God’s will for choosing a mate

Did you know that there is only one explicit (very clear and direct) requirement in the Bible about who God wants you to marry?

There are a number of implicit (implied) requirements, but the specific command could be summarized this way:

“If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are only permitted to marry one who is a follower of Christ.”

The exact wording is thought-provoking.

  • “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” (I Cor. 7:39, NIV).
  • “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord.” (NLT)

The italicized words present the requirement in two different translations:

  • “he must belong to the Lord” (NIV)
  • “only if he loves the Lord.” (NLT)

The original language could be translated “only in the Lord” (μόνον ἐν κυρίῳ).

The New Living Translation chose a practical application: “only if he loves the Lord.” The widow is only permitted to marry someone who loves the Lord.

How can you tell if someone loves the Lord? 

The New International Version, “he must belong to the Lord,” also raises a question about how to identify such a person. What kind of people (or potential mates) are those who belong to the Lord? What should we look for?

Is it enough to hear a person’s verbal testimony of salvation? Are there character traits, life patterns, values and commitments found in people who belong to the Lord? (On this matter, please invest the time in listening to my audio message: What Should you Expect?

Who makes the decision?

Before answering these important questions, notice that the widow in I Corinthians 7:39 is free “to marry anyone she wishes” — with the restriction that, “he must belong to the Lord.”

So if there are five available men in the Church who “belong to the Lord,” which one is God’s choice for her to marry?

Wait a minute!

Perhaps this is the wrong question. It says, “She is free to marry anyone she wishes.” Evidently, if she honors the one requirement (he must belong to the Lord), it’s her choice.

She can’t pass the decision to God. She must make a wise decision based on the resources and information available to her.

What about prayer?

Should she pray about the decision? Yes! But how she prays and what she prays for is important. Her prayers must never be used to get God to make her decision. She cannot pray for God to give her the name of the one out of the five He has chosen for her because it’s her decision. And she is wise to avoid the “Give me a sign” prayers. 

It’s her decision.

That’s the main point. She can pray for wisdom and for God to help her to think carefully about the one of interest.

If she rushes the decision, she’s likely to look closely enough at the man of interest. If she chooses not to seek wise counsel in the process, she removes herself from one of God’s primary provisions for making wise decisions. If she settles for a verbal profession of faith, she might fail to take seriously what it means to belong to the Lord.

If she plays the spiritual trump card by suggesting that “God told her,” she wrongly presumes upon the future without attaching the required “if” from James 4:15 — “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” No amount of prayer and no sign from heaven gives us permission to drop the “if.”  (see: God’s will)

Another important text

Before considering what “belonging to the Lord” means, look briefly at another Scripture that teaches the same truth in a different way. 

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For….what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (II Corinthians 6:14-15)

To be “yoked together” pictures two oxen sharing the same yoke while plowing a field. An unequal yoke is described in Scripture as the yoking of dissimilar animals (Deuteronomy 22:10). 

The command against an unequal yoke prohibits believers from entering into cooperative relationships with unbelievers that would bind them to compromise their commitment to the Lord. One reason might be found in Jesus’ warning that we cannot serve two different masters (Matt. 6:24). 

Marriage and the unequal yoke

The unequal yoke is most often applied to the marriage decision. A marriage relationship requires more unity than most realize. It’s a yoking of life at many important points and places. If those who are yoked in marriage have too many differences, they will be pulling in different directions. Their unity will be threatened.

I keep a miniature wooden yoke in my office to use as a visual for explaining the importance of an equally yoked marriage. It’s a fitting description because life together in a marriage involves many decisions that could easily lead to disagreements (especially when raising children together). 

Marriage will significantly test the oneness and unity of two people. The yoke illustration implies that believer and unbeliever will be pulling in opposite directions or working at cross purposes with each other.

But this text assumes an ability to identify the differences between believers and unbelievers. So the first question about marriage for those who seek God’s will is how to identify a true believer. To help you answer this, seeAnswering the first question….

Steve Cornell


About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Broken Relationships, Counseling, Dating, Decision making, Divorce and Remarriage, Engagement, Marital Separation, Marriage, Ministry to young singles, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to God’s will for choosing a mate

  1. Pingback: Answering the first question about marriage « Wisdom for Life

  2. Marian says:

    Yes…but this can come across as condemning to one who fasted, prayed, and observed a man for three years before committing to marry him? What if he once was a strong believer and follower of Christ for 17 years and then walked away? What about that?

    I did all the “Christian” right things. Made the list…checked it twice. Even followed the no dating policy. Heck! We didn’t even kiss before our wedding day!

    We need to be careful about giving out Christian formulas and then making them our idols in which we place our trust. Not saying you’re doing this here…but it can sound that way.

    Please be careful.


    • Marian,

      You are right about formulas! I am really opposed to cliches and simplistic formulas. Part of my point is to move beyond the superficial (as I develop in the follow-up post to the one you read). see the link at the bottom.
      But, even when we try our best to do everything “right,” we venture into risky territory when sinners say “I do.” As I tell my class, it’s one thing to be in love; another to love someone throughout life. Originally, marriage was meant to solve human aloneness. But sin is a corrupting and alienating force making it especially hard for sinners to be together. I have many friends who went into marriage with full intentions of “going the distance” but find themselves in a place they NEVER imagined– divorced. These people fought hard to keep their marriages but could not control the choices of mates who had other things in mind. I realize that there is almost always blame to share when a marriage fails but there are also cases where the lions share is on one side. This is why I teach my class to do as much preventative work as possible because my life is filled with interventional and restorative work. God makes many concessions to be involved in our lives! see: https://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/gods-dramatic-announcement/


  3. Paula N says:

    My husband and I were both non Christians when we married. Fifteen years into our marriage God changed my heart and I became a Christian. Stuff happens. God ordains it. We are still together 20 years later after going through very turbulent times. I continued to pray. God blessed the circumstances. My husband is still not converted but our life together is much better. I love my husband so much and only want the best for him, salvation. As Babe Ruth once stated, “It ain’t over till it’s over!” I don’t know if God will save him but I know God is sovereign and I find my peace in that.


  4. Jon says:

    I listened to your sermon on “What should we expect” and loved it. I was wondering if there was somewhere I could download it to save it? Or if you happened to have a podcast service?

    Thank you so much, I really enjoy the wisdom you share!


  5. Ok…..over here in Nigeria, I have heard testimonies of people who didn’t stop at ensuring the person is in the Lord, but also prayed for the Lord to make His will known, and He did. Still together today with no issue. Some even testified to have known the man or woman they are to marry before they met…..what about that?
    I think the bottom line is seeking to know His will for our lives at all point.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s