“God in His wisdom brings together two young people who are sufficiently alike, yet also sufficiently different, that they complement each other, forming one whole, forming a balance wheel for each other as well”. Rev. Cornelius Hanko
The covenant of God is unity. It is the unity between the perfectly righteous One and fallen, elect sinners in the cross of Jesus Christ. It is a unity of extreme opposites, the reconciliation of enemies by the atoning blood of the Saviour. Precious is that blood and powerful is that work of reconciliation to transform enemies into eternal friends. Fallen man called into covenant friendship with the living God. What blessed unity!
As the covenant is unity, so covenant courtship demands unity. The God who calls His people into unity with Him likewise demands unity amongst them. The relationship between two young believers must be established on the basis of their common unity in Christ. This is important because all other basis for unity is false and can only lead to spiritual destruction in any relationship.
Spiritual unity in courtship means that a Reformed believer seeks to find a partner who is of the same mind of Christ as he is (Php 2:5). He is deeply attracted to one who shares the same spiritual mindset and convictions that he does. Covenant courtship insists that we be “likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Php 2:2). The common knowledge and love for God grips two believers so strongly that it is often the manner in which godly relationships begin.
Of utmost importance is to understand that spiritual unity means unity in the Word of God. A couple that is to grow in Christ must firstly be grounded in a common conviction concerning what the Word teaches. The cardinal truths of Scripture must be deeply impressed upon their souls to the extent that it is the foundation for a couple’s relationship. Since the confessions of the Reformed church are the expression of unity amongst members, they also ought to be the expression of unity in courtship. As a general rule I believe that covenant relationships must be established upon a common conviction on the 5 points of Calvinism and the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordrecht). These are strong foundations for unity in a relationship and we may only be deeply thankful to our Reformed fathers for establishing such strong foundations for us today.
A couple who establish their relationship on strong foundations in the Word will enjoy a strong relationship. Like the wise man who built his house upon the rock, their relationship will not be easily swayed because of its sure foundations. Consequently they will be able to prosper in godliness and service to God who unites them in the same knowledge of His Word.
When a covenant couple love each other in the LORD, they express spiritual unity. The common knowledge of their sinfulness and salvation in Christ alone provokes them to love each other in the love of God. They seek to out-please each other because they are precious in each other’s eyes. They are brothers and sisters in the household of God and fellow members of the body of Christ. Marriage counsellor Dr. Ed Wheat writes that love is always doing the very best for the object of one’s love. Covenant courtship raises this love to a higher level because love is deeply exclusive in courtship, given only to a specific person.
Being spiritually united also implies possessing the same hope for their lives together. As pilgrims on this earth they seek the blessed hope of the new heavens and the new earth together. Their affections are not set on the things in this world, whether it be their studies, careers or achievements, but are set on the things of the heavenly kingdom. Unlike the people of this world, they seek for the blessed coming of their Lord and Saviour who has prepared a place for them in glory.
Service to God in the church is another expression of a couple’s spiritual unity. When the Lord brings two individuals together in courtship, He desires their united worship and service to Him as a spiritually united couple. Together they learn to function as one in reverential worship and service to God. In their own specific place and calling in the church they serve the Lord God with a profound knowledge of their unity. As they do this they will be a tremendous source of blessing to their brethren in the church. Their loving and happy relationship is an example for other godly couples to follow because Christ is powerfully displayed in it. Such unity in courtship also serves to promote the greater unity of the church as Christ calls it to.
Finally their unity is demonstrated in the couple’s totally selfless love for each other. In heart, mind and soul they surrender to each other as God calls them to. They care for the other’s good more than their own. When they surrender to each other their wills merge as one. This is where they experience the miracle of growing to be one flesh in the Lord. Rev. Cornelius Hanko writes that “their life is a giving to each other, even as God gives Himself to us, to the extent that He brings us into His very heart, into His fellowship, into the intimate communion of life with Him, reflecting His glory”. Bound by the same truth, love, service, hope and mutual submission, there is indeed true spiritual unity.
CERC is placed in a unique position in Singapore, where the Reformed community is relatively small in number. Our young people face the temptation of indiscriminately dating professing Christians from other denominations. We thread dangerous waters when we do this because we may be tempted to sacrifice the distinctive edges of the faith that we possess. A relationship built with Christians of other faiths is a compromise to our Reformed faith. Our faith is a biblically distinctive faith, built by our fathers with sweat and blood. The truths that they have delivered to us must be carried on with all their power and sharpness even as we engage in courtship. How else are the Reformed truths of sovereign predestination and particular grace to be passed on to our children and their generations if couples are not doctrinally united? How else is the church to grow as the pillar and ground of the truth if covenant couples are not united in faith?
May the Lord so grant that we strive for spiritual unity in our relationships to the end that they may be powerful expressions of our unity with Christ!
In the covenant of grace, God extends His friendship to sinners who are by nature totally depraved. He does so by His Spirit, accompanied by the preaching of His Word, drawing His elect people out of darkness into the marvellous light of His fellowship. And although the hearts of His people have been transformed to the image of His Son who died for them, yet while on earth they still retain their sinful natures. Throughout their entire lives the people of God struggle with their sinful natures which are at enmity against Him, crying for deliverance. In earnest expectation they seek the blessed hope of Christ’s coming where their sinful natures will be fully destroyed and transformed into perfectly glorious bodies.
As much as courtship is a time of great excitement, it is also a time of profound humility. This is because the two young believers who are brought together in the providence of God realize that they are ultimately nothing but sinners saved by grace. They understand that they still retain their distinctively sinful natures and are prone to sin against God and each other. They know that only the grace of God could have brought them together in covenant courtship and that it is the only thing that will sustain their relationship.
Sin is present in any relationship, be it in the home, with our colleagues or friends. When we approach courtship with a spiritual frame of mind, we see the motions of sin working in the relationship. We see sin working powerfully and expressing itself in the form of pride, lust, jealousy, anger and self-centeredness amongst other sins. A covenant couple may not be guilty of all of those sins but they carry with them specific sins according to their characters. This struggle with sin carries on not only in courtship but also in marriage and all through their lives as one flesh. The Form of Marriage at the back of the Psalter confesses accurately that “married persons are generally, by reason of sin, subject to many troubles and afflictions”.
Sin has the potential to destroy a couple’s relationship. When sins are committed in the process of courtship and are not repented of, they grieve the Spirit that unites both believers in the bond of love. This grieving draws the couple away from each other, and consequently their personal relationship with God is also affected. They are unable to enjoy God’s favour and each other’s love for a season because sin has separated them.
The tendency to sin against each other in courtship is far greater than in normal friendships because of the closeness that the couple shares. Ironic as it may be, this closeness can sometimes have a contradictory effect. On the one hand it is the cause by which a couple devote themselves to each other, care for and love each other deeply. Yet on the other hand, this closeness makes them deeply aware of each other’s flaws and sinful tendencies. This awareness may sometimes cause a couple to sin against each other wilfully or to tempt the other to sin.
A couple’s knowledge and experience of sin in their courtship must finally bring them to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. Above all things, they must acknowledge their sinfulness which provokes the holy God to wrath and anger. As they pray for forgiveness and submit themselves to Him in repentance, they understand that they need God every moment of their relationship. God must reconcile them to Him and to each other. Only then will they experience His favour again and enjoy the blessings of His friendship with each other.
When a couple submit themselves to God, then they will be able to submit to each other. The ability to confess individual faults to each other, to seek each other’s forgiveness is evidence of the Spirit’s work in their hearts. Pride hinders us from confessing our faults, and the devil is ever quick to stroke that pride when believers sin against each other in a relationship. Sometimes the hardened heart finds it agonisingly painful to humble itself in repentance.
Nevertheless, the powerful grace of God, working in the lives of His covenant children, will break down that sinful pride, enabling the couple to surrender themselves fully to each other. As they are reunited to each other in humility they experience the peace of God which passes understanding. This peace gives them the assurance of their covenant friendship with God who alone works out all things for the good of His people.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God”. James 4:7a
Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 9