A Response to a Question Asked Via E-mail
Question: I have a question. I have just been thinking about it. Now since my fiancé and I have already made a commitment to each other before God, to devote ourselves to each other till death do us part, what difference would a marriage (wedding) make? Is it only a public statement of our devotion? Is it following biblical command? What else is it?
Answer: The marriage relationship of all couples comes under a lot of fire and strain with time. This is why there are so many divorces. So society and God have devised ways to affirm its permanence and the responsibilities that go with it. There are some very strong and binding vows that are made at the wedding service. They are made before God, and the covenant of marriage is a three-fold bond; with God, the bride and the bridegroom as the participants. At any time prior to making these vows and covenant before God and the people of God, you can move out of the relationship. But once they are made the relationship is a permanent one.
It is sad that people today, perhaps knowing the responsibilities that go with a permanently binding tie, do not go to marriage but live together. Many people now have children and have been together for a long time without ever getting married. This is a precarious way to live, because there is always the option of stepping out of the relationship.
Contemporary culture is gradually moving out of holding to lifelong commitments. This is partly because it has downplayed the value of making covenants. Christianity is a religion of covenants. A covenant is a solemn public act made with witnesses (God’s people) and with the leader of God’s people that we are going to follow God or, in the case of a wedding, to be tied to one’s spouse, under God, in marriage. When you downplay the value of covenants, feelings are allowed to rule in relationships. And in the field of love feelings are notoriously difficult to understand. Feelings are never enough to sustain relationships on the long term. This is a huge challenge in this postmodern generation which gives a very high place to feelings and instincts, sometimes at the cost of binding commitments.
So God has put in place sacraments of covenant-related events to help burn into our minds the seriousness of the commitments we make, and to help us persevere during bleak times when the relationship comes under strain. Examples of such covenants are baptism, Holy Communion and the marriage ceremony.
There is a lot of security that comes within a covenant relationship. You have made a commitment under God to stick to the person “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and health; did death us do part.” God has set his seal on this relationship. He is committed to seeing you through. Then divorce is not an option. Instead you have the courage to face the problems and work for a solution knowing that God is bigger than the problem and that he is committed to helping find a solution to it. This gives a great freedom to the relationship. In the midst of the huge problems the couple face, they can affirm that God is committed to seeing them through. This helps them to think positively about their marriage despite the problems they face.
This positive attitude of security becomes the foundation for joy in the family. And joy is the greatest wealth that a family can have. Research has shown that married couples enjoy their sexual relationship more than cohabiting couples. This is because God created sex to be enjoyed within the context of a permanent relationship of people united in body, mind and spirit. When you have such a relationship you are free to give your whole being to your spouse. The result of such total self-giving is the freedom to fully enjoy each other sexually.
Of course, there are exceptional cases when people are so stubborn and refuse to turn from their wicked ways when divorce may be a last resort. But I believe that these days people are opting for this far too soon. They are ignoring the fact that they have made a vow before God to stick to their spouse for better, for worse. That awareness would make them patiently battle for a resolution to the problems. A suffering spouse would persevere in prayer over an errant spouse longing for God to do a miracle and change him or her. The history of the church is full of stories of such change taking place.
As people are taking the marriage tie too lightly, these days it is very important to emphasise the seriousness of vows made before God. There is so much attention given these days to the clothes, the decorations, the music and the sermon in a wedding service, that few people view the covenant vows as the most important part of the wedding. God comes to the wedding make a covenant at the service and I fear he is ignored as we enjoy the clothes, the decorations, the music and the preaching. Indeed the music and the sermon are intended to honour God, and that is very important. But these are not the key to the wedding service. The covenant and the vows are the key.
So the wedding is a very important occasion created by God to affirm the seriousness of the marriage commitment and to give occasion for a covenant to be made with the accompanying binding vows. Events like the wedding service contribute to making our society the stable, secure and healthy place that God intends for it to be.