I’m writing as a father of three daughters and pastor to some single people around marrying age. I want to encourage Christian men and especially women to guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23) because your life goes in the direction of your thoughts, affections, and desires. It’s important to not open your heart (thoughts/desires/emotions) to a man or woman until the time and situation is right. When is it right? Here are some pointers when considering whether to open your heart to someone romantically (with an eye to marriage):
1. Make sure he/she is a Christian.
If he is not a Christian and you are one, you cannot marry him. Paul states the simple principle in 1 Corinthians 7:39: “she is free to be married to anyone she wants—only in the Lord.” If one is not “in the Lord,” meaning they are not united to the Lord Jesus by believing his gospel and repenting from their sin and righteousness, then as a Christian you cannot marry him without sinning. If your thoughts, affections, and desires attach to him prematurely this command is very difficult to obey, especially in a culture that foolishly teaches you to “follow your heart.” So don’t open your heart to marrying or romantically thinking about him until he is a Christian.
2. Make sure he/she is a member of a gospel-church that holds its members accountable.
If he is a member of a church, he should have been baptized. But it’s not enough to have been baptized and attending a church, he has to be formally committed to a church (I give 6 reasons why a Christian must commit to a church here). Anyone can claim to be a Christian but when a church calls someone a member they are saying that they think this person is a Christian. That’s a more credible claim to faith. The church should be a gospel-church, meaning they believe and preach the gospel. But it should also have an accountability that applies Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5 to its members (church discipline). If you marry this man and he is going off the rails before the Lord Jesus, who’s going to call him to account? Who’s going to rebuke him? Are other men and women committed to confronting him? Is the church prepared to excommunicate him and openly question his Christianity if he abandons Christ and poisons the marriage and family? So, he should be a member of a good church, a gospel-church, that holds its members accountable.
3. Make sure he/she has meaningful relationships with other members of that church.
It is not enough to be a member of a church (though it ought to be). Make sure that the person has and is developing meaningful relationships with others at the church and is growing in following Christ. If you do marry this person, he/she will be the dad/mom of your kids! If he becomes your husband, he will have to lead you and have the most spiritual impact (humanly speaking) on your love and joy in Jesus Christ. Don’t be impressed by a profession of faith and a merely formal membership, guard your heart until you see growth in Christ-centered relationships in his life. (If you neglect #2 and #3, you might end up with a guy who takes this advice.)
4. Make sure you and him are able to get married within a reasonable time.
I always counsel people to be together for a year or less before they get married. I know it’s extreme, and you can reject that counsel. But the principle is wise: the longer the romantic relationship without marriage, the stronger the temptation to sexual sin and captivating each others’ hearts prematurely. After serving as a youth pastor for several years, when anyone is together for over a year I generally think the odds are that they have sinned against God and each other sexually and that the accountability and hard questions need to be more frequent. I always pray for my church members who are pursuing marriage with another that God shows them that they should get married as soon as possible or break up as soon as possible. Why stay together longer if you’re not going to get married? Why be fully convinced you want to marry this person and delay it? This assumes that one realize, especially the man, that he must be able to lead, protect, and provide for his wife as a man.
Question: What do you think you should have in place before you open your heart to romance, dating, or pursuing marriage?