It was decided that my wife and I would talk with Mr. Brown about the matter soon -- first alone, then with him and Ms. Rice together. When the four of us met together, Mr. Brown too seemed open to getting married at last. I reminded the couple that it was their decision to make together, but I urged them that it would be wise to take this step and to take it fairly soon -- possibly within the next month or two. I felt certain that postponing the decision indefinitely or deciding but relegating the act itself to a vague "sometime" in the future would be neither helpful nor fruitful.

The two of them decided that, yes, they would marry, and they selected a date, opting for a relatively short "engagement." The two seemed surprisingly excited -- especially Ms. Rice. Her demeanor seemed to me more like that of a 20-year-old virgin bride-to-be than of an unmarried matron who has already shared a home with the father of her children for more than two decades.

Marriage as God Intended

The date arrived and the wedding was beautiful. Their three daughters were in the wedding party, and as I watched their proud procession, I could not help thinking what a positive message and life lesson this was to the three children from their parents. A number of other relatives were either in the wedding or present to witness the momentous occasion. One of Ms. Rice's sisters said that she had been praying for that day for years.

Of course, I personally felt privileged, not only to witness the wedding but also to perform the ceremony. I remember distinctly during those precious moments of the solemnization, seeing the tears of joy streaming down Ms. Rice's face. I believe those were tears that flowed from a heart that was seeing a long-awaited dream fulfilled.

Praise God! Besides making a public affirmation of their lifelong commitment to one another, those unconventional newlyweds also sent a very powerful message out that day -- not only to their family but to the entire community:

That marriage, as God ordained it, is more than a domestic arrangement, more than a "civil union," and far more than something two people just decide to do, or not do, depending on their emotional attachment or personal convenience.

Marriage, done according to the Word and will of God, is a blessed and "honorable estate." It is an act of community and of communion, designed to reflect of the mystery of God's divine love for His people, even as it establishes a family within His kingdom. And although some might argue that the ceremony was superfluous, no one looking upon the radiant face of the bride that day would have needed to ask whether, even after more than 20 years, marriage really matters. It does, because God meant for it to matter.

As tough as that confrontation was, I will never regret having spoken to the couple now known as Mr. and Mrs. Brown. We in the Church must be not only willing but lovingly aggressive to share God's Word with others, and we must aggressively encourage others to live by its wisdom. The Word reveals to us the heart of a God who always wants the best for His children, which is why God's way is the always the best way to do anything.

Joseph Parker is senior pastor of Mary's Chapel A.M.E. Church in Fayetteville, Tennessee, and also serves as administrative assistant at the African Methodist Episcopal Sunday School Union & Publishing House in Nashville.

© 2004 Agape Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.