Covenant Marriage by God’s Design

Topical Scripture: Genesis 2:18–25, Ephesians 5:21–33

A friend shared with me these “reasons to be a man”:

  • Phone conversations are over in thirty seconds flat.
  • You know stuff about tanks.
  • A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
  • You can leave the motel bed unmade.
  • You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
  • Wedding plans take care of themselves.
  • Your underwear is $10.00 for a three-pack.
  • Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
  • If another guy shows up at the party in the same outfit, you might become lifelong friends.
  • You are not expected to know the names of more than five colors.
  • You can “do” your nails with a pocketknife.
  • Christmas shopping can be accomplished for twenty-five relatives, on December 24th, in forty-five minutes.

It’s all true.

We’re learning how to live in ways God can bless. Last week we talked about God; today we’re going to talk about men and women. Last week was vertical; this week is horizontal. To live a life blessed by God, we must live in daily commitment to Jesus as Lord, and in daily covenant with each other.

Clearly, our marriages need encouragement today. A “covenant” relationship can revolutionize your marriage, your dating relationships, your friendships, and your own sense of identity, purpose, and joy. Let’s learn how to experience covenant relationships today.

Relationship as contract

Nearly every relationship in our culture today is contractual in nature. The simplest dictionary definition of a contract is “a promise enforceable by law.” The contract requires the mutual assent of two or more persons. If one of the parties fails to keep the promise, the other is entitled to legal recourse.

Our children’s teachers have a contractual obligation to be qualified in the subjects they teach, and to teach those subjects. Our political leaders have a contractual obligation to fulfill the responsibilities they have assumed. The people painting your house have a contractual obligation to do what you are paying them to do. If they don’t want to complete the job, or you don’t want them to, you have contractual recourse and steps to consider. The relationship can be ended at any time by mutual consent or through legal process.

This is the view our society has taken of marriage as well. Our culture is convinced that marriage, like all other relationships in our society, is negotiable, subjective, and arbitrary. It’s a contract which can be ended at any time by either partner.

Relationship as covenant

This contractual view of marriage and relationships is completely contrary to God’s word and will. In the beginning of human history, God had made Adam, but not Eve. Then our Maker said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18).

“Helper fit for him” points to a superior who helps an inferior, a stronger person helping a weaker person. Man needs woman, and woman needs man. We are each other’s “helpers” in life. We are each made differently; we need each other.

Man’s need was so urgent that God performed a special, miraculous creative act to meet it (vv. 21–22). Adam certainly approved of the result: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘Woman,’ because she was taken out of Man” (v. 23).

With this result: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24). Even in that perfect, pre-fallen Garden of Eden, man’s life was not complete alone. So, God gave man his soul mate, the person who completed him, the one who made his life complete, fulfilled, and joyous. He still does.

And he intends the man and woman to live in covenant with each other. A contract is conditional; a covenant is unconditional. A contract can be ended by either party for just cause; the covenant is unending and eternal. A contract is based on human expectations and performance; a covenant is based on God’s will and kept by his power. And that is the relationship he intends for a husband and a wife.

How to live in covenant

So, how do we live in covenant relationships? Ephesians 5 provides the guidelines we need.

The text begins: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). “Submit” translates the word for a voluntary decision to serve. It is in the middle voice in Greek: “choose to place yourself in submission.”

Not the submission of an inferior to a superior, but the choice to support and serve on the part of an equal. It is an ongoing, present-tense commitment, made not just for the wedding but for all the years of the marriage. And it is a commandment, not an option. How do we fulfill it?

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord” (v. 22). Your husband’s greatest need is encouraging support, to know that he is respected. You are the person whose respect he needs most. When you submit to him, encourage him, and support him, you meet his heart’s cry and fulfill your God-given role in his life and heart.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (v. 25). Your wife’s greatest need is loving security, to know that she is cherished and wanted. You are the person whose love and admiration she needs most. When you love her, finding ways to express your attraction, gratitude, and commitment to her, you meet her heart’s cry and fulfill your God-given role in her life and heart.

What does every marriage need? One expert summarizes: “Men are motivated and empowered when they feel needed. Women are motivated and empowered when they feel cherished.” Every marriage needs encouraging support and loving security.

This is God’s intended covenant for your marriage, and for your other relationships as well. The men you know need your respect before they need anything else. The women you know need your appreciation and security before they need anything else.

Jesus stands ready to love them through you, if you will stay in his Spirit and power. If you will live in constant communion with him. If you will surrender your marriage and relationships to him, he will fulfill his covenant in and through your life.

Are there circumstances by which this covenant can be broken biblically? There are three. This is the subject of another message, but we’ll survey them briefly here.

First, if an unbeliever abandons a believer. “If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances” (1 Corinthians 7:15 NIV). If you are married to a non-Christian who refuses to stay in the marriage, you are not obligated to that person.

Second, if one of the partners commits adultery, sex outside of marriage. Jesus said, “I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).

I believe a third biblical condition to be abuse, whether emotional or physical, which threatens life and future. The sixth commandment is plain: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). James 2:11 adds: “For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”

Life comes first. Sometimes we must choose between commandments. When Corrie ten Boom and her family were harboring Jews, and the Nazis came looking for them, the ten Booms had to choose between lying and murder. If we must choose between a destructive, threatening, abusive marriage and life, we choose life.

Sometimes divorce is the lesser of two terrible options. But even when there is abandonment, adultery, or abuse, divorce is the last resort, to be considered only after there has been every effort made to restore the relationship. Only when one partner refuses to continue the process toward healing.

I am convinced that God can heal every marriage whose partners want their marriage to be healed. And he will give you not a better marriage but a new marriage. Not a better home but a new home. A home built on the covenant commitment which he will empower by his grace.

Jesus told us about a foolish man who built his house on sand, and a wise man who built his house on rock. The same storms came against them both. The first fell; the second stood firm (Matthew 7:24–27). The difference was not their materials, architect, or builder, but their foundation. If your home and relationships are built on any foundation other than the Lordship of Jesus Christ, you have built on sand. And the storms are coming.


When Jesus is Lord of your covenant relationship, one and one makes three. A man, a woman, and the Lord; two people and their God. That’s the way to hope, help, and joy.

So, which is your marriage: a contract between two people or a covenant with God? What about your friendships at school, or relationships at work? What practical steps can you take to move from contract to covenant this week?

First, commit to the marriage or relationship. Decide that divorce is not an option. There will be times when that commitment to your covenant is all that gets you through a hard place and time. But it will.

Second, determine to meet the needs of your spouse or friend. It’s not about you. Your husband needs encouraging respect and support; your wife needs nurturing love and security. Look for ways to provide it. Refuse to undermine it.

Make an inventory of anything that could harm your relationship. Ask a friend to pray with you and hold you accountable in areas where you struggle. Seek professional help if necessary.

And be proactive in meeting the other’s needs. John Gottman of the University of Washington says, “In couples that stay together, there are about five times more positive things said to and about one another as negative ones. But in couples that divorce, there are about one and a half times more negative things said than positive.” Look for ways to meet the other’s needs.

Third, verbally commit to your covenant together. Pray together that God would protect you and strengthen you from any attack of Satan. He hates everything God has created, including your marriage and family. He will do all he can to attack and undermine your commitment to each other.

Marquis Clarke, a Christian mother and blogger, made this simple but powerful vow: “I want my life and my marriage to look less like the world and more like Christ.” Do you?

Is COVID-19 the Judgment of God?

Topical Scripture: Luke 12:35-50

When the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, a prominent church where I live put up a billboard that drew citywide attention: “Is the coronavirus a judgment from God?”

As part of my work, I am often interviewed by Christian radio stations around the nation. This is the most common question I’ve been asked over these months.

I understand the question. In Luke 21, Jesus predicted that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (v. 10). Russia’s president recently stated that his navy would be armed with hypersonic nuclear strike weapons that would be difficult for the US to track and intercept. Experts say that the risk of military conflict with China is higher than ever.

Jesus added, “There will be earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven” (v. 11). We have seen earthquakes in California this week. The coronavirus “pestilence” has taken more than seven hundred thousand lives. Experts say it has put 265 million people at risk of famine. “Terrors” from heaven include Hurricane Isaias that has battered the East Coast this week.

Jesus added, “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you” (v. 12). China is persecuting Christians in unprecedented ways, including posting pictures of President Xi and demanding that believers worship him.

However, my purpose today is not to predict the return of Christ, an event about which our Lord said no one knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36). Rather, my purpose is to help us be ready when the Lord comes for us or we go to him. I cannot tell you when eternity will begin for you, but I can tell you that you are one day closer than ever before. And I can tell you that you have only today to be ready.

In our series in Jesus’ parables titled “Hope for Hard Times,” we come this week to his most urgent story. Let’s walk through it together. We will find some very practical principles for living in pandemic days. Then we will decide whether or not to apply them to our lives, today.

A parable of urgency

Our parable begins, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning” (Luke 12:35). “Stay dressed” is literally, “keep your loins girded,” a reference to the outer robe of the day. Such robes were difficult to move quickly in, so people would gather them around their waist if they were preparing to run.

Jesus’ words translate a present tense imperative that could be translated, “Be always dressed, beginning now!” We are to be ready for service whenever our returning master comes, clothed for work with our tools at the ready, fully prepared.

We are to “keep your lamps burning” so we can leap into action at a moment’s notice. Lamps in Jesus’ day burned olive oil and were difficult to light, so prepared servants kept their lamps lit and filled with oil (cf. Matthew 25:1–10). The fact that they were needed points to a late hour of the night. Nonetheless, these servants will be ready when their master returns.

Jesus continues: “And be like men who are waiting for their masters to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him when he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:36). Feasts after a wedding could last as long as a week, so the master’s return home could not be predicted with accuracy. It could be any day or night.

Nonetheless, his servants are to be ready to open the door “at once when he comes and knocks,” ready every moment of the day or night.

Verse 37: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” It was most unusual in Jesus’ day for the master to serve the servants, but that is how this master will reward those who are faithfully ready for his return.

Verse 38: “If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!” The Jews had three night watches (sunset–10 PM, 10–2 AM, 2–6 AM; cf. Judges 7:19). Assuming the wedding banquet began during the first watch, the master could return any time between 10 PM and 6 AM. As a result, his servants were obligated to stay awake and ready all night long.

Jesus adds: “But know this, if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into” (v. 39). Typical homes of the period had mud brick walls a thief could “break” or tunnel through, but the process took time and was loud. Thus, unlike a thief picking a lock and entering a home quietly, thievery in their day happened when the owner was gone.

So with our Lord’s return: “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (v. 40). “You” is plural, referring to all believers. “Be ready” is a present tense imperative, translated, “Be constantly on the ready.” “The Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite designation for himself. “Is coming” shows that his return is certain. “At an hour you do not expect” shows, however, that the timing of his return is known only to him.

To summarize: we are servants of a Master. Our Master is coming back. He wants us to be ready when he returns, knowing that he could come any time, even now.

What does this parable say to us in these pandemic times?

How to be blessed by our Master

Let’s consider two biblical applications.

One: Our job is not to predict our Lord’s return but to be ready to meet him.

When I am asked if the pandemic is God’s judgment, my answer is “yes” and “no.” We are living in a fallen world that is suffering as a result of the original sin (Romans 8:22). In this sense, hurricanes, earthquakes, and natural diseases are God’s judgment on sin.

But I do not see the pandemic as a specific judgment initiated by God. Biblical judgments through disease are supernatural in origin, as with boils in Egypt and the “pestilence” in Revelation. COVID-19 seems to be naturally occurring, like flu, smallpox, etc.

Also, biblical judgments are against specific sins and sinners, from Pharaoh’s obstinacy to Herod’s idolatry. No specific sins caused this virus. Nor are those affected by it more sinful than others. It originated in Communist China but has spread across the world.

And such speculation keeps us from the practical response the pandemic illustrates: we are all mortal. We are all dying. We must all be ready for eternity.

If it were today, would you be ready?

Two: To know God, serve God.

In the parable, the master serves those who were serving him. This is an astounding description of our true Master. In Jesus’ day, masters often had many servants. However, they never served their servants.

But our God does.

There is a divine-human partnership at work in the world. As we work, God works. As we share our faith, meet human need, and serve in other ways, we experience God in ways we cannot otherwise know him.

This principle contradicts two cultural lies that are popular today.

The first is that God, if he exists, is removed and distant from the world. Many see him as a kind of deistic clockmaker who made the world, set it on his mantle, and now watches it run down. They are convinced that science has disproved biblical miracles and that the creator is irrelevant to his creation.

However, as Jesus’ parable shows, the master is intimately engaged in the home he owns. He is at work through his servants and in their lives.

This leads to a second cultural lie: that religion is to be divorced from the “real world.”

Just as our God is at work today, so we are to be at work today. We are to “go” into the world to make disciples of all nations. We are to feed the hungry and care for the sick. We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus in his world.

In fact, when we serve God, we meet God.

If a farmer is at work in his field, the best way to experience a personal relationship with him is to join him at work in his field. As Henry Blackaby noted, to experience God we need to find where he is at work and join him.

And as we serve Jesus, we experience Jesus. In fact, the more we serve him, the more we experience him.

How fully would he say you are serving him today?


The best way to live every day is to live every day as if it were our last day; to forgive those we need to forgive; to seek forgiveness from those we need to seek forgiveness from. To serve those we can. To obey God’s word and will as fully as if he were watching us, because he is.

This way of living redeems even pandemic days. It calls us to reach out to those who are hurting physically, relationally, or financially. It calls us to grieve with those who grieve. It calls us to be the presence of Jesus in the world until Jesus returns to the world.

And living every day as our last day is the best way to be right with the One who is coming for us all.

In one of the churches I pastored, I preached one Sunday morning on the theme of judgment and the need to be ready today. That night, after our evening service, an elderly couple in the church stopped me to thank me for the morning message. They told me that they took it to heart, spending time that afternoon praying and being sure they were ready to meet God.

The next day, the wife died of a heart attack. The following day, I received a thank-you note from her in the mail. She had written it Sunday afternoon and put it in her mailbox in case she did not see me that night. She died on Monday; I received her note on Tuesday; and I read it in her memorial service on Wednesday.

We are one day closer to eternity than ever before. Are you ready?

Recognizing the Enemy’s Attacks

Topical Scripture: Genesis 3:1-7

Your focus usually becomes your reality. What you want to become, you usually become. In learning how to live your blest life, we’ve discovered the positives: daily commitment to Christ, and covenant with us. Now we’ll consider the negatives, the attack of the enemy, that which will keep us from lives blessed by God.

The first temptation is still our temptation today, because it still works. Human nature does not change. Adam and Eve were no less susceptible to Satan’s strategy than we are. Let’s learn more about our enemy, and find ways to defeat his plans to destroy our lives.

Who is our enemy?

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (v. 1). The Genesis text does not attribute the serpent’s activity to Satan. The devil is nowhere mentioned in the story. But Revelation gives us the rest of the story, describing “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9; 20:2).

What do we know about him? What does he do to us? His names reveal his nature.

He is called “Satan” 34 times in Scripture—the word means “accuser.” He accuses us to God, to each other, and to ourselves. Whenever you hear accusation, blame, finger-pointing, know that it comes ultimately from him.

He is called the “devil” 36 times in the New Testament. The word means “slanderer.” Whenever someone is gossiped about, slandered, criticized behind their back, you can know the ultimate source.

How effective is he? Satan can claim ownership over every unsaved soul. In John 8 our Lord refers to his enemies as children of their satanic “father” (v. 44). He is the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31) who controls this fallen age (1 John 5:19). Christians live in a world dominated by the devil. We are soldiers stationed on enemy soil, living in an occupied country.

Our enemy is a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). He is a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Those who serve his cause engage in physical, emotional, and sexual attacks against each other and the rest of us. Their master wants nothing less than the wholesale destruction of the human race, especially God’s people.

How does his strategy work?

He begins with your needs. His conversation with Eve began with the fruit of the trees in the garden. This was God’s means for meeting her physical needs, her hunger and life support. He didn’t begin his conversation by talking about a sunrise or sunset, the moon or the stars, or even Adam or the other animals on the earth. He began with the fruit of the trees, because that was what she needed most to survive.

Satan knows what you need today. Expect to be tempted where your needs are the greatest. If your self-esteem is low, expect to be tempted at the point of pride and fame. If you struggle with substance abuse, know that your enemy will engage you on that front regularly. If popularity comes first with you, expect to be tempted to compromise your character for your friends. If you measure success by money, know that materialism will want to be your god, and that you will be given chances to compromise your faith to gain it.

For a pastor who wants his church to grow, there are unethical ways to count attendance and attract people. For a teacher who wants to impress you with his knowledge, it’s always easier to plagiarize or fabricate. Satan will tempt you at the point of your need, the trees in your garden this morning.

He questions God’s provision for those needs. “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'” (v. 1b). If that were true, she and her husband would starve to death. God cannot be trusted to meet your needs. His will won’t make you as popular, or rich, or famous as you want to be.

Your church may not grow as you want it to. Your congregation may not be as impressed with you as they should be. God’s will is not in your best interest.

He minimizes the risk of disobedience. The woman replies that if they eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, they will die. Satan retorts, “You will not surely die” (v. 4a). The risk is exaggerated. God loves you. He would surely not punish you as you fear. The downside is overstated.

In our context, he whispers that we can always repent later. No one will know. No one will be hurt. Or, they deserve what they get. Or, they started this. He finds ways to convince us that disobeying God is to our good, and that it’s worth whatever it costs.

He offers a shortcut to your desires. “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 4b).

You won’t have to depend upon his provision any more, for you will be in charge of your own life, and future, and needs. You’ll know good and evil, just as he knows it. No more rules for you. You’ll call the shots. You’ll get what you want, and more. The popularity, or money, or physical satisfaction, or fame you want.

Why do it God’s way, when there’s a shortcut? Especially when no one will get hurt, least of all yourself.

Oswald Chambers defines “lust” as the desire to have it right now. Whatever “it” is. Satan is always happy to help you do that.

Think about the last time you experienced significant temptation. Did the enemy not start with something you thought you wanted or needed? You knew God’s word and will on the subject, but somehow you were unsure that they were the best way to go this time, and thought that you could ignore the risk of disobedience.

If you went this other way, you could have what you wanted now. Is this not the perennial strategy behind all temptation?

How do we defeat him?

Take these steps the moment your next temptation attacks you.

First: remember that Satan hates you. Why? Because he hates your Father.

If a terrorist cannot get at the president, he’ll attack his people. The closer to home, the better. There is a war going on between God and the devil, and you are on the front lines.

Everything Satan puts into your head is designed to destroy you. No matter how much it appears to meet your need and minimize the downside right now. Every time you are tempted, know that the tempter wants to destroy you. You’re signing a contract with your enemy.

Billy Sunday was right: “One reason sin flourishes is that it is treated like a cream puff instead of a rattlesnake.” The other day a snake got into our house, so I killed it. I didn’t think twice about it. If only I were so decisive with the serpent who lives in my mind and my world. How do we kill him?

Second: see the end from the beginning. To use Dr. Phil’s question, how did this work for them? They got the fruit, to be sure. And they lost the Garden where the fruit was found. They lost paradise, and innocence, and joy. They gained punishment, and toil, and death. Satan was more than willing to give up a momentary pleasure to get an eternity of pain.

See the end from the beginning. Your enemy is willing for you to gain the sensual pleasure of sexual sin now, so long as he can lead you into adultery, the destruction of your marriage, the devastation of your family, and the ruin of your witness. He’s patient. He’s happy for you to have the possessions purchased by your theft, the popularity which comes from your gossip, the power which results from your manipulation.

For now. He’s perfectly willing for you to climb as high on the ladder of success and recognition as possible, so your fall will be all the more visible and destructive.

C. S. Lewis’s masterpiece, The Screwtape Letters, contains the correspondence of a senior tempter to a junior apprentice. It is a remarkable glimpse into satanic strategy.

For instance, Screwtape advises, “Doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Third: turn immediately to God and his word. The serpent was “more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (v. 1). He is smarter than you are. This is a battle of wits and wills which you cannot win in your strength, intelligence, and ability.

If Eve had stayed with God’s word, she would have stayed in the Garden. If Adam had put God’s word ahead of his wife’s, he would have stayed there with her. They tried to fight the battle themselves, and they lost miserably. So will we.

There are temptations which you can defeat in your strength. For instance, I am not tempted by alcohol, for reasons which have nothing to do with me. It’s just my circumstances and makeup. So I am never tempted by alcohol. No one ever asks me out for a drink, or tries to give me a fifth of whiskey for Christmas. But there are other areas where I am tempted, and these I face regularly. Satan is a great economist. He won’t waste his time with issues he knows I can defeat. Rather, he brings those he knows I cannot.

So every time I am tempted, I must recognize the fact that this is a test I cannot pass, or it wouldn’t be on my desk. I must give it instantly to my Father, going to his word and will, asking for his strength and support. On this Labor Day I must remember not to trust my labor but his. Turn instantly to God.

On Thursday, June 26, 1947, Peter Marshall prayed on the floor of the U.S. Senate, “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it. Thy help is our only hope. Make us want to do what is right, and give us the ability to do it. In the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Last: if you fall, trust God to redeem your pain. He will do this for his glory and your good. God came to them, because they could no longer go to him. God covered their shame and sin with the first sacrifice in human history, and then with the Sacrifice which redeemed all of human history.

He cast them from the Garden, but his Son’s agony in another Garden paved the way for their entrance back into the Paradise of God. Sin destroys, and scars. The nail can be pulled out, but the hole remains. However, our God can redeem and bless. He had a use for David after Bathsheba, and Jonah after the fish, and Peter after his denials of Jesus. He still has a use for you.


The problem of our world is I trouble. The middle letter of “sin” is I. The middle letter of “pride” is I. I trouble is my trouble, and yours. What do we do about it?

To live your blest life, learn how to defeat your enemy. Know that he is very real, and very crafty. Remember that he hates you; see the end of his temptation from the beginning; take it to God immediately. If it’s too late, turn to your Father for his redeeming grace, and the next step toward peace.

Let’s start today with where you are in the garden. What fruit interests you this morning?