Covenant LoveJuly 21, 2015
Have you entered a covenant with someone? If you're married, you have. Author and host of "Truth for Life," Alistair Begg, talks about the beauty and importance of the marriage vows.
Have you entered a covenant with someone? If you're married, you have. Author and host of "Truth for Life," Alistair Begg, talks about the beauty and importance of the marriage vows.
Bob: Most wedding vows have language about “having and holding” one another. What exactly does it mean for us to “have” another person as a spouse? Here’s Pastor Alistair Begg.
Alistair: Well, it’s a wonderful question, but it doesn’t just mean a physical thing. That is all wrapped up in that question, “Will you have this woman?” because it allows you to unfold from it all of the elements—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. It involved the totality of our humanity—the “bone of my bone” / the “flesh of my flesh”—this intermingling at a deep level—you know.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 21st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. You probably said a lot of things in your wedding vow that you didn’t really understand exactly what you were saying.
We’re going to talk about the wedding vow today with Pastor Alistair Begg. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. You know, something I noticed, a number of years ago, when my wife and I had the opportunity to visit England for a few days—we had a nice trip to England—I noticed that people who speak with an accent—they sound intelligent even if they’re saying squirrely stuff. You know what I mean?
Dennis: You really like my Ozark accent—is that what you're saying?
Bob: I'm talking about a real accent. [Laughter] I'm talking about a Richard Burton British accent. I'm talking about an Irish brogue or a Scotch accent. You know what I'm talking about?
Dennis: And, Bob, if you could interview any pastor who had a warm Scottish accent, who would you interview?
Bob: Sinclair Ferguson. [Laughter]
Dennis: No question about it?
Dennis: But we couldn't get hold of Sinclair.
Bob: No, we couldn’t afford the airfare.
Dennis: We couldn't get him in, but we could get Alistair Begg. [Laughter] Alistair—welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Alistair: It's always fun. It’s always a privilege.
Dennis: Alistair is the pastor of Parkside Church, which is in a suburban community near Cleveland, Ohio. He has been there since September of 1983. He has a radio program, where he is the daily speaker, called Truth for Life. A lot of our listeners listen to Alistair on a regular basis.
Alistair, we talked about the importance of the words of the vows and the covenant that we make when we call another person to the marriage relationship. Why do you think the words that we promise are important?
Alistair: Well, words are important; aren't they? I mean, words are devalued in our culture—people use words very casually. They'll say to one another, "Well, that wasn't what I meant by that," or "You understand that in a way that is different from me." Of course, part of the task of the legal profession is to make sure that, when they write down something in a contract, that what is said is what is meant. Precision is important.
Well, when you think about committing your life to another person—to another stumbling, bumbling person like yourself—the language is going to be very, very important, especially, if it's going to be a continual reference point for us—that we're coming back to and saying, "Well, don't you remember when we said such and such? We said ‘better or worse.’ This is a little worse, but we already covered that in what we said,"—that kind of thing.
Bob: There's a phrase that some pastors will use when they begin the vow part of a wedding—where they'll say, "I solemnly charge you.”
That may have been said when I got married. I don't know if it was or not because, even if it had been, I'm not sure I would have understood what the preacher was trying to say. What's that all about?—that "solemnly charge you" stuff?
Alistair: The phrase can mean something, but unless the context is marked by a genuine sense of solemnity, which actually emerges—not from the phraseology—but from the conviction on the part of the couple and the person conducting the ceremony itself. I mean, probably, the antithesis of it is the standard little picture that you see from Las Vegas—of people who can run in, and come out in two or three minutes, and they're married. The thing is cursory, and it's over. It's the very opposite of that, but it has to do with convictions that are shared in a congregation about what is taking place here—that these folks are entering into a whole new dimension of their lives that they've been living, as singles.
So the phraseology of solemnity, and of reverence, and of awe, and all those things is, I think, simply to remind this young couple that—although this is taking place in a very public forum / and friends and family are there, and that's very meaningful—it's actually taking place in view of Almighty God. That it is before God, ultimately, that they will stand to give an account of their response to His Son and their willingness to fulfill their obligations within the framework of marriage.
Bob: In this culture particularly, it’s important that we reintroduce the idea of gravity or solemnity to a marriage because we have trivialized the whole institution in the 21st century; haven’t we?
Dennis: There’s no question that we have. I think somehow we have a tension that we must maintain—in our weddings and in our churches—that is so important, especially, as a couple begin their marriage because, if they don’t start out with God—
—a God who’s to be feared / a God who’s to be reverentially set apart and to live their lives in His presence—how will they get there, on down the road, when they run into trouble?
Bob: Alistair, let me ask you—we’ve talked about the weight of the marriage ceremony / about the vows. Yet, the New Testament tells us that the wedding itself is really a picture—it’s a type of something that is beyond a man and a woman coming together. God intends for it to point to a reality that goes beyond husband and wife.
Alistair: Yes, which makes it even more significant; doesn’t it?—in light of what we’re saying—that we would ever trivialize that. Yes, Paul says that, “This is a great mystery,”—he says—“and I’m talking about Christ and the church.” That somehow or other, our marriages, in terms of selfless devotion and fidelity towards one another, are to speak and point away from ourselves to the immensity of God’s covenant love for those who are His children—
—and the fact that we are betrothed to Him—He will come for a lovely bride, you know, “set apart for her husband without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish.” That He is the One who has taken the initiative in setting His love upon us. It takes us way beyond ourselves. Also, you know, when you then come to the other side of it and you say, “You’re to love your wife the way Christ loved the church,”—
Alistair: —if that doesn’t solemnize you, I don’t know, really, what will.
Dennis: One of the phrases in our marriage covenant that has been used traditionally is the promise to “love, honor, and cherish.” Those words have enormous weight.
Alistair: Well, you know, in saying what I've been saying about the traditional English vows, I do want to clear up any misunderstanding.
The reason that I'm arguing for them is because I think the language is very precise. Where, however, the language would be unclear or unhelpful—especially in a contemporary environment—then, obviously, it's legitimate for us to write vows in a way that are more expressive of what both the couple and the congregation understand by them. There is no value in using a word that somebody has got no concept of or that you need another half a dozen words to unpack it.
Dennis: But, on the other hand, it wouldn't be bad to resurrect some words that maybe aren't used much today—like the word, "cherish."
Alistair: Well, see, I would hold out for that. I would say—rather than dumb it down and come up with three or four words that would be synonyms—I would leave "cherish" and send people home to their dictionaries and discover that it is a wonderful word. If we resurrect it through the marriage ceremony, so be it. But I'm not so sure that there aren't a number of ladies who would be thrilled to have their husband walk with them this afternoon and say, "You know, I was thinking today just how much I cherish you.”
Alistair: “I absolutely cherish you." You know, frankly, they may have to go home and just have a wonderful time with the Oxford English Dictionary—the two of them. [Laughter] It just has a ring to it; doesn't it?
Dennis: It really does.
Bob: And here's where I step up on my soapbox, from time to time, because, oftentimes, when we refer couples back to their vows, most people think: "Well, I'm keeping my vows. I'm being faithful. I haven’t been unfaithful. I'm still married. I haven't broken my vow." And yet, if you have not loved, honored, and cherished the person that you pledged to do that to, you have broken your vow; haven't you?
Alistair: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the sense of honor / the idea of honor—there is another lost concept. I mean, you need to go to the Military Academy, or the Naval Academy, or something to find out: “What do we mean here by honor?”
To import honor out of the blue, into the marriage ceremony, you've got people sitting there, saying, "Well, I sure look forward to finding out what that is because I don't have a clue."
Dennis: Let me toss out another phrase that is used in our wedding ceremony: "forsaking all others, keeping yourself only unto him” or “…unto her.” Now, what does that mean today?—to “forsake all others.” It’s more than what Bob was talking about /
as he was saying—not just having an affair with the opposite sex—“forsaking all others” is broader than that; isn’t it?
Alistair: Yes. Again, you see, give me a synonym phrase for “forsaking all others.” Even the verb, “to forsake,” is a great verb. So anyway, I sound like I’m a representative of the 17th century. [Laughter]
Dennis: —The Oxford Dictionary here! [Laughter]
Bob: [Announcer’s voice] “We have copies of The Oxford Dictionary in our FamilyLifeResource Center.”
Dennis: In fact, Alistair Begg authored The Oxford Dictionary. [Laughter]
Alistair: Ah—oh, dear.
Dennis: No, but seriously, I’m in agreement with you because I believe that one of the reasons why we have lost our civility is language has become meaningless.
Dennis: And we really have become so casual about so many things that most of the edgy words are trash words.
Alistair: They are the rude words; yes.
Dennis: Yes. The edgy words, though, that are meant for good have been redefined or dumbed down so there are no edgy words like “honor,” and “cherish,” and the concept of “forsaking all others.”
Alistair: I think "forsaking all others"—when we take it in light of what Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount—demands of us an absolutely rigorous commitment to mental purity. I think it means refusing to allow my eyes to wander, my mind to settle on/ my heart to conceive of anyone or anything that will draw me away from my wife.
That's what it means to "forsake all others."
It doesn't mean that I have fulfilled it, as Bob is suggesting, simply by coming home to the same house every night because—if, in my journey through the airport, I am involved in viewing women or viewing printed materials in a way that violate that soul-deep centered commitment to moral purity—then, although I have arrived in the bedroom as I should, the journey to the bedroom has been involved / has been in a whole ton of places that I should never, ever have gone—and I've been breaking my vows.
Bob: Let me ask you something, as a pastor, because I’ve suggested this to people and I wonder if you think it’s accurate. I’ve suggested that “forsaking all others” also means that the husband/wife relationship is primary, beyond the parent/child relationship. If that’s not a part of what’s going on, it’s going to mess up your marriage.
Alistair: We’ve seen so many—I have, certainly—where all of their communication is via the children—what they’re doing and where they’re going: “Did you pick Mary up?” and “What about Bill? Will he be home at 7:00? Does he have football tonight?”
When the children go and stay over at someone’s house, the couple are sitting, having dinner together; and they don’t even have anything to talk about. What I always say to my young couples is: “Listen, the kids are going. You’re staying!
Bob: That’s right.
Alistair: “So make sure that you plan for all that this journey is going to mean in the long-haul. Love the kids and provide for them. Do all the wonderful joys of parenting, but make sure that you don’t do it to the detriment of your own relationship with your spouse.”
Dennis: There is one last phrase: "for as long as we both shall live,"—not “for as long as we both shall love.”
Dennis: The concept of a promise until death really does set the marriage relationship apart—
Alistair: Of course it does.
Dennis: —from all other relationships.
Alistair: Absolutely, it does; and it should—I mean, it really should. That's where, again, the notion of solemnity—I mean, the baby-boomer generation does not want to think about death. You can pretty well guarantee that, if they write their vows, there will be nothing in there about dying because that confronts them with issues for which they have no answer. That may actually be the reason they want to leave "death" out as much as any other thing.
That's the reason I want to put it back in—to remind them that you are finite / that life is transient—that we have a short journey here. The call of God upon you in taking this woman to be your wife is to assure her, as you look her in the eyes right now, that no matter—come what may—you commit yourself, God being your helper, to love her right through to the end.
So she doesn't have to go off in her car, wondering if you've got a slip road out by means of divorce or if you've got a mechanism whereby you can do a left-hand turn and leave her behind. She knows that: “Even though we may have difficult days, even though we may have disappointments, and we have struggles, and there may be tension within our home—the one thing we can do, when we put our heads on the pillow at night, is know that we are together in this / we are committed in this.”
Dennis: Have you ever had a couple come to you and ask you to marry them, and they've wanted to sign a prenuptial agreement?
Alistair: No, I have not.
Dennis: Alistair, I'm probably going to shock you when I tell you that I believe, from now on, every couple that you marry ought to have a prenuptial agreement.
Dennis: They ought to sign a prenuptial agreement—
Dennis: —that spells out what they will do if and when they have difficulty in their marriage / how they will resolve their differences, and how they will be reconciled by the local church that's marrying them.
Alistair: that's not a bad idea—I like that! That's a whole different twist on the prenuptial agreement. [Laughter]
Dennis: It really is a different twist.
Alistair: It's really quite naughty—both of you setting me up—and all the time knowing that you have this little zinger to bring in behind. [Laughter]
Bob: Okay, so we're naughty—that's established.
Dennis: I've never been called naughty before; but I resonate with something you wrote about in your book, Lasting Love. You said, "We should be seeing far less divorce and far more reconciliation than we do within our Christian family." I really agree with you!
The church is the institution that is sanctioning, blessing, and witnessing their vows as a married couple gets married. I believe it, too, needs to be a body of believers that calls them, regularly, to keep those vows.
Dennis: And if they get into difficulty, that same church that married them / that same body of believers, who witnessed those vows, ought to be a part of the reconciling/healing work of what takes place to bring that couple back together.
Alistair: I entered into a commitment with a golfing buddy in Scotland, years ago, on a golf course—that if either one of us ever stepped out of line and it became apparent that we would go however far it was, and we would catch the other person, and we would beat them back into subjection to the truth with a 3-wood, as it turned out. [Laughter]
We agreed together that a 3-wood would be painful enough and large enough to affect the thing. [Laughter]
Well, what happened was—that same chap went south on his marriage. The day that I found out, I sent him an email—it said: "Dear 'X,’ you know what we said we would do if this ever happened. Call me." He wouldn't call me. I communicated with him, and I began to pursue him. I took frequent flyer miles—I got on a plane, and I went to Scotland.
I got him, and I took him back out on the golf course to the very same spot on the tee where we'd made the commitment. We got right down at the business, right in the very place. Today, he is restored to his wife and his children. When I got on the plane in London, a few days after that, I then took an A4 pad. I wrote notes to myself: "Dear Alistair, This could have been you. Here is what to do to make sure that it doesn't end up being you," and I wrote these notes to myself.
Dennis: Right; right.
Alistair: Then the folks at Moody were bugging me. They said, "What do you have?" I said: "I have nothing. I have some notes on a pad.”
Dennis: —“and I've got a 3-wood.”
Alistair: Yes, and a 3-wood! [Laughter] So they say, "Well, you're no good with a 3-wood, frankly." What I'm saying is that, when I then called to this fellow's church family, there was nobody prepared to intervene.
Dennis: You know, it occurs to me, as you’re talking Alistair, we began this conversation talking about the solemn nature of the wedding vows and how, if the church doesn't back it up with a process called church discipline—that doesn't sound pretty—but, you know, the purpose of church discipline is not to bring hurt to an individual or to a couple / it's to bring reconciliation and healing.
But I think there's a gross misunderstanding that the process that's spoken of in Matthew, Chapter 18—which does nothing more, when it comes to the marriage relationship, than enforcing the covenant that two people promise, spiritually-speaking, when they forge their marriage in the first place. It is the place where it needs to occur!
The church—if it regained its rightful place here—could do it! I mean, it really is an opportunity, I think, to preach the gospel to some people who don't know Christ / who are in the middle of a failing marriage. Because they don't know Him, they don't know how to make it work.
They don't know how to defeat self / they don't know how to deny self—they don't know how to pick up their cross and follow Christ every day. But I think today's demise of marriage and family relationships represents an enormous opportunity for the Christian community. Personally, I'm glad Moody nailed your hide to the wall—
Bob: —grabbed that A4 pad!
Dennis: That's right—and got your 3-wood and put it in this book called Lasting Love. Alistair, I also want to express my appreciation to you and your church for investing your life, alongside ours, in our one-day marriage celebration called I Still Do®. Bob, Alistair will be speaking this coming year.
Bob: You just committed him to that?
Dennis: Well he already told me he was doing that—so he’s doing it! [Laughter]
Bob: Actually, Alistair is going to be joining us on Saturday, October 17th. We’re going to be at the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. We’re not only going to be there but we’re actually going to be in churches, all across the country, because this is a one-day event that’s going to be simulcast to host locations in cities, all across the country.
If your church would like to host a Saturday event for marriage called I Still Do, Alistair Begg, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Crawford and Karen Lorrits and Alex Kendrick are going to be there. We’ve got more planned for that day. If you’d like to find out how you can be a host site for I Still Do, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll see the link there for I Still Do. Click on that, and you can find out how your church can participate as a host site for I Still Do. Again, it’s Saturday, October 17th. If you live in or around Lynchburg, we’d love to have you join us live at the Thomas Road Baptist Church. Again, details are available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com when you click the link that says, “GO DEEPER.”
We also have copies of Alistair’s book, which is called Lasting Love—a book on marriage that I think you’ll find very helpful. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Either order a copy of Alistair’s book or, if you have questions about the I Still Do event, we can try to answer those questions when you call us as well.
You know, this issue of commitment and permanence in marriage really is so foundational to everything we talk about, here at FamilyLife. In fact, one of the core messages we have as a ministry is the issue of the marriage covenant. We have to understand what God has called us to and what we have pledged to one another in a marriage relationship. It’s foundational to everything that goes on in our family, and the family is foundational to everything that goes on in a society and in a culture.
Now, FamilyLife Today is committed to providing practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family. We are so grateful for those of you who join with us to make this all possible through your financial support of the ministry. We have Legacy Partners, who give each month to make sure that FamilyLife Today continues on this local radio station and continues to be heard through our website and via our mobile apps as well. And we have those of you who will, from time to time, will call, or go online, or write to us and send a donation. We’re grateful for your support. We couldn’t do what we do without your partnership.
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Now, tomorrow—you know the passage in Psalm 23 that says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me and Your rod and staff comfort me”?—we’re going to hear from author and speaker, David Nasser, about how he experienced God’s comfort in the middle of a valley. He’ll share that with us tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today
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