See – I think that covenants aren’t made as algebraic or actuarial transactions, or made just to make a point. A covenant isn’t a steely-eyed hedge against betrayal – as if it was only a contract, or a legal transactions between two disinterested parties.
There is something behind a covenant, or before a covenant, which seems to me to be necessary in order to even think of the matter of covenant making or covenant keeping.
Here’s what I mean:
- For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
To make that part clear, let’s think about me for a minute. I hate that I am overweight. Hate it! I hate this fat body. If I could change it like changing a suit of clothes, dude, I’d change it like soiled britches. But while I am disappointed in this fat slob-o-rama, and frankly scared about the implications of high blood pressure and the potential of diabetes in the long term, I still eat.
That is, I still take care of my body. It’s mine and I need it. I wash this blubbery mass daily. I brush its teeth. I cut my hair in a way that doesn’t look too bad. I wear clothes that somewhat conceal my lard.
No one ever hated his own flesh. Even if it was ugly flesh, he doesn’t hate it. He hopes for better, or hangs out with people even uglier than himself to make himself look good. Or maybe he works out and sticks to it so he can have arms like BlueCollar Baptist even if he (this person, not BC) has a face like ScoobyDoo.
So in that, the example is two-fold. The first level is that people don’t hate their bodies – they care for them. But in that, Christ cares for His body in a way which “nourishes” and “cherishes” the body. That word there – “cherishes” – doesn’t mean “stakes a high value on it, like a ruby or a bag of money”. It is related to the word “to keep warm”. It means “to foster with tender care”. Paul uses it in 1 Thes 2 to say, “a nurse cherisheth her children”. It’s loving care, a care motivated by something other than mere obligation. In fact, it might be said that it is a love which comes without any obligation and without duress – it is a willing love.
Christ loves the Church like that, and we ought to love our wives like that.
But here’s the other thing: this is not a matter of the will bending love. This is a matter of love bending and forming the will. I’m not talking about emotions leading the way here, because that’s a disaster waiting to kill you and your marriage. I’m talking about the affirmation that Love – like the love demonstrated at the Cross, and the love demonstrated in mercy, and the love demonstrated in the willingness to offer forgiveness for repentance – will change what you are willing to do.
You won’t do it with a big fat sigh and a mopey face. You won’t resign yourself to doing it. You will do it with the same zeal you blog – you might even give up a little blogging in order to do those things better. You’ll want to do it – both intellectually and personally.
Because you’ll love like Christ loves the church. Christ isn’t a stoic. He’s not a Vulcan. He doesn’t want you to live a rational transaction and every seven years either mate or die. Keeping the covenant is not merely a duty but a goal.
And that’s really the other thing: is a covenant like that established to force you to do something you don’t already want you to do, or is it for the sake of demonstrating to the world explicitly and propositionally what you’re doing here?
You know: God could have just made a plan to bless Abraham and kept it to Himself. God could have been a blessing to Israel and just not said anything about it – they’re His people, and He’s going to give them this and protect them from that, but it’s none of your business. It’s a private relationship.
But no: all the covenants – including the New one in Christ’s blood – are public expressions. Christ wasn’t knocked off in a corner, as Paul said to Festus and Agrippa – none of these things have escaped the notice of anyone who can read. The covenant is made to tell people what’s going on.
So the covenant is marriage is a public covenant – and the way you keep it says something about you, not about the covenant.
Did you make a covenant for the sake of love – Godly, incorruptible love – or did you make a contract that’s still under negotiation? You think about that, and then go do something about it – the right thing.