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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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
As you think about the fruit of the spirit, here are some questions that might be helpful to ask:
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.
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