Sunday, December 30, 2012

One Requirement For Who God Wants You To Marry

Each fall semester, I teach a class on how to make the marriage decision one of your best decisions. I completed my 19th class last Fall. We had 65 singles in it! Over the years, we’ve had at least a thousand singles take this class.

Among many other things, I teach the singles that there is only one explicit requirement in the Bible about who God wants you to marry. By explicit, I mean very clear and direct. There are a number of implicit requirements but the specific and direct command could be summarized this way:

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are only permitted to marry one who is a follower of Christ.

It’s not worded exactly this way but the point is clear and the exact wording is thought-provoking. Consider, for example, the way it’s presented in I Corinthians 7:39:

“A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” (NIV)

“A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord.” (NLT)

The italicized words present the requirement in two different translations:

“but he must belong to the Lord” (NIV)
“but only if he loves the Lord.” (NLT)

The original language could be translated “only in the Lord” (μόνον ἐν κυρίῳ). The NLT reaches for a more practical application with the words: “only if he loves the Lord.” With this translation, the widow is only permitted to marry someone who loves the Lord. But how can you tell whether or not someone loves the Lord? 

To say (as the NIV), “he must belong to the Lord,” raises a question about how to identify such a person. What kind of people (or potential mates) are those who belong to the Lord? What should you look for? Is it enough to hear a verbal testimony of salvation? Are there character traits, life patterns, values and commitments found in people who belong to the Lord?

It’s your decision:

Before answering these important questions, notice that the widow in I Corinthians 7:39 is permitted “to marry anyone she wishes” within the boundary of “he must belong to the Lord.”

If there are five available men in the Church who meet the criteria (who belong to the Lord), which one is God’s choice for her? Wait! Perhaps this is the wrong question since she is free to marry anyone “she wishes.” Evidently, if she honors the one requirement, it’s her choice. Does this imply that she can’t pass the decision off on God? Clearly she must make awise decision based on the resources and information available to her.

But what about prayer? Should she pray about the decision? Yes! But the important matter here is how she prays. Her prayers must not be used as a means of getting God to make her decision. She cannot pray for God to give her the name of the one out of the five He has chosen for her. It’s slippery territory if she starts the “Give me a sign” prayers. It’s her decision. She can pray for wisdom and for God to help her to see what she needs about the one of interest.

But if she rushes the decision, she’s likely to poorly investigate the man of interest. If she chooses not to seek wise counsel, she removes herself from a primary provision for guidance. And, if she settles for a verbal profession of faith, she fails to take seriously what belonging to the Lord means. If she plays the spiritual trump card by suggesting that “God told her,” she is presuming upon the future without the required “if” from James 4:15 — “Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” No amount of prayer and no sign from heaven gives one permission to drop the “if.” 

Another text

Before considering what “belonging to the Lord” means, look briefly at another Scripture that teaches the same truth in a bit of a different way. This is the more well-known of the two primary texts on the subject.

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For….what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (II Corinthians 6:14-15)

This text teaches that believers not permitted to enter binding relationships with those who are not believers. To be “yoked together” pictures two oxen plowing a field as they share the same yoke. An unequal yoke is described in Scripture as the yoking together of dissimilar animals (Deut. 22: 10). One thinks of Jesus words declaring that we cannot serve two different masters (Matt. 6:24). 

For a marriage relationship to do well requires more unity than most realize. It is a yoking of life at many points.

I keep a miniature yoke in my office and use it as a visual aid to explain marriage to people. It’s a fitting description because doing life together involves many decisions and could easily lead to disagreements (especially when raising children together). Marriage will significantly test the oneness of two people. The yoke illustration implies that believer and unbeliever will be pulling in opposite directions.

But this text assumes an ability to identify the differences between believers and unbelievers. I Corinthians 7:39 assumes the ability to identify those who “belong to the Lord.”

So the first question about marriage for those who seek God’s will is how to identifying true believers. In my next post, I’ll offer suggestions on how to identify genuine followers of Christ. Until then, I welcome insights from others on the subject

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