How wonderful it is when a young couple who have committed their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord experience His guidance in bringing them together into a relationship that has marriage in mind.
Although very much in love, and that is as it should be, they realize that being in love is not enough to prepare them for marriage. They still need the Lord’s help at this very important stage of their lives.
Sadly, it seems, that sometimes a great deal of preparation, attention to detail, time and expense is committed to the actual wedding day without too much thought being given to the marriage itself. It is possible that Christian parents can be guilty of concentrating on the wrong things when their sons or daughters are getting married. Let us be mindful of the principle of stewardship. It is often the case that simple, straightforward weddings are by far the happiest occasions. It is people, not material things, that make for happy times.
So, whilst making preparations for the wedding day, the couple will also realize that preparing for marriage is the truly important thing. Once again, help is needed and help is available, firstly, in the word of God, and secondly, amongst His people.
God requires that His people maintain sexual purity. Sexual intercourse is to be enjoyed exclusively within the marriage relationship and any sexual activity outside of marriage is described either as ‘fornication’ amongst single people, or ‘adultery’ if engaged in by married people.
It is one thing for a single Christian to maintain sexual purity but it is just as important for a couple in a relationship contemplating marriage to continue to maintain that purity. It is very tempting for a couple to decide that there is no harm in anticipating the forthcoming marriage by engaging in sexual activity prior to the wedding day. This temptation becomes even stronger when the couple announce their engagement. The couple need to be aware of this increasing temptation and take steps to avoid it in every way possible.
It may not be easy, but it is essential that the engaged couple should be able to talk to each other freely and without embarrassment about these intimate matters. After all, each is seeking out of love for the other to behave in a way that will enhance their unique relationship. Each has a desire to give themselves to the other as an expression of their deep love and life-long commitment. And this is when the intensity of moral pressures increases!
With this in mind, it is essential that ground rules are agreed so that as the relationship continues to develop and, at times when emotions are running high, sexual desires are controlled. These ground rules should cover such subjects as to how far physical contact with each other should go without causing temptation to sin; whether or not they should spend time alone in a home situation; or go on holiday together without companions, etc.
Scripture pictures a man leaving the parental home to marry and set up a new home and takes for granted that the woman will likewise leave the authority of her father’s house to be in subjection to her husband in their new home. Today’s society is very different. Many young men and women leave the parental home and become independent individuals living on their own for the purpose of further education or employment. This leaves young people as free agents in the period between leaving home and marriage, leading to a whole new range of temptations.
It has been important to have daily devotional times with the Lord as single individuals and now is the time to develop a joint spiritual life in preparation for family devotions as a married couple. Reading the scriptures and praying together, whenever possible, will add a spiritual dimension by bringing the Lord into every aspect of the relationship.
How important to discuss, with the help of the Lord and the scriptures, spiritual matters generally, and issues relating to the engaged couple specifically. Which assembly will they join? What are their gifts and how will they, as a married couple, be able to build into the local assembly? How committed to God’s work will they be? What if they hear God calling them to ‘full-time’ service? What about a family? Will the wife be a full-time home-maker or will she pursue a career? Now is the time to develop a clear, united view of these important matters.
In the reading of relevant scriptures together an understanding of the respective roles of husband and wife will be gained, with the husband as head and leader, and the wife as subject and responder. This will challenge the young man. Can he assume spiritual leadership of his future wife? Can he lay down his life for her, as Christ for the church? The young woman will also ask herself, is she prepared to be subject to this man? Does she respect him as her spiritual leader? Will he encourage her to grow spiritually?
Scripture deals with the practical issues of life as well as the spiritual. It teaches that a man should be able to provide for his own. Therefore the question must be asked, can the young man assume economic care for his future wife, and possibly a family? In these days when the wife is frequently a higher earner than the husband, how will they manage their finances? Will they buy or rent a home? Will one of them move in if they obtain a home prior to the wedding day? What about the moral temptations that will bring, and the ground rules that will need to be discussed? Equally, what a great opportunity they will have to witness to unbelieving friends and colleagues who will expect both to move in and live as man and wife prior to marriage! Who will take responsibility for household finances? Will they buy goods on credit schemes or save up and buy once they can afford them? All these practical matters, and many more, are important and should be agreed upon at this stage, otherwise financial and practical matters can come later as a surprise and have a damaging effect to the marriage.
There is no substitute for experience in life and a young couple will be well advised to seek the counsel of godly older believers. Scripture teaches the importance of one generation teaching another. Moses was told to ‘encourage’ Joshua, Deut. 3. 28. Paul committed truth to Timothy, and expected him to pass it on to others, 2 Tim. 2. 2. Older sisters are expected to teach the young women about domestic matters, Titus 2. 3-5.
The young couple must decide who will be a suitable brother to conduct their marriage ceremony, and will need to approach him about this. It may be that they have already confided in such a person regarding their relationship and spent time with him in prayer from time to time as they have sought the Lord’s guidance and help in their relationship and marriage plans. This is the role of elders in any local assembly but it may be that the couple feel confident with someone else, especially if they have shown an interest and been a help to them previously. The brother will no doubt discuss the wording of the vows that will be taken in the presence of the Lord, and also the implications of Christian marriage. This brother and his wife will probably be very happy to spend time with them on a number of occasions so that they may pass on the benefit of their experiences, and mistakes, and generally provide spiritual guidance regarding marriage and family life.
The friendship and advice of young married couples will also be invaluable, as they have recently encountered the decisions, problems and experiences that the young couple are facing and their information will be up to date.
The involvement of the parents of the young couple must not be underestimated either. It is so important to maintain good relationships with them, whether they are believers or not. The parents are passing through a difficult phase in their lives as they contemplate seeing a son or daughter leave their influence and set up an independent family unit with their spouse. Unbelieving parents can offer practical help and advice and, although they don’t understand the lifestyle of their believing child, they watch carefully, and the way in which the young couple involve them will affect their attitude towards Christianity and may well be a stepping stone to leading them to Christ. Believing parents should have shown through the years, by example, what a Christian marriage is all about. They should also be able to offer helpful advice and prayerful support without being interfering or overbearing, remembering that they can also have an adverse affect on the couple by so doing.
There are many good resources available and elders should be able to provide young couples contemplating marriage with such information. They will probably suggest that the couple go through a marriage course with either themselves or another suitable godly couple.
There are CDs, DVDs, books and courses available which are biblically based and very thorough in their content. Elders will need to give guidance as to which will be most appropriate, taking into account the young couple’s circumstances and backgrounds. These will, of course, supplement the reading and teaching of the scriptures and earnest prayer for God’s guidance and help for the young couple contemplating marriage in the Lord.