"I, John take thee Mary to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till in death we part, and with this ring I thee wed, and with my body I thee honor, and pledge my faithfulness."
Every day thousands of couples stand before a preacher, a judge or some justice of the peace and exchange wedding vows. On many occasions I have watched a groom nervously fidget with his tie as the music played and as he waited for the love of his life to make her appearance and be escorted down the aisle by her father. When the music changed to the wedding processional, the entire audience stood and watched a beautiful young woman walk down the aisle. There, in the presence of God and their witnesses another young couple exchanged vows and were bound together in marriage.
Many of these couples will break their vows within a matter of weeks (if not days). Some couples do not take their vows seriously and thus pay little attention to the words they speak at their wedding. Recently I had a man ask me for a copy of the wedding vows -- he said he was so nervous when he got married he couldn't recall exactly what he had promised to do!
There is no legal requirement that vows actually be exchanged in a wedding ceremony. I always have couples repeat their vows -- not only for the benefit of the audience, but also for their own benefit. It might very well be that some people do not keep their vows simply because they did not understand what they were promising to do.
In this article I would like to examine the vows preachers usually have couples exchange on the day of their wedding.
This is recognition of the fact that you are not going to be just "living together," but that you are entering into a contract -- a covenant relationship. Those in the days of Malachi forgot that the Lord had been a "witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant" (Mal. 2:14).
Solomon, Israel's wise king, warned his son about the immoral woman "who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God" (Prov. 2:17).
So holy is the marriage relationship that Paul could only liken it to the relationship of Christ and His church (Eph. 5:22-31).
When a couple gets married they are giving their word -- their sacred honor -- that they will keep the promises they make on that day. These vows should be sacred to them, for they are sacred to God.
This part of the vow speaks of companionship. Sometimes young people get married and want to keep on acting like they are single so they can hang out with their friends. When you get married your closest companion is to be your spouse. Many young people do not know this, for they did not see it in the homes they grew up in -- their parents were strangers to each other.
One of the greatest things you can do for your children is to make sure they know that their parents are still madly in love with each other.
Old television programs, like the Dick Van Dyke Show, used to show married couples sleeping in separate beds -- that is not a healthy picture of a good marriage. Children need to see that daddy came home from work and pinched mommy and mommy liked it! They need to see their parents hold hands in the mall and give tokens of affections to one another like cards and flowers. It affirms to the child that they live in a stable home.
Here you are vowing to love and honor each other regardless of whether you live in a million-dollar mansion or a rented apartment.
Financial problems are a leading cause of divorce in this country -- many of the problems start before the wedding day. A lot of young girls (who think they are grown women) marry some young man who doesn't have a great future -- then they expect him to furnish a home like their parents had -- even though it took their parents 25 years of hard work to acquire what they have.
Some young men think they have to have the hottest, fastest car in order to attract a young woman -- they usually end up with someone who is a lot more interested in possessions than in him.
I don't care how healthy you are now, but if you don't die in an auto accident you are probably going to get sick before you die. A very large percentage of men will suffer from a short-term disability sometime before they are fifty years of age. And even if you don't get really sick, you are going to get old!
I once heard a woman who was suffering from a disability say, "I wish my husband would just divorce me so he could get on with his life." What she didn't realize was that her disability was a part of her husband's life -- he vowed before God that he would stay with her "in sickness and in health."
In the Bible the word "love" is not spoken of as an emotion, but rather, it is an action. This is why love can be commanded. Paul spoke of how Christ "loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). I might not have warm feelings toward my enemies, but I am still commanded to love them (Matt. 5:44). My next door neighbor might be a real jerk, but I am commanded to love him as myself (Matt. 22:39). My wife might treat me bad and I might feel sorry for myself, but I am commanded to love her as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25) and she is commanded to love me (Titus 2:4). In the New Testament "love" means to "seek the highest good" of another person.
Men often fail to keep the vow they made to "cherish" their wife. When they were dating he always looked his best, sent flowers, cards or other tokens of affection and spoke tenderly to his beloved. Why stop this "cherishing" of your spouse just because you got married?
When the Lord made Eve He did not just make a copy of Adam who was capable of bearing children. The difference between husbands and wives involves a lot more than the reproductive system. Husbands are commanded "dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7). Part of dwelling with them "with understanding" involves realizing that, generally speaking, women are more in touch with their emotions than men are. Husbands should not resent this -- they should rejoice in it!
Marriage is a lifelong contract. In marriage, we are "bound by the law" to our spouse as long as they live (cf. Romans 7:1-3).
Divorces are too easy to get in this country. At every wedding ceremony I preach I remind the couple before me that Malachi said "God hates divorce" (Mal. 2:16).
I remind young couples that when trouble comes in their marriage, as it often does, divorce is not an option for either one of them. It is possible that one day their friends might encourage them to get a divorce. Their friends and relatives might forget the vows they took on that day, but God will not!
For centuries the wedding ring has been the emblem of eternity -- symbolizing the lifelong commitment made on the day of one's wedding. The ring is a token to remind the individual that they are married, and to signal other folks to stay clear!
In the wedding ceremony I usually tell the couple before me to "Let it serve as a reminder of the covenant you made this day before God and these witnesses."
The Bible teaches that we are to honor our spouse with our bodies. The apostle Paul told the Hebrew brethren that "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Heb. 13:4).
In marriage God has given instructions concerning sexual intercourse. Paul wrote, "Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (1 Cor. 7:3-5). According to this passage, the rights of a wife are equal to that of her husband in the marital bed. Abstaining from sexual intercourse is only permissible when it is by mutual consent and for a short period of time when they are both given unto prayer and fasting. Sex is not to be used as a bartering chip in marriage!
Through inspiration Solomon told his son to find sexual fulfillment within marriage. "Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well. Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be only your own, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love. For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, and be embraced in the arms of a seductress?" (Prov. 5:15-20).
Jesus taught that it is possible for one to "cause" their spouse to commit adultery (Matt. 5:32). If a person refuses to honor their spouse with their own body they can cause their marriage partner to commit adultery -- in this case both parties have sinned and stand guilty before God of breaking their wedding vows.
So serious is the marriage covenant that God has only allowed one reason for a person to divorce their spouse and marry another, i.e., sexual immorality (Matt. 19:9).
The book of Proverbs speaks at great length about the necessity of sexual fidelity. "For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life, to keep you from the evil woman, from the flattering tongue of a seductress. Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, nor let her allure you with her eyelids. For by means of a harlot a man is reduced to a crust of bread; and an adulteress will prey upon his precious life. Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared? So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent. People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving. Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold; he may have to give up all the substance of his house. Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; he who does so destroys his own soul. Wounds and dishonor he will get, and his reproach will not be wiped away. For jealousy is a husband's fury; therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will accept no recompense, nor will he be appeased though you give many gifts." (Proverbs 6:23-35).
If you have taken wedding vows then you need to continue to take them seriously. If you are having problems in your marriage don't think that they will get better by leaving the Lord. Your marriage will be enriched and your home blessed only as you both walk with the Lord.
A wedding vow is not the only life-altering vow you can make -- you can become a Christian and dedicate your life in service to your King. Serve the Lord and honor Him all the days of your life!