What do we look for in a marriage partner? Is the ideal husband someone tall, dark, and handsome? Is the ideal wife someone blond, shapely, and beautiful? Do we look for someone with lots of cash?
Today, I want to address the question of what to look for in a marriage partner.
Do Not be Yoked With Unbelievers
The Corinthian Church was a missionary church. Most of the members were recent converts rather than long-time saints who had the privilege of growing up in Christian homes. These converts had a question: what sort of relationship could they have with unconverted friends and acquaintances; what sort of attachments could they maintain with the pagans of Corinth? In today's Scripture reading a Spirit-inspired Paul speaks to this concern.
What does Paul say? He says, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers" (vs 14a). Paul is thinking of a double yoke used by the farmers of Palestine. A double yoke is a sturdy wooden frame used to tie two animals together so they could pull heavy loads evenly. Almost certainly Paul is thinking of Deuteronomy 22:10 which says, "Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together." Two animals as different as an ox and donkey just cannot work together as a team because they vary in temperament, speed, strength, and endurance.
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers." Paul is telling believers not to have permanent, close, or deep relationships with unbelievers.
It would be a serious mistake to conclude from this that there is to be no contact between a believer and an unbeliever. The only way this could be accomplished is by total withdrawal from the world, something that not even the horse and buggy Amish have accomplished. We also have to remember the command of Christ to go and make disciples of all the nations, something that would be impossible if there is no contact between believer and unbeliever. Believers' contacts with unbelievers, however, are not to be in the form of permanent, close, and deep relationships. "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers."
The Spirit spells out the implications of this in various places. A Christian invited to the home of an unbeliever is not to eat meat which he knows has been offered in sacrifice to an idol (1 Cor 10:23ff). In worship services believers are not to speak in tongues when unbelievers are present (1 Cor 14:24). Legal disputes between Christian brothers are not to be brought before civil courts (1 Cor 6:1-11). In all these areas believers are not to be yoked to unbelievers.
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers." The Spirit's instruction here is especially applicable to marriage. Christian men and women are not free to marry or to consider marriage to unbelievers. The marriage of a believer and unbeliever is like the yoking together of an ox and a donkey.
What are we to look for, then, in a marriage partner? I think here of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:(1 Cor 7:39) A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.In looking for a marriage partner Christians are not to "be yoked together with unbelievers." In looking for a marriage partner Christians must look for someone who "belongs to the Lord."
What does it mean to marry someone who "belongs to the Lord"?
It means to marry someone who is also a Christian, a fellow believer, someone who loves and serves the Lord. To marry in the Lord requires discrimination on the part of the Christian. We must be able to discriminate between believers and unbelievers, between a merely religious person and a committed Christian. For, you see, a religious person is not necessarily a true Christian believer. Nor is every church member necessarily a Christian.
Within every church there are members who are not committed to the Lord. The Christian looking for a marriage partner does not settle for any church member. He or she settles only for a church member who is a deeply committed Christian – someone who actively helps them in their walk with God rather than someone who is neutral, indifferent, or even hostile to their walk with God.
The Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church (that's the rule book that consistories and ministers have to abide by) says,Article 69Topic: Marriage
a. Consistories shall instruct and admonish those under their spiritual care to marry only in the Lord.
c. Ministers shall not solemnize marriages which would be in conflict with the Word of God.You have all heard of the TV show, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" there was a spin off: "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?"A couple of years ago I was talking to a retired minister of another denomination about weddings. He told me that he officiated at 16 weddings on one Saturday and 67 weddings that month. I asked him how many of those marriages were marriages in the Lord. He looked surprised for a moment. After some consideration he thought perhaps three of the couples were committed Christians. I hope and pray that neither this church nor myself will ever the reach the point of uniting anyone and everyone in marriage.
A multi-millionaire sent out an advertisement asking eligible women to apply to be his wife. Like the Miss America contest, contestants appeared on TV and were judged on the basis of beauty in long gowns and bathing suits, talent, and their answers to various questions. The show ended with the winner, Darva Conger, meeting the millionaire, Rick Rockwell, for the first time, getting married, and leaving immediately for a honeymoon to Las Vegas.
Thousands of women applied. None of them had ever met the man before. None of them knew what he looked like. None of them knew his faith. None of them had a chance to judge his character or personality. Yet they all wanted to marry him.
Because he had money and they were gold-diggers, hoping to strike it rich. As far as these women are concerned the only important thing to look for in a husband is money.
As for the man, the most important thing he looked for in a wife was outward show: looks, talent, beauty, thighs, and shape. He was not interested in a woman's faith, character, or personality.
After one week the marriage between Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger was annulled. Turns out Mr. Rockwell didn't have quite as much money as he said he had; also, in 1991 Rockwell's former fiancé got a restraining order against him for abusive and threatening behavior after she broke off their engagement. As for Conger, she had quit her job as a nurse and ended up living with her mother.
When asked by the news media why they both went through with it, those who know Rockwell said he is a publicity hound. As for Conger, she said she was in it for the diamond ring and the free trip to Las Vegas.
The Bible, by way of contrast, tells us that faith, character, and personality are the most important things to look for in a spouse – not money, not looks, not beauty.
The Word is so clear: Christians are not to be yoked together with unbelievers.
I remember when I preached on marriage in the Lord in one of the other churches I served. The day after I delivered the sermon a young married woman came to see me. She shut the door to my office and proceeded to tell me off for half an hour. Her husband was an unbeliever when she married him. Through her prayers and witnessing the Spirit converted him and he joined the church. "Look at what God did in my marriage," she said, "so how can you possibly say that I was wrong in marrying him." I had to agree with her that the Spirit had used her to bring her husband to the Lord and for that we must praise God. I pointed out to her that here is another instance where our almighty and gracious God has brought good out of evil but that does not make the evil good.
Don't fool yourself young people, single adults, into thinking the Lord will use you to convert an unbelieving spouse. This can happen and it may happen but probably it won't. In the 5 congregations I have served I know of only three times that a spouse who entered the marriage as an unbeliever actually come to know the Lord – and one of them, I am told, no longer has anything to do with the church and worship. Out of more than 20 women who insisted on marrying unbelievers – and it is usually women who marry unbelievers – only three of them have had the privilege of seeing their husbands come to know the Lord. That is not very good odds, is it?!
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers."
Young people and single adults may not like to hear this but this applies to the dating process too. A Christian guy or girl should never date an unbeliever. Those Christians who do date unbelievers almost always say the same thing: the relationship is not serious, there are no marriage plans, they are just friends. Somehow they don't realize that marriage always starts with a date. My experience after more than two decades in the ministry is that many Christians who date unbelievers end up marrying unbelievers. Those who don't use high standards in picking a dating partner use exactly the same standards when picking a marriage partner.
Dating the unbeliever, do you know what that shows? It shows that you are willing to let your standards slip, that you are willing to settle for second best.
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers." These words apply to friendships too. Christians are not to have deep, permanent, close friendships with unbelievers.
Let me tell you about a girl from one of the previous churches I served. In high school she became close friends with 4 unchurched girls. By the time of college she was spending every weekend in the company of these girls. Because her friends did not go to church she also did not go – she didn't want to be different. She is 36 or 37 years old now. Last I heard she is married to an unbeliever and still hangs around with the same girls.
When she became a mother a number of years ago she seriously thought about attending church again and getting her children baptized. She didn't dare take the first step, though, because she doesn't want to damage her relationship with her husband or friends. She didn't discriminate Christianly in choosing friends; she did the same in choosing a husband.
The Spirit of the Lord speaks so clearly to us: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers."(2 Cor 6:17) "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you."Or, as the Belgic Confession puts it:Article 28 ... it is the duty of all believers, according to God's Word, to separate themselves from those who do not belong to the church ...We can state this in more positive terms. It is the duty of all believers to be yoked only with fellow believers when it comes to marriage, dating, and friendship.
Radical Separation of Believers and Unbelievers
Why does the Spirit admonish us not to be yoked together with unbelievers? The Spirit's basis for talking this way is that there is an ultimate and radical division of persons before God. Before God you are either a believer or an unbeliever, either you are in Christ or you are not. Between the two groups there is such a vast difference that they have very little in common.
Remember the image of the ox and donkey being yoked together? It just doesn't work for them to plow a field together because the two animals cannot pull and work in unison. They are at cross-purposes with each other. The same is true for the yoking together of a believer and unbeliever. There is such a vast difference between them that they can not pull and work together. They also are at cross-purposes to each other.The destruction unleashed by those two tectonic plates depicts what happens when a Christian is yoked with a non-Christian. Two people committed to each other but going in different directions can only lead to trouble.
Time magazine reported (1/22/95) that the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, occurred when two plates on a fault line fifteen miles offshore suddenly shifted against each other, violently lurching six to ten feet in opposite directions. The result was the worst Japanese earthquake since 1923. Thousands died. More than 46,000 buildings lay in ruins. One-fifth of the city's population was left instantly homeless.
--DAVID Farnum Rochester, New York
Scripture introduces five contrasts to show us the vast gulf between the believer and unbeliever:(2 Cor 6:14-16) Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (15) What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (16) What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?There is, my brothers and sisters, an antithesis, a vast difference, a great chasm, between the believer and the unbeliever. So, of course, they can't be yoked together. The Spirit of God knows that this is like yoking together an ox and a donkey.
A few weeks ago I preached on divorce and remarriage. I said the wronged or sinned against partner is not to be condemned for getting a divorce if the other partner engages in physical, repetitious, and unrepentant acts of unchastity.
In 1 Corinthians 7 we are give one other instance where divorce and remarriage is not to be condemned:(1 Cor 7:12-13, 15) If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. (13) And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him ... (15) But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.Paul thinks here of a situation in which one, but not both, of the partners is converted to the Christian faith. In such an instance it is not wrong for the marriage to be dissolved if it is at the request of the unbelieving partner. Divorce on the part of the unbelieving partner is permitted here because of the ultimate and radical separation of believers and unbelievers.
When you are desperate for the companionship, the stability, and the security of marriage or friends, it is a real temptation to settle for the first person who comes along. But that is not what God wants. When it comes to marriage, dating, and friendships the Word of the Lord is so very clear: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers."
A Christian Pastor......