The Marriage Commitment
By David Crank
VOWS FROM THE TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE CEREMONY
(FROM THE 1662 CHURCH OF ENGLAND BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER)
Marriage of M. to N.
Minister To Groom: M., Wilt thee have this Woman to thy wedded Wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thee love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and,
forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live? [The Man shall answer,] I will.
Minister to Bride: N., Wilt thee have this Man to thy wedded Husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thee obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live? [The Woman shall answer,] I will.
Groom: I M., take thee N., to my wedded Wife, 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 plight thee my troth.
Bride: I N. take thee M. to my wedded 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, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part,
according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.
Groom Giving The Ring: With this Ring I thee wed, with my Body I thee worship,
and with all my worldly goods I thee endow:
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen
Explanation of “plight” and “troth”: “Plight” here used means to pledge. “Troth” means a promise of truthfulness, and is derived from the same word as “truth”. "Plight thee my troth" - The groom pledges his truthfulness, faithfulness and loyalty to his promise. "Give thee my troth" -The bride likewise gives her word. Also note “betrothed” is “be” - “trothed” from the word “troth”, meaning promised or contracted to marry.
A BARNA research group (a Christian research organization) survey of 4,000 adults, released last year, found Christians slightly more likely to divorce than non-Christians. Specifically they found that 27% of born-again Christians have been divorced compared to 24% of others. Though the published study did not specify whether the divorces occurred prior to or after becoming a Christian, a spokesman was recorded as stating that about 90% occurred after becoming a Christian.
What is going on here? Are these statistics right? I know statistical studies are never perfect and sometimes their conclusions are absolutely false. There may be a problem with the sample size, with how the group was selected, with exactly what was or was not asked, with how the questions were asked, etc. So I would hesitate to put much faith in such results or apply them too broadly. Yet, these results seem so far from what we should be seeing among Christians. Divorce, at least among those couples where both are Christians, should be almost non-existent! Yet we have probably all heard of enough cases to prove that this is not so.
Some of the Problems
What is wrong here? Probably a great many things. Divorce did not become a significant problem in the United States until after the mid 1900s. Many things have changed which may be contributing to this problem.
The Impact of Dating. Inter-actions between young men and women have changed a lot since the 1800s. The role of parents, both in protecting their children from pre-marital intimacy and in influencing marriage decisions, is almost non-existent today. The majority of modern Christians follow modern dating practices, which are NOT known to result in excellent marriages. Consider how many young people enter marriage with a background of prior romantic relationships and even fornication. How many relationships are founded on selfishness, physical attraction and infatuation? How many marriages are entered into with serious misconceptions about the other person's character, beliefs, and values? Certainly many Christian marriages start badly because of these things.
Lack of Knowledge & Good Role Models. As the number of divorces has increased so dramatically in the last few generations, many children have grown up in single parent homes. Thus a much smaller percentage of young people marrying have had good marriage role models in their own parents. Also few have had much good teaching on Christian marriage.
The Ease and Acceptance of Divorce. In prior times divorce was only permitted when there was a serious cause and with significant proof. Divorce was not easy and those who divorced where strongly frowned upon. Divorce was considered to be much worse than living with a bad and difficult marriage. Now the laws make divorce very easy, encouraging couples to give up when problems are encountered. Divorce has become so widespread as to be readily accepted. There is now very little stigma to divorce, even among believers.
Working Women & Temptation. In the 1800s, even through most of the first half of the 1900s, most married women were in the home, not in the workplace. Since that time, the majority of women, even of married women, have come to work outside the home, usually right alongside of men. Married women working outside the home are more financially independent of their husbands. Though we usually think of financial independence as a good thing, in marriage it makes the wife less reluctant to leave her husband and removes the husband’s guilt over leaving his wife unsupported. The prevalence of women in the workplace, including married women, has brought more temptation to infidelity to both men and women. Work often brings men and women into close working relationships and friendships that exclude their spouses. This makes fertile ground for infatuations and relationships that result in adultery.
Cultural Influences. Today we live in a culture steeped in immorality, pornography, alcohol and drug abuse, and selfishness. The culture and its influences have strongly invaded Christian homes. It is no longer just through neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, and books, but now also through radio, TV, movies, and the internet. The godless culture around us has many new and highly effective tools with which to saturate us with temptations and godless influences. (Note: These same media can also be great blessings when used wisely and for God).
The Commitment Factor
Though all of the above factors have contributed to the divorce rate, there is yet another - a missing preventative factor. However much the above factors may predispose our society to an epidemic of divorces, such an epidemic can still be prevented if one key element is present. What element could this be? True commitment!
Our ancestors viewed marriage as a vow before God, a vow to be taken very seriously. To break a solemn vow before God was to invite divine punishment. Churches taught that God hated divorce and that marriage was meant to be for life. Churches, schools, and the leaders of society all stressed the importance of integrity and honor and of keeping your promises. Men and women of honor kept their promises, even to their own hurt.
What man could vow "until death do you part", divorce his wife, and still regard himself as a man of honor and integrity? However miserable his wife made him in his own home, yet he was bound by his oath ("in sickness or in health", etc.). How could he abandon his wife and children besides, and retain any self-esteem? What Christian man would want to face God with having broken such a solemn vow and deserted those he was bound to care for?
Should we not keep our vows? As modern Christians, should we regard marriage vows more lightly than our ancestors did? I think not! God does not base the marriage commitment on your feelings or on how well your partner treats you. You made a commitment - a vow - without conditions. You committed yourself to another's care whatever the circumstance or however things might change.
God does not mince words about divorce. In Malachi 2:14-16, God says He hates divorce, and speaks of those men who divorce as having dealt "treacherously" with their wives. How would you like to be described by God as being "treacherous"? In Matthew 5:32 and Luke 16:18, Jesus says that everyone who divorces his wife commits adultery and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (a single "exception clause" is provided in the Matthew passage - perhaps a topic for a future article). Jesus further explained that Moses only permitted divorce because of the hardness of men's hearts - divorce was NOT God's intention. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder!
A Word to the Husbands
Where are the men of character and integrity today? Where are those who will give their word and stand by it, even to their own hurt? What about you? Husbands, as God's appointed head of the family, you are expected to set the example for your wife and children. Are you a man who can be counted own? Do you keep your commitments?
You have vowed to love and care for your wife, whatever the situation, as long as you both shall live. Be true to your vow! Excuses, such as being unhappy in marriage, no longer feeling in love, not being loved by your wife, etc., don't cut it with God. Devote yourself to pleasing God in your role as a husband. Fulfill your responsibilities and with patience depend on God. Often this will transform your marriage in a way that brings glory to God. However, even if it does not, your obligation is the same. Your endurance and steadfast commitment to your vow will bring glory to God. Breaking your vow of marriage will bring dishonor on God's name, giving "occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (2 Samuel 12:14).
A Word To the Wives
Some of you face very hard circumstances. Some of your marriages are difficult, at best. Do you feel unloved by your husband? Have you been left lonely and unfulfilled? Have you suffered much neglect and even cruelty from your husband? Hold on to God. He sees your situation and He cares.
Be faithful to your vows, living with your husband as a godly wife, respecting and honoring him, remaining loyal to him even when he is not loyal to you. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve, whom you live to please. Fulfill your responsibilities as a woman of God, obeying all of the Bible's instructions concerning marriage.
Do not lose heart. Don't allow your emotions to take control and lead you to dishonor God by abandoning your marriage. I know there are some situations where true physical harm is threatened, when it may be wise for you to depart from your husband for a time - but with the hope that you may soon be able to return and resume your duties as a loyal wife. Do all that is within your power to stand by your vow.
A Word to Both Husbands and Wives
Duty comes before happiness. You have a duty to God and to your marriage partner. Honor God by doing what is right, whatever your spouse chooses to do. You are responsible to God for what you do. Leave your spouse in God's hands.
When a Christian is Married to a Non-Christian. Certainly if this was the situation at the time of marriage, you should never have consented to such a marriage. However once you are married, the commitment stands. The apostle Paul addressed this issue in 1 Corinthians 7:10-15. Even in such a situation, the Christian is commanded not to leave or divorce the non-Christian spouse. Your non-Christian spouse may be unwilling to remain with you. You are to be a good and faithful marriage partner, providing no reason for your non-Christian spouse to leave. Yet, if he or she determines to leave, Paul advises that you not resist the departure.
To Those Previously Divorced
I know some of you have been divorced, in some cases, not even of your own choosing. Often what has been done cannot now be undone. There have been remarriages or there is no real hope of any opportunity to reconcile. We all have done things that we cannot take back, and have all suffered things that were not our desire, but that we failed to prevent (perhaps we were even wholly unable to prevent them). Sometimes we can undo some of what was done and make some measure of amends. Other times, we must simply confess our sins and faults and go forward, resolved to do God's will henceforth.
Are You Having Problems? Are you wavering in commitment? Are you thinking that your marriage may have been a big mistake? Are you becoming friendly with a member of the opposite sex? Perhaps even attracted and a little infatuated? Have you "had it" with the way your spouse treats you? Or are you dying inside from loneliness, lack of love, affection, acceptance, respect, or understanding? Are you finding your mate to now be totally unattractive? Is your mate not meeting your basic needs and making no effort to do so?
Seek help for your marriage problems, first from God, and secondly from wise Christian counselors. Stay committed to your marriage and trust God to work. Put your duty to God and the interests of your children before your own happiness.
God did not promise that our lives would be easy and our circumstances always wonderful. Sometimes we must suffer for Christ, yet relying on Him, we can still give thanks in all things and rejoice always. Don't allow your commitment to your marriage to waiver. May you be found by God to be a faithful servant - one who will be more concerned about God's glory than his or her own happiness, and who will obey God and do his or her duty as a husband or wife, however difficult it may become.
An Unshakable Commitment. We should all enter into marriage taking our vows very seriously and seeking to please God with our marriage. Divorce should not be seen as a possible means of escape. No matter what the problems may be, or how bad the relationship may become, or how strongly you may be attracted to another - purpose that you will keep your commitment to a life-long marriage. You will not give up and will continue to work at your marriage, weathering whatever storms may come.
For the sake of God's name, your Christian testimony, your children, and to be a man or woman of honor and integrity, determine that you WILL keep this commitment and do all you can to please God with your marriage.
What sort of commitment should you make to your marriage? I would suggest one that includes the following elements:
1) You will not seek to escape from your marriage;
2) You will not look for another and you will run from any temptation towards infidelity. You will be very careful about any interactions with the opposite sex that could possibly lead you into temptation or provoke the jealousy of your spouse;
3) You will work at your marriage to make it as good as you can, for your children, for your wife and lastly for yourself.
4) You will not give up on your marriage, knowing God can change both you and your spouse.
5) If you do not feel love, you nevertheless, by conscious decision, will decide to love, whatever you may feel. Your actions and words will be loving.
6) You will confess past wrongs and work to make amends and to restore any broken parts of your marriage relationship.
Volume 3 Issue 3: May / June 2002, © Unless The Lord ... Magazine