Wedding day sermon
“So, what’s in it for me?” It’s a question worth asking about marriage, and not without reason. Just what is the promise of marriage?
- To the high school girl, it’s her wedding day, a white gown, four beautiful bridesmaids, candles, flowers, and a friend-filled reception.
- To the newlyweds, it’s shared vows, intimacy, friendship, and adventure.
- To the couple married 15 years, it’s children, companionship, and building.
- To those married 35 years, it’s watching grandchildren grow, the first signs of aging, and slowing down.
People change, situations differ, and dreams are shattered. But the same God who made marriage made it to endure the disappointments and predictable seasons of life that mark all good relationships. God can help us grow through the cycles of
- covenant making,
- disillusionment, and
- growing fulfilment.
Keep in mind, however, that the issue is not just what our Lord says about marriage. Solutions are found by discovering what He has said about basic issues of faith and character and then applying those perspectives to the seasons of marriage.
“What can I expect to get out of marriage? What’s the payoff for me? My hopes are high and my dreams are bright. But will they be realized?”
Let’s take a look at some of the more common expectations people have for marriage today. Then we will turn to the Bible to see what God expects of this relationship.
Our society, both religious and secular, has established expectations for the marriage relationship:
- Marriage will meet my needs.
- The need for affection and sexual intimacy.
- The need for companionship.
- The need for family.
- The need for conversation.
- The need for financial security.
- The need for social acceptance.
- The need to leave home.
Many of these expectations reflect reasonable and even God-given desires. The problem comes, however, when we pursue these desires with short-sighted strategies and motives.
Many enter into marriage expecting it to solve their problems. A daughter who cannot any longer tolerate the anger and coldness of her father or the criticism of her step-mother may get married merely to get out of the house. A son who feels that he isn’t respected by his parents may see marriage as a way of finding some of the personal affirmation he longs for. Yet all too often those who enter into marriage to solve their problems end up in the humiliation of a divorce court saying, “She [or he] just isn’t meeting my needs, your honour.”
Why don’t couples see this coming? Part of the answer is that many of them assume that . . .
- Marriage will change him/her. Many enter marriage with a predetermined idea of what they want their partner to become. They may disclose it a little before the wedding, but it becomes all too obvious soon enough. John, a student in seminary, was looking for his concept of an ideal pastor’s wife. He wanted a woman who would be an excellent hostess, who would promote him in every way, who could speak to women’s groups, who would be content to live in the parsonage next door to the church, who could live thriftily on a tight budget, who would produce two children on schedule (preferably a boy and a girl), and who would always be upbeat and happy.
It wasn’t long into his marriage before the trouble began. Becky was sometimes moody and sad. She wanted a little money to spend without having to account to him for every penny. She hated speaking to any group. The first baby didn’t come on schedule, and she was often ill. The more John pushed Becky to fill his expectations, the more she withdrew. She simply could not fit his ideal, no matter how much he pressured her.
To avoid such mistakes, some people try the opposite approach.
- Marriage can be as free as we let it be. Some enter marriage with another, more subtle expectation. They are generous in offering their partner a great deal of latitude and freedom–more than the partner is comfortable with. But at a high price. They want even more freedom for themselves. In return, they expect few demands to be made on them. It’s a live-and-let-live approach. “I won’t ask any questions, and I don’t expect you to ask any either.”
Such attitudes are quite different from . . .
REAL (GOD’S) EXPECTATIONS
Real expectations for marriage are apt to be different from our own.
- Marriage will enable us to serve someone else’s needs. As long as I am trying to solve my problems, I will have difficulty with this, as in a marriage relationship, it is no longer me but us.
That brings us to a second expectation. While we might enter into marriage hoping to change our partner, God’s expectation is that . . .
- Marriage will change us for the better. Marriage by its very nature demands our own spiritual growth. For us to live with and love someone else “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health” requires that we learn to put his or her interests ahead of our own. The closeness and responsibilities of marriage give us an ideal setting to help us learn the real meaning of love.
By its very nature, marriage demands commitment, risk, and unselfish investment. For a couple to achieve the unity and love and loyalty and blessing in their marriage, they must take giant strides of personal growth. They must learn how and when to abandon personal rights so they can experience the richness that comes when the true needs of others (not the selfish demands) are put before their own desires.
As a husband and wife learn to love in this way, they become a window through which others can see love. Friends, children, and extended family are given a chance to see the kind of faithful love, honesty, moral courage, true humility, incredible patience, and tender understanding in marriage. People will not see manipulative or fearful compliance that so often marks marriage. They will see honest caring and friendship.
This kind of love requires us to focus not primarily on our mate’s faults but on our own motives and actions. Such love, however, does not give us permission to assume, “If I don’t demand anything of you, then you won’t demand anything of me.”
- Marriage will place us under the mutual spirit of love. It is clear that when a man and woman join in marriage, they become one. And the controlling factor of their oneness is their mutual commitment to care for one another’s well-being for as long as they both live.
When we look at the original Greek word for love, it is the same word that is used for charity. When we look at the KJV of the popular 1 Cor 13, is says charity and not love. If we do charity work, we do it for free, without that person asking for it, or that person deserving it. So to show my love to my mate, I have to serve him or her with the best of my gifts without expecting anything in return, as that is love.
This commitment to love means that we must always be looking for positive ways to bring out the best in our mates. It also means that after dealing with our own faults and sins, we will find timely and sensitive ways to discourage significant faults in one another. Sometimes a friend must say things that will be painful to hear.
Love does not give us permission to nag, harp, or harshly criticize one another. But with love comes the responsibility to do everything possible to bring out the best in a mate rather than the worst. Love will not let us indulge the immorality or support the destructive addictions of our partner. Love is tough when circumstances call for it.
These expectations form a basis for the covenant that is at the heart of marriage.
When you stand here today to make solemn promises to each other before, family, and friends that you will “love, honour, and cherish” one another until “death us do part.” and by signing the marriage register, you enter into a covenant relationship that embodies all that was intended for marriage.
Exchanged vows also anticipate those times of married life that comes when we get more than we bargained for. The covenant anticipates those experiences of life in which marriage, with its unexpected twists and turns, reaches deeper, becomes more absorbing, and pulls more out of us than we ever anticipated. “Worse,” “poorer,” and “sickness,” do happen. And when they do, we can go back again and again to the promises we made to one another. There is no way out. It is done, it is final. You are authorising all the people here, to remind you of this covenant by asking them to share this day with you. Understanding what those vows mean will help us over and over again as we experience all that marriage is.
Characteristic 1 – A LIFETIME COMMITMENT
When a man and woman say, “I do,” they are vowing to each other before the everyone here that they will stay together until one of them dies.
The marriage vow is the verbal expression of a lifelong commitment made in the mind and heart. That’s the design. The richest fulfilment of the promise of marriage is anchored in that concept. When we say in the vow, “from this day forward,” we mean a lifetime. This promise is not made to be broken.
“How limiting!” some might say. Yes, such commitment is limiting. But it also sets a man or woman free to concentrate on the task of living out and adjusting and improving a loving relationship through the sincere give-and-take of life. Such a covenant allows husband and wife to give one another the gift of a vowed love–a lifetime promise–that will carry them through physical illness and divergent interests and job pressures and problems with teenagers and unbelievable stress in the relationship. So complex–yet so simple. “I made a promise, and with the help of God I intend to keep it. I’m a person of my word. I’m in this for life.”
Characteristic 2 – A SHARED IDENTITY
In the fulfilment of the marital covenant, two become one. The man no longer lives only for himself, nor the woman only for herself. A new unity, a new diversity, a new family is established. Both remain distinct persons.
You walk up the aisle a diversity–a man and woman apart. When you down this isle again, you travel down the aisle as one flesh–a shared identity. Different backgrounds, different families, different educations, different hurts, different habits–yet now, in covenant, you are one . . .
- When he is stationed in the Middle East and she must stay in New Jersey.
- When she is struggling through the first trimester of a difficult pregnancy.
- When he is told that his job has been phased out and she gets a promotion.
- When she contracts MS or he hears the words, “I’m sorry, but the cancer is inoperable.”
- When he must devote a lot of time and energy to caring for his aged parents.
- When their youngest child walks down the aisle to say her marriage vows.
Yes, the man and woman are one. These two unique people have promised to walk the pathway of life together as one in a new, shared identity.
Characteristic 3 – AN EXCLUSIVE RELATIONSHIP
The covenant relationship the man and woman enter when they say their vows calls for total faithfulness. Husband and wife are to love and be true to and cherish each other–exclusively! The man is to be true to his wife and she to him. No. exclusions.
Current social practices notwithstanding, the covenant of marriage is with one person only.
“I pledge you my faithfulness.” This is how we must love one another, with a vowed love that is not dependent on happiness nor any of the external hallmarks of success. Where is such love to begin if it does not begin with the one closest to us, the life partner whom we have chosen out of all the other people in the world as the apple of our eye?
From this commitment onward, the man and woman are expected to be true to each other. This is the expectation for marriage. And if you follow it, you will experience the wonderful promise of marriage. Because of this . . .
- We will concentrate our love on our mate.
- We will not be disloyal, even in little matters.
- We will not initiate nor encourage flirtations.
- We will flee temptation.
Oh, we will be tested. From within our own deceitful hearts, and from outside, will come urges to ignore that vow. The promise of marriage is built on a covenant, on the integrity of our word still being intact when one of us is called home.
Only by remaining true to our word, can we weather the next important phase of marriage . . .
This happens normally because of a number of factors:
THE CLOSENESS OF MARRIAGE
The very intimacy and shared identity of the marital relationship can cause disillusionment because that degree of closeness exposes our hearts. Unlike business relationships, where the roles are defined to allow for professional “distance,” marriage is designed for oneness. The man and woman soon know each other so very well. They share the pleasure of sex, the stages of pregnancy and childbirth, the excitement of purchasing a new home, the good news of his promotion or her opportunity. They work through health or parental or teenage or financial crises together. They become so close that they know how each other feels and what the other is thinking.
But this closeness has a dark side. They know the best and the worst about each other. His inattention and absorption with work frustrates her. Her refusal to listen and trust his judgment angers him. She knows which words will make him angry or humiliate him. He knows she’ll be hurt by his compulsive spending, but he does it anyway.
In the intimacy of marriage we show our selfishness, our impatience, our insensitivity, our anger. We become insulting, punitive, wounding. The closeness of marriage brings it out. It exposes us to our mate and, perhaps even more painfully, to ourselves. We begin to realize that our mate is not fulfilling our longings for security and affirmation and contentment. We feel betrayed. We trusted one another. Yet in unexpected ways marriage has exposed not only the faults of our mate but also of ourselves.
WRONG MOTIVES FOR MARRIAGE
All men and women, often without realizing it, enter marriage for some unhealthy reasons. Oh, they have a lot of right reasons–to find companionship, to have someone to love and care for, to enter a lifelong relationship, to honour the Lord. But as time goes by, it becomes obvious that even though “opposites attract,” this can become a source of frustrating opposition.
Wrong motives a person may carry into marriage are:
- To get strength to fight an addiction.
- To get away from a bad home situation.
- To get protection from a domineering parent.
- To promote a career.
- To find much-needed approval.
- To resolve unhealthy sexual issues.
Sooner or later, these underlying motives will show up. And when they do, they will lead to disillusionment that is also rooted in . . .
DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR IN MARRIAGE
Some of those sinful, destructive patterns may be:
- Nagging Criticism.
- Irritating Behaviours.
- Emotional Dishonesty.
Disillusionment appears in every marriage. It’s inevitable. To claim that it hasn’t or won’t happen to us is to deny reality. How we face it when it appears may be the most crucial element of our marriage.
How do we achieve Fulfilment in marriage?
The husband and wife can be one, yet also be true to the unique person you were made to be. The wife normally has multiple gifts, including good business sense. You as her husband should not be jealous of her gifts, nor deny her their use. Do not try to remake her into something she is not. This kind of interdependence does not come easy for a generation that has seen divorce become epidemic.
The interdependence of husbands and wives also has implications for their sexual relationship. When a man and woman marry, they have the right to expect sexual fulfilment from each other. If one partner decides to abstain for a time, they must mutually agree and keep the time brief. For such mutual pleasure, husbands and wives are to depend on one another.
Love is both a motive and an action. This brings us to 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter about love has no greater application than within the context of marriage. Verses 4-8 tell us what love does. As you read these verses, consider how they apply to your marriage.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
We might want to read this passage again. Where the word love appears, put in your name. Now ask yourself if this is how you treat your husband or your wife. This is what it means to love.
People who experience the joy of marriage for 20, 40, or 50 years without one “swallowing up” the other have learned how to work through the differences that lead to disillusionment and, perhaps, divorce. They are not merely “married to marriage” for the sake of marriage but because it is a fulfilling, rewarding, adventurous, loving relationship for both. They have stayed together in part because of a mutual willingness to talk, compromise, and work through their differences.