“…the two shall become one…” (Matthew 19:5)
The wedding ceremony is a great time—once in a lifetime for most people—for the pastor to get something across to two people in particular while hundreds are eavesdropping.
Not that the couple will remember a thing you say. (When Margaret and I stood at the altar, our pastor said some wonderful things that I found fascinating and inspiring. No exaggeration. I stood there alongside my bride and was blessed by his comments. Alas, no one was recording anything in 1962, and my mind retained his wonderful words for exactly half an hour, so whatever he said is gone forever.)
These days, someone is recording your wedding service. The bride and groom and close relatives will keep the CD and/or DVD for the rest of their lives and will periodically play it again. That’s when your words are finally heard and begin to sink in.
So, what do you want to say to them, pastor? What words of lasting value and incredible help can you utter during the ceremony that will make a huge difference down the road a year or two or ten? Before listing my suggestions, let me state the obvious: You have only so much time, and this is not the time nor place for a full sermon. Still, choose one or two great points you wish to lodge in their hearts forever and give it a shot.
Here are my suggestions on what you want to tell the couple…
1) Tell them this is a holy step they are taking and what that means.
Something holy belongs to God. Sometimes God creates a thing, keeps it for Himself, and announces to mankind that this thing is His and should be treated with great respect.
In many cases, a holy thing a) has been given to God and b) has been accepted by Him. Scripture says, “You are holy” (I Peter 1:15-16). God has claimed you; you have given yourself to the Lord and have been accepted by Him.
A holy place, a holy people, a holy time, a holy ritual, a holy sacrifice. To be holy is to dwell in the realm of His Lordship.
We call marriage “holy wedlock.” This belongs to God. He instituted marriage and He owns it. That’s why we want to do it His way and only in His way, and to honor Him each step of the way. (And it is why no one should attempt to enter marriage or perform a marriage other than as God has ordained.)
Tell the man and woman that since marriage is sacred, it can be done successfully only in the power and strength of the Lord Himself.
2) Tell them God is not going to force a great marriage on them.
They get to choose.
God told Israel, “If you are willing, you shall eat the good of the land.” They could have the blessings of Heaven by their obedience. “But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword” (Isaiah 1:19-20). It was their choice.
We recall the Lord Jesus saying, “I stand at your door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in….” (Revelation 3:20). He brings the blessings of Heaven right up to our front door, but that’s where He stops. As He knocks—imagine the Lord of Heaven and earth seeking admission anywhere!—He waits for us to decide whether we want His blessings.
Jesus said to Jerusalem, “I would have blessed you and protected you from harm. But you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37).
We make similar decisions every day of our lives. Husbands and wives choose each day how their waking hours will be lived. Ideally, we who are married choose each other, we choose to honor our vows and we choose to humble ourselves before the living God and to serve Him.
Marriage is about making wise choices every day of our lives.
3) Tell them marriage is not about love.
Sitting before the counselor or pastor or attorney, a man or woman will say, “We married because we fell in love. Now we have fallen out of love and want to be divorced.” The listener—presumably the adult in the room—takes all this in, then comments, “You people sure are doing a lot of falling. Falling in love, falling out of love. As though you are passive in all this, as though you cannot help yourself. You poor things.”
Okay. He/she doesn’t say that, but thinks it, I guarantee.
“For better or for worse; for richer or for poorer; in sickness and in health, til death do us part.” Those are simple words, but they represent the essence of the wedding ceremony and the heart of the marriage.
Most ceremonies contain no promise to always love, but all contain a promise to be faithful to the end.
In a marriage ceremony for his niece, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Love will not sustain your marriage; but marriage will sustain your love.”
Marriage is about commitment. Tell them several times.
4) Tell them that struggles and hardships are part of God’s plan.
They should not abandon the marriage—or feel they have failed in some way, or worse, that they have married the wrong person—when they encounter problems. Problems are not par for the course; they are the course.
“The trying of your faith worketh patience…” (James 1:3).
Every preacher has told the story of the kid who watched as the new butterfly was emerging from the chrysalis. As it struggled to break free, the child decided to help the process along with a pair of tweezers. When the butterfly was freed from the trappings of the cocoon, it lay there motionless. In time, the child realized something was wrong and the butterfly had died. Seeing what had happened, the parent informed the child that he had interrupted the natural process, that the struggle to get free of the chrysalis was good for the butterfly, that the effort helped to develop the wings and start the life juices flowing. By aborting the struggle, the child had ended its life.
Those of us who pray for a stress-free life are asking for what never was and was never meant to be.
Teenage boys know that to build a muscle, one applies stress. Likewise, God allows stress into our lives to grow us as believers. The pressure of finances, in-laws, children, relationships and a thousand other adjustments all play major roles in developing husbands and wives so that eventually they truly do become “one flesh.”
Marriage is about facing obstacles together and growing.
5) Tell them to renew their vows tomorrow and the day after that.
In a legal sense, we are “locked in” by our commitments of the wedding day. And there is nothing wrong with that. But in a higher sense, when we wake up tomorrow morning, we should choose each other all over again.
The first time you chose each other by faith. You barely knew what you were doing and only a sliver of what you were getting into. But now, a year or two or ten later, you know. In choosing each other again, you do so this time not by faith, but by sight. There are no longer any secrets, no hidden agendas, no revelations about the other waiting to be made. You know one another. To choose each other now is golden.
Choosing each other anew tomorrow and the day after and so forth affirms a marriage like few other things can.
Marriage is about choosing each other every day of our lives.
6) Tell them not to expect their spouse to understand all their hurts and to meet all their needs.
Ruth Bell Graham once said, “Many wives expect their husbands to be to them what only Jesus Christ can be.” It works for husbands, too.
Putting impossible expectations on the other is a sure-fire recipe for disappointment and frustration. Best to free the other to be who they are and to put your eyes and hopes and dreams on the Lord Jesus Christ, the only One capable of meeting them.
Tell them to turn their eyes upon Jesus.
7) Tell them to rule out the divorce option from the beginning.
Someone has said divorce is like an escape hatch on a submarine: If you plan to descend into matrimonial waters, you’d better close it or you are sunk before you start.
As long as divorce remains an option in one’s thinking, the marriage is never secure. Best to rule it out now and forever. “We’re going to stay in this marriage and make it work or die trying.”
A couple being remarried told me, “We were running with the wrong crowd. Everyone in our group was getting a divorce. So, when we ran into problems in our marriage, divorce seemed the thing to do. But it was a mistake.” They had started back to church and were building a new support team for the home which they were re-establishing.
A few hours ago, I “worked” a wedding reception for the daughter of some longtime friends. By “working,” I mean I sat at a table sketching a long line of guests for three-and-a-half hours. While drawing the bride and groom, I asked if the minister had said anything memorable. The bride assured me he had and they both agreed they would long remember the insights he shared.
I hope they’re right. But I would not be surprised if a few weeks from now, life has crowded out most of what they thought they would never forget. But so long as someone recorded it—which they did—they’ve still got it.
My job as a minister is to make certain what they return and listen to is well worth their time and effort.