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Tape No. I-4221Page
The Covenant of Marriage
We’re speaking about the biblical concept of covenant and I’ve pointed out to you that it’s extremely basic to our faith as Christians because the entire Bible comes to us in the form of two covenants. And I think it’s very obvious that if we don’t understand covenant and how to apply it, there will be a good deal of the biblical message that we will miss.
The essence of what I’ve been teaching is that a covenant is a way into a committed relationship between two or more persons and according to the Bible’s standard, a covenant must be based on a sacrifice, and the people who enter into the covenant pass through the sacrifice into this new relationship and there is no other way into this relationship but through the sacrifice. And the sacrifice represents the laying down of a life.
We applied this in our previous session to the new covenant in the blood of Jesus and I said that as believers, committed to the Lord, we pass through the cross, through the death of Jesus as our last great sacrifice, into a new relationship with God and with all others who have passed into that relationship. And the actual practical manifestation of the new covenant is the communion service. When we take communion together and we share the cup, we are reaffirming our covenant commitment to God. We’re also reaffirming His covenant commitment to us, and our covenant commitment to each other as believers.
This means really that we need to be much more circumspect than most of us are about how and with whom we take communion. I don’t believe in a closed communion table. I believe it’s the table of the Lord and that every committed Christian and child of God has a right to the Lord’s Table, but I do believe that we need to be very careful not to eat and drink to ourselves condemnation, as the apostle Paul said in 1Corinthians 11. And he said we eat and drink condemnation because we do not discern the body of Christ. I think that’s got two applications. First of all, it means we don’t discern the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. But it means also that we don’t discern the other members of the body of Christ. And if we eat and drink out of wrong attitudes and wrong relationships, we eat and drink condemnation, not blessing. And Paul went so far as to say to the Corinthian church, For this reason some of you have died prematurely, and others of you are sick. So that is a very serious situation.
I think in the ministry of healing my observation would be that a great many sicknesses and related problems are caused by wrong relationships. And in particular, misusing the covenant.
Now in this closing session for today, I want to give this a very limited application to one particular relationship, and that is the marriage relationship.
Now as far as marriage is concerned, I am not speaking merely on the basis of theory. I have been married twice. My first wife is with the Lord and Ruth and I have now been married approximately eight years (a little more). And I can say, I trust, without being boastful, that each of my marriages has been successful. I have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with each of my wives and God has blessed each of my marriages, working through us to literally thousands of other people.
I think it’s important because I offer that as my credentials. I’m tired of reading books by “experts” on marriage whose own marriage has broken up. You know, I mean, if you’re an expert, make it work. If it doesn’t work at home, please don’t export it! We have enough problems without you exporting yours.
Now, if I were talking about raising children, I’ve had some successes and some that I couldn’t say were totally successful. I’ve got some ideas I think I’ve learned, but I’ve learned some of it the hard way.
You probably heard about the man who started out and he had seven theories about raising children, but no children. After some years he had seven children and no theories!
Seriously, I believe that the marriage relationship in some senses is the most important personal relationship that many of us will have—not all. It is used in the New Testament to picture the relationship between Christ and the Church, His Bride, which gives it a special holiness and significance.
Now, today in our contemporary society, they say that more than half the marriages end in divorce. That’s almost incredible! And it’s come about extremely rapidly, because when I was growing up as a boy, I think I was twenty-five years old before I met a divorcee. People talked about divorcees at that time like you’d talk about a ghost. I mean, it’s a thing you’d see once or twice in your lifetime. This is no criticism of divorcees, I just want to point out that there’s been a total landslide of the standards of marriage. And I believe the one basic reason... And another thing I need to say is that the statistics apply almost as much inside the church as outside it. Which is a little evidence of how much the world has infiltrated the church.
Now, I am not saying this to condemn anybody. I’m not interested in condemning people. I’m interested in diagnosing problems and finding solutions. But I believe as far as Christians are concerned, and let’s leave the world to themselves for the time being, there is one basic reason why marriages fail. And it is because people do not realize that marriage is a covenant relationship. And if they do, they don’t understand what’s involved in a covenant relationship.
So, because we’re dealing with covenant, I want to take this period to consider marriage as a covenant relationship.
First of all, let me show you out of Scripture that the Bible does call marriage a covenant. There are two passages that I would like to look at. First of all, in Proverbs 2, we’ll read from verse 16, although it’s not the beginning of the sentence. The theme of this is that if you hearken to God’s Word and keep His commandments, it will save you a lot of trouble. How many of you would agree with that? And some of you learn the hard way! And the particular kind of trouble that Solomon is talking about here is woman trouble. It says in Proverbs 2:16:
To deliver you from the immoral woman,
From the seductress who flatters with her words,
Who forsakes the companion of her youth,
And forgets the covenant of her God.
So this immoral woman has been unfaithful in her own marriage relationship. She has forsaken the companion of her youth. That word “companion” there, speaks about a marriage relationship—the one to whom she was committed. And in doing that, she has forgotten the covenant of her God. Notice, therefore, that Solomon depicts marriage as a covenant with God. That’s probably the root of the problem, is that God has been left out of marriage.
Who instituted marriage? God, that’s right. Adam didn’t think up marriage. He didn’t even know he needed a wife. He didn’t know what a wife was like. The whole think originated in the mind of God. And God laid down all the conditions. He also established the purpose. What was the purpose in one word: unity. That the two may become one.
As far as Bible-believing Christians are concerned, we are left with no options. God has determined what marriage should be like. He established it right at the beginning of human history and it’s interesting, according to the Bible, human history begins and ends with a marriage. It began with a marriage in the Garden of Eden and it ends with a marriage in heaven, celebrated in the Lord’s Supper.
I think many younger Christians today, partly because they’ve seen so little to impress them in the lives of older Christians who are married, have completely failed to see the tremendous sanctity and importance of marriage. I really don’t blame you. It’s a tragic fact that we’ve got I suppose millions of young people growing up today who have never seen a happy marriage.
However, let me say this to you: if you’ll turn your eyes away from human beings and look to the Bible, it will give you a picture of marriage.
So, we’re establishing this fact that marriage is a covenant in which God is involved. The immoral woman has forsaken the companion of her youth, forgotten the covenant of her God. This also is brought up again in the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi.
In Malachi, the Lord has a reckoning with His people Israel. They had received the law of Moses probably about twelve centuries earlier and at this point God has a reckoning: How have you been dealing with the law that I gave you? And I think it’s important for us to realize that sooner or later in every one of our lives there comes a day of reckoning. And the reckoning was not very favorable to Israel. He pointed out a number of things which He strongly disapproved of that they had been doing. And in Malachi 2 (we’ll begin at verse 13) is one of the things that God strongly disapproves of.
And this is the second thing you do:
You cover the altar of the Lord with tears,
With weeping and crying;
So He does not regard the offering anymore,
Nor receive it with good will from your hands.
Notice these were not people without religion. They were very religious people. They were spending a lot of time crying before God and they put offerings on His altar, but God didn’t accept it. He didn’t approve of it. Why? Well, that’s what they said. Verse 14:
Yet you say, “For what reason?”
[And then God gives His answer:]
Because the Lord has been witness
Between you and the wife of your youth,
With whom you have dealt treacherously;
Yet she is your companion [the same word]
And your wife by covenant [or the wife of your covenant].
So, God is saying to religious people, and it just as well could have applied to the church, “Don’t come to Me with all your prayers if you’re not making a success of your marriages.” I think that’s a very important realization. You see, I have seen (it’s usually women—not that I’m putting all the blame on women)... but I’ve seen women who make religion an escape from home life. Their marriage isn’t working so they get busy in the church. I don’t think that’s legitimate. I think you have to make it work at home first.
However, God is not putting the main blame here on the woman but on the man. He says, “You’ve been a traitor.” I think contemporary American slang says, “You’ve cheated on your wife,” a phrase I never heard until I came to America, but I understand what it means.
But what God is saying is, “The basic problem is you didn’t realize you had a covenant—and I was involved in the covenant.” There’s a very interesting passage in Ecclesiastes chapter 4. I wanted to recommend to you my little book The Marriage Covenantand hold it up, but it’s sold out, so I can’t show you. But in that book I deal more extensively than I’m able to do right now, with this very vital issue of what covenant is and how it affects marriage.
Let’s turn to Ecclesiastes 4. How many of you know there is a book called Ecclesiastes? How many of you know where to find it? We’ll begin at verse 9. This is very practical wisdom. And the essence of what Solomon is saying is: “Don’t be a loner. You need somebody to be with you.” Now, there are circumstances when we have no options. Paul was alone in prison, but, generally speaking, as Christians we ought not to go through life alone. There needs to be some kind of relationship that gives us support. The marriage relationship is one, prayer partners is another, coworkers is another. There’s not just one relationship, but Solomon says if you are without any kind of relationship, you are in danger. Verse 9:
Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
[That’s very down-to-earth, isn’t it?]
Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
[That’s again very practical.]
Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
Or, if you’re alone and you’re attacked, you will be overpowered, but if there’s two of you together, you’ll be able to protect one another. Now, every one of the things he’s said so far has been the benefit of two. But right at the end he comes out with a different statement:
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
You see, he’s introduced a third.
Now, obviously, that kind of language there are many ways of interpreting it. But as I understand, marriage, according to the Bible, between believers, is a threefold cord, not a twofold cord. It’s a covenant between a man, a woman, and God. And God is the third cord. And though two of those cords may fray, the third one will hold them together.
I was preaching on this in New Zealand some years ago and a man got very excited. He came up to me right at the end and he said, “My profession, I’m a rope maker. And I just want to tell you, what you just said is exactly right. The largest number of cords that can all touch one another in a rope is three. If you add any more, it doesn’t make the rope any stronger. So I really was excited by that because that’s exactly what God is saying. Marriage is a threefold cord. God, a man, and a woman and what binds them together is covenant.
All right. Now let’s try and work this out. And I’m just offering... what shall I say... suggestions.
How would a man and a woman view their marriage relationship as Christians who have a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ? Well, they enter into that relationship through a sacrifice. What sacrifice? The death of Jesus. Each one of them passes through that sacrifice. Then they turn around and they look at the sacrifice and they say, “That’s where I died. Now I’m not living for myself. I’m living for my mate. The life I laid down is now being lived out in my mate. And my success will be the success of my mate.”
Somebody asked a well-known evangelist once if a certain man was a good Christian. And he said, “I can’t tell you. I haven’t met his wife.” That’s a very good answer. If a couple are Christians, the success of the one will be seen in the other. You see, it’s a life laid down. I think the Bible teaches that.
Let’s look at the picture of what it says, first of all, about the wife. Everybody knows where to find the picture of the ideal wife: Proverbs chapter 31. I’ll tell you, she was no religious ninny, was she? I mean, she didn’t just sit at home and watch television and wait for the kids to come home. I’m a little provoked sometimes by the kind of preacher’s idea of what a wife ought to be. A funny thing about men preachers, they know all the Scriptures about what women ought to be! All right. It’s Proverbs 31, beginning at verse 10:
Who can find a virtuous [woman]?
Hebrew is very hard to translate. It means a lot more than morally virtuous. It means a capable, successful woman. Hebrew ?????? If you want—you know what ?sole bon fam? is? You don’t know. Well, it’s a way of preparing sole. That word ?bon fam? is French. It means a good woman. Well, if you order ?sole bon fam? in Hebrew, it’s ?sole essek heil?. That’s where the word is taken from. So, it’s the successful wife. How many of you want to be successful? None of you want to fail.
All right. Now there’s a lot of different things said about her, but I simply want to point out to you that the beginning, the middle and the end of the picture focuses on her husband. So we’ll look for a moment. Verse 11 and 12:
The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
He’s going to be a prosperous man because of the reliability of his wife. You know that one essential for most men to succeed is to have the confidence of their wife, the support of their wife. Very few men are strong enough to hold out against the undermining effects of a wife who doesn’t trust them, who doesn’t stand by them, who isn’t loyal to them.
My first wife was Danish. Some of you, probably a few of you, can remember her. She was quite well-known in her time. Her name was Lydia. Now, the Danes are the most out-spoken race in Europe and Lydia was the most out-spoken Dane! So she didn’t always tell me things that I wanted to hear, believe me! If she thought I was wrong, she didn’t conceal the fact. And she was usually right, which was the worse part! But, I never at any time doubted her loyalty to me. She was totally committed to me and my ministry.
There was a time I was going to preach in a certain church in Texas and I got taken ill in the pulpit just before I was going to preach, so I went out to the rest room and, you know, what does a poor pastor do when the preacher has disappeared? So they started to sing choruses, which is the typical... Lydia got up and said, “What are you doing, singing choruses? You need to be praying for him,” she said. She just told them right where they were!
Another time I was going to preach—it just happened to be in Texas again (this is no assessment of Texas)—and I was sitting on the platform and people (mainly the women) were having a lot of fun gossiping and talking together. Lydia got more and more restless and eventually she turned around to the people and said, “Would you like your husband to speak after you’ve spent your time gossiping like that?” Dead silence!
Well, I just relate that because the one thing I could totally rely on was her commitment to me. She was a woman who knew what commitment was.
It’s no less true of my present wife. I really can say, “She will do me good and not evil all the days of her life.” That’s a tremendous security in a man, to know that.
All right. I didn’t read the words, but I’ll read them:
The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
I prefer the old version that says: “She willdo him good and not evil all the days of her life.”
And then we look in verse 23. This is the middle:
Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
It’s very significant that his place as an elder is based on the support he receives at home from his wife. “The gates” is the place of honor, the place of leadership. But he is known there as her husband. It’s her support that has given him his place in the community.
And then right at the end of that, in verses 28 and 29, it says:
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
Husbands let me tell you: the best thing you can ever do is praise your wife. It pays dividends. And that’s probably the only pay she ever gets, so don’t be stingy! And this is what he says:
“Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
I would say that to my first wife, and to my present wife. “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.” In my eyes, you are number one. You think any woman wouldn’t be happy to hear that?
So that’s the picture of the successful wife. Where is her success demonstrated? In her husband, that’s right. Because she laid down her life in the covenant. And her life is lived out in her mate.
Now, let’s go to the New Testament and deal with the husband. 1Corinthians 11, we’ll lead at verse 3 first:
But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
That’s a very important verse. First of all, let me point out to you that the New Testament standards of marriage are never based on culture. Because people argue, “Well, cultures change so the standards have changed.” But the New Testament standards of marriage are based only on two things: God’s purpose at creation, and the teaching of Jesus. And they’ve never changed. So Paul says in every home there’s a chain that descends from heaven. A chain of descending authority. God is the head of Christ. Christ is the head of the man. The man is the head of the woman. You see that the authority pattern in a family starts with God the Father. And the man... Well, let me put it this way: Christ represents the Father to the man, but the man represents Christ to his wife. You see that? So if you want to know what a good husband ought to be, the answer is he should represent Christ to his wife and family.
Then in verse 7 of that chapter, Paul says this:
For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of [the] man.
Now that’s saying in other language what corresponds to what’s said in Proverbs 31 about the woman. What is a man’s glory? It’s his wife. So, if you want to know whether I’m a successful husband, what do you look at? My wife, that’s right. She’s my glory. If she’s radiant, she’s shining, she’s secure, she’s fulfilled, I’ve been successful. Because I laid down my life and it’s being lived out in her.
Now that’s totally unlike the attitude with which most people approach marriage today. Because we’re living in the “gimme” generation. “What will I get out of this? What will this do for me?” And people who approach marriage that way are headed for disaster because it doesn’t work. God’s way works. God’s way is not, “What will I get out of this?” but, “What can I give to this? What can I contribute? What can I say or do that will bless or build up my mate?” To the natural mind it sounds foolish. To the thinking of present day society, that’s weakness. But I’ll tell you, God’s weakness is a lot stronger than man’s strength. And that relationship will build a threefold cord that will not be broken. Is that right? It is.
You see, I’m doing this because I want to illustrate... well, first of all, because it’s a very important subject, I think you’ll agree. But secondly, because I want to use marriage as an illustration of what a covenant is. Covenant is persons—in marriage, it’s two persons—passing through a sacrifice, and when they’re Christians the sacrifice is the death of Jesus on the cross, into a totally new relationship, which is impossible any other way. There is no other way into this relationship that we call Christianity except by the cross. But, as you pass through the cross, you’ll lay your life down.
You remember we talked about this yesterday—that becoming a disciple of Jesus is doing what? It’s denying yourself, taking up your cross, laying down your life. No matter what way you read the Bible, it adds up to the same, you see.
So, whether we’re thinking about marriage, or whether we’re thinking about the church, the principle is the same. It’s invalid without a sacrifice. The sacrifice has been provided by the death of Jesus. The way into the relationship that we desire is through the sacrifice. But when we go through the sacrifice, it costs us our lives. Not literally, at first (although for many people in the world today, it can be literally. Let a Moslem in a Moslem country embrace Jesus and it can easily cost him his life.) But the essence of the exchange is: I’ve passed out of my own self-centered way of living and my life is now laid down at the feet of the Lord and at the feet of His people.
You see, I don’t know whether you remember a woman called Abigail, who was the second wife of David. He married her while he was still a fugitive on the hills of Judea. And so he sent messengers to say, “Will you marry me.” Her first husband, Nabal, had died. Nabal means “fool” and he was a fool. We won’t go into that! And she sent this message and it’s always gripped my heart: “Let your maidservant be a servant to wash the feet of my Lord’s servants.” To me, that’s a life laid down. “Let me be a servant to wash the feet of the Lord’s servants.” How many of you would say that? Don’t put your hand up, please.
You see, we’re talking about a kind of life that this world just knows nothing about. It’s covenant life. Now I know many wonderful people in the body of Christ who are like that. And, again, without specifying a group, as high a proportion as anywhere in world are found in the people represented here. That’s what attracted me to them. I’m not saying they’re all like that. Some of them are just on their way to getting like that! Some of them are having a little trouble making it! Every now and then something rises up called “the old man” and says, “I want my way. Nobody’s paying any attention to me. Don’t they know how hard I’m working!” Somebody knows how hard you’re working and that’s the Lord. And He says, “Whatever good thing anybody does, he will receive a reward from the Lord.” So, don’t worry too much about what people think. Focus on what the Lord thinks.
You see, this is true for the personal relationship of marriage, but it’s true in the body of Christ. I appreciate the brother who said, “Faith is spelled R-I-S-K.” It stuck with me. Because, believe me, you’re taking a big risk when you do this. People could misunderstand you. They could fail to appreciate you. They could even treat you as a doormat. Are you ready to be a doormat? You won’t stay there forever. A lot of us have a lot of pride to get rid of. Isn’t that right? When I think... I know I haven’t gotten rid of all my pride yet, but I’m on the way. I’m working on it. But when I think of what I was when I went into the British Army and what I was when I came out 5 1/2 years later, I see God did something pretty effective. Did I always enjoy the army? No! Would I have been glad to get out? Anytime! I told the Lord many times, “You’ve called me to serve You. I know I’m called to serve You. Why do You leave me in this.... [I don’t know what word to use, so I won’t use any.]” The Lord knew what He was doing!
One of the things that Lydia said to me when we got married. She said, “If you’d come straight from Cambridge,” she said, “I would never have married you!”
So, Are we ready? Are we willing? Are we prepared? to go the way of the cross? As individuals? As members of congregations? As husbands and wives? That’s the only pathway to success.
You see, I’ve talked to multitudes of Christians and said, “How many of you want to be a failure?” Never had anybody raise their hand yet. God created us with a desire to succeed and it’s a legitimate desire, but many of the ways we go about trying to succeed are illegitimate. As long as it’s “I want my way. I want to do my thing. Look at me. I’m important. Nobody seems to pay the attention to me that I deserve.” It’s illegitimate. You haven’t been through the only door, which is the cross.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever realized that Jesus said two things. I think we could turn there for a moment. In John 10 and He was talking in parables about the sheepfold but I think we know—in verse 9 He said: “I am the door [to the sheepfold].” He said, “There’s no other way to get in, no legitimate way. You can climb up, but anybody who climbs up is a thief and a robber. He’s trying to get things he isn’t qualified to receive, he’s not entitled to.” But in verse 14, He says, “I am the good shepherd.”
Now, have you ever stopped to wonder how both those statements can be true? How can Jesus be both the door and the shepherd. I’ll tell you my very simple solution. You can receive it if you wish. I believe Jesus crucified is the door and there is no other door. Jesus resurrected is the shepherd. But if you want the resurrected Jesus as your shepherd, you’ve got to go through the door, which is the crucified Jesus. There is no other way in.
Now a lot of people, like Jesus said, they try to climb up some other way. But they’re thieves and robbers. They’re stealing. They’re cheating. They’re laying claim to blessings and provisions which they’re not entitled to. The only way in is through the door, Jesus crucified for our sins. It is entering by a decision of our will into His death.
I don’t know whether this will in any way... it may seem irrelevant, but... it’s my view of the Bible. Which is: It only can be made to mean what it means. No matter what way you come at it, you can’t get it to say something other than what it means.
Years and years ago, and some of you weren’t even alive in those days, in pre-World War II Germany, by treaty Germany had been forbidden to re-arm as a result of World War I. However, when Hitler came to power, they set to work secretly re-arming. And what they did was they would establish factories to build baby carriages and use them to build machine guns, you understand? Well, the story is apocryphal, but there was this man in that factory to make baby carriages, whose wife had become pregnant and he wanted a baby carriage. So he persuaded his various friends who worked in different departments to each steal a part and “I’ll get them together and assemble them.” So his friends cooperated with him and then they met him walking down the street one day looking really perplexed. And they said, “What is the problem?” “Well,” he said, “I put it all together twice, but each time it makes a machine gun!”
You see, that’s the Bible, to me. It makes what it was made to make. You can’t make it mean something else. And when Jesus laid down the conditions and established the covenant, that settled it. There’s no other way. It settled it for marriage and it settled it for the body of Christ.
So a covenant is passing through a sacrifice into a relationship in which you have laid down your life for the persons with whom you are in covenant. God, and if it’s marriage, your mate; and if we’re talking about the body of Christ, it’s your fellow-believers. Now, I could say more but I really feel that I’ve said all that’s necessary for that particular... all that I can say. But I would just like those of you here today who are husbands and wives—I don’t want to embarrass you, but if you’re sitting side by side (and you ought to be), just take one another by the hand for a moment. I don’t want to embarrass you. And just think for a moment on the implications of your relationship. And then just turn very quietly, if you’re willing to do it, and say, “You are my God-given mate. You are my God-given mate. Through the death of Jesus, I’ve passed into a relationship in which my life is laid down for you. And from now on you are my success.” Amen.
Shall we pray for those who said that? I’m going to ask Ruth to come up and join me; we pray together better.
Father, we want to thank You for every married couple here. Thank you for those who have given their lives to You and who really want to serve You. And Lord I pray that from this day on, every one of those who said those simple words of commitment will experience a new measure of blessing and happiness and peace and fulfillment in their marriages, Lord. And I pray for the whole body of Christ, all of us here that are Christians. That we will really take to heart the fact that if we have entered into a covenant with You, Father, we’ve laid down our lives for you and we’ve laid down our lives for one another. And our success is seen now in our brothers and sisters. Lord, we ask all these things according to Your mercy and in the name of Jesus. Amen.