The following material was adapted from Lasting Love by Alistair Begg (©1997). Published by Moody Publishers. www.MoodyPublishers.com. Used by permission.
The day is almost here. You’ve been planning and waiting for months. Those colors you chose came together nicely. The catering is finally all set (although maybe it was a bit pricier than you’d hoped). Guests have started sending back RSVPs. This is the day you and your future spouse have been waiting for. It seems there’s always more to do, and yet the details are coming together.
But what about your wedding vows?
All the planning and preparation can seem so urgent. Vows can seem like an afterthought. But don’t forget what matters most on your wedding day: you will enter into a covenant commitment, before God and the gathered witnesses, with the person God has given you to love for a lifetime.
Surely we want the ceremony and reception to go off without a hitch, and it will prove lovely when all the decorations and flowers and dresses and music and food fall into place. But the vows you pledge to your soon-to-be husband or wife will last well beyond the celebration of your ceremony and reception. The marriage itself is what matters, and strong vows testify to the solemnity of this most sacred union.
The Foundation for Marriage
Think about what will give your marriage deep roots for the future. Nowhere in the Bible do we discover romantic love as the foundation for marriage. This isn’t to say that romantic love isn’t important. But when marriages are built on emotional surges and physical attractions, they are wide open to the possibility of disintegration when warm feelings evaporate and bodies succumb to the ravaging effects of gravity. On the other hand, the likelihood of survival is markedly improved when marriages are grounded in friendship, companionship, and the awareness of an unending covenant—no matter what.
“What you promise to your spouse on your wedding day provides walls of protection when threatening emotional winds and waves begin to beat upon your relationship.”
Wedding vows are therefore very important. What you promise to your spouse provides walls of protection when threatening emotional winds and waves begin to beat upon your relationship. Scripture itself doesn’t prescribe a certain set of vows; however, the traditional vows have stood the test of time because they aptly summarize the commitment that is involved. They establish a foundation for your marriage that can withstand the tough times when feelings seem to fade.
Your Promise and Pledge
Remember that on this most special and sacred of days, you are entering into a covenant. That’s not to be taken lightly. You’ll want to ponder carefully the words you’ll soon pledge so that your resolve in answering the questions will match the gravity of the moment when it arrives. So in the paragraphs that follow, let’s look at the lines of the traditional vows, along with a little bit of commentary.
Will you have this person to be your lawfully wedded wife/husband?
God instituted marriage in the earliest days of humanity. According to Genesis 2:24, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The Lord Jesus Christ repeats this instruction in Matthew 19:6. So it’s clear that God’s plan is one of “leaving and cleaving.”
Marriage brings about a definite and significant change for both individuals. This change is certainly spiritual and emotional, but it is legal as well; that’s why we sometimes call marriage a “lawful union.” Perhaps your personality, vocation, and the like remain the same, but as you take your new husband or wife, everything changes. Lord willing, it will change for the better. But you can see that because of its divine origin, the marital union is not to be entered into lightly or carelessly.
Will you live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of marriage?
You want to make sure you know what you’re getting into. While marriage is a contract or agreement of sorts, we need to remember that God Himself sets its terms and conditions. A human contract may be terminated at any time for a variety of reasons. If marriage is approached with this same attitude, it hardly has a chance. Only the settled conviction that one’s obligation to a spouse is based on God’s ordinance will provide the necessary framework to work through difficulties without calling it quits.
In the event that you don’t feel like holding up your end of the bargain, there is no exit clause. There is no trial period that allows you to opt out of the relationship. You can see why what we pledge in our wedding ceremony is of utmost importance. We’re not just rehearsing our feelings to our would-be spouse. No, we are laying a rock-solid foundation for a lifelong, loving commitment to one another.
Will you love, honor, and keep the other person…
If we accept the viewpoint of one secular song, that love is simply a “secondhand emotion,” then we will constantly be in danger of throwing in the towel. But when love becomes a series of actions that fulfill our vows, we rise above the tyranny of the emotional ups and downs that inevitably come. Your wedding day and your honeymoon will provide a thrilling “up,” and it’s right and good to take that in and enjoy every moment. But there’s a reason we joke about the “honeymoon phase”: the thrill—or at least that same kind of thrill—doesn’t last forever.
Romantic feelings and emotions aren’t enough to sustain a marriage for the long haul. There will inevitably be times when the spark of romance just doesn’t quite light. That’s why we pledge and promise to love, honor, and keep one another. With God’s help, your covenant commitment—not some particularly warm romantic feeling—undergirds your marriage’s future.
The husband can honor his wife by considering her interests before his own and finding his greatest joy in seeing her blossom within marriage to the fullness of all that God intends. Similarly, the wife can honor her spouse by becoming, as Jay Adams once wrote, “husband-oriented” in all she does.1
Husbands and wives watch out for each other’s best interests and take responsibility for the other’s well-being. This is where we find the true beauty in a committed marriage relationship. The husband is for his wife; the wife is for her husband. In the words of Romans 12:10, the husband and wife “outdo one another in showing honor.” Now, God may indeed be pleased to grant a healthy measure of romance and fun throughout your years. But whether the feeling is always all there or not, you and your spouse stand on the firm ground of your vows to God and one another.
… in sickness and in health…
Not only do we all face the possibility of fading feelings, but we also never know what hardship we may encounter. I have a friend who lost his young wife to brain cancer following a prolonged illness. In caring for her and his young children, he has been a striking model of faithfulness to his marriage vows through God’s enabling power. Another of my friends from college has been in a wheelchair and dependent on the loving faithfulness of his wife for a number of years.
On your wedding day, trials like these may seem unthinkable. And yet we simply cannot predict what will come. The uncertainty of our health is another reason it’s worth reiterating that feelings, attraction, romance, and sex cannot be enough to sustain a union. You need a better foundation. You need a pledge, a promise, a covenant commitment to keep you in and through sickness—and every other trial and trouble, for that matter!
… and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him/her…
In Ephesians 5:31–32, the apostle Paul repeats the words we heard from Moses in Genesis 2 and Jesus in Matthew 19: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” This likening of marriage to Christ and His bride, the church, is perhaps the most forceful weapon in your arsenal against adultery. We can and ought to heed the simple command “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). But the imagery of Christ and His bride adds weight to the prohibition.
Will Christ ever tire of His bride? Will He cast her aside and leave her for another? Could He one day decide He simply doesn’t “feel” like upholding His end of the covenant? The answer, of course, is no, never, unthinkable! Adultery should feel just as inconceivable to us in our own marriages.
… so long as you both shall live?
Your wedding day is a beginning, so you may not have the end in mind. But marriage is indeed a life-and-death issue. It is a lifelong commitment that is only to be ended by death.
God has declared marriage an indissoluble union. Marriage is not a contract of temporary convenience that can be tossed aside at will. Divorce breaks a seal that has been engraved by the very hand of God. The commitment to marriage by a man and a woman is for life, underwritten by God. The bottom line is this: do not get divorced. Do not entertain it as a possibility. When marriage partners find themselves in difficulty, it is imperative that they commit themselves to the marriage in the firm belief that God is able to rekindle, restore, and renew.
First Corinthians 7 permits divorce on account of a spouse’s marital unfaithfulness or a nonbelieving spouse’s desertion. But even so, the fact that an individual may get divorced due to these biblical exceptions doesn’t mean he or she should. Far better and more desirable is the route of repentance and reconciliation, although this option is hard after one has been betrayed by a spouse. Yet by God’s grace all things are possible—even reconciliation.
Love for a Lifetime
Hopefully you can see why your vows matter so much, why they are so crucial to the covenant commitment. They aren’t some sort of magical incantation that will guard you from every failure. But the commitment that traditional vows portray and represent is worth honoring with these time-tested words.
Lord willing, your vows will begin a fruitful, lifelong, loving journey with your closest companion, who is the greatest gift God could ever bestow upon you apart from Himself. Hardship will happen. Trials will come. But you stand on a covenant foundation that’s greater than the troubles and more significant than feelings that come and go.
On your wedding day, make what you say count for a lifetime—till death do you part.
1 Jay E. Adams, Solving Marriage Problems (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 32.