Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Marriage as a Covenant

Covenant Marriage: Remove your 'Rights' Hat; Put On your 'Responsibility' hat
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 3 Feb 2010

Last Sunday I spoke in Church about marriage, in particular Christian marriage. I was pleasantly surprised at the numbers that turned out. There were even visitors from outside the Church who came. Several people later came up to me to ask for more of such sessions. The high level of interest about marriage confirms in my mind that marriage, despite its challenges, remains one of the most treasured institutions in church and I dare say, society at large. One can find numerous books about marriage in nearly any library. Preparing for the talk in Church gives me an opportunity to research, learn and consolidate what I know about marriage. This week, I like to share one profound truth about marriage. Marriage is a covenant. This covenant has two parts. Firstly, marriage as a covenant means we remove our 'rights' hat, and secondly, we put on our 'responsibilities' hat.

1) Removing our 'Rights' Hat
This is one of the most profound truths that I have learned. We live in a world where people insist on their right to have things their own way. We have a right to be hired without discrimination of any kind. Citizens have a right to vote. The American Freedom Declaration enshrines the 'pursuit of happiness' as a right of every national. Even criminals when they are arrested need to have their rights read to them. Rights are especially important when it comes to getting things done anywhere. In fact, when we refuse to exercise our rights, sometimes we risk being bullied or ignored. Customer service officials tend to pay more attention to people who protest loudly, rather than people who accept their predicament meekly. Insisting on rights is very much a way of life in our society.If marriage is written as a contract, like many Hollywood movie stars, there is always money and compensation arranged in kind, a so-called prenuptial agreement. The wealthier one gets, the greater the likelihood of such a self-protective agreement.

For the ordinary folk, having lived a whole day in a culture of rights, the moment we return home to our marriages, we invariably carry with us this 'rights' insistence. We bring home such a mindset that we unconsciously and unwittingly apply these 'rights' expectation onto our marriages. The problem is, when a husband insist on his rights, and the wife insist on hers, we have a standoff that strains marriages slowly but surely. Our marriage suddenly becomes more 'contractual' rather than 'covenantal.'

Marriage as a covenant means one does not live for oneself for own's sake. Once, a Regent professor I know, was traveling in Europe with his wife on their 40th anniversary. When a monk living on the mountains knew about it, he said to them: “Mamma Mia! 40 years of martyrdom.” Indeed, this monk realizes the truth of what marriage means. Marriage is a kind of martyrdom that essentially means dying to self.

You may be questioning what kind of a credibility monks have, since they are pledged to celibacy. Let me then remind you that Christian monks are in a sense 'married,' to the cause of Christ. (I am referring to those monks who have pledged their lives to celibacy.) They love the Church and they love the Lord Jesus. They learn to love as Christ loved. Thus, we can learn from these monks, that our love in marriage ought to be like the way Christ loved the Church. 

Marriage as a covenant means we are no longer ourselves. We are in a new relationship. Scriptures have a very special way of describing our marriage state.
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24, NIV)
'Becoming one flesh' means we are no longer our own. We belong to the marriage. It is no longer 'my' marriage, but 'our' marriage. When a spouse is celebrating or hurting, both spouses are affected. Becoming one flesh means that we give up our individual rights to be self-satisfied. It is no longer my rights or your rights. Far too many books have been written about marriage techniques, and how to resolve differences. However, very few books talk about recognizing the meaning of dying-to-self when it comes to marriage. I do not mean denying our own personal identity. That is self-debasement, which is non-scriptural, and spits on the very value God has given to each of us. Martyrdom in marriage means voluntarily giving up our rights. Marriage as covenant means we give up the right to insist that our spouse:

  • Anticipate all of our needs according to our whims and fancies;
  • Behave in a certain way;
  • Cater to our moods;
  • Do things to our satisfaction;
  • Engage us when we want to be engaged.
  • ......

Marriage is a covenant, not a contract. When we see marriage as a contract, we are insisting on a set of rights. When we see marriage as a covenant, we lay aside our 'rights' so that we can put on another hat, the hat of responsibility. This requires humility, and a willingness to love one another, like Christ.

2) Putting ON the 'Responsibility' Hat
One of the things I shared last Sunday is 'Mind Your Own Verses.' In Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, he writes to wives that they ought to submit themselves to their husbands, as in the LORD (Eph 5:22). It is specifically addressed to wives, and not meant for husbands to use this as ammunition against their wives. Likewise, Paul writes to husbands to love their wives, the same way Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25). It is not meant for wives to use the verse in order to hold their husbands to ransom. In a nutshell, the message is “Husbands and wives, mind your own verses.

The way to do this in marriage is to put on the hat of responsibility. This requires a willing heart, and an intentional mind. Wives need to willingly put on their hat of responsibility. Husbands need to willingly put on their hat of responsibility. Wives need to ask: “What can I do or say to be the best wife I can be?” Husbands need to ask: “What can I do or say to be the best husband to my wife?

At the same time, wives can also say to themselves:
  • How can I help my husband become the best person he can be?” 
  • "If my husband is hurting, how can I play my part at healing?" 
  • "Have I prayed for my husband today?"

Husbands too, can say to themselves:
  • How can I help my wife become the best person she can be?
  • "If my wife is hurting, how can I play my part in healing?"
  • "Have I prayed for my wife today?"
The hat of responsibility means that each spouse:
  • Be responsible to communicate fairly and appropriately;
  • Be responsible to be the best husband or wife first;
  • Be responsible to correct one another in love;
  • Be responsible to control oneself, and not be too eager to correct others;
  • Be responsible to fulfill the other persons's needs;
  • Be responsible to celebrate joyous occasions;
  • Be responsible to protect the partner when the partner is vulnerable.
  • the list can go on.....
C) Final Words
A marriage as a covenant has one additional uniqueness. It is done regardless of what the spouse does or does not do. In other words, regardless of how many percent the husband gives to the marriage, the wife will give her 100% always. Likewise, regardless of how many percent the wife gives to the marriage, the husband will give his total commitment of 100%. A marriage seen contractually is never like this. A marriage as a contract means that the moment one party fails to do as promised, the other can freely withhold his or her end of the bargain. Marriage as a covenant is entered into willingly, not forcibly.

My brothers and sisters, especially those who are married, learn to differentiate the hats you wear. When you relate to others, perhaps you need to maintain and keep your hat of 'rights.' However, when you return home to your spouse, remove your hat of 'rights' and put on your hat of 'responsibility.' In marriage, do not talk about your rights. Practice your responsibilities first. For in marriage, we are talking more about responsibilities rather than rights. In marriage, we live and we love not by feelings, but by vows voluntarily and freely made. Live as people of responsibility, not as people insisting on their rights.

Finally, I know many of us are busy people. What if we 'forget' to remove our rights hat? Let me suggest we remember the following, 'Covenant Marriage Bill of Rights' and practice them responsibly.

  1. I have the right to encourage you daily. I have the right to build you up, not tear you down.
  2. I have the right to affirm you every time you succeed.
  3. I have the right to encourage you every time you win or lose.
  4. I have the right to comfort you when you hurt.
  5. I have the right to protect you when you are attacked.
  6. I have the right to pray for you without ceasing.
  7. I have the right to defend you from every weapon formed against you.
  8. I have the right to esteem and honor you.
  9. I have the right to pick you up when you fall.
  10. I have the right to speak life to you.
  11. I have the right to love you unconditionally.
  12. I have the right to respect you in front of others.
  13. I have the right to find out your needs and meet them and to diagnose your hurts and heal them.
  14. I have the right to serve you at any time.
  15. I have the right to ask God to give you wisdom. I have the right to bless you.

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Thought: Marriage as a covenant means: 'For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health, till death do us part.'


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