Pastoral Perspectives

Until Death Do Us Part

I’ve conducted many weddings over a period of my 38 years in ministry and the last wedding after I stepped out as Senior Pastor was to “marry” my oldest daughter. I’m always reminded of what Dr. Hendericks in a classroom lecture at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1967 said: “I’m not in the business of performing weddings; I’m in the business of establishing Christian homes.”

Almost every marriage starts out as a BIG celebration. Together with their family and friends, each couple is full of hopes and dreams for their future together. But the road to a happy marriage is far from easy. Today’s divorce statistics tells it all; many couples opt not to complete the journey. The challenge is too many couples today have the wrong perception:

How could I possibly promise something about a time that is decades away? How could I possibly be so sure that my spouse and I will continue to grow together for the remainder of our lives and not grow apart? Why would I promise something I might not be able to fulfil?

Today, personalised wedding vows are becoming more and more popular, with couples wanting to pay tribute to their unique relationship using their own words instead of something that’s been said before (and maybe impress their guests in the process). But plenty of people still use traditional vows — either in whole, in part, or adapting some portion of them. A standard version goes like this: “To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” The earlier bit which says “I’ll love you despite what crap life might throw our way” sounds well and good, but the “until death” portion understandably gives people some hesitation. Maybe it is better to say: “until debt do us part”. So, what’s up with this “until death do us part” business? It probably won’t surprise you that that part of the traditional vows finds its origin in the bible.

The Bible teaches that marriage is “until death do us part”. When a woman marries, the law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive. But if he dies, the laws of marriage no longer apply to her. So while her husband is alive, she would be committing adultery if she marries another man. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law and does not commit adultery when she remarries. (Romans 7:2–3) A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives vice versa. (1 Corinthians 7:39)

In recent years, I’ve been conducting Marriage weekends and also the Alpha Marriage Course both in English and Mandarin. Every weekend and every course is unique because couples who attend are different. I’ve conducted courses for couples of similar cultures as well as for those of different cultures yet most, if not all, encounter the same struggles. Most of the time, Grace and I find ourselves inadequate and not qualified to journey with these couples in their marriages, reason being that what these couples encounter are also issues which we as a couple also encounters. The difference is that Grace and I are willing to step forward to deal with the issues and allow God to enrich our marriages. If Grace and I tell you we have a perfect marriage of 32 years, don’t ever believe us. We are not there yet; we have a marriage that is still under construction. Allow me to share 3 observations in striving for a better our marriage. There’s a lot of confusion concerning what a marriage is about, what a healthy remarriage should look like. There are three things that we need to understand when we get married. Being typical Singaporeans, let’s use the 3 Cs:

  1. Commitment
    You need to be committed for the rest of your life to this one person. Now it’s an investment of your life into your spouse’s life and vice versa. And so you make each other’s lives even better. You’re going to be committed even when things aren’t working out well. You have to understand that when you make this important decision to get married, or if you are already married, even if you’re not feeling really good about your spouse, understand that you can and will be committed.
  2. Communicate
    Men are not natural communicators. Ladies are natural communicators. And so men have to learn how to communicate in effective ways and understand the needs of their wives. Women on average speak three times more words than men. Men are doers; women are communicators. In every relationship, we need to know how to communicate effectively, men with their wives, wives with their husbands, and parents with their children. And we need to understand that this is critical for a healthy marriage.
  3. Conflict Management
    Conflict issues have been here since the beginning of time. In one of our Alpha Marriage classes, we asked couples if they are a rhino or a hedgehog. The difference is that the rhino in its instinct will charge and destroy whereas the hedgehog will roll into a ball to protect itself and to avoid others. God doesn’t want that to happen to you. He doesn’t want you to avoid each other or hide from each other because you’re afraid of conflicts; that’s not the solution. We have a good God that has created us to love people, especially the person you’re married to. You’ll get better and better at it if you trust God and let him help you. So read your Bible and understand there are good ways to treat people, the people whom you love and are committed to.

I pray that all of your marriages will remain healthy but I know some of you are struggling. Don’t wait till you hit the rocks before you seek help. True Way is always ready to run Marriage enrichment either on our own or using the tested Alpha Marriage Course of which Grace and I are one of their facilitators. You don’t have to be married for years before you encounter issues in marriage. For those who are just married, don’t think you are still in the honeymoon season. Molehill will turn into mountains if not dealt with appropriately. We have witnessed newlyweds whose marriages were on the rocks but after the Marriage weekend, their marriage found a new lease of life. Older couples who have been married for 40 odd years but planning to call it quits also saw their marriage being renewed like when they were first married. Other couples have said, “Our marriage isn’t breaking up. We are quite sure we want to stay married and we’ve both decided that we want our next 20 years together to be a lot better than our last 20 years.” I have always wished that someone would have told this to me earlier but it is still not too late for you all to know.

Rev Tan Cheng Huat

February 11, 2018