Before we discuss marriage vows let us first take a look at marriage. Marriage is a covenant or a binding agreement between a man and a woman where they commit to love and live with each other. It is a covenant that is made before God and people. It is therefore a sacred and legal institution and is to be both monogamous and permanent. According to the Bible, the first marriage occurred between Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The seriousness of that relationship is evidenced in Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (NIV).”
The above represents God’s ideal but society clearly demonstrates that there is often a discrepancy between God’s ideal and reality. Divorce and strained relationships characterize many marriages today. What was meant to be an intimate and fulfilling relationship has become something of a horror story for a number of people.
I want to identify some of the factors that contribute to this problem. Human nature tends not to be altruistic and it is not long before selfishness surfaces in marriage. One person or both become motivated by self-interests and the relationship suffers accordingly. Some individuals come into marriage with idealistic and unrealistic expectations. Sooner than later they realize that their picture of perfection is anything but. A chief problem is lack of commitment. Marriage, in order to survive and do well, needs two individuals that are committed to each other in spite of internal and external factors.
We are products of our society and diminishing value is placed on keeping one’s word and truth. Additionally, our society has an over-preoccupation with sex and pleasure. Both women and men are victims of this outlook but perhaps the greatest damage is done to women who really are looking for emotional intimacy but instead are treated as sexual objects. The pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification (as opposed to delayed gratification) often leads to a lack of responsibility. As a Christian and a pastor, my biggest concern is the lack of reverence for God. Sadly, some Christians who made a covenant before God are willing to discard that covenant when the marriage experiences difficulties.
For some people, the solution is not to get married at all. However, marriage is a beautiful institution established by God that can result in personal and emotional fulfillment. I have been married for just over twelve years and my life is richer for the experience. In fact, the only decision that has been more important than getting married has been accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. Although some marriages end in divorce, the good news is that most marriages can be restored. Ruined marriages have negative impacts on children, family, friends, finances and on other things. Those who think that leaving a husband/wife for another person is rewarding need to consider that the failure rate for second marriages is higher than for first marriages and third time marriages are even worse.
There can be variety in the marriage vows and some people even make up their own. Traditional vows typically include words like love, honor, cherish, protect, forsaking all others, holding only to her, to have and to hold in sickness and in health for richer or poorer. Such words are powerful if we are prepared to live them out. The marriage vows, therefore, are not trivial words recited in a ceremony but should be a philosophy that governs the marriage.
Marriage involves love. Love is a commitment to another person. It is a decision to care for someone else. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 gives characteristics of love which include patience, kindness, selflessness, forgiveness, truth, trust and perseverance. Love is also an emotion. People talk about being in love and there is a certain euphoria attached to that statement.
However, true love is to be distinguished from lust and infatuation. Lust is when the primary motivation for the relationship is sex. Many newly weds can attest that sex is a big part of the relationship. Sex alone cannot produce a committed and balanced relationship. Infatuation is that in love experience that drives people to do all kinds of crazy things in marriage. It typically lasts for about two years. The couple must then decide if to break up or to allow true love to grow and blossom. Both lust and infatuation are selfish behaviors that actually prevent healthy relationships from developing.
Marriage also requires us to honor our spouse. We are to treat him or her with respect and not be rude or demeaning. The Bible encourages Christians to honor others above themselves, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NIV). Synonyms for the word cherish include treasure, appreciate and take pleasure in. Our spouse has value. Apart from God, my wife is the most important person to me. She came before my children and unless death occurs, she will be there after the children have moved out of the house. The Bible says that we are one flesh which prompted the apostle Paul to write, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28).
We have a responsibility to protect our spouse from every form of attack whether physical, verbal or otherwise. In history, and I’m by no means defending this, men dueled to defend the honor of a wife. Jesus described the greatest love of all where a person is willing to sacrifice his life for another as He did on the cross for man’s redemption (John 15:13). Although we typically think of men as the protectors, some women can be fierce protectors. It is an insult to your marriage vows when for example you allow your parents to verbally humiliate your spouse.
In our overly sexualized culture, having multiple partners is nothing big. Even in an age of HIV/AIDS, such behavior is still prevalent. It is even possible to have secret affairs via internet chat rooms and pornographic websites. There are also affairs that don’t fit the typical mould such as emotional affairs that stop just short of physical intimacy. Marriage vows require that we forsake all others and be committed to our spouse in body and soul. Jesus raised the ante when He said, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NIV). We are to forsake all others and hold only to her or to him. Very few things are as beautiful as the marriage of childhood sweethearts.
The marriage vows call for commitment in spite of negative or positive circumstances. It’s easy to remain married when things are going well but how do we respond when problems surface. Do we pull away from our spouse? Do we head to the lawyer, cursing saying that he/she is not going to get a cent of my money, the property or the children? It is the ability to overcome challenges that make us better people and strengthens our marriage.
Marital vows have no magical quality. Without commitment on the part of both persons, they can easily become meaningless rhetoric. I want to challenge you to honor your marriage vows. Keep these points in mind. Recognize that neither you nor your spouse is perfect. In light of this, learn to forgive your spouse when he or she makes a mistake or does something to hurt you. Remember to appreciate your spouse. There was a reason why you chose to marry this particular person. Generally, you have a good man or a good woman. If you can fall out of love, you can also fall back in. Love is not simply about feeling but is definitely about commitment. Determine that you will love and be faithful to your spouse until you die. Discard the word divorce from your personal dictionary. It is not an option; many times it is just a cop out.
Go over your vows with your spouse or choose a fresh set of vows if you can’t remember what the original ones were. Write them down, laminate them, frame them, put them somewhere visible to remind you of the seriousness of your commitment. Along with this, it would be good to renew your vows. This is like getting married all over again except to the same person. I would even encourage you to have a honeymoon after the renewal. Keep passion and romance alive. Leave the kids at home or with a babysitter and have a date night. Additionally, keep things sizzling in the bedroom. I remember an anecdote where a child asked her grandmother how old do you have to be to stop having sex. The grandmother told her, “Child, you going to have to ask somebody older because I’m not there yet.”
Take immediate steps to save your marriage if problems are developing. Talk to a pastor/priest, counselor, a trusted friend or someone that is in a position to listen to you and offer good advice. The danger is when you wait too late. You see symptoms but you do nothing to remedy the sickness that is destroying your marriage. Also, take a look at yourself. The problem isn’t just the other person. Learn to talk about everything. The three main problems in marriage are communication, sex and money.
As a Christian and a pastor, I want to encourage you to invite the Lord Jesus Christ into your marriage. God was the one who instituted marriage and He is able to strengthen and preserve yours. Marriage vows are serious. To violate them is to violate a covenant before God and man and with your spouse. I pray that this article will challenge you to rethink and recommit to your vows.