Letters To A Young Engaged Man: The Weighty Thrill

Dear Young Engaged Man,

When the time comes for you to stand before your bride and say your vows, a mix of emotions will flood your soul. The exchange of vows is a weighty thrill.  You are thrilled by your deep love for her and the weight of your promise is sobering.  The line in your vows that perhaps carries the most weight is “Till death do us part.”  Not many couples realize the significance of this short phrase.

If you say this phrase, you will be committing to never leave nor forsake your bride until the day you breathe your last. You will be committing to be a one woman man until you behold Jesus face to face.

Be warned. The promise is not “Till adultery do us part.” Nor is it “Till abandonment do us part.”

I am convinced that the Bible teaches believers should not divorce under any circumstances. We can discuss that later if you like, but even if you disagree, I plead with you to discard any “parachute cord” from your marriage. Remove from your mind all reasons for divorce and live as Christ does with his bride. Irrevocably committed.

Christ will never leave nor forsake his bride, even when we commit adultery against him.  Christ will never abandon his wife, even when we abandon our first love.  The vows are weighty and before a holy God.  Our “yes” must be “yes” and our “no” be “no”. Heath Lambert helped me realize the seriousness of the wedding vows. He has pointed out that if you are going to hold to legitimate exceptions for divorce in your marriage, then you must include them in your vows or completely leave off the phrase “Till death do us part.” You can’t have your exception and eat it too.

Ephesians chapter five calls us to love our wife as Jesus loves us. Make a fundamental commitment to never separate what God joins together. (Mark 10:9)  God calls you to be a Hosea even if you marry a Gomer.

I am praying for you as you prepare for the weighty thrill of covenanting together with your bride.  May your marriage oaths be true until either you or the heavens and earth pass away.

Until then,

4 thoughts on “Letters To A Young Engaged Man: The Weighty Thrill

  1. Sean, I rejoice for you as you enjoy God’s gift of a wife. And I am glad that you want to stand against the degraded view of marriage this culture has.

    I understand your heart, marriage is a wondrous thing which was created to display a more wondrous reality of Christ and His church. And God meant it to be permanent covenant.

    With all covenants, however, they can be broken because of sin. Your statement that, “believers should not divorce under any circumstances.” flies directly contrary to Paul allowing a divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:15. “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.” The word for ‘separate’ unquestionably means divorce. ( 1.In verses 10-11 the parallel word of ‘separate’ is ‘divorce’. 2. BDAG and Louw-Nida claim this meaning as well along with every technical commentary I have read. 3. Finally, there is no evidence to over turn it). Thus, Paul is stating clearly that a believer can get a divorce.

    I want to cherish marriage as well. But I don’t want to cherish marriage at the expense of faithfulness to God’s word.

    If you want to continue this discussion the main point of opposition I have to the Permanence Position is that there are passages in Scripture which give clear allowance for divorce and remarriage. Now, I know the claims made by the Permanence holders. I know what they say about the Matthean texts. That is why I took the time to study their claims. I have documented my findings here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/75771922/Permanence-Reading-of-Porneia-and-Moicheia-in-Matthew

    The short of it is that there is no linguistic credibility to their claims about Matthew’s usages for Porneia and Moichiea as being distinct means. Jesus is speaking just like the Old Testament prophets when he uses those two words to refer to the same action.

    I know that my view does not sound as exciting or passionate as yours. But I believe it is most faithful to the Word of God. And there is no other place I would rather be.

    But what about your claim, “If you are going to hold to legitimate exceptions for divorce in your marriage, then you must include them in your vows or completely leave off the phrase “Till death do us part.'”

    I would respond by saying that you don’t understand the nature of a covenant. I can’t be bound to a covenant that does not exist. Let me explain, I agree that the vows mean what they say. If I look my bride in the eyes and say “till death do us part” I mean just that. I will be faithful to the covenant until death breaks it. Death is the only righteous means for me to break the covenant. But that does not exclude the possibility that she could break it unrighteously. She could break the covenant in a way that goes against her words to me and which God recognizes as a means of breaking the covenant. And if the covenant is broken then it is broken, thus nonexistent. How am I suppose to stay faithful to a covenant that is no longer exists?

    That is my initial response. I look forward to continuing this discussion with you.

    May the Lord abound joy to you through your life long covenant with your bride!

    1. Charlie,

      Thank you for taking the time to study the Scriptures and comment on our blog. I have a deep respect for you and I remember several conversations in person regarding this topic.

      I am sorry it has taken me this long to respond. Jennifer and I have returned from our honeymoon and now are traveling to study abroad. Thank you for your kind words about our wedding and marriage. The Lord was very kind and blessed us with a wonderful ceremony and celebration with friends and family.

      First let me say that I am thankful for your high view of the Scriptures. We want to be people who listen to the words of the Bible and not just what sounds good to the ears. The Bible defines marriage, and the Bible defines divorce. We do not want to have a “good” idea that tries to make the Bible fit into it’s system.

      I used to believe the Bible taught that there were legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage. However, upon further study, I have now come to the conclusion that the Scriptures teach that a believer should not divorce or remarry. To be honest, this was a hard view for me to swallow. This is not the popular view nor is it the view that is easy. But we both would agree with Luther when he said, “My conscious is bound to the Scriptures,” and not to man.

      Having said that, the question then becomes what do the Scriptures actually say? This is where we will disagree, but fortunately that does not makes us any less brothers nor does it make us post moderns. I want to encourage the readers that the Bible does have a firm teaching on this subject, and one must come to a solid decision because it is a crucial topic in life and ministry.  Much study is needed.

      Two exegetical thoughts before I discuss the actual blog post.

      I have become convinced that 1 Corinthians 7 forbids remarriage and also does not permit divorce.  I have posted a lengthy essay I wrote related to this subject on the blog’s resource page. In short, 1 Corinthians 7:15-16 aids in helping the believing spouse pursue peace and reconciliation with the leaving unbelieving spouse instead of doing more harm to the gospel witness by refusing to let them leave. This text is meant to serve for gospel reconciliation and actually forbids a believer to initiate divorce. Ironically, it was this text that helped solidify my view that it is immoral for a believer to ever initiate divorce. I explain this further in my essay.

      Regarding the use of Morichia and Pornea. The most common use of pornea is sexual immorality. Adultery is certainly in its semantic range and there are instances of these occurrences in the Scriptures as you have pointed out in your documentation. However, I must disagree with the conclusion of your article which rules out the possibility of pornea referring only to the betrothal period in Matthew 5 and 19. It is true that pornea can include adultery, but it can just as easily be restricted. The use of pornea is used in Scripture elsewhere to refer exclusively to the betrothal period. This is found in John 8:41 when the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being born of pornea. They do not mean adultery. That would lessen the force of their argument. They are referring to sexual immorality before marriage and exclusively in the betrothal period of Mary. This is a legitimate use of the word and we cannot rule this usage out in Matthew 5 and 19.

      Since Matthew is the only gospel account that includes the exception clause and he is the only gospel writer that includes the account of Joseph wanting to divorce Mary, in order to show that Joseph had legitimate grounds for divorce, it is possible Matthew includes the exception clause for his readers. Why is Matthew the only author that includes the exception clause? Why is he the only author that includes Joseph’s righteous plan to divorce Mary? What word could Matthew use to describe sexual immorality before marriage? The most common and appropriate word to choose is pornea. This is my best shot at understanding these texts and reconciling them with the context and force of the rest of the New Testament.

      Now regarding my view of the covenants, I agree that certain ones can be broken.  For instance, the Sinai covenant was broken by the disobedience of the children of Israel.  This is why a new a better covenant was needed. Jeremiah 31 talks extensively about the everlasting covenant that Jesus makes with his bride the church. Unlike other covenants in the Scriptures, this covenant cannot be broken. It is sealed by the promise of the Lord and the price of his blood. Nothing can pluck the children of God out of the hand of God, and He gives them a heart that will never ultimately turn away from Himself. Anyone who walks away from the Lord permanently has never known the Lord in a saving covenant. Jesus will tell apostates on the last day, turn from me I never knew you.

      The covenant Jesus makes with his bride is permanent and Jesus promises never to leave nor forsake her.  The marriage covenant reflects this, and the bond made can only be broken by death.

      Having said all of this, my goal in writing this particular blog was not primarily to persuade the reader of the permanence position. Rather, my desire was to persuade all people to remove an “exception clause” mentality from their marriages. I wanted to convince even those who disagree with my position that they should love their wives as Jesus does His and never leave them nor forsake them.

      I remember having an intense conversation while being in middle school when I held the mainstream Erasmian position (divorce being permissible for either adultery or desertion). I told my friend that I would never get a divorce unless my wife cheated on me.  I was adamant about not getting a divorce but I remember saying something like, “But if she commits adultery against me- that is so horrible, I will not have anything to do with her because of her sin against me.”

      Just typing out what I was thinking in my heart makes me sick. The mentality I held was wicked and self-centered. And the worst part was that I felt justified by my interpretation of the Bible. Now, I know that your heart is not promoting such a self -centered view of marriage. You love Jesus, and I am confident you will make a godly husband. In fact, you would want to deter people away from this mentality.

      However, I have spoken with people who hold to the Erasmian position and enter into their marriage covenant with exception clauses ready to launch. This is one reason I desired to plead for a permanence mentality in my blog even among those who disagree. I am thankful for many Erasmian brothers who have told me they always counsel away from divorce even when they think it is permissible. I am thankful for this, but I do wish their view was consistent with the way they conduct their wedding ceremonies. This is why I wrote about the significance of the vow “Till death do us part.”

      The vows of a wedding ceremony define the terms of the marriage. Even if an Erasmian believes the covenant can be broken, he can still choose to remain with his spouse and go “above and beyond the call of duty” so to speak. When an Erasmian makes the vow “Till death do us part” he is taking an oath before God and before man that he will let his “yes” be “yes” and his “no” be “no”. This oath is not contingent upon any action the spouse does or does not do.

      While he may view the covenant as broken, that does not give him freedom to go against his own oath. He has vowed to go above his own view of the covenant. He may view the covenant as non-existing (I disagree), but his promise is still in existence. He may view an exception clause for divorce in the Sermon on the Mount, but the Sermon on the Mount does not permit an exception clause for the oaths.

      I would be concerned, but I would still officiate a wedding of an Erasmian couple as long as they were consistent in their vows and their view of the covenant they believe they are entering. It is my prayer that all believers will implement a practical view of marriage that mirrors the everlasting covenant Jesus has made with his bride. Matthew 19 comes right after Matthew 18 in which Jesus tells us to forgive seventy times seven. I pray that this will be the mentality Christian couples have as they enter into marriage. May we enter our marriages determined to pursue reconciliation at every cost just as Jesus is relentless in pursuing us when we stray.

      Charlie, you are more well read than I and love the Lord and the church more than I do. Therefore, I am honored that you have taken the time to read this blog and leave your comments. I pray this response is helpful. I am encouraged by your love for the Scriptures and your desire to let them define all of your beliefs.

      Thank you dear brother for your friendship and support.



  2. Thanks for the reply Sean. And you don’t have to be sorry for the delayed response. I was not expecting you to interrupt your honeymoon to respond. It would have been weird if you did! Haha. I knew it was going to be delayed. And I guess I have responded by a delay as well. It gets tough trying to step away from everything else for a few hours and type out a long response. But I believe this discussion is worth it. It is an important matter that needs to be hammered out as real lives will be affected by the decisions we make on it.

    Thanks for the kind words that book end and flow through your reply. It makes the discussion more worthwhile when kindness pervades the tone. I believe that both of us understand our hearts on this matter and to each other. Both of us see the other as striving for the faith of the gospel, cherishing Christ above all, trusting in Word of God while working through hard issues of what the bible teaches on important matters. There is much commonality among us. And I am with you in wanting brotherly love and humility of mind to pervade this discussion.

    We are both, however, busy and this is a worthwhile discussion to have. Based on those two things I think it is wisest to keep things brief as possible. I want to make this clarification so if my responses come off as emotionless arguments that will be the case.

    Within that context let me move into the main discussion at hand. I will move through your paragraphs giving my responses to your points.

    In regards to 1 Corinthians 7:15 let me make my argument clear so there is no confusion. Your stated position is that, “the Bible teaches believers should not divorce under any circumstances.” This statement seems very clear to me as to what you intend to communicate. No divorce in any circumstance. My point of objection is that Paul says a believer can have a divorce in a particular circumstance in 1 Corinthians 7:15. Thus, Paul’s statement is as odds with yours.

    What you do with the verse is talk about who initiates what with the divorce. But that seems to be completely arbitrary. If an action is wrong in any circumstance it would then seem to follow that what leads up to the circumstance means nothing. For no matter the circumstance there can be no legitimate practice of the action. If Steve can never under any circumstance leave his room would it be okay if he left the room because his sister initiated him to do it? No, because, he was not to leave the room under any circumstance. Thus, if there is no circumstance which allows a divorce then there is nothing that allows the divorce to happen in a righteous way. A believer still sins if the unbelieving spouse divorces. That seems to be plain and simple.

    But don’t you say that a believer can divorce if the unbeliever initiates it? But doesn’t that contradict your statement? Is it, “Till death do us part…unless the unbeliever initiates”?

    What I would guess is that you don’t have Paul meaning divorce when he says divorce. Is that right? When he says the unbeliever can divorce it means something along the line of legal divorce but not real divorce, right?

    Now in regards to the language issue, thank you for taking the time to read the article. Hopefully it was clear enough. But your linguistic reply is confusing at best. Your argumentation runs as thus: Porneia can refer to sexual immorality in the betrothal period (there is no issue there). Porneia refers to sexual immorality in the betrothal period in John 8:41 (most people would see this). Therefore Porneia refers to an act of sexual immorality committed in the betrothal period in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. Your “therefore” is in no way connected to your premises. You can use that exact argument and force Porneia to have that meaning anywhere Porneia is found (or any other word for that matter). Thus, in 1 Thess. 4:3 Paul is only commanding the readers to sustain from sexual immorality within the betrothal period because in John Porneia is used that way? Or let me take something even closer to home. You wrote, “The exchange of vows is a weighty thrill.” Now your use of the word “weighty” is expressing feeling. What if I thus interpreted every other usage by you of that word to mean that? Let’s say that in another blog post you write, “My car rode close to the ground due to the weight I put into it.” So what you mean is that you gave the car a particular feeling? Incorrect interpretation right? But is that not what you are doing with the John passage with the Matthew passage? See the problem with your argument?

    If you are going to argue that Matthew’s usage is the same as John’s usage you have to give demonstrable evidence for it. If Porneia have a very specific meaning with all its usages throughout the New Testament, Old Testament, and relevant literature then you would be correct to make the connection. But Porneia does not have a specific meaning. It is very broad. Thus, if you are going to suggest that it has a specific meaning you have to argue for it with evidence, not just state it should be so.

    What my paper seems to have clearly demonstrated (the permanence holders who have read it cannot refute it) is that it was normal for Porneia and Moicheia in Matthew to refer to adultery in the way that we find it used in the book. To run to a passage, get a particular meaning, then running back to the verse under discussion, throwing away every conceivable context of the verses and then putting your selected meaning as the most probable is not good interpretation.

    Let me say, as one that had an excellent exegetical teacher (Joslin) one of the important things he taught us to remember about interpretation is the question, “what is most probable?” When we come to the text we are not there to find the most exciting and fascinating ways the verse can be turned and twisted. Instead the faithful exegete has the central aim as to what the most probable meaning of the author had when studying the text. (Yes, there is full canonical context to consider as well, no doubt. Thus we strive to develop the whole circle of hermeneutical studies where individual texts create the whole picture which helps us understand the individual texts). That is what I am aiming for when I read the passages in Matthew. I am not interesting in following every rabbit trail of possible meanings. I set my focus on one thing, what is the most probable.

    It is still upon you to prove that the most probable meaning of Porneia in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is one of being limited to sexual immorality within the betrothal period. Why is it upon you? 1. There are no parallel usages found anywhere else. 2. It goes against word usage. 3. It goes against the word connection in the Matthean passages 4. It goes against context. 5. It ignores the Old Testament which parallels what is happening in Matthew. These are big issues that you can’t sweep under the rug.

    With the next paragraph, I refer to what I just said about probable meaning. All those questions are interesting but they prove worthless when you are combating actual facts.
    If there is no linguistic evidence for understanding Porneia as limited to sexual immorality in the betrothal period in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 then trying to set up hypothetical historical situations to construct why Matthew wrote what he wrote seem pointless at best. One can speculate all they want about why Matthew included the situation with Joseph and Mary. Matthew also used two different forms of mocheia to refer to adultery. Why? Interesting questions and all but if you have no facts they are just hypotheses. Speculation, in my mind, does not over turn verifiable facts. One can speculate about all kinds of amazing reasons Bob did not go to Lexington. But If I heard from people who saw Bob in Lexington then the speculating is pretty much pointless.

    I think that your last section really gets to the heart of the matter though. I know why people are drawn to the Permanence position. They see marriages being destroyed; they see people throwing away their covenantal promises when things get hard. And like you, they see the selfishness that exists in people’s hearts which says, “I love you” with their mouth but will deny it in their actions. Permanence holders love God’s position on marriage and want others to love it as well.

    But I believe that the response to trying to solve heart issues with rules will not work. You said that you have meet people who are ready to use the exceptions if need be. This is sad and if any person is already planning to drop the marriage when they can. This mind set is singling that something is gravely wrong. But what will your restriction accomplish? All you are doing is intensify the restrictions to death. But will not the heart that is ready to run at adultery not also want to run at any other exist if it has too? If the woman is ready to launch at the first issue with pornography where will her heart run to if death is the only option? Will it not just sit around hoping for death so that it can be free? Intensifying the regulations will not keep a heart from being selfish. Only a heart that is in love with the Son of Man who stooped down to serve the selfish by means of the most costly sacrifice will keep a heart from being selfish.

    This is the nature of the New Covenant. God lays down what makes a marriage and what breaks a marriage. His standards (or laws) stand no matter if we want them to or not. But only a heart that has been made anew by the Spirit will want to walk by His standard. We hold out the standard for people to know, but know that they will only keep it if they have been made anew by the Spirit. Thus, intensifying the standard will not make people more faithful it. The Permanence position will not make anyone love their spouse more. Only the heart that is enraptured with the gospel will cause one to love their spouse more. If I want people to stay faithful in their marriages I proclaim the word of the Lord of the standard. But my confidence is in the work of the Spirit to make the people obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching which they have received.

    I know this from my own heart. I can sit here and write all kinds of words about how the exegetical proof of scripture back my position. I can lay down in my mind all the right creedal positions on marriage so as to pass any test ant any biblical seminary. But these rules do not keep me. Rules can easily be bent and ignored when I hurt deeply inside because I think those closest to me are not meeting my “needs.” When their personalities rub underneath my skin to the point I don’t want to hang around them. When thoughts about how great the world would be if I was with that person, or that person, or in any other position than where I am right now. Creeds or standards don’t keep me. Only a heart that knows that eternal life is not found anywhere else but in this Christ who loves me beyond comparison will keep me walking by the standard.

    God’s normal command about marriage is that the covenant is permanent until death. That is the focus we are to take as well. When (or if, for who knows the plans of the Lord) I get married that is my focus and heart’s desire. If any believer does not take that position there are significant problems. If anyone is not willing to forgive and seek reconciliation then there are problems. But as God gave that standard he also gave exceptions. Not as the focus, but as what they are, exceptions. Since my heart loves His standard I love the exceptions He gives as well. He is all wise, loving and just in all He gives. I seek to emulate his love in sacrificial love for a spouse (in the future possibly). And I will emulate His justice in allowing a divorce for those who qualify.

    But what about Christ and the church you ask? You say that since the marriage has to reflect Christ and the church then there can be no divorce since Jesus will never divorce His church. One has to reflect the faithfulness of Christ with the rebellious spouse in not divorcing. If this is the standard then we can say this:
    1. Christ will not abandon the church even in death. Their marriage is forever, thus our marriage is forever right? You would say no. Why? Because the scripture teaches that marriage ends death obviously. But is that not what I am arguing about the exceptions? They are scripture too. Our marriages reflect the marriage of Christ and His church is the ways scripture permits. And the argument is that the exceptions are scriptural.
    2. When does Christ every wait as a widower for His church to return? Never. So how does a man who waits as a widower for his spouse to return picture Christ and the church?
    3. If we are going to make this the standard why stop here? When does Christ every repent to the church? Never. Thus the husband should not repent to the wife right? You would, of course, object to this. But on what ground? Scripture says something different, right? Just as I would object with your standard by saying, “scripture says something different.”

    Thus, we must align our theological systems to scripture and not the other way around. The marriage does reflect Christ and His church. But I am not going to make that reflection go against what is revealed in scripture.

    Finally, what about, “Till death due us part?” You say , “This oath is not contingent upon any action the spouse does or does not do.” But who says? No one for as long as the statement has been use has understood that statement to mean that? Only a very minority of Permanence holders understand that statement to mean that. If no one understands certain words to mean a given thing how can one bind themselves to that given thing by saying those certain words? If I use the words, “I will not get up from this seat” do I bind myself to the promise that I will not be at James’s birthday? No, of course not. No one understands the phrase to refer to anyone’s birthday party. Thus, if no one understands, “Till death due us part” as non-contingent on the actions of the other spouse, how does someone bind oneself to the promise being non-contingent on the actions of the other spouse?

    Thus, most people enter into the vows with the knowledge that if the spouse unrighteously breaks the covenant being made then they are annulled of the covenant stipulations. How is a person to keep “To have and to hold” when their spouse is married to another? How are they suppose to keep that? Do they still “have” them? No. Instead, it is understood that the covenant can be annulled by the unrighteous actions of the other.

    Well let me finish on that note.

    Hopefully this points are clear in their meaning and free from any unkindness as your words were.

    We should get lunch sometime. Send me a Facebook message about when you are free.

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