BESIDES YOUR CHILD’S CONVERSION, the most critical decision they will ever make is who to marry. The multi-generational implications are enormous. But, despite the importance of this decision, some parents are more concerned about their children’s grades or athletic performance. They spend more time talking about how to get into the right college than how to pick a future spouse. But who they marry will affect the eternal destiny of themselves, their spouse, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren.
I am writing this article to encourage you to discuss this subject with your children. I can testify that what follows works. Even though my wife and I are sinful and imperfect—we made many mistakes—by God’s grace, our five grown children have all married Christians. Three are pastors or married to pastors, and the other two are leaders in their local church.
The best place to have this discussion is the dinner table, where your family should meet regularly. Effective fathers continually teach their children. They don’t just teach by example. They also teach with their lips. It is hard to do that if the family does not regularly gather for a family meal.
If the place to teach our children is the dinner table, the best time to teach them is earlier rather than later. You should probably start when they enter puberty and continue the discussion regularly.
The rest of this essay will cover seven subjects we regularly discussed with our children. There are more, but these are an excellent place to start.
It is better to be single than endure a bad marriage.
Most couples today live together for 50-70 years. That is a long time. When they build their union around Christ, those decades have profound potential. However, when one or both build around something else, the prognosis is not as positive. Therefore, teach your children to do two things. First, pursue marriage. It is the standard biblical adult expectation. But, second, pursue it carefully and with wisdom. It is much better to remain single than enter into a bad marriage.
Marry to go deeper with Christ
Second, teach them to marry to go deeper with Christ. Christians should only marry Believers (Deuteronomy 7:3, 1 Cor. 7:39, 2 Cor. 6:14). This is absolute—no exceptions. For a Christian to deliberately and knowingly marry an unbeliever is a sin. “Unbeliever” includes Roman Catholics. It also includes liberal Protestants not clear on the gospel or biblical authority.
This begs the bigger question: what is a Believer? When asked, many potential mates will profess Christianity because they asked Jesus into their heart. They might do this even though they are currently unfruitful or uninterested in spiritual things. This makes discernment difficult.
Here is a helpful question. Can the prospective mate articulate the gospel? Has it changed the way they live? Does his or her life revolve around Christ, or does it revolve around something else? Is Christ enthroned in the center of their life? Would marriage to this person draw me closer to Christ or pull me away from Christ?
You should marry to go deeper with Christ. After fifty years together, the effect of your union should be more faith, more obedience, more Christlikeness, and more need for and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Don’t marry anyone who will not help you get there.
Marry your best friend
Third, don’t marry a beautiful face or a young man’s future career success. I am not saying these don’t matter, but they are very secondary. Marriage means decades together. It is more important to marry someone you have fun with, someone with whom you share common interests and hobbies. The beautiful body will quickly fade. Career success will mean nothing if you don’t share intimacy around a shared commitment to Christ.
If you are not best friends after twenty years together, something is wrong. There should be no one with whom you would rather spend a weekend or vacation.
The Wedding is about the vows
Fourth, always remind your children, especially your daughters, that the wedding is not about the flowers, the music, the wedding dress, the guest list, and the honeymoon. It is about vows. Weddings are the recitation of vows in the presence of witnesses. Everything else is superfluous. And the most important witness is the holy, omniscient, and almighty Judge—a Judge who hates it when people break vows when they have become costly.
Before I marry a couple, I remind them of this truth. I encourage them to read their vows together and count the cost. Weddings are not a time for flippancy. The wedding should be marked by the joy of Psalm 2:11— “rejoice with trembling.” Weddings are a time to fear God. There should be a sense of sobriety as the couple takes their vows. Celebrate lavishly, but save it for the reception.
Marriage is a bridge-burning ceremony
Fifth, marriage continues until “death do us part.” When Christians marry, they burn their bridges. There is no going back. Why?
Christ’s love is covenantal. He has promised to never “leave us or forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5). He “swears to his own hurt and doesn’t change” (Psalm 15:4). Christians marry to live out God’s covenant love in front of their children and the world. Most Protestant’s agree that adultery and abandonment are the only biblical exceptions. They alone are grounds for divorce. But even when these happen, true Believers should be reluctant to pull the trigger.
This means that there is no getting out of the relationship because we “don’t love each other anymore,” or we don’t like each other or “we’ve grown apart, he just doesn’t get me.” I am thankful that both my parents, and my wife’s parents, impressed this upon us in our youth. We approached our wedding deeply sobered.
I often think of my uncle, who married his High School sweetheart. Ten years later, she developed a brain tumor. My only memory was of her in a wheelchair drooling compulsively, unable to communicate with her husband, and my father reminding me that his brother took a vow to be faithful to her “in sickness and in health, in good times and bad times, until death do us part.” My uncle kept that vow faithfully. On my wedding day, I knew there was no guarantee this would not happen to me.
Never marry someone to change them
Sixth, my wife’s father raised her with this excellent advice. Never marry someone to change them. For example, he doesn’t pick up after himself, but I know he’ll change. She talks too much, but I know she will change. She wants to devote her life to a career and not have children, but I know I can change her mind. He’s not attentive to me, but I know he’ll change after a few years together.
Why is marrying someone to change them a mistake? Because it is doubtful that they will change, and if they don’t, you are still married for life. Instead, marry with the full knowledge of your fiancé’s weaknesses and failings but determined to love and forgive even if they never change. If you can’t do that, don’t marry that person.
Marriage is sanctifying
Last, remind your children regularly that marriage is about more than love. It is about sanctification. Eighty percent of my sanctification has come through my relationship with my wonderful wife. In the words of author, Gary Thomas, God is more interested in our holiness than our happiness, and he will use our marriage to provoke us to that holiness.
The two people who say “I do” are always sinners, and that means potential conflict. There will be times of pain and growth. Learning to serve another sinner will put a spotlight on your own faults and sins. I thank God for the struggles we have experienced. Had I remained single, I would have missed these opportunities for growth.
I would have also missed decades of joy with my best friend, and that would have been an even greater tragedy. In every God-centered marriage, there are times of both joy and pain, but the former should exceed the latter.
Who to marry is a crucial life decision your children will make. The ramifications will go on for decades. Therefore, wise parents regularly talk to their children about how to pick a mate. They understand that this crucial decision will most likely make or break their children’s earthly journey, and they treat it with a gravity that equals that reality. After all, who is more qualified to teach them about marriage? Nourish them with your experience.
Thanks for this Bill! Great, direct advice that is perfectly timed for current season of life.
Ryan. You are welcome. Looking with hope for great fruit from you and your children in the coming years.