Whom Shall I Marry?
It should be remembered that by the Lord’s appointments, all sorts of people can legitimately marry and receive His blessing
by Palmer Robertson
For some cultures today marriage is a thing of past generations. Parents and grandparents may have married but people today don’t bother with marriage. Current customs and tax-breaks don’t require it, so why bother?
For other cultures, marriage is almost a necessity of life, particularly for women. Survival itself virtually hinges on being married. In any case, many questions are being asked about marriage in the modern world So consider a few questions about marriage, and insights into the truth offered by the Christian Scriptures.
First, What is Marriage?
If a person is considering marriage, he needs to have some idea of what he is getting into. So what is marriage?
Some people would regard marriage as a contract of personal convenience. If it suits the taste or advances the aspirations of two people, then let them marry. But if this view of marriage is taken, the outcome will be either disappointment or disaster. As soon as the marriage becomes a hindrance to either partner then enough reason exists to terminate the sacred bond. In some cultures, if a wife cooks a bad meal the husband can say, “I divorce you!”, and it’s all over. In other cultures, if a woman meets a more attentive man, she can all too easily end her marriage relationship.
But people are always deeply hurt when a relationship breaks up, even if it is a “marriage of convenience.” Something about the union of two human beings creates inter-connections of bodies, souls, and societies that are not easily dissolved. Children born in a marriage naturally identify with a “father” and “mother” and no one else can take their places.
There is another answer to the question, “What is a marriage?” A marriage is a mysterious, God-ordained binding of two people so that they should never be pulled apart “so long as they both shall live.” Something about the physical union, the social commitments, the bonding of two spirits defies an easy separation. It is a wonder a mystery, a beauty that only the Creator-God could have designed, and no one should pull apart what God has joined together (Matt. 19:6).
But what if your marriage breaks up? If you have guilt in the matter confess it to God with a truly repentant spirit. Plead forgiveness on the basis of the sacrificial death of God’s Son for sinners. Then trust him for daily grace and make amends as you can. If you are the innocent party, look to God as a heavenly Father who will provide comfort and care for all who are His children. “God never yet forsook in need the soul that trusted him indeed.” So the second question naturally arises.
Why Should I Marry?
If you can never get out of a marriage relationship, who wants to run the risk of entering it? Wouldn’t it be much safer to remain unmarried, uncommitted, free from the unbreakable bonding of marriage? Why not just enjoy relationships that you assume will come to their natural end some day, but keep yourself aloof from any long-term intentions? Then perhaps the separation will not hurt so much when it eventually comes.
The reasoning of non-faith will follow exactly that line. Even Jesus’ own disciples expressed serious reservations about marriage (Matt. 19:10). If you have no faith in the good news about the ability of Jesus Christ to redeem, reconcile, and reform self-centered sinners like yourself and your potential partner then you might well conclude that you should never marry. The risk is too great. The alternative of personal freedom is too attractive.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that anything can substitute for the lifetime commitments of marriage. Don’t give yourself over to the intimacies of a sexual relationship apart from the commitments necessary to a proper bonding of body and soul. The fashion of the day is for people to think they have the right to “live together” and then leave one another as they will, apart from any long-term obligations. But the union of two people is sacred in the eyes of God and requires permanency of commitment.
Despite the scorn of a post-modern era, the sovereign Creator-God still regards people who explore the intimacies of sexual relationships apart from the commitments of marriage as living in fornication. For this violation of God’s law, individuals and societies must repent.
A more positive answer to the question, “Why should I marry?” deserves your consideration. This other answer goes down to the very root of human existence. God intentionally made man so that it would not be good for him to be alone (Gen.2:18). God created man complete but in need of a companion, a helper a wife with whom he could share the whole of his life. The Creator has designed man and woman for marriage.
For his reason you can run the risk. You may go ahead and get married! Of course there are legitimate exceptions of singleness to this basic principle. The first man was originally made without a wife. How long he continued in that condition we are not told. But a human being can exist quite well without being married. Both men and women are capable of living deeply fulfilled lives as single people. As a matter of fact, virtually everyone spends significant years of their adult life without being married.
But God has made men and women so that in most cases they will marry. No better explanation for the universal phenomenon of marriage can be offered. For the well-being of all people as well as for realizing the full purpose of the Creator people should marry. The natural instinct of human beings draws them in that direction. So the next obvious question is
Whom Should I Marry?
The initial answer to this question is, marry the person you want to marry! If the circumstances are agreeable, marry the person of your choice. Why should anyone get married to a person he does not want to marry? Obviously many factors go into making a marriage possible. Cultural practice plays a vital role in marriage. Some families, tribes, or social groups will find it difficult or impossible to marry into certain other communities. Matters of education, wealth, age, health, vocation, temperament, and social contacts will all play a role in determining the person you marry. But the basic principle still holds: Marry the person you want to marry, assuming the circumstances are agreeable.
In difficult situations, a person may find himself married to someone he did not want to marry. In some cultures, marriages are prearranged, so that a person’s own desires may not be adequately consulted in other situations, various pressures may induce two people to marry. When these circumstances cannot be avoided, the persons involved must place their total trust in God, believing that He can make a way in the most difficult of situations.
It should be remembered that by the Lord’s appointments, all sorts of people can legitimately marry and receive His blessing. At the same time, by the orderings of a sovereign, gracious God, some people who desire very much to marry may never find the person they regard as a suitable partner.
One principle must always govern the marriage of a believer in Jesus Christ. He or she must marry only another believer A believer in Christ must not be yoked together with an unbeliever. As circumstances make it possible, marry whoever you will. But if you are a new creation in Jesus Christ, be sure you marry only another Christian.
Sometimes a person who is a believer in Christ finds himself married to an unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:14). You may find yourself in that situation because you were converted to Christ after marriage. Or perhaps your spouse “fooled you” so that they only appeared to be Christian at the time of your marriage. Now what should you do?
You should hold fast to the appointments God has made for you. Remember that your unbelieving spouse could be converted through your godly lifestyle (1 Pet.3:1). It has happened before, and it will happen again. But if it does not happen, you can still glorify God greatly by living faithfully before him in your God-appointed relationship.
Many factors should go into the choice of a marriage partner. Seek the advice and counsel of godly friends who know you best. Consider carefully how your merger in marriage will make both of you able to serve God more effectively. Make a realistic evaluation of your career and financial circumstances. Certainly the mysterious factor of “love” should not be overlooked. But remember: love sometimes begins before marriage, while at other times it begins after marriage. In any case, the cultivation of love will increase its fervor throughout life. Now the final question may be asked.
What if I Marry?
What if I take that gigantic step of commitment?
First, as you marry, recognize that the community at large has a legitimate interest in your union. Indeed, virtually all societies recognize that there is such a thing as “common law marriage.” In these cases, couples who live together over a period of time are regarded by governing authorities as “married.” Nowhere in the Bible does God require a “wedding ceremony.” Yet the very core of society is founded on its family units. For this reason, marriage should not be viewed as a private thing, and the recognition of marriage by the state is altogether appropriate.
It is perfectly legitimate for people to simply marry in the presence of an official of the state. Nothing in God’s law forbids the solemnization of the commitments of marriage before representatives of the government. But in most cases the best place for a Christian to marry is before family and friends in the presence of Christ’s church.
Secondly, on a more personal level, you can undoubtedly expect some surprises when you marry. The person you have married will not turn out exactly as you expected. But God’s blessing is guaranteed to all who will faithfully follow the orderings of his law, his grace, and his providence. Testing times will come. Challenges will arise. But be assured that the person to whom you are married is the one person God meant for you to marry, however difficult your circumstances may be.
Thirdly, expect unmeasured enrichment in your life if you marry. The merger of two people into one doubles or even triples the potential for personal fulfillment in the exploration of the great world that God has made. Diverse interests, talents, gifts, and perspectives on life cannot help but enlarge the horizons of both partners in a marriage. The human potential for giving and receiving love has a depth that will not be fathomed in this short life.
Still further the increase of blessings a married couple experiences in terms of growing in their knowledge of God the Father God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit can hardly be calculated. It was not accidental that Jesus performed his first miraculous sign by turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11). By this miracle the Son of God showed his intent to enrich the marriage bond with the unique blessing of his presence and power. Earthly marriage reveals new measures of his grace and glory to those made one in him, while also mirroring the more perfect union of God with his people.
In conclusion, the challenge of the day is to go against the stream.
So much of so many societies today is set against the marriage relationship as ordained by the Lord. But by faith in God the Creator and Christ the Redeemer the joys and blessings of marriage can be experienced even in a world that has got too modern for its own good.
Palmer Robertson is Professor of Theology at: African Bible College, Box 1028, Lilongwe, Malawi; and Professor of Old Testament at Knox Theological Seminary, 5554 N. Federal Highway, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida 33308, USA
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