Before You Marry

Before You Marry

Biblical Counsel for Those who Seek Marriage

Before You Marry

Richard Hollerman

Are you prepared for the most important decision of your life?

How you choose a marriage partner may determine where you spend eternity!  

We all know that marriage—the union of a husband and wife—was planned by God from the very beginning.  When He created Adam, the Lord said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 1:18).  God then made a woman from the side of Adam.  Moses made this summary statement: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24).  God our Creator planned for this unique, blessed, and lifelong relationship of man and woman!

Through the centuries, it has generally been God’s will that a man and woman meet, become acquainted with each other, and unite in marriage.   The Biblical rule is “one man married to one wife for life.”  The Lord Jesus confirmed God’s original purpose by saying, “They are no longer two, but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

God designed for marriage to be a most wondrous relationship, one of deep significance, of growth and pursuit of a mutual dream of serving the Lord Jesus together.  Generally this divine plan of marriage will include children who are raised to love and honor God.  A marriage (and the family) is the context for accomplishing God’s will and sharing the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.  In fact, the marital relationship is a human display or picture of Christ’s own love for His body, the people of God on earth (Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Corinthians 11:3).

Sadly, we know that people often disregard or violate God’s wonderful and beautiful plan for marriage.  What begins as an exciting and significant union filled with hope and dreams ends in despair, strife, unfaithfulness, and broken dreams.  A high percentage of marriages end in divorce—and many of these end in a remarriage to another party.  Researchers state that even marriages that remain intact are usually characterized by disappointment, disillusionment, unfulfillment, and often outright conflict and animosity.  What is wrong?  What turned a wonderful relationship established by God into such a devastating result?

Since God designed marriage, we must ask what directions He gives for this divine union.  If you want to have a marriage that is planned in heaven and want to avoid the common mistakes married people make, we offer the following counsel from God’s own Word.

Choices for your Marriage Quest

First, make sure that you personally are a forgiven child of God before you open yourself to another person.  With God as your Father and with His help, you will be able to evaluate the opposite sex with His own sight and criteria.  You need the Lord’s wisdom and blessing in order to find a suitable companion for life.  If you only rely on a feeling that people interpret as “falling in love” is setting a couple up for disaster!  You must proceed in a more deliberate and spiritual way.   You need God’s Word, the Bible, to properly view marriage and a prospective marriage partner (Psalm 119:105; Matthew 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:15-17).

Second, consider another person for marriage only if he or she is a true child of God.  Surely one of the most tragic and unfulfilling situations is to be married to one who does not share your commitment to Jesus.  It has been said, “Marriage is for those who love God and one another.”  Jesus said that one who does not know God is actually a child of Satan (John 8:44; cf. 1 John 3:10).  God does not permit one to join himself to another person unless that person has a saving relationship with Jesus.  Your prospective marriage partner must be one who is “in the Lord”—or has a relationship with the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:39).  A man is only permitted to marry a “sister” in God’s family—a fellow believer in Christ (1 Corinthians 9:5).

Third, be willing to seek counsel and guidance from others before choosing a mate—but use this with much discretion. If you have parents, seek their direction and wisdom in choosing a spouse.  Remember that your father is the head of the home and you must especially seek His wisdom and insights in seeking a marriage partner.  “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8).  Even if your parents are not saved, give consideration to their counsel.  However, be very careful with such counsel since unbelievers do not have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and the Bible says, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” (Psalm 1:1).  Remember, unsaved or unspiritual parents may offer worldly and dangerous advice that could bring much grief in the future.  Ungodly advice from unsaved friends and family can be ruinous and lead you astray (1 Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 13:20).  Thus, use much discretion with this counsel.

Fourth, make sure that the person you are considering for marriage is not only a Christian but also a growing, maturing, and devoted Christian.  If you marry an apathetic person, you will be wrongly influenced.  Since life and eternity is so utterly important, you need to marry a person who will lift you up spiritually and help you to strive for higher spiritual goals.  God wants marriage for two committed Christians who are seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), who are “seeking the things above” (Colossians 3:1-2), and who want to glorify God in all they do (1 Corinthians 10:31).  Your earnest desire in life should be to love and serve God, thus you need to choose a person who will help you in this great goal.  Likewise, you want to be able to encourage your spouse to this same Godly lifestyle and eternal destiny.

Fifth, make sure that you seek the counsel of spiritual and mature brothers and sisters before you consider another person.  “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Proverbs 12:15).  “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed” (15:22; cf. 11:14).  If you are part of a believing community with elders or overseers, remember that they are “shepherds” who “keep watch over your soul” (Hebrews 13:17).  If they are wise overseers, they should be able to offer valuable insights and direction in your quest for a lifetime mate.  Even if your group or fellowship has no qualified men as overseers, hopefully there would be one or more brothers or sisters who would give wise, objective, godly counsel on a prospective life partner.

Sixth, always seek to live in purity before seeking a mate and continue in purity as you relate to another person.  Never take physical liberties before marriage.  Be very aware that millions of young people have compromised their moral standards and reaped disaster when they have indulged in intimacies before they are united in marriage.  My wife and I first kissed on our marriage day and this made physical expressions in marriage all the more special.  Although rare in this worldly age, some other couples have held to the same commitment and standards.  God continually warns against lust and lustful practices and this must be absolutely forbidden in your single state before marriage (cf. Matthew 5:27-30; Romans 1:24).  If you are absolutely pure and holy before marriage, you will never regret this restriction. “This is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).  If you maintain your purity before marriage, your marriage partner will have a settled confidence in your faithfulness after marriage.

Seventh, seek the best timing for marriage.  Some observe that in the past, young men and women married at an early age when they were physically mature and this prevented many of the problems of delayed marriage.  This may be good in a unique and protected setting in which the young man and woman are settled, mature, and from supportive and wise parents.  It may be good if matters of education, occupation, and supportive fellowship can be worked out.  On the other hand, in the world at large, statistics show that older people who marry are the more stable and happy in their marriage.  Seek wise counsel from trusted saints to determine what is best for you.

Eighth, one of the most important factors in marriage success is to make sure your own character has been refined by the Lord and the character of your prospective spouse has also been formed.  Study the various fruit of the Spirit, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  Note other Biblical lists of spiritual qualities, such as humility, wisdom, honesty, endurance, neatness, industriousness, punctuality, cheerfulness, cleanliness, and friendliness (Romans 12:9-21; Ephesians 4:20-32; Colossians 3:12-17; James 3:17; 2 Peter 1:5-11).  Someone pointed out that unselfishness is a key ingredient in a successful marriage.

In seeking a spouse, look for a cheerful and happy person, with pleasant disposition, and avoid a spouse with a negative, cynical, and complaining attitude.  Your life can be ruined if you are married to a proud, negative, complaining, irresponsible, unkind, cruel, dishonest, reactionary, hateful, slanderous, loud, cynical, careless, impure, unclean, or unspiritual husband or wife (Proverbs 15:18; 16:28; 19:13; 20:19; 21:9, 19; 25:24; 27:15).  Actively seek to allow the Holy Spirit to form your inner being and refine your character, and seek the same formation in character in the life of the one in whom you are interested.

Ninth, avoid the pitfalls and problems that contemporary “dating” brings.  Someone has well pointed out that modern dating is practice for divorce.  Generally, dating is meant for pleasure or for entertainment.  This pairing of a man and woman usually places both of them into compromising situations.  One sexual liberty leads to another and this, in turn, leads to another.  When a “break up” occurs between the boyfriend and girlfriend, this is usually followed by another relationship—and eventually another break up.  Some people believe in “playing the field” and may date 10, 20, or 100 different people during their dating years of between about age 15 and 28.  This illegitimate intimacy followed by separation, gives young people the “practice” of separation and divorce that occurs when difficulties arise in marriage.  It is better to relate to the opposite gender with respect, honor, purity, and with the help and counsel of parents and spiritual leaders.  This is more rightly called “courtship” rather than carnal dating.  Paul counseled the young man Timothy to related to “the younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2).  Remember, “A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, the naïve proceed and pay the penalty” (Proverbs 27:12).

Tenth, make sure that you and your prospective spouse understands marriage and family as God would have it.  Spend much time searching the Scriptures to determine what God says about a Godly marriage relationship and a Christ-centered family.  Understand the roles or positions that the Lord has established.  God’s Word says that the husband is to be the head of the wife, who loves her and sacrificially serves her.  He is to nourish and cherish his wife (Ephesians 5:25-29).  The wife is to be the heart of the home, and she is to respect and submit to her husband in all things that are right (Ephesians 5:22-24, 33).  The father is to bring up his children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (6:4) and the children are to honor and obey their parents (6:1-3).  God places an arrangement in the home that is violated at the couple’s peril (1 Corinthians 11:3).  It is vital that the man and woman understand God’s arrangement before marriage or there will be life-long trouble (see also Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Peter 3:1-7).  Generally you should also choose a companion who loves and desires children (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 127:3-5).  However, we do realize that children are not given in every marriage.

Eleventh, choose a wife or husband who is eligible for marriage in the sight of God.  Make sure that he or she has not been married before.  Sadly, most remarriages result in adultery.  Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery” (Mark 10:11-12; cf. Luke 16:18; Matthew 5:31-32; 19:6-9; Romans 7:2-3).  We know that one who commits adultery (and doesn’t repent and forsake it) will not inherit the kingdom of God but will have a part in the lake of fire (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21; Hebrews 13:4; Revelation 21:8).  Determine long before you are interested in another person whether he or she is qualified to marry in the sight of God.  (God does allow one to marry a widow or widower—1 Corinthians 7:39; Romans 7:1-3.)

Twelfth, pay special attention to the parents and family of the person who interests you.  As a general rule, if the father or mother has a major character defect, this will be passed on to their children.  This pertains to such personality deficiencies as bad language, impatience, angry disposition, bad temper, dishonesty, uncleanness, moral compromises, fleshly focus, bad food choices, and many other faults.  Ideally, it would be best to choose a young man or woman from a stable, responsible, and Godly home.  It would also be ideal to choose a person as a life partner who has received Christian education or home education.  And it would be best if the person grew up in a devoted community of believers who are separated from the world.  However, there can be exceptions.  God can rescue a person from a negative background and upbringing and, by grace, transform him or her into a devoted child of His (2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 3:1-3).  But our counsel is to beware and consider this matter carefully.  Be very cautious to determine whether the boyfriend or girlfriend has been truly saved and transformed, and has turned from the negative traits and added righteous qualities to life (cf. Ephesians 4:20-32).

Thirteenth, choose a person to be your life partner with similar characteristics as yours. Studies reveal that those who are alike in temperament, outlook, habits, preferences, pastimes, and lifestyle generally have an easier adjustment and more harmonious relationship.  They will tend to have a more pleasant and blessed experience as compared to a union of people with radically different backgrounds and patterns.  The adage that says, “Opposites attract,” may be true but this often results in strains and stress in a marriage.  “The most stable marriages are those involving two people with many similarities” (Neil Clark Warren, How to Find the Love of Your Life.)  Providentially, God can so change people, both inside and outside, that two people with different backgrounds and characteristics can learn to live harmonious lives together.  The key is for each or the partners to focus their attention on the Lord Jesus Christ and base their lifestyle and all of their life decisions on the teaching of the Word of God.

Fourteenth, make a commitment with your boyfriend or girlfriend that your life will be centered on the Lord Jesus Christ and His will. Determine that you two will pray together each day, that you will read and study the Word of God together, and that you will worship the Lord daily.  Purpose that you will share the good news of Christ Jesus with others and seek to turn them to righteousness (Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:18-20; James 5:19-20).  Agree together that you both will turn away from all worldly influences in your home (1 John 2:15-17), that you will be hospitable with others (1 Peter 4:9), that you will make your home a haven of love and peace, and that you will raise your children in the fear and discipline of God (Ephesians 6:4).  Decide that you will only pursue an occupation that will honor God, that you will put your spouse before family and friends, and that you both will give Jesus Christ the priority in all things.  It is important that you make decisions like this before you go far in your relationship and your courtship.  Some have waited so long that it is painful to change your plans.

Fifteenth, above all, seek a partner in whom the Lord Jesus Christ is active. Look for a husband or wife who loves God with all of his or her heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:28-31).  Also seek one who loves others as himself or herself, even loving the unlovely and those who are enemies (Luke 6:27-28), and who expresses this love through outward actions (1 John 3:16-18; Romans 12:19-21).  Someone has said, “Marriage is for those who love God and one another.”  This is true.  Marriage is a triangle arrangement—with God at the apex and with the husband and wife on the bottom corners.  It is essential that Jesus Christ be central to the relationship and His Word is followed completely.  The song says it well:

Happy the home when God is there

And love fills every one,

When with united work and prayer

The Master’s will be done.

Happy the home where God’s strong love

Is starting to appear,

Where all the children hear His fame

And parents hold Him dear.

Happy the home where prayer is heard

And praise is everywhere,

Where parents love the sacred Word

And its true wisdom share.

Lord, let us in our homes agree

This blessed peace to gain,

Unite our hearts in love to Thee,

And love to all will reign

(Henry Ware, Jr.)

We are mindful that God calls some young men and women to lifelong—or temporary—singleness.  They may live contented and fruitful lives for the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:7-8, 32-35, 40).  But if you do believe that God plans for you to be married, spend regular time in prayer that God would prepare your future spouse and keep him or her free from sin and compromise and also that He would form the person’s character with the loveliness of Christ (James 5:16b; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 3:17-18).  Prayer is so important in your quest for a suitable marriage partner.

Your Life Now and Eternally
May be in the Balance

It is safe to say that most people have no idea how utterly important it is to find the right spouse in life.  Too many young people in the world (including church-going people) have a Hollywood idealization of marriage and assume that “everything will turn out all right” or “we’ll live happily ever after”!  Some also think of the wedding and the resultant marriage to be a trial period at marriage.  They reason, “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll always be able to go to find someone else.”  No, marriage is a life-long commitment of love and faithfulness, “for better and worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”  It is a permanent commitment and a covenant before God that can e honorably dissolved only by death (cf. Proverbs 2:17; Malachi 2:14).

What’s even more important to realize is that your choice of a marriage partner may determine where you spend all eternity!  You see, marriage is such a close relationship that it is nearly impossible to keep from being influenced by your mate.  Suppose you marry an unsaved girl or man.  This person is on the broad way that leads to destruction, while you (as a believer) are on the narrow way that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14).  It may be that the unbeliever will do what he can to influence your thoughts, your opinions, and your lifestyle.  Or suppose that you marry a religious, church-going man or woman and the person is not truly saved.  There could be just as much influence from your spouse’s compromising lifestyle and false doctrine and this could easily lead you astray.

Suppose you were standing on a chair and your unbelieving or compromising spouse was before you.  Would it be easier for the spouse to pull you off the chair—or for you to pull your spouse up to the chair?  Similarly, it has been the experience of many that it is easier for the unsaved spouse to wrongly influence the Christian than for the Christian to change the unbeliever.   Jesus prophesied, “Many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. . . . Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matthew 24:10, 12, 13).

What do we mean?  Your spouse may want to go to some entertainment on the Lord’s day, but you want to meet with your brothers and sisters in Christ for worship and edification.  Your unsaved husband may want you to wear provocative clothes and act in a wrongful, improper way.  Or your wife may want you to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or take drugs.  Your spouse may want you to do something dishonest or compromising.  He or she may want you to send your children to the secular, humanistic, state-sponsored schools, and may refuse to home educate the children according to Christian principles.  Your spouse may want to bring a TV into the house or may want to listen to worldly music.  Your unbelieving husband may want to view suggestive content on the computer or the TV screen and lead the family astray and into moral compromise.

All of this—and much more—could serve to tempt you and make it convenient for you to disobey the Lord and live a worldly life!  Or your church-going spouse may want you to go to his or her church that teaches a false gospel or a false way of salvation.  All of this could make your life a horrible experience!  Many, many people in such a situation have fallen into sin and worldliness, and fallen away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12).  Dear reader, please think of your eternal welfare and not your momentary pleasure of marrying a beautiful young woman or a handsome young man.  Realize that your eternal life and entrance into God’s eternal kingdom is in the balance and you must never jeopardize this for the sake of romance!  “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Now just a few more words about choosing a life partner.  As we’ve said before, there are benefits to an early marriage—as well as benefits to waiting longer.  If you do wait, we know that the choices will be minimized until few marriageable partners will be available.  In this case, Satan could bring you a temptation to marry one who has been married before and is not permitted to remarry, according to God’s standard (cf. Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).  Please don’t fall for this all-too-common enticement—for it will lead to your eternal ruin!

We offer two points about waiting for a marriage partner.  First, it is far better to go through life unmarried and remain faithful to God than to compromise in choosing an unworthy mate (Revelation 2:10).  It has been said, “I would rather be single and wish I were married than to be married and wish I were single!”  If you do remain celibate through life, you should console yourself with the fact that many Godly and spiritual people have lived blessed and productive lives as singles.  Think of the Lord Jesus Himself, as well as Paul the apostle, John the baptizer, and Jeremiah the prophet.  It may be that Timothy, Titus, Mary and Martha, Barnabas, Silas, Luke, and others were likewise unmarried.  (I’ve also kept a list in the back of my Bible of people today who have lived active and fruitful lives as celibate singles.  This served to encourage me in realizing that one can live a single life and yet find fulfillment and active service for the Lord.) God can use you greatly in life to bless others if you have the right attitude and become involved in the work of the Lord.  Just maintain a good attitude, a pleasant and happy disposition, and a peaceful countenance rather than a bitter, depressed, negative, and cynical attitude.

Second, we must remember that “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27) and “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).  Regardless of your age, God may yet give you a precious wife or a Godly husband.  Let me cite my own experience here.  All of my life, I prayed for a beloved wife that we might serve the Lord together, raise a Christian family, and make an impact in the world for Christ Jesus.  I probably prayed thousands of times for the fulfillment of this life-long desire.  Finally, rather recently, after a major portion of my life had passed, God graciously answered my prayers in a most amazing and unexpected way!  God brought a sweet, pure and Godly woman into my life.  It pays to wait and to refuse to compromise!  I can only imagine the utter disaster that may have come if I had compromised in my choice of a life partner earlier in life.

Delight yourself in the LORD,

And He will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD,

Trust also in Him, and He will do it. (Psalm 37:4-5).

Let us also—whether single or married—have the same perspective as the psalmist:

I am continually with You;

You have taken hold of my right hand.

With Your counsel You will guide me,

And afterward receive me to glory.

When have I in heaven but You?

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

(Psalm 73:23-26)


Do you want God’s will for your future and for a future marriage?  Now is the time to prepare for this decision.  Remember that this is the second more important event in your life (second only to your new birth into God’s family).  It deserves much prayer, much preparation, and much commitment.  May God bless you and provide a marriage that will honor Him and be a blessing to others.

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