Marriage 4: The Covenant of Husband and Wife EGP Blog post from April 25, 2004

Marriage is a covenant

From a biblical perspective, the foundation of marriage rests not just on mutual love and respect, but on a sacred and covenantalal relationship where Christ serves as the central seal, transforming it from a fragile promise to a God-ordained union. Scripture paints marriage as being marked by mutual sacrifice, steadfast unity, distinct yet equal roles, and a love modeled after Christ’s own relationship with the Church.

Success in marriage is more than finding the right person:
it is being the right person.
—Robert Browning

The Bible refers to marriage as a “covenant before God.” (Malachi 2:14) The word translated as “covenant” (H1285) in the Old Testament comes from the word meaning “to cut.” This is a reference to how covenants were made during that time. Clean animals were cut in two parts, and those making the covenant walked between them. This was a symbolism of the sacrifices that covenants entail and showed the dedication and commitment of both parties.

Marriage is a joint effort

Jesus tells us in Matthew 19:6 that, “Since they are no longer two, but one, let no one separate them, for God has joined them together.” This entails great responsibilities because not only are you a representative of Christ, but you are a representative of your spouse.

Let the wife make her husband glad to come home
and let him make her sorry to see him leave.
—Martin Luther

This joint effort is not a zero-sum game where one person’s gain is another’s loss. Instead, it’s a symbiotic relationship in which each partner’s strengths and weaknesses complement the other. When Scripture says, “let no one separate them,” it not only refers to external threats but also internal discord stemming from ego, miscommunication, or lack of compromise. Thus, being a “joint effort” means recognizing that your actions have a ripple effect, impacting not just you and your spouse but also your collective representation of Christ to the world.

Marriage at creation

Upon the creation of man, God is pictured as noting man’s incompleteness and lack of perfect happiness apart from woman. When God made woman He made her to be man’s helper and companion. In the second chapter of Genesis, God refers to the woman’s position as a “suitable helper;” this literally translates as a “helping counterpart.” The word “counterpart” comes from two words. “Counter” means, “to act in response, move back and forth alternately, give and receive mutually, to be opposite in direction or position.” The word “part” is defined as, “a distinct piece or portion that fulfills a specific function in the working of a whole, one’s proper share of an obligation, performance, or participation.”

The woman was formed out of man—
not out of his head to rule over him;
not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him;
but out of his side to be his equal,
from beneath his arm to be protected,
and from near his heart to be loved.

—Matthew Henry

The man makes up one side, the woman makes up the other side, and together they make a circle. The only way to fill that circle is with Christ. Without Christ, the circle is left frail, empty…hollow. Christ is the center, the very seal of the covenant. Without Christ as the center and seal, the marriage is no more than a contract…merely a fragile promise between two people. Hebrews 13:4 says to, “Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage.” The word translated as “honored” means “being of exceptional value, precious, a high status that merits esteem and respect.”

The Husband and Wife Roles

1 Peter 3:7 (NLT)

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat her with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. If you don’t treat her as you should, your prayers will not be heard.

The word “husband” is actually an abbreviation for the phrase “house-band.” By name alone, the husband is supposed to bind, secure, strengthen, and encircle his household. The husband’s role in marriage is not one of authoritarian rule or domination, but of loving leadership. It’s crucial to debunk the common misconception that biblical roles somehow demean the wife or overly exalt the husband. Instead, both roles, when rightly understood and applied, form a harmonious relationship. Each role comes with its distinct responsibilities but shares the ultimate goal of glorifying God through a loving and collaborative partnership.

A marriage is like a long trip in a tiny rowboat:
if one passenger starts to rock the boat, the other has to steady it;
otherwise they will go to the bottom together.
—David Robert Reuben

1 Peter 3:7 ends with a sobering warning about a mistreating husband’s prayers being unheard. The word translated here as “unheard” (or “hindered” in other translations) literally means “cut off” or figuratively “frustrated.” (G1581). This isn’t about a “transactional” God who closes His ears to earnest prayers if we don’t meet specific requirements. Instead, it’s about the state of the heart, where a husband who mistreats his wife is revealing a heart that is not aligned with God’s. Consciously or subconsciously, the husband ultimately finds it difficult to fully engage in sincere conversation with God. His prayers (if any) become mere lip-service due to the inner discord.

The heart of marriage is love

Ephesians 5:25–30 (NLT)

[25] And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her [26] to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s word.° [27] He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. [28] In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife. [29] No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. [30] And we are his body.

Ephesians 5:26 Greek having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.

When Paul talks about Christ “making her holy and clean,” he’s pointing to a process of spiritual purification and emotional healing that stems from love. It’s not just a one-off sacrifice, but an ongoing nurturing and cherishing. It’s about an integrative approach that feeds into every aspect of marital life—emotional, physical, and most importantly, spiritual. In a God-centered marriage, the focus isn’t on pointing out each other’s faults or blemishes, but humbly spurring spiritual growth in one another, all built atop a solid foundation of love.

Conclusion

Marriage is not for a moment; it is for a lifetime. It requires long and serious preparation. It is not to be leapt into, but entered with solemn steps of deliberation. For one of the most intimate and difficult of human relationships is that of marriage. Infinitely rewarding at best, unspeakably oppressive at its worst, marriage offers the uttermost extremes of human happiness and human bondage—with all the lesser degrees of felicity and restraint in-between.

—Gina Cerminara

Such a relationship then should not be entered into thoughtlessly, insincerely or indiscreetly, but advisedly, thoughtfully, and with reverence for God.