One topic that has caused countless debates at slumber parties, fellowships, and other gatherings is finding the most correct path to marriage according to the Bible. Almost always, these juicy discussions leave us with many interesting anecdotes and personal testimonials, but few insights into what the Bible actually says on the matter. Since this subject concerns all of us, let's try to find out what the scriptures teach.
The stories of Isaac and Jacob in the Book of Genesis are often used to illustrate the two main paths to marriage, with Isaac representing matchmaking and Jacob representing dating. To some people, Isaac is the epitome of a godly son who showed his perfect faith by submitting to God and allowing his marriage to be arranged, while Jacob is the fleshly one who chased love solely out of his own desires. Conversely, others view Jacob as the father of dating, whose wonderful example encourages us to fall in love with someone we have freely chosen. In this view, Isaac is backward and unromantic.
Putting God in the Equation
Contrary to what many people think, the Bible actually does not favor either matchmaking or dating as the only path to marriage. It does not judge either Isaac or Jacob as "better"; instead, it records that both men have a tremendous amount of obedience and faith.
Although Jacob's way is often regarded as being driven by personal preferences alone, in fact Jacob chose his mate according to his parents' specific instructions and God's commandment to marry among His chosen people. When he was living in the land of the Canaanites, Jacob kept himself separate from them. Unlike his brother Esau, who freely chose his wife from among the Gentiles, Jacob refrained from courting any Canaanite woman. He did not begin to look for a wife until his parents instructed him to choose one from among their own people.
Jacob could wait when he needed to and act when instructed to because he was submissive to God's teachings and had unwavering faith in divine providence. Although he ultimately chose someone on his own, he did so in accordance with God's timing and commandments.
Likewise, Isaac's actions reflected his unquestioning faith, humility, and obedience to God. Without ever having seen Rebecca, Isaac joyfully took her as his wife. He humbly believed that divine providence would be more perfect than his own actions, and so with obedience and faith he accepted the girl brought to him by his servant. And considering the fact that his mother had just passed away, Isaac's act of faith is even more remarkable. In his sadness and loneliness, Isaac did not seek a mate for his own comfort. Instead, the Bible records that he "went out to meditate in the field" (Gen 24:63). Most likely, Isaac meditated often on the Word of God, prayed in his solitude, and quietly waited for God's guidance.
Both Isaac and Jacob put their faith in God's teachings ahead of their own wishes and of external influences. The same principle applies to our own path to marriage today. Although the ways chosen by Isaac and Jacob share certain qualities, they also have different challenges. Whether we find someone on our own and get to know that person through dating, or we begin a relationship through matchmaking, the most important thing is that we follow the examples of both Isaac and Jacob by acting with humility, faith, and obedience to God. Then, like Isaac and Jacob, we too will be rewarded with love, beauty, and perfect companionship in our future marriages.
Challenge of Matchmaking
For those who choose to follow the path of matchmaking, the initial waiting period can be a trying one. As time passes, it is easy for even the most faithful to get discouraged. What should they do then? The scriptures encourage us:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)
Prayers and prayerful meditations helped to quiet Isaac's bereaved heart and enabled him to entrust his cares unto the Lord. In turn, God provided him with Rebecca, whom he loved and found comfort in after his mother's death (Gen 24:67).
Challenges of Dating
Dating also has its challenges. One of the biggest issues concerns holiness. When we date someone who makes our heart flutter, we would naturally wish to get physically close with that personâ€”hold hands, kiss, embrace intimately, caress, and, at the extreme, to have sex. But are these activities permissible? The Bible leaves no room for argument regarding premarital sex. However, it does not directly identify the other acts as sins. In a world that condones sex in any context and at any age, many Christians are confused about whether these activities are innocent expressions of love or just lustful behaviors. It is important to look at what the Bible says about these issues.
From antiquity, God has called his people to be holy (Lev 11:44) and to exercise self-control over lustful desires:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God... For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. (1 Thess 4:3-5, 7)
God requires his believers to behave with complete holiness. Even a slightly lustful act that may be viewed as "romantic" by secular trends goes against God's commandments. Sure, we could provide countless reasons why any of these "romantic gestures" may be acceptable to God. Perhaps we could boast of ironclad self-control or unshakable faith. But let us keep in mind that we are accountable to God, not to other people. Social norms and rationalizations cannot alter God's standards.
We need to be completely honest with ourselves and ask whether or not we could kiss, hold hands, and "make out" with someone and then stand before God with a clear conscience. For most of us, once we open ourselves to even small physical gestures of affection, we will begin to think about, desire, and/or engage in more intense, prolonged, and frequent physical acts.
Think about what it would be like to drive a car at eighty miles per hour and then suddenly shift the gear into reverse. It would be just as absurd to think that we could stop our sexual desires after we've built them up over time. Moreover, if we were to become physically intimate with someone we're dating but eventually break up with, in the future could we stand before our spouse without guilt or shame? If we do not consider these questions when we date, our actions may feed on fleshly desires.
The Bible warns against acting without godly forethought:
Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, / And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; / Walk in the ways of your heart, / And in the sight of your eyes; / But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment. (Eccl 11:9)
Therefore, if we choose to date, we need to be completely honest with ourselves and decide ahead of time how we can stay holy. We may find that the only safe solution is not to engage in even the slightest physical gestures of affection.
Another big challenge in dating is timing. Jacob began to date only after he had reached a marriageable age and had received clear instructions from his parents. This is in agreement with God's teachings. In contrast, most of us begin to date as soon as we feel a special chemistry with someone. Driven by our raging hormones, we often do not consider the two key elements in choosing a mate: our readiness and God's will.
If we are still too young or financially dependent on our parents, marriage is a distant reality. Should we then spend these years battling either heartbreak or the temptation to get physical? Would this not be a waste of our youth, when we could apply ourselves to more worthy endeavors and nourish our emotional wellspring for the one whom we will later marry?
If we think we're ready to begin a relationship, we should seek God's will. When we rely solely on our own preferences, we may not be able to see that the person we've chosen is not suitable for us. Months or years of courtship may end in heartache, because the relationship began against God's will.
Instead of relying on our own desires and wishes, we should first seek God's timing and guidance. It may mean being patient and waiting for God to inspire us about the rightness or appropriate timing of a relationship through prayer or the scriptures. It may mean having the humility to listen to what God tells us through a family member, a pastor, or a friend. It may also mean cultivating our spirituality to a higher level so that we can easily sense God's instructions. If we have the faith to seek God's will before we begin a relationship, He will surely instruct and abide with us at the right time.
A Successful Marriage: from First to Last
A successful marriage is one of God's great blessings. Naturally, we all want to know which path--matchmaking or dating--leads to a better marriage. The Apostle Paul said that salvation is completed only when we maintain our faith "from first to last" (Rom 1:17, NIV). This same persistence applies to marriage. It is important to approach marriage with faith and God's guidance. It is even more important to continue one's marriage in faith and with divine abidance. Without God, it would be difficult to sustain love, for the Bible clearly tells us that love is more than a feeling. Feelings ebb and flow, but scripture-defined love is constant and absolute:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Cor 13:4-8)
Therefore, what contributes most to a loving and lasting relationship is what we continue to do after the marriage ceremony. We should not be concerned only with which path we take to get to the altar, for whether we choose Isaac's path of an arranged marriage or Jacob's path of courtship, our primary focus should be to place God's will and teachings above our own, to seek His guidance, and to act by faith and with obedience. A blessed marriage is completed by divine abidance and a lifelong commitment to love our spouse in the way that God defines perfect love, through every season of life.
â€œLove & Marriage?seeks to address and provide biblical advice on the wide range of questions and issues related to dating, singlehood, and marriage. If you have any comments or suggestions for this column, please write to email@example.com.