By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Service for Recommitment of Vows for Christine Nousheen Hiemstra and Douglas Warren Ferrer,
Centreville, Virginia, September 4, 2016
A quiet little secret in this postmodern age is often overlooked by those of us who seldom read our Bibles: marriage is God’s idea, not ours. Marriage was not enacted by an act of Congress or decreed by the Supreme Court; marriage was not invented by some church committee way or some really popular saint way back when. Marriage was God’s idea which we know because the Bible begins and ends with a wedding.
How do we know? (2X)
The short answer comes in verse 27 of the first chapter of Genesis:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27 ESV)
In other words, God created us together in his image and, in case there is any misunderstanding, this image couple was given a mission-statement in the next verse:
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28 ESV).
The vows are then repeated in chapter 2 where we read:
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:23-24 ESV)
So after the wedding ceremony is over, Adam and Eve are a couple on their own, not living with mom and dad in stark contrast with the custom in pagan societies of the ancient world.
But what does it mean to be created in the image of God? (2X)
The answer to this question is found in our second reading from the Book of Exodus. The context for this verse is that after God gives Moses the Ten Commandments (and after Moses broke the first set of tablets), he says to him directly:
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6)
Much like Congress after passing legislation will publish a “conference report” explaining how to interpret the new law, God reveals his character in five key words as a tool for interpreting the Ten Commandments. These five character traits are repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments in different forms, which is the Bible’s way of saying stop and pay attention here. Let’s take a moment to reflect on each of these five traits, as they give insight into God’s prescription for marriage.
The first of these traits is: mercy. Mercy is what you ask the judge for right after you have just admitted that you are guilty. Mercy is unwarranted and undeserved forgiveness.
Christine, offer mercy to Doug when he screws up; Doug, extend mercy to Christine when she has just done it again. When you offer mercy to one another, you honor God and make love possible.
The second of these traits is: compassion. Compassion comes from the Latin expression, with passion, in the sense of having passion out of understanding for someone else. A great example of compassion was going around on social media earlier this year—a policeman was called to grocery store to arrest a woman for shoplifting. She explained that she stole food to give her kids a meal and, instead of arresting her, the policeman bought her a cart load of groceries and drove her home.
Doug, take time to understand Christine when she screws up. Christine, walk alongside Doug when he does not seem to be himself. Understand each other before you criticize each other. Remember the policeman’s heart.
The third of these traits is: patience—be slow to anger. The Hebrew used here literally says: be long nostrilled! In other words, take a deep breath; listen; and count to ten before responding when something is not quite what you were expecting. Patience is so under-practiced in our “I WANT IT NOW” generation. Be a rebel: practice patience!
The fourth trait is two Hebrew words, rav hesed (רַב־חֶ֥סֶד), which does not translate well into English. It literally means “great love”, but the context suggests something other than “abounding in steadfast love”. God has just given Moses the Ten Commandments—kind of like a superpower promising a military alliance to a small country in a dangerous neck of the woods. Love here means that you keep your promises—especially when it hurts. I call this “covenantal love”.
In my case, I told Maryam when we were married that I did not believe in divorce. I told myself that I would not let anything come between us in our marriage—not our friends, not our families, not even my own ego. Keeping our marriage vows was the priority over everything, short of my faith in God. For me, that is covenantal love.
The final trait is translated faithfulness. The Hebrew word, emeth (אֱמֶֽת), also means truth. When the Apostle John says that: “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV), he is making an allusion to this very same verse in Exodus and, by inference, is making a divinity claim in reference to Jesus.
Faithfulness and truth go hand-in-hand, yet truth should only (2X) be told in a context of grace, otherwise it will simply not be heard.
Doug, Christine—be truthful with one another, but speak truth only out of love.
In closing, bear the image of God in your life with one another. Practice mercy and compassion, be patient with one another, honor your vows, and speak truth only in the context of love. Bear God’s image and draw closer to God and to one another as you do so. Amen and Amen.
 Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. (New York: Dutton, 2011), page 13.
 The Bible ends after the Second Coming with the wedding feast of the people of God. (Rev 21:2, 9; Rev 22:17)