January 4, 2024

Should I Prepare for Marriage Even Though It’s Not Guaranteed?

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Tinder recently announced their new $500 per-month subscription package. I think this points to the depth of human longing for true love—and for many, that includes marriage. But marriage is never a guarantee. Should single Christians apply themselves to preparing for something they may or may not experience? The answer to this question lies in what cultivates a biblical marriage: gospel focus, love for others, holy attraction, and submission to one another under God. Are these exclusive to marriage or foundational aspects of how we are to live as disciples of Jesus?

Cultivating a Gospel Focus

In researching for this post, I read many articles about Christian traits to look for in a spouse. Here are bullet points from one article by Dr. Garrett Higbee:

  • A Clear Christian Witness (Acts 1:8)
  • A Growing Godly Character (1 Tim. 4:12)
  • A Heart Open to Godly Counsel (Prov. 19:20)
  • A Common Call (Eph. 4:1-3)
  • A Charitable Heart (1 John 3:17-18)
  • A Sense of Being Complete in Christ (James 1:4)
  • Increasing Chemistry (1 Sam. 16:7)

These points deserve a closer look to see where all these traits connect, revealing that the connection point is a mutual, growing love for Jesus and his gospel. Ellen Dykas recently wrote, “A Christ-centered marriage will exhibit two spouses as needy saints who continue to sin yet look to the gospel for help,” and “When Jesus isn’t in his rightful place, marriages (and all relationships!) will struggle.”

The traits listed above express themselves uniquely in a Christ-centered marriage. Still, they ultimately develop through a manifestation of something beyond marriage, a life-pursuit of growing in devotion to and dependence upon Christ.

Cultivating Love for Others

In Ephesians 5, Paul lays out a framework for how the husband is to love his wife: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. . . ” (v.25).

But Paul also makes a more general call for love:

Owe no one anything except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Rom. 13:8–10)

As followers of Christ, the one who fulfilled the law (Matt. 5:17), the husband does not commit adultery. But also, out of that same vein of Christlike love, the soldier does not murder, the employee does not steal, and the friend does not covet. Why? Because Christlike love is for all believers’ relational dynamics.

I experience this relational love through the fellowship of the saints—dear single brothers and sisters who, by their submission to the Lord and their manifestation of Christ-like love, have inspired me to want to lovingly minister to my wife in growing Christlikeness.

Yes, different relationships hold different relational dynamics. However, love fulfilled through Christ has the same foundational essence in how the believer is called to love—in Christlikeness—expressed differently according to the unique relationship.

Cultivating Holy Attraction

The Song of Solomon shows the beauty of the attraction which can happen between men and women within marriage. At the same time, Solomon recognizes a need to esteem godliness above physical and sexual beauty (Prov. 31:30–31).

Dr. Christopher Yuan, a significant voice on the topic of same-sex attraction (SSA) and one who has shared his personal wrestling with SSA, stated, “I often tell people that I may actually have it easier to find my possible/potential spouse because I can see other women as daughters of the most high God and not as an object for my sexual pleasure. I can spot out her spiritual maturity, love for the Lord, and attention to the habits of grace, as opposed to being clouded in my discernment by strong infatuations.”

We need to season such perspectives with grace and mercy as we all wrestle with the effects of sin in a fallen world upon our romantic and sexual desires—or lack thereof. Pastor Todd Bordow writes, “Biblical wisdom would dictate that a claim along the lines of ‘just do these simple three steps, and your attractions will change,’ or ‘if your attractions don’t change, you just don’t have enough faith,’ are to be rejected as dangerous and contrary to Scripture.”

What we can say with sure hope is that God is able to cultivate holy attraction in us, where we each, as brothers and sisters in Christ, prioritize seeing and esteeming godliness in one another. While not requiring marriage or giving it to all, God does promise by his Spirit to cultivate in us a desire for “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

Cultivating Submission to One Another as Unto God

Back to Ephesians 5, Paul does with submission exactly what he does with love: he establishes its positioning in marriage within the framework of its deeper positioning as a core value in the lives of all believers.

All believers are to be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v. 21). Then, from this call to mutual submission, there is a unique call for the wife to submit to her husband: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. . . Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (vv. 22, 24)

Notice the believers’ submission to the body and the wife’s unique expression of this submission to her husband finds cohesion in that they are both foundationally rooted in submission to God, which applies to the whole body of Christ.

Remember, Paul says in Ephesians 4:15, “We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” The call to submit before the Lord in marriage is born out of every believer’s same submission to one another and ultimately the entire body’s submission to the head, Jesus Christ. This needed submission toward the Lord is vital in our consideration of marriage.

As Mark Sanders wrote, “For every unmarried Christian, the possibility of marriage must be fully surrendered to God. He claims Lordship over every part of your life.”

Now, The Answer

Biblically preparing for marriage does not mean marriage becomes the focal point of life. To do that is to protest to God: “Your gospel isn’t enough, your love isn’t enough, your beauty isn’t enough, and your will isn’t enough if it is void of marriage”—“Give me (marriage), or I shall die!” (Gen. 30:1–2). This is not preparation; it’s distrusting and fighting against the Lord. It’s something we need to ask forgiveness for and turn away from.

Biblically preparing for marriage is submitting to the will of God, cultivating a life-pursuit of surrendering to Christ, and growing in his love. Earthly marriage will fade away eventually, when Christ will be eternally united with his Bride—all believers in him. Therefore, single brothers and sisters who desire earthly marriage yet continue to wait, remember that God is faithful. He will bring to completion the good work he has started in you (Phil. 1:6) in whichever relational circumstances he calls you to.

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Keith Seary

Men's Ministry Staff

Keith Seary is on the Men’s Ministry staff at Harvest USA. Keith has a BA in biblical counseling from The Master’s University, which he uses at Harvest USA in facilitating biblical support groups, seminars, church equipping, and one-on-one discipleship. He is currently a member of Immanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Bellmawr, New Jersey.

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