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Covenant Marriage Precedes Marital Love

By P. Andrew Sandlin
May 01, 1998

The prophet Malachi (2:14) reminds us that marriage is a covenant bond. The notion in the modern Western world, by contrast, is that marriage is a "relationship." The gaping chasm between these two views simply cannot be bridged.

The most obvious vagary of the modern view of marriage is that the marital bond is secured by "love," love being defined romantically as emotional attachment and usually reduced to Eros, or sexual attraction. Nothing could be further from the Biblical teaching. The Bible does not command us to marry whom we love, but to love whom we marry. Marriage is first a covenant union in the sight of God and, ordinarily, the sight of human witnesses. It is a sacred, legal bond so uniting man and woman that they become, as it were, one flesh. This expression is to be understood covenantally, not sacramentally (as in Roman Catholicism, for example). Spouses' lives are so intertwined they are to become, as it were, a single individual.

The Bible commands husbands to love their wives as Christ himself loved the church. This love should be so intense as to willingly sacrifice his own life for that of a wife (Eph. 5:24-28). The Bible also commands wives to love their husbands (Tit. 2:4). This marital love and intense affection that springs from a dedication to God and his Biblical requirements is the result of the covenant bond. The covenant bond is not the result of love; love is a normal result of the covenant bond.

The idea that young adults should get married as a result of "falling in love" is a hateful, perverse heresy. A godly young man, with the tender oversight of godly parents and pastors, should actively seek to court and to marry a godly young woman. When he finds such a woman willing to enter a covenant bond with him, and whose parents are so willing, he unites with her in marriage. Then he learns to love this precious, faithful, godly woman.

Recently my daughter interviewed me for a school project. She asked, "When you met Mom, was it love at first sight?"

"No, but it was like at first sight," I replied. I knew she was a godly, virtuous young woman and I knew that she was just the sort of woman with whom I wanted to spend my life serving God, whom I wanted as mother to my children, and who would assist me in the dominion task. I did not need to love her — and she did not need to love me — before we created a marital covenant. In fact, we should be suspicious of anyone who wants to get married because he assertedly has "fallen in love." Likely his emotions or sexual attraction has clouded godly discernment. "Compatibility," camaraderie, friendship, sexual attraction, and so forth are certainly factors that motivate an interest in making the marital covenant. The wife's chief calling, however, the reason she was created by God in the first place, is to assist man in his specific sphere of dominion calling in the earth (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:18-22). This is woman's divinely appointed role. Therefore, it is this factor that prospective husbands should be looking for in a wife.

A great problem with the notion that "falling in love" is a legitimate justification for a marriage is that it leads to the wholly pernicious idea that "falling out of love" is a valid justification for divorce. This leads to a total inversion of the Biblical teaching. In the Bible, divorce is justified on the grounds of covenant breaking. In the modern world, it is justified on the grounds of the waning of love ("I can't stay with her; I don't love her any more"). Then, of course, there is the Christian Pharisaic stream: all divorce is forbidden. This, no less than the modern secular idea, is to assault the covenant. It is to say that one can default on the marriage covenant and never suffer the consequences. This, no less than the notion that the waning of love is justification for divorce, is evil.

Marriage is a lifelong, covenantal union. Inasmuch as it is patterned after the covenantal union of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:25-29), it represents the most intimate relation we mere mortals can enjoy in this life. It is the central human covenant bond that cements the family, the church, and the wider society, including the state.


Topics: Family & Marriage

P. Andrew Sandlin

P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author.  He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California.  He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation.  He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).

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