The vows of Christian marriage are directly related to the faithfulness, nature, and work of Christ. Therefore, the vows many couples make such as “until death do us part” and “in sickness or health” should carry extreme value and endurance because Christ has exhibited the same in His loving pursuit of us. I will show through scripture how the relationship between a husband and a wife should reflect the relationship between Christ and His church.
Ephesians 5:25 urges “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul provides possibly the clearest example of how a husband/wife relationship should be fleshed out. He does not write that husbands should be nice to wives as long as wives are nice to them. Neither does he write that husbands should be faithful to wives until it becomes a burden, inconvenient, or unsatisfying. Instead, he reveals that marriage should be identical to the relationship between Christ and man. As we read in I Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf.” As a result of God’s great love, He loved us even when we did not love him, even when it perhaps was a burden. Therefore, if a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, then the love will be active regardless of circumstances. If husbands fail to meet this command head on by refusing to show such unselfishness, they will find themselves in grave danger having committed sin against God as well as hindering their very prayers to God (I Peter 3:7 NASB).
In addition to this aspect of marriage, Paul also adds a very specific qualification for the love a husband should display for his wife. This love is not merely a marital emotion that is expressed through hugs and kisses, chores and favors, or kind intentions. Instead, we see love reflecting the very death of Christ. The proper love causes the lovers to literally follow Christ in a form of death. Rather than merely committing to each other than go much further by emptying themselves for each other in an act of personal and daily dying (Philippians 2:7 NASB). What a beautiful picture literal paints by the hands and colored with the blood of the Savior! As a result of was Paul teaches in Ephesians 5, the vows of marriage become much different than they are typically viewed today.
Fortunately, Paul also provides in Ephesians 5:28 some more startling instructions for the proper marriage relationship. He writes that “husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.” Again, what a powerful picture of the proper marriage relationship. As we read throughout scripture, Christ is symbolized by the husband and His church by the wife. Therefore, we see a unique picture of Christ’s love for His church in that He loved the church as Himself. In other words, Christ’s death was an event that sought, above all else, to defend the infinitely valuable glory of God. Therefore, His death also expresses the infinite value He ascribes to men. I am amazed by the impact this simple understanding can have on marriage. Rather than a couple viewing each other as simply special, the marriage that follows God’s design leads each partner to view the other as holding a similarly extreme value.
The question left to beg is, “What does all this have to do with vows.” The answer is that these Biblical injunctions have everything to do with marriage vows. The purposes of vows are to express one’s commitment to and perspective on another. Through His death on the cross, Christ revealed His commitment to us. While we were unlovable He loved us in an extreme way. Therefore the same should be said of marriage. Husbands should love their wives even when they seem utterly unlovable and vice versa. Instead of exerting of love that is bound by circumstance, true love which is channeled by Christ through us, loves regardless of circumstance. By doing so, the very extremeness of Christ’s love is revealed through us to His credit and glory. On the same note, our perspectives on our spouses should be driven by Christ’s perspective on us. As mentioned earlier, Christ views His creation as so valuable that He chose to give His life as a ransom in order to redeem them. This works in our lives by regarding our vows as more than simple commitments, but instead as an expression of our love which empties us for the sake of our partner. Truly, what a powerful opportunity we have as Christians to experience first hand how the vows of marriage directly relate to and reflect the faithfulness, nature, and work of Christ.