Part of the problem modern Christians have is that we have abandoned the mission of the family and so the instructions often don’t make sense. But if the mission is to be fruitful, multiply, and take dominion of the world in obedience to Jesus, and if sexual intimacy, marriage, and children are more like a nuclear reactor, then the stakes are wonderfully high.
“The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?…” (Mt. 19:3-9).
THE NECESSITY OF WISDOM
We’ve been saying for the last few weeks that boys and girls are different. This is probably a hate crime in some places, and we don’t care. But this means that you really must begin getting ready for courtship and marriage as soon as children arrive. Wisdom doesn’t magically arrive in a package from Canon Press when your son/daughter turns 18. As Pastor Wilson has said over the years, when it comes to dating, you often have two idiots involved, but when it comes to courtship, you may have up to 6. This means there really is no paint-by-numbers kit, and just because you read a book doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing. So you really do want to begin asking for wisdom as soon as you know you’re pregnant, and as soon as you know whether you’re having a son or a daughter. Remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7), and this means seeking counsel and instruction from God and wise men (Prov. 11:14, Js. 1:5). Get counsel, ask for wisdom, follow the examples of others you respect.
WHAT DO WE CALL THIS?
Part of wisdom is not overemphasizing methods or quarrelling over words. I prefer to call this “courtship” instead of dating because we should generally distinguish what we are doing from the pagan culture around us. But courting usually consists of some dating, so don’t get wound tight. The central principles are to honor God, honor your parents, honor the marriage bed, and honor your brothers and sisters in all purity (Eph. 6:1-4, Heb. 13:4, 1 Tim. 5:1-2). The whole thing is a serious business, but it should be a serious joy. We should not take ourselves or our methods too seriously (avoiding dowdy crankiness), and it should be kind of fun.
A MAN SHALL LEAVE
The basic shape of all of this is that a man leaves and a woman is given (Mt. 19:5, Gen. 2:22-24). There is an asymmetry to the pursuit of marriage because men and women are different and were created differently. The woman is a fruitful garden that an honorable man is seeking permission to enter and cultivate (Song 4:12-16, 5:1). But the first action in preparation for marriage is for a man to leave his father and mother. This usually takes place physically, but it must certainly take place emotionally, intellectually, financially, and spiritually. A man must make his own way in the world. A man who cannot govern himself well should not be trusted with another human being (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:5). This doesn’t mean that a man must own his own business, house, car, and a burgeoning 401K. The principle is that there must be some track record of faithfulness and diligence, e.g. paying bills, good grades, good references from employers, spiritual maturity, etc. But a woman ought to see her mission as encompassed in the broadest categories of motherhood: cultivating life, hospitality, and beauty with all wisdom (Prov. 31). This high calling should be matched by pursuing appropriate education, training, work, life-experience, and service. Just as there is a difference between a boy and man, there is a difference between a girl and woman, and while the timing varies somewhat from culture to culture, we should not ignore wisdom, while generally pursuing marriage early in life.
The Bible is very clear that believers must only marry other believers (Dt. 7:3, 1 Cor. 7:39). Righteousness doesn’t have fellowship with unrighteousness; light has no communion with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14-18). This is why one of the slanders against the early church was that they practiced incest, since they only married “brothers/sisters” in the Lord. But better that slander than the compromise and heartache that follows marrying an unbeliever. This means that non-Christians are not an option for close friends/courtship. And part of this means remembering that it really is not possible for a man and a woman to be “just friends.” Either it will slide into sexual/emotional sin or else it won’t, which is just as bad. Of course you should have groups of friends, but remember that gravity exists and when the same three girls hang out with the same three guys a lot, things will happen. Wisdom knows that and takes precautions. Related to equal yokes, in addition to commitment to Christ and His Word, education, family background, career interests, cultural expectations, and personalities should be taken into account.
CONCLUSIONS: SEXUAL SIN, FORGIVENES, & WISDOM
It’s a rare kid who grows up in our sexual cesspool of a world who manages to come to marriageable age without any sexual sin, and sometimes there are really severe sins and consequences (sexual dysfunction, disease, divorce, child support, etc.). But where sin abounds, grace abounds more: “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind… shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Forgiveness sets the bone, but forgiveness doesn’t guarantee wisdom/trust or absolve from all consequences. Love sincerely desires to treat others lawfully from the heart, which sometimes includes accountability, restitution, time for healing, and consequences. But forgiveness means that God’s blessing is on whatever comes next. In the law, Moses allowed divorce for fornication, which can refer to sexual sin prior to marriage or certain forms of sexual immorality within marriage (Mt. 19:8-9, Dt. 24:1). This means that a wise father should know the general backstory before allowing a young man to court his daughter and at some point before engagement, any sexual past needs to be disclosed by both parties.
While wisdom must be our guide, and marriage is an office with higher standards than mere Christian fellowship (and therefore an honorable man or woman may walk away from a courtship for any reason), it should also be remembered that the gospel is the story of a faithful Husband seeking an unfaithful bride and washing her completely clean (Hos. 3:1, Eph. 5:25-27).