Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
Marriage that Works Resources on sale now.
About this series
Marriage that Works
God's Way of Becoming Spiritual Soul Mates, Best Friends, and Passionate Lovers
It's no secret that marriage is in trouble in America. This foundational building block of society is crumbling before our eyes. And Christians are not exempt from this trend. There is hope. Despite the mounting pressure on couples, you really can have a great marriage, raise Godly kids, and experience a healthy, life-giving home-life with the stability to weather life's storms. Join Chip Ingram as he challenges the status quo and gives clear, compelling help for couples that long for unity and fulfillment in their marriage.More from this series
Marriage, what is it? In our day, it’s sort of a conditional contract. I will marry you, we may make up our own vows, we can say whatever we want. But in terms of pragmatism, in our day, marriage is, “I’m absolutely committed to you, no matter what, until I’m not fulfilled or it gets very hard.”
Let’s look at what marriage is from God’s perspective. His design demands that marriage is a holy covenant.
Malachi chapter 2 verse 14. This is a group of people that has strayed far from God. It says, “You ask, ‘Why?’ It’s because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.”
And the context here, you can read Malachi, if you go to Matthew, just go left, it’ll be right there. God is explaining why there’s judgment. Why their fields aren’t producing crops, why their animals are miscarriaging, why their enemies are winning.
And they say, “Why, God? Where are you? How come my life doesn’t work?” God says, “Because you’ve forsaken the marriage covenant.”
So, let me tell you what a covenant is. Marriage is a holy covenant. A covenant is an agreement and guarantee one person makes with another. It’s a solemn agreement with binding force.
Jot in your notes, Ecclesiastes 5 verses 4 and 5. Very powerful. The wisest man in the world said this, “When you make a vow, do not be late in paying it. For God takes no delight in fools. It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”
The idea of a vow? When you said, “Before God and these witnesses, ‘til death do us part, in sickness and in health.” That’s a vow before God. That’s very serious business to Him.
Now, we may redefine it and say, “I was only kidding.” Or, “I feel not emotionally, like, my needs aren’t really feeling very good. And things are really hard.” The vow is what keeps you in the relationship to work through those things.
It goes on to say, we see that in the Bible, God made a very serious agreement when He established a covenant, which represents a serious occasion where the parties involved seal their promises by the midst of a cutting.
And the idea of a covenant, literal word in Hebrew, means “to cut.” And the idea was there’s blood. In other words, blood, there’s life in the blood. So, there’s blood here and blood here and they come together and it’s like an all or nothing, most serious commitment. We say, we make a commitment to one another and no matter what, no matter who, no matter circumstances, we will never violate this. That is a holy covenant.
And I’ve given you four examples in Scripture. Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. And if you study all four of those covenants, what you find is they have four characteristics. One, it’s initiated by a vow. You can jot this down if you want or just remember.
Second, the conditions of the relationship are outlined. Then, it is ratified by blood. And there’s a symbol, then, to remind you that forever, and ever, and ever, this is an unconditional, unconditional, irrevocable commitment that you’ve made.
And, so, through Scripture, the very first time we find it is with Noah. And God says, as He’s judging the earth in violence and sin, He says, “I’ll make a covenant with you.” And the conditions are, “Noah, you worship Me and you do it in this way.”
And then, as soon as he gets out of the ark, he slaughters some animals. There’s blood, he builds an ark and then there’s the sign of the rainbow. “I’ll never ever judge the world by water again.”
Or Abraham. God makes this outrageous. He says, “Abraham, I want to have a special relationship with you. I want to take one man, create a nation, I’ll make it as vast as the stars of the sky and the sand of the sea. I’m going to do something supernatural and amazing because I’m going to create out of you a, sort of a, nomad, nothing type person that one of the greatest nations on the earth, so people will see who I am.
And then, here’s the conditions: “You must follow Me, and obey Me, and keep My law.” And Abraham agrees. And then he has this amazing experience, in Genesis 17, where God tells him to take these different animals and he cuts them in half. And there’s a dripping of blood between them.
And he sits down and he waits until sun sets and then a fire comes and the Spirit and the presence of God burns through. And He seals this covenant. And then, here’s the sign. “Circumcise all your males. This day forward, it will be a sign that you are My people and I am your God.”
And we have then the same thing happen with Moses and the Law. And the sign is the Sabbath.
And then, when you hear the word “New Testament” you know what “testament” means? It’s a synonym for “covenant.”
God made this vow: “I so love everyone who breathes upon the earth that I’m going to send my only Son, fully man and fully God, to come and live a perfect life and teach, and heal, and raise people from the dead, and authenticate, and reveal who I am, the Father, full of grace and truth.”
And after He does that, He’s going to die upon a cross and He would be raised from the dead and whosoever would believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. There’s the vow.
The condition? You must receive. Turn from your sin and receive Christ as your Savior to have eternal life. It was ratified, how? Jesus shed his blood. The symbol? The moment a person turns from your sin and receives Christ, the Spirit of God is a down payment.
Actually, the Bible calls it a deposit. A guarantee living inside of you. And so, this is very, very serious stuff.
A lady came up and she was sharing her story last night. And it went something like this. She felt really bad about it, and she’d been married a long time, and she eventually filed for divorce. And as she sat last night, she realized, “I didn’t have any biblical grounds for divorce.” And she wanted to work through it a little bit and came up and basically had a lot of mild excuses of how unfulfilled she was. And I thought, I’ve been there.
And then it was like, “But I know God’s just a really nice guy and He probably is winking at this one and it won’t matter too much, right?” And I would have loved to have said, “Right.” But I can’t.
In Leviticus, God, after making the covenant says, “If you follow My decrees and are careful to obey My commands, I will send you rain in season and the ground will yield its crops and the trees in their fields will have fruit. I will grant peace to the land. No one will make you afraid. I’ll remove the savage beast from the land and the sword will not come near you. I will look upon you.”
He says, “If you keep the covenant, I’ll look upon you with favor and I’ll make you fruitful and increase in numbers. And I will keep,” this is God speaking, “I will keep My covenant with you.”
He goes on to say, “And then I will walk among you. I will be your God. You will be My people. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt so that you can no longer be slaves to the Egyptians. I broke the bars of your yolk, I enabled you to walk with your heads held high.”
This is God saying, “I had a plan, had a design, I’m the engineer, I love you, I delivered you, I want to be with you. Now, we made a covenant about how we’re going to do life together. And if you keep it, woo! And because I love you, I’ve got some restrictions and some things to follow, that allow you to get the highest and the best from Me.”
But then it goes on, “But if you do not listen to Me, and carry out all these commands, and if you reject My decrees, and abhor my laws, and fail to carry out all My commands, and so violate My covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, and wasting disease, and fever that will destroy your sight and drain your life.
“You’ll plant seeds in vain because your enemies will eat them. I will set My face against you and you’ll be defeated by your enemies. If after I do this, you still will not listen, I’ll punish you for your sins seven times over and I will break your stubborn pride and make the skies from above like iron and the ground beneath like bronze.”
In other words, life’s going to be hard and it won’t work. “And if you still remain hostile toward Me and refuse to listen to Me, I’ll multiply your afflictions seven times over.”
And it goes on. He says this two or three more times. Some of you sitting in this room are thinking, You know what? I think I love God, how come my life’s not working? How come my job’s not working? How come this is going wrong? How come my kids are going that direction? How come this has happened this way?
I got news for you. You violate God’s covenant – is He loving and kind and willing to forgive? Absolutely. He’s also just and holy. And we have a generation of Christians that have blown off. There’s not a nickels’ worth of difference between the Christian marriage and non-Christian’s marriages.
And if you can’t figure out why you’re having a lot of problems, maybe today the lights come on.
But here’s what you’ve got to know. There’s hope. But the hope isn’t trying harder. The hope is getting back to the designer, the engineer, the blueprint and saying, “God.”
For some of you, you don’t even know what the design is. If someone gave me a Ferrari, I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t know what to put in it other than gas.
And so, God is going to help you and me understand, this is how I designed it because I want spiritual, soul, and physical oneness and intimacy at such a level that your neighbors, and your friends, and co-workers would say to you, “Like, man, you’ve been married quite a while?” “Yeah.” “You’re going on a date? Why? You pray together?” “Yeah.” “Your kids actually like you? You talk about your wife like you’re hot for her! Why?” “Because I am.”
Where do you get that? Everyone else is trading in new models. Everyone else is just trying to figure out how to get for them, only to find out that the outside isn’t nearly what it was promised to be.
Marriage is a holy covenant initiated by a vow and ratified by blood. Let me give you a definition for marriage. Are you ready? Marriage is an irrevocable commitment, of unconditional love, toward an imperfect person.
Whew. That’s what marriage is. That’s what a holy covenant is. An irrevocable commitment.
Well, what’s it look like? Three distinct aspects of this. And we’ll develop these later but I want to give you the picture of, okay, then how does it actually work? It’s real serious. Genesis 2:24: “For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, will cleave to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
The “leave” is a separation from. God’s blueprint is you leave former relationships, former family, financial strings, emotional strings, and when you have a problem, you don’t run to mommy, you don’t run to daddy, you don’t run to friends. You say, “This is really, really hard but I’m going to leave them and my new focus is you.”
In Indonesia, when a young woman is going to get married, she takes her dolls and she takes the things of her childhood, and she invites all of her girlfriends, and they have a little party. And she looks at all the different things that she had.
And then there’s a bonfire and she burns it. And she realizes her old life is gone and there will be a new life where she’s leaving her family and there’s a new family that’s going to be created.
So, you leave and then you cleave. The word is a picture of epoxy glue. It’s a picture of a coming together where you are stuck together. It’s where, if you took a pint of my blood and a pint of Theresa’s blood and put it in a beaker and then mixed it up, you’d be hard pressed to know whose is whose. Right?
That’s a picture of this. It’s your lives. It’s not just that you live together. It’s that you actually become one.
And so, there’s no more me, or her. It’s always us. There’s no more I. I cleave together with her.
And then the result is, you become one flesh. And notice the tense of that verb. It’s a process. I’ve been to counseling to become one flesh. I read books to become one flesh. I’ve had to stop at different intervals of my life and been totally stuck and not known what I need to do to go to a mentor to become one flesh.
Becoming spiritually, soul, and physically one flesh, when you come out of baggage, let me just tell you this. It’ll be the hardest work you’ll ever do in your life with the greatest reward. The hardest work.
Ninety-nine percent of the marriages in this room would be amazing eighteen months from now if you said, “You know something? I know I’ve got to put bread on the table but this one thing I’m going to do. I’m going to figure out how to get close to God and I’m going to figure out how to get close to you. And whatever we need to deal with, we’re going to deal with.
“We’re going to learn to resolve our anger, we’re going to learn to communicate, we’re going to talk, we’re going to read books together, we’re going to take walks. Whatever we need to do, that’s what we’re going to do.”
And I’ll guarantee this: you do that for eighteen months and you’ll come back and you’ll say, “I cannot believe what we now experience.”
And instead what we want is a shortcut. Instead what we want is a quick fix. It doesn’t work that way.
Because marriage is a covenant and not merely a contract, there’s four very specific implications. Number one, divorce is not an option. Malachi 2:14 we’ve read. In verse 16, God goes on to say, “I hate divorce.”
Now, I do understand that there are times, in fact, I’m one of those people. There are times when divorce is unavoidable. I think there’s two very clear biblical times when God allows for divorce.
And I do understand this, okay? I understand there’s a lot of people sitting in this room that you’ve had a divorce and you’re thinking to yourself, “My mate wasn’t sexually unfaithful, and they were not an unbeliever who abandoned me. And if those are the two stipulations for divorce, then I messed up.”
And what I want you to know is, when you divorce without biblical grounds, of course there are consequences. But it’s not the unpardonable sin. And God forgives that just like He does affairs, and sexual sins, and stealing, and lying, and murder. And I have a whole book of men and woman who’ve done really not healthy, things that have been forgiven and then been greatly used and greatly loved by God. But I will tell you, divorce is not an option.
I remember my very first difficult, painful, you know that moment and if you’re married you know and if you’re not married you’ll get this later as God would allow. But it was the first big, major, whoo, that Theresa and I had.
And I was hurt, and wounded, and angry and I slammed the door and I got in my car and I drove out there and I thought, “Man, I’ve got the wrong person! I can’t believe she said that! I can’t believe she did this! What’s wrong with her?”
And, I just wanted out. And I thought, “These are terrible feelings that, well…” But when I’ve gotten real close, especially to men and we’ve talked deeply, I don’t know a man I’ve ever met that someday didn’t feel like, “Man, I want out of this.”
Man, I got so angry and so hurt. And what happens is, the moment you start thinking of that, options start coming to your mind. Other people start looking better. You stop working as much.
And I remember God brought a picture to my mind about covenant and what it meant. And I had a friend who discipled and helped me who was a bricklayer. And I had this picture where my wife lives. It’s a mountain. You walk right out of the door and, it’s all rock. And someone cut out all the rock and it’s like a room 10 x 10 and there’s a little spring of water and there’s an exercise bike. There’s no TV. And there’s plenty of food.
And then Theresa and I walked into this 10 x 10 room and my friend, the bricklayer, with big hadite block, he just started filling in the doorway. And then he waved. And then he just filled it in.
And I’m in this 10 x 10 room with Theresa. And yeah, I can sulk. I can go to this corner. And she can go to that corner. There’s plenty of food. I can even get a workout if I want to. And I can spend my time going, “She’s not very sensitive to me and she’s not very affectionate and I don’t know what do.”
And she can be over here going, “Boy, he’s not very sensitive and all he does is think about sports and this and that. And I can’t believe…”
But you know what? When you’re stuck in this room, at some point you say, “This isn’t any fun.” So, whatever it needs to do, I guess we better sit down and talk about how we get this resolved.
And I remember that word picture became covenant for me. And what I know, I can share anything with my wife, and she can share anything with me, because what we both know is, no one’s going anywhere. That’s why living together doesn’t work. That’s why intimacy can’t happen if you think there’s an exit clause. Divorce is not an option and it’s the key to intimacy.
Second, adultery is a serious covenant breaking offense. Proverbs 2 talks about it’s where people end up on a pathway to death. No one wins when there’s adultery.
Third, sex before marriage is a violation of His holy covenant. Marriage should be held by honor, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral.
And so, if you’re living together, or if you’re single and sleeping around or if you’re not single and sleeping around, or if you’re logging onto websites, stop it. “So, I need to know God’s will.” Here’s God’s will, stop it. And then repent.
That kind of sex is not about love, it’s about you. It’s about lust. It’s about things that are broken inside of you.
And you just need to say, “Okay.” And is it hard? Really hard. Some people will need to go home, and by the way, you don’t have a meeting to break up. You call and say, “This is over.”
And that’s, is that hard? Is there security issues? Is there what about, what about? Absolutely. You just have to ask: what kind of marriage do you really want?
And, finally, same sex relationships are forbidden as a violation of God’s design. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 10 says, “Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral, or idolaters, or adulterers, nor men who have sex with men will inherit the kingdom of God.”
God has equal opportunity judgment on heterosexual and homosexual sins. That’s not what’s best, that’s not what delivers intimacy, and grace, and the kind of relationship He wants. So any type of sexual activity that will harm you and keep you from getting the best, God says, “Don’t.” And there are guardrails because He loves you.
And the first step is always to turn and repent. And say, “God, I need help.” And you won’t be able to do it on your own.
And if some of you just feel like, “Oh my lands. I’m so far away.” Could you please hear God’s heart? He didn’t bring you here to make you feel bad. He brought you here to make you aware so you could stop, turn, be forgiven, and get on a new path.
If you’re single, to prepare for the kind of relationship He wants that’s great. If you’re married, to keep working at it. And, if you’re divorced, if there’s any possibility of reconciliation, to even ponder that.