The Marriage Vow
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“When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.” Ecclesiastes 5:4
“And now Lee, in the presence of God and these witnesses, do you take Debra as your wife in a life-long commitment, promising to love our Lord Jesus first and her always second, agreeing to love her with complete devotion and to promote her happiness and protect her until this union is dissolved by death?”
“And now Debra, in the presence of God and these witnesses, do you take Lee as your husband in a life-long commitment, promising to love our Lord Jesus first and him always second, agreeing to love him with complete devotion and to promote his happiness and protect him until this union is dissolved by death?”
“Will you take this ring Lee and place it upon Debra’s finger, and as you do, repeat to her, after me, these words: With this ring, I thee wed, and all my earthly goods I give to thee. In the presence of God, I commit only to you in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, till death do us part.”
“Will you Debra place this ring upon Lee’s finger, and as you do, repeat to him, after me, these words: With this ring, I thee wed, and all my earthly goods I give to thee. In the presence of God, I commit only to you in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, till death do us part.”
“And now, having pledged your love for and loyalty to each other, and having sealed the pledge before God with the marriage rings, I do, by the authority vested in me as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in conformity with the laws of the State of Texas, pronounce you husband and wife. ‘And what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.’ You may now kiss the bride.”
The first kiss as Mr. and Mrs. Lee Forrest Brinckley, the clapping of hands, the swelling of music as we head back down the aisle hand in hand, and all of the dreams that fill the hearts of newlyweds. Pledges have been made in the presence of God, and now is the beginning of two fleshes becoming one.
A pledge is a “promise or agreement” and it is something that the Lord commands that we honor. Most of us were so filled with excitement and nervousness on our wedding days that we could barely repeat the words without stumbling over them, however, even in the midst of all of the jubilee a contract was being written by the very hand of God. Ecclesiastes 5:4 tells us, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.” Verse six goes on to say, “Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, ‘My vow was a mistake.”
On the day that you pledge your love and life to your spouse, your vows most likely included the words, “in the presence of God” or something similar. In the romance and flutter of the day, our thoughts are generally consumed with the ideas of spending a life together. After all we are pledging our devotion to one another. But let me remind you that you are also making a commitment to the Lord to honor your vows “till death do us part.” God has no pleasure in those who make hasty vows or those who choose not to fulfill the ones they have made. Ecclesiastes also points out that there is no turning back. We cannot, ten years down the road, tell the Lord our marriage was simply a mistake therefore our vows should be nullified. It does not work that way. A vow is a vow. We are to keep our vows as they were made in the presence of a holy God.
Divorce is not a word that is even allowed to be uttered in our home. I know a couple who says the only “D-word” allowed in their home in regards to their union is death. I made a pledge to Lee to uphold our union until it was dissolved by death. Nowhere in the ceremony was there a listing of exceptions or of ways out for when I no longer felt like being married. We took the choice of who are spouses were going to be quite heavily because we understood that it was forever.
This is a soapbox that I could probably live on. It amazes me that one out of every two marriages in this country ends in divorce. What is even more incredible to me is that the statistic is no different among born-again believers in the Body of Christ. Where has our fear of the Lord gone? Where has our since of honor and obedience disappeared to?
I do not necessarily mean to take the love and romance out of marriage and reduce it to a technical contract. However, there will be days that there is no romance. There will be days that the “feelings of love” simply are not there. There will be many days in the course of a lifetime where all of the “feelings” that led us down the aisle seem to have vanished, and it is in those moments that we must hold fast to the vows we have made. We have a foundation to stand upon in our pledge to our spouses and to the Lord that is built upon the rock of commitment and not the sands of feelings.
“Till death do us” part is not the only thing that you vowed to your husband and to the Lord on that special day. Let us take a look at the other promises contained in the traditional wedding vows.
With this ring I thee wed… We do not live in a society where arranged marriages are the way in which spouses are chosen. We have a free will and must use our own judgment and wisdom in deciding whom we will bestow these vows upon. With these initial words, we are proclaiming to our husbands, “You are the one I have chosen. You are the one I am wedding today and committing to spend the rest of my life with. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5
…and all my earthly goods I give to thee. The old saying goes, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine”. We are committing to share all things equally with our spouse. There is no such thing as his money and her money, his car and her car, or his boat and her house within the context of marriage. The vow above does not say “the earthly goods which we earn together” or “the earthly goods that were meant for both of us”, but rather it says all my earthly goods. Having this mentality in a marriage would eliminate much of the competition and selfishness that drives many couples apart. We need to see the reality of our joining and the fact that we are no longer two separate people but one flesh, so that we will no longer draw lines down the middle of our lives and say, “Now this half is mine and the other half you can have access to.” “But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” 2 Corinthians 8:7
In the presence of God… This is not to be uttered lightly. The presence of God is a holy, awesome thing that deserves our fear and reverence. This is not simply acknowledging that God sees all, but rather a welcoming of the Lord in the place. He is not merely there, but rather invited. You have chosen to commit to your husband in the presence of God. “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.” Psalm 114:7
…I commit only to you… Only is defined as “and no other and no more; solely”. We have finished our search and found the one. This aspect of the vow not only eliminates divorce, but also eliminates adultery. We have committed ourselves to one man only for the rest of our lives. The Word of God is emphatic about fleeing from the sin of adultery. Much of the book of Proverbs is devoted to wisdom regarding how to stay away from the adulterous woman. Jesus elaborates on the definition of adultery in His Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27,28 Women do not typically struggle with lust in the sense of a man’s physical body. We are more apt to lust after their sensitivity, sense of humor, kindness or their attention. I believe that this verse applies to those areas as well. Lust is anything that is an “overmastering desire” in our lives. It is not limited to sex. Emotional adultery can be committed and can cause as much damage as sexual adultery. Plus, emotional adultery almost always leads down the path of sexual adultery. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually impure.” Hebrews 13:4
… in sickness and in health… Where would your marriage be if tomorrow your husband was in a terrible car wreck and left paralyzed for the rest of your life? Is your commitment to him strong enough to withstand such a test? Is your friendship strong enough that you would still be able to enjoy a fulfilling relationship? How about a much smaller example? How do you respond when your husband gets the flu? Many times we whine and complain because he is missing too many days of work or he cannot take us on the outing that we were promised a month ago. Yet, we committed to love him in sickness. We could take the opportunity to show him our love by making him a bowl of soup and letting him sleep with his head in our laps while we hold a cool cloth on his forehead. What about the other end of the spectrum? Are you the type of wife that loves to feel needed when your husband is sick, but when he is perfectly healthy your desire and willingness to serve him disappears? We pledged to be around during all of these times. “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.” Proverbs 31:11 (KJV)
…in poverty or in wealth… There will be years of drought and there will be years of abundance in our marriages. We need to realize that these financial ups and downs are a natural part of life. Our husbands carry a tremendous weight to do well and to provide for our families financially. He needs to know that your commitment to him is not based on the size of his paycheck. He needs to be able to trust that even if he is laid off from work, your marriage will still continue to stand. Many of us had very little when we began our journeys with our spouses. Yet quickly the accumulation of things begins to cloud the vow of “in poverty and in wealth”. Our desire for a certain level of financial status or more material possessions weighs heavily on the pledge. We need to learn to echo the words of Paul from Philippians, “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or living in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11b-13
…till death do us part. Death, not divorce, not lack of feelings, not discontentment, not a better offer, not boredom, but death is what ends a marriage in the eyes of our Lord.
The Real World…
There are no real practical ways for keeping a promise or fulfilling a vow. We simply must do it. It does not mean that it will always be easy or fun, but it just means that we do it anyway. I heard a teacher say once, “Commitment means sticking with something when it is easy, when it is hard, and when it is impossible.” We made a commitment to our husbands and to our God the day we stood on the altar and voiced our vows, now we need to keep that commitment. I keep a copy of the actual sheet that our minister used during our ceremony tucked in my Bible to mark Matthew 19:6 and remind me of all that I committed to the Lord and to Lee on that day. I want to leave you with some words that are strong, but words that are the heart cry of our God.
“You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his… So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as his garment,” says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself and do not break faith.”
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