This article is one of several we will be sharing as a tribute to men who helped educate and shape the lives of other men and women of Christ through their teaching in the church, in the seminary and in their personal lives. As the publisher of idisciple.net, I would like to thank the Lord for each of these men’s lives and pray that their work here on earth, on behalf of the God of the Bible, garner many eternal blessings.
Dr. J. Robert Vannoy – Th.D., Free University of Amsterdam, is Professor Emeritus and Allan A. MacRae Chair of Biblical Studies at Biblical Theological Seminary. He has over 40 years of experience in teaching and has served as a translation consultant for the NIV, TNIV, and NLT. He has also contributed articles to various publications including reference works (such as the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible and the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology), scholarly journals, and magazines. His work includes authorship of 1-2 Samuel in Tyndale’s Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series.
Favorite Memory: A wonderfully gentle and supportive man who knew his subject matter inside and out and encouraged his students to do likewise.
Love and Marriage
by Dr. J. Robert Vannoy
It is altogether fitting and appropriate that your first act as a married couple is to place yourselves under the instruction of the Word of God. May this not be a mere formality, but may it signify your determination to live your married lives to the glory of God in obedience to his will as revealed in Holy Scripture. For it is only as both of you seek to honor God and grow in your love and obedience to him that your relationship to each other will flourish and yield the joy and blessing that God has intended for the marital union.
Among the many relationships that exist between human beings there is none that is more beautiful than that of a successful marriage relationship. Unlike the relationship of brother and sister or child and parent, this relationship is one of your own free choice. You have chosen each other. You have voluntarily given yourselves to each other and repeated before God and this assembly your vows to love and cherish each other till death doth part you.
Today you have taken upon yourselves great responsibilities. You now face the challenge of living together as husband and wife in a way that will bring glory to God. You also have the privilege of establishing a home, within which, if it pleases God, your children will be born and will come to know their creator through your instruction and example.
Because of the solemnity of these responsibilities, we may be thankful that in the Bible God has given us clear guidance concerning his design for the marriage relationship. It is not possible to summarize all of this teaching in a few minutes here today. But, may you each resolve to study God’s Word together and to read it daily, seeking his guidance for your life together.
Let me, however, mention just three things that are essential for the successful development of this new relationship that you are beginning today. These things are summarized in the words: love, communication, and commitment.
I can say with absolute certainty that your marriage will encounter difficulty to the degree that there is failure in any of these three areas. Let us look at each for a moment.
Volumes have been written on the nature of love. It has been defined in many ways, and undoubtedly there are a number of varieties of love. But when all is said and done the essence of love in a biblical sense is captured in the expression “the giving of one’s self to and for another.”
This, of course, is most perfectly illustrated in God’s love toward man that caused Him to give His Son as a sacrifice for sin so that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. It is remarkable that the Bible draws an analogy between the love of Christ for His people and the love between husband and wife. Paul says, “Husbands love your wives as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it.” The self-giving love of Christ for the church is the example that God sets before us for the love that is to be expressed in the marriage relationship.
There are many today who because of bitter personal experience have become cynical about human relationships even to the point of denying the possibility of real love. Yet the Bible tells us that because we are created in the image of God we do possess the capacity for love. Although this love will never be perfect, it can be real and substantial. It is on this basis that we are told that as Christ loved the church so ought a man to love his wife.
Remember also that Scripture commands you to love. This means that to love in the biblical sense is a duty. To love takes effort and discipline. To love is something that needs to be worked at and cultivated. Contrary to current notions about romantic love, the Bible does not view love as a sentimental feeling that comes or goes as it pleases. According to biblical categories you do not just “fall in love or fall out of love.” While romantic love with all its excitement and mystery certainly plays an important part in both courtship and marriage, you must remember that love is not presented in Scripture as something that is beyond your personal control. This is because love in a biblical sense involves an act of your will. It is the “giving of yourselves to one another.”
I believe there is a common misconception about the relationship between love and marriage that you must consciously resist. It is important for both of you to realize that nowhere does the Bible say that love is the basis for marriage. In fact, from a biblical standpoint, the order is reversed. Marriage is the basis for love. This distinction is important. Paul’s command is: “Husbands love your wives,” not “Men marry your lovers” (See, T. Stafford, Christianity Today, Jan 16, 1987, p. 22). The Bible presents love as a necessary ingredient within the marriage relationship, but it is not the basis on which marriage rests.
As we all know marriage is an institution, which love is not. Marriage can be defined in legal terms. It has a beginning that can be precisely dated. Marriage is binding and has the authority of Scripture, the church, and society behind it. It is this institution of marriage that we have formalized here today. And it is this institution, not love, that assumes biblical priority as the basis for your relationship in the future. Yet within your marriage relationship the Bible strongly emphasizes that there must be love. Within marriage there is to be the giving of one’s self to and for the marriage partner. Without love the marriage relationship will bring conflict and frustration instead of joy and fulfillment.
The second thing that I mentioned as essential to your marriage relationship is communication. There is, of course, a close and inseparable relationship between love and communication. When someone loves another person there will be a genuine effort to communicate. And conversely, the growth and development of true love is impossible apart from mutual communication. Love between two people grows through the nourishment of mutual knowledge and understanding of the other person, and this is acquired through communication.
Communication is more than conversation. It is more than just an exchange of words. As you know, there is both verbal and nonverbal communication. The highest form of communication between two married people is nonverbal. Yet, in real communication, of whatever kind, a personal mutual understanding is achieved, and a transferal of thought in its true intent and integrity is accomplished.
Here again the supreme example of communication is that which God has initiated between Himself and human beings. Ever since the Garden of Eden God has spoken and communicated with human beings in a variety of ways, times and places. The highest form of God’s communication is found in the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, that living and personal Word who is Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. It is in the believer’s mystical union with Christ, that is, in the believer’s being joined to Christ, that the fullest and most complete communication of God with man is found.
We live in a time when there is much talk about communication breaking down. That must not happen in your marriage relationship. Remember that just as love is possible, so, also, communication is possible. It is possible because you are made in the image of God and he has given you the capacity to communicate with Himself and with each other. Always remember that.
The third thing that I mentioned as being essential to your marriage is commitment. This is something that must undergird both your love and your communication. Your commitment to each other is to be both permanent and exclusive.
There are many today who are afraid of commitments, and particularly the commitment involved in a marriage relationship. Such individuals may desire relationships, but not marriage. Marriage, they feel, involves too much of an infringement on their personal freedom.
Today you have committed yourselves to each other. By doing so you have taken upon yourselves the obligation to make certain that other relationships outside your marriage do not in anyway jeopardize the stability and growth of your relationship to each other. You have vowed to remain faithful and loving toward each other regardless of circumstances. As your circumstances change through the years, either for better or for worse, your relationship will grow and adjust to new conditions, but your commitment to each other is to remain constant.
May your marriage relationship always be distinguished by love communication and commitment. None of these is automatic. You must pray and work to make each an abiding reality. May God bless you in this endeavor.
NOTE: This article has been approved for reprint by Biblical Theological Seminary.