Marriage Vows and Ceremonies

     Marriage Book CoverMarriage is a covenant relationship (Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 16:8; Mal. 2:14-15; Matt. 19:6).  In Scripture, the word covenant (Heb. בְּרִית berith, Grk. διαθήκη diatheke) is used of a treaty, alliance, or contract.  The strength of a covenant depends on the person, or persons, who enter into it.  Some covenants are vertical between God and individuals or groups, and some are horizontal between people.  Some of God’s covenants are unilateral, in which God acts alone and unconditionally promises to provide and bless another, either a person or group (e.g. Noahic covenant, Abrahamic covenant, Davidic covenant, New Covenant, etc.).  In a unilateral covenant, God will always bless the recipients, and there is no fear of God doing otherwise, because the blessing is in no way conditioned on any action by those whom God assures blessing (e.g. Gen. 12:1-3; Jer. 31:31-34).  Some of God’s covenants are bilateral, in which blessing or cursing is conditioned on obedience to stated laws (e.g. Adamic covenant and Mosaic covenant).  In a bilateral covenant, God is faithful to bless and curse depending on compliance to the agreed upon conditions set forth (see Deuteronomy Chapter 28).  God is always faithful to keep His promises in both unilateral and bilateral covenants.  In the Bible there are examples of people who made bilateral covenants among themselves (Gen. 21:27; 31:44-54; Josh. 9:15; 1 Sam. 18:3; 2 Sam. 3:12-13).  Covenants made by people are generally bilateral, depending on the faithfulness of each person to keep their promise.

In making covenants God was solemnly invoked as a witness (31:53), whence the expression “a covenant of the Lord” (1 Sam. 20:8; cf. Jer. 34:18–19; Ezek. 17:19), and an oath was sworn (Gen. 21:31). Accordingly, a breach of covenant was regarded as a heinous sin (Ezek. 17:12–20). The marriage contract is called “the covenant of … God” (Prov. 2:17).[1]

     The marriage covenant is a bilateral agreement in which both persons promise, before God and others, to love each other faithfully.  It is regarded as a bilateral covenant—depending on the faithfulness of each person to each other—because God permits a way out of the relationship by divorce (Deut. 24:1-3; Matt. 5:32; 19:8-9).  A unilateral covenant would make no stipulations on the relationship.

     RingsThe marriage covenant glorifies God when the man and woman commit to love each other, to seek God’s best in each other, and to remain faithful to their promises.  Typically, marriage vows are thoughtful, addressing the reality of good and bad circumstances, the influence of wealth or poverty, sickness and health.  A vow is a promise, and a promise is only as strong as the person who makes it.  Often we vow to be committed to each other and to endure all tests and trials until separated by death.  We may not like the tests or trials that come our way, but it’s only in those situations that a person’s integrity becomes manifest.

     Marriage ceremonies mentioned in the Bible varied depending on the people and culture.  Sometimes we read about arranged marriages without any mention of a wedding ceremony at all (Gen. 21:21; 38:6; 1 Sam. 18:17).  Other times we read of great feasting and celebration during the wedding (Gen. 29:22; Judg. 14:12; Matt. 22:1-12; Luke 14:8-11; John 2:1-10).  The Bible does not prescribe a specific marriage ceremony, and each couple is free to follow whatever customs are particular to their culture so long as it conforms to the laws and customs of a nation (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). (this article is an excerpt from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Merrill F. Unger, et al., “Covenant” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

Christians in America

       Open BibleOver the years I’ve had discussions with Christians in America who have made the mistake of thinking we are a Christian nation. The two words Christian and nation are never united in Scripture, nor should they be. America is a great nation in many ways and I love my freedoms, but it is not a Christian nation. The concept of a Christian nation is nowhere found in Scripture. It is true that some of America’s founding fathers where Christians who lived within a biblical worldview, but some were Unitarians (who deny the Trinity), and others were Deists (who deny God’s sovereign involvement in creation). Often those who argue that America is a Christian nation selectively cite the founding fathers, but rarely, if ever, cite Scripture. The Bible alone must guide our faith and conduct. The Church is a biblical concept, but a Christian nation is not. A Christian is one who has trusted in the Lord Jesus as his Savior and received forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7), the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28), and the imputation of God’s righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). A local church consists of Christians who gather on a regular basis for Bible study, fellowship, partaking of the Lord’s Supper and prayer (Acts 2:42). America is not a giant church made up of Christians.  

…the locus of God’s people under the new covenant is not a nation, and every attempt to establish a unified “Christian nation,” where the respective boundaries of church and state are made to coalesce, has not only been misconceived but has resulted in disastrous failure.[1]

       Scripture never directs the Christian to establish Christian laws for any nation. Scripture calls us to proclaim the message of Christianity and to win men with words, never social or political force. We have failed as Christians as soon as we seek to politicize our message and control others through legislative means. If Christians want to have a lasting impact on a nation, it must be done at the grassroots level through evangelization and biblical teaching, not legislation. It must done through sharing the gospel and teaching Christian virtues that are applied to all of life, not by a forced morality imposed through the halls of congress. 

       jesus-helping-the-poorHistorically, Christians in America have been a positive influence in society by promoting law and being charitable to the needy (Gal. 2:10; Jam. 1:27). They’ve built schools, hospitals, orphanages and other helpful organizations that lift man up. They’ve fed the hungry, cared for the sick, housed the homeless, provided for widows and orphans, and visited prisoners with the gospel. Christians have also promoted art, literature, music and science. Certainly there have been abuses in the name of Christianity; however, the historical record speaks favorably about Christian service. For the most part, believers have obeyed Scripture and become law abiding citizens rather than rebels. Scripture teaches Christians to think of government as a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4), to obey leaders (Rom. 13:1, 5; Tit. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-15), pay taxes (Rom. 13:6), regard rulers as “servants of God” who do His will (Rom. 13:6), and to pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We realize there is a legitimate sense in which the leaders of this world accomplish God’s purposes by keeping harmony and promoting justice (Rom. 13:2-4; 6-7). We do not blindly submit to their authority and should say no to governmental leaders when they command us to go against the commands of God (see Dan. 3:1-18; 6:1-13; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29). The Christian obeys or defies human authority only as the Bible directs. Ultimately, those who obey God’s Word prove to be a blessing that promotes righteousness within a nation. Christians who are learning God’s Word and growing spiritually will prove to be the moral fabric of any community, and this will make a nation strong. Mature Christians will reflect the highest and best virtues within a country, not the lowest and worst.  

Praying Hands       As Christians, we must get it into our thinking that our battle is spiritual (Eph. 6:12), not social or political. That’s not to say that we do not speak truth to leaders when given the opportunity; certainly we do (Dan. 3:16-18; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29; 26:1-29)! At times God will give us the ear of a human ruler, and we must take that opportunity to speak God’s truth and pray He moves the heart of the hearer. However, “The church cannot defeat spiritual wickedness by overthrowing corrupt governments or legislating better laws and ordinances. The conflict is far greater than such efforts and calls for divine power for the victory.”[2] As Christian’s living in America we should pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2), strive to be upstanding citizens (Rom. 13:1-7; Tit. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-14), help the needy in our communities (Acts 20:35; 1 Thess. 5:14), and above all, share the gospel and teach God’s Word (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Tim. 4:1-2).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

[1] D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 89.

[2]Allen P. Ross, Creation and blessing: A guide to the study and exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 301

Righteousness Exalts a Nation

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. (Prov. 14:34)

       Righteousness (Heb. צְדָקָה tsedaqah, Grk. δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune) is understood in two ways in the Bible: First it refers to the standing of those who are God’s people by means of the imputation of His righteousness that is credited to us at the moment of salvation (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:1-5). God’s righteousness is given as a gift by means of faith, “to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5; cf. Rom 3:24; 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). Second, righteousness refers to the high moral behavior that God expects of His people, in which He instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit 2:12). “In order for a nation to be great, its leaders and people must have upright, moral characters known for their righteousness.”[1]

The generations and ages have repeatedly proved the truth of this proverb. A nation which conducts itself in righteousness ‘exalts’ itself. The word ‘exalts’ describes the lifting up, or elevating, of the people’s collective life. It is more of a moral term than descriptive of material benefits. This has already been stated in regards to a ‘city’ (Pro 11:11) and it applies to ‘kings’ (Pro 16:2; 14:28). In contrast, the people who tolerate and promote sin find it, in the end, to be a disgrace. The word here is rare and unusual…It describes a deep and disgraceful shame of almost unspeakable proportions (Lev 20:17).[2]

       The values of a nation are never neutral. They either conform to God’s character or not. Righteousness is not accidental. When the majority of people in a nation purpose in their hearts to know God and walk in His will, then that nation will reflect righteousness and be morally strong. When leaders and citizens choose righteousness, the nation is lifted up and reflects the highest and best in mankind. But sin destroys a nation; and it does so from the inside out (arrogance, selfishness, greed, hatred, etc.). 

       Righteousness is taught from one generation to the next. It starts with believers learning and living God’s Word, then teaching their children to do the same. Each child must choose to accept the biblical values of the parents, then to walk in those values. When God established Israel as a nation under the leadership of Moses, the Lord commanded the parents to teach His word to the children. God said:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut 6:6-7)

Rigtheousness Exalts a Nation       The blessing and prosperity of Israel depended upon their obedience to God’s word (Deut 6:8-25). If they feared God and walked in His truth, then there was blessing (Deut 28:1-14). If they turned away from God and lived in perpetual sin, then there was cursing (Deut 28:15-68). The cursing of God upon the nation of Israel came in stages (decaying social life, destruction of crops, famine and military defeat), and eventuated in total destruction if they failed to humble themselves before the Lord. When Jewish children asked their parents why they were to learn and obey God’s word, the parents were to say, “the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival” (Deut 6:24). 

       Israel is the only theocracy to exist in human history. Today there are no theocratic kingdoms in the world. There is only the spiritual kingdom to which all believers belong (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13). Believers within a national entity have the power to influence their country and help perpetuate its blessing from God; and like those living in ancient Israel, righteousness must be taught and caught by each new generation. God gives freedom, but freedom must always be seen as an opportunity to do good for others; for God declares, “Surely I will set you free for purposes of good” (Jer 15:11). And Paul states, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Gal 5:13). Each new generation must choose God and His will, for a nation is only one generation away from success or failure; from being righteous or sinful. 

Godly parents can raise godly children, and godly children can provide godly influence in their communities and in the nation. In a democracy, where leadership is elected and not inherited, the Lord’s remnant must exert as much influence for righteousness as possible; certainly every believer ought to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:1–8).[3]

       National leaders and citizens commit sin (Heb. חָטָא chata, Grk. ἁμάρτημα hamartia) when they deviate from God’s will. At the core of sin is a rebellious heart, a fallen nature, an internal defiance toward God in which a person sets his will against his Creator. Whether educated or uneducated, religious or irreligious, believer or unbeliever, every person has the capacity and propensity to sin. Every nation has its unbelievers who continually produce sin; but only the believer has a spiritual nature (acquired at salvation) which enables him to walk with God in accordance with Scripture. The believer has a choice to follow God or the world, and God calls the believer to forsake sin and live righteously (Rom 6:11-14; 13:12-14).  Paul stated:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Tit 2:11-14)

Light of the WorldThe Christian is chosen by God to be a light in the world, and to call people to God that they might be saved by grace through faith. The whole world lies in darkness, and the Christian is to preach the gospel to the lost, calling unbelievers “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). The world, as a whole, will never be reformed or made perfect because it consists of a majority of unbelievers who are guided by sinful values. Absolute perfection only comes when God destroys the current heavens and earth and creates a new heavens and earth (Rev 21-22). The apostle Peter states, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). Until that happens, God is calling out a special people to be set apart from the world, sanctified and holy. We live in the world, but we are not of the world. Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:19). Though we live in the world, we are called to strive for holiness rather than conformity (Rom 12:1-2).  

       Historically, Christians have been a positive influence in society by promoting law and being charitable to the needy (Gal 2:10; Jam 1:27). They’ve built schools, hospitals, orphanages, and other helpful organizations that lift man up. They’ve fed the hungry, cared for the sick, housed the homeless, provided for widows and orphans, and visited prisoners with the Gospel. Christians have also promoted art, literature, music and science. Certainly there have been abuses in the name of Christianity; however, the historical record speaks favorably about Christian service. For the most part, believers have obeyed Scripture and become law abiding citizens rather than rebels. Scripture teaches Christians to think of government as a “minister of God” (Rom 13:4), to obey good leaders (Rom 13:1, 5; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-15), pay taxes (Rom 13:6), regard rulers as “servants of God” who do His will (Rom 13:6), and to pray for them (1 Tim 2:1-2). We realize there is a legitimate sense in which the leaders of this world accomplish God’s purposes by keeping harmony and promoting justice (Rom 13:2-4; 6-7). We do not blindly submit to their authority, and should say no to governmental leaders when they command us to go against the commands of God (see Dan 3:1-18; 6:1-13; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29). The Christian obeys or defies human authority only as the Bible directs. Ultimately, those who obey God’s word prove to be a blessing that promotes righteousness within a nation.  

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. Choosing Righteous Friends
  3. Love Your Enemies
  4. Satan’s World System
  5. Overcome Evil with Good 

[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 828.

[2] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary (Christian focus publications, Germany, 2006), 322.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Skillful, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 133.