Sermons Updates

EBC Marriage Seminar Session Three: “The Meaning of “I Do”” – Mark Ottaway

Marriage Seminar

Session #3 – The Meaning of “I Do”

Ephesians 5:31


“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Welcome to the continuation of our marriage seminar. We spoke yesterday about the advantage of having a positive attitude in life to help in marriage, or a more biblical term, a “hopeful” outlook. We have a few different views generally as people: those who are negative, those who are realists, and those who are positive or optimistic. Example, a couple are on a cruise and the captain says the boat is going down. The realist says the boat is going down. The pessimist or negative view would say to his or her spouse, I told you we shouldn’t have come on this cruise. What are you going to do about this? You got us into this! The optimist or positive view would say no, the boat not going down. We can swim the 70 miles to shore, so just get on my back! Help will come. Eternity is even better than marriage. Honey, I always wanted to die beside you, that would be worth dying, wouldn’t it? We can die together! And I know we laugh at this, yet this is how we can often face many situations in life. Well one is the need to face reality, but we can either face it with hope and confidence, or we can face struggles with blame and pity for self.


There are two areas absolutely essential for a good marriage: hope and security. Butt there are also two enemies of a good marriage: selfishness and negative feelings. And selfishness and negative feelings are going to set themselves against hope and security. And I also believe that one of the greatest threats to marriage is the influence of culture, as we are fed the idea of selfishness. Our culture makes it very hard for us to be unselfish. Our comforts and conveniences make life easier, it feeds our selfishness. But in “reality” we will struggle with selfishness our whole lives, and therefore, it is important that at least we understand this, as it is good to understand that when I am mad at my spouse, it is often just my own selfishness and feelings taking over. I love what John Piper said:

“So I start with the assumption that my own sin and selfishness and cultural bondage makes it impossible for me to feel the wonder of God’s purpose for marriage.”

John Piper, This Momentary Marriage 20


There is a battle going on here, isn’t there? And on the flip side, it is good to understand that two goals to strive for in a marriage are hope and security. Therefore, what can I do as a spouse to instill both hope and security in our relationship? As there are many good spouses who live with the fear that their marriage will not improve and that their spouse may leave them someday. Which brings us to this morning’s topic: What is the meaning in a marriage ceremony of the words “I do”? And this is one reason why when I counsel couples regarding marriage I do not take countless hours talking about compatibility or personality or interests, though there is benefit to that. But what supersedes that greatly is the fact that two people said “I do” to each other whether we are positive, realists, or negative. John MacArthur said that in all marriages both within and without the church, 100% of couples say “I do,” and at some point later over 50% of those same couples will say “I don’t.” This is one of the first topics I talk about in pre-marriage counseling, and that is the meaning of the “I do.” Speaking to married couples at the marriage ceremony, what did you say “I do” to?

“I, Mark, take you, Anne, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part.”

Now the for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part is understood, but the for better or for worse gets a little murky. A vow which I have used at the outset of weddings I conduct is do you promise that the covenant that you are making today, to be a lasting, unconditional covenant before God? Response, “I do.” And then later on during the vows would say:

“I Mark, take you Anne, to be my wife,

I will strive to be led by the Word of God,

Being full of joy, full of thanksgiving.


I promise to submit to your needs,

To understand your desires, goals, dreams, feelings, fears

I will care for you Anne physically and emotionally

Share with you spiritually.


I promise to love and treasure you, above all others but God

To be gentle, kind, patient, not angry, always forgiving.

And I will lead you spiritually,

Teaching you God’s Word … Being an example.


I promise to protect your purity,

And all this I promise, unconditionally until death do us part.”


Response, “I do.” And the question we need to ask this morning is what is the meaning of that “I do”? Because this is where the rubber meets the road. Though we would all say similar vows at a wedding ceremony, we need to know what we are saying, or for many of you, what you have said. When Anne and I meet with young couples planning to get married and we talk about the vows. They are always excited and ready and thinking this is all great. But if we also ask them to look at each other and say, I will never leave you, some would respond well, while others freeze a bit at that point. So, I would like to share with you this morning some thoughts to help us understand that there is a need to commit to and to choose to love our spouse which goes much deeper than our feelings, as our feelings can a times betray us. There is a need to understand marriage as a covenant, and whether you have been married once or divorced in the past, to hold to the covenant you have made in your existing marriage. And there is a need to be able to look at your spouse in the face and say to each other, I will never leave you. Because this is a marriage covenant and because we need that security. So, two things (with the help of John Piper) that I trust will help us elevate our view of marriage and therefore the seriousness of the term “I do.”


  1. Marriage is God’s Design


It is God who has designed marriage. Therefore, God knows what is best for us. This also gives us comfort to know that God knows the situation you may be in. I believe that we can safely say that marriage is not for Christians only, as the Lord intended people whether Christian or not to have the opportunity to be married, and the Bible teaches the value of a believer remaining with an unbeliever (1 Cor 7). It was God who brought Eve before Adam. It was God who blessed the physical relationship that they would have. When a pastor pronounces a man and woman to be husband and wife, this is God’s doing. This is God’s design. This is God’s blessing. So basically, we don’t mess with this for God has designed marriage.


  1. Marriage is for God’s Glory


You know, it would be surprising how much of Christianity is still apparent in our culture. Some things the culture might know to be Christian such as Christmas or Easter. Yet there are many things in our culture they would not know they were Christian, yet are still adhered to, as many of our laws have Christian roots, though the culture does not know it. However, this truth that marriage is for God’s glory would be such a foreign concept of marriage in our society, for this steals from us the very idea of a selfish type of thinking in regards to marriage. That this is my marriage! But the Bible would scream, no it’s not! As it is so prevalent in society and even within the church that I get married because I want to. Yet when I am aware that marriage is for the glory of God there is so much that I need to consider: can I leave this relationship? is the root of my relationship rooted in “romance”? am I getting married for the need of companionship?


See, these questions now begin to sound so surface when I consider the glory of God, as when I think about the glory of God and my marriage, it certainly adds much gravity to our marriage relationship. As it must now begin to confront my “feelings,” my “desires,” my “wants,” realizing however, that marriage is much bigger than me, and not that I would have had this understanding at age 21, but I do now. And therefore, this increases the responsibility in the way I perceive marriage. This also speaks to such statements that a man shall not leave his wife (as Christ would not leave the church). A man shall not look upon another woman (as Christ would never entertain anyone else but the church). So, this understanding elevates marriage to another level where God says it is good to marry. So, enjoy your wife, let her captivate you, and may your commitment to her, your love for her, your sacrifice for her. Demonstrate that commitment, love, sacrifice, that Christ has for His church.


So, probably the 2 greatest commitments of a husband towards his wife in marriage are these: I Will Never Leave You. I Will Always Love You. This is the commitment in marriage. This is the security in marriage. Not just saying the words, but living in such a way that demonstrates the words. Because this is exactly what Christ has done for His church. I will never leave you and I will always love you, and therefore when we counsel both prior to and after marriage, this is the central truth, understanding that this commitment among those we influence will often only be as clear or convicting as we demonstrate it ourselves. Therefore, if I am sitting at a table with my kids, and talking about a couple who have separated and say something like, it was probably the best thing, that right away presents a lower bar than what the Scriptures teach. So, this is a husband looking at his bride and saying, I will never leave you and I will always love you, as this is the only true reflection of real marriage, as it is the only true reflection of Christ and His church. And that marriage relationship has brought them together. They have said “I do” to each other, and the Bible teaches that they are now one flesh. So in the marriage ceremony, we have seen what the husband would say. What about the wife?

“I Anne, take you Mark, to be my husband,

I will strive to be led by the Word of God,

Being full of joy, full of thanksgiving.

I promise to submit to your needs,

To love you and treasure you,

To be gentle, kind, patient, not angry, always forgiving.


I promise that of all the responsibilities that God gives to me

I will place our family and home first.

And I will follow your leadership

And I will stand by you.

And all this I promise, unconditionally until death do us part.”


Response, “I do.” So, what are the implications of the vows of the husband and the wife? This oneness, one flesh, the response of “I do.” Well, here is one of them. If you have a couple who are united together, and they, as the Bible says have become one. This involves their interaction with everyone around them involving now even the Moms and Dads of the married couple. For here is the scenario. A son comes to you with a marriage problem. Now, no matter what this problem may be, what do I need to consider as a parent? Well whatever it is, it involves a great carefulness, because you are not dealing with two separate people, you are dealing with “one flesh.” So, if a son comes to you and the conversation crosses the line of either “him” or “you” breaking a trust with his wife, I need to reconsider my response. By the way, this is the reason I stress to Moms and Dads to view their sons or daughters-in-law as your own. Anne and I make every effort so that our daughters know that we love and accept them every bit as we do our own sons. This is vital! Because God has said they are one.


And I realize that love grows, but from my principle mindset, I love them the same. And therefore, I will treat them the same, and therefore I will not take a side. Why? Because I refuse to become a wedge in a relationship that God has declared to be joined together. I remember once a Mom coming to me and said, well I cannot love my son-in-law as much as my daughter, for I have only known him for two years, and I have lived with my daughter her whole life. And I kindly responded that your daughter only has known him for two years as well, and has chosen to marry him, so you can do this.


When you get married the Bible says you become one body, leaving your families, becoming one, you become inseparable. The literal meaning of this word joined together (pros-kal-la-o) means “glued to.” Paul quotes Moses in Ephesians 5:31:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined [pros-kal-la-o] to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Eph 5:31 (LSB)


Now this leaving Mom and Dad is a change in responsibility. John MacArthur said:

“One of the greatest barriers to successful marriage is the failure of one or both partners to leave … father and mother. In marriage a new family is begun and the relationships of the former families are to be severed as far as authority and responsibilities are concerned. Parents are always to be loved and cared for, but they are no longer to control the lives of their children once they are married.”

John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary – Ephesians 302


Marriage is permanent until death, and beyond that, there is no marriage in heaven. Anne will be praising the Lord in heaven, she will not be worried about me, but marriage is a wonderful blessing in this life. So, this issue of “trust” means that if a husband has a problem with his wife, where does he go? His wife, we must teach that. And if the issue cannot be resolved, how do they deal with it? Together (maybe with some help, but always together). If he needs some further help, where does he go (outside, but only with permission). A young husband, if he has a problem with his spouse, does he come to Mom and Dad? No! Often best to leave family out. For the wedge that is in their relationship, will likely start a wedge between the Mom and Dad and the son or daughter-in-law. And I am not talking about simple advice, but I am speaking about a serious concern that he might have a problem with his wife. If one of my sons had a problem with one of my daughters, and I am not talking about a son asking, Dad, how can I do this better? But if he comes with a complaint about his spouse. Where would I send him? Right back to his wife, and stress to them the need to work on this together.


I have seen situations where couples have fought and they have enticed their own families to become part of that fight. And the husband and wife may eventually resolve their issue, only to leave a wedge between his or her family and the other spouse. This is a very foolish way to deal with issues. There are also situations where someone may come into my office wanting advice, which is fine, but as soon as they start complaining about their spouse, I stop the conversation, saying, you must work on this together. Imagine from a wife’s perspective a wife whose husband has shared some personal issues with others, to his family, or to their pastor. Imagine her trying to walk back into that family or that church even if she has been the one who was wrong. I have had guys who have come to me with all kinds of issues, personal sins, problems with their spouse. The first thing I need to do is ask is does your wife know you are here? Can you imagine if a husband goes home and says he was able to work out some marriage issues by speaking with Pastor Mark! The problem here is that when we go off with our problems outside of that relationship, we have broken a trust with the one we have said “I do” to, the one we have committed to. And if we listen to them, we have allowed them to break that trust. Therefore, we had better teach them to resolve their marriage issues with each other, and I understand that these are ideals, but this needs to be the foundational understanding that they have.


A young girl gets married and, on her honeymoon, becomes upset with her husband about something. She needs to know beforehand, that before she calls Mom that this is not the best way to resolve this issue, for she is breaking a trust with her husband. As an aside here, this can even go beyond marriage. So, be very careful how we might criticize our own children in front of others, as we can go too far in sharing the weaknesses of our children with others, as we have in a sense broken a trust with our children. The flip side of this as well is the importance of developing a relationship with your spouses’ family. Again, the teaching here is that you have become one, therefore, the need to accept and love your spouse’s Mom and Dad and family as your own. Teach sons to speak of their in-laws as their own. Teach daughters to speak of their in-laws as their own. For they have become one with their spouse. Too many times I hear things such as if a husband says, we are going to the in-laws! That husband has a lot to learn about his commitment, a lot to learn about a trust relationship with his wife.


Therefore, in pre-marriage counseling I would always direct them this way if they have problems: work on it together; seek help together if they need to; and if one goes alone, he or she needs to get permission; and best not to go to family. Never underestimate the emotion of getting family involved in problems, as they will almost invariably take the side of their son or daughter, and further damage family relationships. Most often when people leave a church, who follows almost every time? Family. What God has joined together or what God has glued together, let not man separate. This whole reality of a man and a woman becoming “one flesh.” Who has done this? This is God’s action, man did not do this. So, God brings Eve to Adam. Marriage is God’s design. It was God who said, leave Mom and Dad, be glued to your wife, and become one. No wonder He would say to us, let no man separate!


Another issue that needs addressing in regards to the fact that marriage is where a man and woman say “I do” to each other, that they are saying, I will never leave you and I will always love you. We need to understand that marriage is not mystical. Now I know that when I first noticed Anne, she was in grade 8 at a family church camping retreat. And I said to one of my friends, do you see that girl sitting on that dock, I am going to marry that girl someday. Now I was in grade 10, though 3 years older because Anne skipped, so smart! So if anyone could say it is mystical, it is me. As many would be quick to say, oh that’s a sign! Mark and Anne, you were meant to be. I also remember once playing hockey for St. Clair College, and Anne was sitting up in the stands and I was on the bench. And the guy beside me said, hey who is that girl up there? Hey, she is mine. Don’t waste your time, she’s mine. Now I know the biblical principle of the Lord’s providence, and that He ultimately brought us together. But from my perspective there is no verse that says, Mark marry Anne. No, that is a decision and commitment I made.


The danger of mystical thinking is that it takes away from the fact that we have made a covenant together. Mystical thinking would say when things are not going so well in our marriage, well I guess this wasn’t the mystical man or woman, or this was not my kindred spirit that I thought she was. I must have gotten my signs mixed up. I remember an older couple who were going to be married, said to me that the first time they dated a rainbow appeared. And I said, you need to be more certain than just a rainbow. For when I have chosen to marry someone, and struggles come, I need to remind myself, no, I made a decision here, that I must fulfill. In other words, I made a choice. It wasn’t about a rainbow or dream or that we showed up at church with the same coloured outfits. No, the real truth is that I said “I do” to this person, therefore, I will fulfill that covenant I made. See a contract is something that has conditions, you do this and I will do this. A covenant says, I will always love and I will never leave you, no matter what.


So, where does this leave marriage? Well it really places a focus that since this is a one-time, temporary relationship, which is for us to enjoy for however long we might live. The obvious conclusion would be to eat it up, enjoy each other, choose to love each other, because marriage is a wonderful gift given to us by the One who knows and is the author of true love, and because we who are married, are one with our spouse, because God has declared it to be so. So, might we love and cherish each other greatly, but it is only for a time, so make the best of every moment.


“For this reason a man shall leave his Mom and Dad and be glued to his wife, and the two shall

become one flesh.”


Let’s pray. Father, we praise You for the blessing of marriage in this life, an intimate relationship with someone a husband has chosen to love, and someone a wife has chosen to follow, and a couple who have said “I do” to each other, and the Lord has declared us as one. So, might we live out that commitment until death do us part. Because our marriage is Your doing and it displays before all, the perfect love of Christ for His church. Therefore, may we as a church follow Christ. Might we be devoted to Christ. Might we be captivated by Christ. Always and forever. For our relationship with You Lord never ends, for there is no death do us part. And Lord, we wait for You to come and to take us to be with You.

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

1 Thess 4:16-17 (LSB)


And all God’s people said, amen.