How to Live Up to Your Wedding Vows When Things Go Bad

matt chandler
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On your wedding day you stand before family and friends and recite those famous vows, pledging your love “for better or worse.” In essence, on the most romantic day of your life, you’re saying, “This could go bad.” But at the same time you’re promising not to go anywhere if it does.

Matt Chandler, pastor of Village Church and president of the Acts 29 Network, told listeners to the ChurchLeaders podcast that is the reality of marriage that he wishes more people understood.

Chandler put that reality into context. He said the wedding vows are telling God and those in attendance, “One of us could get sick, really sick with cancer, and I’m staying if that happens. And we could be broke, we could be sharing Raman noodles and Dr. Thunder for the next 20 years, and I’m doing that with you.”

He calls that a covenant promise as opposed to a contractual arrangement that is dependent on one party’s happiness. That’s counterintuitive to today’s understanding of love that he calls “emotive and cupidian.”

Chandler encourages pastors to help clear up the confusion about dating and even the early years of marriage saying, “The culture lied to them about how to walk in the fullest possible life in relation to others.”

He called on church leaders to present a plan that is far more lovely than the world’s plan and the good news that God’s grace covers where we have fallen short.

Young people today are walking a difficult line. On one hand, the world is selling the idea that selfish love is most fulfilling and is all about emotions. On the other, the church is shaming those who fall short of God’s design.

“I want to, as often as I can, tell people that the Bible is grimy and those who are God’s brightest lights are those who make sinners in the congregation feel like they are junior varsity.”

Chandler recommends courtship to a generation frustrated with the dating culture.

The natural tendency of males seeking to conquer and females out to capture has Christian singles in a foggy confusion. They aren’t sure how to date in a way that honors the Lord and values the soul of another person.

He believes courtship is getting to know someone until the rose-colored glasses are removed. At that point, Chandler says, you see that little bit of crazy in the other person but say, “I’m not going anywhere.” The Hebrews called it the “love of the will.” It is then that the discussion can turn to future goals and big issues.

He believes that courtship allows godly men to pursue godly women in friendship in hopes that it grows into something more.

And then comes marriage with its own set of challenges. Chandler told the story of his own struggles in marriage in the first four years.

He would read books about marriage in hopes of finding answers but said they were completely unhelpful. Chandler described the advice as “contractual.” If he did certain things his marriage would improve. It didn’t.

“There was so much over-promise in those books as I tried to do the things I was supposed to do. I was trying to change my wife when I needed to let God change me.”

The turning point came when he heard a sermon series on the Song of Solomon preached by Tommy Nelson. It helped him understand God’s plan for relationship between a man and a woman.

Now, Chandler said he constantly quotes the Song of Solomon to teens and  young singles.

God softened Chandler’s heart and along with counseling he developed a deep friendship and passionate love for his wife, Lauren.

That passionate love and friendship helped Chandler and his wife through their own version of “this could go bad.”

Chandler was diagnosed with brain cancer.

“There was a two-year run there where everything sexy about me was gone. My energy levels, my playfulness, my hard work, those things that I think Lauren really valued and loved about me, they were just gone. And I’m using all my strength to pull myself up to the toilet to vomit again through sores in my mouth and Lauren stayed…she could have bailed and she didn’t do it…and that’s far more beautiful than any emotion, and kind of ‘this person makes me happy’ kind of love that you could paint.”

Chandler says both he and his wife now lean into the covenant and are reaping the benefits of God’s design for marriage.

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.

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