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This is part of a ten-part series about marriage preparation and improvement. This article should be studied in context of the whole series of articles. To start at the beginning of the series, please click here: Marriage_Improvement.php.
Proverbs 5:1,2 - In advising his son about relationships with women, Solomon said to pay attention to wisdom and preserve discretion.
In some ways, whom you choose to marry is a matter of right or wrong (as when they are unscripturally divorced). Spiritual wisdom comes from God, but in many ways, the decision requires considerable judgment - not necessarily absolute rights or wrongs. I may not be able to prove everything I say here is Scriptural requirement, but I believe it to be good wisdom.
The Bible contains relatively few examples of choosing of marriage companions
Genesis 24 - Abraham's servant found a wife for Isaac. The couple never met till their wedding. And the specific choice was arranged by God (vv 50,51), which cannot be done today. But Abraham insisted that the bride come from his family so he knew her background, not from the wicked people of the land. And the decision was made by a man of wise judgment who entreated the blessing of God.
Genesis 29 - Jacob also went back to his mother's family to find a companion, because the young people where he lived were ungodly. He made his own decision that he wanted to marry Rachel after he had lived with her family for a month (v14). And the agreement was that he would still not marry her till seven years later.
Ruth 2 - Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz throughout the length of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. At the end of this period they determined to marry. However, this too involved some differences from today. Ruth was a widow whose husband died without descendants. Boaz was a near kinsman of Ruth, and the law required him to take her as wife to raise up seed to her husband. But, he knew her well by reputation. Her past life and conduct had been fully reported to him (2:11). She was known throughout the town as a virtuous woman (3:11).
But the Bible describes at length the character of godly wives and husbands.
The above examples involve some variation. But the one thing clear in every case is that what mattered most was the character of the one to be chosen. Many Scriptures tell the kind of person a man or woman must be in order to have a godly marriage.
Proverbs 31:10-31 - A virtuous woman is hard to find. Her character is described here and elsewhere. This is the kind of woman a young man should seek to find.
Likewise, the Bible describes the qualities of a godly husband. We will study these at length.
I know of no passage that states how you should feel toward a person before you marry them. You should love your spouse, but we will see that Bible love is more choice and commitment than emotion. Feelings are important in marriage; but if you marry a person of godly character, you can learn to love him/her. But a person of ungodly character will be a source of constant trouble to a Christian.
We will study the qualities of husbands and wives as we proceed. Before you marry you need to know - not just assume or even suspect - that your future spouse possesses these qualities. If not, either look elsewhere or give him/her time to change and prove they will be godly.
The entertainment industry bombards us with the romantic line to "just let your heart decide." Couples who have seriously different backgrounds meet, "fall in love," get married, and live happily ever after. Girls meet guys with immoral backgrounds and decide to reform them. This puts stars in the eyes of romantic, idealistic young women. But it is foolish and incredibly dangerous.
Proverbs 28:26 - He who trusts in his own heart is a fool. Do not choose a spouse on the basis of feelings or instincts.
A popular song years ago talked about a couple who met and married in the heat of passion, but they've been talking about divorce "ever since the fire went out."
Feelings come and go. You have highs and lows. People feel excited and high today, but tomorrow feel down and blue. This is normal for all people, even those who have a good marriage. If you marry because a person excites you, you may regret the decision when the fire goes out.
Character should remain constant. Feelings come and go. Base your choice on character and you can sustain the relationship. Know one another well over a number of periods of emotional ups and downs, to see if your commitment can survive the downs as well as the ups.
In order to choose a companion based on character, it follows that you must know a person's character and know it well in order to judge wisely.
Ecclesiastes 5:2 - Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. Marriage is a commitment before God. Do not enter it rashly.
Consider some specific applications.
We repeatedly taught our children to know a person for at least two years before they marry them - longer, if there was any significant questions about the person's character or spirituality. But the issue is not how long you know one another so much as how well you know one another. In some circumstances people get to know one another more quickly than otherwise.
Someone says, "I know couples who got married a month after they met, and they had a good marriage." Yes, and I have heard of people who jumped out of airplanes without a good parachute and survived, but I still don't recommend it! And people who get married after a short courtship will not recommend it to their children! They ran a great risk but were fortunate. For every such person, there are many who marry after a short acquaintance and live to regret it.
One of our daughters met a young man at college, and a few months later they asked for our blessing on their wedding plans. But we did not know him and our first impressions were unfavorable. So, we stalled ... and stalled ... and stalled to get to know him better. After enough time passed, the young man revealed his true character, and our daughter broke off the relationship.
Proverbs 29:20 - Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Hasty commitment to marriage is absolutely foolish.
If you do not know a person well - well enough to put your life and even your eternal destiny on the outcome - then you are not ready to get married.
Ask the other person their views about marriage, children, and especially about spiritual matters. Express your views and get their reaction. Study the Bible together. Learn your areas of agreement and disagreement.
And learn to work out your differences. Do not ignore your disagreements. Many people think their problems will just work out after marriage. How do you know? Usually they get worse! Discuss them now and see how well you are able to work out problems. Every marriage has problems. If you can't work out problems, you cannot succeed in marriage.
If you and your friend have not thoroughly discussed what you expect from marriage - and if you have not demonstrated your ability to resolve differences - you are not ready to marry.
Proverbs 23:7 - For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.
"Talk is cheap." Don't base your decision just on talk. Get to know a person's heart.
The young man our daughter almost married said all the right things. But somehow his actions never seemed to accomplish his big plans.
Typical dating situations hide flaws. Couples put on their best behavior and best appearance to attract the other person. Friends and family may not tell you what they know about the person's shortcomings. After marriage is when all the character flaws become obvious - but it's too late. You need to know his or her character before marriage.
Karen and I often warn people about the danger of making a serious commitment when you've seen a person primarily in one setting, such as in the artificial environment of college, especially one like Florida College. Wait till you leave and see how your relationship survives.
Spend time together in various situations. Spend time with your family and friends. See how he treats his family and friends and how well he gets along with your family and friends. Go places where they like to go and places where you like to go. Observe how they react under circumstances of stress, when they are not getting their way. Observe one another in the real world.
Proverbs 15:22 - Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.
Boaz knew Ruth was a godly woman, because she had that reputation throughout the whole city. Sometimes a person's reputation - good or bad - is not deserved. But before you marry someone whose reputation is not good, make sure you know why they have that reputation.
Get to know well the family and friends of your potential spouse. Seek the honest evaluation of people who know the other person well and whose godly wisdom you trust.
The young man our daughter almost married was planning to preach. A preacher who knew them both well wrote a "letter of recommendation" to churches about him. About the only really good thing the letter said about the young man was that he wanted to marry a really outstanding young woman! The red flag was waving!
The opinions of others should not be final, but consider them carefully.
1 Corinthians 14:20 - Do not be children in understanding; in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.
Proverbs 7:7 - Describing a young man who lacked wisdom in his choice of women, Solomon said, "I perceived among the youths, A young man devoid of understanding."
Not all youths are foolish, but youths generally lack the mature judgment needed to make a wise marriage choice. Wisdom and good judgment come with age.
Choosing a marriage companion is too serious to be made by immature people. The problem is that teenagers often tend to think they are much more mature than they are!
The divorce rate for people who marry in their teens is much higher than for people who marry in their twenties. Even people who marry in their early twenties are twice as likely to divorce as those who marry at 24-25 (Focus on the Family, 11/1992, p. 2).
Again, someone says, "I know people who got married in their late or even middle teens and had good marriages." Yes, but they will advise their children not to do it! And in most cases these were people who married years ago in a different age and different society when divorce was not easy like today. Often they worked things out, because breaking up marriage was frowned on by society and their family.
Marriage is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. If you follow the Bible, you will live the rest of your life with the person you choose. It is a choice you cannot change. It requires a mature decision. And maturity requires experience. And experience takes time.
Often young people are not settled regarding what they want in a spouse.
Observe older couples who have good marriages that have stood the test of time, and see what kind of person you want to marry. Consider people whose marriages have failed and learn what kind of person you don't want to marry.
Get to know different kinds of young people, so you know what you're looking for. Visit with others, not just in dating situations, but in groups, get-togethers, and family situations.
Our society encourages exclusiveness and intimacy early in relationships. Even young teenagers "go steady" - restrict dating to just one person. I urge parents and young people to resist that approach. We taught our kids they could not date at all till 16, and then only in groups or double-dating. They could not single date till 18 and then only if we approved of the person.
Usually (though not always), people will have several relationships in various degrees of seriousness before they find one with whom to have a good marriage. I sometimes say I have never known anyone who found a good mate without first having their heart broken at least once.
You need to experience life's problems as well as its joys. If your parents are true Christians, chances are they have sheltered you from some of life's problems. That is a good thing. But it means you will need to be older before you are ready to make serious decisions like marriage.
Proverbs 20:25 - It is a snare for a man to devote rashly something as holy, and afterward to reconsider his vows. I can think of no area where this applies more than in marriage. Marriage is based on sacred vows. Entering those vows rashly and hastily generally leads to a snare. But after you are married, it is too late to reconsider your vows.
"Marry in haste, and repent in leisure." Studies confirm the wisdom of this. You will live with this person all the rest of your life, so why rush into it? Don't jump into exclusive relationships. And above all, don't jump into marriage. Take your time and make wise decisions.
If in doubt, wait! What do you have to lose by waiting, even another year or two? By taking your time to make sure of your choice, you have everything to gain and very little to lose.
This is part of a ten-part series of articles about marriage preparation and improvement. To continue with the next article in the series, please go to /family/marriage-love.php To start at the beginning of the series, please click here: Marriage_Improvement.php.
Copyright 2007, David E. Pratte; www.gospelway.com
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.