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GOD'S PURPOSE FOR MARRIAGE
God’s Standards for Dating and Courtship
[NOTE: The audience for this book is worldwide. Most of humanity is non-Christian. Though I explain many concepts by quoting the Bible, the principles for choosing the right mate and having a happy marriage are universally applicable. So, please keep reading even if you are a non-Christian. I also understand that marriages in most cultures are arranged. So, most of humanity skips the dating and courtship process altogether. But the principles illustrated here can be applied equally well immediately after marriage to keep the marriage strong and happy. Therefore, reading this section will benefit parents who arrange marriages for their children. A brief sub-section on arranged marriages is provided at the end.]
In the beginning of this book, the sorry state of marriages in America and British Commonwealth nations was discussed. Data shows that about half of first-time marriages end in divorce. Most in the world simply do not know that there is a cause for every effect. There is a cause why so many marriages end in divorce. The cause simply is that in most of these marriages each of the partners chose the wrong mate. The choice of the wrong mate, leading to failed marriage was the result of the wrong foundation laid during dating and courtship.
I will briefly, discuss God’s standards for dating and courtship before marriage as taught by the true Churches of God. To obtain a good detailed understanding of right dating and courtship practices, I would recommend reading the book “Dating and Courtship - God’s Way” authored by David C. Pack of the Restored Church of God, available free of charge at rcg.org. However, the audience for that book is the Churches of God. The audience for my book is the world. So I will keep my suggestions on dating, courtship and engagement leading to marriage very general that anyone in the world can apply and benefit from.
Additional information can be obtained from “Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension”, available free of charge at ucg.org. I have obtained most of the information for this chapter from these two booklets.
Dating followed by courtship and engagement is supposed to lead to a happy marriage. For a building to stand against all winds and storms, it must be built on a STRONG and RIGHT FOUNDATION. Similarly, for a marriage to be successful and able to withstand all the stresses and strains, turmoil and storms of life, it must be built on the right foundation. That right and strong foundation is built during the dating and courtship process.
The right dating and courtship should lead to the selection of someone from among many who would be a real companion and a truly compatible partner for life. However, the right dating and courtship process has to be taught in advance to young people before they begin dating. Otherwise they will make mistakes resulting in choosing the wrong mate, and likely become a divorce statistic. The high divorce rate indicates that in most American and British families correct dating and courtship are not known, or not practiced, resulting in marriages that should never have taken place.
What is the right foundation for a strong ‘till death do us part’ marriage in a beautiful relationship? The right foundation is LOVE between the couple. Marriages fail because most couples do not understand what true love is. Most peoples’ idea of love between a man and a woman is physical attraction, or INFATUATION for one another, and they do not understand the difference between infatuation and true love.
Here are the major differences between infatuation and true love:
1) Infatuation happens quickly whereas love develops slowly. A solid enduring relationship based on true love develops over time. For that reason, there is no such thing as ‘love at first sight,’ or ‘smitten with love’ for someone or ‘falling in love.’ The quick feeling for someone at first sight is infatuation or lust, and not love.
2) In infatuation, the main attraction for the other person is physical appearance or ‘looks’, whereas in love the main attraction for the other person is the whole person, including the total personality and character. It takes time to get to know the personality and character of a person. That’s why love develops over time.
3) Infatuation is almost exclusively emotional or based on feelings whereas true love is mental. An infatuated person is led by emotions which dictate actions. In infatuation, the mind is occupied and wrapped-up around the other person. Nothing else seems to matter. The infatuated person becomes almost blind and unable to see anything wrong with the other person; unable to recognize any danger signals in interactions with the other person. A marriage based on such emotions will not last as it will quickly crack under the stresses and strains of married life.
True love on the other hand is based on logic. Persons seeking true love in another do not think with their hormones and sex organs, but with sound logic. During dating and courtship, one should objectively evaluate the other person’s maturity, ability to handle stressful situations, how the person relates to others, dependability, total personality and character for suitability as a potential mate and that process takes time. In true love, the other person is loved for their character, maturity, personality and not merely their physical body. Such a relationship is built over time and is enduring.
4) A relationship based on infatuation or lust is mostly selfish. That’s why a relationship based on infatuation will collapse quickly, but true love is unselfish. True love expresses outgoing concern for the other person, bearing and sharing the mate’s burdens.
There is a very important SPIRITUAL DIMENSION to understanding true love. God’s character is LOVE and that’s what He wants all human beings to develop in themselves. It has already been defined (a definition given to us by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong) earlier as follows:
“One word that sums up God’s character is LOVE, which is defined as outgoing concern for the welfare of others. It can also be called the way of “giving” instead of “getting”, the way of sharing, helping and serving. God’s nature includes the attributes of PEACE, HARMONY, JUSTICE, MERCY, COMPASSION, HAPPINESS AND JOY towards all those He has created. It is a way devoid of coveting, lust, greed, vanity, selfishness, envy, jealousy, resentment, bitterness, hatred, competition, strife, violence and destruction.’
The Bible also gives a very simple and concise definition of SPIRITUAL LOVE with additional explanations.
John the apostle wrote in I John 5:3, “FOR THIS IS THE LOVE OF GOD, THAT WE KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS: and His commandments are not grievous.”
We express godly love when we keep the Ten Commandments. And the Ten Commandments are the Law. The apostle Paul added further explanation to what love is in Romans 13:10, “Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore LOVE IS THE FULFILLING OF THE LAW.” Obedience to the Ten Commandments thus fulfills the Law.
Jesus Christ also summed up the Ten Commandments in his answer to the lawyer who asked Him which is the great commandment in Matthew 22:37-40, “37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
Since love is keeping God’s commandments, the importance of God’s help in keeping His commandments becomes crucial, and that help comes in the form of God’s holy spirit. God gives His holy spirit only to those who have repented of their sins, been converted, and have been baptized to demonstrate their commitment to keep God’s law. Only after baptism does a person receive God’s holy spirit. Therefore, CONVERSION is crucial to be able to express godly love after receiving God’s holy spirit.
The Bible also talks of three kinds of love: Philia is defined as brotherly love; the love between brothers and sisters and friends; Eros is the love expressed in a marriage through romance and sex; and finally, Godly Love (sometimes the word agape is used to label this kind of love) which is the love God the Father and Jesus Christ expressed for humanity when Jesus laid down His life to pay the death penalty for humanity’s sins. Godly love is thus SELFLESS and SACRIFICIAL in nature for others. Godly love is expressed even when there is no guarantee of a reciprocal response.
Jesus said: “This is My commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13, New Living Translation). This is an expression of godly love, or SPIRITUAL LOVE. That is the kind of love a husband should have for his wife and children.
The apostle Paul further described the attributes of godly love in the ‘love chapter,’ I Corinthians 13: “4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails…13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
All three forms of love, philia, eros and godly love for one’s mate are vital for the marriage to remain strong and endure to the end.
Two people starting a relationship must be further cautioned about the relationship starting on the basis of lust or infatuation. In the early stages of the relationship, it is hard to distinguish between one founded on infatuation from one based on true love, because infatuation often comes disguised as true love. When two people are attracted to each other, they enjoy each other’s company immensely and everything seems wonderful. True love, however, develops over time after the two people have come to know each other more intimately by learning of each other’s strengths and possible weaknesses, and interacted with each other in possible stressful situations. A relationship built on infatuation will collapse under stresses and strains of life whereas one built on true love will endure.
The Correct Age for Dating and Courtship
In the Bible, when God asked ancient Israel to number the adults, they were numbered from age 20 years and older. Therefore, the Bible considers a mature adult to be one who is at least 20 years old. Therefore, around 20 years is the age when two persons can begin dating one-on-one followed by courtship that can lead to marriage.
There can be a few exceptions to the general rule. Apparently, the evangelist Timothy was a teenager when he was baptized. Therefore, in some cases, two young people can begin one-on-one dating around 18-19 years of age.
The key criterion when persons can begin one-on-one dating is MATURITY. Maturity is related to assuming responsibility in life. It is demonstrated when a young adult has pondered the bigger questions of life such as “What am I going to do to earn a decent living to support a wife and family?”, “What values and principles will I follow in relationships with my spouse, children, our extended families, close friends, and others in society?”, “Understanding of what it takes to raise a family and demonstrating commitment to do so.” After having pondered these big questions of life, maturity is then demonstrated by the concrete steps the person has taken to achieve success in life and marriage. Success in marriage can be achieved only when the partners are emotionally, intellectually and spiritually mature.
DIFFERENT STAGES OF DATING
If the earliest recommended age for one-on-one dating is 18-19 years, preferably 20 years, then does that mean that teenagers should not date at all? The answer is no.
There are two important categories of dating in which teenagers and younger children can and should participate in. These are ‘group activities’ for pre-teen and younger teen children, and ‘group dating’ for older teens. The cut-off age here is around 16 years.
1) GROUP ACTIVITIES
Children before the age of 16 should participate only in ‘group activities.’ Here are the characteristics of ‘group activities’:
1) These are very large groups enjoying activities together, involving a variety of parents and other adults and their children of both sexes. These could be family picnics, games nights at church, evening of bowling, combined visits to interesting places etc.
2) Parents need to be very watchful, particularly of less responsible teenagers, to not allow ‘pairing off’ within the activity between boys and girls and straying away from the group.
3) The purpose of the activities is to help young people overcome nervousness and become comfortable around those of the opposite sex. They can learn to relax and respond naturally to them.
2) GROUP DATING
From the age of 16 onwards, teenagers can begin “group dating”. These are the characteristics of group dating:
1) ‘Group Dating’ should only be within groups with full parental knowledge and permission. The groups can comprise six to eight teenagers who make an appointment to enjoy a wholesome activity together, with parents or other responsible adults close by.
2) The purpose of these activities is to help young people overcome nervousness and become comfortable around those of the opposite sex. They can learn to relax and respond naturally to them. This will enable them to evaluate people more realistically when courting later to find a suitable mate. Without such comfort level around the opposite sex, a young person may evaluate a person of the opposite sex emotionally rather than rationally.
3) At this stage, it’s important to date many different people of a variety of different personality types. The purpose is to determine which personality type you are most compatible with and makes you most comfortable. This should enable a young person to narrow his or her search for a suitable mate.
The ‘group activities’ and ‘group dating’ stages should lay a solid foundation for exposure to the opposite sex in a wide variety of settings.
4) Some feel that going steady with someone at this stage under peer pressure is a good way to show and develop an early interest in someone to choose a lifelong mate. Some parents may encourage this. But this is either a lazy and or a selfish method of dating. It is also short-sighted as you lose the opportunity for social development that come through dating widely. It may also prove to be the dangerous way to date because you may end up marrying the wrong person.
However, there can be exceptions to this rule. If two young people have grown up together because their families were good friends and have known each other since childhood; understand each other very well; are comfortable with each other and have developed the social graces, known each other’s ability to support and raise a family and know each other’s character, then they have most likely found each other a suitable lifelong mate. But still, it’s a good idea to do this after the age of 18, after exposure to a variety of personality types.
5) It’s very important to understand that romance should not be involved at this stage as teenagers are too young for such activity. That should take place later when the young persons have gained maturity, with direction on how they will earn a living and support a family. Romance at this stage may lead to pre-marital sex which could cause a multitude of problems.
6) Avoid the danger of falling in with the wrong crowd under peer pressure. It could lead to pre-marital sex, rape, or even criminal activity. It may also lead to wasting time in frivolous activities rather than concentrating on educating oneself to be able to earn a decent living.
3) ONE-ON-ONE DATING OR COURTSHIP
The next stage of dating is courtship when one-on-one dating can begin. The most suitable age for this activity is around 19-20 years. These are the main characteristics of courtship:
‘Group activities’ and ‘group dating’ should have provided wide exposure to the opposite sex in a variety of settings and the young people should have overcome nervousness and emotional response in presence of the opposite sex. If this foundation has not been laid, then the danger is that a shy or a nervous-type of person will have a tendency to quickly pair-off with either the first person that pays attention to him or her, or the first person he or she is comfortable with. That person may not be the most suitable mate for that person.
Understand that courtship is not the stage when the couple has already decided to get married. It is not the final stage before the decision to marry someone is made. It is the stage where a mutual interest in each other has begun, and now that interest can be further explored and developed. The two persons have now begun to consider each other as possible lifelong marriage partners. A person can feel on ‘cloud nine’ when he or she is in love with someone. But care should be exercised in the early stages of courtship as sound judgment without heavy emotional attachment still needs to be exercised in carefully evaluating the suitability of the other person as a lifelong mate.
David Pack in his book “Dating and Courtship – God’s Way” describes the process of courtship in this way: “It is important to suppress feelings of romantic love (eros), while carefully focusing on and building the bond of true friendship (philia), all the while practicing and developing the love of God (agape) within the relationship.”
Some Guidelines for One-on-One Dating or Courtship
David Pack describes the fundamental purposes of dating: to “Develop your personality, build character, learn from others, grow in the social graces, enjoy fun, experience widely, learn to communicate. As the teenage years pass, dating provides a wonderful opportunity to learn a world of information about the opposite sex. This will greatly enhance your ability to one day become properly acquainted with the person who will go on to be your lifelong partner.”
Keeping these purposes of dating in mind, the following guidelines should be followed while dating one-on-one:
1) One of the purposes of dating is to find the right mate for life. Pray to God to guide you in selecting the right type of mate and lead you to find the ‘best person’ for you.
2) Dating is an ART and must be taught by parents to their children. I learnt a great deal of it through my Church, which makes it a point to teach and practice the social graces as part of our normal Church activities.
Parents (Church or even schools) should teach children how to conduct themselves on a date such as whether to touch each other or not (which will be addressed shortly), how to respect your date, how to be a gentleman or a lady, good and bad manners, proper etiquette, how to handle a fork and knife, the dangers of alcohol at social gatherings, especially when around young people, dangers of pre-marital sex, to avoid peer pressure and falling in with the wrong crowd.
Parents should impose rules about dressing for a date, what is permissible to do or not to do on a date, where to go or not go on a date, and when to come home. These rules should be enforced, and children made to understand that the rules are meant to keep them from harm, which is the purpose of all God’s spiritual rules.
3) The ability to communicate effectively on a date is vital, and this ability must be developed. Dating provides an excellent opportunity to do so. Like achieving anything of value, it takes serious effort and time. Once developed, this ability will benefit you in every aspect for the rest of your life, including your profession. It will enable you make friends easily.
Many people use the same limited number of words or phrases over and over again when communicating with others. But effective communication means the ability to express yourself precisely, tactfully without giving offense, with color and enthusiasm. That requires developing a good vocabulary. When you can communicate well with others, people will find you fascinating and fun to talk to and will want to be around you. It will open many doors for you.
Another key aspect of being a good communicator is to be an effective listener. That requires being attentive while listening, allowing others to express themselves, and occasionally acknowledging what they have said or asking questions related to the discussion to show keen interest. People will consider you a great conversationalist even if you have merely LISTENED actively to the other person. Take the biblical advice in James 1:19, “Be swift to hear and slow to speak” to heart. It will make you an excellent conversationalist.
To continuously develop my vocabulary, even at my age I still write down words that I don’t know the meaning of, with their pronunciation, meaning and how to use them in sentences. Then I read them over and over again to commit them to memory.
Here is an example of a communicator using the same words over and over again.
A son came home from college for the weekend and this is how the conversation with his mother went:
Mother: How are things going?
Mother: And the dormitory?
Mother: They’ve always had a strong football team. How do you think they’ll do this year?
Mother: Have you decided on your major yet?
Mother: What is it?”
Son: Mass Communications.
Moral of the story: Develop a good vocabulary as part of good communication skills.
The man should take the lead in conversation during the date. But the woman should also actively participate in the conversation, rather than take the ‘entertain me’ approach, as David Pack says in his book.
4) A date should be an opportunity to learn about the other person’s background, where he or she grew up, interests, hobbies, travels, world view, plans for a career or profession. I have been a member of my Church’s Spokesman Club in which the first speech all of us give is called the ‘icebreaker’ in which we give our life background in our own words. That is a good way to start getting to know a person.
Remember the wise saying: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Use it to keep your conversation edifying and uplifting. If you are not in the habit of doing so, make the effort to change.
Another way to keep the conversation interesting is to use humor. It also creates a relaxed atmosphere during the date. Collect your own set of good clean jokes, which can be worked into conversations.
5) All planned events go far better than unplanned or poorly planned events. And planning takes attention, time and effort. Plan your dates. After the first few dates, when the man has learnt more about the woman’s interests and what she enjoys, and shared his own ideas and interests, then the woman’s advice should be solicited for future dates.
Do not let your dates be always going out for a movie together, and a dinner afterwards. Here are some ideas that can be used that would be enjoyable together: playing some kind of sport (bowling, tennis, swimming, skiing, sledding, golf or miniature gold etc.), going on a hike, going to the beach, touring a museum or historical site a couple of hours ride away, take in a theatre show or a music concert, take in a major league game occasionally, cycling, taking a walk in nature parks, taking a boat ride on the harbor or river (just like a tourist if you have not fully explored your town or city), visiting the zoo or a sea park or oceanarium, going to dinner, and many other interesting and uplifting activities. Your local newspaper will have many upcoming activities listed. Use that as a resource for ideas.
Make your dates also educational. There can be some areas of common interest in which to increase one’s fund of knowledge. Some such areas can be learning about gardening to beautify one’s home, remodeling and decorating shows on how to furnish and beautify the home, learning first-aid or safety tips around the home. Then pursue a common intellectual interest if you have one.
6) Remember, dating is a tremendous opportunity to change and IMPROVE. Iron sharpens iron. Use dating as an opportunity to help improve each other’s character and personality. Practice the social graces and strive to become a gentleman or lady. If your Church or social group does not offer opportunities, or your parents are unable to guide you, then learn it by reading books or web sites on etiquette.
Ignore those who discourage you from learning the social graces such as opening doors and car doors, seating your date or helping with her coat or other ways of assisting your date. They may scorn you for doing such things by applying labels such as ‘living in the past.’ There might be a trend towards the ‘casual.’ But there is a time and place for everything. LEARN and PRACTICE the SOCIAL GRACES. These are valued in better society.
7) Do not forget to enjoy yourself and have fun on your date. Learn to relax and help your date also relax. Work to be fun persons around each other. Particularly in the first few dates, don’t get too serious and treat the dates as an activity to enjoy with the opposite sex.
8) One of the major pitfalls to avoid is developing an attitude of “hyper analyzing” every date and “sizing up” the other person as a potential husband or wife at the very first date, and offering unsolicited suggestions on how to ‘improve.’ These would be attempts to remake the person in your own desired ‘ideal’ image. This never works when you do this on the first couple of dates. It will be resented by your date and will most likely ruin the relationship. The Bible says in Jeremiah 13:23, “23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?” The right time to discuss such issues is much later in the courtship process, and only when solicited or with mutual understanding to offer similar advice to each other for improvement. Then the maxim ‘iron sharpens iron’ is applicable.
9) Who pays on a date? With all the stories we hear these days of ‘charming’ men dating women and ending up swindling them of much of their savings by getting them to pay for their debts, or buy things for them, or lend them money for their ventures, it should be obvious to women that if a man cannot carry his own weight, he is unlikely to do a good job of supporting the family. It’s an attitude issue. A man who would gladly let a woman pay is not demonstrating a right attitude about providing and caring for his family. He will probably care more for himself than his family. Therefore, a woman should not pay on a one-on-one date, except in a rare emergency.
10) Ask for advice from your parents on dating. Listen carefully and pay heed to what they have to say, because they care for you. Benefit from their experience, rather than relying on advice from friends and peers.
More importantly, involve God in your life, including your dating. Take to heart wise Solomon’s Proverb 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Pray to God for guidance before and after each date, and ask Him to guide you to make the right choices.
11) Compatibility of cultural background and interests can become very important factors in causing discord in marriage. If the person you are interested in comes from a different culture, then get to know the differences in clothing, music, cuisine, religion (applies to a broader audience), customs, traditions and any other differences that may cause conflict, which you may find very difficult to tolerate, live with, adapt to, modify or compromise with.
Picture yourself living with the cultural differences to see if you both can adapt to develop a common culture that both can become comfortable with. Be realistic with your assessment and the ability of both of you to compromise, or live with the differences comfortably.
Also, carefully consider each other’s interests. Do you have at least two or three mutual interests, or interests that are compatible? If you have no mutual interests, then you may find that after marriage, you may share the same address, but both of you are living in different worlds, ignoring each other when you see each other. For example, if one of you loves pets, and the other absolutely detests animals, you are setting yourselves up for misery in your marriage.
12) It is very important to address physical intimacy during one-on-one dating because it is a major reason why many dates ultimately lead to disaster. Today, sex as part of a date has become the norm. It has become the expected thing to do, many times even on the first date. As a result, many end up having sex with multiple people as they date different people. A large number end up contracting STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), ruining their own lives and the lives of others.
While many are following this norm, others may become physically intimate during dating which often leads to premarital sex.
Progressive levels of physical intimacy while dating would be first holding hands, then more physical contact in the form of hugging; next would be kissing. Then would come greater physical contact which is often called ‘petting’, then ‘necking’; and finally, sex.
“Petting” means caressing or passionate embracing, while ‘necking’ is heavy kissing. Simply put, these belong in marriage—and nowhere else, no matter the opinions of peers, friends or society. Follow the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As you would not want anyone putting his hands all over your future wife, you do the same and do not put your hands on someone else’s future wife. This dictum applies to women as well.
The recommendations in God’s Church are to be more conservative to be on the safe side. That means no sex, petting, kissing, or hugging before marriage. Before writing the United Church of God booklet titled “Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension” this issue was discussed among the leaders. They were asked to comment on their own personal experiences. Most did not even hold hands while dating. Some did say that they did hold hands after they came to the point when they thought that the relationship had become deeper and was on solid ground and the other person was a potential marriage partner. But even this was felt to be a distraction as any physical contact can invoke exciting emotions. If one feels that holding hands may lead to desire for any greater physical contact, then one should follow the biblical advice to ‘flee fornication’ and avoid any close physical contact, including holding hands.
God’s Church has a beautiful marriage ceremony. After the pastor officiating at the ceremony has read the marriage vows and both the husband and wife have agreed to them, the pastor then says to the new husband, “You may now kiss the bride.” There is a reason for that statement. The presumption is that the couple are now kissing each other for the very first time. That is God’s standard according to God’s Church.
13) Annulment of marriage based on fraud in which one of the spouses did not disclose something important such as fornication, or other types of sexual misconduct before marriage has been discussed at length. Therefore, before marriage past sexual sins of any kind must be frankly discussed. In addition, other areas that can constitute fraud include a person claiming to be in perfect health but has terminal cancer; or is a drug addict or an alcoholic; has a criminal past, prison record, very poor credit or bankruptcy, or has other undisclosed children. These issues that could change a person’s decision to marry someone should be fully disclosed. If not disclosed, then the marriage could be annulled.
4. ENGAGEMENT BEFORE MARRIAGE
After courtship, you two have now decided to get married. That commitment is sealed with engagement. The first important question to answer is ‘how long the engagement period should be?’
Many people, not having followed the proper dating and courtship practices, make the decision to get married too early and get engaged. Then they really begin to get to properly know each other. In such cases, the engagement may drag on for one or two years and even longer. Based on experience of ministers in God’s Church who have counseled thousands of couples, the recommended engagement period is 3-6 months, with 3-4 months being the norm.
The reasons for this recommended period are that it takes at least 6-12 weeks to properly plan a wedding. But the most important reason is that once you are engaged, have committed to each other and know that the two of you will be married soon, the desire for physical intimacy will grow. If you delay getting married too long after engagement, you will be fighting a losing battle with intimacy and will likely engage in fornication. Quoting David Pack, “necking and petting eventually lead to outright fornication—with virtually no exceptions. Long engagements also invite fornication—with virtually no exceptions!” So, keep the engagement period short.
If you become sexually intimate after engagement but before marriage, the guilt will remain, and it will scar you psychologically and emotionally throughout your life. Here is how Paul described it in I Corinthians 6:18, “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without [outside] the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.”
Thus, fornication has an impact on the body and mind like no other sin. And it precludes you from receiving God’s blessings as stated in Jeremiah 5:25, “…your sins have withheld good things from you.”
Couples engaged to be married need to acquire another piece of extremely important knowledge before they get married. That is, understanding the role of sex in marriage. Improper sexual relations can lead to unfulfilled marriages and my even lead to divorce. Not knowing the female body, many grooms virtually rape their wives on the wedding night. I will not discuss this issue, but the Churches of God provide two excellent books on the subject, free of charge. These are a MUST READ during engagement, before getting married. The books are:
1) The Missing Dimension in Sex; by Herbert W. Armstrong who taught us God’s perspective on marriage; available at pcog.org
2) Sex – Its Unknown Dimension; available at rcg.org
In my opinion, by authoring the book “The Missing Dimension in Sex,” Herbert W. Armstrong made one of his greatest contributions to ensuring happiness in marriage.
HOW DO YOU WANT TO WRITE YOUR LOVE STORY
Ultimately those dating have a choice in how they want to write their love story. There are two choices. The UCG booklet “Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension” describes these two stark choices this way:
“It is a beautiful love story for two people to grow up as virgins – not having engaged in any kind of sexual gratification – and then on their wedding night present their bodies to each other saying, “I loved you so much I saved myself for you and you alone. I respected you before I ever met you. I respected God and His instructions. Now I’m ready to give myself completely and exclusively to you.”
“Yours can be this most beautiful love story of all. This way as a couple you can live happily ever after in a joyous marriage, instead of living life with heartbreak of divorce and the multitude of potentially life-long problems it brings.
“Either you can have this love story, or you can enjoy the modern ‘love story’ of unrestrained sexual activity that has a couple on their wedding night saying, “I have loved so many different people before I met you that I know we can have sex without any problem at all. After all, we’ve been doing it already. So, tonight is not really that special. And did I remember to tell you? I have a few STDs I’ll be sharing with you. They are painful and impossible to cure. They’ll be with us for life. But baby, I really love you. At least right now I think I do and I’m willing to stay with you until someone better comes along.”
Your love story may not fall in the second extreme of sex before marriage and STDs. You may have escaped STDs. But then there may be children born out of wedlock and a myriad of other problems, which can actually be almost as bad. Do you see that you have a choice in which love story you choose for yourself! You can choose the true good love story and genuinely live happily after ever.
Note on Arranged Marriages
Most marriages in the world are arranged marriages. And not all marriages in North America, Europe, and other advanced countries are preceded by complete step-by-step dating and courtship as discussed in this book. Some marriages in these countries are also arranged marriages; arranged by parents who have been friends, or part of a social circle. Actually, such marriages in the western world could more accurately be characterized as semi-arranged marriages because the couple have had opportunity to meet with each other many times before courtship and engagement.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with marrying that way. And these arranged marriages are not disasters and are often happy marriages, particularly in non-Western countries such as India.
What are the keys for success in arranged marriages? The principles for having a godly happy marriage as described in this book are fully applicable. But the key ingredient in having a long-lasting marriage in non-Western countries is COMMITMENT to the marriage. Once the marriage has been arranged and the young man and woman have agreed to the marriage, they know they have made a commitment for life, ‘for better or for worse.’ So, they have to make the marriage work and make it as happy as possible. Divorce is an option, but severely frowned up and discouraged. Remarriage is difficult in such cultures as contrasted with the western world.
There are other aspects of arranged marriages in different cultures that lead to abuses in marriages such as the dowry system in India and other countries, and perhaps the easy divorces granted in the Muslim world if a man initiates it. Those are evils that such societies have to deal with by changing the culture through vigorous effort through education and perhaps law enforcement by bringing the guilty to justice in cases of abuse.
How then can the principles outlined in this book be applied to building a strong happy marriage if it is an arranged marriage?
There are two major difference between arranged marriages and marriages preceded by dating and courtship. The first major difference is that in arranged marriages, the choice of mate is primarily made by the parents or someone else rather than the couple themselves. In the common western marriage model, the choice of the mate is made primarily by the couple themselves.
The second major difference is that a common western marriage is preceded by one-on-one dating or courtship to select the mate. There are many benefits to the process as already described earlier. In an arranged marriage such as in India, this step is completely skipped, and in semi-arranged marriages in the west, this process is brief. Because courtship before marriage is skipped or is brief in arranged marriages, the benefits to be realized by one-on-one dating or courtship are lost. However, some of those benefits can still be realized after marriage when a total commitment has been made by the couple to be married for life. This is generally true for most of the non-western world.
These two major differences in the two types of marriages can help us develop guidelines for building a happy marriage even if it is an arranged or semi-arranged one. After the couple are married, the principles for having a godly happy marriage apply no matter how the couple got married.
Considering that in an arranged marriage, the parents or someone else has a major hand in selecting the mate for a person, the greatest danger lies in making the selection and forcing the young man or woman to accept the choice. The resulting marriage may or may not be a happy one.
Sometimes, parents in order to retain their friendships among themselves may coerce a couple to get married. The young man and woman may not be suitable for each other, and they can see it themselves, but the parents still coerce them to get married. This will likely lead to life-long resentment against the parents, and possibly an unhappy marriage, which may lead to divorce. Therefore, it is important that the young man and woman consent to the marriage without serious reservations. On the other hand, if a person rejects too many potential mates, then the danger that he or she person may find it difficult to get a suitable mate exists.
The parents or the one helping in the selection of a suitable mate should make the selection after objectively evaluating the potential mate’s ability to support a family, maturity, ability to handle stressful situations, how the person relates to others, dependability, total personality, character, ideas and attitudes about marriage, and the ability of the couple to bridge any cultural differences.
In an arranged marriage, when the selection of the mate has been made, there should be a total commitment to the marriage for life. The couple must do everything to make the marriage work. And that is when the laws of having a happy marriage as described in this book should be applied. These principles should be studied before getting married, during the engagement period.
During courtship, the young man and woman do their best to put their best foot forward. The danger to avoid in arranged marriages is to take one’s spouse for granted, and not put forth the effort to know one’s spouse intimately which one would have done during the dating and courtship process. Once a total commitment is made in an arranged marriage, the couple can follow the principles of courtship in the early stages of the marriage, perhaps within the first two years, to realize the benefits that accrue from dating and courtship, which are developing one’s personality, building character, learning from others through the process of iron sharpening iron without being competitive, growing in social graces by learning to behave like a gentleman or lady, learning to have fun together, share a wide variety of experiences, learn to show respect for one’s spouse, and learn to communicate effectively, precisely, tactfully, without giving offense.
Thereafter, the couple in an arranged marriage can apply the principles described in this book to have a happy godly marriage for life, with an eternal perspective in mind. Involve God through prayer to help you find the right mate, and then bless your marriage and help you to have a happy, godly marriage.
To teach God’s perspective on marriage God’s Church has some excellent publications available free of charge. I would recommend the following.
1) Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension; ucg.org
2) Divorce and Remarriage: Statement of Belief; ucg.org
3) The Purpose of Marriage; Ever Obsolete; rcg.org
4) Dating and Courtship - God’s Way; rcg.org
5) You Can Build a Happy Marriage; rcg.org
6) Understanding Divorce and Remarriage; rcg.org
7) The Missing Dimension in Sex; by Herbert W. Armstrong who taught us God’s perspective on marriage; pcog.org
8) Sex – Its Unknown Dimension; rcg.org
9) Mystery of the Ages by Herbert W. Armstrong at pcog.org
10) Why Marriage – Soon Obsolete? By Herbert W. Armstrong at pcog.org
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