If a Reformed young person knows more than one godly individual whom he/she thinks could be his/her future spouse, how should he/she determine which one God calls him/her to be with? Does the Lord command us to look for other things in a spouse in addition to godliness?
Dating, courtship and marriage are important issues in the lives of young people, and the process can be bewildering for many. Our young people (for the most part) desire to be married, and by the grace of God there are many godly young people around them of a similar age. But the question comes: if there are so many godly young people, and the Bible teaches that we must marry in the Lord (Prov. 31:30; 1 Cor. 7:39), how can we know which person is our future spouse? How will God direct us to marry the right person? Add to that the pressure and responsibility: we all know that marriage is a lifelong one-flesh union, and therefore we must love and be faithful to our spouse for the rest of our lives. No wonder there is anxiety: what if I get it wrong?
The Bible does not tell us whom we should marry. That is, the Bible does not tell us the exact identity of our future spouse. The Bible is not that kind of revelation from God. It does not answer every life question in detail, but it gives principles. It equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17), but it does not tell us which career we should pursue, what course we should study or even what we should eat for lunch. It tells us to be diligent and submissive workers and that we should eat and drink to the glory of God. Those are principles: we seek wisdom in prayer to apply them (James 1:5).
Here are the principles.
First, marriage is honorable and singleness is good (Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor. 7:1), and both married and single members are valuable church members who must use their gifts to serve Christ in his body, which is the church.
Second, marriage must be in the Lord, with a person not previously married (unless widowed), with a person who not only professes godliness but displays it. For our purposes, this means that young people should marry only a confessing member of the church. Notice: confessing member! If a person is not mature enough to confess their faith, that person is not mature enough to consider marriage. Godliness will be seen in a young man or young woman and it must be godliness above everything else that attracts a young man or young woman to his future spouse. The godly young man will be a man of prayer, and his girlfriend will have seen or heard him pray. Let courting couples pray together. The godly young man will also be a man of the word. He will know the word, will be able to speak about the word, and will be able to lead his girlfriend in the word. If a young man knows more about other things and shows more interest in other things than the word, do not expect him to be a godly leader in marriage. The godly young man will be loving, kind and considerate. How does he treat his parents, his siblings, his church members, his friends? A godly young man will be reliable, hardworking and responsible. He will have to support a wife and children. A godly young woman will have a meek and gentle spirit, will be modest and kind. This will show itself in her behavior and in her dress. She, too, will show a keen interest and a good knowledge of the word of God.
Third, your future spouse will be a sinner, just as you are a sinner. We must not be naïve here. We will not meet the perfect man or woman. God will take two imperfect and deeply flawed human beings and he will sanctify them through the marriage relationship. Imperfections are one thing; intolerable character flaws and sins are another. Ask yourself: will I be able to live with this person my whole life, and will that person be able to live with me?
Fourth, there must be spiritual and doctrinal compatibility. This means that you must believe the same thing. If you are both confessing members of the PRC or of her sister churches that should be the case already. You have had the same catechism instruction, and confess the same truth. But if your girlfriend/boyfriend is not from the PRC, you must ask yourself: will this person join my church and confess the truth as I understand it? And do not overlook the possibility that a person might join your church simply for your sake and regret it later. You must be fully persuaded together of the same truth (1 Cor. 1:10). If you are not, there is the danger of compromise. You must also be compatible in other areas: do you have the same conviction on having and raising children; do you have the same convictions on spending and finances, etc. Many people do not even think about these things, which is why they are often discussed in pre-marriage counseling.
Assuming that you have considered all of the above, you need to look at the role of marriage. Our Marriage Form gives the first reason: “that each faithfully assist the other in all things that belong to this life and a better.” Quite simply, marriage is a covenantal relationship designed for mutual edification. Therefore, it is not enough that a future spouse be godly. There are many godly people in the church, but you cannot marry all of them. The one you marry must be a friend, and more than a friend—a lifelong companion and helpmeet (Gen. 2:18). This means, to be very practical, that you must like that person and enjoy their company. In a word you must be that person’s friend, a friend whom you can know, and get to know more and more intimately. If you find it boring to be with a person and if you find (no matter how godly both of you are) that you have nothing to talk about, how will you live together for the rest of your lives? This does not even mean romantic feelings of attraction. They can come and go, and are no reliable indicator. This does not even mean that you have to like the same things (books, sports, etc.), but you have to like each other, and that liking will develop and deepen into love. There is no secret, however. We can agree with Solomon, “There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: the way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid” (Prov. 30:18–19).
Two final points. First, remember that the purpose of dating (or better, courtship) is to determine before the Lord if a certain person is a suitable future spouse. Do not use dating, as the world does, as a form of “fun.” Toying with a person’s feelings is cruel, manipulative and unbecoming of a Christian. If you are courting, and you know that it will not end in marriage, make that clear and break up as amicably as you can. Do not use a boyfriend or girlfriend as a trophy to display on your arm. Treat your boyfriend or girlfriend with respect. And never put yourself in a situation where you will be tempted to break the seventh commandment. Be wise, prudent, and seek advice and accountability from parents and peers. Second, trust in the Lord. If it is his will that you marry, he will direct your steps in that direction, and when you are married, remember that it will not be a fairytale romance. Marriage is a lifelong commitment that requires dedication and hard work, and he will give you the grace to marry and to love your spouse, or to remain single according to his perfect will.