HOW TO MARRY—AND WHY

Errol Hale

There are a few people called to singleness.  Most marry.  Society dictates to most people how to find a mate.  Cultural traditions direct most people through the process of getting married.  God and Christian tradition have something to say about these issues as well.  While all of society would benefit from heeding what God and Christian tradition have to say about these issues, Christians most certainly should consider the ideas presented in this booklet.

All Are Not The Same

                There are four kinds of relationships believers can enter into with members of the opposite sex.  The first kind of relationship with someone of the opposite sex is with a non-believer.  Scripture expressly forbids Christians to marry non-believers.  Because falling in love is so easy, and since emotions are not exceptionally discerning, Christians should be cautious regarding relationships with non-believers of the opposite sex.  Falling in love can be as surface as a physical attraction.  More often, however, people fall in love as a result of spending time talking with each other.  This is why in Proverbs 5:1-3 Solomon warned against being ensnared by the lips of the immoral woman even more than her looks.1  Falling in love is dangerous because once people fall in love, they can easily become foolish.  Reason is exchanged for feelings.  People in love can subjectively rationalize all sorts of things that seem perfectly sane to them, but that are obviously foolish to everyone else who objectively looks on.  For these reasons, single Christians should keep their relationships with non-believers of the opposite sex to a minimum.  If during the course of necessary relationships (at school or work, for instance) you feel even the slightest twinge of attraction, terminate, or at least curtail the relationship before you fall in love and become entangled in a romantic relationship that God expressly forbids.2

The next three kinds of relationships between members of opposite sexes are between two Christians.  As far as the Bible is concerned, Christians who are members of opposite sexes are either: a) brothers and sisters in Christ, b) betrothed to one another, or c) husband and wife.  There is no mention in the Bible of a fourth relationship called sweethearts, or “going out.” 

Consider what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ.  Most people have a natural (and healthy) aversion to romance with a biological sibling.  It would serve both single and married Christians well to pray for eyes to see Christians of the opposite sex, with whom they are neither betrothed nor married, as siblings.  How are we to treat our siblings?  With mutual love and respect, not as objects of intimate desire.

The last two kinds of relationships between members of the opposite sex are those between people who are either betrothed or married to each other.  We understand that marriage means two people have an exclusive relationship with each other for life.  Betrothal will be explained later.  For now, the point is this:  Unless you are betrothed or married, you need to view Christians of the opposite sex as your brothers or sisters, treating them with the kind of mutual love and respect that one is to show to a sibling.  While romantic feelings are real, strong, and in the correct context, good, unless you are betrothed or married, you need to resist being overtaken by them and acting on them since they can, and usually do, result in either sin, broken hearts, or both.

Shopping When Not in a Position to Buy

What happens to people who shop when they cannot buy?  They either covet or get into debt.  Those who covet what they do not have are breaking one of the Ten Commandments.  Those who get into debt to have what they cannot afford are not heeding the wealth of advice given in the Bible against indebtedness.3  The result of debt is financial difficulties while trying to pay for what one cannot afford.

What happens when people get too close to members of the opposite sex when they are not in a position to be looking for a husband or a wife?  First, what do we mean by “not in a position to be looking for a husband or a wife?”  If you are not of marrying age or are not able to support a wife and the family that usually results in marriage, you are not in a position to be looking for a husband or a wife.  This rules out virtually all teenagers, those who haven’t at least completed high school, those who are not gainfully employed, and those in debt.

Now, what happens to people in these situations if they get too close to members of the opposite sex?  They either covet or get into debt.  The coveting that takes place in this situation can better be called “burning with lust.”4

The indebtedness that one enters into in this situation is not necessarily financial (though financial problems often follow these relationships).  The indebtedness is emotional or physical.  The emotional indebtedness occurs when hearts are knit together and then torn apart.  When this happens repeatedly, hearts become scarred.  A symptom of this is the ability to callously enter into and break off relationships without much pain due to a scarred and desensitized heart.  People in this situation have entered into a state of emotional bankruptcy whether they realize it or not.

The physical indebtedness occurs even before physical intimacy5 begins.  Society has convinced many males that if they stick with a female for a period of time they can expect physical intimacy.  Some males are so influenced by our godless society that a “period of time” may mean only one date!  Regardless of the time, when physical intimacy is expected, physical indebtedness has begun.  Once physical intimacy does begin, indebtedness has occurred since the people have given a most intimate part of themselves to someone for whom this gift was not intended.  1 Corinthians 6:15-17 teaches that when we enter into physical intimacy with someone, we become one with that person.  God intends this physical intimacy be exclusively for husbands and wives in marriage. 

When the gift of intimacy is given outside of marriage (no matter how much two people love each other) the gift is cheapened.  Since the masses today engage in sexual intimacy with people they never end up marrying or even intend to marry, what is beautiful is made base.  A symptom of this kind of physical indebtedness is a low view of sexual intimacy, and of one’s own sexuality.  In many cases sexual promiscuity escalates as people continue to give themselves away in hopes of finding love.  This too is a symptom of physical indebtedness.

The Importance of Godly Counsel

                Many people armed with Consumer Reports seek more counsel about purchasing a car (which is likely to be valueless in less than ten years) than they are about marriage which is for a life-time.  The common way most Christians who are planning for marriage view counsel about marriage goes something like this: 

(1)   Fall in love

(2)   Decide to marry

(3)   Plan the wedding (including dresses, cakes, flowers, photographers, receptions, etc.,)

(4)   Plan the honeymoon; and

(5)   “Oh, yeah, we better talk to the pastor and take care of any pre-marriage counseling he requires.”

This mentality views pre-marriage counseling as another hoop that the happy couple must jump through in order to get married, almost as an after thought, and certainly not as important as the wedding plans.

What is a Christian Wedding?

                A Christian wedding is the ceremony (usually less than thirty minutes, followed by a three to four hour reception) that initiates a Christian marriage, that is supposed to last for the rest of the couple’s life together.  Why do most invest weeks, if not months, planning and spending thousands of dollars on the wedding (which lasts only a few hours) while failing to appreciate (and take seriously) a few hours of concentrated study, prayer and godly counsel that will have a profound effect on the life-long marriage that follows the one-day wedding?

Where should candidates for marriage seek counsel?

                First, seek counsel from parents.  Godly parents are often a valuable resource for counsel regarding marriage.  I say “often” because some otherwise godly parents seem more interested in the wedding than in the marriage, even than the couple is.  Some otherwise godly parents get so excited to see that their kids have a bigger and better wedding than they did (or than so-and-so’s kids did) that they contribute more to the problem than to the solution.  If a couple interested in marriage is straightforward in asking their parents for wise spiritual counsel about the viability of the proposed marriage, they are likely to get it.

Even non-Christian parents, by virtue of their age and experience, can make good counselors regarding the marriages of their children.  God can, and does, speak through those who are in positions of authority even when they are not Christians themselves.

Second, seek counsel from respected spiritual leaders.  Pastors and elders, as those who care for the souls of their congregations, may well have important counsel and observation regarding a proposed marriage.  Spiritual leaders want God’s best for the people in their congregations.  Marriage is no exception.  Spiritual leaders are likely to have a measure of objectivity that even parents may not have in such matters.  Spiritual leaders are not matchmakers or match-breakers.  They are not called to tell people who they can or cannot marry.  When asked for counsel, however, they have an obligation to offer honest biblical counsel about the proposed marriage.  Pastors do have the right, and the responsibility before God, to refuse to perform some marriages.6  The time to talk to the pastor and or elders of the church about marriage is well before entering into wedding plans. 

Seeking counsel from peers, especially if the couple is young is often dangerous since the peers are often single people who are much more interested in the romantic than the practical, and in weddings than in marriages.

Making The Right Choice

                What’s at stake?  Marrying unwisely will affect the rest of your life.  A lifetime of unhappiness, or a divorce are both high prices to pay for leaping without first looking.  Future ministry can be hampered, if not eliminated altogether, since a bad marriage can disqualify people from ministry.7  Careers can be altered by an unwise choice of who to meet at the altar since differing interests and/or openness about where to live will open or close doors of opportunity.

Why do people so often make such foolish choices?  Guys tend to look at the following when choosing a mate:

(1)   Physical attractiveness

(2)   Popularity (often based on physical appearance)

(3)   Is she fun?

When a married couple is middle-aged, is facing financial challenges and has teenagers, these three become less important in a hurry.  At that point, her good looks, popularity, and fun are not as important as her character.

Gals tend to look at the following when choosing a mate:

(1)   Physical attractiveness/Athletic ability

(2)   Popularity (usually based on physical attractiveness and athletic ability)

(3)   Is he funny?

(4)   His confidence (often another way of asking if he is cocky).8

When a married couple is middle-aged, is facing financial challenges and has teenagers, this list of attributes that young ladies often look for in young men become less important in a hurry.  At that point his good looks, athletic ability, humor, and self-confidence are not as important as his character.

Of course, another reason why people often make such regrettable choices regarding marriage is that people tend to be impatient.  It is better to move more slowly rather than more quickly.  Everyone involved, both the couple and the parents, need time to really get to know each other, waiting on the Lord for either red or green lights.

What should we be looking for?

                Christians who desire to marry wisely should look for certain qualities in a potential mate and settle for nothing less.  If the wait seems long and the prospects are few, first let me remind you of the sorrow that Lot’s daughters brought on themselves because they believed there were no suitable men for themselves.9 

Second, let me warn you that it is better to be alone than in league with bad company.

Third, let me warn you that the sorrow of the unhappily married and of those who suffer the heartbreak of divorce is exceedingly worse than loneliness.

I encourage you therefore to look patiently for the following and settle for nothing less.

First, godliness.  There is no substitute for godliness.  The Bible commands us to exercise ourselves to godliness (1 Timothy 4:8), and that godliness with contentment is what true prosperity is all about (1 Timothy 6:6).  Failure to pursue godliness is disobedience to God’s Word and is a recipe for sorrow.  Those who choose a mate based on looks or passion where no godliness exists will very likely live to regret their choice.  Women especially should take this seriously since God calls husbands and fathers to be the spiritual leaders in their marriages and families.  A wise Christian woman looks for, and waits for, a godly man who can lead his family in the ways of the Lord.

Second, consider his or her family.  There are two reasons to give careful consideration to the issue of a person’s family.  The first reason is that except in rare instances, people do not marry a person.  They marry a family.  Difficult in-laws contribute greatly to problems in marriage.  Friction with in-laws is one of the top three problems that people filing for divorce say caused the break-up.  The second reason to consider the family of a potential spouse is that, like it or not, we are who we are, largely because of the influence of our family.  God said that the sins of the parents will visit the children to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:5).  While we do not rule out the grace of God to deliver a person from some of the negative influences of their families, family still greatly influences the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves.

Third, what are his or her aspirations for the future?  What plans are there for education, career, ministry, family and even retirement?  Are they just dreams or are there any plans to make these aspirations a reality? Are these plans feasible?  Are these aspirations in line with God’s will?  Many marriages experience difficulties when, after the wedding, one of the two announces that he or she doesn’t want children, or at least not for some time.  Marriages are strained when, after the wedding, it is discovered that the bread winner wants to be a perpetual student, or to devote his life to his hobby that will not financially support the family.  Christian couples experience difficulties when one of the two wants to serve the Lord in the church but the other wants to devote his or her life to weekend getaways.  Proverbs 19:21 says, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel, that will stand.”  It is clear that many of our aspirations will not work out the way we envision.  Aspirations are no guarantee of the future.  However, understanding another person’s aspirations is a revelation of that person’s heart and priorities.  This is an important issue to consider when choosing a mate.

Fourth, does he treat all women with respect? Does she carry herself in a discrete, dignified manner?  We live in a rude world.  Men speak of women as things (or worse, conquests).  Men and women both commonly use profanity and talk crudely, even in front of children and the opposite sex.  The Bible commands us to put away “all filthy language” (Colossians 3:8).

Women deserve to be treated with special respect.  Sadly, there are men who treat a woman with respect until they are married, at which time she is treated either as a maid or as one of the guys.  But if a man fails to treat a woman with proper respect while the two are single, there is little chance that he will become more respectful after the two say, “I do.”

A woman who speaks or dresses immodestly is likely revealing something important about her heart.  While a loose woman may mellow, there is no guarantee.  And she may well be bringing a past with her.

As stated, look patiently for these things.  Be exceedingly cautious about making commitments too quickly, whether formal or implied.

Find The Right Person By Being The Right Person

                The way to have friends is to be a friend.  The way to find the right kind of person to marry is to be the kind of person that someone else would want to marry.  Paul wrote to Titus telling him to give special advice to people in his congregation in Crete based on gender and age.  From that counsel we can learn a lot about the kind of people we need to be if we would be a good prospect for someone else.

Consider God’s Word for young women:

[4] ...admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,  [5] to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Titus 2:4-5

These verses instruct young women to “love their husbands.”  It says nothing of loving a string of boyfriends en route to finding a husband.  Single women would do well to guard their hearts from falling in love until they are in a position to marry.  Young women are to be “obedient to their own husbands.”  The word obedient has to do with submission.  Here again, young women are to submit themselves to their own husbands, not to a string of boyfriends.

The passage instructs young women “to love their children....to be homemakers.”  This is a sober reminder that a wife and mother’s first calling is to her home and family, not to a career.  Be a woman who has her sights set on this calling and be sure that a potential husband concurs before proceeding.

Titus was to tell the young women “to be discreet” which means sober minded.  Young women are “to be chaste.”  In today’s society the goal of many women is to be chased!  To be chaste means to be modest both in appearance and in attitude.  The young women are “to be good.”  Everyone knows the difference between “good girls” and “not-so-good-girls.”  Many guys are looking for the not-so-good-girls, but marriage and family are not what is on their minds.

Paul informs us that young women are to follow the pattern given so “that the Word of God may not be blasphemed.”  Not only is this good counsel on how to prepare to be a good choice as a wife, but be aware that failure to do so blasphemes the Word of God!

Consider God’s Word for young men:

[6] Likewise exhort the young men to be sober-minded,  [7] in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility,  [8] sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.  Titus 2:6-8

Titus was to instruct the young men to be “sober-minded,” or, not wild.  While it may be more natural for young men to behave wildly, that does not change the fact that God’s Word commands young men not to.  The young men are to be a “pattern of good works,” meaning an example in every area of life.  They are to be concerned with “doctrine.”  This means more than a casual interest in going to church.  The young men are to be men of “integrity.”  This word comes from the word integrated.  To have integrity means that every aspect of your life is interconnected.  With what?  The lordship of Christ.  The young men are to be “reverent.”  Reverence implies good manners, self-control, and respectful toward authority.  The young man who is worthy to marry one of God’s daughters must be a man of  “sound speech,” so much so that enemies of the Lord could find no fault in him.  This is a high goal, but by God’s grace it is attainable.

Ladies, be the type of young woman God’s Word calls you to be.  Be patient while waiting for a man who is the type of man God’s Word calls him to be.

Men, be the type of man God’s Word calls you to be.  Be patient while waiting for a woman who is the type of woman God’s Word calls her to be. 

In both cases, by God’s grace and in His timing, He will provide.

Advice From The Puritans

                The seventeenth-century Puritans, more than any other generation, seem to have done a better job of studying God’s Word to discern God’s will, and most importantly, ordering their lives according to God’s will.  Dr. J.I. Packer summarizes the seventeenth-century English Puritan outlook on finding a suitable mate as follows:  “Look not for a partner whom you do love passionately at this moment, but rather for one whom you can love steadily as your best friend for life.”

In these words notice the following:

First, the search is not to be for a date, but for a mate.

Second, passionate love is often but for a moment.  It tends to be based on temporary issues such as looks, for instance.  Those who choose a mate primarily based on physical appearance forget that age diminishes physical beauty.  And what shall we say of one who is chosen as a mate based on physical appearance if that one suffers a disfiguring accident or illness?

Third, steadfast love is greatly to be preferred over passionate love.  This is in part because of the fleeting manner of passions.  Add to this the fact that steadfast love is more likely to become passionate over time than passionate love is to become steadfast.

Fourth, while love is great, that a person does love someone is not as important as that they can love that person.  Because true love is more of a commitment than an emotion, it is best not to bank on current feelings (often based on fleeting criteria) but rather on the potential for a long-term commitment (based on character).

Fifth, the search for a mate is the search for a best friend for life.  Marriage is to be once for life.  The search for a suitable mate must take this into consideration.  While it doesn’t cause much of a stir on earth, it is no doubt that divorce among Christians is every bit a scandal in heaven.

A character estimate is the most important estimate to be made when choosing a mate.  In His book, A Quest For Godliness, Dr. J.I. Packer recommends the following: 

The wise way to form an opinion about possible partners is to find out their reputation, watch how they act in company, how they dress and talk, and note whom they select as friends...  For a realistic assessment, couples thinking about marriage need to see each other eating and walking, working and playing, talking and laughing, and chiding too; or else it may be, the one shall have with the other less than he or she looked for, or more than they wished for.  Other things being equal, partners should be of similar age, social position, wealth, and intellectual ability, and should have secured their parents’ goodwill towards the match.10

The Puritans understood that people should not enter into marriage and enjoy the privileges thereof unless and until they are prepared to assume the responsibilities of marriage. One Puritan pastor preached that couples starting out together should not be required to live in either of their parents’ homes.  This sound counsel reminds a young couple, especially the man, that if they are not in a position to be able to afford to live as husband and wife in their own home, they are not ready for marriage.11

Conclusion

While much of what is contained in this paper may seem dreadfully old-fashioned by today’s standards, I close with two simple questions.

The first question is: Which pattern for relationships between men and women seems more biblical, the world’s way or the pattern presented here?

The second is: Which yields more positive results, the world’s way; which has resulted in rampant divorce, serial marriages and broken homes in which children routinely have more than one home and set of parents, or the pattern presented here?

Do what is biblical.  Do what yields more positive results.

 

 

Endnotes:

 

1    The fires of many romances are sparked and fanned by flattery even more than by initial physical attraction.

2    For more on God’s Word about relationships involving Christians and non-Christians, see my booklet entitled, Who You Marry and Why.

3    E.g., Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rules over the poor and the borrower is a servant to the lender.”

4    1 Corinthians 7:1-9

5    Physical intimacy is not limited to sexual intercourse.  While opinions differ concerning how far is too far, let me offer this test.  Is the act something that a married person should engage in with someone other than his or her mate?  If the answer is no, then it is physical intimacy.  This would rule out any kind of petting, kissing, and even holding hands.  Some might object saying, “Holding hands doesn’t mean anything!”  To which I reply, (1) Those who are honest must admit that even holding hands can be arousing depending on whose hand it is.  (2) If it doesn’t mean anything, why would most married people not like to see their mates walking down the street holding another person’s hand; (3) If it doesn’t mean anything, why do you want to do it?

6    Christians pastors should refuse to marry a believer to a non-believer or to marry a believer to a believer if either party is not free to marry because they divorced without biblical grounds.  For more on the subject of divorce and remarriage, please read my booklet entitled, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage.

7    1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 both disallow a man from being ordained as an elder or deacon if his marriage and family is not in order.  The Bible does not specifically prohibit a person from involvement in other ministry because of marriage or family problems.  However, one who desires to serve the Lord and His people, but who marries a person who is not excited about serving the Lord and His people, will be subtly, if not outwardly, hindered in his or her ministries.

8    Having worked with teens for over twenty years I never cease to be amazed that so many young ladies are attracted to the least godly and most disrespectful young men.  It seems that these fellows offer attention and affection many girls crave—often because these girls either have no fathers, or do not have good relationships with their fathers.

9    In Genesis 19:30-38, because of desperation, Lot’s daughters got their father drunk and seduced him into impregnating them.  This of course is a radical example, but it serves as a sober reminder of how foolishly and sinfully we humans can act when we are desperate for love.

10 J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, page 268

11  This is not a reference to “home-ownership.”  A rented one-room apartment is a home.

12 For more information on this, please see the my booklet entitled, “A Model for Courtship & Betrothal—And Why.”