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Stop saying marriage is unconditional. It’s not. Love is unconditional. Marriage is conditional.

marriage.pMarriage is a covenant, an agreement, a contract between two people. It comes with strings attached. It comes with assumptions. It comes with all sorts of explicit and implicit expectations about the behavior of both parties. We expect our spouse to be sexually faithful. We expect our spouse to be honest. We expect our spouse not to assault us or treat us violently. We expect our spouse to partner with us in caring for the family’s spiritual, emotional, and physical needs.

There are so many conditions we place on our spouse I can’t begin to name them all. A man who sits all home playing Xbox and eating Cheetos day after day after day will probably not be a husband for long. A woman who regularly berates her husband in public, belittling him and emasculating him probably will not be a wife for long. Refuse to get a job?—probably ending up single. Making extra money stripping at the club down the street?—probably not going to have a husband much longer.

Every covenant in scripture is conditional. Covenants are, by definition, agreements about future behavior between people. God has expectations of me because of our covenant. I have expectations of God because of our covenant. Covenants are always, always, always conditional and it is a mistake to treat marriage any differently.

Love, now love can be unconditional because love does not depend on the behavior of another. I can choose to love whomever I desire and there is absolutely nothing anybody can do about that. Love is not an agreement; love is a choice about how to treat somebody no matter how they behave. God loves me without conditions—no matter how I behave I can be assured that God loves me. Because of this, I can love people unconditionally. Love is not an agreement, love is a decision.

Love is not the same as covenant. God can love me but he is not required to honor his agreement with me if I do not honor my agreement with him. To put it bluntly, God loves every person who ends up in hell. Love is the basis of the agreement, but it is not the agreement itself. God punishes people throughout scripture, even to death, for failing to honor their agreement with him, but scripture never says that God stopped loving them.

Never confuse love and marriage. They go together, but they are not synonymous. Love is how I treat you. Marriage is what I expect from you. If you do not keep your end of the bargain do not expect to be married very long. That’s not how marriage works. And don’t blame God or your spouse for being “unloving” because you didn’t fulfill your agreement. They both may love you very much, but that isn’t what marriage is. Marriage is an agreement that comes with lots of expectations. Marriage is conditional.

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