This weekend, my husband and I attended a health update conference. The last speaker spoke about relationships, giving advice about how we could counsel our patients towards lasting relationships and marriages. In the last three weeks, our church has been going through principles for a healthy marriage. There is a large industry committed to relationship counselling, and support. Relationships are such an inescapable part of being human. As I listened to that last conference session on relationships, so many points were familiar – recognising love languages, the need for selflessness, the disappearance of limerance, or infatuation (the “honeymoon” period) and the need for perseverance and effort in maintaining a healthy marriage. The practical points made in both the secular and the Christian world about maintaining a healthy marriage are similar in many ways. So, what distinguishes a marriage built upon God?
1. Who are we
I believe the most obvious difference is found in the foundation of the marriage. In a marriage, the two people may make their vows before a celebrant. Their promises of love and commitment are made primarily to one another and sealed by the law. My husband and I, as followers and lovers of God, made our vows primarily to God, and also to one another. The major difference in our marriage foundation? – Yes, our marriage is legally binding, but it is also spiritually binding – we are accountable before the magnificent, holy God who is the righteous judge over all things. Making a vow before God is serious! It is something to be thought out, considered well, and carried out immediately. The following verses convey the importance of making a vow:
[Ecclesiastes 5:4-6] – “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed – Better not to vow than to vow and not pay”
[Deuteronomy 23:21-23] – “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God shall surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth.”
[Psalm 76:11] – “Make vows to the Lord your God, and pay them; let all who are around Him bring presents to Him who ought to be feared.”
A vow to the Lord, is voluntary worship. A declaration of something requiring action – a sacrifice or gift promised to the Lord. Many people are recorded to have made vows before the Lord, and the consequences of their decision, and action are also recorded. Hannah dedicated Samuel, the Nazarites vowed themselves to the Lord, and those who fulfilled their vows were blessed. There are also examples of rash vows, made in foolishness, brazenness or impure motives – Jephthah’s vow cost him his daughter, and certain Jews vowed not to eat or drink until Paul. We also make a vow to the Lord when we trust in Christ Jesus – we promise to give our lives over to God, to completely walk in His ways, and to love Him. While we fall into sin again and again, we repent and return to God – our heart is focused on Him and we fulfill our vow everyday as we seek His face.
In our marriage, my husband and I are committed first to God. Someone once explained their reason for standing by their spouse through every season, despite arguments and disagreements. They said, “They are my spouse, and I have made a covenant of marriage before God. No matter what, I have a commitment to love them.” Wow, at that moment, I understood the strength of a marriage built on God, focused on reconciliation, one where each spouse knew the other well, and was committed to a lasting relationship in God.
2. The goal of marriage
An increasing number of people nowadays, have lost the meaning of marriage. My husband and I both had our own individual journeys with the Lord learning about the meaning of marriage, but we also did some pre-marriage counselling. Our pastor emphasised INTIMACY as the goal of marriage – intimacy between husband and wife. Marriage is the closest thing we can get to the understanding the oneness and intimacy of God – Father, Son and Spirit in One. The Bible is saturated with God’s desire to build an intimate relationship with each and every one. In fact, God refers to marriage multiple times in His word – here are just two examples:
[Hosea 2:19] – “I will betroth you to Me forever, Yes I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the Lord.”
[Revelation 21:2-3] – “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven for God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
People may see the goal of their marriage in all sorts of different lights but for me, the goal of marriage lies in where I see the foundation of my marriage. The foundation of my marriage is Christ and I want to know Him in intimacy as I look forward to the wedding of the Lamb, my heavenly bridegroom. So, in my earthly marriage, I work towards intimacy with my husband. The closer we are to Christ, the closer we are drawn to each other. And the more we experience intimacy with each other, the more we understand the intimate relationship Christ desires with us.
3. “I do”
The principles to a successful marriage may involve communication, conflict resolution and a commitment to ‘make it work’. However, a marriage built upon God goes even deeper to the heart of marriage – it is a covenant made before God and one that promises to honour Him as husband and wife love and honour one another. When I made my marriage vows, I promised not only my husband, but also my God, that I would grow in love toward them – to honour and respect them. Divorce is, and will never be an option for us because we made a vow and a covenant of marriage before God when we said, “I do.”
“Israel Hear” – a declaration over Israel from Hosea 2:19