This article is about courtship, the idea of marriage with an unbeliever, and the importance of unity of faith in marriage.

Source: Una Sancta, 1999. 4 pages.

Looking for a marriage partner

If a man was to go out and purchase a vehicle, he would do well to sit down first and consider what purpose the vehicle was to fulfil. There is such a wide selection of automobiles to choose from.

Will the vehicle be used for transporting people? If so, how many people? Is it just for him or for a larger group? If it's for himself and his wife, then a VW Beetle will serve admirably. But if it's for a large family, then a VW Transporter would be more appropriate. And where will it be driven? If it is along smooth highways, then a regular two-wheel drive will suffice. But if it will be driven along dirt-tracks in the bush, then a 4x4 is needed. The purpose for which the vehicle is needed will determine the type of vehicle that we purchase. Not just any vehicle will suffice. It is no different with marriage. The purpose of marriage should serve as a guide when looking for a marriage partner.

What do we look for in a marriage partner?🔗

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favour from the LORD.” Proverbs 18:22

But what is it that makes a wife (or a husband) good? A good wife or a good husband is one who is able to help you in honouring the purpose of marriage.

The primary purpose of marriage is often conceived of as companionship, friendship. There is no denying that this is a part of marriage, and happy is the one who finds a spouse who is also one's best friend! God describes the purpose of marriage differently in Scripture; God instituted marriage in order to provide man with a helper, not just a companion. And it is this thought which should be uppermost in our minds when seeking a marriage partner.

Our spouse is to assist us in all things pertaining to the service of God, both physical and spiritual, that belong to both this life and the life to come. This includes our work in the world, in God's kingdom and in the church. It includes bringing forth children for God and raising them in the fear of His name.

Now if our marriage partner is to assist us in all things pertaining to the service of God, he or she must know God, love Him and be sincerely devoted to serving Him. For without these qualities, our spouse will not be a helper, but a hindrance in the service of God. In the realm of the spiritual, there would be no unity in faith. An unbelieving or unfaithful spouse would not share our aim in life, nor our ethics and morals. An unbelieving or unfaithful spouse could not encourage us in the faith, nor stimulate us to greater obedience, nor comfort us in times of sorrow. We could not look for any spiritual support from such a spouse.

Neither could an unbelieving or unfaithful spouse help us raise our children in the fear of the Lord. Even if the unbeliever agreed to neutrality in this matter, our children would be exposed to two differing role models, that of the believer and unbeliever, both of whom they love. Which should they follow? The marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, between the faithful and the unfaithful, will only serve to confuse the child. For this reason faith and faithfulness will be the most important quality that we look for in a marriage partner. If our genuine desire is to serve the Lord and to raise our children in the fear of the Lord, then we will honour the command of God to marry in the Lord.

Scripture says: marry in the LORD🔗

It is surprising how often Scripture speaks about the need to marry in the Lord, and how often it speaks against mixed marriages, that is, marrying someone who does not know and love God, and who is not sincerely devoted to serving Him. Consider the following:

Genesis 24:3 "… and I [Abraham] will make you [his servant] swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son [Isaac] from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell…"

Genesis 26:34-35 "When Esau was forty years old, he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah."

Genesis 27:46 "And Rebekah said to Isaac, 'I am weary of my life Because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, like these who are the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?'"

Joshua 23:12-13 "Or else, if Indeed you [Israel] do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations; these that remain among you; and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you."

1 Kings 11:1-4 "But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites; from the nations of whom the LORD had said to the children of Israel, 'You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods. Solomon clung to these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David."

Ezra 10:10 "Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, 'You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel’.”

Nehemiah 13:27 "Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?"

1 Corinthians 7:39 "A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord."

2 Corinthians 6:14 "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?"

Where do we look for a marriage partner?🔗

Assuming that we are convinced by the Scriptures that we must seek a marriage partner who is a sincere and faithful Christian, the question arises where we look for such a person. The answer is not so difficult. We seek a sincere and faithful Christian spouse where true Christian believers assemble! Where is that? In the one holy catholic church! For we confess in Article 27 of the Belgic Confession,

"I believe and profess one catholic and universal church, which is a holy congregation and assembly of the true Christian believers…"

This does not mean that everyone in the church is a suitable marriage partner. For there are some who are "in" the church, but not "of" the church (cf. Art 29 Belgic Confession). That is, there are some who make profession of faith, but who are not truly converted to God. So membership in the church does not automatically make one a suitable marriage partner. The one whom we seek as a marriage partner must display the marks of the true Christian.

What are these marks? They are described in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession:

"Those who are of the church may be recognised by the marks of Christians. They believe in Jesus Christ the only Saviour, flee from sin and pursue righteousness, love the true God and their neighbour without turning to the right or left, and crucify their flesh and its works. Although great Weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their life. They appeal constantly to the blood, suffering, death and obedience of Jesus Christ, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins through faith in Him."

These are the marks that we should look for and find in someone whom we intend to marry.

Is it possible to find true Christian believers in churches that do not bear the marks of the true church? Yes, it is. But having said this, we hasten to add that this is not where we expect to find them. Nor are they where they belong. Though they may have faith and be faithful in many respects, they are not faithful with respect to Christ's church gathering work, and they do not gather where they are called. Surely we do not look for a faithful marriage partner in an unfaithful church. Rather, we must limit our scope to that assembly into which Christ is gathering His people.

What if we happen to meet and be attracted to such a believer outside of the church of Christ? Can we consider this person to be an eligible marriage partner? Faith must never be separated from faithfulness. If we happen to meet such a person, we can rejoice in this person's faith. But at the same time, we must encourage and exhort this person to join the assembly which Christ is gathering, which bears the marks of die true church. If this person will heed the call and join Christ's church, then he/she can be regarded as an eligible marriage partner. A word of warning is in place, here, though. We should realise that although we only marry an individual, we marry into a family. If this person has family that does not heed the call to worship where Christ is gathering His church, then we can expect tension in family relations. Fellowship in the extended family will be broken.

Courtship and marriage is no place for evangelism🔗

At times God's children are attracted to unbelievers and decide to enter into courtship or marriage. In such a situation, the believer will earnestly want to bring the unbeliever to faith and ultimately to the church. To justify their actions, they look upon courtship or marriage as a means to evangelise.

No one can dispute the fact that some of these "mixed" courtships have turned out "all right" in the past. That is, in the end, the unbeliever has come to faith and joined the church. One can even turn to the Scriptures to find examples. But the fact that God has made things well does not condone courting or marriage to an unbeliever. We must not tempt the Lord, expecting Him to grant His blessing to our unfaithfulness. Furthermore, if we wish to cite examples of the past, we should also consider the numerous relationships that have ended in the apostasy of God's children. The Lord warned against this in His Word, and Scripture provides some sad examples where God's children were drawn away from the Lord by the unbeliever. Think only of Solomon (cf. Joshua 23:12-13; I Kings 11:3-4).

A believing husband or wife must not presume that he/she is to convert his/her spouse. In I Corinthians 7:16 Paul writes,

"How do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?"

In the context, Paul dealt with a situation in the early Christian church where the gospel came to an unbelieving couple. One of the couple came to faith; the other did not. The unbelieving partner no longer wanted to remain married with the believer, but the believer felt it necessary to maintain that marriage at all costs in order to bring the unbeliever to faith. In this context Paul wrote the words quoted above. While the believer's intention was very noble, Paul reminded the believer that faith is not ours to give. We should never suppose that we can bring a loved one to faith. Faith is a gift that only God can give, one which He sovereignly bestows upon those, and those only, whom He has elected in eternity. Therefore no one ought to enter into a relationship with an unbeliever with the idea of bringing him/her to faith.

Some have entered into courtship with the intention of breaking it off if the unbeliever doesn't come to faith and join the church. But in time, the relationship between the couple progressed but the unbeliever's relationship with the Lord did not progress at all. Although the believer intended to "break off" the relationship if this occurred, their relationship had progressed so far that the believer later found it too difficult to honour his/her good intention.

Courtship or marriage is no place for evangelism. The Lord demands that those whom we seek as marriage partners must already be "in the Lord."

The promise🔗

The Lord gave His covenant people a wonderful promise. He said,

"Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God." Deuteronomy 12:28

These words, though spoken thousands of years ago, are not less true for us today when we heed His command to marry in the Lord. Those who heed the command of the Lord and find a faithful spouse will experience great blessings from the Lord for themselves and their children.

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