By David C. Brand
“One man, one woman–,” the minister bellowed, “do not try to improve upon it!” A young man could hardly restrain himself: “Reverend, I have no intention of trying to improve upon it–I just want to get in on it! Can you help me?”
I,—–, take thee, ——-, to be my wedded wife/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 and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my trust.
In our wedding vows we acknowledge that marriage is “God’s holy ordinance.” What makes marriage holy? Marriage is holy because (1) God instituted it at creation to be foundational for human society; (2) God instituted it for a man and woman created in His image and likeness; (3) God designed marriage as the template for the relationship between Christ and His church; and (4) retrospectively, God instituted the church as the mirror of holy matrimony; and Christian marriage, based upon the apostle Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 5:22-33, best reflects God’s design. Marriage is a covenant, a sacred agreement between a man and a woman. Does this mean that if a husband and wife are not Christian, marriage in their case is not holy? Not necessarily!
Do wedding vows have to be exchanged in the presence of a clergyman in order to constitute a Christian marriage? Not necessarily. The pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation believed that since marriage was a civil institution applicable for all mankind, marital vows should be exchanged before the civil magistrate. This consists well with the fact that civil government was instituted by God.  The government has a legitimate interest in, and responsibility to safeguard and uphold, the institution of marriage which involves such critical things as procreation, and custody of children, as well as property ownership. The legal obligations associated with marriage help establish order in society. Until recently in the United States, the state issued a marriage license only for a man and woman to be legally united in marriage. That license had to be signed by a person legally authorized by the state to conduct marriages, as well as by witnesses of the actual wedding event. In order to officiate at weddings, an ordained Christian clergyman has to be licensed by the state and has to sign the official marriage license as an agent of the state.
When God instituted marriage at the time of creation, why did he institute it between a man and a woman? The short answer might be–if you are confined to an institution, you cannot beat marriage as God designed it! With human happiness in view, the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him. ”  And when the first man looked upon the first woman, his helpmeet, what did he say? Borrowing from the 1950s musician Buddy Holly, a free translation of the first man’s words might be “O Boy!” Genesis 1:27 makes it clear that man and woman share the divine image. 1 Corinthians 11:7 states that woman is, in the natural order of things, more particularly, the glory of the man. Husband and wife, male and female, accordingly, have a complementary, even symbiotic, relationship that is the basis for establishing a family biologically, socially, psychologically and spiritually. The wife flourishes in the special honor received from her husband as he affirms, safeguards, and defends her within the marriage, the home, the church, and society. Marriage is the institution God designed to populate the earth and to subdue it (Gen. 1:26-27). Children are best nurtured by a father and a mother within the marriage covenant.
Accordingly, a prospective husband and wife need to answer some questions. Will this marriage honor the Lord? Will this marriage help or hinder my relationship with, and my service to, the Lord Jesus Christ? Does this prospective marriage partner love the Lord? How is Christian maturity seen in this person’s life? Are this person’s finances in good order? Does this person demonstrate restraint, self-control, and good management? Does this person love children? What mutual short-term and long-term goals do we share? What do our parents think of this relationship and prospective marriage? Have we talked this over with a wise, mature Christian? Does this person’s moral value system, our relationship, or our plan violate any biblical principles? Are this person and I in agreement regarding the sanctity of the life? Do I already enjoy a mutual sharing of God’s Word with this person? The prophet Amos asked, “How can two walk together unless they be agreed?” (3:2) Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers”–this is a non-negotiable rule for a Christian contemplating marriage. “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? . . . Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?”  By violating this rule many Christians have opened the door for years of unnecessary heart-ache. The heart of marriage is covenant faithfulness–faithfulness to God and faithfulness to one another. “And thereto I pledge you my trust.” This marital pledge is before “God and these witnesses.”
If one is a Christian and not yet married, continue to honor and trust God to provide his best for you, whether as a single person or married. Not everyone is called to marry. One must not be pressured into marriage apart from God’s call. Many Christians, including the evangelist George Whitefield, and Christian author-educator, Henrietta Mears, have gone through life single and have had a wonderful, fulfilled life.
Paul warns us that those who marry will suffer tribulation in the flesh. Marriage is not entirely a bed of roses–there are some thorns with those roses. But praise God–marriage is God’s institution and a wonderful one at that. Without it, none of us would be here!
. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17
. Genesis 2:18
. 2 Cor. 6:14-18
About the Writer
David Clark Brand is a retired pastor and educator with missionary experience in Korea and Arizona. He and his wife reside in Ohio. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. With a B.A. in the Liberal Arts, an M. Div., and a Th.M. in Church History, Dave continues to enjoy study and writing. One of his books, a contextual study of the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards, was published by the American Academy of Religion via Scholars Press in Atlanta.
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