Many years ago, a group of us single seminarians were eager to hear the best Christian counselor in town on the subject of marriage. What profound nuggets of insight would he mine for us from the rich veins of Scripture he has long excavated on the subject?
But here is what Dr. John Bettler told us that day: You should marry a Christian—and the rest is a matter of preference.
The advice was stunning to me, at once liberating and terrifyingly liberating. Is that all you got, Doc? No safe little formulae or comforting rules?
I was interested to stumble upon the same freedom of selection in the book of Numbers where Moses is deliberating with the daughters of Zelophehad in the matter of tribal preservation. The fate of Manasseh hung in the balance because of the lack of male offspring to inherit the land allotment, in a culture where primogeniture passed through the sons. The problem was fixed when Moses stipulated that the women in question marry only within their tribe; this would avert their family’s eventual extinction. But it is what Moses said “by the way” that caught my eye:
“This is what the LORD commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father’” (Numbers 36:6).
That’s a lot of latitude for a woman in those days (my late Korean husbands’ sister got hitched in an arranged marriage) and comports with Dr. Bettler’s view of marital choice as “a matter of preference.” So then, personal taste legitimately figures into the choice of a marriage partner. This is our Christian liberty. I know a woman who even drew up a list of traits she wanted in a husband (including that he be short!), and the Lord graciously granter her wishes. We may marry whom we want to, as long as he belongs to the Lord:
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
But if that single stipulation of being from the household of God is met, then, in this case of a widow …
“… she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39).
And incidentally, if you and your new husband happen to be invited out to dinner by your neighbor, you have the Christian liberty to accept or decline the invitation:
“If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you …” (1 Corinthians 10:27).
This is the Christian life and the Christian’s joy—form and freedom, God’s law and a lot of liberty. The world rejects form and finds no freedom; the Christian embraces God’s law and finds its freedom as a bonus.