You won't marry the perfect man. But through premarital discernment and your holy influence, he will be headed that direction.
This is a shout-out to all of my younger sisters in Christ. Let's sit down and have a boy chat for a minute. There's something I've learned over time that I'd like to pass on to you.
We'll begin with your wedding dreams. How would you describe the man you want to marry? What would he be like as a husband, father and provider? If you've had numerous godly male role models in your life — your father, pastor, boss, family friend, uncle, small group leader — you may already have a mental picture based on the qualities you appreciate in these men. You may see some of the husbands and fathers in your church and think to yourself that you'd like to marry a man just like them. Those are great aspirations to have. But first you may need to talk to their wives.
Why? Because these women didn't marry the husbands they have today. Typically, they married less seasoned men. Thanks to the Holy Spirit's refinements over time, as well as the feminine counsel, influence and encouragement of these wives, their husbands are different some 20-plus years down the line.
Now take a look at the young men you know. Can you see them with eyes of faith? Like trees in springtime with an impressionistic haze of buds, the potential for growth is strongly evident but it's not yet fully realized.
So here's what I want to impart to you: There is a learning curve to a man's leadership as a husband and father. The qualities you can see in a 50-year-old man's life were developed over 50 years. There are 25 more years of growth ahead for the 25-year-old man before it's fair to compare them. While you are called to be discerning about the characters of the men you befriend or court/date, you also have a part in encouraging these men to grow. In fact, that's part of your learning curve as you prepare for being a wife.
What am I talking about? Let's look at two examples.
One day, my friend Kyle announced an important revelation: "I recently realized that I've been looking for a girlfriend, instead of a wife. I've been presuming on marriage, instead of preparing for it."
Now 23, Kyle had always assumed that one day he'd get married. But he wasn't intentionally preparing for his role in a God-glorifying marriage. Instead, he found he had a pattern of presuming upon his interest in a specific woman (before courtship), instead of preparing himself to lead and serve a wife. Kyle found he would prematurely invest in that friendship and take steps to grow toward this woman, instead of taking steps to grow toward God while holding his interest and hopes loosely.
This insight came about as he studied the Bible and talked with other men about what masculinity looks like in the Scriptures. Now he is taking steps to help him achieve his long-term goals of a godly marriage and family. Currently there are two areas he's assessed a need for growth. The first is his money management, so Kyle has developed a budget to track his expenditures and investments. The second area is preparation for fatherhood. Though he lives with his family, he is not exposed to many children. That's why he signed up to serve in children's ministry, where he is not only caring for children on a weekly basis, he is also watching how other men there interact with children. It challenges him to grow in faith, he says. He wants to be a consistent Gospel-centered example for these children. In addition, he meets regularly with accountability partners to confess sin, pray for one another and check on each other's spiritual growth.
My job as Kyle's friend is to encourage him in this endeavor by both pointing out any positive changes I observe and praying for him as a brother in Christ. Kyle is pursuing a trajectory of godliness that should prepare him for a fruitful future. This kind of intentionality is what young women should be looking for — the initial efforts that young men make as they respond to the requirements of masculine servant-leadership described in the Bible.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled,respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. (1 Timothy 3:1-10 ESV, emphasis added).
This list of virtues obviously refers to the qualities required for church leaders, but elsewhere in Scripture they are also required of all believers. That's why this compact list presents trustworthy standards by which we can evaluate men. Are they cultivating these character traits? Are they trying to be purposeful? Are they trying to grow in self-control? Are they respectable? Are they hospitable? (I don't mean that they throw 10-course dinner parties. I mean, do they make people feel welcome — are they observant of the needs of those around them?) And so on, right until the last point: Have they been tested?
Testing doesn't mean that these men have performed flawlessly on each and every character trait listed above, but that they have allowed examination through accountability and have gained the approval of others around them for their commitment to pursuing spiritual growth.
Honestly, though, when we are attracted to a man, we can be a bit dazzled by him and not as objective as we need to be — a normal reaction. Therefore, watching a man's commitment to the bride of Christ is going to help us discern how he will interact with an earthly bride. We really should want to marry men who love one person more than they love us — Jesus. And if they love Jesus, they will love His bride. Does the bride of Christ get consistent attention and time from this man?
Does the bride of Christ receive his financial support? Does the bride of Christ benefit from a consistent relationship, or does this man only show up in church sporadically? Does he want to sacrifice his leisure time to serve the bride of Christ through participating in her ministries? Does he love the body of Christ by caring for a wide variety of her members — or is he only interested in meeting the more attractive, eligible members? Is he faithful to the bride of Christ, or does he hop from church to church and meeting to meeting? And ... can the same be said of us?
God has given women a position of influence, encouragement and counsel. This happens in varying degrees in all of our relationships. Entire books have been written on this subject, but I will defer to the concise description of a godly woman's example and influence found in 1 Peter 3:1-5 (NIV, emphasis mine):
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.
The Lord has given women the opportunity to be holy influencers. Unfortunately, many of us try to influence change through the barrage of our words (read: nagging, whining, manipulating) rather than through the purity and reverence in our attitudes that is built upon a gentle trust in God's ability to change people. Again, entire books have been written on this subject, and I can't begin to unpack that thought in this short column. But I will leave you with the testimony of another friend of mine.
Jared is in his late 20s and has been in a courtship for a few months. He is intentionally pursuing this relationship with marriage in mind, but he is not yet sure if this is definitely what God has for them. No matter the outcome of this particular relationship, Jared has already noticed the positive influence his girlfriend has upon him.
"When I'm with Bethany, I realize she spurs me on toward Christlikeness," he said. "She is quick to confess sin, doesn't hold a grudge and engages me in true fellowship — not just entertaining conversations. I don't mind being entertained, but what sticks with me is what she brings up when she talks about God."
Like Kyle, Jared has been preparing for marriage over the last few years. He has grown in his career and his ability to provide for a family, he has pursued accountability, he has taken on leadership roles in his church, and he has initiated other courtships. Bethany's example, however, has also inspired another important revelation about their relationship. Jared has noticed that whenever he begins to feel uncertain about the direction of their relationship, it is directly correlated to the status of his relationship with God. Whenever he has begun to be perfunctory or slipshod about his personal devotions, he also becomes uncertain about the courtship. His relationship with God profoundly affects his relationship with Bethany. But God uses Bethany's example and faith to inspire him to keep going. It is an exchange of grace.
At this writing, neither knows what God has for them in their future. Whether or not they marry, the Lord has used this relationship to spur a brother and a sister toward godliness. By the grace of God, they are each building on the learning curves of servant-leadership and (to coin a phrase) "encourager-followership." It is a solid trajectory for a fruitful future — one that requires eyes of faith and trust toward God to see.