Aunt Gladys and Uncle John

This is an excerpt from our new book “Real Romance: Sex in the Song of Songs”. To purchase the book, click here, and to access the sermon series that accompanies these devos and this book, click here.

The days leading up to marriage can be incredible times for learning and growing. This was our case. Between our junior and senior years of college, we were married in our hometown, which was hundreds of miles away from college. The night before our wedding, I (Mark) needed a place to sleep before we headed from our honeymoon to the rental house at our college. Grace’s great-uncle John kindly invited me to spend the night at his condo. Uncle John and his wife, Aunt Gladys, did not have any children, and they loved Grace and treated her like a granddaughter. Aunt Gladys had Alzheimer’s, so Uncle John placed her in a care facility for her own safety, as she was continually wandering and becoming lost. Uncle John remained devoted to his wife, visiting her multiple times every day even though she tragically did not remember him anymore. At every visit she would ask him who he was, and he would patiently and kindly remind her that he was her husband and had devoted his entire adult life to her.

The night before our wedding, Uncle John sat down with me in his home to make sure that I was fully devoted to Grace. He asked me if I would love her and be faithful to her, even if she forgot who I was. Uncle John was asking me to have a covenant marriage with Grace and not a contract. The Bible speaks of marriage in terms of a covenant (Proverbs 2:17, Malachi 2:14), and it speaks of covenant relationships hundreds of times with numerous words. The heart of covenant is lovingkindness— the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, one-way love of God. Various English Bible translations use words such as love, lovingkindness, mercy, steadfast love, loyal love, devotion, commitment, and reliability to translate the concept of covenant into English. When our children were little, we would often read to them from the Jesus Storybook Bible, which calls covenant love the “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always & Forever Love.”

The reason many marriages struggle (and even fail) is that they are more of a contract than a covenant. Contracts are needed for professional relationships at work. However, when we bring contractual thinking into marriage, it can result in tense negotiations, demands, pressure to perform, performance reviews, and punishment for failure to meet demands. Some examples might help you see this in your own marriage. In a counseling session, a husband admitted to committing adultery, and when confronted, he defended himself by blaming his wife for not giving him as much sex as he wanted. He told her, “You owed me, and now we are even.” Another couple explained during a counseling session that the root of their marriage problems was continual selfishness as every time one of them asked the other for help or a favor, the response was always, “What’s in it for me?” The most dysfunctional example was a couple who literally made job descriptions for each other and gave each other performance reviews at the end of each week. If the husband did what the wife demanded, then he got sex, and if she did what he demanded, then she got paid an allowance to spend as she pleased. They wrongly took their work life and brought it home, treating one another like employees instead of spouses.

To win at home and at work, God’s people need to learn about both covenants and contracts. People who only have covenant relationships tend to win at home but lose at work. People who only have contractual relationships tend to win at work but lose at home. People who have contractual relationships at work and covenantal relationships at home tend to win at both.

Do you see marriage as more of a covenant or a contract? Read Proverbs 2:17, Malachi 2:14, Jeremiah 31:31-33, and Ephesians 5:22-32 (and any other passages throughout Scripture you can find) to learn more about covenants throughout the Bible, including particularly in marriage.

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