on marriage

We are all home again, my wife and I and our younger four in Victoria, and our oldest and his bride in their new home in Greenville. We entered a whirlwhind of activity for two weeks leading up to the big event, then a week of winding down – they on their honeymoon and we visiting family. I expect they were more relaxed than we. Now we have been home for a week… busy as ever, but with some time to think about what happened in Greenville. I thought I would share some of my meditating with you.


While at the rehearsal dinner, a thought came to me concerning the nature of Christian marriage. I thought it so important that I reworked the message for the wedding in order to incorporate it. I have been thinking about it a good deal since. Here is the thought as I jotted it down on my PDA while enjoying the dinner: “God joins a man & woman together – the preacher’s pronouncement witnesses the work of the Holy Spirit.”

The thought behind this involves one of the more difficult passages of the New Testament to interpret.

Matthew 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”


Matthew 18:18 “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

I won’t go into the exegesis of these passages here, but the idea as I understand it is this: The church and its servants are given authority by God to act as witnesses of things God does in heaven. We see evidence of God’s work and pronounce that it is so, giving our witness to it.

A marriage, perhaps especially a Christian marriage, is one of these kinds of events.

In the wedding ceremony, a couple pledges a set of vows to one another before the Lord. After the vows are said, the preacher pronounces the couple man and wife. What is it that makes that pronouncement true? Is it the fact that the preacher has vested in him authority by the Church and the state to make such pronouncements? Does the statement of the preacher make the two people married? Or is it the fact that the couple recited the vows to one another? Do the promises themselves make the couple one? What is actually happening in a marriage ceremony?

The vows are important as said to one another, but they are much more important in that they are said before God. A marriage ceremony is an oath taking ceremony. The man and the woman pledge their oaths before God and in the presence of witnesses. The witnesses, especially the preacher, but really the whole marriage party and the members of the congregation all gather to hear the pledging of these oaths in the presence of God. The pronouncement of the preacher is a recognition on earth of something that is being sealed in heaven.

As the couple makes their vows, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in heaven take note of the troth that is pledged. They hear the vows and a supernatural response is made – two people become one flesh by the work of God. The preacher’s pronouncement is a ‘by faith’ witness that the supernatural act has taken place. The wedding party and the congregation acknowledge the same and receive the couple as man and wife. We humans do this by faith – one moment the two are two engaged individuals, the next moment they are man and wife. God did that. We witnessed it.

Perhaps the most important factor in making the violation of marriage vows such an offense is this supernatural thing that God has done. When you act contrary to these oaths, you are acting contrary to a one flesh relationship God created. You violate God’s creative act, repeating in your small world the sin of Adam, violating God’s original creation.

The implications of these thoughts are pretty far reaching. We don’t need to go that far afield to be violating the troth that is pledged in marriage. If, as Jesus taught us, adultery can be committed in the mind, so too can errant thoughts violate the one-flesh bond between man and woman supernaturally created by God.

May God keep us faithful.

For Jesus’ sake.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3