Guidance Toward Marriage

Marriage is one of the most important decisions that will be made in a young or older person’s life. It ought to seem rather obvious to us that God would have much to say about the vital matter of moving from single to married status. We hear much in our day about the relationship in a marriage after the wedding day, but what about the time prior to that day? Has God left us in the dark concerning how to conduct ourselves as we both seek a spouse and lead up to the actual day in which we enter into that life long marriage covenant? This article supposes that the answer is no.

While there are many details that might be considered as this subject is discussed, this article will seek to focus upon some basic Biblical principles that can be used to guide us toward marriage. While it is not necessary that every person enter into marriage, it is necessary for most. It is the answer clearly given as a means to avoid fornication (I Cor. 7:1,2). Most are not given the gift to remain satisfied without sexual involvement, thus God instructs us to marry. In the context of marriage the desire for sexual intimacy is met. Marriage is also the means through which God has ordained that children should be born and nurtured. Marriage, then, is one of the most fundamental aspects of any healthy society. What does God have to say about the process toward marriage? (The following thoughts are focused primarily on young unmarried people, but many of the principles are applicable to all singles.)

Let us begin by considering some basic Biblical principles that will help us in making choices leading to a godly marriage.

  • Attraction between the sexes is normal and godly.
      God has so designed male and female that she would be attractive to him. You are not strange or sinful if you find the opposite sex attractive. Sarah, Rebekah, Esther and Solomon’s Shunamite were all described as attractive to their suitors.

  • Companionship found in the opposite sex that leads to marriage is godly.
      God said of the first man, it is not good for man to be alone. This need was not filled by any other living creature, so God made a woman (Gen. 2:20-22). Companionship should not be sought in the opposite sex unless the goal is marriage.

  • Fornication is a very real danger facing every single young person.
      Some think that we make too much of this danger. Yet, God, who made us and knows us, has exhorted us in numerous ways in Scripture with that clear warning, flee fornication (1 Cor. 6:18; 2 Tim. 2:22). Youthful lusts are of such a nature that this warning is particularly needful. The wise father in Proverbs repeatedly warns his son against the luring temptations of sexual immorality (Prov. 6:24-26; 7:4,5). This being so, care must be taken by parents to help young people guard against this common pitfall of pre-marital sexual activity. Young ladies must not flaunt their bodies, attracting the eyes and minds of young men. Young men must determine not to gaze upon a young woman with a lustful mind. All young people, and others who are yet living in an unmarried state, must not place themselves in a situation in which they might be tempted to violate their commitment to purity. Do not think you are strong!

  • God has designed one man and one woman to be committed to one another in marriage.
      This design is seen in the original order from creation (Gen. 2:24). Jesus alludes to this as He instructs, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Youth need to be taught to save themselves and their thoughts for that person God has for them. What a blessing it would be to single persons not to involve themselves to any degree of intimacy with any person other than the one they marry, until they marry.

  • God has demonstrated that His will is for fathers to give daughters away.
      This is really an expression of the order of submission established by God: the head of the woman is the man (1 Cor. 11:3). The idea of the father giving the daughter away in marriage is repeated throughout Scripture. Deuteronomy 7:3, Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. Jeremiah 29:6, Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. Christ speaks of the days of Noah: marrying and giving in marriage (Matt. 24:38). Paul gives instruction concerning the matter of a father’s responsibility to a daughter old enough to marry: I Cor. 7:36-38. Note the expression giveth her in marriage in verse 38. This seems to be the accepted practice as Paul taught the churches. The common and orderly practice is for the father to give his daughter away to a man with whom he entrusts her provision and protection.

      The exceptions to this principle would be in such cases that a daughter has no father. God has provided an example in the Old Testament in the daughters of Zelophehad. They were told to marry within their own tribe and to whom they think best. You can read about this in Numbers 36:6-12.

      Another exception would perhaps be the widow. Paul instructs that a widow who is young should marry and bear children (1 Tim. 5:14). In another place he says that the widow is free to marry whom she will; only in the Lord. So there seems that such a woman is free from the direct authority of her father in such a case.

  • Marriage should be with those of compatible religious belief.
      It seems too obvious a truth to miss that a believer must only marry a believer: 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14; Ex. 34:12-16. The kingdoms of light and darkness do not mix well. This must be avoided by not entering into the closest of human relationships with an unbeliever. Of course, if one is already in such a relationship, he/she should remain as long as his/her spouse is willing (1 Cor. 7:12,13). The best way to avoid an unequally yoked marriage union is to not pursue a relationship with an unbelieving person.

      Perhaps not so obvious is the principle that one who is God-conscious should only marry a God-conscious person. That is, if a single person has not yet experienced the salvation of the Lord, yet is sensitive to God and His ways, then he or she should only marry another who shares such thinking. To do otherwise will lead to either outright and increased idolatry, or enormous tension.

  • Once married, single persons are released from submission to parents, and a new relationship of submission is formed: Genesis 1:24.

Working from the above principles every Christian ought to have sufficient information to guide them through the process of finding a spouse. There are those who believe they need to establish a dogmatic checklist that will control each step of the courting, engagement and marriage process. Care must be taken that dogmas only be established from thus saith the Lord, not from the legislative minds of well-intentioned men. 

This article is written with the assumption that no clear Biblical pattern is set forth to lead us in every detail of the process from single life to marriage. By this we mean that to mandate a particular protocol beyond the principles set forth in Scripture would be going beyond the right of any man. 

Because of the high words of commendation God pronounced upon Abraham, some have  concluded the example of him finding a wife for Isaac is the only godly pattern that should be followed. Therefore, a father must find a wife or husband for his son or daughter. But what about Jacob, who was sent to find his own wife? 

According to the Law of Moses there were some interesting ways in which a man could lawfully find a wife. Consider Deuteronomy 21:10-14. If in war a soldier of Israel’s army saw a desirable woman from the enemy’s camp, there was a method in place to acquire her. Most would not be comfortable with those terms today. Yet, if we lived under Moses’ law, that would have been a very right way to find a wife.

What should we conclude from the example of Joseph and Mary? They were betrothed to one another and apparently traveled together prior to their actual marriage. Some have proposed betrothal as the Biblical pattern, but have not promoted living together (without sexual contact of course) prior to marriage. Did God really intend for His people of all ages to follow a system of betrothal in leading to marriage? In other words, is that the only God-honoring way to pursue marriage?

The Apostle Paul surely didn’t seem to observe any single pattern from the Old Testament. He simply said, let every man have his own wife. He even argued for his right to be married, but says nothing of the process. The one thing that is clear in Scripture is the necessity of marriage before touching in a way that is prohibited outside of marriage (1 Cor. 7:1-4; Heb. 13:4). More about this in a moment.

As mentioned earlier in this article, Jesus refers back to the beginning when asked about the matter of marriage (Matt. 19:3-9). He was being asked about the lawfulness of divorce, as was allowed under Moses. Jesus takes His inquirers all the way back to the beginning to establish the timeless law for marriage. The process is very simple and clear. Adam searched for a help that was suitable for him and was unable to find one among the living creatures (vs. 20). God provided for him by making a woman (vss. 21-23). God brought the woman to Adam. From this example we may learn that God will bring to the resting soul a spouse that will be perfectly suitable for him/her. There is a sense in which a godly man or woman can go to sleep and wait for God to provide. There is nothing ungodly about looking, but that look needs to be with a guarded heart and with an expectation that God has just the right spouse whom He will bring along in due time. Anxiousness of heart should not lead a person to date around in hopes of finding a suitable spouse. The better way is to wait upon God.

Just a quick note to single folks: there is nothing wrong with being single and chaste! In fact, the Apostle Paul argues that you are in a unique position to serve the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32-35). Yet, most are not able to live a single life without being snared by the temptations that are powerful to the flesh. Therefore, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband (1 Cor. 7:2).

All that has been said so far may seem too vague for many. So, let’s attempt to suggest some practical steps guided by the principles established earlier in this article. Armed with some clear Biblical principles, let’s consider how the Spirit might guide us in the application of these principles to this process of finding a spouse.

First, it is certainly alright to be looking. We have noted already that Adam was looking among all the creatures God had made for one that would fit him, and found none (Gen. 2:20). We are told in Scripture that individuals went searching for a wife. Proverbs indicates that the one who finds a wife, finds a good thing. A widow is told that she might marry whom she will; only in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). We can conclude that to be looking is not ungodly. The looking must be with great care so that the mind is not led to think evil thoughts (Matt. 5:28). And, the looking must be with the sense that God will bring you together with the spouse He has chosen, as He did with Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:22). Patiently waiting upon the Lord is essential in regard to this vital decision in life.

In regard to looking, every unmarried person ought to be seeking the counsel of parents and/or other trusted counselors. The best counselor is the one who knows God’s word and has sought to apply God’s truth to his/her own life. Whether the unmarried person is a Christian or not, the counsel from godly persons will be the most valuable. If one’s parents are not Christians, there should still be a heart of submission demonstrated to them, even as the Christian single seeks the godly counsel of a seasoned believer. Look to others to help you determine if you are ready for marriage and if one that is being considered is right for you. Lean heavily upon parents for their direction and approval before ever taking any steps toward personal involvement with a prospective spouse. With parental approval, or with the positive guidance of godly counselors, you are ready to pursue (a man) or allow the pursuing (a woman, under the guidance of Dad) of a prospective spouse.

Secondly, young people should commit to no intimate physical touch before marriage. To have and to hold are the common words expressed at the marriage ceremony. The implication is that the two being married have not done so before! In fact, the Apostle Paul stated that it is good for a man not to touch a woman (1 Cor. 7:1). The touching in this case is that which is related to sexual arousal, which leads to and involves fornication. Touching of this nature should be reserved for marriage. 

When we put the thoughts of Paul in first Corinthians 7 together with the strong warnings in Scripture to beware of the temptations of the flesh, to flee fornication and youthful lusts, and to be chaste; it seems reasonable to conclude that unmarried persons should not have the kind of physical contact that naturally leads to the activity that is to be reserved for the marriage bed. This would include any kind of intimate hand holding or touching, kissing, and every other stimulating contact. 

The unmarried couple should be seeking to avoid any situation that might present opportunity to give in to the weakness of their flesh. Therefore, while there is no Biblical mandate for this suggestion, it seems reasonable that there should be no time in which the unmarried couple is alone. It would be very helpful to always be in visual contact with mature family members or other godly friends. As the unmarried couple committed to marriage progress in their relationship, there ought to be opportunity given for verbal interaction out of earshot of family and others. It would still be healthy to remain within visual contact of others. This will help to preserve chastity and purity in the relationship. If the flesh has no opportunity to fulfill its lusts, it most likely will not.

Thirdly, fathers and elders in the church ought to be closely involved and giving guidance in the relationship toward marriage. Understanding that there are many scenarios in a fallen world that lead to difficult questions, let us address at this point only those who are still under the direct authority of a godly father. For the young lady and young man who are brought up in the context of a Christian home and sound church the steps toward marriage at this point are very simple. Believing that the father gives the bride away and the bride is received by the groom (and family), engagement to be married ought to occur under the full guidance and consent of the fathers. With his father’s approval, the groom approaches the bride’s father to ask if he agrees that the time is right for them to engage to marry. The groom ought to seek to protect the weaker vessel and speak to her about engagement only after getting approval from her father. The time of the proposal being set, the occasion ought to be special and the place very open. Because the father has not yet given his daughter away, it might be proper and helpful for the family to be nearby at the time of engagement. There should still not be any physical intimate touch at this point in the relationship. 

From the point of engagement to the day of marriage there must be special care taken to guard against impurity. The goal of chastity and purity must still be held high and careful attention given to protect one another. This spirit will preserve the sanctity of the marriage relationship and will make the wedding day so much more special. Since engagements are sometimes broken, yet unmarried couples should continue to maintain high standards of chastity avoiding all intimacy until their wedding day.

Details relating to the period between engagement and marriage day will vary. Ideas may be gathered from others who have written on the subject, or from conclusions drawn independently from Biblical principles and examples.

The above suggested details will never occur without an early commitment by young people to preserve themselves completely for that one God has ordained for them to marry. It seems that it would be a natural help for young people if they would keep from their minds romantic material found in books, television and movies. As parents, we need to be promoting these ideas of chastity and purity as our young people work toward marriage. We need to cultivate this spirit in our churches so that it becomes the accepted way in which we prepare our young people for marriage. This ought not be the exception, but the rule among us.

Yet, for those who have lost their chastity or purity, there is forgiveness with God and there is hope of full restoration. Every believing young person can from this point forward determine that by the grace of God they will preserve themselves and prepare themselves for that one person chosen by God to be their spouse. Once that person is known, then there can be movement forward with full commitment to the principles set forth above. Such a person and couple can live just as committed and full a married life as any other who has completely preserved themselves. In both cases, to God be the glory for the work He does in the hearts of His people to bring us in His time to be part of His chaste bride! The impure made pure by the blood and righteousness of another!

Kyle White, Pastor
October, 2006