how much it cost, I was so grateful that Mary insisted we do this. It was really a joy to see our kids and grandkids enjoy each other so much.

The bible says, Old people are distinguished by grandchildren; children take pride in their parents. Proverbs 17.6 (Message) Psalms 128.6 says, May you live to see your children’s children. You have to stay married for life to really enjoy your children and grandchildren!

With fourteen married sons, wives and twenty grandchildren we don’t have time to stay mad long enough to get a divorce. 

Last week Pastor Don quoted Jesus answer to a religious lawyer’s question about the permanence of marriage. They wanted to hang Jesus up on Jewish divorce laws.

Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Matthew 19.4-6 (NIV)

The word “separate” literally means, “to place room between, to part or sever”. Notice: who does the joining? If God is the one who connects us as couples then we don’t really have the prerogative to disconnect.

Jesus only made exceptions for divorce and remarriage in the case of sexual immorality. Paul added abandonment by an unbelieving spouse.

There are some who form impaired marital bonds because of sexual addiction and others who break or adulterate their bond with extra-marital sexual or emotional relationships.

As painful and damaging as unfaithfulness is, the sin of adultery can be forgiven and marriages restored. Sexual addiction is more challenging.  

I never want to be insensitive to those who prior to following Christ made decisions that ended in divorce or especially those that were victims of an unwanted divorce. I also do not encourage anyone to stay in a violent or abusive relationship.

Like the Jewish leaders testing Jesus we sometimes get too hung up on the legality of divorce. It’s not who files the papers, its who breaks the bond that is held accountable for the dissolution of a marriage covenant. 

God’s people of ancient Israel were upset because they couldn’t seem to get his attention. They carried on their fervent religious rituals to no avail, so the prophet Malachi points out a series their offending behaviors. One was their casual view of marital commitment.   

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. 

Before we read on, their prayers were not getting answered because of their broken covenants. Notice again God made marriage and he expects the bond to hold together. He is in the glue. His spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage. That even includes intimacy!

Peter picked up on this in his counsel to men. “Husbands, be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” 1Peter 3.7 (NIV)

Insensitivity and inequality may not be as dramatic as immorality but it will impact your relationship with your partner and your God. Covenant keeping is more than enduring a bad marriage it is working very hard at making a good marriage. That involves a great deal of self-sacrifice. You don’t get to quit just because someone isn’t meeting all your needs. 

What exactly does God what to get out of our marriage? Let’s read on in Malachi’s prophetic words.

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. GOD of-the-Angel-Armies says, “I hate the violent dismembering of the ‘one flesh’ of marriage.” So watch yourselves. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t cheat. (Mal. 2:13-16 MSG)

Cheating on your marriage can be immorality or adultery or it could be just cheating yourselves out of the fulfilling relationship God has intended.  These guys were literally dumping their aging wives for younger foreign women. So God let them know their marriage isn’t theirs to dissolve it is a “covenant” or a spiritual commitment between God and each other.

The promises made between men and women, in the presence of God, are to be taken seriously. Marriage should be honored by all.” Heb. 13.4 (NIV)  This is why the church traditionally calls marriage Holy Matrimony.

Here’s some things this passage says about couples and commitments.

First God attends our wedding. “GOD was there as a witness when you spoke your marriage vows to your young bride.”  The good news is that God is also attentive to our marriage. The only way to fulfill all our dreams and desires for marriage is to keep Him at the center of our relationship.

There have been times in our marriage when it was too painful to resolve issues on our own. Praying together was the only thing that would bring us to a place of understanding, forgiveness and breakthrough.

Secondly God actually attached us to the person we married. The prophet refers to the relationship as a “faith-bond” made by God. It is designed to be a life long spiritual, emotional and physical attachment.

Can you remember the first time you laid eyes on your mate? Something inside you said, “where have you been all my life” 

Dr. Donald Joy in his book “bonding” describes a twelve-step pair-bonding sequence that takes us to marital intimacy. When these steps are rushed or missed or not maintained relationships are impaired. Now I’m sure you’re curious about the steps. Most of us men are more interested in the last few. You can order your copy of the book on Amazon.com.  

The third thing the prophet says is that God has a purpose for your marriage beyond personal satisfaction. “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.”

Paul wrote to people in his time who were converting from immoral paganism to Christ.  He was emphatic, “Be filled with the Spirit”! Then immediately added, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.” Ephesians 5.21-23 (NIV)     

Marriage is spiritual! The Apostle Paul calls it a “Mystery” something that can only be understood by spiritual relationship and revelation. God can make a good marriage better. God can help you raise a great family. God can make you a hopeful couple with a healthy family. He does have a   design and a dream for your relationship. Have you discovered it?

When Mary and I stood at the alter repeating our vows, we had no idea that we would Pastor together, and have seven sons, seven daughters in law, and twenty grandchildren, and we are not finished yet. Jason and Christy are expecting their third in September. We are keeping our commitment to “be fruitful and multiply”!

Is it easy? No! Is it always happy? No! Is it difficult? Yes! Is it worth it? Yes! It takes commitment to really breakthrough and resolve conflict.

My hope and prayer is that you will live your life-long covenant together. You will learn good communication skills, do better conflict resolution, and grow in commitment, fulfillment and intimacy. Most of all I pray you will gain a greater sense of God’s purpose for your marriage!