August 26, 2001
When a man and woman commit to each other in marriage, they are fulfilling a creation ordinance in which two people become one. In a world where many view marriage as revocable, Christian couples should recognize the sober nature of their covenant. Alistair Begg stresses the importance of building upon the vows and lifelong covenant made to each other.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn again, once again, with me to the last book of the Old Testament, to Malachi. Page 6-7-6, if you want to use one of the pew Bibles.
And as you’re turning there, let’s just take a moment and acknowledge our dependence upon God as we study the Bible together:
Father, we do not simply, out of routine, come and bow our heads before you as we open the pages of Holy Scripture. We come because we must, because we need to. Because we could distort the Word of God. We could seek to dilute the Word of God. We could try and wrest it to our own destruction. And so we need the Holy Spirit to shine into our minds, to illumine to us the page, to take the voice of a mere man and make it the very voice of God as the Bible is opened for us. Give us attentive minds, open hearts, obedient wills. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
We’re going to deal this morning with this matter of the covenant of marriage. The covenant of marriage.
As a schoolboy in England, walking to school and home from school, I routinely passed a number of church buildings. One of them had a sign outside of it which identified the minister’s name, the times of the service, and then said that the minister was available to do two things: one, to conduct the burial of the dead; and two, to engage in the solemnization of marriage. The solemnization of marriage.
Now, at that time, I was about sixteen. And I used to look at that word and say, “The solemnization of marriage. There’s an interesting word.” I think in the back of my mind I said, “I don’t ever want this guy to do my marriage, because it sounds like it might be dreadfully dull. Couldn’t he have a word up there that was a little more appealing, like, the celebration of marriage or something like that? But the solemnization of marriage…” I could just imagine the guy, and just very solemn.
Well, that’s, what?—if I was sixteen, that’s thirty-three years ago. And here I stand today to tell you that having lived through the second half of the twentieth century and now being given the privilege of embracing the twenty-first and seeing the way in which marriage has been both marginalized and trivialized outside and inside the church, I am prepared to raise a flag for the word solemnization. It is a very good word. And indeed, we might argue that the absence of the word in relationship to the conducting of marriage and the engaging in marriage is in part a contributory factor to the manifold confusion and chaos which exists both outside the framework of the church and, sadly, also within it. Such confusion is not unique to our era. Were it so, we would not be able to read church history and find that it was littered with the challenges that men and women face in this regard.
Certainly, here we find ourselves hundreds of years before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Malachi the prophet is calling his generation to account for an absence of faithfulness. They’re faithless people. They have “[broken] faith,” verse 10, “with one another.” They have broken faith “by marrying the daughter of a foreign god.” In other words, instead of staying true to Yahweh, instead of staying true to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob, they have determined that in intermarriage, they will introduce some form of dilution, whereby they are no longer focused as they should be. And you will see that they have also manifested their faithlessness by breaking faith with their marriage partners.
Now, it should be very clear to you that these individuals had not given up on religious observance. We could still have attended their church services. They were still going through the motions of religious activity. But what they discovered was that their coming before God was not being responded to in the way that they had hoped—that somehow or another, despite all of their tears and all of their protestations, that God did not seem to be satisfied with the worship they were bringing and with the sacrifices that they were offering. And so they asked the question, “Why? Why is it that when we come to worship, it’s just not there? Why is it that I do not have a sense of the immediate presence of God? Why is it?”
Well, of course, the answer is “Your sins have created a barrier between you and your God.” And so the answer is given by the prophet Malachi. “You ask, ‘Why?’”—verse 14. “Let me tell you why,” he says: “It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth.” God stands, as it were, presides over your marriage. He sees you. He sees her. Or he sees her, and he sees him. And he recognizes that all is not well. “Though she is your partner, you have broken faith with her. You have disestablished your marriage covenant.”
Now, I say to you again, this is not a unique twenty-first-century phenomenon. This is hundreds of years before Christ. The people in this day, in Malachi’s day, would have been completely latching onto much of the contemporary lyricism that fills the airwaves of our radio stations. For example, people from Malachi’s day, if they had listened to the lyrics of Paul Simon—arguably one of the better lyricists of the end of the twentieth century, in popular terms, at least—as he writes about making a journey down to Memphis, Tennessee, with the child of his first marriage, and as he reflects on the disintegration of his relationship with his wife, and then as he writes, “She comes back to tell me she’s gone.” That is actually… Those are two fabulous lines, are they not, for a start? “She comes back to tell me she’s not back.”
She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know,
As if I didn’t know my own bed,
As if I didn’t know
The way she brushes her hair from her forehead.
And I said, “Losing love
Is like a window in your heart.
Everybody sees you’re blown apart,
Everybody sees the wind blow.”
Oh, I’m going to Graceland.
Now, I haven’t had a chance to ask Paul Simon. It’s one of my hopes and dreams. But I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that given his Judaistic background, given his grasp of things, he recognizes that in singing about “Graceland,” he knows that in the confusion and chaos of disintegrated relationships, the journey that needs to be taken is a journey to the land of grace. Wherever grace and mercy is to be found, he says, “I need to go to Graceland.” And, of course, it fits, you see, with the whole idea of Elvis and so on.
Now, having said all of that by way of introduction (it’s a kind of long introduction, but don’t worry, because it gets shorter from here), it’s imperative that we need to define our terms. What is a covenant? What is a covenant? I bet if I gave you a sheet of paper, we couldn’t come up with half a dozen decent descriptions of a covenant. Even the attorneys would be hard-pressed. When you go to the dictionary, this is what it says: that a covenant is a mutual agreement between two or more people to do or refrain from doing certain things. A mutual agreement between two or more people to do or refrain from doing certain things. Therefore, in a marriage covenant, a man and a woman commit themselves to each other for life, and on the basis of solemn vows, they become one. They don’t become one and then make vows. They make vows, and as a result of this contractual, covenantal relationship that is established, they become one with each other intellectually, emotionally, physically, sociologically, and so on. They are completely interwoven with one another. And it is in that context that all of the benefits of marriage are to be enjoyed.
That is why to isolate from that context, for example, the physical expressions of sexual union, is to make a monstrosity of the whole event: because it is built within the framework of the covenant commitment of people, men and women, to one another. And that’s why we say, when we conduct marriage ceremonies—and you’ll know, it gets very quiet. I always am amazed and thrilled to hear just how quiet it is when I say to the couple, “We are gathered here in the presence of God and before this congregation to join together this man and woman in marriage.”
Marriage is a special and unique relationship, commended in the Bible as honorable in all and set apart as sacred, signifying the wonderful spiritual union between Christ and the church. Therefore, it is not to be entered upon lightly or carelessly but thoughtfully, with reverence for God, with due consideration of the purposes for which it was established by God. It was established by God for the health of human society, which can be strong and happy only where the marriage bond is held in order. It was established for the continuance of family life— that children, as God intended, who are gifts from the Lord, should be brought up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” And it was established for the comfort and strength that husband and wife ought to give to one another. And then the minister says, “If, therefore, anyone can show any just cause why these two may not be lawfully joined together in marriage, let him now speak or else hereafter forever hold his peace.” And then, “I require and charge you both that if either of you know any reason why you may not be lawfully joined together in marriage, you do now declare it.”
Do you know how many young couples ask me to take these two questions out of my marriage ceremony? “We don’t want those questions,” they said. “It sounds so solemn. It sounds so awesome. It sounds so final. It sounds so daunting.” Yes! Yes! What do you want to do? Sign on the back of a Corn Flakes box and run off into the night? It’s a covenant. It is a covenant!
And you need to go back and read your own church history. I didn’t take time this morning. But you have to come to about the fourteenth century before you find this terminology being used. You actually have to get to the book of Malachi before you get covenant being applied to marriage. There’s some question about Proverbs chapter 2, but I think that’s the larger issue of covenant.
Now, by the time of Calvin, he is making it very, very clear about what is taking place in a marriage. He says it is not, as Roman Catholicism was teaching, “a sacramental institution of the church” but rather “a covenantal association of the entire community.” In other words, you getting married is not just your little deal. It’s all of our deal. It’s everybody’s deal! Because if you make a hash of it, it affects us. It affects our street. It affects our family. It affects our neighborhood. It affects our town. We don’t live to ourselves and die to ourselves, and we don’t get married to ourselves. Now, when you think about that, it is dramatic, and it is so counterculture to our day.
Marital parties [in Calvin’s day] swore their betrothals and espousals before each other and God—rendering all marriages triparty agreements, with God as [a] third-party witness, participant, and judge. The couple’s parents, as God’s lieutenants for [their] children, gave their consent to the union. Two witnesses, as God’s priests to their peers, served as witnesses to the marriage. [And] the minister, holding God’s spiritual power of the Word, blessed the couple and admonished them in their spiritual duties. The magistrate, holding God’s temporal power of the sword, registered the couple and protected them in their person and property. [And] each of these parties was considered essential to the legitimacy of the marriage, for they each represented a different dimension of God’s involvement in the covenant. To omit any such party was, in effect, to omit God from the marriage covenant.
Now, if you don’t get it by defining it in those terms, let me help you to get it by defining it antithetically. In other words, let’s say what marriage isn’t. Let’s look very quickly at four unbiblical, alternative views of marriage. You don’t have to go scouring around for these. They’ll jump up and hit you. You’ll hear them in the mall. You’ll meet them in the mirror.
Instead of seeing marriage as a covenant—a triparty arrangement where God is witness to what is said—couples see marriage as simply a convention to be adopted. A convention to be adopted. In other words, it’s not a creation ordinance.
You see, marriage comes before a society is established. You understand that, don’t you? God creates and establishes marriage before society is structured. It predates the notion that we need a village. Adam and Eve didn’t need a village. They needed God, and they needed each other. And you don’t need a village either. But young couples come to it and say, “You know, marriage has no divine sanction. It has no divine mandate. We’re not sure where it came from. Apparently, somebody in the past thought it would be a good idea if a man and a woman spent some time together and created babies.” In other words, it is not a divine creation ordinance; it is a humanly devised experiment.
So, if young people grow up believing that marriage is just a humanly devised experiment, of course they grow up with the conviction that it doesn’t matter if the experiment fails and they can walk away from it at any time. They can turn the lights off in the laboratory and they can go home. After all, it was a human experiment. It didn’t work. Now let me go and try another laboratory, let me try another experiment. Why? Because they view it not in terms of the divine covenant that it is, but they view it in terms of a convention that they simply adopt.
Or that marriage becomes a consequence to be absorbed. Because they have taken the law of God and upturned it and engaged in a one-flesh union to begin with, they have then, feeling the pressure of society such as it still remains, determined that they will “get married” in order to legalize their mating habits. So marriage simply becomes a legalized form of sexual exploration. That is not marriage! Physical union is a constituent part of marriage, but physical union by itself is not marriage. Physical union does not create a marriage, nor does physical adultery dissolve a marriage necessarily. Because the marriage is something far more comprehensive than that which is expressed in that consuming element.
You talk about young people today, they say, “Well, it’s just… It’s just… Well, we just did it. You know, my grandmother was coming from Idaho, and she hates the fact that I live with Bill. And so, you know, whatever. It doesn’t matter. Oh, it’s a piece of paper from the city hall,” to quote Joni Mitchell on the album Blue.
A convention to be adopted, a consequence to be absorbed, or a convenience simply to be arranged—a kind of annual renewable contract, the same way you reproduce your driver’s license. Go get a new picture taken, go get a new license, you’re good for another three years; see you around. And, if possible, put into it a free agency clause, so that every two or three years you get the chance to split, you know, without any kind of liability at all. You got a prenuptial agreement? Why? Because you haven’t got a covenant. If you’ve got a covenant, you don’t need a prenuptial agreement. If you’ve got a prenuptial agreement, you ought to go home, find it, and burn it. But you see, if you regard marriage as a convention, as a consequence, as a convenience, then, of course, you’re going to have to surround it by all kinds of mechanisms in order to safeguard yourself in case he or she doesn’t meet your expectations.
And consequently, when you put all this together, you realize why many people regard marriage as simply a cage to be avoided. It’s just a cage to be avoided: “I’m not going to get in that cage.” Nineteen seventy-six, which was a long time ago now… This is from my files. Look here at the importance of a good filing system: “When Marriage Is Just a Cage,” Jill Tweedie, forty years old at that time, writing for the Guardian newspaper, writes her very liberated expression of why she regards the notion of a covenantal contract of marriage as being something just completely passé. She says,
In my view, the divorce rate is going up for one obvious reason: the kind of marriage we’re expected to support simply doesn’t suit us anymore. It falls apart because it has become a sort of anti-life structure, a cage. The expectation that we should live together in a monogamous relationship throughout all of our days goes [she says] against our deepest nature, stunting our growth, making demands upon us that require distorted lives to fulfill.
So she concludes, “Outside the bonds of Christian marriage, we will, I hope, learn for the first time what love is all about.” No, we won’t. You may find out what lust is all about, but you won’t find what love is all about. You may find out what abject selfishness is all about, but you won’t find out what the nature of self-giving love is about. I don’t know where she is. She’d be about sixty-five, sixty-six now. I wonder if she still holds to this view?
Planning on getting married? What are you paying attention to? Planning on running out? On what basis? This is the MTV generation. If you think that the generation that is growing up with us would fight for its country, die for a cause, and stay true all through their lives to a monogamous relationship with a man or a woman, you’ve got rocks in your head. In an article that I can’t even quote from because it is so heinous, from USA Today a few weeks ago, when a fellow called Mark Goldblatt, who is a teacher of the Fashion Institute of Technology at the State University of New York, he describes, on the twentieth anniversary of MTV, the total filth that we have exported to a hundred and seventy nations of the world, thereby allowing the world to look on and say, “America must be a great place when they can do all that stuff.”
This is what he says: “I couldn’t believe that it was 1993, eight years since MTV did the piece on the seven deadly sins…” I don’t know if you saw it, but referring to it, he says,
In 1993, MTV tackled religion with its hour-long report on the Seven Deadly Sins. Sneering celebrities and pimply-faced fans chimed in on the subject. Said viewer Tonya, “Sin is kind of like that rod that people beat you over the head with. But don’t tell me how to live my life unless you’ve walked in my shoes.” That sentiment was echoed by rapper Ice-T: “I don’t think anyone else can pass judgment on anyone and tell them they’re sinning.” Ice-T also suggested that not feeling good about yourself was “the biggest sin of all.”
Now, you see, this is the worldview of people. This is the idea of freedom. Freedom is being able to completely please myself. It has got nothing to do with a moral awareness of the unenforceable oughtness of society. It is simply “I can do what I like.” That’s freedom! And as soon as that is then embraced as freedom, then the notions that we’re now dealing with here in terms of a covenantal relationship with God, they’re completely passé.
Now, if you think this is overstating it, you go for your homework and read Genesis 15. And when you get there, you’ll discover this dramatic encounter between God and Abraham. And there is deep darkness, there is the presence of a bright torch which speaks of the presence of God in this situation, and they are cutting animals in half, and they’re putting them on one side and the other side, and then the parties in the covenant walk in between these divided animals. You say, “What is that kind of archaic thing?” What is being said is this: “May I be torn in half if I don’t fulfill my covenantal obligation to you.” That’s why the Hebrew doesn’t speak about making a covenant; it speaks about cutting a covenant. And in the cutting and in the death and in the solemn darkness, there was the dramatic display—imagery which conveyed the most dreadful consequences for failing to keep one’s vows.
And vows it is. Vows they are, not feelings. It’s vows that we make in a covenant. It’s not feelings that we share in the marriage.
Do you remember how you felt on the day you were married? I can’t remember everything that I felt, but I do know some of the things I felt. I feel warm now, but not as warm as I felt then—103 sweaty degrees in suburban Philadelphia. I felt excited. I felt embarrassed, because I had a ridiculous tuxedo that Susan had picked out for me. (She no longer dresses me, as you can see.) But… (Sorry, hon.) And I had a bow tie that was so huge that if the wind had blown, they would have thought I was the life-flight or something. It just could take off over the building. So I was hot, I was embarrassed, I was excited, and I just wanted to get out of there. From about the beginning, when he said, “We’re gathered here in the presence of God,” I said, “That’s enough. Let’s go!”
But that was how I felt. What did I do? Well, I made promises—vows—that are like edges on the pavement when you’re riding your bike, to keep you in the thing, so you don’t go flying off the sides. ’Cause if I’m relying on my feelings to keep me from going off the sides…
And still they come, young couples full of enthusiasm and love, and they tell me, “Pastor Begg, you’re going to be so excited. We wrote our own vows.” And I say, “Look in my eyes and tell me if you think I’m excited.” I say, “You may have written your own vows, but you’re sure not reading them in my marriage ceremony. ’Cause once bitten, twice shy. I’ve been there, and I’ve done that. And it’s bad.”
It goes like this: “As a seal to the vows you’re now about to make, will you give each other the right hand?” It’s amazing how couples don’t even know what’s the right hand when they’re getting married. Anyway… They turn, and they face one another, and then the fellow, if you’re not careful, he launches off into something like this: “Penelope, the first time ever I saw your face, I felt the earth move in my hand.”
I’m going, “Hey! Time out, right now! Son, this is not the honeymoon. This is the wedding ceremony, for goodness’ sake! We’re not interested in hearing about the earth moving or anything else. We’re here for some vows—some ‘better or worse, rich, poor, sickness, health.’ That kind of stuff. This is volitional. This is not emotional. ’Cause if you started us off on your emotions, you may not even get out of the limousine after the photographs before you’re ready to pitch her. And she may not even make it through the photographs with you. So you got to make vows. This is a covenant. You can’t have Roberta Flack writing your vows, for goodness’ sake!”
And they always say, “Well, we’ve contemporized it. We’ve come up with wonderful words.”
“Okay, tell me some of your wonderful words.” I always ask them the same thing: “Give me a synonym for cherish. For cherish.”
Now, they may give you a cinnamon bun, but they can’t give you a synonym for cherish. Ten words later, they can’t come up with a word that’s as good as cherish. Of course! That’s why it has lasted for 350 years. It’s a good word. Leave it alone!
Now, some of you are really ticked, because you wrote the best vows ever heard in the Western Hemisphere. Fine! Go home and read them to yourself. Have a pleasant afternoon. Do not send me a copy. Thank you.
It goes like this: “I call upon these persons here present to witness that I, Alistair, do take you, Susan, to be my lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, to love and to cherish till death us do part.” That’s very solemn stuff, isn’t it? That doesn’t sound like a contract to me.
See, in marriage, what we’re doing… In the covenant of marriage, we are entering into what is essentially a covenant of companionship. We’re saying, “I will be your partner throughout life. You will be my companion throughout life.” And it is as we grow together as companions on the journey of life, maintained by the covenantal commitment, challenged by the ebb and flow of circumstances, tempted by the marauding sights and influences all around us—it is by means of that covenant, as enabled by God, that we stay on the track. And it is as a result of this companionship that men and women become one intellectually, emotionally, physically. They even begin, in some cases, to look like each other—which is, in Sue’s case, a distressing prospect.
But that’s why in a room, after all these years, you don’t have to have a cellular phone. You just look. You just go… And you know! “What was that about?” You know! When you get kicked under the table when you’re first married, you go, “Why did you kick me under the table?” Now you don’t have to ask. You know the kick! You know where it was: just below the knee equals x, just a little further down equals y, and two quick ones on the ankle means “Let’s get out of here.” Now, that’s not telepathy; that’s companionship. We developed this over time. So did you.
Why do I think this way? Why do I feel this way? Why do I act this way? Because my focus is on fulfilling my vows, not on having my needs met. In a marriage covenant, you promise to be the companion to your spouse: “I promise to be your companion, even though it goes this way, this way, this way, or this way.” You do not enter into a contract whereby if she or he fulfills certain requirements written by you, then you will continue your side of the bargain. No! It’s a covenant. And if your focus is there, then there’s tremendous freedom. You don’t have to live every day with the prospect of divorce, because divorce is not an option. It’s not an option!
You know, “When I get older, losing my hair…” Right?
Not so long from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine?
And birthday greetings, a bottle of wine?
And if I stay out, after thirty-six holes of golf
Till quarter to three,
Will you slam the door?
Will you still need me,
Will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
The answer is yes! She may be waiting behind the door with a 3 wood, but she’s behind the door, ’cause she promised to be behind the door! And I came back through the door because I promised to come back through it. It’s a covenant! It’s not easy, but it’s straightforward.
What is a successful marriage? Two clumsy, stumbling sinners stuck together as loving companions in a sacrificial relationship which takes place in face of life’s chaos. So I don’t know how many of you woke up this morning like Fred Flintstone—you know, “Yabba dabba doo! Hey, we’re married!” you know. Hands up, all who began the day that way. There we go. Good, I’m in an honest group. That’s fine. No, you began the day the same way you begin every other day: “I’m alive! This is good.” And depending on how you feel, the fact of the matter is, you can go to your spouse and say, “You’re stuck with me. You’re stuck with me.”
Any one of us can make a royal hash of things. I just was with Paul Overstreet. He was there and said he’d come back to Parkside. Remember Paul Overstreet? Remember when he sang with the cowboy hat on? My father was here. Man, that was an unbelievable morning: “What are you doing, son, with the cowboy in the church?” “It’s okay, Dad. He’s just visiting.” “Okay. That’s fine.” And he and I laughed about that. He said it was so funny, ’cause he went to lunch with my dad and never took his hat off at all.
But he gave me a couple of CDs on Friday evening. We were talking together. And I hadn’t fully realized all the wonderful songs that Paul Overstreet had written. You know, the Randy Travis hit “Forever and Ever, Amen,” he wrote that. “I won’t take less than your love, sweet love,” he wrote that. He also wrote the song “The smile on your face lets me know that you need me. Da, da, da, da, da, da…” You know that song? It’s a big hit in the movie Notting Hill as well, sung by somebody else.
But he also wrote the Randy Travis song “On the Other Hand.” And I don’t know if you remember it, but it’s a very clever song. The guy says, “You know, here I am, and I’m out, and I’m on a business trip” or whatever else it is, and he’s in the company of somebody other than his wife. And he says, “You know, on the one hand, we could spend the evening together without a great deal of difficulty. After all…” And then he says, “But on the other hand, there’s a golden band that reminds of someone who wouldn’t understand. And so, while on this hand we could do this, the reason I have to go is on the other hand.”
Now, what’s on the hand? A vise? A chain? An electronic detection system? A ring! A symbol—not of feelings but of a covenant, which we break at our own peril and to the dreadful impact of all concerned.
Listen to this, from a thirteen-year-old girl:
Dear Fathers. If you[’re] a father thinking about leaving your family, I don’t believe you truly know in your heart what your child is going through. I may seem to be a normal thirteen-year-old girl. I smile on the outside[, I] show a positive attitude, but inside I’m crying out so loud for a normal family life. You see, my father left my mom and me when I was eighteen months old. … He probably thought that I was too young for the divorce to affect me. But … he was wrong. What happened to the commitment and the promise that he made to my mom and most importantly to God? … I just [would like] to be a normal kid. What’s so wrong with that? I’ve sat in restaurants the last ten years staring at the complete families around us, wondering, wondering what it would be like to have a father at home, to have a father kiss me goodnight and listen to my prayers; a father to be there at my volleyball games, to look at my report cards, to meet my teachers or maybe even tell me, “I love you.” But all the waitress sees is the smile on my face. Doesn’t my dad know how much he[’s] hurt me? If God gave me one wish, and one wish only, I would wish for my father to watch me grow up. He wasn’t there when I had my birthdays. He wasn’t there for my school events or for my Girl Scout Awards programs. He never met any of my teachers and never saw a report card. My father got what he wanted. He couldn’t face the responsibility of me. He got his freedom. He gambled. What he doesn’t realize is that he lost his little girl.
And from a twenty-eight-year-old lady:
I grew up in an unstable, non-Christian home. I[’ve] had five parents and three sets of siblings. My mother just called me this past Sunday to inform me that she[’s] about to bestow upon me a sixth parent and a fourth set of siblings. I understand in the very depths of my being why God hates divorce and why we should, too. No good thing comes from it. Ever. Divorce has not only stolen from me a family, but also … the grapes my parents ate with relish have set my teeth on edge. Divorce answers no question, solves no problem, resolves no conflict, gives no respite, restores no dignity and grants no peace.
Divorce cannot be dealt with too harshly, especially in the church of Jesus Christ. I bless God that He knows no divorce in the marriage covenant that He has established between Himself and His bride! We must teach husbands and wives to honor the covenant they made before God, if for no other reason than the sake of the next generation.
Let’s pray together:
O God our Father, we stand naked before your Word. We feel like Isaiah: we are a people of unclean lips; we dwell in the midst of others who have unclean lips. We are so easily infiltrated and influenced by the godless, mechanistic thinking of the surrounding culture. We read the Bible, and it jars us and strikes us as of dramatic impact.
Some of us, Lord, have come through the tortuous events that we are seeking to encourage others never to get to, and we find ourselves buffeted by recollections. We pray that they may be buried at the cross, that Satan will find no foothold as we seek to turn our backs on what is before and “press on toward[s] the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ.”
But we unite to pray first for our own marriages, that we might fulfill the vows that we have made, that you might save us from sentimentalism and infatuation, from riding, as it were, our bicycle right off the path and down into the destruction that awaits us on the edges of the concrete. We pray that you would help us so to train our children that they might find the awesomeness and the solemnity of this an absolutely graphic picture, that they might take things seriously. And for our grandchildren and the generation yet unborn, we pray that we may so live, so teach, so proclaim the wonder of your covenantal love that until Christ returns, the church may be as a light in a dark place.
And may the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one of us, today and forevermore. Amen.
 Paul Simon, “Graceland” (1986). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See Hebrews 13:4.
 Ephesians 6:4 (KJV).
 John Witte, Jr., From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 7. The quoted phrase is Witte’s summation of Calvin’s theology of marriage.
 Witte, Jr., From Sacrament to Contract, 7.
 Joni Mitchell, “My Old Man” (1971).
 Mark Goldblatt, “MTV’s 20-Year Downhill Slide,” USA Today, July 31, 2001.
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “When I’m Sixty-Four” (1967). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Randy Travis, “On the Other Hand” (1986). Paraphrased.
 Quoted in Dennis Rainey, Ministering to Twenty-First Century Families: Eight Big Ideas for Church Leaders, Swindoll Leadership Library (Nashville: Word, 2001), 255–56.
 Quoted in Rainey, 256–57.
 See Isaiah 6:5.
 Philippians 3:14 (NIV 1984).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.