Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Honoring the Covenant of Marriage

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says husbands and wives need to do away with the “D” word.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: A contract can be made and broken, but a covenant is a solemn promise! It’s a permanent, exclusive, mutual covenant made before God between a man and a woman.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for July 10, 2018.

Nancy’s continuing in a series called "The True Woman Manifesto: Declarations, Part 2. You can read the document and listen to previous programs in this series at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Today, Nancy’s talking about marriage as a sacred covenant before God. Let’s listen in.

Nancy: We come back today to the whole concept of marriage, as we’re looking at the True Woman Manifesto. Marriage is facing some pretty stiff cultural headwinds today. Do you know what I mean?

First of all, the whole concept of getting married—well, it’s not all that popular today. I pulled up some articles yesterday, here's one from the New York Times called, "The Secret to Marriage Is Never Getting Married."

And this one from an Australian publication, "Saying 'I Don’t:' The Case for Not Getting Married." And here was one from a feminist publication called, "Eleven Reasons to NOT Get Married." Here are some of the reasons it included. It said:

  • Marriage is still that same old patriarchal institution.
  • Marriage benefits men and not women.
  • Marriage is totally isolating. (It talked about how after you get married you lose all your friends. You can’t do things with your friends anymore; you’ve just got to spend time with your mate.)
  • The sex stops being good once you get married.
  • When you’re not married, you can leave your dude at any time.
  • Getting divorced is difficult and annoying.
  • (And here was the last of those eleven reasons:) Why not just be a spinster?

And here’s what it said under that last point. 

Picture this: There is no man in your life. There are no children in your life (to whom you gave birth). Your life is all about YOU. You selfishly indulge in whatever activities you want. Your home environment is set up to be perfect for your needs. All of your resources and efforts are invested in you. Why not devote your life to yourself, instead of a man? Seriously, do yourself a favour: Don’t get married.”

That’s how that article ended.

Now, for those who do opt to get married, who still think marriage is a good thing . . . well, “maybe it shouldn’t be a long marriage.” Here’s an article in the Huffington Post from a woman who’s called . . . her credential is that she’s a “divorce expert.” (I never heard of a divorce expert before.)

[In planning your wedding]. It’s time for a change. And that change is to banish the words ‘til death do us part’ from your wedding vows.

Don’t you think it is unrealistic to have the expectation that love will flourish for a lifetime that now runs into our eighties and nineties? It is very hard to fulfill that promise, ‘til death do us part,’ for such a long time. When a marriage lasts decades, it’s a gift, but it’s no longer the norm.

So for those who are getting married, forget about the ‘til death do us part.’ The term is polarizing and passé. It will always be a success if you had children that you loved or if you shared good times for however long.

Speaking of marriages not lasting a long time, there’s a new term that I discovered in my research this week called, “gray divorce.” Have you heard this term? This is the trend of the increasing divorce rate for older (“gray-haired”) couples who have been in long-term marriages. Mostly they’re Boomers, by the way. The overall divorce rate has declined since 1990, but the divorce rate for couples fifty and older has more than doubled in that same period. “Gray divorce.”

Here’s another article called, "The Gray Divorce Phenomenon." Here’s what that writer said:

No marriage appears to be home free. Even long-term marriages like my own, involving men and women that have been married 30, 40, even fifty years are not immune from gray divorce.”

As I read all this—these “prevailing winds”—anti-marriage, or anti-long-marriage, or saying, “It’s just not a realistic expectation to think that marriage can go the distance,” we have to ask, “What does it mean to be a true woman of God in this kind of environment?”

This is the world we’re living in, and how can our lives as followers of Christ (whether we’re married or single) shine the light of Christ and His gospel into the darkness around us? And that’s what this True Woman Manifesto is all about!

This is not a creed to make us hard-edged or to make us anti-what’s going on in the world. This is a way of thinking to help us live out being the people God has called us to be and what He’s called us to do in this world to represent His heart.

So today we come to this next “we will” statement in the True Woman Manifesto. It's an affirmation of the intent of our hearts, and this is such an important one. I don’t know if it’s ever been more important than it is today!

We agree that:

We will honor the sacredness, the purity, and the permanence of the marriage covenant—whether ours or others'.

Now, backing up to the very beginning, the union of a man and woman in marriage was the final, crowning act of God’s creation—and God performed the wedding. What a wedding that was!

So marriage is not a human institution, it’s not a human convention, as a lot of writers are saying today: “There’s nothing divine about this, there’s nothing extraordinary about this. This is a human invention. It can come; it can go. We don’t have to keep it.”

But marriage, to the contrary, was established by God, and it was purposeful. It was for the purpose of displaying His covenant-keeping love, His faithfulness, His redemptive plan. 

When we talk about the marriage covenant, we’re not talking about a contract. A contract can be made and broken. It may have terms that lead to how it can be broken. But a covenant is a solemn promise. It’s a permanent, exclusive mutual covenant made before God between a man and a woman. It’s important to remember that it’s made before God, in the presence of God. That’s what makes it sacred. It’s initiated and established by God. That makes it sacred.

Now, of course we realize, going all the way back to the early chapters of the book of Genesis, that Satan hates God and he has always wanted to be God. His effort through all of history is to get God off of His throne and put himself on the throne of God. So, no sooner had God pronounced Adam and Eve man and wife—Genesis chapter 2—then we get to the next chapter, Genesis chapter 3, where Satan immediately sets out to destroy what God had established!

He didn’t do it in this hideous, ugly-looking way. He did it in a winsome, attractive, alluring, appealing way—and that’s how it is with his deception. If it didn’t look beautiful, who would fall for it? If it looked like it was going to destroy your life, who would say, “Oh, that’s what I want!”

So Satan, cloaked in beauty, sets out to destroy what God has created—and marriage is one of his first and (to this day!) primary realms of attack. So as Christians—as Jesus-followers—we have the opportunity to display to our world the covenant-keeping love of God. And how can we do that?

We can do that, again, whether married or single, through protecting and preserving and campaigning for—cheering for—the sacredness of the marriage covenant.

I know, as soon as I start talking about this, it raises lots of questions, lots difficult situations . . . including some in this room. Over the years I’ve heard many, many heart-wrenching stories of infidelity, broken vows, a woman who’s been abandoned by an unbelieving husband, one partner dealing with the unrepentant chronic, persistent adultery or immorality of their mate. And it’s tempting when you come to this subject to focus on the questions and the problems and the challenges. God cares about those situations. He’s a Good Shepherd for you, regardless of where you may be in this whole marriage thing.

But as we step back and look at this from Heaven’s point of view, we need to go back to the Word for the plumb line of what God intended marriage to be. So I want to just read a passage from the gospel of Mark chapter 10, beginning in verse 2. If you have your Bible, you may want to turn there. I’m reading from the English Standard Version.

Now, this is a New Testament passage where Jesus takes us back to the Old Testament, which Jesus regarded as the Word of God. He regarded it as authoritative. And here’s the context: 

"[The] Pharisees came up and in order to test him"—in order to challenge Him. They did not buy His authority. They were trying to prove that He was not the Messiah, that He was not God. So this is a challenge to His claims.

So, “. . . in order to test him [they] asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’” Now, we won’t go into all of this today, but the Pharisees and the Sadducees were split on their view of divorce and remarriage. So they were asking Jesus, “What do you think? Can you take sides?”

[Jesus] answered them, “What did Moses command you?” [Well of course, they knew the Law of Moses, so they were quick to answer.] They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment (vv. 3–5).

In other words, this isn’t the way it was supposed to be! Yes, it happens, but it was not God’s good plan. Verse 6: “From the beginning of creation [that’s what He takes them back to—from the beginning of creation], ‘God made them male and female.’”

Which, by the way, if you want to just settle the issue of marriage being between a man and a woman, this is where you go. From the beginning, God created them—made them—male and female.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother [male and female] and hold fast to his wife [a female], and the two [the man and the wife] shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (vv. 7–9).

Now, as we just reflect on God’s plan for covenant marriage, I want to talk for the remaining time we have today about some ways that we can honor the sacredness, the purity, and the permanence of the marriage covenant.

I want to give you some suggestions if you’re married, some other suggestions if you’re single, and then some ideas whether you’re married or single.

If you’re married, how can you honor the sacredness, the purity, and the permanence of the marriage covenant? First of all is through a commitment to exclusiveness, sexual purity, as Scripture says in Hebrews, keep “the marriage bed . . . undefiled” (13:4). No one else is to be invited in to that exclusive, intimate relationship.

Adultery can take on many forms. It can be physical, but it can also be emotional or mental. Essentially, it’s having intimacy with a member of the opposite sex outside of your own marriage. That may be mental, emotional, physical. So, commitment to exclusiveness. There is an exclusiveness to marriage.

And then, to honor the sacredness of the marriage covenant, learn to build hedges around your marriage—to set boundaries. Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of the emotions with someone who, at the moment, became more attractive to you than your own mate.

Hedges help to guard our hearts when we get into tough or potentially compromising situations. Just some practical things I’ve challenged women with over the years, and that I’m learning now to practice in my own marriage. 

First is, just don’t talk with members of the opposite sex about difficulties in your marriage. Don’t go there. If you’re going to talk with a pastor or a counselor, do it with another woman. Do it with his wife, so that your heart is not getting drawn to someone who may be very sympathetic, very helpful in a time when you need help. Now I’m not saying this is ironclad, but I’m saying as a rule, don’t talk about problems in your marriage—especially in a complaining way—with another man.

With meals and travel, the workplace is, in many cases, where women are spending more time with another man than they do with their own mate. So that’s where hedges and safeguards need to be established.

The Internet is another place that is being used to wreak havoc on marriages today—Facebook, people sharing access, sharing passwords. There needs to be protection; there needs to be accountability; there needs to be care.

Now, you determine with your mate the best way to do that. I’m not saying that the same rules that you put into place in your marriage will be the exact same ones for somebody else’s marriage. But be intentional about it, think about it. If you don’t, you’re going to get caught off-guard potentially at some point, and many people could tell their story of how that happened.

You can’t be best friends with another man who’s not your husband. You can’t do it! There are so many women today, thinking this kind of interaction with other men that’s inappropriate for someone other than their husband, saying, “Oh, we can do this.” It’s not safe. It’s not okay. It’s not affirming the sacredness and the permanence of the marriage covenant.

And another encouragement to those who are married: Get rid of the “nuclear option”—the “D” word—divorce. A commitment to permanence means you are not going to throw this word around. No matter how hurt you are, no matter how hard it is, you are not going to consider divorce an option.

I have a pastor friend who encouraged husbands and wives to affirm their commitment to the permanence of their marriage covenant. And he said, “I want you to say to your mate, ‘I will never divorce you!’”

A few days later a lady came to him, and she was laughing. She had heard this challenge, and she told the pastor, “My husband is a man of few words. Every morning he eats breakfast with the paper in front of him. I never see his face. I just push his breakfast underneath the paper.” (laughter)

And she said, “Yesterday, he said through the paper, ‘Honey, I went ahead and had your name put by mine on the tombstone.’” (laughter) 

Tears welled up in that woman’s eyes as she shared this with her pastor, because she knew that—in his own way—her husband was saying, “I’m in this thing with you 'til death!”

And then, married women, teach your children the meaning of the marriage covenant, that divorce not an option. My dad who had divorce in his family background taught us over and over again, “It’s permanent. Divorce is not an option!” And listen, don’t be afraid to share out of your failures, out of where you’ve blown it, because your children need to hear that, too.

Now if you’re single, just a couple of words here. First of all, if you’re dating, as you date—in your dating standards—ask, “Am I honoring my future husband and our marriage covenant if it turns out to be someone other than who I’m dating now?” In your present dating, are you honoring the marriage covenant with your future husband?

And just another challenge to single Christians today: Get married instead of living together. Living together has become just mainstream and the norm for so many couples in the church today. If you want to honor the marriage covenant, get married! You will make a statement about the covenant-keeping love of God when you do.

Whether you’re married or single, pray for the marriages of others. Don’t take for granted that anybody you know has a marriage that’s home free. Every marriage has attacks, every marriage has difficulties, so pray when you are around other couples—your family, your friends. Pray for them as you hope they do for you.

Encourage, support, and invest in the marriages of others. When they’re struggling, don’t be one of their friends that says to that woman, “I don’t know how you put up with that! You need to get out of that marriage.”

So many friends undermine the permanence and the sacredness of the marriage covenant by counseling their friends—who they’re sympathizing with, they’re concerned for them, they care for them, they’re well-meaning friends—but they’re discouraging them from being faithful to that marriage covenant.

And here's something for all of us: Let’s stop making negative comments and jokes about marriage. It’s holy! Now, there are funny things that happen in marriage. Robert and I love to laugh together, and we laugh about our differences, and we laugh in retrospect about some of the hard things we go through.

So it’s not that there shouldn’t be joy and laughter in marriage, but let’s not mock marriage. Let’s not say as often how hard marriage is. Yes, marriage is hard. Any two people living together—male and female, husband and wife—there are differences that can create challenges. So it is hard; it’s hard work . . . but it’s good work.

Let’s focus on what’s good and beautiful and God-honoring about it. Remember what’s at stake. Marriage is not just about feeling good or feeling loved. It's more than that. It’s about showcasing God’s faithful, persevering, unending love for the Church!

When you think about marriage from God’s perspective, it gets a whole lot more serious.

I have a sweet friend who for many years has been in a marriage to a man who has battled all kinds of addictions. As we’ve shared over the years, she realizes that only God can change his heart and set him free. She’s also realized at times that he may never change. He’s been in and out of treatment programs. She has realized that when there are relapses, this may be what she deals with this side of Heaven. She prays against that; she hopes for better than that, but she also realizes that this life is short, that the pain will not be forever. 

In the meantime—I’ve heard her express it so many times—her heart is that Christ will be glorified in it all and that her life, her faithfulness in this painful, difficult situation, will be a living demonstration of the faithful covenant-keeping love of God.

Let me give you one more suggestion, if you’re married, for how to honor and celebrate the permanence, the beauty, of the marriage covenant, and that’s to do this: Remember when you stood at the altar and said, “I do.” Periodically take time to rehearse the vows, the covenant that you made before God.

Remember that day when you stood at the altar with your mate-to-be, and you said, “I do?”. . .

Robert Wolgemuth [walks up to the platform]: Hey, Nancy. 

Nancy: I didn’t get to where I’m going yet, Honey.

Robert: That’s all right. I’m interrupting. I’ve been given permission . . . (Nancy and ladies laugh) I think we ought to do that. Like, in front of these friends and maybe the people who are listening . . .

Nancy: Sure!

Robert: In fact, right after we got married, we did this. We’ve got a big frame around our vows. At our rehearsal dinner we had a bunch of friends sign this—just to underscore the covenant-keeping love of God and the sacredness of marriage . . .

Nancy: . . . and that they are going to help us keep those vows, to hold us to it . . .

Robert: . . . and they’re going to hold us to account.

Nancy: Yes, this was a beautiful gift—it’s sitting here on the platform—that some dear friends gave us. It’s done in calligraphy, and it’s actually got our vows written out.

Robert: It does!

Nancy: This is hanging on the wall as we walk from our garage into the house. We pass it every day.

Robert: I know you’re busy and stuff (laughter), but maybe could we repeat our vows right now? Could we do that? In front of these friends?

Nancy: Oh, yes, let’s do it! In front of these friends, these witnesses.

Robert: Let me just kneel down here so we’re at the same level. This has been . . . well, we’re coming up on the end of three years, right?

Nancy: Yes we are.

Robert: Isn’t that cool?

Nancy: Yes. 

Robert: We celebrate every month. The fourteenth of every month is an anniversary. So it’s pretty cool, pretty exciting! We’re in our thirties!

Nancy: Month-wise. And, Honey, I just love thinking of these vows that we said on November 14, 2015. They were precious to us then, but don’t you find they’re even more so today?

Robert: It’s so true! In fact, when you go to a wedding and you see this young couple in their twenties—and you’re a veteran married person—sometimes you kind of smile inside—not cynically—but you’re saying . . .

Nancy: “They have no idea!” (laughter)

Robert: You don’t laugh, because you want to honor them, but you’re saying, "You have no idea!" Right! But that’s good, because we didn’t either. And so the Lord takes you step by step. So anyway, these vows . . .

Nancy: And when we did this in our wedding, actually the minister read them line by line, and we repeated them, but let’s just read them as we said them to each other. I’m so thrilled for this reminder!

Robert: I’m going to take your hand. Okay, so are you ready? I think I go first. I thought of it a moment ago—I wish I’d memorized this—but then I’d be really nervous. So I’m going to go ahead and read this, okay? So my eyes will go back and forth, okay?

Nancy: Okay.

Robert: I love you.

Nancy: I love you.

Robert: In the presence of God and these witnesses, by a holy covenant, I, Robert, take thee, Nancy, to be my wife. I joyfully and gratefully receive you as God’s gracious gift.

I promise to love you, to cherish you, and to shepherd you as Christ loves, cherishes, and shepherds His church. And I promise to give myself for you, as Christ laid down His life for us. I promise to wash you with the Word, so as to present you holy and blameless before our Lord.

With sincerity of heart, and in dependence on the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I pledge to you my tenderness, my faithfulness, my friendship, my affection, and my love as long as we both shall live.

Nancy: Thank you, Honey!

And in the presence of God and these witnesses, by a holy covenant, I, Nancy, take you, Robert, to be my husband. I joyfully and gratefully receive you as God’s gracious gift.

I promise to respect you, to reverence you, and to submit to you in everything as my earthly head, as the church respects, reverences, and submits to Christ, her eternal Head. As your helper, I will love, comfort, and support you and will serve the Lord by your side.

With sincerity of heart, and in dependence on the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I pledge to you my tenderness, my faithfulness, my friendship, my affection, and my love as long as we both shall live.

Robert: I love you.

Nancy: I love you, Honey.

Robert: “You can kiss the bride!” (laughter & applause)

Nancy: Thank you for making those vows, Honey. Thank you for being a vow-keeper! These are more precious today, even to us. 

Robert: That’s true.

Nancy: And I just wonder, because I know we have a lot of people listening who . . . Our story is way different than their story. Maybe they’re in a marriage where they’re struggling to keep their vows, or maybe they’ve been divorced and this hits some raw, painful spots, or maybe they’re not married and longing . . .

God knows our hearts, and I wonder if you would just pray especially, Honey, for those who are married and are struggling to be faithful. Would you just pray that the faithfulness of God and His grace would be with them today?

Robert: So Father, that’s what we do pray. We pray that we would “go first.” This is not just some little sermonette from a platform or a pulpit that Nancy and I are preaching to somebody else. We want our hearts to be tender—I want my heart to be tender. I want to be a good listener. I want to be a compassionate, gentle, kind, loving, joy-filled shepherd to this precious woman.

So I thank You that Your grace is sufficient. I’m a sinful man. I stand at the foot of the cross. Your righteousness covers me, and so I stand before You as though sinless, presenting myself to this precious woman, who herself also is covered by Your righteousness.

So then, Nancy and I join together to pray for men and women who are in a hard place. And the reasons for those things—for that hard place—are multiple. They could be situations, circumstances, other people, bad habits—lots and lots of things.

Satan is rejoicing in that because he hates You, and he hates marriage. And so, in defiance of Satan—of his ways—we stand firm on the Truth of Your Word. We embrace the covenant of this marriage and we pray—Nancy and I together join our hearts and hands and pray—for men and women who need this touch, who need this reassurance that You know what You’re doing and that You’re present in their marriage. I pray for the courage to step up. I pray for the courage to invite a pastor in or a Christian counselor who will speak truth.

I pray for humility. I pray that men and women would find themselves repenting and confessing—going first—asking themselves, “What do I have to confess?” before they put pressure on their mate to confess something else.

So, all these things—and we could go on and on, but you know our hearts. You know our great desire, that our marriage would reflect the love of Christ and the Bride of Christ, the Church, Your holy Bride.

We thank You. We praise You in advance for what You’re going to do in the hearts of men and women who are hearing this covenant-keeping promise. We love You. We thank You. In Jesus’ holy name we pray, amen. 

Leslie: Robert Wolgemuth has been praying for our marriages. Before that, he and his wife, Nancy, repeated the vows from their wedding. They’re sharing those vows to remind all of us to approach marriage with a commitment to permanence.

You can see a video that tells the story of Robert and Nancy’s relationship and wedding by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com. And that’s also where you can hear this program again.

Nancy’s teaching today has been part of the series called "The True Woman Manifesto: Declarations, Part 2." We’re able to bring you messages like this one thanks to listeners who support Revive Our Hearts financially.

Today when you give a gift of any amount, we’ll say "thanks" by sending you a copy of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together. This book by Nancy is an in-depth study of Titus 2:1–5—and it just won a Christian book award! It was named Book of the Year in the Bible study category.

Get a copy of Adorned when you donate any amount at ReviveOurHearts.com, or ask for the book when you call 1–800–569–5959.

Decades ago, most people had small homes and big families. Now, most have large homes and small families. So what does this say about us? Nancy will address that tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to experience the covenant-keeping love of God. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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