Marriage – consumer or covenant?


In a recent post on this topic we learned of God’s purpose for marriage. In this post we’ll look at the way Western culture has defined marriage, and how that definition hinders us from living out God’s purpose for us.

In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller describes two kinds of relationships: consumer relationships and covenantal relationships.

Throughout history there have always been consumer relationships. Such a relationship lasts only as long as the vendor meets your needs at a cost acceptable to you. If another vendor delivers better services or the same services at a better cost, you have no obligation to stay in a relationship to the original vendor. In consumer relationships, it could be said that the individual’s needs are more important than the relationship.

There have also always been covenantal relationships. These are relationships that are binding on us. In a covenant, the good of the relationship takes precedence over the immediate needs of the individual. For example, a parent may get little emotionally out of caring for an infant. But there has always been an enormous social stigma attached to any parent who gives up their children because rearing them is too hard and unrewarding. For most people, the very idea of that is unthinkable. Why? Society still considers the parent-child relationship to be a covenantal one, not a consumer relationship.

Clearly our culture considers marriage to be a consumer relationship.

It is a relationship you enter into because you appreciate and desire the things that the other person can offer you. You stay in the relationship as long as your needs and desires are being met at a cost that is acceptable to you. When you begin to feel that you’re not getting back as much as you are putting in, and you think the costs are beginning to outweigh the benefits, then it’s time to look for a new relationship, one that is more satisfying and rewarding for you.
God’s plan for marriage is completely different. God intended for marriage to be a covenantal relationship, one in which the wants and needs of the individual are less important than the health of the relationship.

God’s vision is of two people committed to a life that pursues the good of the other, that puts the best interests of the other ahead of personal gratification and satisfaction. His vision is of two people learning to love each other the way Christ loves His church: sacrificially, actively, aggressively, eternally.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Our marriages should not, and cannot be a pursuit of personal gratification. Our marriages will be at their best when we imitate Christ’s love for us, giving up ourselves for the good of our spouse and our marriage.

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