8. Natural Family Planning and Sex and the Marriage Covenant

The covenant theology of the marriage act is simple.  Any two people who are mentally and spiritually capable of committing themselves to marriage are also capable of understanding the covenant theology of sexuality and marriage. In fact, if a couple either cannot or will not understand or admit the elements or beliefs involved in this concept of marriage and sex, it is questionable whether their proposed union should be called a Christian marriage. What are these elements or beliefs?

1) God the Creator has created us, loves us and knows what is good for us.

2) God has created the human relationship of marriage and has told us that marriage lasts for a lifetime. In short, God’s creative love has determined the basic rules of marriage.

3) Christian marriage is a covenant, and that is much more than a contract. The whole purpose of human contracts is to spell out very definite limits to what is covered, and they can be changed by mutual consent. However, a covenant entails unlimited liability and promise. This has been traditionally stated in the marriage vows as “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, and for better and for worse.”

4) When you marry, you make no pledges about having romantic feelings toward your spouse, either always or occasionally. Rather, you are promising to exercise self-giving, caring love of the kind described by St. Paul in 1 Cor 13: “Love is patient and kind…”

5) Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be a sign of your marriage commitment, your pledge of self-giving, caring love for better and for worse. It symbolizes both the covenant relationship that God has created and your own personal entry into that covenant with each other and with God.

It needs to be said in connection with the fourth point that although one cannot pledge that he or she will always “feel” well disposed to the other spouse, each does have an obligation to invite and nourish such feelings as much as is reasonably possible. Indifference, not hate, is the common opposite of love within marriage, so each spouse is obliged not to be indifferent but to try to feel good about his or her spouse and to encourage such feelings in return by, for example, thoughtful anniversary and birthday gifts and by frequent compliments.

Each of the previous five points is basic for understanding Christian marriage and could be elaborated upon at length, but in their brevity everyone capable of entering marriage should easily grasp them.

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

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