I've searched multiple sources for the definition of these two words and the basics come down to this:
Contract - an agreement between two parties, which creates obligations to do or not to do specific things which are outlined in the agreement. Designed to protect each person's interests in the event the other party fails to fulfill his or her obligations.
Covenant - a formal, solemn and binding agreement to engage in or refrain from a specific action.
On the surface these may not seem to be much different from one another, but upon further digging a few things stood out to me. In regards to a contract, the purpose is to protect each person in case the other person does not perform their obligations. Each party goes into the contract looking for specific things from the other party and the contract details out how they will be "made whole" if the other party does not give them what is expected. In other words, both parties go into this agreement looking out for themselves and trying to protect themselves.
A covenant on the other hand has a different purpose. I like the way Tim Alan Gardner states it in his book "Sacred Sex":
A covenant is an agreement made by choice, it's an agreement made by commitment, and it's an agreement that is in no way dependent upon what the other party does.See the difference? A covenant is a commitment that is made to another party and the actions of the person making the covenant are not dependent upon the other person's actions. Each person is going into the covenant with a commitment to the other person, the focus is on the other person, not themselves. The other characteristic I noted about a covenant is that it is given by one party and the other party chooses whether or not to accept it. However, the acceptance by the second party does not change the commitment of the first party. And the most profound difference I found between a covenant and a contract is that a covenant is to be permanent and irrevocable. Since each party's commitment is not dependent upon the other party's performance, there is nothing that negates the commitment.
An example of a covenant is given to us by Adonai Himself. He has made a covenant with us by giving His Son to redeem us. His side has already been committed and performed. It is now up to us to choose to accept that covenant. If we do not, it does not change what He has already done. He won't revoke what He has done or go back on what He has committed to us, just because we don't accept his offer. Instead He continues to love us and waits patiently for the time when we will accept His offer and repent. At that time He freely gives us His forgiveness and redeems us. Regardless of our acceptance He still loves us and continues to give us the choice. He will not revoke the choice He has laid before us.
Marriage is to be a shadow of the relationship Adonai longs to have with us. He created marriage as a way for a man and a woman to enter into a covenant relationship and become one flesh. Marriage as it was intended by the Creator consists of:
- Focus on the needs of our spouse, not on ourselves
- Our performance is not based on the performance of our spouse, we can't justify neglecting our commitment based on their behavior. Even if they choose to no longer accept our love and forgiveness, we must still offer it.
- Our commitment is permanent and irrevocable (once again, regardless of our spouse's actions)
"Haven't you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and that he said, 'For this reason a man should leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and the two are to become one flesh'? Thus they are no longer two, but one. So then, no one should split apart what God has joined together."Unfortunately, our world has muddied the true intention of marriage. Even Webster's dictionary lists as one of the definitions of a contract to be "the act of marriage or an agreement to marry". Our world sees marriage as a contract in which either party can walk away if they deem the other has not performed.
Although different studies show slightly different numbers, most all agree that divorce rates are high - between 40-50% for 1st marriages and even higher for second and third marriages. I truly believe this is due to our society's incorrect views on marriage. Today's world teaches us that marriage is a contract, something that we enter into with certain expectations of our needs/wants being met. When that does not happen we believe we have every right to hold back from fulfilling our commitments since our spouse has not performed theirs to our satisifaction. This leads to a downward spiral where both spouses begin to hold out more and more and become even more self-focused because they see the other spouse as having failed them. In the end this leads to either two people who are legally bound together but despise one another and are filled with bitterness or it leads to divorce.
The Free Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/) defines divorce as "a complete or radical severance of closely connected things." If Adonai created marriage to join two flesh to become one, then divorce is a rending or tearing, a complete or radical severance of one flesh! What kind of picture does that leave in your mind?
The Creator's intention for marriage acknowledges that we are human and will fail one another at times. But because we enter into marriage with a focus on the other person, with an irrevocable commitment to them regardless of how they "perform" or if they are even willing to accept our commitment, we are able to look past their actions and offer forgiveness. This is a hard model to follow though and quite honestly goes against our basic human nature which focuses on self. We have to make a conscience effort to look past ourselves, our needs, our hurts and focus on the needs of the other person. It is not natural for us, however it is the only way to truly make a marriage work. To truly become one flesh we must see our spouse as being a part of us and therefore worthy of being forgiven and having their needs met. Quite honestly, I don't believe this can be done without Adonai's Strength (but that is a subject for another post).
So today, I come back to my question. Is your marriage a contract marriage or a covenant marriage? How do you live it out daily? And here is the catch - if, as you answer that question you find yourself looking more to how your spouse treats you and what type of marriage it is based on their actions, or you find yourself justifying your actions based on theirs - then you are living out a contract marriage. If you are truly living out a covenant marriage with your spouse, you will do so, even if they are living out a contract marriage towards you.
Believe me, I know first hand how impossible this seems, but with God all things are possible. And if we are obedient to Him and His purposes, He will give us the strength and discernment to accomplish them. And that is when His blessings in our life and our marraige will begin to flow.