Marital Contract vs. Marital Covenant

We live in an extremely litigious society, where almost everything needs to be spelled out in legalese to feel secure.  But what happens when a marriage seems more like a contract than the covenant God intends?  It is always interesting to ask a Christian couple, who are having marital problems, whether their marriage is contractual or covenantal. Every time the husband and wife will both pipe up, ‘Covenantal’.  But when the difference is explained to them, they will almost always agree that their marriage is mainly contractual.

A contract is inherently self-focused and self-centered.  It is about getting the most while at the same time giving out the least.  Who tells the car dealer, once an agreement is made, “Oh, by the way, I am going to give you more money, because I felt you undercut yourself on the sell?’  Some may, but very few.  Or when have you ever been told, “Ya know, you agreed on that higher price a little too quickly, because this (fill in the blank) isn’t worth that much, so we are giving you your money back.”  The point is, primarily a contract is IF you do THIS THAN I will do THAT!  Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) might not be the most Christian expression, but only in the case of governmental regulation will most people think about the welfare of the other side of a contract.

This translates in a marriage quite easily.  “If you do the dishes, I will take out the trash.  If you be intimate with me, I will listen to your day.  If you love me, then I will respect you.”  At this point, most couples will still hesitate about stating that their marriage is contractual until a covenant marriage is described for them.

A covenant is the opposite of a contract.  It is about giving and disregards the concept of receiving.  God in Christ initiates His covenant with us and describes it by stating, I will be your God, and you will be my people.  From that point on, God upholds his covenant, despite the sin of the people, even when it gets to the point of being overwhelming.  God keeps his covenant/promises, so in a Christian marriage, we are called to be like God and keep our covenant/promises in the same manner.  Both husbands and wives make covenantal vows to God directed towards their spouses, affirming what they will do, and not what they expect from their spouses in return.

The vast majority of wedding vows do not go “I promise to love, honor, and cherish IF you love, honor, and cherish.”  We make promises in our vows that are selfless, but as soon as we expect something in return, our marriage goes from covenantal to contractual.  Some may argue that a purely covenantal marriage is impossible, but all things are possible with God.  Only in the power of the Holy Spirit is a covenantal marriage possible, and just for as long as each person in the marriage submits to God’s Will and Plan.

Most husbands and wives will recognize at this point that they may want a covenantal marriage, but what they have is mostly contractual.  But, this should be a moment of encouragement, because knowing the difference between the two, they can determine and commit themselves to seeking the covenantal marriage they genuinely desire.

So a proper starting place in helping a couple recognize their responsibility in contributing to a self-centered contractual marriage is to illuminate the difference in what they think they are asking for, and what they genuinely are asking for in their marriage.  In this manner, a couple can begin seeking the best for the other, rather than the most for themselves, holding to their covenantal vows before God, and not making their marriage a contract.

In the Love of Christ, Dr. Robert Titus, cell: (412) 915-1233