“With my body, I thee worship…”

So what is a physical marriage?

Let’s get back to the archaic wedding vow recently quoted by Mr. Carson on Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey.”

“…with my body I thee worship…”


Ever since I first heard this phrase in the husband’s vow (through the wonderful writings of Linda and Jody Dillow), it was easy to see why it no longer holds a place in modern weddings.

First, on its face it doesn’t ring right theologically. We wrinkle our brow and tip our head, “Wait.. we worship God and no one else!” Okay, I will challenge you here. I know I’ve erected idols throughout my life. Haven’t you? Different things grab our attention away from God: sports, church, children, job, music, even our problems. Any of these things could hold us in a way that might seem like worship. If we are honest, God is, for many of us, actually more of an add-on. Yet we still reserve the word “worship” as a spiritual term for singing in church or praying in a prayer service. So the implied meaning of the vow bothers us.

Also, the phrase doesn’t sound masculine. Does a real man boldly state that his body is wholly dedicated to his lover? This is scary stuff if you think about it. Exactly. What if she balked at his hunting or fishing? Or nights out with the guys? Would he be doomed to a slave-like deference? With the phrase turned a bit to mean “heart,” not “body,” he still struggles with manly autonomy.

How can we get the intended meaning?

The vow directly reflects the verses in Ephesians 5:23-28 which command the husband to love his wife “as he loves his own body and cares for it.” In the wedding vow, he accentuates the value of his body not to himself, but to her. He states the importance of what he is to do with his body from now on, and what this will mean to his ultimate identity. He will worship God with his heart, but worship his mate with his body.

The vow represents the absolute height of love. In a very specific sense, he acknowledges the meaning of the verse in Romans 12: 1 “…present your bodies a living sacrifice…” He affirms, “With all I know of love, with all I know of earthly desire, with all I know of what will please both you, my beloved, and God, I will lay down my body for you. It won’t be passive. It will be active. It will be passionate, as worship implies. It will be sacrificial. It means I forsake all others – for you – for life.”

In a similar sense the wife does the same. She is the wooed one, captured in a sense, to be the heart possession of a man. She knows that her body will be receiving his seed for daily emotional nourishment, and also to produce a family. She will carry his child as the most radical, epic, outcropping of their physical relationship. That this knowledge is somehow, on some level, intuitive for many women is a deep mystery.

For a man, however, the understanding of his part is nothing less than a miracle. To compensate for her laying down her life both physically and emotionally, he must do something profoundly equal: vow to love her fully with his body. This kind of surrender must be supremely difficult for him. It might smack of weakness. It might smack of hen-peckedness. How can he understand it, much less live it out? Yet in order to have the fullness of relationship, a truly physical oneness, a bonding, a unity of spirit, he must spend his life trying. She will be his study. He will be hers.

Sadly, many women don’t ponder the weight of what she expects of him. She just knows that she does. During dating he showed a vulnerability, a tenderness she assumed would be a permanent part of him, of them.

Doubly sad, many a man knows only what he wants, not what it rightly costs him.

He doesn’t think that the vulnerable, soft part of falling in love will give way to a whole gamut of barriers to a physical relationship: obsession with provision, anxiety about protection, need for leadership, tendency to competition, insecurity, lust, and many fears. With this old ground producing thistles and thorns for all his efforts, he seems sabotaged–

— unless he understands that her great need and his great risk are balanced out by unfathomable blessing.  When he grasps the picture, he steps into the abyss to make the marriage good – to make life good.

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The aspects of a physical relationship reflect attitudes. There’s no test or performance.  God can and will do to create the unity in which marriage thrives. I have included attitudes and actions which aren’t hindered by age, gender, or personality.

  • The physical marriage maintains interest, even delight, in every part of the other’s anatomy. This freedom isn’t only meant for sex, nor is it lightly given or received.  No other person on earth has such access.
  • This couple enjoys massaging out the knots and sore places life has dealt that day. In the everyday normal, each offers a hand, whether sore from arthritis or almost too strong from hard work, to tenderly caress out a hurt, or scratch an itch.
  • This couple takes time during the day to get oxytocin flowing by giving each other long, full-bodied hugs, and semi-passionate kisses. Regardless of the possibility of sex in the next hour, day, or weekend, they know each one needs this flow of oxytocin to face the challenges of children, teens, and job.
  • This couple gives each other space when needed, and still feels secure. But they offer themselves again when the time is right. Coming back together after a separateness is not just for sex. After a needed time alone, emotional connection, meaningful, non-sexual touch comes first. In a physical marriage, appropriate space isn’t a threat, but another means of dipping into the fresh water of attraction and longing.
  • In this couple’s sexual encounters, foreplay gets top billing. Unless, of course, simply making a baby is the main goal. Even then, foreplay is hugely important. But that’s another topic for another day. Sex is not a performance. It is a relationship. True, men’s arousal time may resemble the time it takes to get from zero to sixty in a sports car, but women (by design) need about as much time as it takes to legally get to the nearest Walmart – and park. Foreplay time is not only precious to both partners, it makes sex, well, sexy. The first verse the Bible book devoted to sexual love (Song of Solomon), says, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” Note the plural here. Read this psalm to understand the physical marriage. It teaches that a physical (fulfilling) marriage is more than sex.

When one sexual encounter ends, foreplay for the next begins. Of course this may not be true in actual experience. (One must go to work…or do the dishes.) But it is the mindset of the couple who “gets” the phrase, “…with my body I thee worship.”

  • As important as sex is to the physical marriage, this couple offers their bodies for the simple pleasure and blessing of the other. Period. This offering is way bigger than sex. As in I Corinthians 5: 7 the couple doesn’t think of their own bodies as their own. When surgeries, hormonal shifts, childbirth, and diseases interfere with normal intercourse or even sexual fulfillment – in whatever situation the couple finds themselves – the creative power of all the senses springs into action. “You are always beautiful to me.” “I knew you came in by the smell of your aftershave.” “Your hands feel so strong…” On and on….

As masters of creativity and passion, they love purposefully, tenaciously, regardless of sexual function.

And what might be the result of all this? First of all, the couple’s own happiness. Onlookers and children gawk at the sight. But most of all, God Himself is pleased. He uses that couple to change the world through their unity of heart, soul, and body. So, what do you say? Let’s get our hearts right — and get physical!

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