Summary: "A threefold cord is not quickly broken" Ecclesiastes 4:12.
Theme: A cord of three strands
Text: Ecclesiastics 4:9-12; Matthew 19:1-9
Marriage should follow the same pattern that God Himself established at the dawn of human history at the marriage of Adam and Eve. In that marriage we can almost picture Eve coming to Adam on the arm of the Lord Himself. I do not believe that any human heart can ever imagine the depth of love and joy that filled God’s heart as He united the man and woman in this first marriage ceremony. It must have been a scene of such amazing intimacy - Intimacy first, between God and the couple, and second, intimacy between the man and the woman. This is the pattern that God has ordained to stand unchanged until human history reaches its consummation.
A successful marriage is not a matter of chance. There is a secret that ensures a successful marriage and Paul refers to this secret in Ephesians as a mystery. Paul’s use of the word ‘mystery’ to describe the marriage relationship suggests two things. First, that there is a form of knowledge which can make marriage what it ought to be and second, that a person can only acquire this knowledge by undergoing certain tests and meeting certain conditions. It is involving God in every aspect of the marriage and meeting His conditions. This is the secret that alone ensures the success of the marriage relationship. Once this secret is forgotten or ignored, marriage inevitably loses its sanctity and thereby its strength and stability. Jesus, in a conversation with the Pharisees in Matthew 19, stated that the form of marriage that had become accepted in Israel under Judaism was below the level of God’s standard. Under Judaism, the marriage relationship was viewed as being merely horizontal – between the man and the woman. But the marriage relationship established in the beginning had two dimensions – the horizontal and the vertical. Horizontally it related Adam and Eve to each other, and vertically it related the two of them together to God. In Ecclesiastics Solomon expresses in symbolic terms the difference between these two levels of marriage. Two are better than one, he states, and this agrees with the reason God gave for providing a mate for Adam, “it is not good for the man to be alone”. When two are together and one falls, the other can help him up. If two are together, they keep each other warm and if two are attacked, together they have a better chance of driving off the attacker. But better than two, according to Solomon, is a “cord of three strands”. In this case the strength of three together is far greater than two together.
Solomon’s first three examples of ‘two together’ illustrates the concept of marriage on the human plane. It relates to a horizontal relationship that is merely a relationship between the man and the woman. But Solomon’s fourth picture, the ‘cord of three strands’ illustrates marriage as it was conceived at creation. It is a binding together of three persons – the man, the woman and God. The relationship between the man and the woman alone is not enough to ensure a successful marriage. This relationship is still on the human plane. Adding God to the relationship introduces a completely new dimension to the relationship. God then becomes an integral part of the marriage relationship. The picture of ‘a cord of three strands’ does not merely illustrate the pattern of marriage established at creation; it also illustrates just as accurately the pattern of marriage for believers today – those who are united through their faith in Christ. The principle that binds them inseparably together is the marriage covenant, a covenant that you have entered into today. The Christian marriage as a threefold one can stand any strain. The strain may be so great that two of its strands begin to fray. But the third strand will always remain strong and hold out until the strain is eased and the two frayed strands bound up. When times of strain come up and both husband and wife begin to weaken and feel unable to hold out, God Himself, the third strand, holds on until the strain is eased and both husband and wife can be healed and restored. In the cord of three strands the principle that intertwines the strands and holds them together is the covenant. Clearly this makes the covenant an essential element of a successful marriage. Jesus Christ consistently upheld the plan of marriage initiated at creation by the Father. He refused to settle for anything less than the original purpose of God. Neither should we.
Beloved, you have just entered into a covenant that gives to marriage strength and stability not otherwise possible. It is a covenant initiated by God Himself, who defines the terms on which He is prepared to enter into this relationship. In God’s sight this act of making a covenant is no empty ritual. It is a solemn and sacred commitment. There is only one basis on which God makes a covenant – it is on the basis of a sacrifice. Without a sacrifice there can be no covenant and wherever there is a covenant there must be the shedding of blood. To enter into a permanent relationship with God, a covenant and a sacrifice is necessary. This is because the sacrifice symbolises the death of each party to the covenant. Each party is saying in effect that they have died with the sacrifice, which died in their place. Today you have entered into a marriage covenant. In this covenant you have renounced all rights to live for yourselves. Each one of you in effect has declared that the interests of the other party take precedence over your own interests. You can therefore no longer live for yourselves but for the other person.