What does it mean to say you’ve formed a covenant? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Covenants. The term doesn’t really resonate much with us today. We don’t take it as seriously as we used to, and yet all our talk today is about covenants. What is the debate over marriage but a debate over covenants? What covenants are we going to hold up and affirm and what are we not going to affirm? Do we give some covenants greater recognition than others? Do some covenants require more than others?
On a minor level, we can think of a business contract. These are legally enforced by the law for example, but we will not put it on the same level as a covenant. A contract has two parties making an agreement to be sure, but a covenant involves a lifelong self-sacrificial commitment. Many of our best relationships are built on sacrifice. The greatest of friends are those who are willing to sacrifice for one another. Of course, this will not involve the same as the ultimate covenant that we know of in society today of marriage.
My wife recently blogged on this. I agree with much of what she said, but I’d like to add my own spin to it. The point is that in our society we too often have an idea of “Look out for #1.” In that case, we often treat marriage as a way to get what we want. Now naturally, all of us enter marriage wanting some things out of it and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the institution is greater than we realize and we do a dishonor to it when we treat it wrongly. We can rightly say that too many Christians have no basis arguing against redefining marriage when they’ve allowed no-fault divorce and living together before marriage to go on in their own lifestyles. Of course, many of us have not done these things, but unfortunately too many Christians have. I do think that our culture as a whole has dishonored marriage, but they have dishonored it because the Christians took the lead in dishonoring it first.
When you marry someone, you make a lifelong commitment to that someone. You make a commitment to do and live the way that you ought and you give yourself to that one person only. That is quite a severe oath to make. Consider that when we speak of it sexually, that that means that until the point of death, the only person you are going to have any sort of sexual relationship whatsoever with is that person that you are marrying. If you break that promise, then biblically, you are guilty of adultery. This is something that we should take extremely seriously, especially in light of a passage like 1 Cor. 6:9-10.
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Now in our current climate, we can rightly note that those who participate in homosexual acts are there. Who else is in there? How about those who commit adultery? Yep. That’s how seriously God takes it. Why does He say to not be deceived? Because this is something you are quite likely to be deceived on. In fact, Paul spends the rest of the chapter talking about the gravity of sexual sin. It is sin unlike any other because it is a sin against your own body and it is taking that which is supposed to be the temple of Christ and using it in a completely unholy manner. Robert Gagnon has compared it to having sex in the Holy of Holies right on top of the Ark of the Covenant.
Signing on the dotted line of marriage is a strong commitment to make and too many of us are breaking it way too easily. What are some of our favorite reasons?
“Well I don’t feel the same way any more.”
I hate to tell you this, but your life is not to be dependent on your feelings nor is right and wrong dependent on your feelings. If you become a parent and have a child, you can’t just say one day “I don’t feel like being a parent any more so I’m not going to take care of this child.” On a lesser level, try being in a business contract with someone and saying you’re not going to uphold it because you don’t feel like it. If you do that, hopefully you will feel like showing up in court because that is exactly where you will be going. If it applies to the lesser, how much more to the greater?
If your feelings aren’t there, well so what? It’s nice if they are, but you have a duty to do the right thing anyway and doing the right thing is not dependent on how you feel.
“We’re just not in love any more.”
In our modern day and age, marriage has been about love. This sounds perfectly normal to us, but we are the exceptions to the rule. Could love and affection have happened historically? Sure, but that was not the norm. Most of the time it was about survival. How are we going to make it in this world? Today, it is mostly about love, so what do you do when it looks like that spark is no longer there?
Simple. You love the person.
We often think of love as a feeling, but it is not. It is a verb. It is an action. It is seeking the good of the other for the sake of the other. Sometimes this is soft and gentle. Sometimes it’s hard. We have to do things that are painful to the people we love at times because we love them, such as when a family has an intervention for a person who is getting caught up in behavior that they shouldn’t be caught up in. Sometimes when you act in loving ways, the feelings will follow and that’s great. Sometimes they won’t, but oh well. This isn’t about you and your feelings. This is about the good of the relationship.
So what are some ways you can improve the covenant?
For you men, your wife generally wants love and security. She wants a man that she can feel safe with and who she knows cares about her. If she doesn’t think any of these things is true, you really need to take a look at yourself. Peter tells us in his first epistle that we need to be gentle with our wives. That means even when you think she’s being crazy and makes no sense, you try to be understanding with her. A great way men usually fail at this is that women tell us about their problems and we don’t listen really. We go straight into fix-it mode. A lot of times, women want someone to just listen. They could be fine with advice later on, but at the start, listening is all they want.
Another great mistake is to treat your wife like a sex object. My Allie recently shared something that said that what Planned Parenthood and pornography have in common is that they treat people like objects. You can treat your wife the same way. Your wife is not just someone in your life whose purpose is to have sex with you. She is someone you are in fact to be willing to die for. Live your life as a life of love for your wife. My recommendation is that if you’re both on Facebook, make your Facebook page sizzle. Let it be obvious to the rest of the world that you love your wife. I share an image of love to my wife everyday on Facebook save Sunday when I take a break. Facebook has been the cause of many marriages being destroyed so guard yourself closely on Facebook.
Beyond that, be a gentleman. Manners go a long way. Hold open the door when your wife is going somewhere. Make sure she sits down first in a public place and if possible, pull her seat out for her. These are simple things, but they mean a great deal. Remember, your wife is asking every day “Do you still love me?”
So now women, here are my recommendations.
I’ve said before that men should not treat you as a sex object. This is true, but women need to realize how central this is to their men. This is not just an add-on to marriage. This is something that strikes at the very identity of your husband. If you are asking every day “Do you still love me?” your husband is asking “Am I still your man?” If you do everything else in the world for him and don’t give yourself to him sexually, he will go to bed at night saying “Nope. Guess I’m not her man.” I’m sure that makes no sense whatsoever to some of you, but really, that is the way it is.
Now of course, women do enjoy sex and they should, but it’s usually more central for the men. A man with sex is wanting to give you the gift of himself and be accepted as he is. Turning him down is a way of saying he’s not man enough for you. Now of course, I’m not saying jump into the bed every time he asks, but I am saying take this seriously. Perhaps you just can’t then. If you can’t, then my suggestion is that you give your man a time frame. Let’s picture a husband wanting to have a frisky morning with his wife before he leaves. She’s just not into it. What can she do? She could say “Honey. I love you, but I’m just not feeling it right now, but tell you what. You go to work and you do a good job and when you come home, I will be waiting for you and I’ll show you how much I appreciate what you do.”
Ladies. You say something like that and your husband will be thinking about you ALL DAY LONG.
In fact, you do this kind of thing and you will shoot his confidence level through the roof. It is extremely difficult for a married man to have confidence if he does not think that his wife accepts him. If he is sure his wife accepts him, everything changes. This man will be able to do anything. He can conquer the world. He will walk with an extra spring in his step. Whatever miserable situation your husband is in, you can always help it with sex. As one of my friends told me, a husband will never gift his wife a return receipt on sex. If she’s worried about performance, she needs to remember that for a man, sex is like pizza. Bad sex is good sex. As long as it’s sex, that’s enough.
Another great benefit this will give your man is your man is constantly tempted. When we see a woman approaching us, we are instantly aware that this is a woman we are dealing with and in our mind, we start immediately checking her out. It is instinctive on our part. Your husband is going to do this regardless. It is what he does next that matters the most. I have written about this some here. The temptation is very very real and if you have a good and honoring husband, he does not want it to be that way. He hates the fact that he is attracted to other women besides you, but he is and he wants you to remain in his mind at the forefront constantly. A great way to do that for him is to have it be that your body is constantly in his mind by giving yourself to him. The gift your husband wants most from you is you. Your husband is better able to withstand temptation if you are honoring him sexually.
Something else to be careful about is with respect, watch how you speak about your husband. If your husband makes a mistake, and he will, be careful that you’re respectful. Don’t berate him even in a way that seems harmless. Your husband might not know as much about shopping for groceries and cooking as you do. If you send him to the store and he gets the wrong thing, don’t say anything that could be interpreted as “What? Are you some kind of moron? Don’t you know better than this?” It can be guaranteed your husband will not want to do that again or will see it as a chore for you because that sting will be remembered.
Suppose your husband does something really nice for you and decides to wash the dishes. If you take a look and say “Don’t you know how you’re supposed to scrub these? There are stains still all over this!” then congratulations on emasculating your husband right there. He will quite likely not want to do this again. It would work better to say “Honey. Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it. I do want to show you this because there is a way to improve. You see, if you take the sponge and….” In fact, if you end it with “You know, I do appreciate what you did today and keep it up and I will REALLY appreciate it even more” then your husband will be begging to do the dishes for you. (Honestly women, if you want your husband to get up and do the vacuuming and things like that more often, seduce him. Seriously. You’ll have a husband lunging for that vacuum cleaner the moment you ask.)
This idea of nagging especially applies in public. Do not say something that is highly critical of your husband in public. If you’re at a couple’s event and you say something like that about your husband, he will instantly feel lowered. Believe it or not, men are very sensitive. You see, your man can brush off most everything everyone else in this world says. He cannot brush off what you say. He will take everything that you say and do extra seriously. Your man is still striving to be your knight in shining armor and he needs to know every day that that is how you view him and if you don’t feel that way at the moment, well tough. You would not give your husband a free pass on not being loving to you because he doesn’t feel like it. Give him the same courtesy back.
Ultimately, it is all about self-sacrifice. Now in your relationship, you might want to ask “Who makes the first move?” The answer to both parties who ask this is “You do.” The husband makes the first move. The wife makes the first move. You have no control over your spouse and how they’ll do at fulfilling their side of the covenant. You have great control over what you will do and how you will fulfill it. There is nothing in Ephesians that says “Husbands, love your wives, unless they don’t respect you and then you don’t love them.” It does not say “The wife must respect her husband, unless he’s being unloving and then don’t respect him.” Many struggles in marriage are because we are waiting for the other person to make the first move. I often tell people that it is better to be wronged than to do a wrong yourself. If you know the right thing to do, you simply do it.
Now many times, that could require patience on the part of someone else. For instance, I have a great phobia of water actually. As a child, the undertow dragged me under the water at the beach unexpectedly and I just don’t trust water. This makes it very hard for my wife who loves water in a pool with me because I absolutely panic to be away from the edge. I do require her patience, but I know that I must learn to overcome to some extent. (Of course, with the steel rod on my spine from earlier surgery, I will be limited anyway.) Where the other spouse is weak, be patient, but always try to be encouraging and enabling to them and let them know how much they’re capable of. Always try to realize that deep down, your spouse does want to please you.
Covenants are serious matters, but they can be a source of great joy and a wellspring of life if you cultivate them right. You know what you are to do. Your covenant is made before God and man. If you are wanting to honor God, you will honor your spouse.