The Single State
If you are single and eligible for marriage, the first question is not whom you should marry, but whether you should marry. Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians is seldom heard today, and often not well received, but listen to his words.
7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn . . . .
28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;
30 And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not;
31 And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:
33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
35 And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
1 Corinthians 7:28-35
What are the two advantages in not marrying? The first is that you will avoid trouble in the flesh (v. 28). The chief difficulties and sorrows of this life are connected with marriage and family. The second advantage is that you will be able to serve the Lord without distraction (v. 32).
How can you know whether God has called you to a life without marriage? There are two tests. The first is whether you have power over your own will (v. 37). The second is whether you are free from a burning desire to marry a particular person (v. 9). Yet Paul does not look on a strong inclination to marry as a contemptible weakness. He calls it a "gift" (v. 7).
In every large church or Christian organization there are single women. Whether an aging single woman is happy depends on her attitude and her family's attitude. If she carries bitterness in her heart, arising from stubborn regrets that God did not grant her another kind of life, or if her family treats her condescendingly as an old maid at a lower rung of worth and achievement than other people in the family, the single state will be extremely difficult to bear. A right heart and a supportive family will enable her to attain the advantages that belong to the unmarried.
Guideposts to the Right Person
If God intends you to marry, three principles in seeking a mate will infallibly guide you to your life partner.
- You do not need to seek a mate. If it is God's will for you to marry, your task is merely to recognize the mate He has already prepared for you. You find that person not by running about looking for him or her, but by walking in the will of God every day, serving Him and fulfilling those responsibilities He has entrusted to you. Many of the happiest Christian couples met when both the man and the woman were serving God and God led them into the same ministry. Perhaps they went to the same mission field or entered the same Christian organization.
- You need to respect your parents' judgment. Christians have always believed that a young person should not marry someone without parental consent and approval. Counsel from mature, godly people outside the family is also helpful as protection from making a bad decision. I always taught my sons that I had the right to veto their choice of a wife, and there were times when I exercised my veto. Today, they are glad I did.
The reason young people need parental direction in the choice of a mate is that love is blind. Girls are often misled by their maternal instincts into falling in love with a boy who is just a big baby. When girls are little, they bring home mangy dogs. When they are teenagers, they bring home mangy boys. A girl may be so fooled by love that she cannot see what is obvious to her parents and everyone else—that the object of her love is a loser.
I once knew a girl who was a spiritual firebrand in high school. I will call her Ruth. Ruth wanted to be a missionary, and it was clear to her friends and pastors that a future in missions was indeed God's will for her life. Then she met a boy who wanted to marry her. Not only that—he said that he too wanted to be a missionary. But the people in the church could see that he would never amount to anything. Against their advice, Ruth married him anyway, perhaps because she feared in her heart that she might never receive another proposal. The last I heard was that he was drifting from job to job.
Boys have a different problem. They tend to fall in love with girls who have sex appeal but maybe nothing else. Like every other conscientious father, I continually had to defend my sons against this threat, but to my relief and joy they married women of both beauty and substance. The few stories in the Bible about young men seeking wives are quite instructive. Isaac let his father choose a wife, and he lived happily ever after with her, never seeking another. Samson took a wife over his parents' objections, and the result was disaster. The marriage lasted about a week.
Yet we must attach an exception to the rule. A young person is obliged to obey his or her parents only if their guidance is "in the Lord" (Eph. 6:1). Parents who oppose a prospective mate for purely selfish reasons, or perhaps even for reasons hostile to Christ, lose authority over their child's decision. The extreme case is a fine Christian who wants to marry another fine Christian, but parents oppose the match precisely because they are not Christians at all. They would prefer their child to marry a heathen like themselves. In such cases, a young person must seek the Lord's mind and follow His will whatever parents say.
- You should marry a spiritual person. God will give you a spiritual mate if you yourself are spiritual. If a spiritual person marries someone who is unspiritual or unsaved, there are two grave dangers. The partner who starts out spiritually minded may in time grow weary of being different and adopt the outlook and values of the other partner. Or the children growing up in a divided home may mold themselves after the example of the unspiritual parent and bring grief to the parent who wanted them to follow the Lord. The Bible absolutely forbids marriage to an unbeliever.
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
2 Corinthians 6:14
A story from my own family history illustrates how God may bring two people together for marriage. My grandfather on my mother's side, Joseph Tassell, was born in London, England, but when he was still a child, his family emigrated to America and went to live in Toronto, Ontario. Soon a girl named Caroline Taylor, London-born four years after my grandfather, also came to America, and her family settled in Toledo, Ohio. Some years later, in about 1895, when Joseph Tassell was about 23, he came to Toledo for reasons now forgotten. Being a serious young man and a good Baptist, he made his way to the local Baptist church for their next service, which was a prayer meeting. Not long after the meeting began, he felt an inner prompting to look around, and there behind him he saw the entrance of a young woman. She was Caroline Taylor. He had never shown much interest in girls, but after one look at this complete stranger he said to himself, "There's my wife!" Whether he was praying for a wife at that moment, we do not know. We do know, however, that a young man living for the Lord was guided unerringly to the woman who was the best match for him on the whole face of the earth. We know also that he loved her instantly and that soon afterward they were married. Now, the next statement in a true story about Christian people cannot be, "And they lived happily ever after." The Tassells went through many years of hardship and suffering. But the far better statement can be made that both remained true to the Lord until the end of life. Today, from Joseph and Caroline Tassell have come over one hundred direct descendants, and the majority of these who have attained the age of accountability have professed to know Christ.
One thing irrelevant to choosing a mate is compatibility. God may put you with someone very different from yourself, someone you can grow with and learn from, someone who is a complement to your weaknesses, someone you can help.
A happily married man and wife might differ greatly in looks. One might be very tall, the other very short. One might be light, the other dark. Many successful couples remind me of the nursery rhyme, "Jack Sprat could eat no fat. His wife could eat no lean."
The differences between a husband and wife might extend to personality. Not infrequently the Lord combines a bold person with a shy one, so that somebody in the family can talk, conduct business, and take the lead socially. Likewise He may assure that at least one person in the family has a head for money. Another match made in heaven might join a cheerful person with a gloomy person. The cheerful one helps the other stay on an even keel. A very trying incompatibility, however, is a difference in neatness. A sloppy person can certainly learn much from a tidy spouse, yet in the process the neater one may go through indescribable torments. I am thankful that my wife is a meticulous housekeeper.
A married couple should, I think, have some sameness in cultural and educational background. To share thoughts and ideas they should not be intellectually too disparate. Nor should they be too divided by customs and values to understand and accept each other's peculiarities.
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.