Marriage: Contract or Covenant?
Is marriage a contract or a covenant? Well, the easiest way to settle this debate is to identify a relatable definition of each. First, let’s talk marriage. You marry her. He vows to be your husband. You both sign the marriage license; you’re now legally bound. But do you know what you’re walking into?
If it’s a contract, it can be broken. In our society, many get married based on the contractual conditions to satisfy self—it’s living to get, rather than living to give. If the individual needs are not met, or there are difficulties and disappointments, then by virtue of contractual living, one has the right to break their contractual vows through divorce. Contractual living diminishes any depth to one’s commitment level and to the value of life.
A covenant, on the other hand, should never to be broken. It is a binding agreement to love your partner unconditionally and sacrificially to the very end of life. However, the Scriptures reveal how unethical and immoral conduct could lead to broken a covenant leading to marital dissolution.
So what does a covenantal commitment look like? Author’s Anderson and Guernsey provide five statements describing a covenantal commitment:¹
- “I will commit myself to do or to be for you whatever I have agreed to do or to be because of my commitment.” Commitment becomes a structure in and of itself. It maintains a line of action that makes it difficult to discontinue the commitment even if the commitment of the other person declines.”
- “I will finish the task given to me, no stopping halfway. I will do the best I can possibly do with an unbroken loyalty, regardless of any change, disappointment, or conflict that may occur.”
- “The covenantal basis for our marital relationships is an unconditional and sacrificial love that puts self aside in an effort to be a blessing to others. This results in a greater capacity for couples to freely communicate their thoughts and feelings, contingent upon not fearing one another.”
- “This covenant commitment is observed in the security it provides in relationships, the grace to forgive, the freedom to give and the ability to serve one another.”
- “Covenantal commitment and love relinquishes the right to exist alone. It is a commitment to the life of the other, and is accepting of one another. The home should be an intimate environment where couples and family members can be themselves without fearing rejection.”
What does a covenantal marriage look like? The marriage commitment should be based on a covenant agreement with God, each other, and our witnesses. This is consummate in the covenant wedding vows we take before God, each other, and the witnesses. Couples can establish the following principles or concepts for how they will covenant with each other.
- In a covenant marriage, couples are mutually committed to each other!
- Covenant marriages are not a 50/50 deal, but it is each giving 100 percent. It is a couple giving all they can, to be all they can, to be a blessing to one another as they humbly and sacrificially serve one another!
- In a covenant marriage, couples are committed to resolving hostility by working things out among themselves!
- In a covenant marriage, couples are restless when they realize something is wrong between them. They seek reconciliation with God and with each other!
- Couples are motivated by God’s love and are willing to risk vulnerability!
Take some time to think this through with your spouse. Ask each other these questions:
- What kind of marriage do we have—contractual or covenantal?
- How do you see this affecting our marriage?
- Share one or two concepts that you can change in your marriage today?
¹Anderson, R. & Guernsey, D. On Being Family: A Social Theology of the Family, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 1985.