I am often asked by couples to help them think about suitable readings for their wedding day. They may also sometimes want a poem or piece of literature that means something special to them and we can talk about that but as it’s a Christian wedding I always insist on a Bible reading. So it makes senses to help the couple choose one that is meaningful to them, and they may not always know their way around a Bible too well.
It’s useful to chat with whoever is actually reading the passage on the day too if it’s not the person performing the ceremony to avoid any confusion.
I heard of where the reading was meant to be from the letter 1 John 4:16-18 “So we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” which could work well.
Things got awkward when the reader mistakenly read instead from the Gospel of John 4:16-18; He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” It’s hard to see where you go next after that, but I’ve seen fights break out over less at weddings.
I like to give a couple some ideas and then we agree on it together, it’s practised at the rehearsal and there are less surprises. Another great reason to do this rather than just pick my own is that it stops me having one wedding talk that I use for everyone. Believe it or not this also happens. One minister of my acquaintance not only had just the one wedding talk, it was also called “Men Are Pigs and Women Are Cows.” I didn’t invite him to do any of our family weddings.
This Time It’s Personal
It’s surely not too much to ask to put a bit of extra work in to make the day personal for the couple, on what we want to be the most memorable day of their lives—for all the right reasons. I’ve also found the more personal it is, the more the guests (who increasingly may never before have been to a church service) lean in.
When I say “the reading is …” people glaze over. When I say “Mike and Julie have asked today that we have this reading …” they sit up. It’s personal. The bride and groom chose this out of a whole library of books called the Bible because it means something to them.
Do whatever you can to make it personal. That’s why I always ask wedding couples to send me two things. I don’t think I picked this up from anyone else but I have done it now for over 20 years and including these two things has made all the difference:
Tell me 4-5 things you love about each other. This gets everyone’s attention when I read them out in the service, often to open up the talk itself and very often this is one of the most memorable, touching, and sometimes hilarious parts of the service. The couple send them to me in private and I read them out for the first time in the service.
Tell me “the story of you.” I also ask the couple to send me a half-page or so of their story—how God brought you together to this day. Not everyone who’s at the wedding knows the story and even if they do, they love to hear it again. So often it’s clear this is not accidental, there’s a purposeful God who is the Father of the bride and the groom who actually arranged all this a long time ago! I usually try to weave this in with the Bible passage that is chosen.
Possible Scripture Passages
So what passages from Scripture might be chosen? I quite like a challenge and try to avoid going down any familiar track too much but often there are themes that come out, principles that will impact not just the big day but also on all the other days afterward.
Here are a few passages couples have chosen before, with the kind of thing I might say about them.
The Famous One About Love (1 Cor. 13:4-13)
Bit of a “safe” choice? This gets used at so many weddings, even though it’s not really about love in a marriage specifically, obviously it includes that. The Apostle Paul wrote this to a church community who were acting in many ways completely the opposite to everything on the list! Paul uses 14 verbs to describe this love. Seven positives about what love does, and seven negative statements about what love does not do.
The love he wanted to be in the middle of all their relationships was the unconditional kind of love (agape) that God showed us all in Jesus Christ. It’s a little bit of heaven on earth and Paul says this kind of love never fails.
What I often do is get people to rate themselves on the list out of ten. (If they’re really brave and in a relationship I dare them to get their other half to score them too.) This shows how much we ALL need that love of another kind to have a love that lasts.
I put the word “love” into Google and get over 12 billion results. But nobody can define or understand love the way that God does, because the Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:16). If we want a successful, lifelong marriage, we need to consult the manufacturer’s instructions. If we want to not only understand but know that love, we need to go to him, the source of love, and we can do that through his Son, Jesus Christ—the only source of perfect love in the universe, who at the cross demonstrated the greatest expression of unconditional, self-sacrificial love in history, for every one of us here today.
A Not Very Obvious One About Faithfulness (Ruth 1:16-17)
This was my dad’s favourite passage, I don’t know if they had this at their wedding but it’s from the fabulous story of a woman whose sons have died, has two daughter in laws, and says “leave me alone and go and make your own way in life.” The other effectively says, “Okay then, bye …” but in a more flowery way.
But Ruth says (as above) “No way.” This is the kind of love that sticks with someone. It’s the kind of love you need if you’re going to say in church crazy sounding vows like, “for better ... for worse, for richer … for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
till death us do part”—in a culture that’s more often “till debts do us part.”
Ruth’s faithfulness ends up with her getting a second chance, a new start and eventually she marries again. Even though she was an outsider she becomes an insider, part of God’s people.
Not only that, with the man she marries she has a son and becomes the great great great great (and so on) grandmother of … Jesus! Pretty cool.
I’ve preached on this only a few times in a wedding and it may lend itself to a more complicated back story, second marriage and so on, but the theme that God works something great out of tears and tragedy in the end, is one we can all get a lot from.
The Controversial One (Eph. 5:22-33)
This is a bit of a shocker! Both people who are new to church and those who have been along for a long time might listen and ask themselves, “How dare the Bible say women should submit to men?”
Well, it gets everyone’s attention to start with and it’s hard to walk out of a wedding, so then the preacher’s job is to help understand why this is God’s word not a misogynist’s opinion.
To do so, I’d go to the verse just before it which says both parties should submit to each other in love. Marriage offers the opportunity for two imperfect people to express God’s perfect love when they allow the Lord to really work in and through them. This is a totally unselfish love where the husband and wife “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).
When two people do that, outsiders get a glimpse of the love of God, that’s why the wider reading shows us that marriage at its best is a picture of the “profound mystery” of the love of a relational God we believe is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The way that love works is not transactional. It’s not about power, authority, and control but mutual blessing and honouring.
Submission for us conjures up MMA fights and Tap Outs—not a helpful picture for marriage—but look at the word itself and practically SUB-MISSION means “come under the mission of” the other. Properly understood there’s nothing demeaning about submission it means each party is committing to putting the other first, to serve and help them fulfil their dreams and God’s plan. It’s death to “ME-FIRST” living.
By the way notice it doesn’t say women should submit to all men. That kind of teaching makes a mockery of God’s true intention. Husband and wife are responsible together for the spiritual growth and health of the marriage. The word addressed to the wife is about how she relates to “your own husband.” To understand her part, you have to start with his.
What’s his job? To love. It says a husband must love his wife like Jesus loves her, which means laying his life down for her. Often the hardest thing for men to do is to be self-sacrificial—we like to look after ourselves as it says. Sacrificial love is self-giving not self-centred. It’s unconditional because it doesn’t depend on the other person, it depends on me. It’s costly because it focuses on the other person’s needs, welfare, and joy.
The woman’s job? “Let him love you like that, like Jesus does, submit to his attempts to love you!” And if/when he doesn’t do a very good job at that? Respect his best efforts and hold nothing back as you try to outdo one another in love—you can never lose!
The First Human Problem (Gen. 2:18-24)
Marriage is such a great idea only God could have thought of it! We live in a culture where for the most part the institution of marriage seems to have been tried and found wanting so why try again? But despite all that negative press, this story shows us why marriage is still a great idea because it is God’s idea. Contrary to much contemporary thought and teaching, marriage is not a human concept or construct but a divine gift to deal with the first human problem.
We are not here by chance. According to the Bible’s creation account, God made us in his image and for his purposes and the way life works best is when we are connected to him.
In the beginning, God made us for a perfect relationship with him. But one day God looked at this man he made and loved, the one he had put in the perfect place with perfect pets and the perfect work (if you like gardening), and the Perfect Boss said, “Not good!”
If you ever heard the story and someone asked you what was bad in the Garden of Eden you might think, It’s the snake, the serpent, who tempted the two of them so they ended up doing what God said not to do. But that wasn’t the first human problem. Sin wasn’t the first problem God came to fix.
The first human problem was ALONENESS. God saw Adam and said, “It’s not good that he’s alone” so he made Eve, similar in many ways but different in enough that when he saw her he said “WOAH-MAN!” and the very first love song is when Adam saw Eve who was given equal authority as she worked with him to act for God in making the world a better place.
As you read the story you see that God made her “out” of Adam. As a beautiful piece of prose written by Matthew Henry in the seventeenth century says, “The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.” I love that!
And the bond of marriage as God designed is one of the strongest things in the universe because today you become “one flesh.” That word does not just mean you’re stuck together or stuck with each other! It means from now on, God sees you two, indivisibly. He relates to you and blesses you together because the word there is not simply “gluing” two people together—it means the “fusion” of two distinct elements into one. It’s a permanent, lifelong bond that Jesus said nobody should divide (Mark 10:9).
Two Are Better Than One (Ecc. 4:9-12)
This is often attributed to King Solomon, who ended up liking being married so much he had 1000 wives (not recommended).
Song of Solomon in the Old Testament is his passionate love song where he woos his bride to be. The two of them are all over each other at first that all their friends are urging them to “Get a room!”
This part of the Bible is a poem so erotic in places that the kids were not allowed to read it.
He is target focused in hot pursuit so he lays the charm on thick, saying things like “Your teeth are like sheep coming up from the washing,” which may not work too well these days. It may have been less usual for the bride to have a full set of pearly whites in those days.
In the Book of Proverbs, he famously seems to have a bit of a downer saying “a nagging wife is like a dripping tap” but he also gives tons of advice on marriage which can also be mined in the talk, especially warning against having an affair because it’ll destroy everything, and the last chapter is one I read on our wedding day extolling the virtues of my fabulous Mrs.
Here in Ecclesiastes, written when Solomon’s older and has kind of seen it all and done it all he says “You know what, it’s way better to do life together.” It’s like you’re not a single strand, two totally different people come together to find you’re stronger with the other one alongside you. You release more potential together than alone as you encourage, lift up, defend, challenge, comfort, and pray for one another.
And who’s that third cord that ties it all together even when it all feels like it may fall apart because times get tough? Of course, it’s the Lord himself. As we trust in him, everything’s better together.
Build Strong to Survive Storms (Matt. 7:24-27)
A happy marriage can’t be left to chance and a great marriage is no accident. A successful marriage takes hard work. It’s an investment and what you put into it will determine what you get out of it. Nobody building a house approaches the project haphazardly. If building a house well is that important, it’s even more vital to plan and prepare and use the best materials when you’re building a home.
I always compare this passage, which non-churchgoers may not know, with reminding them and telling them one they do: the story of the three little pigs. In the end, “the wolf” comes to every house. It’s going to happen. What matters is what material you build with – build to last (and keep the fire burning too).
Did you know that Jesus was a builder? The word for carpenter can be translated just as well as builder. So here’s the Master Builder’s advice and it’s so practical—what matters MOST is what you build your life together ON. The storms come to every house, and anything that lasts does so because it’s built on a firm foundation.
So build your life on his love, his truth, his promises, his words which will never fail, and wherever you end up living in the future, you’ll be building strong.