Joyful Weddings That Honor Jehovah
Welsh and Elthea were married in Soweto, South Africa, in 1985. Now and then they look at their wedding album with their daughter, Zinzi, and relive that joyful day. Zinzi loves to identify the wedding guests and especially enjoys pictures of her mother dressed so beautifully.
THE wedding started with a marriage talk given in a community hall in Soweto. Then a choir of Christian youths sang songs of praise to God in four-part harmony. Next, the guests enjoyed a meal while a music tape of Kingdom melodies played softly in the background. No alcoholic beverages were served, and there was no loud music or dancing. Instead, the guests enjoyed associating together and congratulating the couple. Altogether the proceedings lasted about three hours. “It was a wedding that will always bring me fond memories,” recalled Raymond, a Christian elder.
At the time of their wedding, Welsh and Elthea were volunteer workers at the South Africa branch of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. They could not afford more than a modest wedding. Some Christians have chosen to leave the full-time ministry and get secular jobs in order to cover the expenses of an elaborate wedding. However, Welsh and Elthea have no regrets that they chose to have a modest wedding because it allowed them to continue serving God as full-time ministers until the birth of Zinzi.
What, though, if a couple should choose to have secular music and dancing at their wedding? What if they decide to provide wine or other alcoholic beverages? What if they can afford a large and elaborate wedding? How can they make sure that the event will turn out to be a happy occasion that befits worshipers of God? Such questions need careful consideration, for the Bible commands: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.”—1 Corinthians 10:31.
It is hard to imagine a joyless wedding. There is a much greater danger in going to the other extreme and having too much unrestrained revelry. At many non-Witness weddings, things take place that dishonor God. For example, the use of alcohol to the point of intoxication is common. Sadly, this has even happened at some Christian weddings.
The Bible warns that “intoxicating liquor is boisterous.” (Proverbs 20:1) The Hebrew word translated “boisterous” means to “make a loud noise.” If alcohol can make one person noisy, imagine what it can do to a large crowd of people who get together and drink too much! Obviously, such occasions can easily degenerate into “drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these,” which are listed in the Bible as “works of the flesh.” Such practices disqualify any who are unrepentant from inheriting everlasting life under the rule of God’s Kingdom.—Galatians 5:19-21.
The Greek word for “revelry” was used to describe a noisy street procession of semidrunk youths who sang, danced, and played music. If alcohol flows too freely at a wedding, and if there is loud music and wild dancing, there is a real danger that the occasion will turn into something like a revelry. In such an atmosphere, weak ones may easily fall into temptation and commit other works of the flesh such as “fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, [or succumb to] fits of anger.” What can be done to prevent such works of the flesh from marring the joy of a Christian wedding? To answer that question, let us consider what the Bible says about a certain wedding.
A Wedding That Jesus Attended
Jesus and his disciples were invited to attend a wedding in Cana of Galilee. They accepted the invitation, and Jesus even contributed to the joy of the occasion. When the wine ran short, he miraculously produced an extra supply of the finest quality. After the wedding, what remained over no doubt served the needs of the grateful bridegroom and his family for a time.—John 2:3-11.
There are several lessons we can learn from the wedding attended by Jesus. First, Jesus and his disciples did not crash the marriage feast. The Bible specifically states that they were invited. (John 2:1, 2) Likewise, in two illustrations of marriage feasts, Jesus repeatedly spoke of the guests as being present because they were invited.—Matthew 22:2-4, 8, 9; Luke 14:8-10.
In some lands it is customary for everyone in the community to feel free to attend a wedding feast whether invited or not. However, this can lead to financial hardship. A couple who are not wealthy may go into debt in order to ensure that there is enough food and drink for an unlimited crowd. Therefore, if a Christian couple decide on having a modest reception with a specific number of guests, this should be understood and respected by fellow Christians who are not invited. A man who got married in Cape Town, South Africa, recalls inviting 200 guests to his wedding. However, 600 turned up, and they quickly ran out of food. Among the uninvited ones was a busload of visitors who happened to be touring Cape Town on the weekend of the wedding. The conductor of this bus tour was a distant relative of the bride and believed that it was his right to bring along the whole group without even consulting the bride or groom!
Unless it has been stated that a reception is open to all, a true follower of Jesus would avoid attending a wedding reception uninvited and partaking of food and drink provided for the invited guests. Those tempted to go uninvited should ask themselves, ‘Would my attending this wedding feast not show a lack of love for the newlyweds? Would I not cause inconvenience and detract from the joy of the occasion?’ Rather than take offense at not being invited, an understanding Christian may lovingly send a message to congratulate the couple and wish them Jehovah’s blessing. He may even consider helping the couple by sending a gift to add to the happiness of their wedding day.—Ecclesiastes 7:9; Ephesians 4:28.
Who Is Responsible?
In parts of Africa, it is customary for older relatives to take over the wedding arrangements. Couples may feel grateful for this, since it relieves them of the financial obligations. They may feel that it also relieves them of responsibility for anything that might happen. However, before accepting any form of help from well-meaning relatives, a couple should be sure that their personal wishes will be respected.
Though Jesus was God’s Son who “came down from heaven,” there is no indication that he took over and directed most matters at the wedding in Cana. (John 6:41) Rather, the Bible account tells us that someone else was appointed to act as “the director of the feast.” (John 2:8) This man, in turn, was answerable to the new family head, namely the bridegroom.—John 2:9, 10.
Christian relatives should respect the God-appointed head of the new family. (Colossians 3:18-20) He is the one who should assume responsibility for what takes place at his wedding. Naturally, a bridegroom should be reasonable and, if possible, accommodate the wishes of his bride, his parents, and his in-laws. Still, if relatives insist on arranging matters contrary to the wishes of the couple, then the couple might have to refuse their help graciously and pay for their own modest wedding. In this way nothing will take place that leaves the couple with unpleasant memories. For example, at a Christian wedding in Africa, an unbelieving relative who acted as master of ceremonies made a toast to the dead ancestors!
Sometimes a married couple leave on their honeymoon before the wedding celebration ends. In such a case, the bridegroom should arrange for responsible ones to make sure that Bible standards are maintained and that the celebration ends at a reasonable hour.
Careful Planning and Balance
Evidently, there was plenty of good food at the wedding Jesus attended, for the Bible describes it as a marriage feast. As has been noted, there was also plenty of wine. No doubt, there was appropriate music and dignified dancing because this was a common feature of Jewish social life. Jesus showed this in his famous illustration of the prodigal son. The wealthy father of that story was so happy for the return of his repentant son that he said: “Let us eat and enjoy ourselves.” According to Jesus, the celebration included “a music concert and dancing.”—Luke 15:23, 25.
Interestingly, however, the Bible does not specifically refer to music and dancing at the wedding in Cana. In fact, dancing is not referred to in any of the Bible accounts of weddings. It would appear that among God’s faithful servants of Bible times, dancing was incidental and not the main feature of their weddings. Can we learn anything from this?
At some Christian weddings in Africa, powerful electronic sound systems are used. The music can be so loud that guests cannot converse in comfort. Sometimes there is an obvious shortage of food but no shortage of dancing that easily becomes unrestrained. Rather than being a marriage feast, such occasions may simply be an excuse for a dance party. Furthermore, the loud music often attracts troublemakers, strangers who simply come uninvited.
Since the Bible record of weddings does not stress music and dancing, should this not guide a couple who plan a wedding that will honor Jehovah? Yet, in preparation for several recent weddings in southern Africa, Christian youths who were chosen to form part of the bridal party spent long hours practicing complicated dance steps. For months an inordinate amount of their time was used in this way. But Christians need to ‘buy out the time’ for “the more important things,” such as the evangelizing work, personal study, and attending Christian meetings.—Ephesians 5:16; Philippians 1:10.
From the amount of wine Jesus provided, it appears that the wedding in Cana was a large, elaborate one. However, we can be sure that the occasion was not boisterous and that the guests did not abuse alcohol as was the case at certain Jewish weddings. (John 2:10) How can we be sure of this? Because the Lord Jesus Christ was in attendance. Of all men, Jesus would have been the most careful to obey God’s command regarding bad association: “Do not come to be among heavy drinkers of wine.”—Proverbs 23:20.
Therefore, if a couple decide to have wine or other alcoholic beverages served at their wedding, they should arrange for this to be done under the strict control of responsible individuals. And if they decide to have music, they should select suitable melodies and have a responsible person monitoring the volume. Guests should not be allowed to take over and introduce questionable music or raise the volume to unreasonable levels. If there is to be dancing, it can be introduced in a dignified and low-key way. If unbelieving relatives or immature Christians use vulgar or sensuous dance movements, the bridegroom might have to change the type of music or tactfully request that the dancing cease. Otherwise the wedding could deteriorate into a riotous affair and cause stumbling.—Romans 14:21.
Because of the dangers inherent in some types of modern dancing, loud music, and the free flow of alcohol, a number of Christian bridegrooms have decided not to include these features in their wedding. Some have been criticized for this, but instead they should be commended for their desire to avoid anything that might bring reproach on God’s holy name. On the other hand, some bridegrooms arrange for appropriate music, a time for dancing, and alcohol served in moderation. In either case the bridegroom is responsible for what he allows to take place at his wedding.
In Africa some immature ones look down on dignified Christian weddings and say that they are like attending a funeral. However, that is not a balanced view. Sinful works of the flesh may bring temporary excitement, but they leave Christians with a troubled conscience and bring reproach on God’s name. (Romans 2:24) On the other hand, God’s holy spirit produces genuine joy. (Galatians 5:22) Many Christian couples look back with pride on their wedding day, knowing that it was a happy occasion and not a “cause for stumbling.”—2 Corinthians 6:3.
Welsh and Elthea still recall the many favorable comments of unbelieving relatives who attended their wedding. Said one: “We are tired of the noisy weddings that take place these days. It was so nice to attend a decent wedding for a change.”
Most important, Christian weddings that are joyful and dignified honor the Originator of marriage, Jehovah God.
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CHECKLIST FOR A WEDDING RECEPTION
• If you invite an unbelieving relative to give a speech, have you made certain that he will not introduce some un-Christian tradition?
• If music will be played, have you selected only appropriate songs?
• Will your music be played at a reasonable volume?
• If dancing is permitted, will it take place in a dignified way?
• Will alcohol be served only in moderation?
• Will responsible ones control its distribution?
• Have you set a reasonable time for the wedding reception to conclude?
• Will responsible ones be present to ensure order till the end?