Saying What You Mean, and Meaning What You Say
A few days I got to do one of my favorite things in the world – officiate a wedding for two friends who both love Jesus. As I sat at my computer working on the wedding message, the vows this couple shared with each other blew me away. I know I’m an emotional guy, but wedding vows never affected me like the promises this couple made to each other. I’ve used these vows before in prior weddings, but for some reason, this time, they floored me.
I love what Tim Keller says about wedding vows in his outstanding book, The Meaning of Marriage. Keller writes,
“Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now — that can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances.”
Loving your spouse on your wedding day is easy. You both look good, and a bunch of people come together to celebrate you and all that God desires in marriage. You walk away with a bunch of gifts and money, and you get to enjoy sexual intimacy as God intends. What’s not to love?
If you’re married, however, you know the challenge comes the next day. You realize that even though you’re saved by the blood of Christ and sealed by the Spirit, you’re one sinner married to another sinner. You’re stuck in a broken world, and still often ruled and controlled by your selfish desires.
In your vows, you commit to be loving, faithful, and true regardless of how you feel or the circumstances around you. You promise and vow to remain committed in the future, to love without condition, and to provide safety and security in a world that tries to tear you apart and an enemy that seeks to steal, kill, destroy, and devour (John 10:10, 1 Peter 5:8).
Sometimes we need a reminder and some encouragement to keep going even when the going gets tough. Below I share the vows my friends Justin and Summer made to each other on July 1, 2017. Read through their vows, which are followed by a few of my comments.
- If you’re married, I challenge you to read through the vows and evaluate how you’re doing. But don’t just read and evaluate: share with your spouse how you’re doing. Ask them how they think you’re doing at keeping your wedding vows. It would be great if they’d ask you to do the same for them.
- If you’re single and want to get married, don’t marry someone until you’re ready to keep these promises. And, please don’t marry someone unless you believe they’re capable of fulfilling those same vows.
- And for all of us, encourage your married friends and family to fulfill the vows and promises they made to each other.
I, Justin, created in God’s image solely for His glory, saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, promise to love you, Summer, not only with words, but with actions and truth so that God’s love is brought to full expression through us. I promise to be considerate and treat you with respect, to feed, care for, and manage our family well. Not to be harsh, quick-tempered, or overbearing. I will keep myself only unto you. I will put God first and you second, striving to love you better each day as your husband and your best friend. As Christ taught us to love by laying down His life, I too will gladly lay down my life to protect you. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely if anything but death separates us.
I, Summer, created in God’s image solely for His glory saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ promise to love you, Justin, not only with words, but with actions and trust so that God’s love is brought to full expression through us. I promise to submit to you as you submit to Christ, to bring you good, not harm, to honor you with the dignity and reverence of my life keeping myself only unto you. I will put God first and you second, serving alongside you as your helper. I will strive to love you better each day as your wife and your best friend. Where you go, I will go, and your God will be my God. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely if anything but death separates us.
When I read through these yet again, there’s so much I want to say to you and me. But, instead, I’ll share a few highlights, comments, and questions:
1. Words are easy to say, but are they backed up with actions and truth? I’m studying the book of James right now, and over and over throughout the book, the reader is challenged to back up his professed faith with a lifestyle that is consistent with the profession. Words are cheap unless they’re backed up with action. Don’t be like the person in James 1:22-25 who looks in a mirror and walks away and forgets what he looks like. Rather, be someone who backs up his words with action.
Question: Do your actions line up with your words?
2. The roles and promises are different for the husband and wife. This comes directly from Ephesians 5:21-33. The husband leads and lays down his life to love and protect his wife. She submits to him, as he submits to Christ. A right understanding of marriage follows a right expression of God’s designed roles in marriage. Both are Christlike, and both the man and woman possess equal worth and value (Galatians 3:28). But, God designed marriage for the husband to lead and for the wife to submit to his leadership as he submits to Christ.
Question: Do you embrace and live out your God-given role in marriage?
3. They keep their priorities in the right place. Notice how both the husband and wife commit to putting God first and their spouse second. Any time we mess this up, we walk away from God’s design and His best for marriage. Anytime we worship our spouse or think they’ll complete us, we miss out. Whenever we place a child above our spouse, we get the order wrong. God first, spouse second, children third, and all else after that. Work, community, friendships all follow after God, spouse, and child(ren).
Question: How are you doing in keeping your relationships in the right order?
4. They respect the significance of the marriage covenant and ask The Lord to deal with them severely if anything but death separates them. In other words, if this couple chooses to divorce each other, then they’re asking God to hold them accountable and to deal with them severely. This is BOLD. You don’t make this claim or this ask unless you realize, as best as our finite brains can comprehend, the significance of the marriage commitment and the nature of the marriage covenant.
Question: What’s the nature of your marriage commitment? Do you keep your marriage conditional upon your behavior and your spouse’s behavior, or do you see your marriage as an unbreakable, unconditional covenant?
5. Remember, none of this is possible without the grace of God, received through faith in Jesus Christ. This is not about anything you and I have done, but it’s only possible because of what He’s done on our behalf through God’s only Son, Jesus.
Question: Have you taken time today to thank God for His love for you, best expressed through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son Jesus?
- Do you say what you mean, and mean what you say?
- Look up those wedding vows you shared and discuss with your spouse. How are you doing?
Photo Credit: Anne Edgar, Unsplash Anne Edgar
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