What the pastor should say in the wedding

“…the  two shall become one….” (Matthew 19:5)

The wedding ceremony is a great time–once in a lifetime for most people–for the pastor to get something across to two people in particular while hundreds are eavesdropping.

Not that they will remember a thing you say.

Friday, April 13, 1962, when Margaret and I stood at the altar, our pastor said some wonderful things that I found fascinating and inspiring.  Alas, my mind retained his insightful words for exactly half an hour, so whatever he said is gone forever.

These days, someone is recording your wedding service. So, you’ll be able to listen later when life returns to normal.

Presumably, that’s when the minister’s words are finally heard and begin to sink in.

So, what do you tell them, pastor? What words of lasting value and incredible help can you utter during the ceremony which will make a huge difference down the road a year or two or ten?  Now, you have only so much time, and this is not the time nor place for a full sermon. Still, choose a few great points you wish to lodge in their hearts forever and give it a shot.

Here are my suggestions on what you want to tell the couple….

1) Tell them this is a holy step they are taking and what that means.

Something holy belongs to God.  Sometimes God creates a thing, keeps it for Himself, and announces to mankind that this thing is His and should be treated with great respect.

A holy place, a holy people, a holy time, a holy ritual, a holy sacrifice.  To be holy is to dwell in the realm of His Lordship.

We call marriage “holy wedlock.”  God owns this. He instituted marriage and ordered how it would be lived.  That’s why we want to do it His way and only in His way, and to honor Him each step of the way.

Tell the man and woman that since marriage is sacred, it can be done successfully only in the power and strength of the Lord Himself.

2) Tell them God is not going to force a great marriage on them.  

They get to choose. They have to choose.

God told Israel, “If you are willing, you shall eat the good of the land.”  They could have the blessings of Heaven by their obedience.  “But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword” (Isaiah 1:19-20). It was their choice.

Our Lord Jesus said, “I stand at your door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in….” (Revelation 3:20).  Don’t miss the point. He brings the blessings of Heaven right up to our front door, but that’s where He stops.  As He knocks–imagine the Lord of Heaven and earth seeking admission anywhere!–He waits for us to decide whether we want His blessings.

Jesus said to Jerusalem, “I would have blessed you and protected you from harm. But you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37).

We make similar decisions every day of our lives.  Husbands and wives choose each day how their waking hours will be lived. Ideally, we who are married choose each other, we choose to honor our vows, and we choose to humble ourselves before the living God and to serve Him.

Marriage is about making wise choices every day of our lives.

3) Tell them marriage is not just about love.

Sitting before the counselor or pastor or attorney, a man or woman will say, “We married because we fell in love.  Now, we have fallen out of love and want to be divorced.” The counselor–presumably the adult in the room–hears all this and thinks:  “You people sure are doing a lot of falling.  Falling in love, falling out of love. As though you are passive in all this, as though you cannot help yourself.  You poor things.”

Marriage is about commitment.  That’s why the vows say “in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish til death do us part.”

Most ceremonies contain no promise to always love, but they all contain a promise to be faithful to the end.

In a marriage ceremony for his niece,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Love will not sustain your marriage; but marriage will sustain your love.”

Marriage is about commitment. Tell them several times.

4) Tell them that struggles and hardships are part of God’s plan. 

They should not abandon the marriage–or feel they have failed in some way, or worse, that they have married the wrong person–when they encounter problems.  Problems are not par for the course; they are the course.

The trying of your faith worketh patience…. (James 1:3).

We’ve all heard the story of the kid who watched as the new butterfly was emerging from the chrysalis.  As it struggled to break free, the child decided to help the process along with a pair of tweezers.  When he had freed the butterfly from the trappings of the cocoon, he noticed it lay there motionless. In time, the child realized the butterfly had died.  Seeing what had happened, a parent informed the child that he had interrupted the natural process, that the struggle to free itself of the chrysalis was good for the butterfly, that the effort helped to develop the wings and start the life juices flowing. By aborting the struggle, the child had ended its life.

Those of us who pray for a stress-free life are asking for what never was and was never meant to be.

To build a muscle, one applies stress. Likewise, God allows stress into our lives to grow us as believers.  The pressure of finances, in-laws, children, relationships, and a thousand other adjustments all play major roles in developing husbands and wives so that eventually they truly do become “one flesh.”

Marriage is about facing obstacles together and growing.

5) Tell them to renew their vows tomorrow and the day after that.

In a legal sense, we are locking ourselves in by our commitments of the wedding day.  And there is nothing wrong with that. However, when we wake up the next morning, we should choose each other all over again.

The first time we chose each other by faith.  We barely knew what we were doing and only a sliver of what we were getting into.  But as time goes by, we know. In choosing each other again, this time by sight and not by faith, we bless the other immensely.  There are no longer any secrets, no hidden agendas, no revelations about the other waiting to be made. We know each another.  To choose each other now is golden.

Marriage is about choosing each other every day of our lives.

6) Tell them not to expect their spouse to understand all their hurts and to meet all their needs.

Ruth Bell Graham said, “Many wives expect their husbands to be to them what only Jesus Christ can be.”  It’s true of husbands too.

Putting impossible expectations on the other is a sure-fire recipe for disappointment and frustration.  How much better to free the other to be who they are and to put our eyes and hopes and dreams on the Lord Jesus Christ, the only One capable of meeting them.

Tell them to turn their eyes upon Jesus.

7) Tell them to rule out the divorce option from the beginning.

Someone has said divorce is like the escape hatch on a submarine: If you plan to descend into matrimonial waters, you’d better close it or you are in trouble from the first.

As long as divorce remains an option in one’s thinking, the marriage is never secure. Best to rule it out now and forever.  “We’re going to stay in this marriage and make it work or die trying.”

A couple being remarried told me, “We were running with the wrong crowd.  Everyone in our group was getting a divorce. So, when we ran into problems in our marriage, divorce seemed the thing to do. But it was a mistake.”  They had started back to church and were building a new support team for the home which they were re-establishing.

Not long ago, I asked a new bride and groom if the minister in their ceremony had said anything memorable.  They assured me he had and that they would long remember the insights he shared.

I hope they’re right.  But I would not be surprised if a few weeks from now, life has crowded out most of what they thought they would never forget. But so long as someone recorded it–which they did–they’ve still got it.

My job as a minister is to make certain what they return and listen to is well worth their time and effort.

One thought on “What the pastor should say in the wedding

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