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One of the most ancient forms of relationships recorded in history is that of the covenant between two groups of people. The covenant document had a typical format: It named the two groups, listed the witnesses, laid out certain stipulations, and stated certain blessings for keeping the covenant and certain curses for violating it.

One of the oldest forms of a covenant is found in the biblical book of Exodus. It describes the covenant relationship between God and the Hebrew people. The Ten Commandments were an important part of this covenant.

Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman that includes the promises they make to each other, and typically there are witnesses who sign the marriage document. Thus, it seemed to me, as I read the Ten Commandments again recently, that they should contain principles that can help a man and a woman to cultivate an authentic and meaningful relationship.

Let’s consider how these commandments might help a newly married couple, whom I will call Maurice and Bridget to live together “happily ever after.”

1 Have no other gods

The first commandment says, “ ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ ” (Exodus 20:3). It’s imperative that Maurice make Bridget his number one priority and that Bridget make Maurice her number one concern. Each of them will, of course, have relationships with other people. In fact, it’s important for them to do so, for no one person can fulfill every need of another’s life. However, it’s imperative that Maurice and Bridget put each other’s needs, thoughts, and feelings ahead of all others.

2 Do not make a graven image

The second commandment says, “ ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol’ ” (Exodus 20:4). Idols come in many forms: money, cars, houses, furniture—in short, “things.” Now that Maurice and Bridget have made this lifetime commitment to each other, they need to be careful not to allow anything to become more important than this relationship. Whether it’s sports, work, or even children, their marriage should come first. Indeed, the very best thing parents can do for their children is to give them a secure family environment in which to grow up, and that means a strong marriage. If Maurice or Bridget should ever feel that other things are beginning to become more important in their lives than each other, they should not be afraid to talk about it with each other and with the help of a counselor if necessary.

3 Do not take God’s name in vain

The third commandment says, “ ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God’ ” (Exodus 21:7). A person who purports to be a Christian but acts in ways that are altogether un-Christian takes God’s name in vain. In the same way, if Maurice and Bridget profess their love for each other at the altar but then act in ways that are anything but loving in their lives after the altar, they are dishonoring each other. Whether they are with each other or apart, their words and actions should demonstrate to everyone that they are in love with each other and loved by each other.

4 Remember the Sabbath day

The fourth commandment says, “ ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy’ ” (Exodus 20:8). This is a very practical command that deals with time. And it has never been more relevant than in our overworked, time-poor, pressure-cooker world of today, where often, time is money. Thus, time can be our most precious commodity. In the business of life, in the ups and downs, in the pressures and stressors that will come, Maurice and Bridget need to ensure that they make time for each other. They will need to be intentional about this, because it won’t just happen. If day after day their relationship is more like ships passing each other in the night, there will inevitably come a point when their relationship will begin to suffer. Time: they need to use it wisely, setting aside some of it just for each other.

5 Honor your parents

The fifth commandment says, “ ‘Honor your father and your mother’ ” (Exodus 20:12). Children need guidance from those who are older and more mature, which is why God gave them parents. Young people are so proficient with the technological world in which we live that they may sometimes think that older folks know very little at all. However, nothing can take the place of life experience, and this principle still applies when children become adults. Thus, Maurice and Bridget would do well to find an older person whom they trust, with whom they can talk openly and honestly. It is important to care for, respect, and learn from our elders. And as we model this, our children will be more likely to care for and respect us.

6 Do not murder

Most married couples don’t literally violate the commandment that says, “ ‘You shall not murder’ ” (Exodus 20:13). However, Jesus reinterpreted this command to show that hurtful attitudes can be as destructive as pulling the trigger on a gun. He said that “ ‘anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment’ ” (Matthew 5:22). This doesn’t mean that Maurice and Bridget will never feel anger in their relationship, but they need to be careful of the words they use to express it. They should avoid using sarcasm and contempt. And they should always remember that words once spoken cannot be taken back.

7 Do not commit adultery

A commandment that is much more frequently violated is the one that says, “ ‘You shall not commit adultery’ ” (Exodus 20:14). However, there are more ways to commit adultery than Maurice taking another woman or Bridget another man. They are more likely to commit adultery with their (1) resources— spending money and time selfishly rather than corporately and cooperatively; (2) feelings—sharing intimate thoughts and feelings, concerns and hurts with someone of the opposite sex rather than their partner; and (3) pornography—looking lustfully through the Internet or other media (see Matthew 5:27, 28). All these things can kill a relationship just as surely as the physical act of sexual adultery.

8 Do not steal

In a marriage, what belongs to one belongs to the other, so it can be easy to think that the commandment, “ ‘You shall not steal’ ” (Exodus 20:15) does not apply. However, it is all a matter of respect. Maurice and Bridget need to ensure that they respect each other’s things, each other’s opinions, and each other’s space and time. Remember that although two have become one, they are still two, so they need to be respectful.

9 You shall be honest

The ninth commandment says, “ ‘You shall not give false testimony’ ” (Exodus 20:16), the flip side of which is, “You shall always tell the truth.” One of the foundations of a strong marriage is trust, for even the slightest mistrust will begin to erode love. And trust is built on the confidence both husband and wife have that what the other one says is always the truth. If either one has the slightest suspicion that their partner is being devious, trust will erode, and as trust erodes, so will love. The trust that Maurice and Bridget have in each other’s honesty is one of the most precious “commodities” they can possess as a couple, and they should guard it jealously!

10 Do not covet

The tenth commandment, “ ‘You shall not covet’ ” (Exodus 20:17), is perhaps the most important, for it has to do with how we think. This is most important because it is from our thinking that our actions and feelings come. How Maurice and Bridget think about themselves, about others, about the physical world around them, about their spirituality, about their philosophy of life, and so on will eventually be seen in what they say, do, and feel.

As Maurice and Bridget come to understand the level of intimacy between two people that a marriage can bring, it is likely that they will have greater insight into the type of relationship that God wants to have with them. While God on the one hand wants to have a relationship with everyone and offers His love freely to one and all, He also on the other hand wants a very personal relationship that is as intimate with you as a husband and wife are with each other.

Marriage and Family

by Rodney Woods
From the August 2009 Signs