The Bible doesn’t talk about soulmates, but it does have one significant definition of marriage which has the key to discerning who is a genuine keeper and which relationships are destined for failure.
What do you look for in a romantic relationship?
Culturally we’re told to find someone who looks good on paper: someone who has the right job, comes from the right background, went to the right school, has the right friends, belongs to the right church, wears the right clothes, votes for the right political party… If we deviate from this acceptable norm set forth by our community then concerns may be expressed, or perhaps just subtle indications of judgement which are enough to make people uncomfortable.
In psychology there are indications of personality to look out for such as emotional stability, agreeableness and conscientiousness which can predict relationship success or failure. For example, the number one predictor of divorce is emotional instability as a personality trait (not to be confused with someone going through a rough patch in life) where the other person demands their partner soothe their insecurities and lashes out when experiencing one of their frequent bouts of neuroticism.
These are all useful indications of a person’s character: such as their work ethic, who they choose to associate with, whether they take responsibility for their finances, and how they handle disappointment.
There’s a myriad of red flags to look out for, but what is the number one green flag?
Whenever Jesus or the apostles addressed the topic of marriage (there’s no such thing as dating in the bible, so anyone telling you how to “date biblically” is probably talking out their own hat), they always referred to God’s blueprint of relationships found in Genesis chapter two before sin entered the equation…
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. – Genesis 2:18-25 (NIV)
Derek Prince, one of the great preachers of the 20th century and a scholar of Ancient Greek, liked to boil this passage down to two words found in the King James translation of the bible: leave and cleave.
Leave & Cleave
How can you tell that someone is going to be a faithful and trustworthy life partner who has your back and is willing to be a team player… before marriage?
A lot of people think that commitment happens at the wedding, but people get married without truly committing to one another all the time. That’s why divorce is so depressingly common, even among Christians who should have a different view of the marriage covenant. Biblically speaking, marriage is a physical representation of our faithfulness to God and His faithfulness to us. Both are mutually agreed, sought out, and maintained. If we can understand marriage, then we can understand salvation and if we understand our relationship with God then we can figure out marriage. One informs the other.
If we have a twisted view of marriage, then we’ll have a twisted view of the gospel. If we distort the gospel, then we’ll distort marriage as well. That’s why many pastors say that marriage is an important aspect of sanctification, if we’re learning the scripture and being conformed to the Word of God. It’s also why one of the fruits of heresy is dysfunctional relationships.
The apostle Paul left instructions for discerning who should be a pastor in 1st Timothy 3:2-7 where anyone desiring to be in leadership needs to demonstrate that they know what it means to be a husband and a father. If they don’t know how to love their wife and instruct their children, how can they possibly lead a church?
Marriage isn’t just about gaining status, or avoiding sexual temptation. You can fall into both of those traps without involving another person. Marriage is an outward demonstration of faithfulness.
Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and likewise it is impossible to please your spouse without faithfulness. Faithfulness is remaining steadfast in your commitment and doing right by the other person even when you don’t particularly feel like it. The Greek word for “love” used in the New Testament is agápē and it has nothing to do with feelings; it’s a verb. It isn’t how you feel, it’s how you choose to act.
It’s one thing to be a faithful person, but it’s another thing to find a faithful person.
Relationships are reciprocal, which means you’re not each contributing 50% of the relationship, you’re actually both bringing 100% of yourselves to the relationship. You’re either all in, or you’re not really in at all.
Marriage demands a radical, drastic, and permanent shift in where you and the other person place your loyalties. You must leave and cleave. In the same way that you must be steadfast in your loyalty to God, your potential future spouse must be steadfast in their loyalty to you.
Why do we have faith in God? Because He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). Why do we love God? Because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). This is the mystery of love. We cannot manufacture true love, it exists without our deserving it, but we can reject it. Nobody ever earns your love, it exists within you as a precious fire yearning to be shared, but you will instinctively shrink back from people and situations which feel unsafe or aren’t a good fit. As long as your relationship compass isn’t malfunctioning. If your compass isn’t pointing true north, and you find yourself drawn to unhealthy people, then it might be time to recalibrate by seeking God and studying the scriptures.
What causes divisions?
Many people make the mistake of thinking that relationship fractures come from outside forces, but just like heresies they start from within the fellowship. People bring an unfaithful attitude with them into a relationship from the start and then proceed to lay a foundation of shifting sand. What a person is willing to entertain, allow, or put up with determines how shaky the foundation of the relationship will be.
I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. – 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 (NIV)
Disloyalty starts within the individual and they bring it with them into the relationship. Adultery begins in the heart (Matthew 5:28) long before it ever manifests in behaviour. For example; if a man allows his parents to interfere in his relationship instead of talking to his wife, or if a woman involves her friends in her relationship instead of working with her husband, they have brought others into the sanctity of their union and compromised the relationship. That dreadful saying “bro’s before ho’s” is an indication of ongoing disloyalty to a spouse.
People will have their opinions, but if you’re dating someone who doesn’t tell those people to butt out, you’ll be in for a lifetime of betrayal. They will allow others to constantly undermine your security and confidence.
Instead, you must find someone who is willing to give their loyalty to you first and foremost (second only to God), and you need to be willing to do the same for them. If you or they cannot commit that level of faithfulness to each other, don’t bother getting married.
Marriage entails leaving your family and friends, cleaving to the other person and becoming flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone. Whatever happens to you must be taken personally by your partner as though it happened to them. If something happens to them it should feel like it is happening to you also.
That is the commitment that God has made to us, as outlined in the parable of the sheep and goats where Jesus says “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus takes everything that happens to us personally, no matter how insignificant we might feel in life.
Don’t fall into the trap of being unequally yoked with someone who demands loyalty from you but offers none in return. Disloyal people see no issue with placing the burden of their irresponsibility onto another person for the sake of their own convenience. That’s not shouldering the relationship as equal partners, that’s enslavement.
Your loyalty can be weaponsied against you by a manipulative user and abused in marriage if you choose the wrong person. They will often keep you off-kilter and in a state of apprehension about the relationship by subtle forms of disloyalty or threats to withdraw commitment. Pay attention to how someone makes you feel because anxiety isn’t love, it’s a form of abuse. Butterflies are not a good sign; peace is.
When you have found the one, you’ll feel secure. If you’re dealing with anybody else, you’ll feel confused and unstable. Build your house on a firm foundation of mutual faithfulness and it will weather the storms of life.
The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®(NIV)