Marriage: Commitment or Friendship?

Today is Raylene and my 24th anniversary. How thankful I am for her presence in my life. Years ago, we were given a Christmas ornament with this inscription: Happiness is being married to your best friend. That’s absolutely right. While there are many ways of describing the nature and purpose of marriage, I wonder if the most simple is to describe marriage as a divine friendship.

In Proverbs 2:17, there is a very unique Hebrew word used to describe marriage. It is placed in the context of a warning against adultery. “Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before the Lord.” This passage talks about a person who, through sexual immorality, has left the “partner” of her youth. This Hebrew word “partner” can also be translated “your special confidant” or “your best friend”.

What’s so amazing about this description is that it was written in the midst of culture where women were little more than property, and yet God viewed marriage as an opportunity for a deep, abiding friendship. When in Genesis 2, Adam looked upon Eve for the first time, he rejoiced in the companionship that was now his–not property but a person who was made from the same stuff he was. From the beginning, marriage was designed as a context to enjoy true friendship.

Now it’s significant to note in the Proverbs 2 passage that another word is also used to describe marriage, and that’s the word “covenant”. We don’t use the word “covenant” very often today to describe relationships, because most often our relationships are consumer based. A consumer based relationship is dependent upon whether or not this person meets my needs. Just as I may switch grocery stores if I don’t feel satisfied with the service, so too we may leave relationships if we are not satisfied with it. But a covenant based relationship is a relationship of permanent, absolute commitment, no matter what. Marriage is to be a covenant based relationship, which is why a man and woman express vows to each other on their wedding day, and why marriage is a legally binding relationship. It’s designed to be permanent.

What’s fascinating is how these two words–covenant and friendship– are used together in vs 17 to describe marriage. Marriage is a “covenant based friendship”–meaning it is rooted in a permanent commitment and within that commitment is to be a life-giving friendship. To only emphasize the covenant aspect may make marriage feel like a ball and chain. To only emphasize the friendship aspect may make marriage sound feel like a fickle, chemistry based relationship–between two people who happen to hit it off. But when both terms are joined together, we see this beautiful picture of marriage: the ideal context in which a real friendship can develop because there is an absolute, unending commitment to the other person.

In every marriage, there are days when we don’t feel like being married to this person. In those seasons, we lean heavily upon the covenant made before God. But in the midst of that decision to love, God can deepen our friendship to be a picture of His friendship with us in Christ. And then of course there are days when  we love being married to this person–which is awesome. We rejoice in the joy they bring to our lives.

Honestly, this past week Raylene and I had to lean on the covenant side as we had to work through some relational challenges…but as those things were talked through, my heart was once again stirred with delight in this wonderful, best friend that God has given me. Happy anniversary, Raylene!