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One and one makes three

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Genesis 2:18–25 / Ephesians 5:21–33

A friend shared with me these “reasons to be a man”:

  • Phone conversations are over in thirty seconds flat.
  • You know stuff about tanks.
  • A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
  • You can leave the motel bed unmade.
  • You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
  • Wedding plans take care of themselves.
  • Your underwear is $10.00 for a three-pack.
  • Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
  • If another guy shows up at the party in the same outfit, you might become lifelong friends.
  • You are not expected to know the names of more than five colors.
  • You can “do” your nails with a pocketknife.
  • Christmas shopping can be accomplished for twenty-five relatives, on December 24th, in forty-five minutes.

It’s all true.

We’re learning how to live in ways God can bless. Last week we talked about God; today we’re going to talk about men and women. Last week was vertical; this week is horizontal. To live a life blessed by God, we must live in daily commitment to Jesus as Lord, and in daily covenant with each other.

Clearly, our marriages need encouragement today. In America in the year 2012, there was one divorce every thirty-six seconds, nearly 2,400 a day, 16,800 per week, 876,000 per year. Half of all American children will witness the breakup of their parents’ marriage.

By contrast, a “covenant” relationship can revolutionize your marriage, your dating relationships, your friendships, and your own sense of identity, purpose, and joy. As we continue our walk through Genesis, let’s learn how to experience covenant relationships today.

Relationship as contract

Nearly every relationship in our culture today is contractual in nature. The simplest dictionary definition of a contract is “a promise enforceable by law.” The contract requires the mutual assent of two or more persons. If one of the parties fails to keep the promise, the other is entitled to legal recourse.

Our children’s teachers have a contractual obligation to be qualified in the subjects they teach, and to teach those subjects. Our political leaders have a contractual obligation to fulfill the responsibilities they have assumed. The people painting your house have a contractual obligation to do what you are paying them to do. If they don’t want to complete the job, or you don’t want them to, you have contractual recourse and steps to consider. The relationship can be ended at any time by mutual consent or through legal process.

This is the view our society has taken of marriage as well. Our culture is convinced that marriage, like all other relationships in our society, is negotiable, subjective, and arbitrary. It’s a contract which can be ended at any time by either partner.

Relationship as covenant

This contractual view of marriage and relationships is completely contrary to God’s word and will. In the beginning of human history, God had made Adam, but not Eve. Then our Maker said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

“Helper suitable for him” points to a superior who helps an inferior, a stronger person helping a weaker person. Man needs woman, and woman needs man. We are each other’s “helpers” in life. We are each made differently; we need each other.

Man’s need was so urgent that God performed a special, miraculous creative act to meet it (vv. 21–22). Adam certainly approved of the result: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (v. 23).

With this result: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (v. 24). Even in that perfect, pre-fallen Garden of Eden, life was not complete alone. So, God gave man his soul mate, the person who completed him, the one who made his life complete, fulfilled, and joyous. He still does.

And he intends the man and woman to live in covenant with each other. A contract is conditional; a covenant is unconditional. A contract can be ended by either party for just cause; the covenant is unending and eternal. A contract is based on human expectations and performance; a covenant is based on God’s will and kept by his power. And that is the relationship he intends for a husband and a wife.

How to live in covenant

So, how do we live in covenant relationships? Ephesians 5 provides the guidelines we need.

The text begins: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). “Submit” translates the word for a voluntary decision to serve. It is in the middle voice in Greek: “choose to place yourself in submission.”

Not the submission of an inferior to a superior, but the choice to support and serve on the part of an equal. It is an ongoing, present-tense commitment, made not just for the wedding but for all the years of the marriage. And it is a commandment, not an option. How do we fulfill it?

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (v. 22). Your husband’s greatest need is encouraging support, to know that he is respected. You are the person whose respect he needs most. When you submit to him, encourage him, and support him, you meet his heart’s cry and fulfill your God-given role in his life and heart.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” (v. 25). Your wife’s greatest need is loving security, to know that she is cherished and wanted. You are the person whose love and admiration she needs most. When you love her, finding ways to express your attraction, gratitude, and commitment to her, you meet her heart’s cry and fulfill your God-given role in her life and heart.

What does every marriage need? One expert summarizes: “Men are motivated and empowered when they feel needed. Women are motivated and empowered when they feel cherished.” Every marriage needs encouraging support and loving security.

This is God’s intended covenant for your marriage, and for your other relationships as well. The men you know need your respect before they need anything else. The women you know need your appreciation and security before they need anything else.

Jesus stands ready to love them through you, if you will stay in his Spirit and power. If you will live in constant communion with him. If you will surrender your marriage and relationships to him, he will fulfill his covenant in and through your life.

Are there circumstances by which this covenant can be broken biblically? There are three. This is the subject of another message, but we’ll survey them briefly here.

First, if an unbeliever abandons a believer: “If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances” (1 Corinthians 7:15). If you are married to a non-Christian who refuses to stay in the marriage, you are not obligated to that person.

Second, if one of the partners commits adultery, sex outside of marriage. Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).

I believe a third biblical condition to be abuse, whether emotional or physical, which threatens life and future. The sixth commandment is plain: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). James 2:11 adds: “He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a lawbreaker.”

Life comes first. Sometimes we must choose between commandments. When Corrie ten Boom and her family were harboring Jews, and the Nazis came looking for them, the ten Booms had to choose between lying and murder. If we must choose between a destructive, threatening, abusive marriage and life, we choose life.

Sometimes divorce is the lesser of two terrible options. But even when there is abandonment, adultery, or abuse, divorce is the last resort, to be considered only after there has been every effort made to restore the relationship. Only when one partner refuses to continue the process toward healing.

I am convinced that God can heal every marriage whose partners want their marriage to be healed. And he will give you not a better marriage but a new marriage. Not a better home but a new home. A home built on the covenant commitment which he will empower by his grace.

Jesus told us about a foolish man who built his house on sand, and a wise man who built his house on rock. The same storms came against them both. The first fell; the second stood firm (Matthew 7:24–27). The difference was not their materials, architect, or builder, but their foundation. If your home and relationships are built on any foundation other than the Lordship of Jesus Christ, you have built on sand. And the storms are coming.

Conclusion

When Jesus is Lord of your covenant relationship, one and one makes three. A man, a woman, and the Lord; two people and their God. That’s the way to hope, help, and joy.

So, which is your marriage: a contract between two people or a covenant with God? What about your friendships at school, or relationships at work? What practical steps can you take to move from contract to covenant this week?

First, commit to the marriage or relationship. Decide that divorce is not an option. There will be times when that commitment to your covenant is all that gets you through a hard place and time. But it will.

Second, determine to meet the needs of your spouse or friend. It’s not about you. Your husband needs encouraging respect and support; your wife needs nurturing love and security. Look for ways to provide it. Refuse to undermine it.

Make an inventory of anything that could harm your relationship. Ask a friend to pray with you and hold you accountable in areas where you struggle. Seek professional help if necessary.

And be proactive in meeting the other’s needs. John Gottman of the University of Washington says, “In couples that stay together, there are about five times more positive things said to and about one another as negative ones. But in couples that divorce, there are about one and a half times more negative things said than positive.” Look for ways to meet the other’s needs.

Third, verbally commit to your covenant together. Pray together that God would protect you and strengthen you from any attack of Satan. He hates everything God has created, including your marriage and family. He will do all he can to attack and undermine your commitment to each other.

Marquis Clarke, a Christian mother and blogger, made this simple but powerful vow: “I want my life and my marriage to look less like the world and more like Christ.” Do you?