Written By M. Tiong, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese
I once thought that it was fine to start a romantic relationship as long as it felt right; I did not realize that I ought to take time to pray to God about it first. I once thought that it was time to break up when feelings faded; I did not realize that relationships needed to be nurtured. I once thought that I would be rational in romance; I did not realize that I would end up hating the other person badly and nursing my bitterness when the person left.
From puppy love in school to dating in college to being single after graduation, I have been through the whole roller coaster of emotions. It reached a point when I felt as though God no longer loved me. How come other people could start a relationship and watch it blossom and bear fruit, whereas I kept floundering? And why did I end up not only hurting myself, but hurting others as well even though I also dated with marriage in mind?
It was only later on, that I realized that I had been looking at relationships through my own lens. When things felt right, I would immediately launch into a relationship, assuming such feelings came from the “Holy Spirit”. Likewise, when problematic situations wore me out both physically and emotionally, I would assume that these were signs to break up, and as a result, let go of my relationships.
Movies, TV shows, online dating games, etc., all tell us to rely on our own feelings. We are told to chase after the romantic, the happy, and the epic. When these feelings are gone, dating and marriage should come to an end as well. But is that true? What view of romantic relationships does the Bible prescribe?
A thought came to my mind one day: Why not learn from godly marriages in the Bible to find out God’s thinking?
Let me share what I have learned from five couples in the Bible.
1. Isaac and Rebekah: Pray about marriage. Love is not only a feeling, but an important commitment.
Rebekah was from the same tribe as Abraham. She was selected by Abraham’s servant as a bride for Isaac (Abraham’s son) after the servant sought the Lord in prayer. Here I see a very important principle for relationships: choose a spouse from among God’s people. This choice is not random, nor should it be based on feelings—it should be the result of faithful prayer. If we get involved with unbelievers, we will have to deal with the differences in beliefs and values, or worse, we might follow the other person’s religious traditions and abandon God and His teaching.
The second thing I learned from their relationship is this: love is a decision. Although Isaac and Rebekah had not met each other before getting married, they were able to love each other their entire lives. In that time, it was not uncommon for men to have multiple wives, yet Isaac chose to spend his entire life with Rebekah alone. Their relationship shows us that when you decide to love a person and a holy covenant has been made, we can rely on God to keep us going and loving each other to the end even when difficulties arise in the marriage.
2. Boaz and Ruth: Listen to the advice of elders. No matter what your past is, trust that God accepts you.
Ruth was a foreigner as well as a widow. But she loved Naomi, her mother-in-law. She later followed Naomi’s advice and hinted her intentions to Boaz, and, as we all know, it was a happy ending for Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi. From this story, I learned that God does not look down on anyone whatever their background may be. What He cares about is our hearts. Ruth chose to believe in God―the same God her mother-in-law believed. She was also obedient to this beloved elder, and so she was blessed in the end, and even named in Jesus’ genealogy.
I used to think that only those who married their first boyfriend/girlfriend had relationships blessed by God. But it is not so. God accepts us no matter what our pasts are. Interestingly, I also saw from Ruth and Boaz’s marriage that women do not have to wait for men to make the first move in a relationship. Sometimes, a woman can give timely and appropriate hints to “less observant” men. Of course, this is on the condition that any action taken is in accordance with God’s will. As for men, they should think things through and ask older Christians for advice before making a move.
3. Joseph and Mary: Love requires action. We can accomplish God’s work together by fearing and obeying Him.
When Mary became pregnant with Jesus through the Holy Spirit, Joseph wanted to avoid divorcing her publicly so as to protect her name and her life. In that patriarchal era, the engaged man had the right to publicly divorce his fiancée, and the woman would be stoned to death for committing adultery. But Joseph did not do so because he loved Mary and feared God. Mary was also a God-fearing woman, and so willingly accepted the risks that came with her pregnancy.
Loving someone is proven by action. Joseph proved his love for Mary by respecting, protecting and marrying her. When evil men came after them to kill baby Jesus, they supported each other the entire way. This is one God-fearing couple who shared in both the good and bad times for the sake of God. To share the same faith as our spouse, and to be willing to commit to Christ and to each other, is a beautiful thing.
4. Aquila and Priscilla: Be a couple committed to Christ. Build up a home with Christ at its head, and give all for God’s kingdom.
Although this couple is not as well-known as the others we’ve looked at so far, I really admire their commitment to God in the New Testament. Though they were busy with work, they always warmly welcomed God’s servants Paul and Apollos (Acts 18). They opened up their home as a meeting place (1 Corinthians 16) and actively pursued any opportunity to add to God’s kingdom.
God not only wants families to be saved, but also to serve. Opening up one’s home not only incurs extra financial costs, but also a lot of time and energy. Here, we see an example of active ministry by lay people: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), and “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Also, two are better than one. In addition to sharing the ups and downs of life, a couple can pray for each other, serve God, and minister to people together. This is a beautiful picture. When I consider the families I know where one spouse is passionate about ministry but the other is not, I am all the more convinced of the importance of praying for a like-minded future spouse. Only when two people are of a similar maturity and mind, can they build a family with Christ at the head.
5. Zechariah and Elizabeth: Pray faithfully and wait patiently for God. Submit humbly to God’s will.
According to Luke 1, Zechariah and Elizabeth served the Lord faithfully despite their old age. I especially remember the part where Zechariah was serving as a priest when God’s messenger appeared to him, telling him that his prayer had been answered and that God would give him a son. This reminded me that God is always listening to our prayers, but whether or not those prayers are answered depends on God’s will.
Although we also see the weaknesses of Zechariah and Elizabeth―Zechariah was temporarily mute because of his lack of faith, and Elizabeth was initially afraid to tell people about her pregnancy―yet this did not hinder God from using them to accomplish His plans. When the child was born, they obeyed God and named him John. And after praying for so many years for their own child, Zechariah and Elizabeth were willing to give him up to God’s work, and to obey God in naming their child. Such surrender is something I need to learn.
These five couples all have their own weaknesses, yet they share one thing in common: both partners feared and obeyed God. The example of Aquila and Priscilla especially reminded me that I must serve the Lord at any time in any place.
The Bible has many other examples that can teach us about relationships. The five couples above are only a handful, but these are the ones that have touched me deeply. Through studying them, I am better able to face the insecurities caused by my past relationships. These couples also inspire me to build a proper, God-pleasing view of relationship, and help me re-focus on God Himself. I hope that all I have learned about relationships can also help bring light to you in your own relationships.