Is Marriage a Consumer Product or a Covenant Partnership?


A college-aged friend believes that marriage shouldn’t take place until you’ve lived with a woman for a while. You’ve got to “try it on for size,” he said of the potential relationship, so you can see if it’s going to suit you long-term.

He was raised in our children’s and youth programs, but as he launches into adulthood he prefers the dominant operating system of his nonbelieving peers. Is there a way to help him critique this relationship feature of the OS instead of blindly adopting it?

In dealing with issues like this, my approach is always in two parts: Help people see the dominant OS for what it is, and give them a good explanation for the biblical alternative. The first part is negative work and the second is positive work, but both are essential. In other words, the first thing I have to do is highlight the flaws and weaknesses of choosing the OS of the surrounding world. Then I have to show why the biblical model makes sense.

On this particular issue of cohabitation, my young friend needs to see that the worldview he’s adopting looks on marriage as a consumer product, while his Lord regards it as a covenant partnership.

Notice how my friend put it: He wants to evaluate a live-in relationship—he wants to “try it on for size.” He needs to see how this will turn him into a mere consumer in his future romantic relationships. Since both he and his companion will be poised to return the product if the results are unsatisfactory, the relationship will always have an instability to it.

In their wonderful book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller write:

When dating or living together, you have to prove your value daily by impressing and enticing. You have to show that the chemistry is there and the relationship is fun and fulfilling or it will be over. We are still basically in a consumer relationship, and that means constant promotion and marketing. 

What’s the biblical alternative to seeing marriage as a consumer product? To see it as a covenant partnership. We choose this way of relating to our romantic companion because it’s the way God chose to relate to us.

One of the clearest verses to present this is Ezekiel 16:8 (NLT). Here God is comparing his relationship to Israel like the relationship of a husband to a wife: “’I wrapped my cloak around you…and declared my marriage vows. I made a covenant with you,’ says the Sovereign Lord, ‘and you became mine.’”

Really, the whole story of the Bible is a story of God’s faithfulness to his marriage vows, so to speak. Over and over again, the Bible says that he stands and stays with his people because he is a God who keeps his promises:

  • Leviticus 26:44-45 (NLT),“I will not cancel my covenant with them by wiping them out. I, the Lord, am their God. I will remember my ancient covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of Egypt while all the nations watched. I, the Lord, am their God.”
  • Deuteronomy 4:31 (NIV), “For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.”
  • 2 Kings 13:23 (NIV), “But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
  • Isaiah 54:10 (NIV), “’Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

Notice in all of those verses that God points back to his vows, his covenant, and says, “I’m sticking with my people because I’ve made a promise. The integrity of my word is on the line.”

The fact that God made a covenant with his people is the Number One reason why you should make a covenant with your romantic companion. Huge numbers of couples, even those who know Christ, have decided to live together, maybe even have children together, without a wedding ceremony. But if we want to reflect the heart of God to the person we love, one thing we need to recognize is that God was willing to announce his love for us publicly. He was willing to declare his commitment to us before the world. And when things get tough in his relationship with us, over and over again in the Bible we see him saying, “I made a promise to my people, a public promise, a covenant, and I’m sticking with it.”

So, we get married, and we stay married, not because of parental expectations or social custom. We get married and stay married because God has set the example for us and we want to follow God.

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About Tom

ANCHOR COURSE LOGO Tom Goodman is a graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, and he holds a doctorate from New Orleans Seminary. He has served as pastor in Louisiana, north Texas, and overseas in Grand Cayman before becoming the pastor of Hillcrest Church in Austin, Texas. Diane and Tom have been married since their days at Baylor University, and they have two sons, Michael and Stephen. Tom enjoys scuba diving, watching the latest Netflix DVD with Diane, and chasing mis-hit golf balls.