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.

Related Articles:

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

God Loves Israel

     God loves Israel, declaring, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer. 31:3). God is eternal, and His love is eternal. To possess the love of God is to love that which he loves. One cannot claim to have God’s love, and simultaneously hate Israel, His chosen people. There is no place for anti-Semitism in the heart of any Christian.

     Israel FlagTo love Israel is not a blanket endorsement of all their beliefs and behaviors. God, who loves Israel and chose them to be His people (Deut. 7:6-8), also called them to be holy (Ex. 19:5-6; Lev. 11:45), and promised blessing or cursing, based on their obedience to Him (Deut. 28:1-68). Israel can and does fail, often rejecting God’s love for them and walking in the ways of the world (see 2 Chron. 36:15-16; Jer. 7:25-26; 25:4-7; Ezek. 16; Matt. 23:1-39; Acts 7:51-53; 1 Thess. 2:14-16). The national rejection and crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27:22-23; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28), Israel’s promised Messiah (Deut. 18:15; Isa. 7:14; 9:6-7;53; 61:1; Matt. 1:1, 17; Luke 1:31-33), is their greatest failure. Did Israel act alone in crucifying Jesus, their Messiah? No! God foretold Israel’s Messiah would suffer and die (Ps. 22:11-18; Isa. 53); and, according to His sovereignty, He used wicked men, both Jews and Gentiles, to accomplish His will (Acts 22:22-23; 4:27-28).

If it be inquired, as constantly it is, who put Christ to death? It may be pointed out that He was offered by the Father (Ps. 22:15; John 3:16; Rom. 3:25), of His own free will (John 10:17; Heb. 7:27; 9:14; 10:12), by the Spirit (Heb. 9:14), and by men—Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and Israel (Acts 2:23; 4:27). To this may be added that part of His death was contributed by Satan (cf. Gen. 3:15).[1]

     God, who loves Israel with an everlasting love, continues to keep His word to them. Israel has a future hope because of the promises and covenants God made through the patriarchs and prophets (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:18; 17:8; Deut. 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). Though unbelieving Israel is currently under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39), God’s covenants and promises are still in effect (Rom. 9:1-5), and will remain in force until Jesus returns and is accepted as their Messiah.

     It is wrong to think the church has replaced Israel, for “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (Rom. 11:2), even though there is a “partial hardening” among them until Messiah returns (Rom. 11:25-27). Until then, unbelieving Israel is under spiritual darkness and divine judgment. The apostle Paul—a biological Jew himself—revealed that God’s promises and covenants are still valid for national Israel, and wished all would come to faith in Christ.

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart [for unbelieving Israel]. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh [to whom Paul is related biologically], who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh [i.e. Messiah], who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Rom. 9:1-5)

     Today, Jews and Gentiles alike, become partakers of the church, the body of Christ, when they believe in Jesus as their Savior (Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 1:22-23; cf. 1 Cor. 10:32). The church is looking forward to the return of Christ, in which He will catch away (ἁρπάζω harpazo – to seize, catch up, snatch away) Christians to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-17). Until God resumes His prophetic plans for Israel, the Christian is called to love them, pray for them, and share the gospel of grace that they may turn to Jesus as the Christ and be saved (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18-24; 15:3-4).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Lewis S. Chafer, “Christology” in Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 80.

Choosing a Good Bible Church

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:23-25)

      As Christians we are to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:24-25). Choosing a good Bible church is not simply for fellowship, but for prayer, worship, and above all, learning Scripture. We learn how to pray because the Bible teaches us. We learn good Christian fellowship because the Bible reveals what good Christian fellowship really is. We learn to worship because the Bible teaches us what genuine worship ought to be. The Bible alone provides the necessary information to live the Christian life, and if we close its pages, we know nothing. Even what we think about God comes from what He has revealed about Himself in Scripture. A good Bible church will place a priority on learning the Bible, because Scripture alone provides the necessary information that makes the other activities meaningful and proper. Without a biblical basis, the church is just another social club.

       A person becomes a member of the body of Christ—the church—when he believes in Jesus for salvation (Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 1:22-23). The church was not known in the OT but was revealed to the apostles in the New Testament (Eph. 3:1-12; 5:32; Col. 1:25-27). The local church was identified geographically (1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Rev. 2-3), and local churches met in people’s homes.

The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. (1 Cor. 16:19)

Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. (Col. 4:15-16)

       Biblically the church is ALWAYS an assembly of believers and NEVER a building! Too often we say “we’re going to church” as though the church is located down the street. A more correct way would be to say “the church meets” at such and such a location. You can change the location, but the church, as the body of Christ, always consists of Christians who assemble for worship.

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

       Biblically, the church’s emphasis should always be on: 1) learning Scripture, 2) having quality fellowship, 3) partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and 4) praying together. Certainly there can be other activities, but these four should be present and prioritized in every church. Scripture never puts an emphasis on the quantity of members or the attractiveness of the facilities. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a clean facility and I am not against numbers, I just don’t measure a church by those things. Mormons have large congregations that meet in beautiful facilities; yet they’re spiritually dead because they’ve trusted in a false savior, having been led astray by a false prophet named Joseph Smith (Gal. 1:8-9).

       It is a real blessing to get into a Bible church where the pastor teaches Scripture verse by verse, paying attention to the original languages of Hebrew and Greek when necessary, explaining the history and culture behind the text, and always giving the plain sense of the passage as the author intended it for his original audience. A good pastor will bridge the language and historical gap, communicating the text in freshness with conviction. Some characteristics of a good Bible church include:

  1. Expositional Bible teaching (Eph. 4:11-16).
  2. Love for one another (1 Thess. 3:11-12; 4:9; 1 Pet. 4:8; 1 Jo. 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11).
  3. Willingness to meet the needs of others (Phil. 2:3-4).
  4. Encouraging one another (1 Thess. 5:11).
  5. Edifying one another (Rom. 15:1-2; Eph. 4:29).
  6. Serving one another (Gal. 5:13).
  7. Being kind and forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32).

       There are no perfect churches but there are mature ones in which mature believers place an emphasis on learning Scripture, showing love and grace, and striving to glorify God in all they do. The growing church looks upward to God in faith, outward to others with the gospel, and inward to Christians with love (Col. 3:1-16). The joy of good Christian fellowship is rewarding in so many ways as the growing believer benefits from, and adds to the spiritual prosperity of a church.

This article is an excerpt from The Christian Life, pages 121-124.

Also, read my article, The Church – Then and Now.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.