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: Do you remember, not that long ago, when love supposedly meant never having to say you're sorry; and everyone was writing their own wedding vows?
Woman 1: Welcome. Welcome all! Thank you for joining in this celebration of the ecstasy of love, as we place these two dear people beside each other into a love team.
Woman 2: Oh, that is so sweet.
Woman 1: Now, as you know, Dave and Sue have written their own vows for this love team. In honor of this moment of universal harmony, they have selected spiritual mate names. Dave and Sue wish now and forever to call themselves Unicorn and Moonflower.
Dave: (Thinking to himself) Was I Moonflower or Unicorn?
Woman 1: Now, Moonflower—
Dave: —(Whispers) She can't remember—
Woman 1: —(Whispers) Moonflower—
Dave: —(Whispers) Which one is Moonflower?
Woman 1: Sue!
Sue: Ah, ah, yes?
Woman 1: Will you now woo Unicorn with the chanting of your love wish?
Sue: (Clears throat) Yes. Oh, Unicorn, Unicorn, come to me. My love mate—won't you be?
Dave: (Thinking to himself) Wow! Like far out, man. Moonflower is chanting our love chant.
Sue: Unicorn, Unicorn, I want you—
Dave: (Thinking to himself) Heavy, dude.
Sue: —happy and self-realized. Won't you now promise forever to—
Dave: (Thinking to himself) What was that one part—
Sue: —share love’s bloom in our life together?
Dave: (Thinking to himself) Did she say forever?
Sue: Forever, forever—life together—
Dave: (Thinking to himself) I mean, she didn't actually mean, like, forever—
Sue: —forever joined in life for better—
Dave: (Thinking to himself) She means, like, loves forever—
Sue: —nevermore to roam. Unicorn, Unicorn, make our love into a home. (Baby cries)
Dave: (Thinking to himself) Dude, a home?
Sue: Forget about those other flowers, even when I dry up and lose my Moon power. (Baby crying)
Woman 1: Unicorn? (Crowd noise and footsteps)
Sue: Unicorn! Don't run away! Unicorn, come back. You're showing your weakness by loving yourself in a—Dave, we need you!
Bob: [Studio] And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the far out and groovy Friday edition. One thing that Mary Ann and I have both noticed—we had an opportunity, a number of years ago, to spend some time in England, on a family vacation. We had a lovely time in England.
It just seems, to me, that people who have an accent—the sound intelligent, even if they’re saying really squirrelly things. You know what I mean?
Dennis: You really like my Ozark accent. Is that what you're saying?
Bob: No, not that kind. I'm talking about a real accent. I'm talking about a Richard Burton British accent. I'm talking about an Irish brogue or a Scottish accent. You know what I'm talking about?
Dennis: Bob, if you could interview any pastor who had a Scottish—a warm, Scottish accent—who would you interview?
Bob: Sinclair Ferguson, my number one choice.
Dennis: No question about it?
Dennis: But we couldn't get ahold of Sinclair.
Bob: No, we couldn’t afford the air—
Dennis: We couldn't get him in, but we could get Alistair Begg. (Laughter)
Dennis: Alistair, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Alistair: It's always fun. It’s always a privilege.
Dennis: You know, I have to say something about Alistair's book. He's written a book called Lasting Love, and I kept waiting for a song from the '50s, '60s, '70s, in this book.
Bob: Something to just pop up?
Dennis: There are a couple of songs in here—words and lyrics from songs, but it doesn't have any of his great love of—
Bob: Well, let me see the book.
Dennis: —of the great hymns of the '60s and '70s.
Bob: Oh, it's a Moody Press book; that's why. That explains a lot. The editor just got through with all of those. (Laughter)
Alistair: Moody wouldn't pay for what it took to leave the Beatles' lyrics in.
Bob: —for the royalties.
Dennis: Alistair is the pastor of Parkside Church, which is 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. I have to say, “I always enjoy sitting on the front row when Alistair preaches. It's like he never gives the same message twice.”
Bob: And yet the core of it is always the same. That core is that the Gospel is central to every marriage relationship.
Alistair: Well, I mean, I hope so. I'm hoping that this is not some veiled insult. I think the honest answer is that I come away from every attempt that I have and think, "I really must try harder. I want to do better next time." Of course, sometimes we change it and make it worse; but between our three services on a Sunday morning, I can't guarantee that the three things will come out just exactly in the same way.
Dennis: Well, you and your wife Susan have been married since 1975. You have three adult children.
Yesterday, 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. Just so a listener who is only joining us for today might understand, 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 myself." 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 it 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: Well, you know, I think 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—they can run in and come out in two or three minutes, and they're married, and 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. Because, for example, if the couple has already been cohabitating with one another, the minister can stand up and solemnify it all he likes; but there's nothing really solemn about what's taking place. It's really just putting the imprimatur of conventionality on something that has already predated the event.
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. 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.
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; and yet, in this culture, I'm afraid we've redefined almost all of those words to mean virtually nothing. The concept of love is now feeling—it's not a commitment; it's not a promise, regardless of how we feel.
Bob: Well, and “Cherish is a word I use to describe all the feelings that I have hiding here for you inside.” I had to do that—because, Alistair, he quoted Nancy Sinatra earlier today. I had to do that.
Alistair: 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.
I'm not so sure that there aren't a number of ladies who would be thrilled to have their husband walk with them through the autumn leaves this afternoon and say, "You know, I was thinking today just how much I cherish you. 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. 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'm still married. I haven't broken my vow." 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. The idea of honor—I mean, 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? Where is honor? Where is honor in the shuttle at the airport for people who were born a little earlier? Where is anybody ever standing up for a lady? Where are the basic elemental bits and pieces of common courtesy?”
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, than just, 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. I sound like I’m a representative of the 17th century—
Dennis: Oxford Dictionary.
Bob: We have copies of the Oxford Dictionary in our FamilyLife Resource Center.
Dennis: In fact, Alistair Begg authored the Oxford Dictionary. (Laughter)
Alistair: Oh, dear.
Dennis: I’m in agreement with you because I believe one of the reasons why we have lost our civility is language has become meaningless. We really have become so casual about so many things, that there’s no edge. Most of the edgy words are trash words.
Alistair: Yes, they’re rude words.
Dennis: The edgy words 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—it demands of us, as men or as girls, 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 violates that soul-deep, psyche-centered commitment to moral purity—then, although I have arrived in the bedroom as I should—the journey to the bedroom has been involved—I have been in a whole ton of places that I should never, ever have gone. I've been breaking my vows.
Dennis: There is one last phrase, "for as long as we both shall live." The concept of a promise 'til death really does set the marriage relationship apart 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.
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; and 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.
Bob: If they said, "Here is our circumstance. It's kind of unique. We'd like to do this because the relatives are worried about the inheritance issue."
Alistair: I know what I believe exactly about, "We two are one," and, "All this is ours," and everything else; but beyond that, I mean, like, a young couple—oh, I wouldn't even marry them.
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.
Bob: This is something we've been—
Alistair: —that's not a bad idea. I like that. That's a whole different twist on a prenuptial agreement. You’re really quite naughty—both of you, setting me up, watching me squirm—and all the time knowing that you have this little zinger to bring in behind.
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."
The church is the institution that is 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. If they get into difficulty, that same church that married them ought to be a part of the reconciling, healing work of what takes place to bring that couple back together.
Alistair: I couldn't agree more. That little book here—I mean, who needs a book by Begg on this subject? I did not set out to write a book.
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 three wood—as it turned out. We agreed, together, that a three wood would be painful enough and large enough to affect the thing.
What happened was that same chap went south on his marriage. The day that I found out, I sent him an e-mail. 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, and when—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 A-4 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." I wrote these notes to myself. Well, 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 three wood.
Alistair: Yes, and a three wood. They said, "Well, you're no good with a three wood." What I'm saying is that when I then called to this fellow's church family—the exact same story—there was nobody prepared to intervene and get the business.
At our last communion service—and this is a tragic statement—but at our last communion service, in my absence, there were five couples, related to our church—who were read out to the congregation in the third stage of church discipline to ask the church to pray for them, to pursue them, and to go for them and seek to see them restored and won back to each other, and to the resolve to follow Christ.
If the church won't go and do it, I agree with you entirely, Dennis—then the only place that folks are able to go is off into no-man's land.
Dennis: You know, it occurs to me, as you were 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.
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, of enforcing the covenant that two people promised, spiritually-speaking, when they forged their marriage in the first place. It is the place where it needs to occur.
I think we ought to send a bunch of divorce attorneys out of business. 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.
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: Made you grab that A-4 legal pad and wouldn’t let you out of a room until you came back with a book. We’re glad we’ve got the book. It’s called Lasting Love. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. If our listeners would like to get a copy, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
And if our listeners have never been to one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, now is the time to do that. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how you can attend a weekend away together, where you can soak in what the Scriptures have to say about building a stronger marriage relationship. It really is a great weekend getaway. It is fun, it’s romantic, and we’d love to see you at one of these events.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on Alistair Begg’s book, Lasting Love, and for information about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call toll-free 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
And we want to make sure we say a word of thanks to the folks who help make today’s program possible, those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with gifts from time to time, or those of you who are regular contributors to our ministry as Legacy Partners. This month, we’re hoping to add 1,500 new Legacy Partners to that growing family of friends.
We’ve heard from some of you already this month who have said, “We’ll do that. We want to make sure FamilyLife Today continues on the air on this station and on this network of stations all across the country.” We appreciate that support. If you’d like to join us as a Legacy Partner, one of the things we’re going to do is provide you with resources each month to help strengthen your marriage and your family. That’s one of the ways we say, “Thank you,” for the financial support you provide for us each month.
Find out more or sign up to become a Legacy Partner at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY; that’s 1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
And we want to say, “Thanks,” to our friend, Alistair Begg, for joining us on the program today.
Dennis: It's fun to have a Cleveland guy who's got a funny accent. You didn't get that accent from South Cleveland.
Alistair: Coming from you, Dennis, talking about accents—that is really pretty good. (Laughter)
Dennis: Alistair, thanks for being with us.
Alistair: I want to thank you for the privilege, and I'm glad of our partnership in the Gospel and in the cause of the family. It's a privilege to be with you. Thank you.
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