In these articles we would like to show to all who are unmarried that there is a better way than the world would teach to find a marriage partner. ‘God’s way’ is the way of true blessing.
We have spoken about God's leading to the right partner for us if it is His will, but there is also another aspect to consider: our responsibility to act according to the Scriptures and with wisdom.
Prayer for wisdom and direction is as essential in this area as it is in every other aspect of our lives. There have been many that have made mistakes: remember Samson and Delilah; Esau and the daughters of Heth; Solomon and his many wives; Ahab and Jezebel.
The Scripture is clear that it is quite wrong for a Christian to marry an unbeliever: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Cor. 6:14) - and of course this must apply to courtship as well. We may think we can bring good out of our wrong action, but let us not be deceived; this has been the downfall of many young and older Christians. If all we are looking for is the physical and natural aspects of marriage we may be misguided into thinking that a non-Christian can provide this. Remember there is no true happiness and joy without Christ being the centre and He cannot bless us if we are disobedient. (This does not, of course, disallow His grace and forgiveness with us, but remember marriage is for life and a wrong step taken here is taken for life.)
There is only one nature that we share with an unbeliever, and that is the old fallen nature that we inherited from Adam. The new nature which appreciates the divine truths that we possess as ‘born of God,’ is unknown to an unbeliever. A Christian should be living in view of the world to come. An unbeliever has no hope for the future and lives wholly for this life and for self.
If the Lord is going to use us together as a family unit we need to be committed to Him. It is not sufficient to choose a partner who just says they are a Christian because: firstly they may prove to be otherwise, and secondly if they are converted but not committed to the Lord they will always be looking back to the world's things. Remember Lot's wife. In the same way, if I am not committed to the Lord I cannot think of myself as a suitable partner for another.
"Can two walk together, except they be agreed." Amos 3:3.
How do we see someone else's commitment to the Lord? If we are involved in the Lord's work in whatever capacity our abilities allow, we will meet others who are like minded and this commitment to serve the Lord will flow into our marriage. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that an attraction to someone is sufficient and assume that other difficulties will be overcome after we are married.
Serving the Lord with your spouse must mean having the same exercise as to the place to enjoy the privileges of Christian fellowship, and being committed to the gathering together of the Lord's people as seen in the Scriptures. Then together you can serve the Lord and bring up children with the same conviction and not be divided, so that one goes to one ‘type of church’ and the other to another with the conflicting loyalties this brings when children come along.
We should ask ourselves the question - Are we ready to make a decision as to who to marry and to begin to take on the responsibility of a new family unit before facing the Lord's request to be baptised and remember Him in the Breaking of Bread and drinking the cup? The Lord has the first claim to our love, obedience and devotion. We cannot say we are spiritually mature unless we have responded to His request. Lu. 22:19, "This do in remembrance of me"!
Physical attraction makes up part of the bond we have with our partner but this must not take priority over the spiritual and mental aspects of our relationship. The world around us makes almost everything of the physical and we must guard against this playing too great a part in our choice of partner. The world is led on by Satan who is against the idea of marriage as instituted by God. If we allow ourselves to be exposed to the media's perceptions of relationships they can unconsciously enter our minds and affect our actions. Let us guard ourselves from songs, films, books, plays, etc., that entertain low morals or overplay the physical and emotion aspect of choosing a partner.
As I said at the beginning, pray. Earnest prayer is vital, we must be guided by the Lord in these things - but even in this there is a danger. How often has someone starting down a foolish road quickly justified himself or herself by saying, 'but I have prayed a lot about it.' We must realise that the flesh is weak, and it is so easy to persuade ourselves that the Lord is sanctioning our actions because we want it that way when we have already committed ourselves to our own will. Patience is a safeguard while we pray. Wait patiently upon Him. "For all seek their own not the things which are Jesus Christ's" (Phil. 2:21).
Do we have ambitions for a family life that is based on the world's aims of materialism? Are we seeking a marriage in which to settle into a comfortable existence? If we are truly committed to the Lord we shall be willing to serve Him together in whatever circumstances He places us, whether humble or exalted, rich or poor. "I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11).
We will do well to take account of advice given by godly and experienced believers and parents. We must remember that they have a responsibility to help us through difficult decisions. "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow considering the end of their conversation" (Heb. 13:7).
The Scripture does not say much about engagement but it does refer in several places to betrothal or espousal. This is shown in the case of Mary and Joseph and mentioned in the Song of Soloman. Engagement is a time when a man and woman are preparing for a marriage to which they have committed themselves.
As we have already seen, Scripture clearly speaks about the relationship between one man and one woman. Engagement should therefore be seen as a serious step of firm commitment to marry (having received clear guidance from the Lord in the decision) and not as a trial period. I would hasten to say that should a mistake be realised before one is married it would be far better to admit it and end the relationship than to continue in a path which is not the Lord's will.
Engagement is a time to prepare yourselves for a new life and attend to the many practical matters that need to be sorted out: a wedding to prepare; a new home to find; and studies to complete, for example.
First and foremost, however, the engagement period should be used to grow closer together spiritually, mentally and physically (with self-control).
The length of an engagement will vary according to different circumstances. If there is a clear knowledge of the Lord's will and there is no reason to delay, it could be frustrating to wait too long before the full enjoyment of living and working together can be enjoyed; especially if the couple are in the same town and see each other often. This, of course, is only my personal view.
Engagement should be used to get to know each other by talking over different matters, praying together, and reading God's word. Habits formed at this stage will provide a foundation for married life. In discussing all the many practical aspects of our lives in an attitude of dependence to our Lord and commitment to Him, He will guide our thoughts together and set our aim to serve Him. It is natural to want to spend as much time as possible in each other's company, but let us ensure that we make time for our responsibility to serve the Lord together in our local assembly or wherever He leads. These are all foundations for a spiritual marriage. If we use this time well it will be something to remember with pleasure.
There will also be the opportunity to get to know each other physically. This is once again an area that needs prayerful consideration. It is normal for there to be a display of affection between two who have committed themselves to each other; yet there is need for self-control and restraint. As in all the other areas we have discussed we should seek to honour the Lord and so live for His glory. Let us be wise in these matters and seek guidance to act in a manner that does not embarrass others or give a bad testimony. We must leave until marriage that freedom to enjoy all the privileges of physical closeness and union; we are forbidden to have outside of marriage and must not allow our physical emotions to control us. Such actions as staying unaccompanied in the same house should be avoided as they could lead to temptation and suspicion. "Abstain from all appearance of evil." 1 Thes. 5:22.