The proverb says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov. 18:22). But wisdom also tells us that one should seek this blessing from the Lord at the appropriate time and in a godly way.
Many Christians enter the dating scene while they are still in their teens. This practice is fully endorsed, and even expected, by a society that holds a completely inadequate understanding of what it actually means for a boy to become a man, and for a man to be ready to marry. Sadly, the relationships formed by the practice of teenage dating often end in deep emotional pain, either due to the inability to resist engaging in immoral physical activity, or unmet expectations based on premature emotional commitments. These effects should not surprise us. The vast majority of people in this age group are not yet men and women, but rather boys and girls with full-grown bodies. These teens are simply not ready, emotionally, intellectually, or practically, to establish and maintain solid and proper relationships with the opposite sex.
This article is not for boys with full-grown bodies, but rather for young men. More specifically, it is for Christian young men who have reached both the age and level of maturity where seeking a wife becomes appropriate. In my opinion, if you are much younger than twenty-five years old, you are probably not yet in this category. There are indeed exceptions—younger men who have worked hard and successfully established themselves as mature and prepared for marriage. I am also well aware that many men younger than twenty-five years old marry, and that these marriages often prove successful in the long term. My own marriage is, by God’s grace, one such example. But I still insist that as a general rule, your late teens and early twenties will be best spent shaping yourself into the man (and potential husband) God wants you to be, rather than actively dating or seeking a wife. I personally believe that marriage becomes appropriate for young women at an earlier age than it does for men. It is a well-known fact that men become intellectually and emotionally mature later than women do. Because of this fact, and because of the demanding leadership role men are expected to fill as husbands, they need more time prior to marriage to establish themselves as godly leaders and able providers.
So young men, if you want to know when and how to go about seeking the right young woman’s hand in marriage, the following points of counsel may be just what you need to hear.
1. If you want to find a wife, stop trying to attract one.
Instead, dedicate yourself to actively and faithfully serving the Lord in the fellowship of your local church (Romans 12:10-13). Diligently pursue an increasing knowledge of the Bible (Col 1:10) so that you will be able to teach others (Col. 3:16). Be zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14; 3:14) and for evangelism at home and abroad (Matt. 28:19). Be devoted to prayer (Col. 4:2). Love the brethren (1 Pet. 2:17; 4:8). Work hard at personal holiness and spiritual disciplines (1 Tim. 4:7-8; Heb. 12:14). Be diligent to keep yourself sexually pure (1 Thess. 4:3-8). Be sensible in the way you conduct yourself in all aspects of your life (Titus 2:6).
In case you’re thinking that I’m telling you to do these things because by doing them you will attract the right kind of young woman, you’re right—and you’re wrong. You’re right to think that a godly young woman would be attracted to the young man who consistently displays these Christian attributes and habits, but there’s more to it than that. The things I named in the above paragraph are required of you by Christ whether or not you ever marry. If you are not more interested in serving Him than you are in getting married, then you are not ready to be married. The characteristics and habits described above, when pursued primarily out of devotion to Christ, are essential qualities of every godly husband. To the degree that you fail to establish them in your own life before marriage, you are asking your future wife to suffer while you struggle to rid yourself of ineptness as a leader. To be well-prepared to love her, you must be well-prepared to lead her. Furthermore, if you are only maintaining the above habits and patterns of living for the purpose of attracting a girl, then the very kind of girl you hope to attract (i.e., one who is wise, insightful, discerning, spiritually minded, etc.) will see right through your charade. Even if she doesn’t, her watchful parents and/or her pastor will.
So stop seeking a wife and serve Christ with all your might. Trust the Lord to bring you the wife you’re praying for. When He does, you’ll know.
2. If you want to find a wife, make sure you’re ready to provide for her.
Many youths waste their teenage years by dedicating themselves to the pursuit of leisure rather than developing a strong work ethic and marketable skills. Rather than learning how to work hard and think critically in ways that could eventually provide a decent living, they become skilled at playing video games, surfing the internet, watching TV, texting, and interacting on social media sites. In the mentally (and often physically) mushy condition these kinds of habitual amusements inevitably produce, these boys with full-grown bodies are far from being young men, and therefore, far from being prepared to care for a wife and family.
So how about you? Have you prepared your mind and body for a lifetime of hard work? Have you developed the necessary skills and/or completed the necessary education to compete in today’s job market? If so, have you landed the kind of job that will pay for housing expenses, vehicle expenses, food, clothing, medical bills and insurance, utilities, and so forth? Have you learned how to establish a budget and regulate your finances so that you will be able to live within your means? Most importantly, since no job is guaranteed to be secure, have you developed the “provider” mindset that will motivate you to work even multiple jobs if necessary to provide for your family without requiring your wife to work outside the home?
There may be unavoidable times after you marry that you are “in-between jobs,” but being unemployed (or “under-employed”) is no way to enter into married life. Newlywed couples may choose to both work at first, but marriage is not ultimately for the purpose of making money. It is at least in large part for the purpose of producing godly children. This requires a mother at home, not out in the work force. So if you are not ready to provide for a wife (and soon, for children), then you are not yet ready to marry (2 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:8).
In some special cases, where a young man chooses to dedicate his life to serving the Lord as a missionary, evangelist, or some other form of Christian ministry, it may not always be possible or best for him to secure a full-time job. He may need to simply trust the Lord to provide (Matt. 10:9-10). I am not saying that such a young man should not marry, but I would offer a few cautions: First, be sure through much prayer and the counsel of godly leaders and mentors that your chosen course is indeed the Lord’s will. If you are sure it is, then seek carefully to discern whether or not marriage is the Lord’s will for you (1 Cor. 7:32-35). Second, if you are certain that the Lord would have you marry, make sure that the young woman you hope to marry fully understands what your intentions are, and the kind of life she will be committing herself to by marrying you. Third, make sure her parents are in support of the relationship, being fully aware of your intentions for ministry. Fourth, be prepared to work as hard as necessary in a “regular” job if the Lord should ever make it plain that He intends to support you in that way, and not fully support you through your chosen ministry. Trusting the Lord for your income through ministry in no way relieves you of your obligation as a husband to provide for your wife and children.
3. If you are ready to find a wife, find a friend first.
Marriages based only on romance and/or physical attraction are far weaker than ones based on true friendship. The love that flows through the bond of friendship is pleasant and lasting, whereas the love that is motivated only by romance and physical beauty is often strained, dependent on factors that will inevitably fade away. Therefore it is both unreasonable and unwise for you to expect a young woman to enter into a romantic relationship with you before getting to know you well as a friend in a broader social context.
Are you interested in a young woman? Before even approaching the subject of a one-on-one relationship with her, spend a significant amount of time with her in the context of larger social gatherings, preferably with other Christians. If you are handling your initial interest in her properly, other people in your social circle shouldn’t even notice that it goes beyond friendship. Don’t single her out in obvious ways as the special object of your attention, and don’t allow yourself to pair up with her exclusively when in group settings. Both of you should want to know what the other is really like apart from any obvious or focused interest in each other. Only in this way can she get to know the real you, and you the real her, without allowing romance and physical attraction to cloud the issue or distract others in unhelpful ways.
4. If you think you have found a potential wife, approach her through her father.
If you believe the time may be right to more seriously pursue your affections toward a particular young woman, first ask your own father for his counsel. Also seek your pastor’s counsel. Then, assuming you have not been advised otherwise up to this point, approach the young woman’s father directly and ask for his permission to pursue the relationship further. Do this before mentioning your interest to her. Her father may choose to talk with her himself before responding to your expression of interest, and if he finds that she is not interested in the kind of relationship you are thinking of, he may be able to help both of you avoid an awkward and painful encounter.
This step of approaching a girl’s father before approaching her is widely disregarded in our society, being viewed as an archaic and unnecessary social convention. For the Christian young man, however, it is much more significant than that. Remember that ever since this girl was born, her father has been the most important man in her life—her most zealous protector and the one charged by God to carefully steer her in the path of wisdom. Be prepared to explain to him why you think you are ready to seek his daughter’s affection, and perhaps eventually take her out of his family. Furthermore, be prepared to rethink things, or to work hard to prove yourself in certain ways if he is unconvinced when you initially approach him. Do not approach him with the assumption that he will approve your request, or that he has the obligation to approve just because the two of you are attracted to each other. I am not a proponent of arranged marriages, but parents should be reasonably involved in helping their sons and daughters make one of the most important decisions in their lives. Godly parents will not be unreasonably restrictive, nor will they forbid the relationship for carnal or petty reasons. But they can often see, and should be invited to point out, warning signs that are obscured to the less mature eye, or the eye that is clouded to near blindness by infatuation. For this same reason, I strongly encourage young couples to seek premarital counseling with an experienced pastor before becoming engaged. I would even advise parents to insist on pre-engagement counseling before giving their blessing to the proposed union.
Approaching the young woman through her father is not merely a way of showing him respect (although that is one important reason for doing so). Obtaining her father’s blessing and counsel is one way of discerning God’s will. Even if her father is an unbelieving and unreasonable man—even if he unreasonably refuses your request—the Lord can still use him to make His will for your life known.
What if Her Father Approves? Then What?
It is beyond the scope of this article to describe what the relationship should look like in between the point where you receive her father’s blessing, and the point where the two of you actually marry. There are many differing opinions about what this “courtship” period should look like, when engagement should occur, how long the engagement period should be, how much time the two of you should spend together, and in what contexts that time should be spent. I would simply encourage you to work out those details with her parents and yours. Always remember, however, that until her father walks her down the aisle and gives her to you in marriage—until the two of you are pronounced husband and wife—he continues to occupy the role of “head” over her. He retains the authority and responsibility to provide for her well-being. Respect his position and role just the way you will want to be respected when a young man pursues your daughter.