As long as we both shall live

In familiar words from the wedding ceremony the bride and groom enter into a covenant before God and the witnesses present (the guests), committing to each other, “as long as we both shall live.”  But do those words still mean anything?  In a society with a rising divorce rate many marriages end long before the death of one of the partners.  I have heard of wedding ceremonies in which the vow has been modified to, “as long as we both shall love,” providing an excuse for leaving the marriage if feelings change.  The discussion regarding marriage in Romans 7:1-6 is merely an illustration for his primary point. But, given our culture, it is worth reminding ourselves of both the obligation and the joyful freedom of a couple committed to each other as long as they both live.  Young people need to be reminded of the need to prepare carefully for marriage as life-long commitment, and those who may be “old marrieds” need to relish the joy of marriage in a way that sets an example.

Although the institution of marriage may not have been a great deal healthier in first century Rome than it is in 21st century North America, Paul affirmed that his readers knew the Law.  Among them were many from a Jewish background.  They understood the Word of God as expressed in his Law, that marriage was intended by God to last as long as both parties were living.  (Paul does not deal here with exceptional cases of divorce on the grounds of unfaithfulness or abandonment.)  The central point of the illustration is that marriage binds the parties together (he focuses on the wife, bound by the law to her husband) as long as they both live.  The Law, which reflects God’s holy nature, has only one word for sinners: “guilty!”  By nature we are bound to the Law with no escape but death.

Death has broken our relationship with the Law.  No, the Law does not die.  But we, united with Christ in his death, have died to it.  As those who died, we are no longer subject to the binding authority of the Law to condemn.  Just as importantly, we are united with Christ as the resurrected Lord.  As John Murray summarizes: “The stress falls . . . on union with Christ . . . union with him now and for ever in that identity that belongs to him as the resurrected Lord.” (Commentary on Romans at Romans 7:4).

As one who trusts in Christ you have been released from captivity with the result that you now serve in the new life of the Spirit.  You belong to your risen Lord.  Fruit for God replaces fruit for death.  In a good marriage love is not only a promise made during the ceremony.  It blossoms into mutual, life-long, joyful service.  Similarly, you have been released (by the death of your Savior in your place) to a life of fruitful joy.  Because he is the resurrected Savior that relationship will never be broken.

Prepared for the sermon on October 3, 2010

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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