Wednesday, November 24, 2004

THE least-heard marriage truth

I've read a number of books, Christian and non-, on marriage. I've heard a number of the radio "experts," real and supposed. I've heard a sermon or two on marriage. But there's one truth I think I've only seen alluded to in one place, and that was in C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. (Even that was in a connection other than the one I'm about to develop.)

But this truth leaps out at one from Bible verse after Bible verse. You'd think it'd be the first thing Christian marriage counselors would talk about. Yet, as far as I know, it never even comes up. I certainly never recall reading it in Christian counseling manuals.

What is it? I'll give you a few hints:
If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. (Numbers 30:2)

"If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. 22But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth." (Deuteronomy 23:21-23)

I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. (Psalm 56:12)

For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name. (Psalm 61:4)

So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day (Psalm 61:8)

Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them; let all around him bring gifts to him who is to be feared (Psalm 76:11)

It is a snare to say rashly, "It is holy," and to reflect only after making vows. (Proverbs 20:25)

It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay (Ecclesiastes 5:5)
To that large (but not exhaustive) list, we could add our Lord's words that our "yes" should mean "yes" (Matthew 5:33-37), as well as his half-brother's echoing of that same thought (James 5:12) -- plus all the verses about not lying. For what is it to swear and not fulfill, but to lie?

What does this have to do with marriage?

Well, marriage is by its nature a vow, an oath, a covenant (Genesis 2:24; Proverbs 2:17; Malachi 2:14). But in addition to that, at least in our culture, we usually take on ourselves oaths, vows, as part of the marriage ceremony. Remember the traditional ones:

Ths husband is asked, "WILT thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?" He promises, before God and everyone, that he will.

The wife is asked, "WILT thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?"

The husband promises his wife, before God and everyone, "I N. take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth."

The wife promises her husband, before God and everyone, "I N. take thee N. to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth."

(Some might observe that many write their own vows today, rather than using these ones. In that case, if anything, the vows are all the more binding, unless they violate the Word of God.)

Note this about all those vows: not one of them is premised on the other's keeping his vows. In other words, it is not, "If you keep your promise, then I promise that I will...." The promises are unilateral, unconditional, and therefore binding as long as the marriage lasts.

All that to this simple observation: keep your vows. If you are not doing so, you are sinning, and must repent, find God's forgiveness -- and start keeping them.

Let me add this. Many are "counseling-happy" today. I'd suggest that anyone wanting marital counseling first take out his/her wedding vows, and ask himself before God, with brutal honesty, whether he/she has provided any legitimate basis for charging that he/she is failing to keep those vows. If the honest answer is "No," then counseling may be an option. If the answer is "Yes," then the only counseling he/she should seek is from his/her pastor, as to how to remedy this sin-pattern in his/her life.

And to Christian counselors, I would suggest this: what if you started with this? Start by meeting with each individual. Tell each to bring the wedding vows, for review. Go over them closely and Biblically. Deal with sin honestly and brutally.

Then see if there is still really any need for counseling.

DJP

UPDATE: I just read of a couple who is about to celebrate eighty years of married life. They don't claim to have a "secret" for a successful marriage. But the husband does offer this thought: "Just remember the promise you made when you got married," he says. Amen!

2 comments:

Miranda said...

Thank you for posting this--I ran across it tonight and it was exactly what God wanted me to read. Convicted to the core and so blessed to have God's forgiveness and grace to do what I know I'm supposed to.

Thanks again!

Sean said...

Is it wrong that I came to this post 5 years late?

You know, in a Jewish Wedding ceremony when the couple steps on the glass together?

Does this strike anyone else as ANE covenantal symbolism, that is, vowing before the Suzerain "If I break this covenant, may I be as this glass"?

Sean