7 August 2017
The Bible is very clear on God’s purpose for marriage, but here are three crucial guidelines about who you should marry, from 1 Corinthians 7:36-40.
1. The other person should be Christian (if you are).
1 Corinthians 7:39 says:
A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.
In this instance, Paul’s talking about a woman who has been married and is a widow. But the principle is the same for someone who hasn’t been married.
If she marries, she’s to marry someone who belongs to the Lord. This advice is consistent with what we find in the rest of Scripture about who God’s people should marry.
God repeatedly warned his people in the Old Testament that they weren’t to marry those outside the nation of Israel. This wasn’t a racist comment – its purpose was very clear – that marrying foreigners would cause them to turn their backs on God and follow idols. Repeatedly in the Old Testament we see that playing out – God’s people marrying those outside his covenant and turning their backs on him.
In another of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians he picks up on this again. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 he talks about the difficulty in trying to have fellowship and harmony between believers and unbelievers.
That’s still true now – marrying unbelievers puts our own faith under pressure and at risk.
2. The other person should be single
The second thing implied in this passage is that we can only marry someone who is free to marry. That should be obvious, but sometimes it isn’t.
3. The other person should be of the opposite gender to you
Thirdly, we can only marry a person of the opposite sex. Particularly in our current social climate, we are increasingly under pressure to say that gender and sexuality don’t matter. But God says they do.
So how do we choose a marriage partner?
So that’s a starting point – Christian, free to marry, opposite gender. But how do we narrow it down more than that, and choose a marriage partner?
Most of us are married for a long time. For some, that’s really good. For some, it’s really tough. For most of us, it’s a bit of both.
Marriage is a marathon not a sprint. Two sinful people living together and loving each other for a long time is really hard work. Romance and infatuation and feeling as a foundation for marriage just aren’t going to cut it in the long run.
Here are some things I’ve come up with in thinking about this and talking with others. This isn’t an exhaustive list but I hope it will help you begin to think through some things that are important.
- Marry someone who shares your passion for following Jesus and serving him.
- Look for evidence of the fruit of the spirit in their life – actions not just words.
In Galatians 5:16, Paul says:
I6 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
And then in verse 22 he tells us what that looks like:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
None of us is perfect. Each one of us is still being transformed into the likeness of Christ. We’d be completely wrong to expect a prospective marriage partner to be perfect. And we would never find one.
But we should expect to see the faith they profess being lived out day by day, in the way they relate to us, and to others.
And moreover, it will be best to marry someone who places a higher priority on your godliness than their own wishes and desires. Someone who doesn’t just tell you to be godly, but who will put themself out in order to make it easier for you to be growing in godliness. Someone who won’t tempt you to sin for their benefit.
Questions to ask before you get engaged
As you think about the fruit of the spirit, here are some questions that might be helpful to ask:
- How do they treat your family and friends? Are they happy to spend time with them? Are they happy for you to spend time with them? Do they try to control who you spend time with?
- What are their friends like?
- How do they speak about others? Are they always critical?
- How do they respond to criticism? Do they ever admit they are wrong? Are they willing to learn and grow? Do they always think their view is the best or only right way? (perhaps even about theology)
- How do they treat you? Are they genuinely interested in you? Are they still genuinely interested in you and in the things that are important to you, 6 months down the track?
- How do they treat those who seem unimportant? How do they respond to those in authority? What if they disagree with those in authority?
- Are there things you think will need to change if you are married? If there are, be careful. Of course we all change and mature as we grow in Christ. But getting married doesn’t magically ‘fix’ people. If they drink too much, or watch porn, or gamble, or are permanently attached to their screens, or often skip church, or always prioritise their mother or their friends over you, then don’t expect that to be suddenly different if you marry. Be careful.
- Are they someone who seeks to serve you, not just have you serve them?
- Do they value you, encourage you, and build you up? Or do they just need your constant adoration?
- Are they different alone and in public?
- What is their attitude to money?
- What is their attitude to work?
- Are there things that you both enjoy doing together?
- What is their attitude to children and family?
- Sometimes people will say, if you’re a woman, is he a man you can submit to? But I want to add to that, is he a man that will lay down his life for you? That is a man that will be easy to submit to. A man who will love you as Christ loves his church will never be overbearing and insist on your submission and respect.
For the married…
The question “Whom should I marry?” is still important! Not everyone you know is already married. God saves us into community in order for us to keep encouraging each other in the Christian life by helping each other to press on in Christ when things are tough.
Some of us have children who might one day get married. We all know people who might one day get married. Ask tough questions of the young people in your life (or older people who are thinking about getting married).
But also ask tough questions of the other married people in your life. Being married can be great but it can also be really tough. Sometimes we need to be encouraged to press on. Sometimes we need to be encouraged to get help.
And the second reason to hear this if you’re already married, is that it may be that for some of you there are questions of your own safety or the safety of others around you.
There’s been a lot in the media recently about domestic abuse in the church. We’ve failed to care for, mostly women, who have been victims of domestic abuse. If you have concerns about yourself or someone else, talk to someone.
God puts us in marriage for our good
In the end, there’s no foolproof system for choosing the right person to marry, at least, if we think of the ‘right’ person as being the person who will make us happy.
It’s true that God knows and ordains the future. But we can’t miss out on his will for our lives – that’s what it means for him to be sovereign and in control.
The Bible holds two things as true – God is completely in control, and we are completely responsible for our actions.
That means that when it comes to choosing a marriage partner, like any other decision, we need to make the wisest decision we can, and entrust ourselves to God’s sovereign care for us.
Those who aren’t yet married would do well to be seeking wisdom from older and wiser people. Ask other people in your family, and in your church family, what they think. Get to know the other person as well as you possibly can. Pray. Ask for advice. Ask God for wisdom. And trust him.
God is in control of his world, and that includes our marriages. He puts us in marriage. More than that, he puts us in marriages for our good. And he wants us to be his people in our marriages.
What God is doing in each of us is transforming us into Christ’s likeness. That is his will for us. If we’re married, he’ll do that in our marriages. If we’re single, he’ll do it in our singleness. If our marriages fail, he’ll do it in that failure.
We need to be wise. We need to look out for each other. And we need to trust God and his wisdom and his sovereign care for each of us.
Women’s Ministry Coordinator
NOTE: This blog post was adapted from a Word of Exhortation following the sermon ‘Love, Sex, Marriage or Not – Deciding‘ on 23 July 2017. Follow the link here to listen to the audio recording.