Many marriages were destined for trouble from the utterance of the words “I do.” When they publicly declared, “I do”, they really didn’t understand what they were committing to. They had no comprehension of what true commitment was. They entered marriage knowing that divorce was a viable option in their pursuit of self-fulfillment and happiness, or they naively thought that it could never happen to them. For many there isn’t much difference between their commitment in dating and their commitment in marriage. Marriage is just the ultimate way to express how much they love someone.
In many cultures, including the biblical culture, they practice arranged marriages, which typically has a very low divorce rate. In those cultures, “love” is more than just feelings; it means commitment. Love as a feeling will have seasons of strength and seasons where it seems to diminish totally. Marriages based primarily on one’s feelings will have the consistency of the ocean during a lunar eclipse. This is why you often hear people say when divorcing, “We just fell out of love,” which means they lost the early feelings they had in the marriage.
In this session, we will consider love as a form of commitment. My favorite definition of love is “to give not caring what one gets in return.” Many would call this love, agape, the Greek term for God’s love for us. To agape means a married person is saying to his or her mate, “If at some point I don’t have loving feelings for you, I will still love you. If you get sick and can’t respond in love towards me, I will still be committed to you. If you treat me unlovingly, I will still respond in love towards you.” This type of love is divine, and it is the love God originally meant to be seen in marriages.
God’s Covenant Faithfulness with Abraham
In considering love as commitment, let’s look at God as an example of one in a committed loving relationship. We will see this in God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15.Genesis 15:7-21 says:
He also said to him, ‘I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.’ But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?’ So the LORD said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.’ Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.’ When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.”
Do you know anything about a blood covenant? Well, a covenant is simply a binding agreement between two or more people. But, often in ancient times, they would seal the covenant in blood. In fact, the word covenant really means “to cut.” They would take a few animals, most likely cattle and birds, and cut them in half. One person would walk through the sliced pieces essentially saying, “Let this happen to me if I break this covenant.” Then the others would do the same.
In this story, God promised to give Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan. Abraham replied to God in verse 8, “How can I know that I will gain possession of it?” God responded by initiating a blood covenant with Abraham. However, what makes this covenant interesting is that in verse 17 God walks through the pieces by himself without Abraham. He virtually said, “Let this happen to me if I don’t fulfill this covenant.” He put the ownership of completing the plan on himself, apart from Abraham’s compliance.
As mentioned in session one, marriage was originally meant to be a reflection of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27). God made Adam and Eve in the image of God. Yes, they were made in the image of God separately, but even more so together, as one flesh (Gen 2:24). Therefore, in marriage we are meant to reflect his love, his commitment. Scripture actually teaches that God is love (cf. 1 John 4:8). Though we are not sovereign like God or holy like him, we are still called imitate him in all relationships and especially the marriage relationship (cf. Eph 5:22-33). Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
There is a sense where we must have the same type of commitment God had with Abraham with our mates. Abraham previously had committed to following God and fulfilling his will. In Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham left everything to follow God. He had committed to God. But God’s commitment to Abraham was unilateral, meaning that God would fulfill his covenant to Abraham even if he failed. Similarly, in marriage we are saying, “I will do all that is in my power to love you when you are sick, to love you when we are mad at one another, and to love you when you have made a mistake. I will seek to love you as God has loved me.”
God’s Covenant Faithfulness with Israel, Abraham’s Seed
A great example of God’s commitment to this covenant, and what our commitment in marriage should look like, is seen in the book of Hosea. God told the prophet Hosea to marry a woman who would eventually become a prostitute and cheat on him. God was going to use Hosea’s marriage to display his commitment and love for Israel, who was unfaithful to him through worshipping false gods. Look at Hosea 3:1-5:
The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.’ For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.”
After the woman had left Hosea and cheated on him, he still sought to restore their relationship. While prostituting, she somehow had become a slave, and Hosea bought her out of slavery and took her back as his wife (v. 2). Hosea’s love for his wife was meant to reflect God’s love for the people of Israel. Israel had cheated on God, and yet the Lord still took them back, reflecting his committed love. Many theologians believe that the state Israel currently is in was prophesied by these verses. They are without priest, prophet, or sacrifice as they have rejected God, but when Christ, the son of David, returns then they will be restored to God, their faithful covenant partner (v. 4-5).
But, what we should focus on here is God’s covenant faithfulness. He will one day take his wife, Israel back, even though she committed spiritual adultery. God covenanted with Abraham and his descendants, and he will be faithful in fulfilling this covenant.
As Christians, called to reflect God’s image, we must seek to model his commitment. It was this type of commitment that Hosea modeled in his marriage. He took his wife back, even though she had cheated on him. By doing this, he modeled God’s love and commitment to his people. Marriage was always meant to be a symbol of God and his love for his people (cf. Eph. 5:22-27).
It is difficult to consider a marriage partner being unfaithful or failing us in any way, but it is good to consider this even before entering the marriage covenant. If the purpose of marriage is to be a reflection of God and his relationship to his people, then we must consider this. Unlike people in the world, marriage is not primarily for our self-fulfillment and happiness, it is to bring God glory as it reflects him.
We must, similarly, consider this type of commitment because we are marrying people who have been infected by sin and are prone to fail. If we are going to model God’s love and commitment in marriage, we must ask ourselves, “Are we truly willing to be committed to our mates through the good and the bad?”
Most marriages are only committed when one person keeps his or her side of the deal. However, that looks nothing like God’s love, of which we are called to imitate as dear children (cf. Eph 5:1-2). Marriage is different from dating, marriage is supposed to be a committed love, a persevering love, a hopeful love, especially when the relationship is tough. Again, one must ask himself, if he is really willing to display this type of commitment even before getting married.
God Hates Divorce
As mentioned previously, arranged marriages have a very low divorce rate, and this may be true, in part, because of the great amount of shame that comes with divorce in those cultures. This is interesting to consider since there is very little to no shame for divorce in most cultures today, especially in the west. It has almost become popular. I read a bumper sticker the other day that said, “I am always right! Ask my two ex-wives.” Divorce has become almost expected, which is why so many people are choosing not to marry and instead to just live together. And if they do marry, they realize that they have a “get out of jail card”, which is held close to the chest.
This attitude is obviously very different from the way God sees marriage and divorce. Consider God’s anger over divorce in Malachi 2:16. It says:
‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel, ‘and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.
Here in this passage, God rebukes the Israelites because of how common divorce had become in their culture. God said he hated the violence divorce created in the family, and he taught the Israelites to guard themselves and to not break faith with their wives.
Moreover, let’s look at how Christ dealt with divorce in the New Testament. Matthew 19:9 says, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
In Matthew 19, Jesus gave one of two exceptions that can break the marriage covenant. The first is adultery. In a marriage where there is unfaithfulness, if the innocent spouse leaves the union, he or she is free to remarry. However, Christ said that if anyone married a divorced person, not under the exception of adultery, they would be living in a continual state adultery. Why would they be in a continual state of adultery? This is because God would still see the divorced person as married to his or her first spouse. The first exception that can break the marriage covenant is adultery.
With that said, we must still remember God’s ideal. Even though adultery breaks the marital covenant and would allow the innocent spouse to seek divorce and remarriage, that still is not God’s ideal. As seen in the book of Hosea, Israel was adulterous in their relationship to God many times, but he still continually took them back. As the prophet Hosea imitated God’s committed love, he took his own adulterous wife back. Even under the exception, God’s ideal is for the couple to restore the relationship, and by doing this, they demonstrate his committed love. Look at what Paul said about divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. He said,
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
Those who get divorced, for any reason other than adultery, must remain unmarried or be reconciled to their mate. This includes situations where there is abuse, irreconcilable differences, or any other reason. Marriage is supposed to be a life-time relationship, and when a person divorces, Scripture says that he or she should remain single.
In the case of divorce, where there has been infidelity, the cheating spouse should be encouraged to seek reconciliation. If that is impossible, they must recognize that cheating is not an unforgivable sin. Jesus Christ died on the cross for all of our sins and there is forgiveness available. However, forgiveness does not always remove the consequences. If reconciliation is impossible, the cheating spouse must accept God’s forgiveness and give himself to a life of serving the Lord as a single person. God will give him grace to fulfill that call and will make him fruitful, if he is faithful. As for the innocent spouse, God’s ideal is for her to seek to restore the marriage. If that is not possible, she is free to seek remarriage.
Why are we considering divorce and remarriage in a pre-marital/marital counseling study? Because, for those who want to follow God’s design, they must understand how important the marriage covenant is to God. For God, marriage is to be a committed relationship that is essentially unbreakable. Those who break it, except under adultery, are to stay single and continue to pursue the Lord.
These regulations for marriage are strict and were given by God to discourage divorce. In a society where there are no regulations and no shame for divorce, it then becomes rampant and a valid option, while in a difficult marriage. Scripture teaches that marriage is a covenant which should reflect God’s covenant with us. Even when we fail him and turn our backs on him, he remains faithful because of his covenant, which he sealed with the blood of his Son.
What is the second exception that would break the marriage covenant?
In Romans 7:1-3, Paul said this:
Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.
Here Paul taught that the second exception, which would allow for remarriage, is death. Death breaks the marriage covenant. Marriage is a physical covenant that makes a couple, one flesh (Gen 2:24). They become one in body, soul, and spirit. Only a physical thing can break this covenant and that would be adultery or death. In fact, in the Old Testament a cheating spouse would be put to death and then the faithful spouse would be allowed to remarry (Lev. 20:10). In the New Testament, this is no longer true, but the cheating spouse is called to remain single.
Again, it should be heard that divorce is not an unforgivable sin. I believe God’s love and grace are seen in an even greater way in our failures. Where sin increases, grace increases all the more (Rom 5:20). God certainly wants to give grace to restore divorced couples with one another and more importantly to himself. As the church, Christ’s body, we must love and comfort those who have suffered through a divorce. With the advent of sin, marriage has been severely damaged, and sadly, most, in some way or another, will be affected by divorce. But where there is sin and brokenness, as God’s church, we must seek to be conduits of God’s abundant grace so there can be healing and restoration for all who have suffered.
Doesn’t the amount of commitment required for marriage, especially a bad marriage, sound down-right scary? It almost sounds impossible. The marriage union is supposed to be a lifetime commitment, without a “get out jail card.” It is meant to be something that can only be done through God’s power. In fact, when the disciples heard of these hard stipulations, they responded with a similar awe. They said, “‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry’” (Matt 19:10).
They responded to Jesus if these are the stipulations for a bad marriage then it’s better to never enter the marriage covenant. That’s how strict this seemed to the disciples, and it should also challenge us as we consider this lifetime covenant?
Again, why do you think God made the marriage covenant so stringent?
Simply said, our God hates divorce and intended for people to marry and stay together forever. In the law system, what they do to encourage people to not steal, kill, or rape is make strenuous consequences. For heinous crimes, there can be a potential lifetime sentence in prison; there is also the death penalty. The consequences are very high in order to deter sin in society. This is the same thing God has done with marriage.
He wants people to know that marriage is a life-long calling, it is a covenant commitment and the only way out is to, essentially, remain single. Because people in the church have not been taught this, or truly considered it, they have adopted the culture of the world, which looks at divorce as a viable option or as a necessary consequence of seeking self-fulfillment and happiness. If divorce is necessary to find happiness they say, then so be it. And, therefore it has become increasingly common even amongst Christians. Some stats say there is virtually no difference in the amount of divorce happening in the church as in comparison to everybody else. However, since marriage is meant to reflect God and his love for his people, it is meant to be a union based on commitment. It is a union where partners say, “I will love you even when you are unlovable, and even when I don’t feel like loving you. I will love you like God loves me for his glory and his fame, which is my purpose in life.”
Have you ever looked at marriage with this view of commitment?
Just as God covenants with his people through the good, the bad, and the ugly so must we be willing to look at marriage as a lifelong covenant. It is one based on commitment and not feelings, for feelings come and go. We approach this covenant realizing the potential consequences of not fulfilling it, just as one did in establishing an ancient covenant. We must come into this covenant seeking to resemble and reflect God’s covenant love for us.
How do you think understanding the realities of this sacred covenant would affect young premarital couples or those already married?
Certainly, at the minimum, it should make couples reevaluate their commitment. They should ask themselves, “Am I truly willing to love like God loves and commit like he commits for his glory and joy?”
Answer the questions, then discuss together.
What was new or stood out to you in this session? What ways were you challenged or encouraged? Were there any things that you did not agree with?
What disciplines will you continually practice in order to help maintain your faithfulness and commitment in marriage? What steps would you take if you were having serious difficulties in marriage? How would you help restore your union? (Include who you will seek help from.)
Discuss these with your mate. Write down any action steps you have decided to take in order to help work on any negatives in the relationship. Include plans to help with your own personal negatives that were addressed during the discussion and how to help your mate with his/her growth as well.
(If your mate is not willing to work on negatives, then you should discern how dangerous these negatives are, if they are something you can live with, or if his or her unwillingness to work on them may be a foreboding sign of not being willing to compromise in the future. This might be something worth talking more about together and also bringing up with your pastor or mentor in order to further discuss and evaluate.)
After completing this session, what ways do you feel God is calling you to pray for your marriage? Spend some time praying.