Are you a single Christian man who desires to be married? Let me help. I have an idea for a personal ad:
“Single Christian male (SCM) seeks single Christian female (SCF) to love as Christ loved the church, to give himself up for her to make her holy, to love as he loves himself (Ephesians 5). SCF must be absolute physical knockout (no one scoring below 9.0, please), must love to talk politics and sports, and must possess a laundry list of pre-decided personal characteristics so completely that SCM is convinced no better option could possibly be available within the next decade.”
Oh, you’re a single Christian woman? No problem:
“SCF seeks SCM to submit to in everything as to the Lord, to respect, to serve, to follow and to be led by in discipleship and ministry, to trust as spiritual leader of the home, and to serve Christ with for the next several decades or until Jesus comes back. SCM must possess total confidence (but can’t be cocky and must trust SCF’s opinion in all things); must be devastatingly handsome but have no idea that he is; must be exquisite interpersonal communicator who enjoys nothing more than long, conversations about the relationship; must understand SCF completely; and must otherwise fit description of how SCF thought ‘The One’ would be since SCF started thinking about it at age 11.”
Too harsh? Not likely. Surveys inquiring about what singles — even professing Christian singles — look for in someone to date or marry, often receive “physically attractive,” “sense of humor,” “fun-loving personality,” even “wealth” as the top answers.
The world tells us that the way to know whether two people are “right for each other” is to measure the white-hot physical attraction between the two, combined with the idea of “chemistry” on steroids — their ability to effortlessly have day-long conversations anytime about anything, punctuated by the quick, witty exchanges found mostly in edgy independent comedies. In our culture — and in many churches — “attraction,” whether purely physical or “chemistry-related,” is considered the foundational way to evaluate a potential marriage relationship.
Biblical Christians, however, are called to think differently. We are to use Scripture as the measure of our desires. We are to take every thought, every area of our lives captive to the Word of God. Thankfully, “attraction” does play a role in finding a husband or wife. Read Song of Songs sometime. Biblically, however, attraction as the world understands it cannot be the foundation on which a godly marriage is built.
Let’s examine two problems with the “attraction-as-foundation” approach to dating and marriage — one theological, one practical — and then look at the idea of biblical attraction.
The Theological Problem
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:22-30)
The fundamental theological problem with the “attraction-as-foundation” approach to dating and marriage is that the approach grossly distorts the biblical definitions of “love” and “marriage.” What’s the big question most people agonize over with regard to finding a spouse: “How do I know if I’ve found the one?” As my friend Michael Lawrence pointed out in his article “Stop Test-Driving Your Girlfriend,” “the unstated goal of the question is ‘How do I know if she’s the one … for me.'”
And that’s essentially selfish. I don’t mean that such an approach involves malice or the intent to hurt anyone. I simply mean that such an approach is self-centered. It conceives of finding a spouse from the standpoint of what will be most enjoyable for me based on my tastes and desires. What will I receive from marriage to this or that person?
In Scripture, love is described not as a mere emotion based on personal desire (i.e., “attraction”), but as an act of the will that leads to selfless actions toward others. According to Jesus himself, the second-greatest commandment (after loving God) is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). He also said “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus’ love for us did not result from our inherent loveliness or our wonderful treatment of Him. He didn’t go to the cross as a spontaneous response triggered by mere emotion. His perfect love of us was a choice, an act undertaken despite our lack of attractiveness — and it led to both sacrifice and joy.
The apostle Paul agrees. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes the biblical definition of love in detail, and he lets us know that love isn’t just felt, it does something — something selfless.
In the world’s version of attraction, I’m a consumer, not a servant. I respond to attributes of yours that I like because of their potential to please me. Again, this is not malicious or evil — it’s just not how we’re primarily called to treat one another in Scripture. It’s not the Bible’s idea of love.
As for marriage, look back to the passage from Ephesians 5. Fundamentally, marriage is a beautiful (if distant) analogy of the way that Christ has perfectly loved and sacrificed for the church, and the way the church, His bride, responds to her Lord.
Marriage is incredibly fun; it’s also incredibly hard. For most people it is the greatest act of ministry and service to another person that they will ever undertake. Husbands are literally called to “give themselves up for” their wives. Wives are called to submit to, respect and serve their husbands “as to the Lord.” Though husbands and wives receive countless blessings from a biblical marriage, the very idea of biblical marriage describes an act — many acts — of love, service, sacrifice and ministry toward a sinful human being. According to Scripture, marriage is anything but a selfish endeavor. It is a ministry.
What sense does it make to undertake that ministry based primarily on a list of self-centered (and often petty) preferences? If your idea of attraction — whatever that is — dominates your pursuit of a spouse, consider: Is your approach biblical? More on this in a minute.
The Practical Problem
The practical problem with letting “attraction” lead the way in finding a spouse is not profound: It doesn’t work. If everyone demanded that their quirky, secular notions of attractiveness or chemistry be perfectly fulfilled before they would agree to marry a person, no one would marry.
I once counseled a Christian brother in his dating relationship with a great woman. She was godly, caring, and bright. She was attractive, but not a supermodel. For weeks I listened to this brother agonize over his refusal to commit and propose to this woman. He said they were able to talk well about a lot of things, but there were a few topics he was interested in that she couldn’t really engage with, and sometimes the conversation “dragged.”
He also said that, while he found her basically attractive, there was one feature of hers that he “just pictured differently” on the woman he would marry. I would ask about her godliness and character and faith, and he said all those things were stellar (and he was right). Finally, he said, “I guess I’m looking for a ’10’.”
I could hold back no longer. Without really thinking, I responded, “You’re looking for a ’10’? But, brother, look at yourself. You’re like a ‘six.’ If you ever find the woman you’re looking for, and she has your attitude, what makes you think she would have you?”
Here’s something else the world won’t tell you. Even if you find your “perfect 10” — however you define “10” — marriage is still hard. When you search for a spouse, you’re looking for someone (a sinner, like you) who you will be serving God and living the Christian life with until Christ returns or one of you dies.
In that context, even a really good sense of humor will only get you so far. Physical attractiveness (as defined by the world) fades in 100 percent of people, including you. “Chemistry” as the world defines it ebbs and flows in any relationship. Your spouse can be as fun-loving as he or she can possibly be and there will still be many moments that aren’t fun. Your spouse can have the best personality you’ve ever seen, and he or she will still drive you absolutely batty sometimes if you live with him or her for the rest of your life. You can marry someone who appears to be an omni-competent genius, and there will still be times that neither of you knows what to do next. Knowing that is part of maturing as a person and as a believer, and believe it or not, it’s part of what makes marriage wonderful and special.
As you seek someone with whom to serve God in marriage, build on something more than what might make for a few fun dates or an impressive “catch” in the world’s eyes.
What then? Am I saying that attraction and chemistry have no place in your consideration of whom to marry? No. Does biblical faithfulness require that we all run out and marry the godliest, most personally grating person we can find? Of course not.
In God’s kindness to us, He doesn’t just nourish us, He has provided an infinite variety of foods that not only keep us alive, but that also taste good to us. In the same way, God has graciously given us physical attraction, chemistry and pleasure to make marriage and its unique intimacy that much sweeter to us. That’s good and right.
Enjoy those things, but don’t be a slave to them. Desire them, but have a realistic idea of what those words mean in a fallen world and the limited role they should play in one of the most important decisions of your Christian life. Remember, “the movies” aren’t real, and they aren’t the standard. It’s not that attraction makes no difference, but it shouldn’t make the difference.
What should make the difference? Well, the Bible talks about the characteristics of godly men and women. These are the things that the Lord himself considers to be good attributes or, to use a different word, “attractive.”
Is your potential spouse clearly a believer in Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:14)? Does he/she exhibit the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5)? Does he/she show clear regard and care for others? Does he/she show evident love for God in how he/she spends time and money, how he/she interacts with others?
Women, is this a man you respect? Could you envision yourself submitting to and following him over the course of your lives together? Do you believe he will care well for you and your children? Will he serve you above himself and encourage your spiritual growth, as he is called to do in Ephesians 5? Is he growing in the characteristics of biblical manhood (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 3)?
Men, do you believe this woman will care for you well and be a good mother and discipler to your children? Is she growing in the characteristics of biblical womanhood and what the Bible calls “true beauty” (Proverbs 31, 1 Peter 3, Titus 2)? Do you envision her being supportive of you in whatever ministry God may call you to?
My friend’s view is not rare, and he’s not a bad guy. He would not have married a woman who met his laundry list of requirements but wasn’t clearly a believer. He valued godliness; he just demanded godliness and total compliance with his list. That’s the subtle selfishness that creeps in. I can have both. I can have it all.
My brother or sister, if that had been Jesus’ approach to love, you and I would still be in our sins. Forget the fantasy. Glorify the Lord in the way you choose a spouse. Let the Inventor of attraction and beauty reform your thinking, and your marriage will be rich.