God’s Design for Scriptural Romance – Part 2 (Chapters 6-11)

Chapter 6

How to Marry – The Friendship Stage

 Nearly every day, in personal, phone or email counseling, a young man, young woman, dad or mom will say something like this to me: I am fully convinced of the error of dating and the blessing of biblical courtship and betrothal. But HOW, specifically, do I go about it? What is God’s step-by-step process for bringing about a marriage the biblical way? That very practical question may be on your mind too, particularly after reading all that has been said in the prior chapters. If you have embraced God’s principles for romance (Chapter 1), renounced worldly dating (Chapter 2), prepared your children for betrothal (Chapter 3), and understood biblical guidance (Chapter 4), then you are ready to explore the actual practice of biblical courtship and betrothal, the constructing of a godly marriage.

In Jesus’ graphic parable of the Two Houses in Matthew 7:24-27, our Lord compares the Christian life with two ways of building a house: one upon shifting sand (man’s ways), the other upon solid rock (Christ’s ways). Consider how this applies to constructing a marriage through dating versus betrothal. The foolish man built his house upon sand without keeping the future in mind. He never pondered the unfailing truth that seasons change, that the wind and rain will eventually come. And when they burst against that house, it fell, and great was its fall (v. 27). Like a house with a sandy foundation, a relationship that is not founded upon God’s five fundamental principles of scriptural romance (piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience) will often collapse in divorce when the relational storms come – and they always do!

But like the betrothal approach to marriage, the wise man built his house to last a lifetime. He knew that it must weather intense storms. So when the wind and rain burst against that house, it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock (v. 25). Two builders: foolish and wise; two foundations: sand and rock; two outcomes: destruction and stability. Christ’s analogy applies to marriage just as much as to houses.

Let’s compare these two building approaches more closely. Each building system involves four relational steps toward marriage. The worldly way of relationship building includes friendship, dating, engagement and the wedding. We’re only too familiar with this. The biblical method likewise begins with friendship, but then moves through courtship and betrothal to finally arrive at the wedding. Though they may look alike on the surface, these two practices of relationship building are really very dissimilar at every point and result in radically different outcomes.

Wordly Relationships vs. Biblical Relationships

                                 Worldly                    Biblical

 Friendship     Peer-oriented            Family-oriented

Dating                 For pleasure              Explore for marriage

Engagement  Breakable proposal  Binding promise

Wedding         Til divorce/remarry  Til death do us part

 Notice, for example, that the world’s view of youth friendships is peer-oriented whereas the Bible’s view is family-oriented, providing oversight and protection by parents. While the world’s hormone-driven youth are dating for the purpose of personal pleasure, biblical families are involved in courtship for the purpose of investigating a potential spouse. The world’s concept of engagement is a breakable proposal, but biblical betrothal is a binding promise to marry.

At every point God’s design for a male/female relationship is more serious and more guarded because God knows how vulnerable the human heart is. He knows that if young people pursue a relationship for self-centered pleasure and without the safeguarding of parents, they will carry into marriage a heart wounded by emotional scars and a conscience defiled by moral impurity. The conclusion, then, of the worldly approach is a wedding that will often lead to divorce, because the marriage is so troubled by past emotional bonds, unrealistic expectations and an appetite for variety and change. On the other hand, the biblical path to matrimony produces a steady and unshakeable union, ’til death do us part.

WHETHER TO MARRY
Surely the preliminary step in addressing the question of HOW to marry is first to determine WHETHER to marry. Should I or shouldn’t I? How can I know for sure? The popular feeling-oriented, mystical view of God’s will urges us to interpret our outward circumstances and inward impressions. But God’s Word urges us to examine the Scriptures, our all-sufficient guide for everything pertaining to life and godliness (Acts 17:11; 2 Pet. 1:3-4). So, what saith the Scriptures?

Christ’s only recorded comment on singleness is found in the context of His teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:8-12. In their stunned reply to Jesus’ very strict view on divorce and remarriage, His disciples suggested that it would actually be better just to remain single. After all, they reasoned, a man may unwittingly marry a contentious woman who could make life miserable for him (Prov. 21:9). But there was something shortsighted about the disciples’ viewpoint. So beginning with the word but in verse 11, Jesus explains and then illustrates how a believer can have the strength not to remarry if he finds himself unbiblically divorced. In short, Jesus taught in this passage that singleness and marriage are both acceptable to God. Marriage is not commanded for anyone; neither is singleness, except for the one who is unbiblically divorced. Now, what Jesus declares here in capsule form is amplified by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 7.

Here is the central passage in the Bible on whether or not a Christian should marry. Paul’s remarks are made in response to a letter he had received from the believers in Corinth. And heading the list of questions in that letter was their inquiry regarding whether or not a Christian should marry. Paul’s answer to this question addresses not only the decision itself but also its consequences. Here’s what he says.

The decision itself – to remain single or to marry – is based on one’s wise application of God’s principles to his own situation. Paul’s opening statement, It is good for a man not to touch a woman (a figure of speech for marriage), reveals his personal preference for the single life. Yet Paul recognizes that those who are single are especially vulnerable to temptation (v. 2). Still, neither singleness nor marriage is commanded (v. 6); whether or not to marry is an area of moral freedom, a wisdom decision. On what basis, then, does Paul direct that this morally free decision be made? What are the criteria? In short, Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 7 to explain three factors to weigh in making a wise decision about whether or not to marry.

THREE FACTORS
First, says Paul, evaluate your marital gift: each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that (v. 7). Paul means here that some are gifted by God to enjoy the opportunities of singleness while others are gifted to enjoy the companionship and responsibilities of marriage. How do you know that you have the gift to remain single? First, it seems, you will have little problem exercising moral self-control. If moral self-control is not readily present, then you probably don’t have the gift to remain single. Second, you will not have a yearning desire to share life closely with someone in the fulfillment of your life goals – someone to share your burdens as well as your joys. So evaluate your marital gift: Do you have a gift to be single or a gift to be married?

A second factor to weigh in making a wise decision about whether or not to marry is your current circumstances (v. 26-35). The Corinthian Christians were likely passing through a particularly difficult circumstance, perhaps some persecution or hard times. In a situation like that, Paul recommends the single life in order to avoid needless troubles, to make better use of limited time, to be free from concern for a spouse and to be able to give undistracted attention to the things of the Lord. Other Scriptures may give additional circumstances that would make it wise to postpone marriage, such as the need to fight in a war (Deut. 20:7) or the need to complete one’s occupational and financial preparation before marriage (Prov. 24:27).

A third factor to weigh in making a wise decision on whether or not to marry is your life goal. Even if you can be personally satisfied without a wife, your specific life goal may require a suitable helper for dominion or for ministry (Gen. 2:18). In 1 Corinthians 7 we see how marriage provides excellent opportunities for ministry to one’s spouse and children (cf. v. 14). But beyond ministry to the family, a man’s life goal may best be achieved if he has a wife to aid him in that life goal. So even though Paul might have had a strong preference for his own state of singleness, each man has to choose what is best for himself.

Although we are morally free to choose singleness or marriage based on a wise evaluation of one’s marital gift, current circumstances and life goal, once we have done so, we come under the biblical regulations which govern each of these two marital options. That is, we incur certain obligations that go with the territory. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:2 makes it clear that the sole regulation for singleness is to remain morally pure (cf. also vv. 8-9). If you think self-control is going to be a serious problem, then you better not choose singleness.

But the moral regulations governing marriage are many, and regulate our selection for marriage, our selflessness in marriage and our potential separation after marriage. First, of course, is the regulation that a Christian may select only another Christian to marry: she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord (v. 39). Second, Scripture enjoins the believers’ responsibility of selflessness once the marriage is in force. For example, Paul promptly informs husbands and wives in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 of their conjugal duties toward each other. Other marital duties are listed in Ephesians 5, such as the husband’s duty to love his wife as sacrificially as Christ loved the church, and the wife’s duty to respectfully submit to her husband’s leadership. Actually the first marital duties were assigned in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1-2 where the husband and wife were commanded to be partners in dominion (with the husband leading and the wife his helper), as well as partners in fruitfulness, the bearing and rearing of a godly seed. A third area of regulation for marriage pertains to any unbiblical divorce that occurs after a marriage bond is formed: let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband (v. 11).

WHOM TO MARRY
The moral regulation just mentioned, to marry only in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39), raises a few puzzling questions that cannot be ignored. For example, does this mean that, as long as my spouse is a Christian, God doesn’t care whom I marry? Should I myself care about whom I marry, or just pick a name out of the proverbial hat (only Christian names, of course)? What about the right man-right woman doctrine?

Some Bible teachers have used the example of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:21-25) to suggest that, for each person with the gift to marry, God has specially fashioned a spouse who is ideally suited to be his or her mate. And that God will, in His perfect timing, bring these two partners together for the purpose of marriage. This is commonly called the right man-right woman doctrine. Up to this point in the argument, it is an accurate description of God’s sovereign guidance. But according to this teaching, it is essential to go one step further by deciphering circumstances, blessings, inner impressions and personal desires in order to discern WHO is the Mr. Right or Miss Right that I am sovereignly intended to marry.

Yet, do we see anything in this passage about Adam or Eve examining their circumstances, blessings, inner impressions or personal desires in the selection of one another for marriage? In reality, what we encounter in this passage is an example of God’s non-normative, supernatural guidance whereby Adam and Eve were miraculously brought together as husband and wife. No promise is given in this passage that God will ever repeat this extraordinary event for the rest of the human race. Yes, there are universal principles behind God’s activities with Adam and Eve; but none of these principles involve probing our outward circumstances or inner impressions. Instead, they are the five fundamental principles of piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience which Adam and Eve obeyed under the loving hand of a sovereign God. Adam and Eve both submitted to the patriarchal leadership of their father (God) and maintained purity and piety; as verse 25 explains, they were not ashamed. Furthermore, Adam was fully prepared vocationally as the cultivator of the garden and overseer of the animals. And though Adam took notice that among the animals there was not found a helper suitable for him, there is no evidence whatever that he became impatient. So we find no confirmation in the account of Adam and Eve that circumstances, blessings, inner impressions and personal desires are God’s indicators for whom to marry.

A second passage frequently cited in support of the right man-right woman doctrine is Genesis 24, the story of Isaac and Rebekah. You remember, of course, how Abraham, now about 140 years old, took the responsibility of sending his trusted servant, Eliezer, to the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia to seek a wife for his son Isaac from among Abraham’s relatives. Upon arrival at his destination, the servant stopped by a well and made his request of God for a miraculous sign (vv. 12-14). Well, before he could even finish praying, Rebekah came to the well and fulfilled this sign completely. The servant then visited her family, Rebekah agreed to become Isaac’s wife, and the servant was able to take her back to Canaan – mission accomplished!

Does this passage teach that Christians are to seek detailed guidance beyond the moral will of God? Is this the way we are to identify the specific person we’re to supposed to marry? No, as we mentioned in our last article, the experience of Abraham’s servant is an example of God’s special, supernatural guidance utilizing angelic assistance: God will send His angel before you (v. 7). This was not even the norm for believers in Bible times! Nevertheless, just as with Adam and Eve there are universal principles behind God’s activity with Isaac and Rebekah. Here again we notice the five fundamental principles of scriptural romance: piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience – which each party obeyed under the loving hand of a sovereign God. The fathers took full responsibility, the spouses remained 100 percent pure, the focus was on character rather than beauty, both were spiritually and vocationally ready for marriage, and they were patiently serving God as they trusted Him to work through their parents.

ONLY IN THE LORD
Well, if the accounts of Adam and Eve and Isaac and Rebekah aren’t normative for whom to marry, then where do we discover this vital information? As mentioned above, there is one and only one command in Scripture related to this question, namely, that a believer may marry ONLY another believer. In 1 Corinthians 7, it is assumed throughout the entire chapter that Christians should marry only other Christians, especially in verses 12-16 which view mixed marriages as particularly troublesome. But the command is most clearly stated in verse 39 which we read earlier, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. One needs to look only as far as verse 22 of the same chapter to find that the phrase in the Lord means to be a Christian: he who was called in the Lord (i.e., called to be a Christian) while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman. Paul stated his case even more directly in 1 Corinthians 9:5, Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife….

Now, the cross reference for 1 Corinthians 7 is 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, Do not be bound together with unbelievers…. The phrase be bound together calls forth a mental image from Deuteronomy 22:10 of an ox and a donkey being harnessed together in a double yoke. That image became crystal clear to me when I was about thirteen years old. My father had taken an early retirement from military service and bought a 220 acre farm in middle Tennessee which came complete with an assortment of old-fashioned, horse drawn equipment that we used the first summer to get in our crops. I was taught by my grandfather how to use this equipment properly and then given the unenviable task of mowing forty acres of hay with a very mismatched team that also came with the farm – I think one was a horse and the other a mule. At any rate, they certainly didn’t pull well together; each wanted to go in a different direction which made it nearly impossible to follow a straight path.

That’s precisely the picture given here in 2 Corinthians 6. No believer is to be mismatched with an unbeliever because each will be headed in a different direction, making it impossible to follow the straight and narrow path of Christ. The passage then continues with four vivid contrasts to illustrate this point. A believer bound together with an unbeliever is like righteousness with lawlessness, light with darkness, Christ with Satan, and the temple of God with idols. The point is that not only are the believers’ values, standards, goals, motivations and methods for living incompatible with those of the unbeliever, they are diametrically opposed to each other! They are serving two different lords who are arch-enemies of one another, just as the Israelites were arch-enemies of the Canaanites whom they were not to marry lest they compromise their holiness (Deut. 7:1-6).

The application of this passage to marriage is obvious. Indeed, marriage is even more than a double yoke, it is a joining together of two individuals into a one flesh relationship. It is the most intimate relationship which two human beings can enter into. So for a Christian to marry a non-Christian is to guarantee that marriage will never accomplish its God-ordained purposes unless the non-Christian becomes saved. Yes, there will still be a witness in that home. And the children will certainly be benefited by the one Christian parent (1 Cor. 7:14). But it will be a house of conflict just as surely as Satan is in conflict with Christ!

This fact has been repeated by so many Christian teachers and writers that nearly every Christian knows it to be true. Yet when push comes to shove, an astounding number of Christian young people disregard this prohibition and marry unbelievers. What might possibly lure our children to rationalize this clear teaching of Scripture or blatantly disobey the revealed will of God?

The answer is called falling in love. You see, Hollywood love is a counterfeit love. It is, in reality, one of the desires of the flesh called sensuality or lust. It pleases self rather than Christ, is desire-driven rather than self-disciplined, and makes decisions based on feelings rather than Scripture. Consequently, when Scripture conflicts with those feelings, Hollywood love will always win the heart of an immature or weak Christian. Why? Because falling in love (lust) is like falling into quicksand – it will pull its captive down with unrelenting passion. All parents have seen this counterfeit love; most have also felt it’s strength. Only by carefully following God’s five fundamental principles of scriptural romance – piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience – can we protect our children from its powerful grip.

UNDERSTANDING FRIENDSHIP
With the preliminary questions of WHETHER to marry and WHOM to marry now addressed, we are prepared to turn full-face to the exceedingly practical question of HOW to marry, the step-by-step process for bringing about a biblical marriage.

Since a God-honoring Christian walk is achieved by applying biblical principles to the issues of life, let’s inquire how God’s five fundamental principles of scriptural romance – piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience – should be exercised during each of the four relational stages leading to marriage? This application process involves asking the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How questions about each of the five principles as they apply to the four relational periods, beginning with friendship. Subsequent articles will evaluate biblical courtship, betrothal and the wedding.

Friendship may be defined as a cordial relationship of mutual esteem. To understand it’s place in marriage preparation, we need to see it in relation to the succeeding three stages. It is interesting that there are four different words for love in the Greek language of the New Testament, and each one parallels one of the four relational periods leading to marriage. For example, the Greek philia, meaning brotherly kindness, corresponds to the friendship stage. Courtship, which is the process of investigating a person with marriage in mind, may be represented by the Greek storge, meaning natural attraction. Betrothal, defined as a binding commitment to marry, corresponds to the Greek agape, God’s word for selfless devotion. Finally, the wedding, a ceremony joining a man and woman in marriage, accords with the Greek eros, the term of physical affection. Friendship, courtship, betrothal and wedding advance a young man and woman through the four sequential stages of love to a gratifying and godly marriage.

FOUR STAGES OF MARRIAGE PREPARATION

1. Friendship – philia = brotherly kindness

2. Courtship – storge = natural attraction

3. Betrothal – agape = selfless devotion

4. Wedding – eros = physical affection

As we unfold the step-by-step process for constructing a biblical marriage, we cannot miss the underlying truth of Christ’s betrothal to the church as our pattern for scriptural romance (2 Cor. 11:2). If you recall, this was perhaps the most compelling reason for recognizing betrothal as transcultural (Chapter 1). We ought therefore to ask, How was Christ in His youth preparing Himself for His future bride, the church? How did He manage His relationships with God and man. The best summary statement of this is found in Luke 2:51-52 which reports that Jesus continued in subjection to [His parents]…and kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. With Christ as our example, let’s now apply God’s five fundamental principles of scriptural romance to the friendship stage of marriage preparation (see Chapter 1 for a fuller description of these five principles). And based on Jesus’ parable of the houses in Matthew 7, we want to build our marriage like we would build a mansion, even a castle!

APPLYING PIETY
Piety in our friendships refers to our general godliness and righteousness in attitudes and conduct founded upon our personal relationship of faith in Jesus Christ, the Rock and Cornerstone of our life. Therefore, piety begins in us with salvation, hopefully at a very young age. As children, we must then learn to desire Christ’s will more than self will. This greater and greater devotion to Christ occurs over time as we grow to understand and appreciate all that He is and all that He has done for us. As we enter the teen years, godly piety calls us to surrender to Jesus Christ this intriguing, new area of relationships with the opposite sex. If Jesus Christ is not Lord over our love life, then He cannot help us build a marriage relationship that will last a lifetime. One author has defined surrender as an extreme act of trust in God. But the more we understand how much God wants to bless us, the easier it is to trust Him with our relationships. If we could somehow take a peek into our Heavenly Father’s wise and loving heart, we would readily and completely put our future marriage into His hands.

Yet, like little toddlers, we are inclined to cling to our toys, unwilling to allow our tender-hearted Father to take them from us so that He can give us something much more wonderful and lasting. 1 Corinthians 13:11 reminds us that when we grow up, we must put away childish things, including, says Paul, the childish thinking that our way is better than God’s way. Surrendering our relationships to Christ during the friendship stage builds the concrete foundation that will unfailingly support the mansion of our dreams. But such a foundation must be poured early in life for it to cure for strength in the later years. How do you know if you have surrendered your relationships to Christ, young people? Answer these questions:

1. Am I willing, if God so chooses, to remain single, with Christ alone as my spouse?

2. Am I willing, if God so chooses, to be married and to allow Him to do the matchmaking?

3. Am I willing, if God so chooses, to be married and to allow Him to determine the timetable?

Only when you can answer yes to each of these three questions, can you say that you have surrendered your relationships to Christ. Psalm 37:5 encourages our wholehearted commitment with these words: Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will DO IT. Commit yourself to God’s five principles of scriptural romance – Dads, Moms, young people – and He…will…DO IT!

APPLYING PATRIARCHY
If surrender to Christ is the concrete foundation for your dream mansion, then a father’s patriarchal oversight, protection and provision of a spouse might be symbolized by a mansion’s sturdy exterior walls.

Young ladies, are you learning to trust your father to protect you physically, morally and emotionally and to provide a spouse for you with your final approval? This, surely, is one of the most difficult – yet most crucial – of God’s principles for marriage preparation. How formidable it can be to entrust this very personal area of life to another human being, even to a loving father. Yet in Scripture we see example after example of godly young men and women trusting their father for oversight, protection and even the provision of a spouse. How did they do this? The key to their trust was in seeing their Heavenly Father working through their earthly father. They believed the principle behind Proverbs 18:22, that he who finds a wife… obtains favor from the Lord. They had a deep and abiding confidence in the sovereignty of God to lovingly and successfully use imperfect earthly fathers to accomplish His will, just as Bethuel told his daughter Rebekah in regard to Isaac, This matter comes from the Lord…. So, young people, the secret to trusting your father is trusting your Heavenly Father to work His principles of scriptural romance through your earthly father.

Now, fathers, in no way does this leave you off the hook. God expects you to be faithful even more so than your children, since you are their example. So during this early friendship stage of preparation for marriage, are you physically, morally and emotionally protecting and providing for your children in such a way that you earn their trust? This is your primary patriarchal task during the friendship stage of relationships. This is the season when you lay the foundation for later years when your children’s deepest trust in you will be essential. What can you do now to build your children’s confidence?

You can demonstrate your faithfulness in this area by preparing your daughter to be a suitable helper (Gen. 2:18) in the areas of academics, fine arts, life skills and spiritual life, praying for her and with her about her future husband. Further, you must give her patriarchal oversight by never releasing her to an unprotected situation – physically, morally or emotionally (Ps. 36:1; Deut. 22:21). For your sons, you must likewise build trust by preparing them to be godly leaders, both vocationally and spiritually, counseling them against the vices of ungodly women, just as Solomon did in Proverbs chapters 2, 5, 6 and 7. If your children observe you faithfully being a patriarch in their early youth, then it will be only natural for them to trust you in their later youth. What will happen if you don’t take time now to build your children’s confidence? Of course, they will struggle in trusting you later, and you risk losing their heart as many careless or misguided parents have so painfully learned.

Mothers, during this friendship stage, think about practical ways that you can aid your husband in being a trustworthy protector and provider of the family? Consider how you can build up – rather than tear down – your children’s trust in their father to provide an excellent spouse for them? Take to heart Solomon’s wise counsel: The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands (Prov. 14:1).

Thus far in building our dream mansion, we’ve poured the foundation of piety and built sturdy walls of patriarchal protection and provision. Next on our work schedule is something to secure our mansion from invasion – a moat filled with water and a drawbridge reserved only for your future spouse. The moat and drawbridge represent the principle of purity.

APPLYING PURITY
Purity means no physical affection or romantic emotions prior to God’s approval in Scripture. As we have learned from the many Bible passages bearing on this subject, neither romantic touching nor romantic emotions are permitted during the friendship stage of relationships. Young men, treat the younger women as sisters, in all purity, Paul exhorts in 1 Timothy 5:2. Even limited romantic emotions are permitted ONLY after the betrothal covenant has been made. Otherwise, we are likely to fall into the sin of adultery in the heart that Jesus warns against in Matthew 5:28. For these reasons, relating during the friendship stage should be exercised primarily through family-centered gatherings rather than through one-on-one dating or through youth groups.

Paralleling his warning that bad company corrupts good morals (1 Cor. 15:33), Paul likewise exhorts in 2 Timothy 2:22: Now flee from youthful lusts. But, practically speaking, HOW are young people to flee from youthful lusts? Paul answers in the second half of the same verse: …by pursuing righteousness, faith, love and peace WITH (or, in the company of) those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. The Bible has many cautions about the dangers of youthful peers (cf. Prov. 29:25; Gen. 8:21; 2 Ki. 2:23, Hag. 2:13, etc.). We would be wisest, therefore, to have our children and youth pursue friendships primarily in the context of family-centered gatherings where dads and moms are always present to carry out their biblical role of guarding their children’s hearts.

An interesting verse in Proverbs 31 may actually have some application to this principle of purity during the friendship stage. Verse 11 begins, The heart of her husband trusts in her…. Why does he trust in her? Verse 12 continues, She does him good and not evil ALL the days of her life. Wait a minute! ALL the days of her life? You mean she’s thinking about her husband even before she meets him? How can she do him good ALL the days of her life when she doesn’t even know who he is?

One way, of course, is by preserving herself for him both physically and emotionally. Assuming that God would have you married, you already know that somewhere out there He has specially created for you a young man or young woman who He is providentially preparing to be your perfect match. He’s preparing her to zig where you zag so that together you will make a perfect team for the three purposes of marriage: a partnership in dominion, a propagation of a godly offspring and a portrait of Christ’s relationship with His own bride, the church. From God’s timeless point of view, the two of you are practically married already.

So young men, don’t you want your bride to be doing you good and not evil ALL the days of her life by being morally faithful to you even now? Surely you don’t want some other fellow wrapping his snake-like arms around her shoulders, slithering up close with cologne dripping from his pores, and puckering up his unbridled lips – do you? That fellow would be kissing your wife-to-be, your one-and-only whom God created and prepared especially for you! And if you desire purity in your future wife, then how much more do you think she is desiring right now that same level of purity in you?

Young people, you should live by this purity test. Always imagine that your spouse-to-be is watching you. Then ask yourself, If she could see me now, how would she feel? Would she be hurt, jealous, disappointed in me? If so, then something’s not right in the way you are presently relating to the opposite sex. Now take that purity test one step further – imagine that your spouse-to-be can read your thoughts at all times. Will a pure young lady want to be spiritually one with a mind that has been exposed to R-rated movies? Most of us never consider that if our thought life were recorded for our future spouse to read, he or she would be horrified. But from God’s timeless point of view, you have a love life with your spouse-to-be even before you ever meet her.

So you must choose now, during the friendship stage, to love her day in and day out, and to cherish and adore her by the way you are living your life today. This is how you can begin showing agape love for your future mate even before you meet, by making choices each day that honor and do what is best for him or her. This is how Christ sacrificially prepared Himself for His bride, the church, when He was growing up as a totally pure youth. And if you have failed already in keeping your self pure – physically, mentally or emotionally – it’s not too late for you. Just follow Christ’s command to the woman caught in adultery in John 8, go and sin no more. If you are truly repentant, then you can start afresh today.

We now have a dream mansion with the foundation of piety, the protective walls of patriarchy and the surrounding moat of purity. If we stopped construction now, we’d have a fortress but not a home. To make our mansion comfortable, we must finish the inside. Let’s let the kitchen and the chapel represent our need for vocational and spiritual preparation.

APPLYING PREPAREDNESS
Preparedness may be the best single word to describe our focus during the friendship stage of relationships. It is the lengthy time of becoming ready for marriage spiritually, vocationally and financially. Before he was married, Adam knew his vocation of horticulture, and he knew God’s law spiritually. Likewise, every godly father in Bible times prepared his sons and daughters for marriage through adequate spiritual and vocational training so that they might avoid slavery and debt. This friendship stage was the time period in the teen years when a young man was saving his bride price of three years’ wages lest he be considered unprepared to support a wife and family. Solomon explained it this way in Proverbs 24:27, Prepare your work outside, and make it ready for yourself in the field (i.e., vocational preparation); afterwards, then, build your house (the Hebrew word house here means household, that is, marriage and children – Prov. 14:1). Vocational preparation, young men, is not merely a job (which can easily be lost) but marketable skills which you must take time now to develop, before even thinking about marriage. And spiritually, it is the season for developing leadership and self-discipline. Leadership in worship, prayer, teaching and witnessing; and self-discipline in spending, eating, orderliness, working and studying.

A young woman must also be spiritually preparing during the friendship stage by following the examples of Sarah, Mary and the Proverbs 31 woman. Vocationally she must develop her domestic skills as well as the talents God has given her for assisting in her future husband’s life purpose. But how do we accomplish this, fathers, without instilling in a daughter an attitude of careerism? The answer is to have your daughter relate to her father in the same manner that God will have her relate to her future husband. For example, in developing our own daughters’ musical talents, we have structured our family music business so that I, the father, remain fully responsible while delegating certain work to each of my daughters. Instead of paying them, I give them generous gifts each month according to their needs so that they will learn to be fully dependent upon their future husband rather than developing an independent spirit.

Let’s conclude the building of our dream mansion by landscaping it with magnificent trees and shrubbery. Large plants take time to grow, so they represent the biblical principle of patience.

APPLYING PATIENCE
Patience is an attitude of walking by faith, not by sight, trusting our sovereign God to accomplish His perfect plan in His perfect time. Few of us have any sort of understanding about what it means to wait with patience. We have all grown up on a fast-food, fast-fun, fast-technology world of microwaves and super computers. How long should we wait for God to bring our future spouse to us? Until I’m 20, or 25 – and what a horror of horrors if I’m not married until I’m 30! Surrender is hard enough, but then comes waiting, patiently trusting a sovereign God to accomplish His perfect plan in His perfect time through imperfect fathers.

But after we are already prepared both spiritually and vocationally, what do we DO while we are waiting on God? Well, what did Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses do while waiting on God? And what is the church to be doing while waiting for her groom, the Lord Jesus Christ, to begin His wedding march with the blast of a trumpet and the shout of His angels?

In Scripture, waiting is an active word describing energetic expectancy as you continue to serve God while eagerly looking forward to the unfolding of His wonderful plan for you. True waiting involves an active focus. You know what you are heading toward, so you don’t let anything distract you. But you must stay focused and avoid the world’s temptations by keeping your eyes on God’s best.

Patience involves not only watching out for distractions but also praying: Watch and pray, exhorted Christ in Matthew 26:41, that you enter not into temptation. For the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Pray for daily strength to be faithful, pray for your future spouse to be faithful, and pray that God will mold both you and your mate-to-be into one perfect match that will glorify Him. Psalm 40:1 encourages us, I waited patiently and expectantly for the Lord, and He inclined to me and heard my cry.

The application of God’s five fundamental principles of romance requires hard work. But you’ll never regret the effort once you receive the reward it brings. Persevero, young men and ladies!

In our next chapter, we’ll investigate the intriguing courtship stage in the step-by-step process that leads to a biblical marriage.

  

Chapter 7

How to Marry – The Courtship Stage

Nearly all of us – dads, moms and children – have observed a house being built. Some of us have even had a hand in a construction project or two. So we can all relate well to our Lord’s warning NOT to build our house (life) on the shifting sand of man’s flawed values (Matt. 7:24-27). Christ wants us to construct marriages that are sturdy dream mansions, not shaky sand castles.

Consequently, in our last article we explored in a very practical way HOW God’s five fundamental principles of scriptural romance should be applied to the friendship stage of relationship building. Under the analogy of house building, we poured a concrete foundation of piety, erected protective walls of patriarchy, constructed a surrounding moat of purity, built interior rooms of spiritual and vocational preparation, and finally landscaped our dream house with long-growing trees of patience in God’s perfect timing.

 

But how do we know for certain that our dream mansion (our future marriage) is built to God’s exacting standards? How can we be sure that it will stand up to the howling winds of adversity and the torrential storms of life? Well, of course, we call in the building inspector to examine and verify its most critical parts. Isn’t that what you would do before moving in your fine furniture and beloved family? Wouldn’t you want to be positive that this mansion won’t collapse and injure you and your loved ones? Let’s talk about what building inspectors do, both for houses and for marriages.

First, the builder doesn’t even call the building inspector to issue a certificate of occupancy until he believes the house is completed and ready to be occupied. He knows that the inspector will examine the house based on an objective set of standards, and not just go with his feelings. He will conscientiously analyze not only the outside of the house but the inside as well, even the various hidden components. And if he finds something wrong, he won’t simply ignore it but will require it to be fixed prior to the house being inhabited.

Likewise, a father should not even consider courtship (the stage for investigating marriage) until he is convinced that his son or daughter has fulfilled the goals of the friendship stage of marriage preparation: the development of selfless devotion to Christ, trust in the protection and provision of their father, physical and emotional faithfulness to their future spouse, spiritual and vocational preparation for adulthood, and prayerful confidence in God’s perfect plan (see Chapter 6 for a full explanation of these goals). Only after these goals have been attained should a father pursue the stage of courtship for his son or daughter. Otherwise an inspection will find much unfinished work which makes a future marriage unfit for occupancy.

UNDERSTANDING COURTSHIP
What exactly is courtship? Let me summarize what I said in a previous article. Often the terms courtship and betrothal are used nearly synonymously to refer to the biblical process of pursuing a man-woman relationship under the careful and caring oversight of parents and for the sole purpose of marriage, not recreation. But in addition to this general use, the words courtship and betrothal have specific, technical meanings that distinguish them from each other. Indeed, they are two separate and sequential stages in the fourfold process that leads to marriage, a process composed of friendship, courtship, betrothal and wedding. Friendship (a cordial relationship of mutual esteem) and wedding (the ceremony and covenant that join a man and woman in marriage) are well understood by all. But what is courtship, and how is it distinct from betrothal?

Like the word trinity, the term courtship is not found in the Bible, but the idea surely is. In brief, courtship is the process of investigating (i.e., getting to know) a person with marriage in mind. It is the time period, after spiritual and vocational preparation for marriage has been completed, for evaluating a suitor’s inward character, values, beliefs, practices, interests and life purpose to ensure that a godly match occurs. The term courtship is derived from the words court and ship. Court means a trial of law for evaluating evidence; and ship refers to boundaries (such as in the word township, meaning the boundaries of a town). So the term courtship may be used to speak of the boundaries, or the proper approach, for evaluating evidence of a person’s true character, just as in a court of law. We see this investigative process in several scriptural marriages (e.g., Isaac and Rebekah, Gen. 24) as well as in various biblical principles, such as 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.

Betrothal, on the other hand, refers to the stage that comes after a positively concluded courtship investigation. Betrothal may be defined as a binding commitment to marry, sought by a young man, agreed to by a young woman, approved and supervised by the fathers of both, and attested by a bridal provision (bride price/dowry) and by witnesses and/or a document. In Scripture, the terms betrothal, engagement and espousal come from the same Hebrew and Greek words meaning, basically, a promise to marry. This will be the subject of our next article, but we mention it here to clearly distinguish it from courtship since history has muddled the two in the minds of many.

As we mentioned in our last article, biblical courtship is rooted in a natural attraction toward another for the purpose of marriage, an attraction based on inward character more than outward beauty and charm. In stark contrast, worldly dating is generally pursued for the purpose of pleasure rather than marriage. In consumer terms, modern dating is equivalent to window shopping, while biblical courtship is shopping with cash in hand, under the direction of an experienced buyer (parents).

Each of the four relational steps toward marriage – friendship, courtship, betrothal and wedding – finds its ultimate validity in Christ’s own marriage to the church as our prototype (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22ff). We ought therefore to ask, How does Christ’s relationship with the church illustrate courtship? And when did this courtship occur? If courtship is the process of investigating (evaluating, examining, testing) a suitor’s inward character, values, beliefs, practices, interests and life purpose, then Christ’s time of testing before the Cross – from His wilderness temptation by Satan to the garden of Gethsemane – parallels the courtship stage of relationships, the stage of inspecting the vessel to prove its worthiness for habitation.

In the courtship stage of Christ’s marriage preparation, He came to seek His bride (Lk. 19:10), but only such as the Father had chosen for Him (Jn. 6:37). During this time our Lord was tested in His godly character and shown to be without sin, …tempted (tested) in all things as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). It was character that was evident to all, even as Pilate declared, …having examined Him, I have found no guilt in this man (Lk. 23:14).

Just as our Lord proved himself prior to the Cross to be an acceptable sacrifice according to God’s standards, likewise young men and women must demonstrate themselves prior to betrothal to be acceptable spouses according to God’s standards. The courtship stage, then, is the time period for investigating the qualifications of a suitor to be an acceptable spouse. But how do we go about investigating a person with marriage in mind? How do we practice courtship in a biblical fashion?

WISDOM GUIDANCE
God’s minimum requirement is that a Christian’s marriage partner must be another true believer: …she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). But what should spiritually-minded Christians desire in a spouse? What ought to direct our wishes in a mate? God has added three provisions for wisdom in choosing a spouse: the Scriptures, outside research and wise counselors.

Wisdom, of course, begins with the Scriptures which give God’s job description for husbands and wives. Just as you would be grossly unwise to consider a job without first studying the job description, so also with marriage. So be sure to understand God’s reasons and responsibilities for wedlock, namely

1.  To partner together for dominion (Gen. 1:28).

2.  To propagate a godly seed (Mal. 2:15)

3.  To portray Christ’s relationship with His church (Eph. 5:22ff): loving leadership by the husband as family pastor, provider and protector; and reverent submission by the wife as devoted helper and worker at home (Gen. 2:18; Tit. 2:5).

It would be wise, for instance, for a man to select a spouse with whom he could most easily and completely fulfill his unique life purpose (i.e., his peculiar dominion work) and his responsibilities as a husband. This would surely begin with like-mindedness in biblical beliefs and lifestyle convictions. And he would want to choose a woman whose first priority (after God) is the fulfillment of her God-ordained functions as a wife and mother, rather than having a separate occupation or ministry. Now that may sound obvious, but many Christians have come to grief in their marriage because they did not choose wisely, but married rather for romantic reasons.

A woman, observing that Scripture requires her to respect and submit to her husband, should be asking in advance, With what kind of man would submission come easily? In the most general terms, that would be the most spiritually mature person who is willing to marry her. This principle is repeatedly underscored in the Old Testament. In fact, the segment of Proverbs that specifically addresses the issue of selecting a spouse emphasizes spiritual excellence as the primary marriage qualification: An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels (Prov. 31:10). And when Boaz told Ruth he wanted her for a wife, he explained why: for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence (Ruth 3:11).

In addition to getting wisdom from the Word of God, we are to study outside research just a Nehemiah did when he planned to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem (Neh. 2:11-16). Outside research related to marriage might include such areas as age, finances, employment, education, personality traits, health, hobbies, family background, cultural background and much more. The fewer the potholes in the pathway of adjustment, the smoother will be the journey to marital unity.

The third and final source of wisdom God has provided for choosing a spouse is wise counselors. In our day we have been blessed with an abundance of wise (and not so wise) counsel through books, cassette tapes, videos and seminars. Still, there is no substitute for personal counsel from the godly men and women who know you best, particularly your own parents. How very sad when Christian young people and even Christian adults neglect the counsel of their spiritual family. Proverbs tells us they do so to their own great peril!

Now, just as we did in the friendship stage (see Chapter 6), let’s look more particularly at how God’s five fundamental principles of scriptural romance – piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience – apply to the courtship stage of marriage preparation.

APPLYING PIETY
As we have noted before, piety refers to our general godliness and righteousness in attitudes and conduct. But HOW, specifically, are we to apply piety in the evaluation of a potential spouse?

Foremost, I think, is that we have our focus on inward character, not on outward beauty, wealth or popularity. For example, King Lemuel was taught in Proverbs 31 to seek a virtuous wife; and godly Ruth desired Boaz for a husband because he was a man of character and kindness, even though he was old enough to be her father (Ruth 2:9, 15-16; 3:10).

Consider again the biblical reasons and responsibilities of marriage: to partner together for dominion, to propagate godly children and to portray Christ’s relationship with His bride, the church. Christ-like character in both husband and wife is absolutely essential for achieving these three God-ordained purposes. Without godly character in a spouse, there will be no one-mindedness for dominion, no consistent training of children, and no testimony of Christ in your relationship. In short, you will be an utter failure in realizing God’s preplanned design for marriage. That’s how important inward character is in the choice of a mate.

So what would be included in the evaluation of a suitor’s character and convictions? Here we are looking for direction, not perfection. If a young man or woman is not acceptable in any of these areas, don’t dismiss them immediately since they may be teachable, especially if they show a submissive spirit to their parents and elders. Note also that in courtship we are concerned about issues of conviction not preference. A conviction is something you are convinced from the Bible is God-ordered, and that to ignore it would be sin. Thus, to marry someone with different convictions would pose grave problems of compromise or conflict. Most matters of preference (except those that are very significant to you) should await discussion until betrothal since these issues can create emotional bonding, something that would be premature during the courtship stage.

First, assess a suitor’s general spiritual maturity. Does he show a genuine love for Christ and His church, as evidenced by a life of joyful obedience? Does he demonstrate an honoring attitude toward his parents and siblings? (How he honors his family trains him for how he will honor a wife.) Will he happily submit to parental oversight in courtship and betrothal? Since discipline is necessary for godliness, is he self-disciplined in his spending, eating, orderliness, working, studying and spiritual life? Does he make decisions and resolve problems with open communication and an open Bible, seeking God’s answer? Is he a kindly, selfless leader, pursuing the character of an elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1? Is she a cheerful, submissive helper, pursuing the qualities of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 and Titus 2?

Second, compare areas of personal conviction, beginning with one’s major theological understanding. A person with liberal leanings will not make a good marriage with someone of conservative beliefs. A Calvinist won’t match well with an Arminian, nor will a Reformed with a Dispensationalist. In today’s evolving spiritual climate, one must even be sure of their potential spouse’s view on creationism (the traditional literal six-day view versus theistic evolution, progressive creationism or framework hypothesis).

Convictions about church life must also be explored for compatibility: issues like denominations, house churches, church organization, role of men and women, significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the problem of Sunday school and youth groups (i.e., family-segregation) and Sabbatarianism (what day to worship and how to honor the Lord on that day).

Convictions about family life likewise require one-mindedness. These include intensely personal matters like the roles of husband and wife, view of biblical submission, wife working outside the home, importance of family worship, celebration of sacred days (Christmas, Easter), birth control, number of children, schooling of children, discipline of children (especially use of the rod), relationship to in-laws and friends, abortion, divorce, etc. Don’t assume anything – ask!

Convictions about personal life can often bring serious trouble to a marriage. So be sure to investigate beliefs about the sufficiency of Scripture vs. psychology for solving problems, Scripture vs. feelings for discerning God’s will, food issues (overeating, nutrition, vegetarianism), dress issues (modesty, gender-distinct, cost, jewelry), recreation issues (sports, movies, TV, rock music), medicine (traditional, alternative), money attitudes (giving, spending, saving, debt, gambling), use of alcohol or tobacco, personal morality (all areas, be specific), civil disobedience, anger or violence, lying or deception, past romantic relationships, past arrests or crimes. Once again, don’t assume anything – ask!

Finally, review significant preferences that could be problematic to a marriage. Some individuals, for example, have very strong attitudes about where they want to live – north vs. south, city vs. country, etc. Others have passionate feelings about pets, hygiene, and various other matters.

In addition to evaluating inward character and convictions, a pious person will want a husband or wife with the same inward direction, life goal, or life purpose – where they complete one another as partners in Christ’s kingdom work. A man should seek a spouse who is a suitable (lit. corresponding) helper, as God created her to be in Genesis 2:18. That is, her talents, abilities, interests and direction ought to correspond to his so that she completes him in his life purpose. Otherwise he will be missing his other half and will be less able to accomplish God’s goals for him. So what would be included in evaluating a suitor’s inward direction?

First, assess his intended life work. Is he vocationally prepared with a family-centered occupation, a vocation that can include his wife as his helper? By God’s design, unless a man is to be single, his life work is intended to involve his wife (Gen. 1:27f; 2:18), but the industrial world today greatly inhibits this (thus, family business is often the best choice). Is his life work something that you can support with your God-given talents? Second, compare your talents, abilities and interests with his. Do you fit together well? Third, review general strengths and weaknesses. Are you strong where he is weak and vice versa?

In summary, an application of the principle of piety will cause us to focus on a suitor’s inward character, convictions and direction, rather than being star-struck by outward beauty, wealth and popularity. It must also be pursued with fervent prayer. But who should direct this investigation of a potential spouse? Clearly, the principle of patriarchy indicates that the fathers (particularly the young lady’s father) should take leadership during the courtship period. According to R. J. Rushdoony in his Institutes of Biblical Law, this leadership role of the bride’s father is reinforced by the Hebrew word for bridegroom, which means the circumcised, and the Hebrew word for father-in-law, which means he who performs the circumcision. This refers not to physical circumcision but to spiritual circumcision. The father-in-law is responsible for ensuring the spiritual circumcision (i.e., the spiritual condition) of the groom in order to prevent a spiritually mixed or incompatible marriage with his daughter.

APPLYING PATRIARCHY
Patriarchy refers to a father’s physical, moral and emotional oversight and protection of his children, as well as his provision of a spouse with the cooperation of a son or approval of a daughter. What is its application during the courtship stage of marriage preparation?

From the Scriptural examples, there seem to be two phases in the courtship stage of relationships. In the first phase, the parents alone are involved as they explore the field of potential spouses and weed out those who are clearly unsuitable. In this first phase, the son or daughter may not even be aware of any specific candidate’s name. The goal, of course, is to reap the wisdom of the parents and to preserve the emotional purity of the son or daughter. So if a suitor were to directly approach a young lady, she should immediately refer him to her father as did Rebekah in Genesis 24. Once a potential spouse becomes a likely candidate, however, the son or daughter becomes personally involved in the investigative process under the careful and loving oversight of the father. Let’s look now in greater depth at these two phases: the inquiry and the consensus.

Phase One: the Inquiry. Even before his children are ready for marriage, a wise father will be continually building wholesome relationships with other like-minded families, not only for present fellowship but also for future spouses. The significance of this early relationship building can’t be stressed enough because long-term relationships give the greatest prospect for wise choices. You will have had the opportunity to observe these young men and women in all kinds of circumstances, giving you the safest judgment of their true character, convictions and direction in life.

But where might a father find like-minded families? The starting place, of course, is in your own local church. But since that will not satisfy all marital needs, we can look next at other like-minded churches, both near and far, which might be discovered through publications such as Patriarch magazine and Quit You Like Men, web sites like ChristianCourtship.com, and ministries such as Steve Schlissel’s Reformed Matchmaker (Reformed.Matchmaker@usa.net). Beyond these resources, we can befriend other home-schooling families that we meet at church conferences and state homeschool conventions. Another place to meet like-minded families is at Christian conferences on themes of interest to your family. For example, since our daughters desire husbands with a serious interest in music, we have attended Christian music conferences. Plus, since we are each looking for someone different, we parents can keep an eye out for one another as we travel around.

Now, when a father locates a potential spouse – i.e., one who seems worth exploring – he should contact that person’s father to begin investigating their inward character, convictions and direction. And since God has given us a wife to be our corresponding helper, we should involve her in the investigation, for she can often perceive character flaws that we may overlook. This inquiry phase would also include a father’s interview with the potential spouse as well as a thorough investigation of the suitor’s character references (his/her church elders, relatives, long-time family friends, etc.). This process may take up to a month, especially if there is some distance involved. After enough information is gathered, a Compatibility Chart should be developed listing similarities and differences in character, convictions and direction. If there is enough mutual interest and both fathers give their approval, it is time to transition to phase two of courtship which involves the young adults under their parents’ oversight. Whereas inquiry focuses on data-gathering through questioning, consensus pursues like-mindedness through study and discussion about the areas of difference in convictions and significant preferences.

Phase Two: the Consensus. At this point, the young man and woman would likely review with each other nearly every area of inward character, convictions and direction that their fathers covered, much of it in the presence of parents and some of it in family gatherings, such as meals or other activities where character can show. One author suggests character windows like yard work, evangelistic activities, church work projects and other ministry activities. The consensus seeking itself ought to involve mutual Bible study and the writing of position papers on important areas of difference (from the Compatibility Chart). The purpose of consensus is not for one party to win the other to his or her views, but for both parties to study the Word of God as the sole standard for our convictions. Both sides should have the liberty to recommend articles, tapes and books for studying out the areas of difference. Participants in study and discussion must include the parents, too, who can then disciple the young persons where necessary. Openness and honesty – not pressure and compromise – will move the discussions toward the ultimate goal of a better understanding God’s truth.

During the courtship stage there is nothing that should be asked or said that is too private for parents to overhear. Remember, patriarchy involves protection, and a father cannot protect when he doesn’t know. Every effort should be made to avoid emotional bonding since either party should be able to withdraw from the courtship without leaving a sense of rejection or hurt. Thus, I would allow absolutely no gifts, romantic words or private letters or phone calls since these tend to incite the emotions. Toward the end of the courtship investigation, there may be a place for very limited private time together, say, in the family’s parlor when parents are in the next room. But even this should have an agreed-upon agenda for discussion since Proverbs warns about the attraction of flattery in a conversation (Prov. 5:3; 7:5).

In early America, a courtship candle was used to limit the amount of time spent talking alone. When the candle burned down to the next mark, it was time for the young man to go home. As mentioned before, if a young man or woman is found unacceptable in any area, this becomes an opportunity for discipleship by either father. We can surely see the difficulty – if not impossibility – of achieving a biblical courtship when a young person (particularly a daughter) is sent off to college or is otherwise absent from the father’s home (see the author’s College at Home for the Glory of God at http://www.patriarch.com).

We’ve already touched briefly on our third principle of scriptural romance, the principle of purity. But there is more to be said.

APPLYING PURITY
Purity refers to there being no physical affection or romantic emotions prior to God’s approval in Scripture. Contrary to cultural expectations, the many Bible passages bearing on this topic reveal that neither romantic touching nor romantic emotions are permitted during the courtship stage of marriage preparation. Yet as the Bible and history affirm, this has always been a temptation and even more so in a promiscuous culture. It is principally for this reason that the fathers take leadership and oversight during the courtship stage to preserve and protect a son’s or daughter’s physical and emotional purity.

We see in Scripture both good and bad examples of purity during the courtship stage. Samson, of course, was a terrible example in Judges 14 when he allowed his emotional desire for a Philistine woman to cause him to disobey his father’s godly pleading that he take a believing wife from Israel. Parents, if you allow your son or daughter to become emotionally involved like Samson, you will likely lose all authority and control in his or her life just as his father did. On the other hand, we have the good example of Naomi’s counsel to Ruth where she directed her daughter-in-law to wait until you know how the matter turns out (Ruth 3:18). That is, don’t let your emotions become involved with Boaz until you know that a betrothal covenant has been agreed upon.

This is such a problematic area that it bears repeating the scriptural support for the principle of absolute purity. Biblically, then, romantic touching – such as holding hands, hugging, kissing – is appropriate ONLY within marriage (Gen. 2:25; 26:8; Prov. 5:18f; 6:29; Song of Sol. 4-8; Matt. 1:24f; 2 Cor. 11:2; Heb. 13:4). It is good for a man not to touch a woman (1 Cor. 7:1; Gen. 20:4,6; 34:3; Ruth 2:9; 2 Sam. 11:1ff; etc.). God never intended any level of limited romantic touching prior to marriage. James describes this principle of the slippery slope in James 1:14: But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. By God’s design for procreation, one touch leads to the next. So in Scripture, courting couples were generally in the company of their families or chaperoned (Gen. 2:22-24; Song of Sol. 1-3 – by the daughters of Jerusalem). And when not chaperoned, moral disasters occurred, such as Shechem with Dinah, Samson with Delilah and David with Bathsheba. Lead me not into temptation, a plea to the Heavenly Father, should likewise be heard by earthly fathers (Matt. 6:13; 26:41). Make no provision (opportunity) for the flesh in regard to its lusts, warns the Apostle Paul (Rom. 13:14). Aloneness is an opportunity for the flesh, even the aloneness of a public place away from one’s family. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12; cf. Prov. 28:26).

But physical morality isn’t all that’s included under the purity principle. God also requires emotional purity in our relationships. Unrestrained romantic emotions lead to mental impurity, adultery… in the heart Jesus called it (Matt. 5:28). Consequently, romantic emotions (conveyed through romantic looks, acts, language and gifts) are appropriate ONLY after the betrothal covenant has been made (Song of Sol.1-3). Otherwise, emotional fraud will likely occur (1 Thess. 4:6). Yet even during the betrothal period, all anticipation of marital affection is to remain pure and undiscussed between the couple (Song of Sol.1:2; 2:6; 3:1), romantic language is to be moral and modest (1:10,15,16), and strict patience and self-control is to be a mutual commitment (2:7,15; 3:5).

GOD’S FENCES OF PROTECTION

RELATIONSHIP       TYPE OF BONDING
Friendship                        Social

Courtship                          Spiritual

                          STOP

Betrothal                           Emotional

                         STOP

Wedding                           Physical

Parents and young people, in 1 Thessalonians 4:6 God commands that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter of acquiring a wife. The word transgress here means to exceed the boundaries by stealing the physical or emotional affections that belong to a woman’s future husband (see exposition in Chapter 2). Notice in the accompanying diagram that God has set up boundaries, or fences, to avoid the emotional or physical bonding which He reserves for future stages in our relationships. During the friendship stage, for example, we are allowed social bonding. And during the courtship stage, God intends us to spiritually bond as we agree with a potential spouse on personal convictions and inward direction. But there God sets up an emotional boundary, or fence, which we are not allowed to cross until we make the commitment of betrothal. God likewise sets up a physical boundary which we are not allowed to cross until we make the commitment of marriage through the wedding. These two boundaries are given by God for the protection and preservation of our hearts in what one author calls the zones of vulnerability. In the courtship zone, we will be tempted toward emotional bonding; and in the betrothal zone, we will be tempted toward physical bonding. But God says, don’t cross the fences – they’re put there to guard you for your one-and-only sweetheart. And it’s up to earthly fathers to make sure those fences stay in place.

APPLYING PREPAREDNESS & PATIENCE
Preparedness alludes to the spiritual, vocational and financial readiness for marriage by both the man and the woman. This fourth principle of scriptural romance should have been basically completed before courtship ever began. And indeed, the necessary questions must be asked of a potential spouse to ascertain his or her preparedness for marriage. The many issues mentioned above under Applying Piety will appraise a candidate’s spiritual readiness. But further questioning must address the vocational and financial areas.

Has the young man developed adequate marketable skills (not just a degree or a job) to support a wife and family, preferably through a family business that would allow him to achieve his God-ordained family priorities and include his wife as his dominion helper (Gen. 1:27f; 2:18)? Has he saved his money for marriage and avoided the slavery of debt? Has the young lady developed her skills and talents to be not only a domestic helper but also a dominion helper to assist her husband in his life work? If any spiritual or vocational shortcomings are discovered during courtship, they must be corrected before any further progress in the relationship.

Finally, how does the scriptural principle of patience apply to the courtship stage? Patience, an attitude of walking by faith, not by sight, involves trusting in our sovereign God to accomplish His perfect plan. It’s not easy to maintain patience when you think you have your target (Mr. Right) in your sights. But what if it doesn’t turn out, as Naomi cautioned Ruth? Foolish young people often fall into lusting rather than trusting during this crucial stage of investigating a spouse. So you must prepare yourself, young men and ladies, to say No to several second best choices while you patiently wait for God’s best.

Satan will surely try to hinder you from your present righteous path and your future godly service. He will try to spiritually neutralize both you and your future children by attracting you to a second best marriage through which it will be difficult to raise up a godly seed. As an angel of light, Satan can make those second best choices look really good on the surface. But remember how after thirty years of preparation, Jesus Christ was just ready to win his bride at Calvary when Satan offered Him a sparkling substitute: all the kingdoms of the world. Aren’t you glad our Lord rejected Satan’s second best substitute? And so should YOU, if you want a dream marriage that will last a lifetime!

What we have said about biblical courtship may raise nearly as many questions as it answers. For example, What if the parents are unsaved, disinterested, uncooperative or even opposed to courtship? How do we do courtship if a son or daughter has already left home? If I’m already involved in a relationship, how do I make the transition to courtship? Can courtship be successful if the families live distant from each other? How do older singles court, especially if their parents are deceased? How long should a courtship last?

In our next article, Lord willing, we’ll be dealing with Courtship Questions – the most frequently asked questions that have come to us through the ChristianCourtship.com web site, as well as a thorough list of the most critical questions to ask a courtship candidate and his references (i.e., pastor, relatives, friends). If you have any courtship questions after reading this issue, let us hear from you right away and we’ll try to answer your question in our next article.

 

Chapter 8

 

How to Marry: Courtship Questions

 

  

 

 

When discussing the subject of biblical courtship, certain questions repeatedly are asked. I hear them at conferences where I speak as well as through emails via our ChristianCourtship.com web site. They are no doubt on the minds of many Christian dads, moms and young people today. These inquiries fall into two primary groups: (1) questions about courtship and (2) questions during courtship.

QUESTIONS ABOUT COURTSHIP
Questions of the first category, those about courtship, typically address exceptions to the general pattern of courtship found in Scripture, exceptions that occur all too often due to our fallen, sinful condition and culture. Can God’s ideal of courtship still work in my messed-up life and in our post-Christian culture?

Absolutely yes! Biblical courtship isn’t simply an option, it’s an obligation. As we explained in previous articles, dating is not a moral alternative for any Christian, no matter how corrupt his life or culture has become. God established the courtship approach to marriage as trans-cultural, and thus normative for all people in all cultures and in all times. So it is our duty as faithful Christians – faithful to God and to our families – to work through the enigmas and impediments that hinder us.

When we classify something as ideal, we tend to dismiss it as unachievable. But ever since Adam sinned, the ideal has been flawed. Yet God still wrote the Bible filled with principles that we are to return to time and again, whenever we fail, no matter how badly or how often. Be perfect as your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:48) and be holy in all your conduct (1 Pet. 1:15) constantly keep before us God’s ideal, God’s target toward which we are to aim in the strength of Christ.

So what are some of the obstacles that clutter our line-of-sight when we try to aim at the target of courtship? Let’s see if we can clear them away!

QUESTION #1 – Are these standards for courtship realistic? If we had used them for appraising our own relationship, we would have never married one another!

This is surely a common attitude. Frankly, my own courtship would never had withstood the scrutiny of such careful examination! I was far too immature in inward character, convictions, and direction to marry when I did. But what should be the standard for our children? Does God want us to use the lower benchmark of our own paltry experience as the model for our children, even if God has given us grace to live beyond it (cf. Rom. 6:1)? Don’t we want something much better for them? If you are living in a house needing constant repairs because it wasn’t well inspected before the purchase, don’t you want your children’s houses to be free from such headaches?

The foundation for a happy, successful marriage is to use biblical standards during courtship. In his first letter to the scattered believers of his day, Peter penned these words:

Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, You shall be holy, for I am holy. –(1 Pet. 1:13-16)

Peter doesn’t lower the standard but directs our hope to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him, explains the Apostle John, purifies himself just as Christ is pure (1 Jn. 3:3) How? The author of Hebrews answers, by striving against sin (12:4), combating sin as an enemy in your life rather than coddling sin as a guest.

So, evaluate a suitor by God’s standard: Is he striving to be like Jesus Christ? Though he will never reach perfection, is this his direction? Is he, by the grace of God, making real progress in the Christian life, sufficient to sustain a marriage relationship? And where he fails, is he truly repentant toward his sins, demonstrating his repentance by making efforts to change where he previously failed? As Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, Go and sin no more.

QUESTION #2 – Doesn’t biblical courtship take romance out of the relationship?

No, not at all. Actually, the biblical approach to relationships puts romance in its proper place, and its proper place is not during courtship. By romance, of course, we refer to the emotional and physical affection between a couple in love with each other. Emotional romance, God says, is to be reserved for the betrothal stage of a relationship after a binding commitment to marry has been made, preventing the broken-heart syndrome. This is why we urge that no romantic words, gifts, or private communication occur during courtship. Contrary to its historical corruption, courtship is not the stage for starry-eyed romance but the time for serious-minded investigation. Not until betrothal should a young man declare to his fiancée, I love you.

Similarly, physical romance is to be withheld until the wedding where the chaste couple experience their first embrace and kiss. This is why the traditional wedding ceremony includes, You may now kiss the bride – it hasn’t happened before, at least in the biblical order of things. The kiss was the symbol for sealing the new marriage covenant. Only by following the biblical pattern for relationships will romance be protected from the tarnish of impurity so that it remains beautiful rather than harmful to the new couple.

QUESTION #3 – Are there different roles in courtship for sons vs. daughters?

Christ states in Matthew 22:30 that sons marry but daughters are given in marriage. So the question arises, Do sons, then, act independently from their father while daughters submit to their father’s oversight? It is certainly true that sons do not require the same level of physical, emotional, or moral protection as daughters, since sons are relatively less vulnerable. Sons are also properly shown in Scripture as the initiator in relationships. However, Solomon is clear in Proverbs, that sons are morally threatened by loose women and, therefore, are in continuing need of a father’s counsel and oversight, especially while they are still young men, say, in their teens and twenties.

Numerous Scriptures convince us that a son is to work cooperatively under his father’s leadership in the courting of a spouse. We see, for example, how Abraham sought a bride for Isaac (Gen. 24:3) and how, in the absence of a father, Hagar took a wife for her son, Ishmael (Gen. 21:21). Judah likewise took a wife for Er, his firstborn son (Gen. 38:6). Even Samson, though his choice of a Philistine woman was wrong, still asked his father to get her for me. Ibzan, one of Israel’s judges, brought in thirty daughters for his thirty sons (Judg. 12:8-9). And Jehoash, king of Israel, sent to Amaziah, king of Judah, saying, Give your daughter to my son as a wife (2 Ki. 14:9). Jeremiah 29:6 states the biblical norm when God tells the Hebrew fathers to take wives for your sons. In fact, this is the same pattern followed by Christ Himself in his marriage to the church, His bride, which was given to Him by the Father: All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me… (Jn. 6:37).

Yet the son also plays a very active role as pursuer of his bride, just as Jesus did with His bride, the church: For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost (Lk. 19:10). Likewise, in the Old Testament examples we generally find this active, though cooperative, role exercised by the son in the pursuit of a bride. But when he is a young groom, he is always to be under the wise oversight of his father. Genesis 2:24 explains that for the cause of marriage, a man shall leave his father and mother. Normally, then, a son remains under the roof of his father until he leaves and cleaves to his wife. Yet even if he is not living at home, he remains under the counsel and oversight of his father for the purpose of marriage. When he rejects this oversight, the courtship often falls into impurity and the resultant marriage is almost always a disaster, as with the sons of God in Genesis 6, Esau in Genesis 26 and Shechem in Genesis 34.

QUESTION #4 – What is the role in courtship for church elders and other advisors and acquaintances?

In our last article we focused on the role of the father, the mother, and the son or daughter in gathering information about a potential spouse. But this may not always give the complete picture. It’s only human (sinful) nature to view ourselves in the best light, to overlook our own sins and to present ourselves most favorably. In fact, we’re taught from early on to put our best foot forward. So, to be thorough, we should note how business and government have learned to seek the truth about potential employees by asking questions of others who know them well. Likewise, we fathers should inquire about a prospect by questioning his relatives, friends, fellow believers, co-workers, neighbors, and – most importantly – his church elders. Because of their counseling role, elders are often in a position to know details about a person’s life far beyond what is publicly revealed. And though an elder must be careful to maintain confidences, he may be able to advise you either toward or away from a potential spouse for reasons that are beyond your ability to know.

QUESTION #5 – How important is it to examine the suitor’s family?

In our investigation of the character of a suitor, we ought likewise to evaluate the character of his family. Whatever questions you ask of the suitor, ask also of his parents regarding their spiritual maturity, personal convictions, and cooperative attitude. This is necessary for at least three reasons. First, a suitor’s relationship with his parents and siblings is largely what has made him who he is in character, beliefs, personality, outlook, habits, manners, and much more. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it, says Proverbs. If a child is trained up by godly parents, he will likely become godly; and if he is trained by mediocre or ungodly parents, he will likely become spiritually mediocre or ungodly. Yes, there are exceptions both ways. But they are still exceptions; the rule is, whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap, meaning: like father, like son; and like mother, like daughter.

A second reason for investigating the suitor’s family is because of the life-long influence they will have on the newlyweds and on the children produced by that union. Year after year the in-laws, aunts, and uncles will be giving the new family suggestions, recommendations, and advice. Will it concur or conflict with your own counsel? If their worldview, beliefs, and lifestyle are considerably different than your own, then their influence may take the form of bias, distortion, and indoctrination! Your children and grandchildren may be caught in a philosophical tug-of-war.

Thirdly, you must investigate the suitor’s family because you will be related to this family as long as you and they live. This can be either a wonderfully blissful relationship or a terribly baneful one, depending upon their spiritual maturity, personal convictions, and cooperative attitude. Clearly, then, it is absolutely crucial to investigate the suitor’s family – his parents as well as his siblings.

QUESTION #6 – What if the parents are unsaved, uncooperative, or unavailable to oversee courtship?

This is a particularly troubling question for those of us who revere God’s design for the family and who respect the patriarchal role of the father. But it must be addressed because we live in a fallen world. The betrothal approach to marriage is part of God’s creation model for all mankind, not just for believers. So even unsaved fathers should be involved in protecting and providing spouses for their children. Yet, since courtship is now so foreign to our culture, a Christian young person will sometimes need to introduce his parents to this topic in a careful and methodical way – one step at a time so they don’t feel overwhelmed.

But what if a father is still unsympathetic or uncooperative after serious and sensitive efforts have been made to inform and encourage him? Can his children still proceed in courtship without a father to protect, oversee, and counsel them? In the Scriptures, when a father was physically absent from the family through death, desertion, or divorce, the mother assumed his role of initiating and overseeing the courtship/betrothal process, just as Hagar got a bride for Ishmael (Gen. 21:21). By analogy, if the father is spiritually absent from the family, the mother may assume his courtship duties if he does not disallow it (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5; 1 Cor. 7:14). If both father and mother were unavailable (or unwilling) to serve in this capacity, the Scriptures reveal that an older relative or spiritual leader became the surrogate parent for this critical task. For Ruth, it was performed by her mother-in-law, Naomi (Ruth 3-4); for Joash, it was accomplished by Jehoiada, the priest (2 Chron. 24:1-3); for Esther, it was fulfilled by Mordecai, her older cousin (Esth. 2:7,11). Today, this is one of the most frequent stumbling blocks for courtship. So spiritually minded family members and church leaders may be called upon to help these orphaned young people by becoming surrogate parents for courtship.

QUESTION #7 – What if a father is opposed to his son or daughter marrying another Christian – or getting married at all?

Sometimes an unsaved father may actually be opposed to his son or daughter marrying another Christian, or ever getting married at all because of his own deep selfishness in keeping them at home. Are these adult Christian children doomed to a life of singleness and servitude in their father’s house?

The beginning point in such a situation is for the young person (together with the mother, if she is willing) to make a godly appeal to the recalcitrant father, affirming their love and appreciation for him. In most cases, such a father is acting in either ignorance or fear toward this new and uncertain responsibility. He has never seen or heard of courtship being practiced today, and he may need both instruction and encouragement to overcome his obstacles. But if he is stubborn and unyielding, is there no avenue of appeal to a higher authority?

It is my understanding of Scripture that all delegated authority – whether in civil government, in the church, or in the home – has God-ordained limits. When a government clearly and grossly exceeds its biblical purpose or jurisdiction, it loses its God-given authority to govern and may be superseded by another authority. This is precisely what happened in the righteous overthrow of British rule in the independence of our own country, and there is a large stream of biblical reasoning to support such thinking (cf. A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, by Junius Brutus, and Lex Rex, by Samuel Rutherford). The same principle can apply in a home that is ruled by a tyrant who has clearly and grossly exceeded his rightful rule. This is very sensitive territory and requires the wisdom of a multitude of counselors. But after all possible remedies have been attempted, including humble and lengthy appeals to the rebellious father, it may be proper – based on Matthew 10:16-23 and 1 Kings 17:1-4 – for an adult son or daughter to flee unjust persecution by a tyrannical father and to marry under the approval of a substitute authority. This, however, would be a rare and isolated event.

QUESTION #8 – What if a son or daughter has already left home, perhaps off to college or a job?

Once again, we are dealing with a very flawed, imperfect situation, but one which is exceedingly common in our anti-family, individualistic culture. Even the church encourages young people to leave home at age 18 to pursue college or a job (see my article College at Home for the Glory of God at http://www.patriarch.com). But under such historically unprecedented circumstances, how can a father fulfill his biblical obligation to provide a spouse and oversee courtship? The only honest answer is, he can’t very well and probably won’t!

Clearly, if a son or daughter is living outside the household, the principles of scriptural romance will be much more difficult to implement. The best scenario would be for the children to come back home, if they are willing. But once their appetite for the world is whetted, the scriptural approach under Dad’s authority and roof takes more maturity than most young people can muster. The biblical principle to apply in such a case is, in love, to yield all your personal rights and preferences but, in holiness, to yield none of God’s principles of piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness, and patience. In other words, be compassionate but don’t compromise. Love your children more than you love yourself, but not more than you love God.

There may be some creative ways to help your children preserve at least some of God’s plan for their lives, such as by having them see a suitor only when they come home during weekends or holidays, or by seeking the help of a trusted friend, relative, or pastor near where your children live. But these options are very prone to moral failure or compromise. How much better to restore your children to the protection and oversight of a caring father.

QUESTION #9 – Can a courtship be successful if the families live far away from each other?

The biblical norm and ideal, it seems, is to chose a spouse from nearby so that you can investigate and know them well. This also provides for the family on both sides to have opportunity for godly influence on the new couple and their children. But our transient culture today may correspond better to Abraham’s situation who, in obedience to God, left his people in Ur of the Chaldees to settle in Canaan among pagan foreigners. There are several problems that must be surmounted if courting families live far away.

The first challenge of distance is that of becoming aware of who might be available for courtship. But let’s assume that you meet a distant, like-minded family at a national conference of some sort or through a mutual acquaintance (or even through the ChristianCourtship.com web site). Now, you begin corresponding with that family.

The second problem, of course, will be getting to know them well, which can be elusive and expensive through phone calls and traveling (though email can help some). It becomes much easier to put on a good face for a week at a distance than it does for six months when they live in the same town. So you must be very thorough to investigate by means of others who have known that family for many years.

A third difficulty with distance is discipleship. If a young man has great potential but needs some discipleship by the girl’s father, this becomes very clumsy at a distance. Some dads have had the young man move nearer for this very purpose, sometimes even living, say, in a small trailer on the family property. But this can bring its own set of problems if he is living too close.

The fourth problem with distance is that, when a marriage does occur, one set of in-laws may be left remote from the new family. But if Isaac and Rebekah could handle these problems, maybe we can too. Abraham knew that a good match could not be sacrificed for the sake of proximity, even though proximity is a valid concern.

QUESTION #10 – Do older singles need to court, and if so, how do they go about it?

There are several scriptural principles and examples that guide our answer to this question. First is the principle of headship. Older singles who are the heads of their own households may court, betroth, and marry under their own authority as long as they follow the scriptural principles. According to Numbers 30, this includes most widows and divorcees unless it is a woman who has chosen to return to her father’s home. In that case, she is once again under the jurisdiction of her father.

However, God’s principles for biblical romance are not age-limited. Though younger adults may have a greater need for wisdom and oversight, we all still have a sin nature, hormones, and emotions. Even in our enlightened culture, older single women remain vulnerable and deserving of the male protection over relationships that God intended through a father or surrogate parent.

When relatively mature adults enter courtship, they often think they are above temptation and don’t need oversight in this matter. Yet even spiritual Ruth was under her mother-in-law, Naomi. In fact, moral disaster occurred with many older singles who courted in Bible times. King David (the purest man), Samson (the strongest man), and Solomon (the wisest man) all fell into sin through unsupervised courtships. Who today is purer, stronger, and wiser than these men? Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12). All people, regardless of age, are in need of godly oversight in their relationship with the opposite sex. Immorality is not the exclusive domain of the young. Where parents have died, godly relatives or church elders can possibly fulfill this role.

QUESTION #11 – Can I still court after I have been tarnished through dating?

First, know this: We have been saved by a God of all grace. Though dating is a subtle error of desire-driven humanism and invariably results in sin (see Chapter 2), God is both forgiving and restoring toward those who are humbly repentant. No matter how devastating the consequences – and they surely are that – God will bring hope and help to those who renew their minds and ways through His principles of courtship and betrothal.

Second, if you are presently in a dating relationship, have both your parents as well as your significant other study these articles on God’s Design for Scriptural Romance and discuss God’s revealed will for your relationship. If he/she is unconvinced or unwilling to follow God’s principles, then this is certainly not God’s spouse for you, at least not at this time. To continue in such a relationship after you know the truth of God’s Word would clearly be sin: Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin (Jam. 4:17).

Third, if you or your suitor have baggage from prior relationships (or a current relationship), the path to purity begins with both parties understanding how damaging and selfish immorality is. Any physical expression of love outside of God’s boundaries is self-centered and self-deceiving. Desiring to please Christ more than we please others or self is the only cure and control for personal passions. Of course, it is God’s design in the first place that you not be alone together where boundaries can be crossed. If you are serious about not sinning, then you must remove what encourages sin and replace it with what discourages sin.

QUESTION #12 – How long should a biblical courtship last?

Courtship is a matter of investigation, not time. And many factors will determine the length of that investigation. So the courtship should last as long as it takes to methodically, thoroughly, and diligently evaluate a potential spouse.

Never should you feel rushed. This will happen only if you allow emotions to clutter the task – either the parents’ emotions or the young couple’s emotions. Remember, contrary to what you have learned through romance novels or Hollywood movies, courtship (at least the biblical variety) is not the time for wooing the heart. Through thought control (Phil. 4:8) and the avoidance of romantic words, acts, and gifts, you must keep emotions out of the picture until you are absolutely sure that all issues of inward character, conviction, and life purpose have been settled.

On the other hand, a courtship investigation should not be drawn out longer than necessary (my own experience suggests about 2-4 months, depending on how well the families knew each other beforehand and how distant they live from each other). Otherwise, the couple will be tempted to develop emotional bonds before there has been a binding commitment to marry, called betrothal. Once both parties have come to the place where all their questions about character, convictions, and life purpose have been adequately answered, it is time for the young woman’s father to ask, Young man, what are your intentions for my daughter?

 

QUESTIONS DURING COURTSHIP

PHASE ONE: THE INQUIRY
In addition to the questions above about courtship, there is a second category of questions to be asked during courtship (or, more specifically, during Phase One: The Inquiry, described in Chapter 7). These questions should be addressed to a potential spouse as well as to his/her character references (parents, church elders, relatives, long-time friends, etc.). They deal with issues of character, conviction, and significant preferences which would likely trouble a marriage. Some of them, of course, can be answered only by the candidate himself; but for completeness I am including them all in a single list. Lesser matters of preference (which would not trouble a marriage) would be reviewed during the betrothal period.

Your Relationship

1. In what capacity or relationship have you known him? His family?
2. How long have you known him?
3. Would you say you know him well enough to share some observations about his character, personality, strengths and weaknesses?

Spiritual Life

4. Would you describe what you know about his salvation and walk with God?

a. Evidence of salvation. (What makes you believe he is born again?)
b. Theological beliefs. (Does he have any unusual or unorthodox beliefs?)
c. Personal character. (Where is he in character development?)
d. Lifestyle practices. (What do you see in his life that may be inconsistent with Scripture?)
e. Faithfulness in church attendance/participation. (How regular is he?)
f. Prayer and Bible study. (What have you observed in these areas?)
g. Personal witnessing. (Does he share the Gospel faithfully?)
h. Spiritual ministries. (How does he exercise his spiritual gifts?)
i. Spiritual strengths. (What are his one or two areas of greatest strength?)
j. Spiritual weaknesses. (What are his one or two areas of greatest weakness?)

5. Would you describe what you know about his father’s salvation and walk with God? (Use the same questions as in Question 4, but now in reference to the father.)

6. Would you describe for me what you know about his mother’s salvation and walk with God? (Use the same questions as in Question 4, but now in reference to the mother.)

His Relationships

7. Can you describe his relationship with his father? Is it honoring? Is it obedient?
8. Can you describe his relationship with his mother? Is it honoring? Is it obedient?
9. Can you describe his relationship with his siblings? Is it harmonious?
10. Can you describe his relationship with his grandparents? Is it caring?
11. Can you describe his relationship with his friends? Doe he tend to be peer influenced?
12. Is he consistently faithful in fulfilling his commitments? Explain.
13. Has he shown a regular willingness to serve others? In what ways?
14. In what ways is self-centeredness expressed in his life?
15. How does he relate to authority in his life?
16. In what ways is he ever controlling or manipulative of others?
17. Have you ever seen or heard of him being unkind to others?
18. What kinds of situations cause him frustration? How does he respond?
19. What circumstances might make him impatient or angry? How does he handle them?
20. As far as you know, has he ever been violent (or even yelling)?
21. How does he deal with a broken relationship? Does he have any now that you know of?

Personal Habits Affecting Marriage

22. What is his practice regarding eating/food? Is his eating disciplined in choosing what to eat and how much? Do you know of any food oddities?
23. What is his practice regarding money? What are his habits regarding spending and giving? Do you think he would be controlling with money?
24. What is his discipline toward possessions? Is he very orderly? Does he ever seem materialistic?
25. What are his habits regarding work? Does he have a high standard of excellence? Does he ever tend to be slothful or a workaholic?
26. What is his discipline in studying? Does he read regularly, and if so, what?
27. What are his habits regarding sleeping? Is he lethargic? Are his sleep habits irregular?
28. What is his discipline with time? Does he follow a regular schedule? Is he productive?
29. What is his practice regarding personal devotions?
30. What is his level of personal cleanliness and hygiene?
31. Does he have any personal habits that might annoy others?

Marital Roles

32. What do you know of his beliefs about courtship and betrothal?
33. Does he tend to be more of a leader or follower in life?
34. As far as you can tell, how does he go about making major decisions?
35. In making decisions, what role does God’s Word play? Is he selfless in decision making?
36. What is his attitude toward women? Is it respectful? Does he see them as possessions?
37. What is his view on the proper role of a wife? Is she to be his partner/companion or his slave? Is she to work outside the home?
38. What do you know of his views on divorce and remarriage?
37. What do you think he is looking for most in a wife?
39. How well do you think he would provide for a wife and family?
40. How well do you think he would protect his wife and family?
41. How do you think he will relate to his parents (and in-laws) after he is married? Do you see any potential for either rejection or dependency (apron strings)?
42. What has been his prior experience with dating and romance?
43. How does he relate to children? Is he affectionate toward them? Does he become irritated with them or ignore them?
44. What do you know of his views on child training, including corporal punishment?
45. Are you aware of his views on home schooling?
46. When he fails, does he accept personal responsibility, repent, ask forgiveness, and change?
47. Does he ever slant the truth for his own benefit?
48. In what ways do you think he may need to grow before marriage?

Moral Standards

49. What are his standards of propriety in dress? How does he dress?
50. Have you ever heard or known of any offensive language from him?
51. What are his standards regarding TV, movies, literature, music?
52. Do you think he would ever watch an R-rated movie? PG-rated?
53. Are you aware of any pornography in his past?
54. Are you aware of any alcohol, drugs or tobacco use in his past?
55. Do you know of any financial debts he has?
56. As far as you know, has he ever been in trouble with the law?

Miscellaneous

57. What is his attitude toward pets? Love ’em, leave ’em, sleep with ’em?
58. What are his political leanings?
59. What is his general attitude toward civil government?
60. From your observations, what are his interests, hobbies, talents?
61. What do you think he most highly values in life? What next?
62. Have you ever seen or heard of him spending money foolishly?
63. What two or three things does he tend to do in his spare time?
64. As far as you know, does he have any physical or mental disabilities or diseases? Any allergies? Prior or current health problems?
65. When growing up, what temptations or weaknesses did he exhibit?
66. What tendencies does he have toward intolerance, prejudice or racism?
67. What is his involvement in sports? Does he participate, attend games, watch it on TV? To what extent?
68. Recognizing we are all imperfect, in what one or two areas do you think God wants him to improve most?
69. From your experience, does he have a teachable spirit?
70. If your daughter/son were marrying this person, what cautions would you have?

Additional Questions for the Potential Spouse (added to those above):

71. What do you understand to be the Gospel? Please tell me about your salvation and walk with God.
72. What do you understand to be the role of baptism? Lord’s Supper?
73. What do you understand to be God’s purposes/priorities for the church?
74. What is your view of the Sabbath and the proper use of that day?
75. What is the present day application of the Mosaic Law?
76. What do you see as the man’s role in the local church? Your own role?
77. What do you see as your wife’s role in local church ministry?
78. How do you view age-segregation in the church (youth groups, Sunday school)?
79. What is your view on the celebration of Sacred Days (Christmas, Easter)?
80. What is your view of house churches?
81. Can you describe your life purpose, i.e., how you intend to use your interests, experiences, skills, and talents to serve and glorify God?
82. What role would your wife and children play in your life purpose?
83. What role would your job/career play in your life purpose?
84. What are your income producing (vocational) skills?
85. What is your attitude toward family (home) business?
86. What are your views on birth control and abortion?
87. What is your attitude toward adopting children?
88. What are your thoughts on alternative medicine? Vegetarianism?
89. What is the role of psychology in the life of a Christian?
90. Do you prefer to live in the city, suburbs, town, country, farm, seaside, mountains, desert?
91. Describe a typical week day in your life from start to finish.
92. Describe a typical Saturday in your life from start to finish.

 

Chapter 9 

 

How to Marry: The Betrothal Stage 

 

 

 

 

Imagine that your family has spent years working together and saving diligently to buy a dream house that would perfectly meet the needs and goals of your unique lifestyle. You have carefully explored the homes on the market and found one that was built to the exacting standards of bygone days. In a word, it has character. A sales agreement has been signed, a deposit given and you are ready to move in. Or are you? Yes, the house is sound and sturdy – it could withstand gale winds. But inside it is cold and barren, not very inviting. Doesn’t it need some warmth and decoration to make it more hospitable for your beloved family? This same question may likewise be applied to our preparation for marriage. Let me explain.

Throughout our study of God’s Design for Scriptural Romance, we have drawn an analogy between the construction of a house and the building of a relationship for marriage. We find ourselves now at the betrothal stage of relationship building: friendship, courtship, betrothal, and wedding. The friendship stage was the period for developing single-heartedness toward God, preparation (spiritual and vocational) toward self, and general observation toward others through whole family gatherings. This period of time corresponded to the building, or construction, of our dream mansion. The courtship stage was that occasion for investigating the qualifications of a suitor to be an acceptable spouse, because we want our children’s marriages to be free from the need of constant repairs. This paralleled the inspecting of our dream house before we commit to buying it.

If the friendship stage can be summarized by the word preparation, and the courtship stage by the term investigation, then the betrothal stage might best be distinguished by the word ornamentation – the finishing touches that must be added prior to the wedding. To put it another way, if the friendship stage parallels the building of your dream house, and the courtship stage corresponds to the inspecting of your new dwelling, then the betrothal stage is the time for furnishing your mansion with carpet and couches and a warm fireplace. A concrete foundation and sturdy walls may give security, but how long would you want to live in a barren home with no furniture and no rugs, not to mention no heat? Just as a home needs warmth, so a marriage relationship needs warmth, tenderness and devotion. This is one of the primary purposes of the betrothal stage of marriage preparation.

PURPOSES OF BETROTHAL
So, once you’ve found Mr. or Miss Right, what do you actually DO during the betrothal stage? Why even have a betrothal at all? Why not just conclude through the courtship investigation that a particular suitor is a godly match and then get married the next day? What is to be achieved during betrothal?

To answer that question, let’s again look at Christ’s model for us in His own betrothal to His bride, the church. You remember that during the friendship stage in Christ’s youth, He continued in subjection to [His parents]… and kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:51-52). In the courtship stage of Christ’s testing, He came to seek His bride (Luke 19:10), but only such as the Father had given Him (John 6:37). During this time our Lord was tested as to His godly character and shown to be without sin (Heb. 4:15). Having examined Him, I have found no guilt in this man (Luke 23:14). That exemplifies our purpose during courtship, to examine the potential spouse, particularly in regard to his or her character.

Now, during Christ’s betrothal stage with the church, which began at His crucifixion, Paul explains that …you were redeemed with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless (1 Pet. 1:19). For I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin (2 Cor. 11:2). Further, during betrothal we, the bride, are …to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:19). The Greek word here for know (ginosko) does not refer to having full knowledge but rather to progress in knowledge of Christ’s love, growing more and more in love with Him day by day. And finally, Christ declares: If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself (John 14:3). These four vital Scriptures illustrate the four key purposes of the betrothal stage, the four things that are to be achieved during betrothal. Here they are in summary form:

· To PROVIDE for one’s bride – redeemed with precious blood.
· To PROVE one’s faithfulness – present you as a pure virgin.
· To PROGRESS in one’s love – to know the love of Christ.
· To PLAN one’s future–I go and prepare a place for you.

We will discuss these four purposes in greater depth as we continue through this article, but it will be helpful first to give a formal definition:

Betrothal may be defined as a binding commitment to marry, sought by a young man, agreed to by a young woman, approved and supervised by the fathers of both, and attested by a bride price and by witnesses and/or a document.

Now, as we have already done with the friendship and courtship stages, let’s explore together how our five fundamental principles of scriptural romance – piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience – might be applied to the betrothal stage of marriage preparation.

APPLYING PIETY
Piety, as you will recall, speaks of our general godliness and righteousness in attitudes and conduct; and initially it impacts HOW a godly young couple enters into betrothal. To explain further, we’ll delineate each component of our definition. We said, first, that betrothal is…a binding commitment to marry.

The word betroth comes from the words be and troth meaning to be true, trustworthy, faithful, to this covenant to marry. The four different Hebrew and Greek words translated betrothal (or, in some modern translations, engagement) some fifteen times in Scripture, convey the concept of a mutual promise to marry. So, a godly young couple will enter betrothal as a morally irrevocable obligation to wed. Now I say irrevocable because it is a promise, a pledge, a covenant, a vow to God and an oath to man. And what does God say about our vows and oaths, but that we must keep them and not break them. The Scriptures declare very plainly that when a person makes an oath to man or a vow to God, he thereby binds himself to do what he has vowed. Numbers 30:2 warns, If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth (cf. also Deut. 23:21-23; Zech. 8:17; Mal. 3:5; Josh. 9:18-20; Gal. 3:15). The only exception, according to Numbers 30, is that the vow of a woman can be invalidated by her father (in the case of an unmarried daughter) or by her husband (in the case of a wife).

Dr. Renald Showers in his informative book, Lawfully Wedded, tells us that the covenants in Scripture between human beings usually involved three principal elements: (1) the terms to which the parties agreed, (2) a witnessed oath or pledge by each party to observe the terms, and (3) a ratification of the covenant by some solemn external act. A betrothal agreement contains each of these characteristic elements of a Scriptural covenant.

First, the terms of a betrothal covenant were at least two: (1) a commitment to marry in a reasonable span of time (Deut. 20:7 asks, What man is there who has betrothed a woman and not married her?) and (2) a commitment to be faithful during the betrothal period. That is why the Apostle Paul says, I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin, that is, as a bride who has remained morally faithful during the betrothal stage (2 Cor. 11:2). Likewise, Matthew tells us in 1:19-20 that Joseph her [betrothed] husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace [Mary], desired to put her away secretly [i.e., to quietly annul the betrothal due to breach of contract by Mary, or so he thought]. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. Only a breach of contract breaks the betrothal covenant, either by failure to marry or failure to be faithful by either party. Please notice that betrothal is such a strong commitment in Scripture that the couple is already referred to as husband and wife (as we read here about Joseph and Mary; also, Gen. 29:21; 2 Sam. 3:14), the parents are already called in-laws (Gen. 19:14; 1 Sam.18:21ff), and a woman whose suitor dies during the betrothal period is called a widow!

Dr. Showers goes on to explain that the second element of human covenants in Scripture is a witnessed oath or pledge by each party to observe the terms of the covenant. In Scripture God has not left us a sample betrothal agreement. Betrothal is simply stated as a fact without reference to the specific words, though we know from other Scriptural covenants that the words would have included the terms of the covenant and probably the means of ratification, which we’ll discuss momentarily. Ancient Near Eastern documents reveal that these betrothal covenants were attested by witnesses and often by a document. In the absence of human witnesses, God Himself was called as a witness, as when Laban said to Jacob: If you mistreat my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us, see, God is witness between you and me (Gen. 31:48ff).

The third element of Scriptural human covenants, says Dr. Showers, is a ratification of the covenant by some solemn external act. Look, for example, at Genesis 21: 27-31. In this covenant, the external act which ratified the covenant between Abraham and Abimilech was the gift of sheep and oxen. In 2 Samuel 3:14 we read of another external act which ratified David’s betrothal to Michal, the taking of one hundred Philistine scalps. However, the normal act which ratified a betrothal covenant was the payment of a bride price (discussed below).

So, how does a godly young couple enter into betrothal? They initiate a betrothal covenant through a binding commitment to marry. But according to our definition, there’s more.

It is a commitment that is sought by a young man. Are there different roles in courtship for sons versus daughters? Indeed there are! The son is shown in Scripture as the pursuer in the betrothal relationship, though under the counsel and guidance of his father. As we noted before, Christ, the groom, initiated the relationship with His bride, the church (Lk. 19:10). We love Him because He first loved us. This is replicated numerous times in the Old Testament examples. So today, after a young couple and their parents complete the courtship investigation on a positive note, then the young man should seek the counsel of his father and the approval of hers before he asks the young lady to enter into betrothal. Understanding love as a commitment rather than a feeling, he would at this time – and for the first time – say to her, I love you (meaning, I’m committing myself to you); will you marry me?

Now the young woman must agree to a betrothal commitment for it to be valid since betrothal is a mutual agreement – sought by a young man, agreed to by a young woman. It is an agreed marriage, not an arranged marriage. As we have observed before, in Genesis 24:58 Rebekah was asked, Will you go with this man? And she said, I will go. Again, in 1 Samuel 18:20 Michal, the daughter of Saul, was apparently given permission to be courted by David, after which, the text says, she loved David and was given permission by her father to marry him (contingent upon the bride price – v. 25). Clearly Michal had a choice in the matter. Further, Paul speaks of the father’s authority over his daughter in 1 Corinthians 7:36, let her marry (not make her marry). Finally, Christ, the groom, initiated the relationship with His bride, the church. But the bride has the freedom to choose yes or no, which, of course, she will say yes since her heart has been touched by His irresistible grace.

Our definition declares that a betrothal must be approved and supervised by the fathers of both. Why? Because the fathers are the accountable heads over the son and daughter. But I would add here that the supervision responsibility falls predominantly on the daughter’s father. Yes, the son’s father must continue to play an active role of counsel and guidance lest his son be taken advantage of as Jacob was by Laban who deceived him into marrying both Leah and Rachel in exchange for fourteen years labor as the bride price. But clearly the daughter is more vulnerable physically, emotionally and morally. So throughout both Scripture and history we see the bride’s home and family as the location where most betrothal activity takes place. Isn’t that likewise true in our betrothal to Christ? Doesn’t He visit us at our earthly home by His Spirit and His love letter, the Bible, to woo us with His great love until He comes for us in marriage?

Finally, a godly young couple seals and affirms their betrothal by means of a bride price, witnesses and possibly a document. We’ll speak later to the matter of the bride price. As to the witnesses and document, these seem to be an important way of restoring biblical weight to an event that has become a twentieth century anachronism. Without witnesses or a document, you have no proof that a covenant was made. The document, of course, should contain in writing the three components of a covenant mentioned above: (1) the terms to which the parties agree, (2) a witnessed oath or pledge by each party to observe the terms, and (3) the means of ratifying the covenant, normally a bride price or its equivalent. Of course, the witnesses should sign their names too.

Having entered into betrothal through piety, let’s move now to the second fundamental principle of scriptural romance, the principle of patriarchy.

 

APPLYING PATRIARCHY
Patriarchy refers to a father’s physical, moral and emotional oversight and protection of his family (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Deut. 22:21). Does a father have a continuing responsibility during betrothal, or is the new couple now to be released to their own supervision? Under the worldly model of relationships (i.e., dating), even in many Christian homes an engaged couple has incredible latitude, pretty much free rein during the engagement period, which regrettably results in much physical, moral and emotional harm. Yet 2 Corinthians 11:2 suggests a significant, ongoing obligation of a father to maintain physical, moral and emotional protection over his daughter until the very day of the wedding: For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

What is Paul saying here? He is declaring that he, the spiritual father of the bride (the church at Corinth) is jealous for them with a righteous jealousy like that of God Himself. Perhaps it strikes you as odd that the Holy Spirit would speak so positively here of jealousy, an attitude condemned in 1 Corinthians 3 and Galatians 5 as a work of the flesh. And it normally is! Ungodly jealousy is the improper desire to have what rightfully belongs to another. But godly jealousy is the proper desire to have what legitimately belongs to you. For example, numerous times in the Old Testament, God is said to be jealous over Israel, His wife, for her spiritual affections. Why is this proper? Because Israel belonged to Him as His wife by covenant (Ezek. 16:8ff).

In like manner, the Bible teaches that a husband ought to be jealous of his wife’s affections which are to be his alone. Of course, if there is no covenant, then there is no ownership and no biblical ground for jealousy. But Paul is saying here in 2 Corinthians 11:2 that there IS a covenant, the betrothal covenant, for which a father is to be jealous, not on behalf of himself, but on behalf of his daughter’s espoused husband. And this godly jealousy of the father must motivate him to give his daughter physical, moral and emotional oversight and protection so that she remains betrothed to one husband and will be presented to him at the wedding altar as a pure virgin. That is a godly father’s biblical responsibility, which is why, in Deuteronomy 22:21, an immoral daughter was to be stoned to death in the doorway of her father’s house. He has not protected his daughter’s morality; she must be punished, but he must share her shame since he failed to oversee her properly until the day of her wedding.

In applying this principle of patriarchy to betrothal, we have already begun touching upon the principle of purity.

APPLYING PURITY
Purity means no physical affection or romantic emotions prior to God’s approval in Scripture. Now, however, after an irrevocable betrothal covenant has been made, we find God’s approval in Scripture for allowing romantic emotions to begin (cf. Sol.1-3). Why? Because once a vow to marry has been made, there is little likelihood of emotional fraud occurring. Now is the time – the right and proper time – for the new couple to fulfill the betrothal purpose of progressing in one’s love through emotional bonding.

During the courtship stage, you remember, time and effort were spent in evaluating the inward character, convictions and life purpose of a potential spouse for the purpose of ensuring a godly match. This process brought about spiritual bonding. But now that such a match has been found and a betrothal promise has been given, the bonding enlarges to include emotional bonding.

HOW, though, does a betrothed couple bond emotionally? What endears them to one another? What creates warmth, tenderness and heartfelt devotion between a man and a woman who are pledged to marry? First, the couple should use this time of betrothal to discuss what we might call preference issues (in contrast to the conviction issues of the courtship stage) through which they learn to practice selfless devotion (agape love) toward one another and biblical problem solving. For example, they may discuss topics such as food preferences, recreational interests, clothing choices, house and furniture styles, and a host of other likes and dislikes.

What happens, though, when two godly Christians find that they differ on a preference issue? Since God doesn’t command one way or the other, it becomes an opportunity to practice selfless devotion, agape love toward the other person, giving in, giving up one’s own desires, considering the other as more important than oneself, and finding joy in the other person’s happiness – all of which create deeper and deeper emotional bonding. By the way, this sort of yielding brings about warmth and devotion in ALL human relationships: between parents and children, between brothers and sisters, between the couple and the in-laws, and between fellow saints in the local church. Here is God’s answer to the coldness that often ruins our relationships with others. We simply need to learn to yield our preferences. When we do, emotional bonding will occur.

Preference differences also create a chance to practice biblical problem solving, taking out the Bible together to see whether one way or another might be the wiser course to choose, for Christ’s sake. Instead of just investigating godly character as they did during courtship, now the betrothed couple is actually practicing godly character as they begin to develop Christ-like ways of treating one another that will become their lifetime habits in marriage. In summary, they are progressing in love (emotional bonding) through selfless devotion and biblical problem solving as they yield to one another in matters of preference.

A second way for a betrothed couple to bond emotionally and progress in their love is through thoughtful gifts. Such gifts should not be given or accepted before the betrothal covenant has been made since gifts carry great emotional power. But now is the proper time since throughout Scripture gifts are a biblical expression of love by both God and man. Indeed, gifts were normally given by the suitor to his espoused (and also to her family) at the time of the betrothal (cf. Gen. 24:53).

There is in Scripture a third and final way for a betrothed couple to bond emotionally. And that is through romantic language. According to my synonym dictionary, the word romantic means to be caring, devoted, fond, or tender toward another person. And as long as the tender words do not tempt the couple toward physical affection, then they are a proper way to progress in their love for one another. For example, we read in several passages of Song of Solomon that any anticipation of marital affections must remain private and undiscussed (1:2; 2:6; 3:1). But what sort of romantic language would be proper? Solomon reveals that expressions of fondness must be modest and absolutely pure (1:10; 1:15; 1:16). This is the sort of romantic language that God says creates warmth and devotion toward one another – yet without wrongly stimulating temptation. Where are such intimate words shared? Clearly it should not be in absolute privacy, since that would make a provision for the flesh and lead one into temptation (Rom. 13:14; Matt. 6:13). Even in Song of Solomon we see the presence of the daughters of Jerusalem (whoever they were) nearby as Solomon and his betrothed are speaking romantically. Though emotional bonding in betrothal is sometimes a private matter, it is never so private that a parent shouldn’t be in the adjoining room.

The physical fence of God’s protection (mentioned in our last article) must still be maintained and with even greater commitment (cf. Sol. 2:7,15; 3:5). Herein we find the betrothal purpose of proving one’s moral faithfulness so that you may be presented as a pure virgin on your wedding day, just as we read in 2 Corinthians 11:2. This involves both purity outside the betrothal relationship and purity within the betrothal relationship. We can readily understand how immorality outside the betrothal relationship is unfaithful. But how is immorality within the betrothal relationship likewise unfaithful? It is because ALL impurity is selfish, not loving. ALL immorality is greedy, cheap and uncaring. So just as the church is called unto spiritual purity during our betrothal to Jesus Christ, so likewise the betrothed couple is called unto moral purity of the highest caliber.

Let’s move now to our fourth principle of scriptural romance.

APPLYING PREPAREDNESS
Preparedness includes spiritual, educational and financial readiness for marriage. For the betrothal stage, it relates most specifically to the bride price. What is this unusual practice called the bride price or dowry? Are these one and the same thing, or are they entirely different? And once properly defined, are we to understand the bride price as purely cultural or is it normative for all time?

The terms bride price (or bridal payment) and dowry are used just four times in Scripture and with some confusion. But like many other terms in Scripture, we must look outside the Bible to learn what the terms meant to the readers when God, through the biblical authors, wrote them. As Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham explains, a knowledge of the marriage [practices] is often presupposed by the writers and they are therefore left unexplained to the reader.

In addition to Scripture itself, numerous scholarly articles, encyclopedias and textbooks were consulted, both Christian and secular, in order to accurately understand the purpose and practice of the bride price. Some of my most helpful resources included Tools of Dominion by Dr. Gary North; Her Hand in Marriage by Douglas Wilson; Sketches of Jewish Social Life by Alfred Edersheim; Ancient Israel: Social Institutions by Roland de Vaux; The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible; The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible; Britannica Encyclopedia; and articles by Drs. Lambert Dolphin, Gordon Wenham and Edwin Yamauchi.

In Scripture the bride price is always signified by the Hebrew word mohar which is mistranslated dowry in many Bible versions. In Genesis 34:11-12 Shechem said to [Dinah’s] father and to her brothers, ‘If I find favor in your sight, then I will give whatever you say to me. Ask me ever so much bridal payment (mohar), and I will give according as you say to me; but give me the girl in marriage.’ Later, in Exodus 22:16-17, the Law of Moses required that a man who seduced an unbetrothed virgin had to pay a mohar (mistranslated ‘dowry’) for her to be his wife. Even if her father refused to give her to him in marriage, the man still had to pay as a penalty for the theft of virginity money equal to the mohar for virgins. What was the bride price for virgins? Deuteronomy 22:28-29 tells us that amount was fifty shekels, with a shekel being about one month’s wage for a laborer. In 1 Samuel 18:25 Saul demands from David one hundred scalps of the Philistines as the mohar for his daughter Michal (cf. 2 Sam. 3:14). So instead of silver or goods, an act of valor or service was at times performed as the bride price. The reference in 1 Kings 9:16 to a dowry is NOT the Hebrew word mohar but rather shilluchim, literally a parting gift from the bride’s father rather than a bride price from the groom. It is the same term used in Micah 1:14 where the Pharaoh presented the city of Gezer to Solomon as his daughter’s parting gift.

In addition to the above three uses of the Hebrew word mohar, there are several other apparent biblical references to the bride price. For example, Jacob gave Laban fourteen years labor for his marriages to Leah and Rachel (Gen. 29:15-30). Othniel captured the city of Kiriath-sephar in order to gain Caleb’s daughter, Aschsah, for his wife (Josh. 15:16; Jud. 1:12). David’s slaying of Goliath was thought by the men of Israel to be sufficient to gain the king’s daughter (1 Sam. 17:25). And in the spiritual analogies, God’s gifts to His bride, Israel (Ezek. 16:8-14), might likewise be considered a mohar since she was an orphan with no father to receive the bride price. And Christ’s payment of His blood for His bride, the Church (1 Pet. 1:19), seems to be a clear spiritual equivalent to the mohar.

Now, understanding these Scriptures in light of their historical settings (described in extra-biblical literature), here is what we learn about the bride price:

(1) The mohar for virgins (Exod. 22:17) was a sum of money equal to several years’ wages. Scholars say its amount varied from as much as seven years’ wages in Abraham’s day to as little as one year’s wages in New Testament times.

(2) The mohar was given by the groom to the father of the bride as the act which ratified the betrothal covenant (2 Sam. 3:14). This was called a bride price.

(3) Now the father could either keep the bride price himself (due to need or greed), in which case he retained responsibility for his daughter’s welfare if her husband died, divorced or deserted her. Or the father could give the bride price to his daughter (at the wedding or sometime later) as a dowry on which she would then depend if her husband died, divorced or deserted her. Whereas the bride price was mandatory (though negotiable), the dowry was optional.

(4) A bride who received a bride price passed on as a dowry (in full or in part) was considered a fully protected wife; a bride who did NOT receive a dowry was considered a concubine, a slave wife with fewer privileges, one being a non-binding betrothal (Lev. 19:20).

(5) The purposes of the mohar, then, were three:

· to ensure the groom’s seriousness (sincerity) of intentions. As one scholar comments, What husband would endow a wife with such wealth if he intended to divorce her?

· to demonstrate the groom’s self-discipline, self-sacrifice, future-orientation and financial ability to support his wife and future children.

· to secure the bride’s future economic protection.

Presumably, a man who could slay a giant, kill a hundred Philistines or capture a city adequately demonstrated his seriousness, self-sacrifice and ability to secure his bride’s economic future.

It appears to this writer that the purposes of the bride price – sincerity, self-discipline and security – are not merely a matter of cultural tradition but rather an issue of biblical ethics. So whatever modern practices replace the mohar must still meet these three goals of ascertaining the groom’s sincerity, demonstrating his ability to provide and securing the wife’s economic future. A pre-paid life insurance and disability policy would ensure economic protection in case of death or disability, but not in case of divorce or desertion. Better (or in addition) would be an irrevocable living trust (the bride being the beneficiary and her parents the trustees) with a contractual obligation for the groom to put, say, ten percent of his earnings into the trust each year in addition to whatever lump sum he can provide at the time of betrothal. Because every situation is unique, the trust should be specific for each couple and have the guidance of a competent estate attorney.

Some might question, Is the bride price (or its equivalent) still important today? In the United States, one year after a divorce, the ex-wife’s standard of living has fallen more than seventy percent, while her former husband’s has risen by over forty percent! Yes, the bride price is still just as important for economically vulnerable wives as it was in the Old Testament. So when the father of a young woman examines (and requires) the financial stability of the suitor, he is not being unreasonable, materialistic or untrusting – he is simply doing his patriarchal duty toward his daughter.

To better understand it, let’s compare the bride price to the earnest money (deposit) given to secure the purchase of a home. As you are growing up, you admire the quality homes that you see (Friendship). Then, when you are in the market for a home, you investigate a particular home which looks promising at first glance, but you want to be sure it’s well made behind the pretty paper and paint which will eventually fade (Courtship). Once you are sure this house is the one for you, you sign a sales agreement to buy it at some near point in the future and put down a deposit to show your seriousness (Betrothal with a bride price). Finally, after the necessary planning for the closing and proof that the title is free and clear, you take full ownership of the home by having the deed signed over to you by the former owner (Wedding).

A second application of the principle of preparedness during the betrothal period is that of planning the couple’s wedding and future life together. This vital subject we’ll discuss at length in our next article about the wedding itself. But planning it is one of the four key purposes for which the betrothal period exists. So adequate time must be allowed for wedding preparations to be made and for guests to arrange their schedules to attend. This, of course, calls for an attitude of patience, trusting our sovereign God to accomplish His perfect plan in His perfect time.

APPLYING PATIENCE
We have said before that patience is an attitude of walking by faith, not by sight, trusting in our sovereign God to accomplish His perfect plan. How long should the betrothal stage last? Just as with the courtship period, the issue is not really one of time but of purposes. So the betrothal stage may conclude in a wedding whenever the four purposes are accomplished. After the young man has demonstrated his ability to provide for his bride (through the bride price), after the couple has proven their moral faithfulness, after the couple has progressed in emotional love, and after adequate attention has been given to plan the wedding and their new life together, then… they may marry. In the ancient Near Eastern culture, a betrothal may have lasted a year or more. But Scripture makes it more an issue of purposes rather than a set length of time.

Yes, a couple can move into their new dream house with just sleeping bags and camping gear. With no beautiful wallpaper, warm fireplace or comfortable furniture, the barren house will still be sound and sturdy, even if a bit foreboding. But how much more inviting and hospitable when time is taken to add the decoration, warmth and furnishings that turn a house into a home. So, likewise, is God’s design for marriage as a biblical betrothal develops tenderness and devotion between a young man and his beloved.

  

Chapter 10 

 

How to Marry: The Wedding Stage

 

 

 

 

Parenting is an accountable task which every father and mother must approach with unequaled seriousness. Why? “For whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, warned Jesus, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea (Matt. 18:6). What are some ways that we parents cause our young people to stumble, that is, to fall into sin? When we surrender them to ungodly schools, we cause them to stumble. When we pollute them with carnal television, movies, and literature, we cause them to stumble. When we infect them with unholy music, we cause them to stumble. When we corrupt them with unrighteous peers, we cause them to stumble.

But there are few temptations more likely to “stumble” our young people into sin than worldly romance which violates the fundamental biblical principles of piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness, and patience. And when that happens, we parents stand under the very judgment of God for permitting it, and sometimes even promoting it. That is why we have labored with great detail in these past eight articles to understand HOW biblically to bring our sons and daughters into a holy marriage.

In this final installment we conclude our study of God’s Design for Scriptural Romance by exploring the Wedding stage of marriage preparation: Friendship, Courtship, Betrothal and now…the Wedding. You will recall that throughout this series we have drawn an analogy between the building of a relationship for marriage and the construction of a house. It is time to take the final step. After building a dream house through friendship, inspecting our new dwelling through courtship, and furnishing our mansion with the commitment of betrothal, we are now ready to inhabit (or occupy) our blessed home by means of the wedding. Contrary to our culture’s increasing endorsement of a couple “living together” before marriage, the Bible teaches that a man and woman may not lawfully inhabit their dream house until after the wedding occurs. Otherwise, they are illegitimate squatters with no moral right to take up residence since ownership (of the relationship) has not yet been conveyed to them by means of the wedding covenant (cf. 1 Cor. 7:4).

To better understand the purpose of the wedding in a couple’s journey toward marriage, let’s again look at the example of Christ’s own marriage to His bride, the church (see chart below). You remember that Christ’s youth paralleled the Friendship (preparation) stage of marriage, Christ’s testing was analogous to the Courtship (investigation) stage of marriage, Christ’s crucifixion was equivalent to the Betrothal (commitment) stage of marriage, and now the Wedding (covenant) stage corresponds to Christ’s future reign with His bride which He promised in John 14:3, If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. This promise is fulfilled in Rev. 19:7 which declares, Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.

When your own wedding has arrived — or the wedding of a son or daughter — how will YOU “make yourself ready”? Having successfully navigated by God’s Word through Friendship, Courtship and Betrothal, how should we make the final transition to marriage via the Wedding? Is God pleased that we merely pick and choose, cafeteria style, from all the nice weddings we have attended over the years? Or, as with the first three stages of marriage preparation, should we be guided by divine principles carefully gleaned from His Word? The Bible does not claim to give medical principles for brain surgery, but it does claim to give moral principles for our sanctification (2 Pet. 1:3-4). And there is little that affects our sanctification more than a biblically constructed marriage.

Many questions arise about a wedding that ought to be investigated from Scripture: What does the wedding accomplish? What are the biblical elements to be included in a wedding? Who plans the wedding, pays for the wedding, officiates at the wedding? What is the role of the church and the state? And what about a marriage license? We’ll address these questions and more in this final article. But to do so rightly, let’s look first at some of the scriptural data. What examples do we have of biblical weddings that reveal God’s principles for a Christ-honoring ceremony? I find nearly a dozen biblical wedding examples that are highly instructive. Let me quote selectively from several of them (and then list the others) as a trustworthy basis for answering our questions above.

BIBLICAL WEDDING EXAMPLES
Genesis 2:22-25 – The Wedding of Adam & Eve:

“…and [God] brought her to the man. And the man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.’ For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Genesis 24:64-67 – The Wedding of Isaac & Rebekah:

“And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel…. Then she took her veil and covered herself. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her….”

Ezekiel 16:8-14 – The Wedding of God & Israel:

“‘I spread my skirt over you…I entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,’ declares the Lord God…. ‘Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey, and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty….’”

Matthew 22:2-14 – The Wedding of the King’s Son & His Bride:

“‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son…. But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes…. And he was speechless.’”

Revelation 19:7-9 – The Wedding of Christ & His Church:

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”

Other significant biblical weddings include those of Jacob and Leah (Gen. 29:21-30), Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:10-13), the Royal Wedding (Ps. 45:8-15), Solomon and the Shullamite woman (Song of Sol. 3:6-11), the Bridegroom’s Procession (Matt. 25:1-10), and the Wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11). Still further data about weddings can be found elsewhere in Scripture and will be referenced as we address our questions.

Now, as we have done in each instance before with the Friendship, Courtship and Betrothal stages, let’s explore together how our five fundamental principles of scriptural romance — piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience — might apply to the Wedding stage of marriage preparation.

APPLYING PIETY
You will recall that piety refers to our general godliness and righteousness in attitudes and conduct. But HOW, specifically, are we to “be godly” in the attitudes and conduct of a wedding? We can do this only if we first define biblically what a wedding is.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words explains that the word “wedding” or “marriage,” as it is used in Scripture, refers to “the ceremony and its proceedings, including the wedding feast or banquet” (i.e., the reception). Malachi 2:14 clearly affirms that the central component of this ceremony is the covenant, “your wife by covenant.” A covenant is a legally binding agreement. And “to marry” in Hebrew literally means “to covenant.” With this information we can now biblically define a wedding as “the ceremony and celebration joining one man and one woman in marriage by covenant.”
The concept of “covenanting” is rarely discussed or understood today, even among Christians. Most of our churches are not self-consciously “covenanting” churches, though they should be since God Himself is a covenant-making God and we are to be His covenant-keeping people. We are to keep covenant with God Himself according to the New Covenant He has established with us. And we are to keep covenant with fellow believers according to God’s terms for our “social covenants” as set forth in Holy Scripture. Marriage is one of the social covenants we are permitted to make and then obliged to keep.

As you will recall from our last article, Dr. Renald Showers in his enlightening book, Lawfully Wedded, tells us that the covenants in Scripture between human beings usually involved three principal elements: (1) the terms to which the parties agreed, (2) a witnessed vow or pledge by each party to observe the terms, and (3) a ratification of the covenant by some solemn external act. Just like the betrothal covenant, the marriage covenant includes each of these characteristic elements.

First, the terms of a marriage covenant to which the parties agree should encompass the biblical purposes of marriage as set forth by the Creator of that blessed institution. What might these purposes be? According to Scripture, God intends marriage to be (1) a partnership for dominion (Gen. 1:28; 2:18), (2) a propagation of godly children (Gen. 1:28; Mal. 2:15), and (3) a portrait of the relationship between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:21-33).

What a contrast we find between God’s three purposes for marriage and the anti-Christian goals of our culture that shape most modern marriages, even within the church! While Scripture declares that a wife should co-labor with her husband in accomplishing his dominion goal for the family, feminism encourages a wife to pursue selfish and separate ambitions that will ultimately destroy a marriage. And though God made it a creation ordinance to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” never rescinding that foundational command, materialism has encouraged childless and valueless marriages that are meaningless and unfulfilling. Of course, the notion that a marriage should portray Christ and His church finds no support whatever among the egalitarian humanists of today who detest and decry the innate differences that God created between man and woman. Thus, how vital it is for Bible-believing Christians to set forth in the wedding covenant God’s three glorious purposes for marriage.

Second, in addition to setting forth the terms to which the parties agree, a biblical covenant includes a witnessed vow or pledge by each party to observe those terms. God has not given us the exact or entire wording for wedding vows. In the wedding of Adam and Eve, Adam uses the ancient expression for kinship — “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” — to say, in essence, “I, Adam, take you, Eve, to be my wedded wife” (cf. Jud. 9:1-2). But in the other weddings of the Bible, we find more general statements like “[Isaac] took Rebekah, and she became his wife” (Gen. 24:67; cf. Ruth 4:13), “I spread my skirt over you” (an act which symbolized marriage —Ezek.16:8) or “your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14). The Bible writers do not record all the details of each event, only those details that pertain to their purpose for writing. But we can rightly infer from the various other covenants in Scripture that a wedding included spoken vows and normally a written covenant called a “ketubah.” In addition to God Himself being present (Matt. 19:6), friends and relatives witnessed the vows and the signing of the ketubah: “And all the people who were in the court, and the elders, said ‘We are witnesses…’” (Ruth 4:11; cf. Ps. 45:9; Sol. 3:11; Matt. 22:3ff; John 2:2ff).

The third element of a scriptural human covenant is the ratification of the covenant by some solemn external act. A covenant (of whatever sort) may have been ratified by a gift of sheep and oxen (Gen. 21:27-31), by the sharing of a feast (Gen. 26:28-30), by a stone or pillar of stones (Josh. 24:25-27; Gen. 31:48-53) or by some other outward deed. The external act for ratifying the marriage covenant may have been the wedding banquet that followed (Matt. 22:2ff; Rev. 19:9, etc.). Or there may have been a ratification act in addition to the feast. At least since Roman times and perhaps going back as far as Egypt, this has been the mutual exchanging of wedding rings, usually in the context of exchanging the wedding vows. In Scripture, the signet ring was a sign of authority and identification when it was used with wax to seal an important document (cf. Esther 8:2). So the exchange of wedding rings serves well to symbolize the husband accepting authority for his new wife and the wife accepting identity with her new husband as “his helpmeet” — Gen. 2:18; cf. 1 Cor. 11:8-9 (it is also signified by her taking his last name).

APPLYING PREPAREDNESS
As we quoted above from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, a biblical wedding consists of “the ceremony and its proceedings, including the wedding feast or banquet.” Though the covenant is central, it is not the only element of a biblical wedding; and the numerous other components can take much preparation. Indeed, such preparation is one of the biblical purposes of the betrothal period prior to the wedding. Next to salvation, a man’s and a woman’s wedding is the most momentous event in their life. It will dramatically enrich their remaining days upon this earth and will, if God so blesses, produce a posterity of spiritual renown. So it is understandable that God would create the wedding to be full of both dignity and delight.

The examples in Scripture suggest that a biblical wedding consisted of three principal phases, each containing several elements. The phases may be called the procession, the ceremony, and the celebration. As mentioned before, the Bible writers do not record all the details of each event, but we can discern these three phases by looking at the wedding examples as a whole. Here is what we observe by dividing several weddings of Scripture into their three principal phases.

The Procession

“And the Lord God…brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:22).

“[Laban] took his daughter Leah and brought her to him” (Gen. 29:23).

“She will be led to the King in embroidered work; the virgins, her companions who follow her…” (Ps. 45:14).

“What is this coming up from the wilderness… behold, it is the traveling couch of Solomon… on the day of his wedding” (Sol. 3:6,7,11).

“But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him…’” (Matt. 25:6).

The purpose of the wedding procession involved far more than merely getting the bride and the groom together in one place for the wedding vows, though that was certainly the end result. But it was, first and foremost, a symbolic transfer of spiritual authority over the bride from the bride’s father to the new groom. This is the chief import of what it means for a father to “give” his daughter in marriage (cf. 1 Cor. 7:38). Indeed, spiritual headship or authority was one of the four key responsibilities that changed at the altar (the other three being material provision, physical and moral protection, and conjugal love).

How did this handing over of spiritual authority occur? On some occasions, the groom traveled to the bride’s family home where the transfer would occur as she would “come out to meet him” and proceed with him (and her attendants and his —Matt. 25:1; 9:15) to his father’s house for the wedding (Matt. 25:6; 1 Thess. 4:16f). In other instances, the bride’s father would “bring her to the man” (Gen. 2:22; 29:23; Ps. 45:14). In either case there was a transfer of authority from the father to the groom, whether at the beginning or at the end of the procession. It is this conveying of authority that is expressed in the words: “Who, therefore, gives this woman to be married to this man?”

But the wedding procession contains even more significance. It leads the bride and groom to the place where God Himself will create their marital union: “What therefore God hath joined together…” (Matt. 19:6). Thus, many couples today use a white aisle runner to signify that, as they approach the altar, they are walking on holy ground into the very presence of God. And during the procession itself a trumpet march is often used, foreshadowing the wedding of Christ and His church: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God…” (1 Thess. 4:16).

Certainly we cannot overlook the obvious adornment and special attire of the bride, groom, attendants and guests. “Can a virgin forget her ornaments or a bride her attire?” (Jer. 2:32). The bride’s white gown symbolizes the purity which she has preserved for her husband (Rev. 19:8), and her veil represents modesty (Gen. 24:65). Perfume is in the air (Sol. 3:6), and jewels beautify the bride (Is. 49:18; 61:10; Rev. 21:2). If God adorned His own bride Israel in this way, then we have a sure example to follow (Ezek. 16:11f). In both Scripture and history, finery in clothing and jewelry was worn to show respect to God and man (Gen. 41:14,42; Exod. 28:39f; 2 Sam.12:20; etc.). Thus, even the guests at a wedding are expected to dress in a manner that shows appropriate honor (“wedding clothes” — Matt. 22:11).

The Ceremony

“And the man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh…” (Gen. 2:23).

“[Isaac] took Rebekah, and she became his wife” (Gen. 24:67; cf. Ruth 4:13).

 

Just as the wedding procession included several elements, so also does the wedding ceremony. Of course, the covenant itself, discussed at length above, is the centerpiece of the ceremony. In cultures deeply rooted in the Scriptures, the meaning and terms of a biblical marriage covenant were well known by all. But in our postmodern times this is no longer the case. Thus, the covenant meaning and terms must be carefully articulated and expounded to the wedding couple and their witnesses. This may take place through a brief teaching about marriage followed by a “charge” to those gathered. We commonly hear of a judge giving a charge to a jury, meaning to impose a duty upon them. In a wedding this charge is given not only to the couple regarding the terms of their marriage covenant, but also to their family and friends to help the newlyweds keep their covenant. Acceptance of this charge may be acknowledged in various ways, even by the singing together of an appropriate hymn (cf. Col. 3:16; Ps. 78:63).

Once the biblical marriage covenant is sufficiently understood and it is assured that the couple is lawfully free to marry and indeed desires to enter this holy estate of their own consent, then the covenant is effected by an exchange of vows in light of the meaning and terms just explained. The couple may simply say, “I, (man), take you (woman), to be my wedded wife,” and vice versa (cf. Gen. 2:23; 24:67; Ruth 4:13). Or they may repeat to one another the specific terms of their covenant. Each vow is followed by a ratification of the covenant by some solemn external act, often the mutual exchange of wedding rings with words indicating their significance. And in an attitude of prayer which recognizes the witness of God (Matt. 19:6) in addition to the witness of man (Ruth 4:11), a written covenant (the “ketubah”) is signed by the couple before they are declared and presented as “husband and wife.”

It is significant to note that God Himself, not the church or the state, “hath joined them together” on the basis of their biblical covenant vows. It is not “by the authority vested in me by the State,” but rather “by the authority of the Word of God” that a marriage has any validity. Thus, those who are officiating are not creating the marriage but are merely recognizing and announcing the new union that God has formed.

The Celebration

“They will be led forth with gladness and rejoicing…” (Ps. 45:15).

“A king… gave a wedding feast for his son…” (Matt. 22:2).

“And those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast…” (Matt. 25:10).

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor…” (Lk. 14:8).

“Jesus was invited, and His disciples, to the wedding. And… the wine gave out” (John 2:2,3).

“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).

In addition to the procession and the ceremony, the third principle phase of a biblical wedding is the celebration. In Scripture it is variously called a “wedding feast” or a “marriage supper” since it is predominantly characterized by food and drink. Today we typically refer to it as a wedding reception. This is the event where our Lord Jesus Christ turned water into wine when “the wine gave out” (John 2:3).

It becomes most clear from these Bible passages that a wedding falls under the jurisdiction not of the church or of the state but of the family. And only those who are invited by the wedding families may come. This is why the attendees are called “guests” (Matt. 22:10f).

Since “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31), we would surely conclude that the wedding feast was a time of sharing praises to God, thanks to the guests, and tributes to the new couple. The change from “she” to “they” in Psalm 45:15 suggests that the “gladness and rejoicing” may be in the context of the wedding celebration. Perhaps this was also the forum for the “wedding songs” mentioned in Psalm 78:63. This is the phase where much delight is added to the dignity of the wedding procession and ceremony. And the delight often lasted for a full week (Gen. 29:27; Jud. 14:12,17)! Today it extends into the celebration time we call the honeymoon.

Now considering the numerous elements as they unfold during the three principal phases of the wedding, what needs to be done to prepare? Quite a lot if we are to maintain both the dignity and the delight that God intended. Of course, this brief article is not intended to be a “wedding handbook” to give all the details of your preparation, but it will help you to choose more biblically from the many wedding resources that could lead you into error.

APPLYING PATRIARCHY
In our increasingly feminized culture, a wedding has less and less to do with men, other than the bride’s father walking her down the aisle and the groom showing up to say, “I do.” Even the minister or civil official might be a woman! And when the question is asked, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” the modern passive father sheepishly looks at his egalitarian wife and they chime together, “We do.” This model is entirely foreign to Scripture.

From the biblical wedding examples what can we learn about the proper role of patriarchy (father leadership) in a wedding? According to Scripture, who is to be in charge and take initiative in the planning, the place, the payment and the performing of a wedding? Let’s mentally ask each of these questions as we read the following verses:

“Then Isaac brought [Rebekah] into his mother Sarah’s tent…” (Gen. 24:67).

“And Laban gathered all the men of the place, and made a feast” (Gen. 29:22).

“She will be led to the King… they will enter into the King’s palace” (Ps. 45:14f).

“A king… gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves… (Matt. 22:2ff).

“And those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast… (Matt. 25:10).

“…the headwaiter called the bridegroom, ‘You have kept the good wine until now’” (John 2:9ff).

“…the marriage supper of the Lamb (i.e., not the bride)” (Rev. 19:9).

In these wedding passages, whom do we find giving headship and direction for the wedding? Who is the responsible party with ultimate jurisdiction? The answer to these questions will clarify for us, at least in ideal circumstances, who is to give leadership in the planning, the place, the payment and the performing of a wedding.

In recent history the most prominent persons involved in planning a wedding have been the bride and her mother. And the payment for a wedding has fallen largely upon the bride’s father. Thus, the location of the wedding has generally been the bride’s home or church with the bride’s minister being the primary officiant.

But what is the testimony of Scripture in this matter? The ancient biblical pattern seems exactly opposite to the recent historical pattern. It was the groom and his father, not the bride and her mother, who were ultimately responsible for the wedding (though they would surely deal sensitively and delegate appropriately to the bride and her mother, as well as others). And they likewise covered the full expense of the wedding. It may even be inferred that the groom should purchase the bride’s gown just as Christ provides His bride, the church, with her fine linen, which is her righteous acts (Rev. 19:8; cf. Phil. 2:13). Thus, we see Isaac, the groom, bringing Rebekah to his parents’ home to marry her. So also, the bride of the Royal Wedding Psalm is brought to her groom’s home for the wedding, just as the church, the bride of Christ, is brought to the Heavenly Father’s home to marry His Son. Then, in every instance the hosts of the wedding feast are none other than the groom and his father.

We see in every case but one (where a “wedding hall” was used for the banquet — Matt. 22:10) that weddings took place in homes, particularly in the home of the groom. This demonstrates that, according to God’s ordering of things, weddings fall under the jurisdiction of the family, not under the authority of the church or the state. So who is to officiate at a biblical wedding? Clearly this is the duty of the heads of the families, notably the father of the groom and probably also the father of the bride.

In summary, we see in Scriptural weddings what we see in every other category of God-honoring family life, namely, leadership by fathers — patriarchy. Yes, it is to be gentle leadership, thoughtful leadership, selfless leadership, but it is surely to be decisive leadership that does not shirk its biblical duty.

What if we do not have the ideal circumstances? What if the groom’s father is unavailable or unwilling to carry out his biblical role of giving leadership in the planning, the place, the payment and the performing of a wedding? Then that responsibility could be carried out by a godly uncle, grandfather, or other “surrogate father,” as well as by the bride’s father.

Then what is the role of the church and the state in a wedding? And what is the purpose of a marriage license? As detailed below, both church and state have a responsibility to be witnesses (i.e., aware through documentation) as to who is married, but they do not have authority to define marriage apart from Scripture or to perform marriages, which is the jurisdiction of families.

Yet increasingly the church and the state have sought to encroach upon the family in the realm of weddings. This is the corrupting nature of unrestrained authority. One author notes that “it wasn’t until the 1500s that most people began bringing their vows to church, although they did not have to do so, and before 1753 there was no formal state involvement in marriages.”

The Roman Catholic church called marriage a sacrament and thereby brought it under greater control of the church prior to the Reformation. However, protestant churches also came to view the church as having ultimate jurisdiction over weddings, at least over Christian weddings. Biblically the church does have a legitimate role in witnessing weddings since it cannot exercise church discipline for offenses like adultery unless it knows who is married to whom. But witnessing vows and administering vows are two different things entirely.

Likewise, the state has intruded upon marriage under the guise that it has a legitimate interest in settling civil disputes that may involve divorce, property, inheritance, and custody of children. The state has further claimed a responsibility to prevent ungodly marriages, such as homosexual marriages or marriages between near relatives, like brother and sister. Yet witnessing a marriage and licensing a marriage are two different things entirely.

What is the purpose of a marriage license? According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a license gives “permission by competent authority to do an act which, without such permission, would be illegal.” So, says Black’s dictionary, a marriage license is “permission granted by public authority to persons who intend to intermarry.” Intermarry? Yes, surprisingly the marriage license originated to control marriage between persons of different races, which was otherwise illegal.

A marriage license, then, is the state’s granting permission for you to marry. And the authority to grant permission includes the authority to deny permission. Thus, the licensing of marriage gives the state authority to sanction what God may forbid (such as homosexual marriages) and authority to forbid what God may sanction (such as Christian marriages in an anti-Christian culture).

Yet Scripture gives authority over marriage to fathers, not to bureaucrats. And what does God say about asking the state’s permission for what He has already granted? Daniel’s righteous exercise of prayer without seeking permission in Daniel chapter six suggests that we should not seek the state’s permission for what God has already told us to do (cf. Dan. 6:10,13,22). Our Lord instructed us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). According to Scripture, does marriage belong to Caesar or to God?

Remember, too, that if the state authorizes your marriage, it likewise defines your marriage. How is a state marriage different from a Christian marriage? A state marriage, according to law, is a contract which legally establishes a fifty-fifty partnership that is governed by the state. It is a contract which can also be terminated (divorce) under whatever conditions the state decides. There is even debate as to who owns the “fruit” (read: children) of this mini-corporation of the state! But a Christian marriage is a covenant (not contract) which legally establishes not a fifty-fifty partnership but a “coverture”: two parties viewed as one flesh, with a head and a subordinate party under the head’s covering. If the term partnership is used, it must always be thought of as a senior partner with a junior partner in a single team.
Tom Eldredge, author of Safely Home, commented at the wedding of his daughter: “The concept of coverture has been lost, but it was once recognized in American law. Coverture is God’s design for marriage. God designed the man, and He made the woman from the man. In marriage He brings the woman back to the man, and they become one flesh — not a partnership, but one. Man’s laws [for marriage] do not define any headship or coverture. By marriage, Blackstone wrote, ‘the husband and the wife are one person in law. That is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during marriage.’ This is the very opposite of an equal partnership created by the state. Blackstone, describing the law of the land that existed before our present legal system was organized, also said: ‘The being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of her husband, under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.’ Its source is God’s design for marriage as defined in the Bible. And it was the law in America before state statutes created marriage partnerships.”

Leonard Zike, Th.D., in his book, Your “Christian” Marriage — and What the State Didn’t Tell You About It, explains the practical consequences of a state marriage by contract versus a Christian marriage of coverture: “When you go to the State and get the State’s permission to exist [in marriage], you are not the covering over your wife, the State is. [Coverture] is why a woman in times past could not be compelled to testify against her husband in a court of law, because she was under his covering. The two were one and she could not testify against herself, because to testify against him would be to testify against herself. That’s why a woman who has a State marriage license can be compelled to testify against her husband in a court of law. The two have not become one; they are legally still two…. And when a wife decides to divorce, if she has children she gets welfare, housing allowance, daycare allowance, education allowance and education allowance because her covering is still taking care of her. Her covering was never her husband to begin with. Her covering was the State” (pp. 11, 13).

Coverture is the nature of the marriage relationship as described in both Old and New Testaments. “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him’” (Gen. 2;18). Eve was to be a helper under Adam’s loving headship, not a fifty-fifty partner. Coverture is what Ruth was seeking in a marriage with Boaz when she entreated, “So spread your covering over your maid” (Ruth 3:9). Likewise, God was illustrating His coverture marriage to Israel when He declared, “So I spread My skirt over you… and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine” (Ezek. 16:8). Coverture is the doctrine of headship in the sphere of marriage as Paul explained, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3).

What’s more, a coverture marriage by covenant is a legally recognized marriage in most states under common law that can be recorded in the church records for legal purposes. Though I am not an attorney and cannot give legal advice, I believe this is the safest and most biblical approach to take.

APPLYING PURITY
The biblical principle of purity means no physical affection or romantic emotions prior to God’s approval in Scripture. After an irrevocable betrothal commitment was made, God not only permitted but purposed that romantic emotions develop in a holy anticipation of marriage (cf. Sol. 1-3). However, the physical fence of God’s protection was still to be maintained with great vigilance such that the groom and the bride would be presented as pure virgins on their wedding day, just as 2 Corinthians 11:2 declares, “that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.”

It is rare enough in our promiscuous culture to find even Christians who remain virgins until their wedding day. But to find those who have kept the highest standard of avoiding any romantic touching whatsoever is almost unheard of. So it cannot be repeated often enough that, contrary to the common but compromised practice of modern Christians, God never intended any level of “limited” romantic touching prior to marriage. That notion is morally base and blind. I won’t repeat what I have said before on this theme except to emphasize that the Scriptural support for absolute purity is vast and convincing to any who have both holiness of heart and discernment of mind.

On the day of the wedding, the physical fence of no holding hands, no hugging and no kissing is about to be lifted. “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Cor. 7:1) is about to be replaced by “Stop depriving one another” (1 Cor. 7:5). The full expression of biblical love will finally be complete, beginning in the Friendship stage with philia (brotherly kindness), progressing in the Courtship stage with storge (natural attraction), advancing in the Betrothal stage with agape (selfless devotion) and now concluding in the Wedding stage with eros (physical affection).

Walking demurely down the aisle, the bride in her white gown symbolizes the purity which she has preserved for her husband (Rev. 19:8). And complementing the white gown, her veil represents modesty and submissiveness (Gen. 24:65). Though history debates whether it was Ann of Brittany in 1499 or Queen Victoria in 1840 who popularized these symbols of chastity, they seem to have good basis in Scripture itself if, indeed, they represent the true condition of the bride wearing them.

Did you ever wonder why most weddings conclude with “You may now kiss the bride”? This final element of the ceremony — after the covenant vows have been spoken and signed and after the couple has been pronounced husband and wife — signifies that she has kept herself morally pure, having never been touched, hugged, or kissed by her beloved before marriage. May God give our present generation a holy conviction to restore that biblical standard to our children and our grandchildren!

APPLYING PATIENCE
Patience, that attitude of trusting in our sovereign God to accomplish His perfect plan, is a trait that will not only make for a smooth wedding but also make for a smooth marriage. Of course, if the marriage covenant is breakable, if we are committing only “till argument do us part,” then patience may not be that essential. So how long is the marriage covenant binding? What is the duration of our wedding vows?

Once again, Dr. Renald Showers’ informative book, Lawfully Wedded, helps us to understand the covenants in Scripture between human beings. Before addressing the duration of the marriage covenant, let’s understand first how this covenant binds its parties to one another. Malachi had this concept in mind when he referred to the wife as “your companion and your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14). The word translated “companion” literally means “one bound to another.”

Paul explained this fact in Romans 7:2-3, “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man.”

But HOW are a husband and wife bound to one another? It is by means of the one-flesh relationship which they enter through marriage. God used the dust of the earth to create the man’s body: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). But He used a portion of the man’s body to make the woman. The woman was literally part of the man, bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. Therefore, a single man and a single woman are two complementary parts of the same flesh existing separate from each other UNTIL they marry and become one flesh, one body. The man regains that part of his body that Adam lost when Eve was made, and he therefore is to regard and love his wife as he does his own body, “for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:28f). That is what it means to be “bound” together in marriage — a dualism has become an individualism, or as Jesus stated it, “the twain shall be one flesh.”

But for how long? What establishes the length of the marriage covenant? It is the terms of a covenant that specify its duration. We recognize this in everyday business transactions. For example, when a man goes to a car dealer to purchase a new automobile, both parties enter into a covenant called a sales agreement. The terms of this covenant obligate the dealer to provide a new automobile for the buyer and to honor the manufacturer’s guarantee on the car until the guarantee ends. The terms also obligate the buyer to pay the full sales price of the car by a predetermined date. Once both parties have fulfilled the terms, they are no longer obligated to each other, so the covenant ends.

In Genesis 29:26-30, Jacob and Laban entered into a covenant with each other. The terms of the covenant obligated Jacob to work for Laban seven years in exchange for which Laban was obligated to give his daughter Rachel to Jacob as a wife. When both men fulfilled the terms, their covenant ended.

Short-term covenants have terms that are completed rather quickly. Long-term covenants take more time to fulfill. Still other covenants have terms which cannot be fulfilled short of a lifetime. So such covenants can be called life-term covenants. In every instance, it is the terms that determine the kind of covenant and its duration. So, is marriage a short-term, long-term, or life-term covenant?

According to Scripture, the terms of the marriage covenant obligate the man and the woman to enter a one-flesh relationship for life. “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released…. A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:27, 39). The marital one-flesh relationship is a lifelong relationship for an obvious reason: How can a person ever purposely put away from himself part of his own body? And it is precisely because of this life-term covenant that Christ declared, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6). Consequently, our historic wedding vows contain the unforgettable phrase, “till death do us part.”

Are there any exceptions to the permanency of the marriage covenant? The Scriptures teach clearly that death terminates a marriage and frees the living party to remarry (Rom. 7:2f). But is there anything short of death that makes it biblically legitimate for a person to terminate one marriage and enter another? Serious students of the Bible disagree on this issue. But among those who believe that the Bible permits some exceptions, most are convinced that these exceptions are very few.

CONCLUSION
Over the course of these ten chapters, we have sought to understand and to apply from Scripture the trans-cultural principles for building a dream house through friendship, inspecting our new dwelling through courtship, furnishing our mansion with the commitment of betrothal and, finally, inhabiting (or occupying) our blessed home by means of the wedding.

It is not easy being a “peculiar people” even among those in the church. But if we are to establish a sustainable Christian posterity, then our children MUST marry faithful spouses. That is an indispensable link in the multigenerational chain. And it will never happen reliably through the emotion-driven dating culture. One generation must be the transitional generation. O God, give us Your enabling grace to be that people, for the glory of Your name and the good of Your saints, even unto the third and fourth generations.

As the father of three daughters, I have thus far had the blessed privilege of overseeing the wedding of my firstborn, Zoie, in her marriage to Jonathan. Please enjoy reviewing their wedding account as one possible application of the principles we have just articulated.

 

Chapter 11

The Marriage of Jonathan and Zoie: A marriage based on courtship 

 

I.  PRELUDE

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His loving kindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:4-5

A. Seating of Guests with Prelude Music

1. Liebestraum by Lizst — flute and piano
2. Traumerei by Schumann – piano
3. Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet by Tchaikovsky — flute and piano
4. Dedication by Schumann – piano
5. Polovetsian Dance by Borodin — flute and piano

The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. Psalm 6:6

B. Seating of the bride’s mother

For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother… Genesis 2:24

C. Entrance of ministers, fathers, groom and groomsmen

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord. Proverbs 18:22

D. Welcome Remarks (by John Thompson)

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the company of family and friends, to join together a man and a woman in the honorable estate of marriage, which was instituted by God in His Holy Word, the Bible, as a blessed union between one man and one woman for life. Therefore, let all who enter and rejoice with us this day know for certain that Jesus Christ is Lord of Heaven and Earth, and He alone is worthy of all the praise we bring today, “for by Him and for Him all things were created”—including the holy bond of marriage—and “in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17).

E. Significance of the Procession (by John Thompson)

…the place where thou standeth is holy ground. Acts 7:33

Let us, then, reverently call to mind how the Apostle Paul described marriage as a portrait of the true love, trust and commitment between Christ and His church. When we were distant from God, the Bible explains in Luke 19:10, the Lord Jesus Christ, a friend of sinners, came “to seek and to save those who were lost.” He literally courted His lost bride, the church, and then betrothed Himself to her through His sacrificial love, poured out on the Cross of Calvary. Now, the church eagerly awaits Christ coming again for His wedding to His bride, just as the prophetic book of Revelation declares:

“Let us rejoice and be glad…for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7-8).

The white wedding gown therefore symbolizes the moral purity which the bride has preserved for her husband. And the white aisle runner signifies that we are walking on holy ground, for the marriage covenant is made in the very presence of God, and He is the one who creates this union (Matt. 19:6, “What therefore God has joined together….”).

The Apostle Paul in the New Testament tells us that the wedding of Christ and His church will begin this way: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God…” (1 Thess.4:16). Let the wedding thus begin.

II. PROCESSION

A. Unrolling of the White Runner

B. Procession of the Bridesmaids with Air by Handel — flute and piano

And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet, and they will gather together His elect…
Matthew 24:31

C. Procession of the Bride

1. Sound the Trumpet by Purcell – vocal duet with piano

Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Revelation 19:7-8

2. The Prince of Denmark’s March by Clarke – procession of bride with trumpet and piano

D. Giving of the Bride

1. (Minister—Phil Lancaster) Behold, children are a gift from God…to be faithfully reared in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Who, therefore, gives this woman to be married to this man?

2. (Father of the bride) I do.

III. CEREMONY

A. Scripture Reading – Ephesians 5:22-33

B. Message to the Congregation on Eph. 5:25,33 (by Phil Lancaster)

Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church…and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband. Eph. 5:25,33

C. Charge to Congregation & Couple (by Phil Lancaster)

Family and friends, we are gathered here to joyfully celebrate this marriage between Charles Jonathan Henry Hoppe IV and Zoie Leah Thompson. But we are also called upon to support and sustain this new couple in faithfully carrying out God’s three purposes for their marriage: a PARTNERSHIP toward common goals, the PROPAGATION of godly children, and a PORTRAIT of the relationship between Christ and His church. So, first, congregation, we should encourage Jonathan and Zoie to find their common life purpose and to partner together in accomplishing it, not to pursue selfish or separate ambitions that would splinter their marriage. Second, we need to strengthen Jonathan and Zoie in rearing God-honoring children. Surely, we all benefit from one another’s counsel about our children so long as it is given in a spirit of kindness. Third, and finally, we ought to nurture Jonathan and Zoie in making their union a true picture of Christ and His church, where the husband’s love is never demanding and the wife’s submission is never fearful. This is the charge, then, not only to Jonathan and Zoie as terms of their marriage covenant, but to their family and friends to help them keep their covenant. If you accept this charge, then please acknowledge this by singing together, from the words in your program, our Congregational Hymn of Blessing, “O Perfect Love.”

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

D. Congregational Hymn of Blessing — O Perfect Love

E. Exchange of Covenant Vows ( by John Thompson)

And all the people who were in the court, and the elders, said ‘We are witnesses.’ Ruth 4:11

1. Explanation of Marriage as a Covenant

Jonathan and Zoie, marriage is a covenant before God. It is NOT a product of the State NOR is it a product of the Church, though both of these institutions have a legitimate interest in witnessing and recording it. Rather, marriage is the act of a Sovereign God when one man and one woman agree to become husband and wife by exchanging valid covenant vows. Malachi 2:14 declares, “she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” And what does God say about our vows and covenants, but that we must keep them and not break them. The Scriptures declare plainly and solemnly that when a person makes an oath to man or a vow to God, he thereby binds himself to do what he has vowed.

2. Declaration of Lawfulness and Consent (by couple)

Now, Jonathan and Zoie, having heard from the Word of God the teaching concerning marriage, do you affirm that you are lawfully free to marry and that you desire to enter this holy estate of your own consent? Please answer: “I do.”

She is your companion and your wife by covenant. Malachi 2:14

3. Exchange of Vows & Rings (the act of ratifying the covenant)
Would you now join hands and repeat after me:
Jonathan, as the covenant initiator and leader of the home, you will make your vows first—
I, Jonathan, take you, Zoie
to be my wedded wife,
to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better for worse,
for richer for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death do us part.
(RING)
With this ring I pledge,
my constant and abiding devotion.

Zoie— I, Zoie, take you, Jonathan
to be my wedded husband,
to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better for worse,
for richer for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death do us part.
(RING)
With this ring I pledge,
my constant and abiding devotion.

Jonathan and Zoie, these vows which you have just pledged will require a full measure of the grace of God to observe. So you must keep His name hallowed in your home, His kingdom central to your goals, and His will foundational for your life, so that you look to Him alone as the Supplier of your daily needs. In spite of your best efforts, there will be times when you fail one another, requiring forbearance and forgiveness. Temptations toward selfishness will abound as they do in every marriage, but through prayer God can deliver you from this as you put His kingdom, His power and His glory first in your new life together. Now, as we witness your signatures to the covenant you have just made, Cara would like to sing to you the prayer that will give your marriage its greatest strength.

IV. Signing of the Covenant — The Lord’s Prayer vocal solo with piano

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

Family and friends, once again we would ask you to bind your hearts with Jonathan and Zoie by singing together from the words in your program our Congregational Hymn of Dedication, “A Christian Home.”

5. Congregational Hymn of Dedication–A Christian Home (Finlandia)

6. Closing Prayer (by Phil Lancaster)

7. Declaration of Marriage (by John Thompson)

Jonathan and Zoie, by the authority of the Word of God and with the blessing of your friends and loved ones here today, I now pronounce you husband and wife. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Jonathan, Zoie has preserved herself entirely for her husband; you may now kiss your bride.

8. Exchange of Affection (Kiss)

“So then, they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. Matthew 19:6

F. Presentation of the Couple (by John Thompson)

Congregation, may I present to you Mr. & Mrs. Charles Jonathan Henry Hoppe IV.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence blameless and with great joy, to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, dominion and authority… Jude 24-25

G. Recessional: Trumpet Tune by Clarke — trumpet and piano

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. 1 Corinthians 2:9

H. Postlude (same as prelude music) / Receiving Line

V. CELEBRATION (Reception)—Praises to God, thanks to the guests, and special tributes to the new couple.

 

“…the covenant of her God” (Prov. 2:17).
“I spread my skirt over you… and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine” (Ezek. 16:8).

“…your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14).

 

 [END OF PART 2]

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