A Christian engagement should reflect the fact that marriage is a God-created, God-ordained institution meant to support individuals in a loving relationship and strengthen them to serve God and others. Scripture is specific that the couple should remove themselves from their childhood families and be devoted to one another (Mark 10:7-9). The Bible also says that disloyalty to the marriage commitment is akin to rejecting God.
The Bible does not dictate how Christians should spend their engagement, although there are allusions to how engagements worked in Bible times. Usually marriages were arranged to the benefit of the families and their patriarchs—not the feelings of the individuals involved. The groom would approach the bride's father and set terms, including the dowry which was supposed to be a nest egg for the woman if her husband should die or divorce her without giving her a child. The groom would return to his father's house and build a room for the future couple. Sometime later, he would go get his bride and bring her to the prepared space. They would have the marriage ceremony, the families would celebrate, and the bride would become a member of the groom's family.
A modern take on a godly relationship would look a little different, but it would still have three similar stages. The first would be two individuals recognizing each other as potential marriage partners, either through friendship or dating. This is the time for big issues to come to light including faith (2 Corinthians 6:14-15), family obligations, personal challenges, and even struggles with sin. Both individuals need to know enough to be able to make an informed decision as to whether they can be compatible as a couple. And they need to take the time to ask God if this is the right person (Proverbs 3:5-6).
The second stage, engagement, is an important time for Christians. Once a couple has either resolved or agreed to accept the big issues in each other's lives, they can make the commitment to work toward marriage. Like the Israelite groom who builds a living space for his bride-to-be, engaged Christian couples should spend this time preparing. The emphasis shouldn't be on the ceremony, which may only last a few minutes, but on practical and relational matters that will ensure the marriage is strong. A good premarital counselor will cover finances, housing, expectations of roles, and how childhood families create paradigms that can be completely foreign to the other partner. In addition, men need to learn how to love sacrificially (Ephesians 5:25), and women need to learn to respect their man (Ephesians 5:33).
The third step, marriage, is much bigger than the feelings of two people in one moment. If done properly and thoroughly, the skills learned during the engagement period should serve the couple throughout their marriage. This means a Christian engagement is not a time to try things out to see if they work. It is not a chance for the couple to make sure they're sexually compatible; it's a time to develop communication skills that can be the basis for a healthy sexual relationship (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). It's not a time to determine if a couple can live together without driving each other nuts; it's a time to learn how to love sacrificially (Philippians 2:3). Resolution skills, love, and communication are surer signs of a lasting marriage than convenient personal compatibility at a particular stage in life.
In general, a Christian engagement should lead to marriage. It is a commitment to another person, and such commitments should be honored. But it is not a sin to break off the engagement if events occur or issues come to light that cause the couple to re-evaluate the appropriateness of their match. Unlike in Bible times, breaking off an engagement is not divorce. But modern engagements should carry a similar weight as the two learn how to be one. If done right, the few months or years of engagement will equip the couple for many years of good life together.
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