The other day I was watching one of my favorite television shows, The West Wing. While the show chronicles the inner workings of a Presidential Administration, what struck me most in this particular episode had absolutely nothing to do with politics. The main character, President Josiah Bartlett, suffers from multiple sclerosis. As the disease cripples his body, he reaches a point where he no longer can put his own pants on by himself. In a moment of humbling weakness, he asks his wife to help him with such a basic task, and utters these words:
So this is why they make you take vows.
And I think he is on to something.
A vow means something. Vows are what we fall back on when what we have been promised is harder than we realized. In our culture, our word doesn’t mean much. Words are empty and meaningless. But in God’s economy, words matter. In the Old Testament, when God made a promise to his people it was the real deal. His covenant with his people could not be broken, even by the most difficult of circumstances. The same is true for us today. God’s vow to us as his people is sealed by the blood of his Son—and nothing can take that away from us.
Our marriage vows are a picture of the greater vow God makes to us, his Bride. We promise to be with our husband in sickness and in health. We commit to loving him for richer or poorer. We vow to stay with him until that final day when death separates us. Weddings are solemn ceremonies. While it seems romantic and idealistic on your wedding day to pledge your undying love and devotion to the man of your dreams, the truth is it is excruciating in real life. Very few married couples get very far into their marriage before reality sets in and these vows demand something from them. Spouses get sick with the flu and need to be cared for and cleaned up after. Wives give birth to children through sometimes life threatening circumstances. The bank account dries up. Husbands lose their jobs. Children die. Affections ebb and flow. Disagreements and fights happen. Cancer comes with a vengeance.
What seems romantic on the wedding day stings when it actually comes to our door. I heard it said once that Christians are walking around with a big target on their back, especially within their marriages. The Enemy is always seeking someone to devour, and who better than the happily married Christian couple. He hates the image that a Christian marriage represents. From day one of this creation, he has been on a single minded mission to destroy the beauty of God’s creation and rob him of his rightful glory. And marriage is one big target in his war.
Marriage is hard, that is for sure. But let me be clear, it’s not defeatist. While Satan wants nothing more than to destroy the image of Christ and his Bride that is pictured in our marriage relationships, we can rest assured that Satan will not win. He is a defeated foe. In the moment of difficulty that rises up in our marriages it can feel like he is winning. It can feel like giving up is the only option. It can feel like there is no hope for us and for our spouse. And he wants you to believe that. But let me encourage you with a sure promise from God’s word:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).
Did you catch that? If you are in Christ, there is a work that has been started in you. If your husband is in Christ, the same is true for him. That work, secured for you on Calvary all those years ago, is a surefire promise that it can only improve for you. While it might not improve in the immediate, or even in this life, the rest of the verse gives hope that one day it will reach its full completion. When Christ returns, the dead are raised, and all of our sin is once and for all defeated.
This is what we cling to when marriage is hard. Day by day we trust the one who accomplished salvation for us. We lean hard on his grace and beg him for new mercies with the rising of the morning sun. We remain steadfast when we face temptation, accusations, and lies from the culture that tells us it is better to give up than to press on in this institution called marriage. Marriage is hard. Our vows get tested every day. But we serve a faithful God who promises us that his vow to us will enable us to keep our vow to our spouses, even to the very end.
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