February 27, 2000

PREPARING FOR MARRIAGE

I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 2 Corinthians 11:2

The young man had a lot going for him, but something was troubling him more and more.  Finally he decided to ask for advice.  He wrote a letter to the advice column of a Christian magazine and explained his situation: “I am a church member, a recent graduate from a Christian college, and single.  I have a wonderful family, a job, a car, and an apartment of my own.  I am growing closer to God every day and find him to be faithful.  But God has not yet provided me with what I most desire.”

What was the problem?  The young man “felt alone,” he said, and longed to find a “young, beautiful, intelligent Christian woman” to be his wife.  Thus far, though, his longing was unfulfilled.  He had gone through high school and college without meeting the right girl.  Meanwhile, more and more of his  friends were getting married.  What about him?  How long would it take before he met the right person?  Would it ever happen?  “I know I must wait on God and his Spirit,” he wrote, “but I believe some action must be taken on my part as well.”  He ruled out singles bars, personal ads, and Internet chat rooms, but that left him with the question, “How are Christian singles supposed to meet other Christian singles?”

Get a Life Before a Wife

Here’s how advice columnist Ken Koeman, a veteran pastor and father, replied to the young man:

I talked your question over with an expert on this matter: my own daughter, who just two weeks ago got married at the age of 29.  She’s been where you’re at: few dates in high school, no “find” at a Christian college, and then what?  She knows the rising tide of anxiety you face.

But somewhere right about where you’re at, she gradually came to a decision, one of the wisest she ever made: she was simply going to get on with her life, single or not.  She figured that the best way for her to meet a man was to immerse herself in life itself.  She began to believe that if her faithful God had a man in store for her, he could just as well usher him into her life while she was volunteering to help at church or working in her job as a teller at a bank.  She didn’t need to rely on an Internet chat room or some singles bar, which, as it is for you, was out of bounds to her conscience anyway.

In other words, she concluded that right in the matrix of everyday encounters, God could bring her the man of his choice.  And did he ever!  But only after a very long and sometimes very difficult wait.  A wait, by the way, that didn’t hurt her faith one bit.  It was a wait that taught her to accept her singleness as its own blessing.  It was a wait in which she gradually learned to be free to be unmarried.  And that is not insignificant.  People who are desperate to get married often drain their eventual spouses empty with their neediness.

I believe this is the bottom-line answer for you.  Other steps may help such as seeking wholesome places where young adults get together.  But at bottom, just live life and live it fully.  And trust God.  He can surprise you.  Moreover, what’s the hurry?  You’re only 23, for goodness’ sake!  Enjoy the freedoms of your singleness!  They may be gone sooner than you think.

And finally, about those “young, beautiful, and intelligent” qualifiers–youthfulness is a spirit more than an age, beauty comes in many forms other than Barbie-doll features, and wisdom is better than being just brainy. (The Banner, March 29, 1999).

I think that’s excellent advice.  Basically, the message is: get a life before a wife.  Don’t waste time and energy pining for a spouse you don’t have.  Enjoy the family and friends you do have.  Cultivate your mind and talents.  Work hard.  Do daring things.  Seize every opportunity to relish life.  Make a positive difference for others in church and community.  If it turns out that you’re single for life, you won’t have wasted your life wishing for a different one.  And if–as in most cases–it turns out that you’re single for only a while and then get married, you won’t have wasted your precious season of singleness on self-pity.  Besides, a contented single is more likely to attract a marriage partner than a self-pitying single.  And the marriage is more likely to be a happy one if both partners, already in their life as singles, have developed into mature, capable, fun-loving people with a variety of interests.  Make the most of your singleness; don’t be obsessed with seeking a spouse.

Single-minded About Marriage

What I’m going to say next may sound like it contradicts everything I just finished saying, but let me say it anyway: The best way to make the most of your singleness is to be constantly preparing for marriage.  Am I talking nonsense?  First I say not to be too concerned about finding someone to marry, and then, in the next breath, I say everything you do should be preparation for marriage–even if you have no intention of getting married in your lifetime.  How does that make sense?  Let me explain.

In the Bible the apostle Paul (a single man, by the way) tells his readers, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Corinthians 11:2).  Here Jesus is compared to a husband-to-be, and people in the church are compared to a wife-to-be, promised to Jesus in betrothal.  Betrothal is a form of engagement which is stronger than the brand of engagement that’s common today.  Betrothal is as solemn and binding as marriage itself, even though the wedding and the fullness of married life are still in the future.  The father of the bride-to-be declares the couple’s future marriage to be an official reality, even before it takes place.  In speaking of betrothing believers to Jesus, Paul pictures himself as the spiritual father who has helped make the match by leading them to Christ, and he expresses a fatherly concern for God’s people to be like a faithful, holy bride on the wedding day: “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.”

This is why everyone should be constantly preparing for marriage.  Even if you plan to go through life without ever getting married, you should be preparing for the ultimate marriage, a never-ending relationship of love and joy with Jesus Christ.  If you know Jesus and love him, your greatest longing is to be close to him and live with him forever, just as a betrothed person’s greatest desire is for their beloved.  As you look forward to the future, it shapes your attitudes and actions now.  Even though the great wedding of Jesus and his church hasn’t yet arrived, even though the fullness of eternal life with him still lies in the future, you will want to live in the present as someone who belongs to him.

Just as a betrothed person must not spend the time leading up to marriage having romances with others, so you must not spend the time leading up to Jesus’ Second Coming wandering far from Jesus.  The Bible pictures false religion as spiritual fornication and adultery.  In the part of the Bible where Paul speaks of wanting the church to be a pure virgin for Christ, he goes on to warn that many people, even churchgoers, are too loose, too easy. “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4).  Turning from the New Testament Jesus to a New Age Jesus, being guided by occult spirits instead of the Holy Spirit, placing other religious writings alongside or above the Bible–these are examples of being religiously “easy.”  Seeking satisfaction apart from the Christ of Scripture means you’re spiritually promiscuous, just as cheating on your future spouse means you’re sexually promiscuous.

You can’t get away with cheating on Jesus.  You can’t flirt with other religions or wallow in a selfish, sinful life.  If you think and act as though Jesus isn’t the person you care most about, he probably isn’t!  If you think and act as though you won’t be joined to him forever, you probably won’t!  You’re headed for eternity without him.  The word for that is hell.

But if you accept the Lord’s loving proposal, if you love him in return and want to be his forever, starting here and now, then you can look forward to a joyous eternity with him, and you will spend the rest of your life preparing for the marvelous marriage of Christ and his church.  Your heart will beat faster at the Bible’s words, “Your maker is your husband–the Lord Almighty is his name” (Isaiah 54:5).  “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).  You will long for the day the Bible envisions when it says, “The wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).  Your main aim, married or single, should be preparing for spiritual marriage to Jesus.

Make Purity a Priority

In the Bible, the apostle Paul says, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.”  That statement speaks volumes about making Jesus the supreme love of your life and preparing to be his forever.  At the same time, it also shows how God expects us prepare for earthly marriage.  If you’re single, don’t give your heart and your body to anybody unless and until you are married to the spouse God gives you.  The way you handle your singleness is a vital part of preparing for your marriage.  Keep yourself a pure virgin for one person, for the husband or wife who may be somewhere in your future.  Make purity a priority.

A major part of staying pure is simply steering clear of romantic relationships until you can be serious about getting married.  It makes no sense to be flirting and dating at an age when you’re not ready for a lifelong commitment.

It’s like going into a store to get something even though you have no way to pay for it.  What are you going to do?  Will you go to the checkout clerk and say, “I can’t afford this, but I really, really want it.  Could you let me take it for a few weeks, or a few months, or a few years–however long I enjoy having it?  Someday, if I can afford it, and if I still like it, I might even pay for it.  If I get sick of it somewhere along the line, or if I find something I like better, I’ll make sure you get it back so you can sell it to someone else.”  Would any store let you have merchandise on those terms?  Of course not.  If you can’t pay the price, the only way to get what you want is to steal what isn’t yours.

So too, if you’re not prepared to pay the price and make the commitment of marriage, the only way to get romantic thrills and physical affection is to steal what isn’t rightfully yours.  When you use other people to satisfy your own desires, you turn them into used goods for their future spouse.  You’re stealing from others, and at the same time you are allowing something precious to be stolen from you and your future spouse.  If you are sexually promiscuous, or even if you’re just emotionally promiscuous and seek romantic relationships with one person after another, you are turning yourself into used goods.

God commands you to keep yourself a pure virgin for the one husband or wife God has in mind for you.  It’s not just wrong to disobey this command; it’s foolish.  One author uses the example of chewing gum.  Which would you rather have: a new stick of gum that’s never been chewed, or a wad of gum that’s already been chewed and dropped on the ground, then picked up by someone else and chewed and dropped?  Gum that’s been chewed and dropped, chewed and dropped, by a dozen different people isn’t the kind of gum you prefer, is it?  But if you allow yourself to be dated and dropped by one person after another, you become like used chewing gum.  Your emotions and your body will be more appealing to a future spouse if you haven’t been chewed up by today’s dating scene.  So protect your physical and emotional purity.  Avoid romance till you’re ready to get serious about marriage.

Elisabeth Elliot says, “Unless a man is prepared to ask a woman to be his wife, what right has he to claim her exclusive attention?  Unless she has been asked to marry him, why would a sensible woman promise any man her exclusive attention?”

Purity involves putting off any romance until marriage is a real possibility, and controlling your desires until you are married.  The Bible says, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (Songs of Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4).  Don’t let passion heat up until you’re married and can to have each other fully for life.  The Bible says that there is “a time to embrace and a time to refrain” (Ecclesiastes 3:5). When you’re unmarried, it’s definitely a time to refrain. To quote Elisabeth Elliot again, “Keep your hands off and your clothes on.”

Purity also means being modest.  Don’t use your body as bait to make someone drool over you. If you wear clothing that is skin tight or barely covers you, you may turn on other people’s lust for your body, but you turn off their respect for you as a person.  If you dress immodestly and put your body on display to attract others, then don’t be shocked if the ones you attract are those who want only sex and not a permanent, loving relationship. Dressing modestly is a way to make sure other people look at you as a person and not just as a sex object. We owe it to each other to be modest in the way we dress and in the way we look at each other and behave toward each other.  The Bible tells a man, “Treat younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:2).  See each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord to be treated with dignity and purity.

But what if you haven’t been pure?  What if you’ve sinned and been sinned against in romantic relationships?  Well, if you want to change, if you really long for purity, the Lord Jesus can wash away a dirty past and give impure people a clean start.  The Bible says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her” (Ephesians 5:25-26).  Even if you’ve been impure, Jesus can wash you with his blood and make you part of his pure and pleasing bride, the church.  Not only that, Jesus can make you pure and pleasing for a spouse here on earth.  The Bible and Christian history prove that even former prostitutes can become holy in Christ and become pure and faithful wives.  So too, men who have misused women and wallowed in sin can have a new way of living in Christ and become faithful husbands. The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

That Special Someone

So far we’ve seen that if you want to prepare for marriage, you should first make the most of your singleness, make your union with Christ your main focus, and make purity a priority.  But we haven’t said much about actual preparations for marriage once you meet that special someone.  And that’s okay.  The fact is that spending years as a single walking with the Lord, treating other people the way they should be treated, and developing your God-given personality and skills, will do more to prepare you for marriage than a few classes offered by a marriage counselor in the weeks leading up to the wedding.  If godliness and Christian love characterize your life as a single, you’re the kind of person who could make a great spouse.

The fact that you could make a great husband or wife doesn’t automatically mean you should get married, however.  Some people, in following the Lord’s will for them, discover they can serve the Lord more freely and fully as singles than if they were married.  A great missionary like the apostle Paul stayed single for the sake of God’s kingdom.  Most men and women have strong desires for someone of the opposite sex, and rather than trying to satisfy those desires as singles hopping from bed to bed, Paul said that ordinarily “each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2).  But even though most people should get married rather than burn with passion, Paul counted it a special gift to be a single Christian with a single-minded devotion to serving Christ.  “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs–how he can please the Lord,” wrote Paul.  “An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit” (1 Corinthians 7:32,34).

God calls some people to a lifetime of singleness, and he may call others to a prolonged season of singleness.  They may eventually meet a special someone, but for the time being God has other plans for them.  I know a woman who remained single and served as a missionary in South America for quite some time.  After a number of years, she married another missionary who had been serving the Lord as a single.  If she had found someone to marry earlier in life, she might have been prevented from doing her mission work.  But she was more eager to serve the Lord than look for a spouse, and after awhile didn’t even expect ever to be married.  But in God’s good plan, he brought her together with a man in such a way that both could go right on doing the Lord’s work, with each other’s intimacy as an added bonus.  If you’re single and aren’t sure what the future holds, just pour yourself into serving the Lord.  Trust God to do what’s best.

If you do meet a person you think might be that special someone for you, the first thing to make sure of is that the person shares your faith.  Don’t even consider someone who isn’t as devoted to Jesus Christ as you are.  You’re free to marry anyone you choose, but, says the Bible, that person “must belong to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39).

If you’re both Christians, it’s often best to get to know each other better as friends and fellow members of God’s family before expressing romantic interest.  It often helps to find out more about someone in a group setting or in a shared project before you consider focusing exclusively on each other.

If the friendship deepens and an attraction develops, seek a courtship which involves each other’s families, if possible.  Ideally, a young man should ask a young lady and her parents for approval to spend more time together in order to explore the possibility of marriage.  Once permission is granted, it’s often helpful to keep seeking input from parents and wise friends.

Ultimately, a decision must be made.  If you’re a young man, ask yourself, “Do I love this woman the way Christ loves his church, and am I willing to sacrifice myself for her wellbeing?”  Too many men go into marriage “ready for the sack but not for the sacrifice,” as Joshua Harris puts it.  Only if you are ready for the sacrifice, only if you are prepared to be a husband who obeys the Bible’s command to love this woman the way Christ loves his church (Ephesians 5:25-33), are you ready to propose marriage and take her as your wife.

If you’re a woman who is being courted by a man, you need to ask yourself, “Am I willing to see this man as my head in marriage and to submit to his lead the way the church submits to Christ?”  Only if you can respect and support a man and gladly welcome his strength and leadership, only if you are prepared to be a wife who obeys the Bible’s command to submit to your husband the way the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24), are you ready to accept the man’s proposal of marriage.

When both of you are fully committed to loving Jesus and preparing to be with the Lord forever, and when you both are committed to a marriage that reflects the relationship between Christ and his church, then you can count on a future together that is rich with God’s blessing.  The Bible says, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22).  Assured of God’s favor, you can spend your time of betrothal making final preparations for a wonderful wedding and, more important, a marvelous marriage.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.