Till Death Do Us Part (1 Corinthians 7:39-40)


Editor’s Note: This is my 900th post at GeorgePWood.com. In celebration of that achievement, I’m taking next week off to recuperate.

GPW

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When I perform marriages, I use the wedding service of The Book of Common Prayer. After addressing the congregation on the purpose of marriage, I turn to the bride and ask, “will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?” After the bride answers, I ask the exact same question of the groom. The answer is, invariably yes.

Sometime later in the service, I ask the groom to repeat the following words after me: “In the Name of God, I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.” When the groom finishes, I lead the bride in recitation of the same words.

Both the declaration of consent and the vow are a powerful statement of what Christians mean by marriage. Other than the decision to follow Jesus Christ, it is the only vow of unconditional love that Christians make in this life. As a father, I feel unconditional love toward my son, Reese. But I have only made an explicit vow of unconditional love to my wife, Tiffany. Tiffany and I made Reese. But first we chose one another.

The declaration of consent ends with the words, “as long as you both shall live.” The vow ends with the words, “until we are parted by death.” The net effect of these words is the same. Marriage is permanent. But the nuance is different. The declaration deals with the intention of marriage: a good life. The vow deals with the obligation of marriage: it is “until death.”

Both statements are rooted in the Bible, in passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:39-40:

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is — and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

Through chapter 7, Paul has emphasized the mutuality of marriage. The wife is obligated to the husband in the same way that the husband is obligated to the wife. Though not explicit here, that mutuality is nonetheless implicit.

Of course, we live in a culture in which marriage is anything but “as long as we both shall live,” let alone, “until we are parted by death.” Indeed, divorce is common even within our churches. My point is writing this devotional is not necessarily to condemn anyone who has been divorced. It is simply to remind us all of what the Christian teaching on lifelong marriage is. And in giving that reminder, to encourage us all to work toward marriages that worth devoting our lives to.

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Earl Creps, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006). $23.95, 240 pages.

The American church is in crisis. Sunday morning worship attendance figures are declining. But interest in God and spiritual matters is increasing.

A typical pastoral response to this crisis asks, “How should we do our worship services?” In Off-Road Disciplines, Earl Creps suggests a better question: “How can I be changed so that others will find me worth following in mission?” (3, emphasis in original). The former question focuses on technique, while the latter question focuses on spiritual formation.

For the rest of the review, click here.

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