Companions by Covenant

by Ryan Joy

“I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31b).

To hear some people talk about marriage, you might wonder, “Can anyone stay happily married anymore?” The Bible gives us an inspiring vision for our marriages and a plan to grow closer. In a culture obsessed with falling into “brand new love,” it’s exciting to see God’s way to a relationship that gets better over the years.


How Jesus Explained Marriage

Imagine standing at the altar on your wedding day, dreaming of when you and your beloved can retire to separate television sets for the evening. Or maybe even to live in separate houses with separate lives. Couples move apart from each other in two ways: splitting or drifting. Some couples avoid divorce and stick it out but slowly drift further apart, saying, “You have your life, and I have mine.” We don’t want these scenarios to happen, but people all over find it difficult to stay together and grow close. I think one problem is a fundamental lack of clarity about what marriage is.

What makes a marriage a marriage? Is it the certificate, the preacher, the honeymoon, or the cathedral where you held the ceremony? Is it the ring or the something borrowed, something blue? What is fundamental to marriage?

That’s precisely where Jesus took the conversation when asked about marriage. In Matthew 19:3, Pharisees asked him a common question: In what circumstances is it okay to get a divorce? “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate’” (Matt. 19:4-6, ESV). So, what makes a marriage a marriage? God! According to Jesus, God has joined two people so that they are now one.

Malachi explained how God joins husband and wife in a resounding rebuke of the Jews. He told them the Lord would no longer accept their offerings (Mal. 2:13). They asked, “Why not?” and he declared: “Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14-15).

Why was God so troubled by the way these men treated their wives? The heart of the issue is this: she is your companion, your wife by covenant! In other words, “Don’t you realize who you’re doing this to and what’s at stake?”

Malachi gives us two keywords for understanding marriage:

  1. companion
  2. covenant

If we don’t understand companionship, we will drift apart. If we don’t understand the covenant, we will split.

What is a Covenant?

What does the word “covenant” mean? It literally means “to cut,” from the ancient practice of ratifying covenants by cutting animals in half and walking between them. We see an example of this in God’s split animal covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15). God had made promises, but Abraham asked, “How am I to know” you’ll keep them (Gen. 15:8)? So that Abraham would “know for certain” (Gen. 15:13), God had Abraham cut several animals in half and lay the halves across from each other (Gen. 15:9-10). As the sun went down, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed through the split animals. What was that about? In Abraham’s time, two people making a covenant would kill animals, cut them in half, and then walk through all that death as if to say, “May I die if I don’t keep this.” I take this covenant as seriously as death; you can “*know for certain*” that I will not break it.

So, isn’t this a cheerful discussion of love and marriage? But we have to start here—with what a covenant is—if we want to understand all that God wants a marriage to be. It’s not a flippant decision at the Elvis Chapel in Vegas. It’s til death do us part.

What are the things you promised before God? I’m not suggesting you renew your vows. They come with a lifetime warranty. But how can we keep them if we don’t keep them front of mind? Maybe that’s why the wise preacher in Ecclesiastes says not to make a vow before God quickly. “*Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few … It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay*” (Eccles. 5:2,5).

What is Companionship?

To better understand companionship, we need to look at where it all began. The story of humanity’s first day ends with a (sort of) wedding (Gen. 2:18-24). God saw everything as good until he saw man alone, with no suitable partner. God made woman and made them one flesh so that they would cling to one another. When he made woman, he created marriage the solution to the world’s first great problem: the need for companionship. So he completed human creation by bringing us from loneliness to perfect partnership.

Stanley Hauerwas defines a successful marriage as “learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.” In the Old Testament, the original word for physical intimacy literally means “to know.” As in, “*Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain*” (Gen. 4:1). Sex is a representative expression of all the other forms of knowing each other man and wife share. So God uses the same language to describe His relationship with His bride, His people (Hos. 2:19–20). We know each other in a way that others can not.

The covenant makes us one flesh, but learning how to be companions to one another teaches us to live as one.

Is marriage what you envisioned? Is it better than that first day? What can you do better for your companion, the husband or wife of your covenant?

Next: A Cross-Shaped Marriage >

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