The marriage covenant (Teach your children godly sexuality part 9)

brideIn the previous post we looked at the first aspect of the holiness of our sexuality: it reflects the inseparable oneness and intimacy of the Trinity.

In this post we look at the second and related reason it has been set apart by God:

It has been set apart by God to reflect the eternal covenantal love of the Trinity.

As we mentioned in a previous post the Father has been eternally loving the Son (Jn 17:24) by the Spirit (eg Rom 15:30) and so John declares that “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8). So we are created as lovers in the image of God.

However, this love is very different to our concept of love – it is Holy.  The aspect of this holy love that we want to look at here is the covenantal nature of His love.

What is a covenant?

The word “covenant” comes from the Latin con venire meaning a coming together. It describes a solemn binding agreement between two parties, where the deity was solemnly invoked as witness (Gen 31:50 ) to the oath that was sworn (Gen 21:31).

It was the most serious form of agreement and breaking a covenant was considered a heinous sin, and often imposed the penalty of death but at the very least there was an understanding that the one who broke the covenant would be cursed[1].

The Hebrew verb “to seal” or “make” a covenant karath (כָּרַת), translates literally as “to cut”, hence you cut a covenant.  That is because the parties were usually bound together usually by a blood sacrifice with a celebratory feast afterwards.

The tradition the Hebrews used was to cut an animal in two and then have both parties pass between the two parts (Gen 15:8-21; Jer 34:18-19).  It is suggested that they are saying “May I be torn apart like these animals if I fail to uphold my part of this covenant.”

Afterwards the parties would eat the meat together in a meal (Gen 26:30; 31:54).

The cutting was the oath sign (a symbolic and specific act that seals the deal) but sometimes an additional sign or witness to the covenant was given. For example a pillar of stones (Gen 31:52).

So in summary, the components of a covenant were the oath where God was invoked as witness, the oath sign and the meal together.

Covenants between God and mankind

This most binding form of agreement was the one God chose to enter into with man.  He makes oaths with man (eg Dt 4:31) where He swears by Himself (eg Gen 22:15; Heb 6:13-17) and confirms it with a sacrifice (eg Gen 15:17-18; Ex 24:8; Matt 20:28) or other oath sign (eg Rainbow Gen 9:12-13) and a meal together (eg Ex 24:9-10).  Since God is eternal and a covenant last until the death of the parties the covenants He makes are everlasting (eg Gen 9:16; 17:7).

And yet despite us repeatedly breaking God’s covenants of love (Dt 7:7-9; Neh 1:5; 9:32) He does not change his mind (1 Sam 15:29) and is faithful when we are faithless as he cannot disown himself (2 Tim 2:13).

Marriage is a covenant

Since we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27) we are created as covenantal lovers[2]  and marriage is a prophetic declaration of the Trinitarian love.  However if we want to truly understand marriage then, like Jesus did (Mt 19:4), we need to go back to the beginning.

Adam and Eve were married (see Gen 3:8; 4:1) and we see in the bible that marriage is a covenant:

“It is 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.” (Mal 2:14b)

So Adam made his covenant oath in the presence of God and later Jewish marriages were performed under the chuppah[3]  (חוּפָּה) as a sign of God’s presence hovering over His people[4].

Like the other covenants we have referenced it held until the death of one of the parties and hence there was no divorce:

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.  But it was not this way from the beginning” (Mt 19:8)

And had Adam and Eve not have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then their marriage covenant would have also been eternal like the Father’s eternal love for the Son.

What is the sign of the marriage covenant?

It was the consummation.  This is why Jewish marriages were not considered complete until consummation, and only after that would the seven days of feasting begin.

This is why when blood was spilt by a broken hymen upon consummation it was understood to be the blood of the covenant they had just made.

Hence, thereafter lovemaking[5]  is a reminder of that marriage covenant in the same way a rainbow is a reminder of God’s eternal covenant with Noah (Gen 9:16)[6].

So the marriage covenant is symbolic of the eternal oneness and covenantal love of the Father for the Son.  The covenant joining as we saw in the last post is by God Himself (Mt 19:6) and the blood covenant represents the sacrificial act that is necessary for this to remain so.  Hence because the marriage between a man and a woman is one of the highest prophetic declarations of the nature of God:

“Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb 13:4)

This is why God hates divorce (Mal 2:16a) and why he won’t receive the offerings and prayers of a man who breaks faith with his wife (Mal 2:13-14) or who does not treat her with respect (1 Pet 3:7) as he is profaning the image of God[7] .  How can a man say he loves God if he does not love his wife (cf 1 Jn 4:19-21)?

What is our covenantal marriage oath of love like?

Well we can’t define our own terms as that would be setting up our own image of God.  So we need to know what the love of the Father for the Son looks like and what Son’s love for the Father is.  But since God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isa 55:8-9) we can’t even begin to fathom.  But Jesus shows us what that love looks like as He said “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (Jn 15:9a) and Jesus’ love for the Father was shown by his sacrifice (Jn 14:31a):

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (Jn 13:3-5)

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. (Jn 15:13)

This kind of love isn’t like how the world loves (see also Mt 20:25-28; 5:44-45) but we are to be holy like our God is holy (1 Pet 1:15-16; Lev 11:45; 20:26).  Our God makes the sun shine on the evil and the good (Mt 5:45), he loves us even though we didn’t love him (1 Jn 4:10), and sent his son to die in our place (1 Pet 3:18) while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8) and His enemies (Rom 5:10).  He now calls us His friends (Jn 15:15) and adopts us as his children (Jn 1:12) and makes us fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17) with Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor 5:21).

And so the marriage vows are about lifelong sacrificial giving and laying down our life for the other not a demanding that the other person satisfies my needs.   Hence:

“Any attempt to define love in the context of what the other person does or doesn’t do violates God’s definition of love as well as the vows you spoke on your wedding day.” (Tim Alan Gardner).

This is why Paul says that “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).

I, N , take you, N , to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part; according to God’s holy law.  In the presence of God I make this vow.

Heavenly Father, by your blessing let these rings be to N and N a symbol of unending love and faithfulness, to remind them of the vow and covenant which they have made this day through Jesus Christ our Lord.

N, I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage.  With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


[1] Hence the stoning of those who broke the covenant and also the curses listed for those who broke the covenant.
[2] Hence we are to be like Him “Be Holy because I am Holy”
[3] This was a rectangular piece of material, often the Jewish prayer shawl (tallit from Num 15:38).
[4] Certainly marriages weren’t originally performed in the tabernacle or temple as Jews understood that God was present everywhere.
[5] Though technically you don’t make love you celebrate your covenant of love.
[6]Thank you to Tim Alan Gardner and his book “Sacred Sex” that first opened my eyes to this.
[7]This is why homosexuality is akin to idolatry (Rom 1:22-27) as it is setting up a different image of God to the true one presented in Genesis.

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Principle #1: Good (Teach your children godly sexuality part 6)

Godly sexualityIn our previous post we saw that our sexuality is good because it reflects the:

  • community of the Trinity
  • oneness of the Trinity
  • love of the Trinity
  • delight & joy in the Trinity
  • joy of the Trinity in Creation
  • ultimate ecstasy of our union with Christ

So we need to communicate the goodness of our bodies and our sexuality to our children.  We need to affirm and bless in our children what God blessed in creation.
But the truth is we might not know its goodness – intellectually we can see what I’ve said is true but we don’t feel comfortable – we don’t know the “without shame” (Gen 2:25).

We live in a fallen world – when Adam and Eve disobeyed God they broke fellowship with God – and so history is man trying to replace that gap, that pleasure with something else and so see sexuality as god.

But fellowship was also broken with each other – they lost that sense of unconditional love – and so hurt/rejection can lead to us to see our sexuality as gross.

And your parents will have been affected and then passed on their beliefs to you.  Those around you at school, work or church will have also assigned a value to sexuality which may have influenced you. And finally any sexual experiences you may have had will also affect your core beliefs.

So before we look at how to apply the first principle to situations with our children we’re going to spend a little time reflecting on the inheritance we were given and asking the Holy Spirit to highlight the lies that you have believed about His good gift.  This is important because as we mentioned in a previous post: it’s hard to pass on wholeness if you’re not whole yourself.

Did you see your parents celebrate the goodness of God’s gift with each other?

Positive – on a rating of 1-10 how positive were your parents’ responses to your sexuality?

How did that make you feel about your sexuality?

Satan is the “father of lies” (Jn 8:44) who seeks to “steal and kill and destroy” (Jn 10:10).
Ask the Holy Spirit to highlight specific occasions where you believed a lie.

We need to replace lies with truth so that we can be transformed (Rom 12:2) and that truth will set us free (Jn 8:32).  Ask Jesus, the truth, to speak the truth about His good gift in each of these situations.

How have these lies affected your marriage and your response to your children’s sexuality?

Ask the Father to restore what has been lost and make it new (Isa 61).

My prayer for you is that our glorious God meets with you and bring you healing and transformation.  After this it important to maintain and walk in the freedom you have received and how we act flows out of what we believe (“For as he thinks in his heart so is he” Prov 7:23a NKJV). One way to help you replace core beliefs is to write down the truths that you have learned and declare them aloud as faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom 10:17).  In the same way when Jesus was being attacked about his identity (“if you are the Son of God”) he quoted scripture out loud (Mat 4:3, 6).
If you need further help then I do recommend a Sozo, or Restoring the Foundations, or Freedom in Christ as helpful ministries.

Feel free to comment below or if you prefer to ask something privately then do contact us via our website.

Next time we will start applying the truths we have learned about our sexuality to common scenarios faced when parenting.

A very brief history of Christian Sexuality

What is the churches current position on sexuality and how did it end up there?

platoIt all started with Plato.  He postulated that there were two separate worlds:

  • The natural world that is visible and perceived through the senses
  • The spiritual world that is invisible and is the realm of thought and truth

The spiritual world was considered more real than the natural world.  The natural realm was  considered a lower realm or even insignificant.

The soul belonged to the spiritual world whereas the body belonged to the natural world.

Due to Hellenisation this Platonic divide (or dualism) was the foundation of Greek/Roman education and as Greek minded people embraced Christianity with this foundation they found it hard to understand concepts that were natural to those holding a Hebrew/Holistic view.

For example, how could a God who exists in the perfect world of thought and truth would become flesh and enter this corrupt world.  You can see John battling against this view:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  (Jn 1:1, 14).

And then in his letters he says:

“I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 Jn 1:7).

This is strong stuff – is it really that bad?  Well let’s see how this Greek/dualistic view worked out in the realm of thinking about sexuality and the body.

If the spirit or soul is important but not the body then you can end up with two extremes:

At one extreme there were some Gnostic cults who believed that they had already been perfected in the spiritual realm and so it did not matter what they did with their body.  The body is not important only the Spirit as they had transcended such moral laws.

This appears to be the error that the Corinthian church fell into when they were saying:  

“Everything is permissible for me…food for the stomach and the stomach for food”    (1 Cor 6:11)

Paul has to redirect them to the value of the body – Jesus has a bodily resurrection, their bodies are “members of Christ” and “temples of the Holy Spirit” and hence they should “honour God with [their] bodies”

At the other end of the extreme is the view that the body is a grave and the flesh a hindrance.  Hence all fleshy desires are sinful and should be suppressed.  Therefore one outcome is that “They forbid people to marry” (1 Tim 4:3) as it is stained by the uncleanness that comes from sexual relation.  Paul corrects this view with God created to be received with thanksgiving”.

So where did it go wrong?  

Well in the second century in fighting against the immorality of the former group Clement (who was trained in Athens in Greek thought and culture) started using the objective ethics of the stoics natural law (who were in the second camp).  The stoics didn’t want to give free reign to their passions but understood the importance of marriage for procreation, amongst other behaviours, as part of what they called the natural law of things.  This was also useful in fighting against the excesses of the second group who spurned the body and marriage.

However, this introduced a distrust of passion and removed the emphasis from marriage being a loving covenant.  It also reinforced the dualism of spiritual love and bodily/sexual love: spiritual love is good and bodily/sexual desire is evil.  Hence he declared:

“sexual intercourse must not take place heedlessly and for the sake of mere pleasure, but for the sake of begetting children”

This theme of desire and passion being sinful was developed in the third and fourth centuries by the early church fathers so that procreation soon became the only excuse for exercising sexuality:

“[Before the fall] Adam and Eve would have had intercourse for procreation, but without passion, that is, without the shame” Augustine

“For now (since the fall), although marriage is good, it includes something that makes even married people blush at themselves” Ambrose of Milan

“The activities of marriage itself, if they are not modest…so that the only intention is children, are filth and lust.” Jerome “For he who is intemperate* in marriage, what is he but the adulterer of his own wife” Augstine

Indeed, under Origen’s influence many theologians came to see marriage and sex as a consequence of original sin.  They believed that God designed man and woman to live as angels, in virginity and chastity.  Procreation was only from God’s foreknowing of the need to conserve the mortal beings after their sin and so the man and the woman are condemned to live out sexuality on the earth after Paradise was lost.

Marriage was seen at the very least as a turning of one’s eyes from God’s kingdom to “what is secular and mundane” (Ambrose) and should, according to Augustine only be undertaken for procreation and education of children and to avoid even worse sexual impurity.  Whereas virginity makes “mortals like unto angels” (John Chrysostom) and by the fifth century priests were forbidden to marry.

Augustine’s writings took great prominence up until the 12th century but their subtlety was lost and so all sex was seen carnal.  For example, Pope Gregory the Great said that

“conjugal union cannot take place without carnal pleasure, and such pleasure cannot under any circumstances be without blame”.

With the laity cut off from Scripture by a ruling celibate clerical class they fell prey to their doctrines.  Intercourse was banned on all Sundays and all the many feast days, as well as the 20 days before Christmas, the 40 days before Easter, and often the 20 days before Pentecost, as well as three or more days before receiving Communion (which at that time was offered only a few times a year). These forbidden days altogether totalled about 40% of each year.  Clergy routinely warned believers that children conceived on holy days would be born leprous, epileptic, diabolically possessed, blind, or crippled. By the eighth century an enormously strict system of sexual rules and penalties was firmly in place, covering every imaginable thought and action related to sex for confessions (for example 20 to 40 days of strict fasting on bread and water were imposed on those who had intercourse on the banned days).

In addition, since Eve was seen as the tempting seductress by whom Adam lost his liberty, authority and reason – women were treated with disdain except for those who were virgins and thus denied their very womanhood.

So was John right about this view being of the antichrist?  Absolutely.  Something so small has ended up with an evil system of religion.  A far cry from the Hebrew/holistic view of celebrating this good and beautiful gift.

Reformation

The reformation in the 16th Century saw strides in the right direction with Luther fighting against the obligatory vows of celibacy and this wrong view of sexuality:

“man and woman are a work of God…do not criticise His work, or call that evil which he himself has called good” Martin Luther

Although the reformers attitude on sexuality is prudent and discrete it is very different:

“but that God should permit a bride to enjoy herself with her husband, affords no trifling proof of His indulgence” John Calvin

Marriage is seen as the order willed by God and celibacy is seen as the exception:

“If anyone imagines that it is to his advantage to be without a wife and so without further consideration decides to be celibate, he is very much in error.”  John Calvin

The Puritans, despite taking a dim view of celebrations such as Christmas, took the matrimonial duty of sex so seriously that failure to extend “due benevolence” by either partner could be grounds for church discipline.

However, society as a whole seemed to have trouble throwing off the Greek dualism and flips between repression and then a reaction of loose living and debauchery.  The latest being the Victorian era whose strict moral standards prevented even certain body parts being mentioned in public.  It is no surprise that the “sexual revolution” of the 60’s was simply an explosion against the ongoing repression and the hypocrisy of those who preached it.  As Christopher West puts it so eloquently:

“A person can starve himself for only so long before the choice becomes clear: either I find something to eat, or I’m going to die…That’s why the culture’s “fast-food gospel” – the promise of immediate gratification through indulgence of desire – inevitably wins large numbers of converts from the “starvation diet gospel”.  I don’t know about you, but if the only two choices are starvation or greasy chicken nuggets, I’m going for the nuggets”

So where are we now? 

Well the Church typically takes one of three positions:

At one extreme we have the “free grace” movement who believe that Christ has forgiven us so we can do what we want.  This is the modern equivalent of the Corinthian view.  This “cheap grace” means that they are no different from the world and devalue the gift.

At the other end we still have those churches who see the immorality in the world and preach a “gospel” (though it is not good news at all) of sex is bad, sex is dirty, save it for the one you love.  This is the modern equivalent of the ascetic/stoic view and leads to Christians feeling condemned, guilty and marriages in trouble.

And then in between there are those churches who sit uncomfortably in the middle and say nothing.  They simply bury their heads in the sand and hope it goes away.  But it doesn’t and then we, and our children, are vulnerable to a world that isn’t shy about presenting its opinion forcefully and seductively.  In the end, the church just ends up conforming to the world but keeping it out of conversation of the church family.

The voice of one crying in the desert

However, all is not lost!  The Spirit has been speaking to us and many others worldwide about restoring what has been lost: to no longer react against immorality or absorb it but to instead receive the gift of sexuality and show how it points to something far more glorious.  We are privileged to be part of those helping the Bride make herself ready for Christ’s return.

It is our prayer that this blog, our YouTube videos, godly sexuality workshops and social media groups will help restore what has been distorted by the world and religion, bring sexual wholeness and enable you to pass that onto your children.

We look forward to having you journey with us.

www.godlysexuality.com

* intemperate = immoderate in indulgence of appetite or passion.

Some references:

“Sexual Desire & Love: Origins and History of the Christian Ethic of Sexuality and Marriage” 
Eric Fuchs
An in depth thesis on this issue – comprehensive up to the reformation but heavy going!

“Christianity Unshackled” 
Harold R. Eberle
Easy to read guide to how dualism, Augustine and rationalism has affected Christianity.

“The hall of Church History”
Website with all the writings of the church fathers in one place.

“The Puritan’s view of Sex”
Brief blog entry on R C Sproul’s website.

And of course Wikipedia.