When I was 20 years old, I was an aspiring gospel singer, and I traveled with a preacher five years my senior. At the time, we were both single.
In spare moments the subject of qualities to look for in a lifetime partner came up. This was back when marriage meant one man and one woman in covenant for life, and when young men and women were typically more ready to marry by their early 20s.
By his repetitions, the list was fixed in my mind so I believe I can reproduce it accurately, before adding my brief comments.
First, he would ask, is this person a committed Christian? According to the Scriptures, Christians are to marry only Christians (2 Corinthians 6:14–16). So one should ask: is there evidence that he/she loves the Lord and manifests that love in lifestyle, attitudes and habits?
Christians who ignore this requirement relative to marriage go contrary to clear scriptural teachings. In doing so, they disobey the Lord and deprive themselves of a spiritual dimension to their marriage that God intends to be unifying and enriching.
Second, is this a person of good character? In the early stages of a relationship, one looks for such traits as honesty and trustworthiness; a vision for life that includes serving others; respect for parents and little children; a strong work ethic; and empathy for others. Also, do friends and family give off cues and comments of affirmation or reservation?
Third, what about disposition? It’s true that parties in a marriage have down days for which their mates make allowance. But prominent and frequent pouting, grumpiness, anger or me-first behaviors even in a person of great charm should be noted because such traits will dissipate a lot of the life force that could otherwise be turned to positive, outward and even Christian ministry purposes.
The Proverbs warn against a “quarrelsome and nagging wife” (Proverbs 21:19). If the Proverbs were being written today for our culture, they would have cautionary words against choosing a “quarrelsome and nagging” husband also.
Fourth, what about family background? Marriages tend to be stronger and more fulfilling when a bond between the two families also forms. Cultural and family similarities are certainly not absolute prerequisites in our multicultural society, but they can be helpful if present. If very different, they will require extra effort to bridge.
It is family values, character traits and disposition that, of course, trump all else. However, one question to shed light on this issue is: Do I want this prospective mate’s brothers and sisters to be aunts and uncles to my children?
Fifth, (a modern adaptation to my preacher friend’s fifth question): if two vocations are represented in the potential union, is the success of the marriage more important than the full achievement of either partner’s vocation? For example, one partner wants to teach in Minnesota and the other in Florida. It is possible that a relationship could even be dissolved by unyielding differences.
While it might not answer the specifics between Minnesota and Florida, the couple in which each individual values the marriage above where to live will be more likely to survive this kind of modern-day dilemma.
Some may feel the above questions are too plodding for something so enthralling as love that points toward marriage. Passion is very much a part of the love that God gives to bind a man and woman together for a lifetime. But while passion may be sufficient to get a relationship started, it is not by itself enough as a foundation for a wonderful marriage. And, generally speaking, it is better for the mind to lead with questions like those above and the heart to follow than for the emotions to take over and the rational mind to be switched off until after the wedding.
And so, for the young person wishing to follow the path of wisdom to the altar and to deep satisfaction beyond, both clear judgment and romantic passion should have their appropriate place and contribution.
Christian young people must never forget to bind all this together with a strong cord of prayer. Pay attention to the answer to the above questions (and others); seek godly counsel if perplexities arise; ask for wisdom from God; and you are likely to experience the kind of love that blesses you and your spouse, survives all vicissitudes, and lasts a lifetime.
Donald N. Bastian is a bishop emeritus of the Free Methodist Church and the author of multiple books, including “The Pastor’s First Love,” “God’s House Rules,” “Give It a Rest,” “Belonging: Adventures in Church Membership,” “Leading the Local Church,” “Beer, Wine & Spirits: What’s the Big Deal?” and “Sketches of Free Methodism” — all of which can be ordered from Wesleyan Publishing House. This article is adapted from a post on his Just Call Me Pastor blog. Greenville College will formally launch its new Donald N. and Kathleen G. Bastian School of Theology, Philosophy and Ministry in October.
- Why should a couple care about “little issues” in such areas as faith, character, disposition and family if they are in love?
- What other advice would you give a single friend who is searching for a spouse?