When something becomes common, its meaning and significance are forgotten. This is true of marriage and the wedding ceremony. Weddings have been in so many movies we begin to think they are good cinema instead of sacred covenant or that they belong to Hollywood instead of the Holy God. We begin to compare the pageantry and the bride’s dress more than we reflect on the eternal message being enacted before our eyes.
If we miss the gospel-rich meaning of our wedding as a covenant ceremony, then living a gospel-centered marriage can easily feel like a bait-and-switch. We must remember marriage is always a covenant. This is true regardless of our awareness or intentionality during our ceremony or appointment with the justice of the peace.
*** This post is meant to be a resource for (1) those planning their wedding, (2) pastors wanting to be more intentional in how they present the gospel through a wedding ceremony, or (3) experienced couples who want to be reminded of what they wedding was all about.
We rarely use the word covenant today. So we need to define the term. If not, we will use our closest cultural equivalent to understand what God designed. This results in two errors. First, we think of marriage as a contract rather than a covenant. Second, we think the Bible only speaks about marriage in a few select “marriage passages.”
The first error creates a profound shift in how we think about marriage. Ultimately, our desires become the measure of our marriage, and there is nothing in our marriage that is bigger than “me.” My happiness becomes the master of the marriage. “Irreconcilable differences” has become code language for, “One (or both) of us is not happy.” Dissatisfaction with service rendered may be a reason for breaking a contract, but not a covenant.
A contract is…
A covenant is…
|… a common, legal document regulated by the state.||… a sacred, moral agreement overseen by God.|
|… based upon mistrust between two people.||… based upon trust between two people and God.|
|…written to create limited liability.||… accepted to embrace unlimited responsibility.|
|… embedded with “opt out” or termination clauses.||… intended to be permanent.|
|… demands joy through mutual benefit.||… seeks joy through mutual sacrifice|
“The covenant made between a husband and a wife is done ‘before God’ and therefore with God as well as the spouse. To break faith with your spouse is to break faith with God at the same time (p. 83).” Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage
“A true Christian marriage proposal is an offer, not a request. Rather than saying in effect, ‘Will you do this for me?’ when we invite another to enter the marriage relationships, the real question should be, ‘Will you accept what I want to give?’ (p. 187).” Gary Thomas in Sacred Marriage
The last covenant our culture holds as sacred is the parent-child covenant (and even that shows signs of weakening). A parent who forsakes the parent-child covenant (abandoning their child) is viewed as having done a very bad thing; not having made a good choice towards self-actualization or expressing their rights according to legitimate preferences.
Because we still view the parent-child relationship as covenant (whether we use the language or not), we expect parents to do whatever is necessary to learn to love and bond with their children. A lazy, neglectful parent cannot at the same time still be viewed as a “good person.” But marriage, which is based upon the command to leave and cleave, should be held in even higher honor than the parent-child covenant.
The second error truncates how much of God’s wisdom we see as relevant for our marriages. God has more to say about marriage than is recorded in Genesis 1-2, a few passing references in the gospels, Colossians 3, Ephesians 5, and I Peter 3.
“That means that we cannot understand what the Bible has to say about marriage by looking only at the marriage passages, because there is a vast amount of biblical information about marriage not found in the marriage passages (p. 16).” Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect?
In the way we see God balancing His love and justice as He pursues His people; we find the example for what we are called to do as husband and wife. In the sacrificial example of Jesus laying down His life in order make relationship with sinners possible, we find the example of what is required of us as husband and wife. In the constant presence and strengthening of the Holy Spirit, we see how we are to interact as husband and wife.
The Wedding as Covenant Ceremony
We will now walk through a traditional wedding. As we do, we will be asking one question – how was the wedding ceremony designed to teach us about covenant? We will look at fifteen parts of the wedding ceremony.
For an article length Bible study and discussion of the how each of these aspects of a traditional wedding ceremony was designed to teach us the nature of covenant click here: Gospel-Centered Marriage Ceremony.
- Seating of the Family
- Groom Enters First
- White Wedding Dress
- Father Gives Away the Bride
- The Charge
We are here to observe something that is not just beautiful and joyous, but also profound. [Groom] and [Bride] do not stand before one another as perfect individuals. But they are making an unending choice to cover the faults of the other with their own sacrificial love. They pledge to respond to each other as perpetual examples of Christ’s sacrifice for them. This choice is not a burden to them, but rather a joy, because of the delight they take in one another. Their delight is meant to be the clearest earthly representation of God’ abundant love for us and our joyous response to His love.
[Groom] and [Bride] are here today to make their covenant known publicly to family, friends, and the world. This covenant is marked by the physical symbol of a golden ring. Gold because it is the only metal that does not tarnish and is the standard of value for all other commodities. A ring because it, like all true covenants, has no end point.
Once this covenant is established, [Bride] will take [Groom]’s name in the same way that each person who covenants with God takes His name as “Christian.” From that point forward they will live for the joy of the other and take their deepest satisfaction in seeing the dreams of the other fulfilled in the same way God delights in His people and we find our greatest fulfillment in Him.
In this ceremony, let us see not only the beautiful uniting of our dear friends [Groom] and [Bride] in marriage; let us also see a picture of what God established as a picture of the relationship He desires with each one of us. Let us not only celebrate with [Groom] and [Bride] but be encouraged and drawn to the love of our great God.
6. The Pledge
[Groom], I want to ask you a series of questions that you are not hearing for the first time. As you hear them again today, I want you to respond to them with the words, “I do.” [Groom], do you promise before God and this community to receive [Bride] as your wife? Do you promise to love her and to care for her? Do you promise to seek with God’s help to be the spiritual head of your household for [Bride]? Do you promise to listen to her, to respect her, and to honor her for the unique and special woman of God that she is? [Groom] “I do.”
[Bride], I want to ask you a series of questions that you are not hearing for the first time. As you hear them again today, I want you to respond to them with the words, “I do.” [Bride], do you promise before God and this community to accept [Groom] as your husband? Do you promise to love and to care for him? Do you promise with God’s help to submit lovingly to his leadership of your household and do you promise to listen to him, to respect him, and to honor him as the unique and special man of God that he is? [Bride] “I do.”
7. The Vows
I _____ take you _____ to be my wife / husband.
I promise before God and these witnesses that I will love you and be faithful to you.
I promise to stand with you in sickness and in health,
in good times and in bad times,
and forsaking all others,
I promise to give my life to you fully and faithfully
as long as we both shall live.
8. Exchanging of Rings
9. Lighting the Unity Candle
10. The Pronouncement
12. Bridal Veil
13. The Kiss
14. Presentation of the Couple
15. The Reception
Below is a video-based presentation of this material.
This video is part of 3 of 6 in the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations” seminar.