We would be focusing our attention on marriage in this article. There is so much that can be said about marriage that we certainly are not able to cover the subject comprehensively in the little space we have here. What I intend to do is to discuss some of the key ‘practical’ aspects of marriage. But we must remember that all ‘practice’ is, and ought to be, founded upon doctrinal principles. Read thoughtfully and may the Lord use this reading to help you to be more prepared for the lifelong commitment of marriage.
I would like to begin from the subject of the wedding. The culmination of courtship is marriage. As a couple grows closer to each other through courtship, there comes a time when they decide to join together in marriage. Marriage ought not to be entered into lightly, but to be decided upon only after the couple has sought and discerned the Lord’s will through earnest prayer, individually as well as together. It must be entered upon only after honest soul-searching and serious consideration, for it affects not just one, but two persons’ lives radically; and not for only a period of time, but a lifetime. It is undoubtedly one of the most significant decisions that any person will ever make in his entire life.
When a courting or engaged couple talks about marriage, almost the first thing that comes into their minds is the wedding day. It is my observation that whenever a couple tells anyone that they are getting married, almost the next question that they are asked (after receiving congratulations) is “when is the wedding?” or “How are the wedding preparations?” Virtually no one talks to the couple about life after the wedding, or the meaning and significance of marriage. This, I believe, reflects to some extent the prevalent mindset of our culture today, which regards the ‘biggest’ thing about marriage to be the wedding day. A grand and lavish wedding in no way guarantees a ‘successful’ marriage. If the marriage becomes cold and acrimonious within months or even after a few years, or worse still, finally leads to a divorce, the wedding means absolutely nothing. If we really think about it, the wedding is only the beginning and a very small part of the whole life of marriage! My point is that the wedding day, though important and significant, is NOT everything that there is to marriage, nor the most important day in our married life. What truly counts is life after the wedding – until death. We ought not to spend so much time planning and preparing for our wedding that we are left with little time and energy to prepare well and lay a good foundation for the beginning of married life together. Having said all that, I do believe that a fair and significant amount of effort ought to go into planning a wedding to make it special and memorable. Planning for a wedding together is an exciting venture. The couple can and ought to use the opportunity of planning for the wedding to further strengthen their relationship. It is likely to be the first major ‘project’ that they work on together and it would be a good opportunity to get to know each other even better and grow closer together through the experience.
It is not my intention here to go into the details of planning a wedding, for that can quite easily be figured out, with the help of a wedding planner and friends, despite the mammoth amount of planning and coordination work that is required for that one day. But I want to direct our focus to just one thing by asking this question: What is the highlight and focus of our wedding? The celebration of human love? Of an exciting courtship and seemingly perfect match “made in heaven”? I submit that the most important part of the entire wedding proceeding is the exchange of the marriage vows [NB: not to say the Word that is spoken on the occasion is secondary, but the Word spoken really focuses the audience’s attention on the same thing as the vows do – the significance and seriousness of marriage]. Not the march-in or the recessional; not the lifting of the bride’s veil; not the kiss; not the thank- you speech by the bridegroom. Not the special items presented. Certainly not the refreshments after the ceremony. The highlight of the entire ceremony is when the couple pledge, with all solemnity and seriousness, before the all-knowing God Who judges their hearts as their witness, that they would give themselves wholly to each other for life. We can forget everything else about the wedding, but we cannot and must never forget the marriage vows we took on that day. To make a vow is a very serious matter. To trifle with our vows is to trifle with God! (Ecc 5:4 “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed”). God holds us to our vow and expects us to keep it (Deu 23:21 “When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.”) We must mean what we say – that we (as husband and wife) will stay together, come what may, till death do us part. This unbreakable bond of marriage is a reflection (though pale and imperfect) of that everlasting and unbreakable covenant of grace that God establishes with His elect in Christ. It is a reminder of Christ’s constant, unfailing and unconditional love for the Church (Eph 5:31-32). This glorious truth must be the central theme of our wedding. All our planning and decisions concerning our wedding ought to be guided by this truth. All the witnesses on our wedding day ought to hear and see this truth unmistakably. They must hear and behold this truth especially in the exhortation by the minister and the exchange of the marriage vows. They must be left without a doubt that this truth is the highlight and focus of our wedding. They must know that the marriage that they are witnesses to is a reflection of the heavenly, spiritual marriage of Christ and the Church.
Too many weddings in our day, even some Christian weddings, put excessive focus on the couple – celebrating and highlighting their love for each other, their courtship, their achievements, their lives, – so much so that any reference to God or the spiritual significance of marriage appears very incidental. The couple is treated almost like movie stars or royalty. Everything and everyone else become secondary to them. No doubt, the wedding couple would be at the centre of attention. We do not shy away from that or say there is anything wrong with that per se. But the question is : what do people see when they look at the couple? Do their gaze and thoughts remain only on the couple, or are they lifted up and directed towards God, Christ and the Church? If the theme and focus of our wedding is the marriage of Christ and the Church, then the attention on us, by God’s grace, would not just dwell on and end with us, but would be turned heavenward to focus on the far more glorious marriage of Christ and the Church.
Additionally, over and against the serious character and deep spiritual significance of marriage, there is a disconcerting trend today that couples want their weddings to be more informal, casual and light-hearted. This tone and mood is diffused throughout the wedding programme, even including the exchange of the marriage vows. The occasion is little more than another social event where the friends of the couple gather with them to have a good time (like a birthday party). The exchange of vows becomes merely ceremonial, and the couple and guests look forward to the other parts of the programme that are deemed more exciting and interesting. So some weddings would include teasing the couple, making them do embarrassing things, getting them drunk, etc. Other couples, to make the wedding programme more memorable, exciting, or simply to do something different, do “out-of-the-world” or outrageous things such as exchanging rings underwater or while parachuting from a plane. I’m not saying that as Christians, we cannot do something special at our weddings to make it memorable; my point is we must not lose focus of the significance and purpose of our wedding – whatever we may plan as part of our wedding programme, the activities must not detract from the solemnity and profound meaning of marriage, namely, that it is a picture and reflection of the one true marriage between Jesus Christ and His Church.
“When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for [he hath] no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.” Ecc 5:4
A wedding is not about the romantic love story of 2 persons who happen to meet and like each other’s company very much, feel good about each other and decided to extend this experience for as long as they possibly can. No, no. It marks the beginning, through the making of vows before God and all the witnesses gathered, the beginning of a most intimate and spiritual union of two persons, of body and soul, that involves absolute faithfulness, commitment and whole-hearted devotion to each other, constant self-denial, enormous sacrifices, untiring perseverance, and unconditional love – for life. If we bear this in mind, I am certain we would see much more God-honouring, edifying and meaningful weddings.
Written by: Elder Lee Kong Wee | Issue 8