What is the Difference Between a Contract and a Covenant?

We throw these two words around rather loosely in everyday parlance, but when it comes to marriage, there really is not a distinction without a difference.

Despite the concept of covenant seen throughout the Bible, we don’t often use the word covenant in conversation. Most of us have little understanding of the word. When we think of marriage, we usually do so in terms of a contract rather than a covenant. In reality, the two words are quite different when it comes to understanding marriage as we do at 24k Gold Marriage.

We live in a contract-oriented society where you can be more or less certain that a person will live up to the terms of the ‘contract’. So, it is easy for couples to slip into this contract mentality in their marriages. The end result of a contract kind of marriage produces resentments, hurts, and anger, selfishness, a ‘WIIFM” (what’s in it for me kind of relationship) and eventually leads some couples to divorce.

Let’s make a distinction WITH a difference here. A contract is an agreement between two or more persons agreeing that all signing parties will do something. OK, so societally, marriage is a contract with certain rights and responsibilities, but it is so much more than that and it starts by distinguishing between legal marriage (contract) and covenant marriage.

  • In a legal marriage, if one party doesn’t live up to the contracts, then legal actions force him or her to do so or to end the marriage with an equitable settlement. A society couldn’t exist without laws regulating marriage relationships. So in this sense, marriage is a contract.
  • However, for a Christian, marriage is much more. It’s also a covenant. We hold a Biblical worldview that marriage ultimately is a covenant relationship.

General Characteristics Of Contracts

1. Contracts are often made for a limited period of time.
Although most marriage ceremonies involve the phrase, “till death do us part,” we see all to many couples who hear that as, “We’re committed to each other until it isn’t fun any more.”
2. Contracts often deal with specific actions.
Most informal contracts made within the marriage also deal with specific actions.
3. Contracts are based on an “If…, then…,” mentality.
Couples with this mentality often keep score. I will do this if you will do that. If you don’t do this, I will not do that, and if I get tired enough of it, I’ll break the contract.
4. Contracts are motivated by the desire to get something.
Many conversations in marriage are motivated by a desire to get something.

Covenant Characteristics

A covenant starts out like a contract, as an agreement between two or more persons, but the nature of the agreement is different. The Biblical pattern reveals five distinctive characteristics of covenants.
1. Covenants are initiated for the benefit of the other person.
Many of us can honestly say that we entered marriage motivated by the deep desire to benefit the person we were about to marry. Our intention was to make them happy. However the easy way out when relationships become strained is for one or both partners to revert to contract mentality…
2. In covenant relationships people make unconditional promises.
Covenant marriages are characterized by unconditional promises, such as those spoken in traditional wedding vows. “I am in this for the duration.” “I was serious when I said that one of us has to die to get out of this relationship.” “I will be loving, caring, and serving you no matter what you decide to do.”
3. Covenant relationships are based on steadfast love.
Steadfast love is a choice and not conditioned by circumstances or feelings of any kind.
4. Covenant relationships view commitments as permanent.
Unquestionably the biblical ideal is one man and one woman married to each other for life. We will not lower the ideal. A covenant relationship is unilateral. This standard can only be attained when we practice the fifth characteristic of covenants.
5. Covenant relationships require confrontation and forgiveness.

These two responses are essential in a covenant marriage.

  • Confrontation means holding the other person responsible for his or her actions.
  • Forgiving means a willingness to lift the penalty and continue a loving, growing relationship. Ignoring the failures of your spouse isn’t the road to marital growth.

Final Note

A Covenant Marriage is God’s plan.There may be contracts within the framework of covenant marriage, but for the Christian, marriage is a covenant. God’s best in marriage will never be accomplished without His power.

So when couples come for a Marriage 3.0 weekend, they always leave with a Covenant Agreement—both promising to build a covenant marriage in the days that follow…and agree to be held accountable for their promises.

If your marriage needs a tune up to get to Covenant status, come see us.