How should single Christians find a spouse, that is a million-dollar question. Literally. Countless books are written on the subject, many large churches have a single’s pastor, either in title or function, retreats and conferences for singles are held. Single Christians, who desire to be married, spend an enormous amount of time, energy and money trying to figure it out.
Many married Christians are more than eager to throw in their two cents too. (One of the most uncomfortable moments I ever had was one I shared with a Russian young woman who visited my church, where I was one of the only single men, and she was introduced to me by an older woman who said “John this is XXXXX, she is a good height for you.”)
And this is fine, most people do not have the gift of singleness. But I want to let you in on a secret, contrary to what many have written in books, blog posts, and articles often with very different points of view, there is no biblical pattern for finding a spouse. I have heard just about everything, from dating, to “courting”, to seeking divine revelation, to arranged marriage complete with a betrothal ceremony, and paying a bride price (seriously, in 21st century America), described as the “biblical model” for finding a spouse. Invariably, they muster some Old Testament narrative to “prove” their preferred method of moving toward marriage as the “biblical model.” But mining the Old Testament for the biblical method of choosing a spouse is a fool’s errand; the Old Testament narrative provides a dizzying array of methods.
Some notable examples of how spouses were selected or obtained in the Old Testament include seeking a sign which cousin would make a good wife for a young man (Genesis 24:10-14), choosing a spouse for yourself based on looks (Gen 29:17-20), your father planting you in your sister’s fiancé’s marital bed and allowing the marriage to be consummated when the fiancé “can’t” tell the difference (Gen 29:23), marrying your brother’s childless widow (Deuteronomy 25:5 cf Gen 38:8), having your father give you to a man who rescued you (Exodus 2:19-21), kidnapping virgins from festivals (Judges 21:20-22), acquiring a wife as an add-in in a real estate deal (Ruth 4:1-10), enticing a relative to redeem you as part of a real estate deal (Ruth 3:6-13), giving your daughter to a man who kills 100 of your enemies (1 Samuel 18:25), marrying the widow of someone you scared to death (1 Sam 25:36-42), and God personally commanding you to marry a prostitute as a sermon illustration (Hosea 1:2).
If that seems overwhelming to the point of being ridiculous, good. My point is that those who strip mine the Bible to dig up the one “biblical” model of finding a spouse are at best being inconsistent and confused, and at worst they are intentionally twisting Scripture to solemnize their preference. The Bible does not mandate any one method for moving toward marriage (and by the way many of those who seek to draw marriage methods out of the text of the Old Testament confuse descriptive for prescriptive passages, ignore the theological/cultural/literary context of those passages and miss that description in the biblical text does not necessarily indicate divine approval) but reflects the cultural mores of the society in which the books of the Bible were written (with the notable exception of Hosea 1:2).
While there is not a proscribed method for finding a spouse, and even no consistent description of how it is done, there are some key principles, that should guide any search for a spouse and govern conduct in a premarital relationship. Whereas many look to the Old Testament for models of marriage, it is in the New Testament where these key principles are found.
Marriage Is To Be An Illustration of the Gospel
This is often and correctly used to encourage husbands especially, but also wives to fulfill the biblical roles within marriage. And this of course comes from Ephesians 5:22-33:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Why this is an important premarital principle is that it underscores the gravity of marriage. It is not to be entered flippantly, for selfish reasons, without being bathed in prayer, or because it is the thing to do. Marriage is the one thing on earth that God has ordained to illustrate the love that Christ has for His church. To pursue marriage without considering this amazing truth, to my mind, is a huge indication that a believer is not ready for marriage.
I recently read on the website of a “ministry” that advocates fathers arranging marriage for their young (whatever that might mean; a now removed portion of the website defined ready to marry, for girls, as having developed breasts and being emotionally prepared to have sex) marriageable virgin children, a definition of marriage that was limited to the sexual relationship and procreation. This kind of thinking tells me (apart from everything else) that they have far too low a view of marriage to be advising anyone on any matter concerning, let alone arranging, marriages.
Whether someone thinks dating, “courting” or anything else is the best way to find a spouse, if they fail to see the theological and cosmic import of marriage they are not ready to pursue marriage.
Marriage Is Forever
“From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” – Mark 10:6-9
While there are some allowances made for divorce in cases of adultery (Matt 19:9) and abandonment, actual physical abandonment not metaphorical emotional abandonment, by an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:15), marriage is to be permanent and that is indisputably a key biblical principle. Even when divorce is “permissible” it is never required or the ideal. Put simply God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).
Why understanding the permanence of marriage is key, is because many who express a desire to be married have shown no ability to commit to anything. Although marriage is a source of great joy, it is hard work. The vows that are typically exchanged in a wedding ceremony, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to death do you part mean just that. No matter the circumstances, marriage is a commitment that binds until death. Marriage requires more work, more sacrifice, more selflessness than putting yourself through and graduating from college, writing a book, training a puppy or even raising a child. If someone has never committed to doing anything difficult that required enormous personal sacrifice, and required of them differing their own wants, felt needs and gratification, they’re likely not ready for marriage. Just like you wouldn’t teach someone to drive in a formula 1 car, marriage is not the place to make your first commitment or to learn about commitment. Marriage is not commitment 101, it is a master class that requires life-long learning, and before enrolling you ought to make sure you have done the prerequisite work.
Marriage Is Between Equals In Worth
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28
Yes, I am aware of the context of Galatians 3, but the principle that Paul is bringing to the fore here, in the context of a discussion of Law and Grace, is that of the ontological equality of all Christians. While there are unique roles for both the husband and the wife in marriage (yes, I am stipulating that as a given, a full discussion of complementarianism is beyond the scope of this article, but here is a great place to start) neither is superior, better, or even more capable than the other. Anyone who entertains any thoughts of the superiority of one gender over another is not ready for marriage.
Marriage Is Between Spiritual Equals
Make no mistake, for a Christian to knowingly marry a non-Christian is sin. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God. – 2 Corinthians 6:14-16
This is a command, to disobey a command is to sin. Therefore, it is clear that knowingly marrying an unbeliever is sin; there is no closer form of yoking than marriage. In fact, in a bygone era, as illustrated by the lyrics of the Johnny Cash song Mr. Garfield, remaining single was referred to as “pulling in single harness.” There is no such thing as a “missionary marriage” or “missionary dating.” No matter how gorgeous, smart, caring, kind to animals, ambitious or otherwise attractive or how much in common you might have with a potential spouse, if you don’t have the most important thing, faith in Christ, in common to marry them is sin.
[And I would add a note of caution here; just having a least common denominator “mere Christianity” type of faith in common may be a recipe for disaster. I can’t imagine that a marriage between a credobaptist, cessationist, reformed woman to an Arminian, paedobaptist, charismatic, evangelical Methodist man is going to be marked by the kind of spiritual harmony and unity that illustrates the relationship between Christ and the Church. It may, but it requires exceptional spiritual maturity and overwhelming grace from God]
Marriage Is A Prerequisite For Sex
Jason Vaughn posted an excellent piece on sex last week, and I would commend it to you. As he pointed out God intended sex only as part of the marital relationship. Even an engaged couple is not exempted from the commands and warning of Scripture about sexual immorality. That said I would counsel that engagements be short, in light of Paul’s advice to the Corinthians.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. – 1 Corinthians 7:8-9
Whether you have kissed dating goodbye, have an e-harmony profile, go on blind dates, strike up conversations with single people at church to see where it goes or are waiting for someone to arrange your marriage, you can pursue marriage God’s way if you keep these key principles in mind. And don’t let anyone bind your conscience by telling you that there is only one biblical way to pursue marriage, just remember that whether you pursue marriage or remain single, and no matter how you pursue marriage all you do should be for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).