May 21, 2015

Advice for engaged couples

by Jesse Johnson

skydive wedding“Hitting the wall” is a phenomenon that happens to marathon runners somewhere around mile 20.  They have trained hard, kept their pace, and are running well.  But now, with the finish line so close, they start to falter.  Some runners lose focus.  Some lose energy. Some even stop running.

A similar phenomenon can occur for young couples on the cusp of marriage.  After months (years?) of dating, engagement presents couples a new set of challenges. Here is my pastoral advice to engaged couples:

  1. Prayer.

Engagement should be a time marked by godliness.  God designed marriage to be a covenant between a man and a woman who are working together to fulfill God’s purposes in their life.  In what was probably the shortest engagement in history, God created Eve as a spouse for Adam so that they would be able to subdue the land and care for it in a way that honors the Lord through both work and family.  Once two Christians have committed themselves to becoming husband and wife, they are committing themselves to help one another fulfill God’s purposes in godliness and holiness together.  The engagement is a unique opportunity for this couple to start working to draw each other closer to the Lord.  So, take this time to pray together. Read Scripture together. And above all, use your engagement to draw each other closer to Christ—not further away.

  1. Purity.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of purity during engagement.  Many Christian couples fall victim to a variety of misconceptions that sacrifice purity on the altar of licentiousness.  Perhaps the most common goes something like this: “Well, we’re going to be married in a few months anyway, so what does it matter if we go ahead and start having sex now?”  Of course, that same logic works in reverse: “well, you’re going to be married for the rest of your lives, so what does it matter if you start having sex now or in a few months?”

But of course, it does matter.  Simply stated, sexual purity is a matter of spiritual leadership.  The man who is willing to rationalize sinful sexual relations for the sake of sensual expediency is not likely to stop once the marriage bed becomes an option. If he likes to sin sexually now, he will like to sin sexually after he is married. Christian couples who are engaged need to commit themselves to honoring the Lord with their lives, and this includes their sex lives.  This is an issue of spiritual leadership, and as the incoming spiritual head of the household, it is the man’s responsibility to set the example for godliness and holiness in your relationship.

For those engaged couples who have experienced failure with regard to purity, here is my practical advice.

  • First, stop. Past sin is no pass to continue sinning.
  • Second, demonstrate spiritual leadership by making changes. Get accountability and learn from your mistakes.  If you know that you lack self-control, stop placing yourself in situations where temptation flares.  No more late night movies on the couch.  Romantic trips up to Lovers Point can wait.
  • Third, if sexual sin continues to permeate the engagement, take some time to reevaluate what you’re doing. Ladies, if your fiancé is unwilling to lead you in a way that honors the Lord during your engagement, you should strongly consider the direction he will lead you in marriage.
  1. Perspective

This would be a good time to remind engaged couples that your wedding is not the most important thing in the world.  I know that between catering menus, dress shopping and venue selection, planning a wedding might seem like a full-time job.  This is all the more reason why I encourage engaged couples to maintain a relationship that is independent of wedding planning.  In the grand scheme of life, the six months you spend preparing for your wedding are only a fraction of the time you will spend together, so run the race with endurance.

Here is a practical tip: if someone asks you how you are doing, and your answer revolves around wedding-planning (“terrible! Because can you believe that the coordinator agreed to white chairs and now suddenly she wants ivory chairs!”) then it might be time to take a step back.

  1. Phun.

(Don’t mock alliteration!)  Connected to this idea of perspective comes the exhortation to have fun.  Your engagement is just a season of your life, but it should be a season of celebration. Enjoy all the wedding cake samples, laugh about the seating mix-ups, and have fun together. Being engaged is like getting ready to board the plane before an awesome vacation.  You can either take the time to look forward to the fun on the horizon, or you can stress out about what will happen when your luggage gets lost.  It won’t make the plane go any faster either way, so you may as well enjoy the ride.

  1. Pre-marital Counseling.

Every Christian should be in a discipleship relationship, but this is particularly true in the engagement stage. Find an older couple who has a marriage you want to imitate, and have them prepare you for yours.  Use a book that facilitates your conversation and ensures you hit major topics (I use Wayne Mack’s Preparing for Marriage God’s Way).

The main point of pre-marital counseling is forging a connection with an older, mature Christian couple that will likely be the source for counsel and encouragement after the marriage.  This is why the couple doing the counseling should be a couple you want to emulate.  A good pre-marital relationship will provide a resource for your own marriage long after the flowers have wilted and the cake is eaten.

What advice do you have for an engaged couple? Let me know below:

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • First of all, I love alliteration. I’ll be doing a 4 part post with the letter P also in June over at Veritas Domain.

    The only advice I’d add is have a short engagement. Seems there can’t be too many GREAT reasons for a long one. Exceptions I’m sure abound. Long engagements are pools of temptation.

    Your advice was very good. I would just say that sexual sin may be too broad a term. My wife and I were both very new Christians when we met and had had very little teaching about this topic. Now I don’t want to get graphic or risk causing a reader to stumble so I’ll try to be careful here.

    My wife and I acted in a way that we thought was OK at the time. No one had told us otherwise in the church. And I’m talking about kissing ONLY. We thought that was the line. It is now one of my biggest regrets that I did not wait to kiss her. Our world’s casual attitude about this has infiltrated the church.

    The pre-marital counseling is a must with a pastor and maybe even another couple. My pastor had worksheets we filled out and reviewed our answers with him.

    • As Jesus always said, What you do, do quickly!

    • Sir Aaron

      Naturally, you want to avoid “one thing leading to another” so there is wisdom in avoiding too much physical intimacy before marriage. But I personally would not advice a couple to wait to kiss. If that’s what they want to do, then great. But otherwise, I don’t have strong convictions about it.
      I do like your point about a short engagement. Unfortunately, many times it is the Pastor and other Christian leaders who insist on a long engagement. I have the same view on this as I do with baptism. We want to make sure every I is dotted and t is crossed that we make people wait for years before they can do it. We’ve added our own version of church tradition as a prerequisite to many sacraments.

      • Greetings, Aaron! Strong convictions about sexual activity before marriage do not determine appropriateness, a fact with which I’m sure you’d agree.

        You are basically arguing that “kissing” is something we are free to do and we should let our conscience guide us. Based on that supposition, you are right!

        But, my argument is that kissing someone who is not your wife would be sin. I’m not talking about greeting a French dignitary with a peck on the cheek. I think you know the type of kissing I’m talking about.

        So if you wouldn’t do it with another woman, or let your wife do it with another man, why would you permit a pre-(un)married couple to do it?

        As far as baptism goes, I agree that some people add too much tradition. I suppose thinking of it as sacramental instead of as an ordinance would contribute to that problem.

        Love you, brother! Looking forward to your reasoning.

        • Sir Aaron

          I wouldn’t allow myself to court or date a woman while I’m married so maybe I shouldn’t let anybody court or date? I wouldn’t allow myself to go to a movie with a single woman or call her on the phone. Or hold hands with her. So maybe unmarried people ought not to do those things either.

          Suddenly the list got so much longer. Perhaps we will just arrange marriages.

          • Great response, Aaron. You exposed the error due to the lack of precision of my original comment. LOL, as we discussed separately, sometimes there isn’t time to care to put our entire opinion out there. So my last comment was quite incomplete. Nevertheless, I’ll go into more detail.

            I believe you’ve committed a bit of a category error. That is, I’m not sure anyone, including you, God, and myself, ACTUALLY would equate a make-out-session with attending a movie or having a meal w the intention of getting to know someone for the sake of courtship. Of course, if you do, then we simply have the same original disagreement we started with.

            I wonder, and you don’t have to answer it here, how much previous sexual sin your wife brought into your marriage? You don’t sound like someone who is sitting from the perspective of a PERSON whose marriage has been affected by that. Granted, that isn’t an argument from Scripture, but I can tell you that knowing your bride opened her mouth and locked lips with other men is a bit more bothersome than knowing during her virginity she met with different potential suitors and talked to them about marriage.

            Probably we could hash out more details on another venue. Might be a worthy discussion. And as far as arranged marriages go, I’m not opposed, although I can see where there’d be pitfalls. Probably why we shouldn’t be legalistic about that.

            Good chatting. I enjoy your perspective and learn from you and your loving approach to sharpening iron. God bless you.

  • Johnny

    Probably not a bad idea to discuss children, and what steps they plan to take if biologically children aren’t an option.

  • Jonathan Dale

    Great post, Jesse! Creating an extra buffer zone helped my wife and I remain sexually pure (out of a desire to honor God) before our wedding.

  • my2cents

    I think that the church has made sexual sin out to be the worst sin that you could commit as a believer. I’ve counseled young women who are believers who have sinned sexually in their past and feel defined by it, or women who are believers who have recently sinned sexually and they feel that they’re beyond forgiveness. This is because of the church, unfortunately. While sexual sin is just that- sin, we need to be creating an environment where people don’t feel ashamed to come forward and receive help. Too often, there’s too much of a heaviness when dealing with this issue, and the church can sometimes perpetuate that guilt instead of leading the person(s) to a God that is bigger than their sin & to grace & forgiveness that never runs out. Also, your statement ” If he likes to sin sexually now, he will like to sin sexually after he is married” is too generalized & authoritative. It might be true in some cases, but not in all.

    • Sure, granted. But let me say it this way: if he is a poor leader now, then he will be a poor leader later. Or if he doesn’t have self-control now, he won’t have it later. Or if he cares about his own lust than your holiness now, that isn’t suddenly reversed when sinners say I do.

      I get that sexual sin is not the worst sin in the world. But I also don’t want to see a lady see all of the danger signs before marriage and just think “no big deal, because at least we are not going out and doing worse sins together.” My challenge is for ladies to marry guys that will actually exercise good leadership.

      • my2cents

        It’s not fair or reasonable to say that if someone isn’t a leader now, then they won’t be later. People constantly grow.

        I wasn’t intending to say that sin is justified because you’re not doing something worse. My point was just that we as a church need to do a better job of having open arms and preaching God’s grace & love to people struggling with any sin, and not make one sin out to be worse, or less forgivable than another. I agree that women should marry men who exercise good leadership.

        • Alex

          Perhaps it might be better to say that the principle is marriage does not automatically produce maturity. And all Christians (theoretically) are progressing in upward sanctification and maturity. Of course a spiritually immature person could grow into a spiritually mature leader. But young Christian women should still exercise caution if their prospective husband does not seem to have concern for or aspirations toward godliness in their relationship.

          Please notice that Jesse did not say that engaged couples who falter with regard to sexual purity should call off their engagement. In fact, he mentioned it is an opportunity to work together to pursue holiness and repentance. A fiance who is unwilling to shepherd his future wife in those areas is not mature enough for marriage. Perhaps he will be in the future.

        • Frank

          Hmm… So we should all just shut-up and go home? That doesn’t make sense.

          Makes more sense to challenge the guy to man-up now understanding that he will probably fall. Which is what Jesse is getting at.

          • Frank

            Correction… “probably fall” = “possibly fail, but hopefully progress.”

          • my2cents

            Umm. I’m not sure what part of my comment your comment is directed at but never once did I say this issue should be left unaddressed. I simply said we need to change the way we address it.

    • Sir Aaron

      The church should make two things clear here. First sexual sin is a particularly devastating sin whose tentacles and roots will reach very deep into one’s life and possibly cause irrevocable damage.
      Two. Paul makes it clear that the early church was filled with all kinds of sinners who were engages in a whole host of very serious sins including sexual sin. When you turn away from sin, that’s repentance. No matter what the sin, you can repent and you can have saving faith in Christ. If you repent, you are forgiven and should go forth and sin no more.

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  • 4Commencefiring4

    I think couples often don’t really know each other very well before they find themselves married. They may be spiritually attuned, fine. But–

    How do they each handle money–especially if they will be either living paycheck to paycheck, or if they become wealthy? Is one a spendthrift, and the other keeping a rubber band around every dollar? Does one have bad habits with money? Is one in debt? Does one not care about it?

    Are they good with kids, or is one not really “into” that? What are their parental expectations?

    Here’s one that I think is key: Do they have pretty much the same sense of humor? Not important, you say? I beg to differ. A couple where one prefers Jack Benny and the other is into Benny Hill is in trouble. They’ll be on each other’s nerves for sure.

    Parents: Does each set of parents like the prospective child-in-law? And vice versa? Parents’ attitudes can get in the way: one may be upset that their child is “going away” to live with HIM!! With HER!! Bad scene.

    Work: Does each respect the work/career the other has? Or is one unemployed and not really looking? How many marriages break up because one just isn’t pulling his weight?

    There’s a million reasons to wait. In six months more, you’ll discover more of them.

    • acha648

      not really sure why a man has to respect his wife’es career over his
      especially when men are called to provide…

      • 4Commencefiring4

        I didn’t say anything about respecting hers “over his.” That was your take. I simply said that each of them should respect the work the other does, meaning they consider it worthy and appreciate what they do as a chosen career. It’s not going to work if one talks down about what their spouse does for a living.

        • acha648

          right so a 50/50 marriage with equal priority of careers, aka the typical feminist marriage
          fair enough, just like any marriage these days… wife wants to be the provider and protector and husband wants to servant lead by being a homemaker…

          support it, just don’t call it biblical…

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Good grief. Relax, pal. No one is keeping score here. “50/50 marriage”? I don’t even know what that is. I married a woman, and she’s not a percentage…of anything.

            You seem to imply that no woman should become a surgeon or hedge fund manager because she might earn more than many potential husbands, and that would not be “biblical.” Or that no men should ever marry a woman who earns more than they do. And that would also mean all female supermodels and film stars should remain single, all men who aren’t pulling down serious coin should marry only cashiers, or whatever.

            I’m simply saying each party to a marriage should not be disrespecting their spouse’s work–unless their goal is to not have a spouse much longer. Can’t we agree on that and leave the math out of it? There’s nothing unbiblical about a woman earning more than her husband.

          • acha648

            i would also like to know how this hedge fund manager is able to prioritise her home first over her career
            and supporting her husband…
            nothing unbiblical?
            so much then for men having to provide like christ provides …
            typical christian hypocrisy, think men and women can just swap roles but oppose gay marriage, even though gay marriage is built on the idea that men and women can swap roles and gender is thus non existent…

            I guess like most christians you pretend P31 ( she worked but she did not make her husband do the homemaking) and titus 2 and Ephesians 5 don’t exist…
            itis not about who earns more
            many male teachers have married female doctors, the one’s who want to please God though know that the home is the wife’s responsibility NOT the husband’s, and the wife was mean’t to be a support and helpmeet to the husband’s calling, so your demands for equal respect – aka 50/50 no gender distinction marriage is not biblical…

            not to mention it is kinda hard to call a woman who is a surgeon that makes her husband do the homemaking and childcare so she can work biblical… one spouse is responsible for provision and Christ is the provider of the church…

          • 4Commencefiring4

            You’ve managed to take my simple statement–that marriage partners should respect each other’s work–and turn it into some kind of contest or arm wrestling match between them where their home would be wrecked, any kids are ruined, and then somehow add gays and “role swapping” into the matter. That’s some trick, friend. I’d hate to see what you do with something really controversial.

            Take five–I’m not trying to destroy the Kingdom here. I’m just saying husbands and wives should speak well of each other’s vocations. How is that a problem?

            You keep putting words in my mouth: I never said anything about “50/50 no gender distinction marriage”, or a successful wife who “makes her husband” keep the home and kids. People can walk while chewing gum, you know. One need not choose between earning a paycheck and having a “biblical” marriage. If that’s not true, plenty of christian marriages need fundamental changes.

            What would you tell a woman whose husband is a disabled vet, or suffered from a serious illness that renders him unable to work? I guess they’d just be out of luck and on welfare, even if the wife was a skilled engineer. Make sense to you?

            Would you go to all the law schools and medical schools in the nation and advise any christian female students they should drop out–and lose whatever they’ve spent–if they intend to ever marry? Because that’s the upshot of what I’m hearing here. They would be sinning to pursue a career in those fields if they were married–even if they married other attorneys and doctors.

            Ozzie and Harriet are over, and one income these days hardly puts clothes on the back of the kids you’re so concerned about. But all that aside, all I’m calling for is mutual respect for career choices. I don’t think that’s a radical thought.

          • acha648

            keep trying to justify feminist marriages, with no roles
            yes any christian woman who truly loves God and is or wants to be married and reads Titus 2:5 or P31 will clearly see the home is her responsibility, not her husbands…

            sorry if you think a stay at home husband and earning wife is biblical, then so is a gay relationship… you are just picking and choosing what you want ot believe.. if you think christian women can just pretend Titus 2 etc do not exist, then so can gay christians pretend Romans 1 does not exist…

            and the whole you need 2 incomes to survive is a myth..

            Adam was commanded to work in Genesis and the curse for him was with his work… Men are commanded to model christ who is our provider…

            it does not matter if the wife earns billions etc, the home is her priority and work the man’s so your mutual/equal respect makes no sense…
            so yes the wife may run a brilliant home base business, but her first priority is to support her husband’s calling not role reversal as you seem okay with…

            and when you say “Just a mom” it shows what you think of motherhood and being a wife

            guess what Mary the most popular woman of the bible was “Just a mom and wife…)
            yes many times women will have to give up
            just cause a woman is a lawyer, doctor or Engineer does not mean she is not a woman and the home is not her priority, making her husband be the homemaker is not biblical

            if it is, by your logic lying,gay marriage, adultery etc are all biblical…

            if a man wants to be a PASTOR his wife has to support him in that , it could mean moving around or leaving jobs and caring for the home, NOT some 50/50 marriage where the man plays the role of helpmeet half the time and the woman the other…

          • acha648

            http://www.challies.com/christian-living/leadership-in-the-home-a-godly-man-provides

            if the people on this blog are teaching you gender role reversal, they clearly don’t respect the word of God…

    • acha648

      nvm
      the author has invited a woman called Carolyn to teach them to not feel guilty for prioritising their career, over supporting their husband and running the home…
      so I decided to engage on the wrong blog, thought they were committed to being biblical…

      • 4Commencefiring4

        Well, look. You’re all over the place here. You seem to think I’m opposed to stay-at-home wives/mothers. Not at all: my wife and I agreed before we were ever married that she would be at home to raise our kids, just as our own mothers had been for us–a long time ago. It worked out well, but it did so for others who chose differently. And couples who let the wife stay at home might later split up. The marriage fails or succeeds on more than that factor.

        But we recognize that not everyone can have Mrs stay home, and not everyone must. Sure, you go without some things with one income and eat out less frequently. We even managed to send our kids to christian school until HS, which was expensive. And were it not for occasional influxes of help from our parents or unexpected events, that might not have even been possible. We happen to live in an expensive part of the country where one of the highest average household incomes are found (mine being an exception), and the best of intentions are not always doable.

        So, like you, I favor that model; I recognize, though, that one size doesn’t fit all and some couples would drown with one income unless they’re going to pull up roots and move to the hills where people pick their teeth and shoot varmints.

        So if you’re so fixated on the marriage model you cite, tell me: what is a woman to do whose husband CANNOT work, WILL not work, or (because of existing wealth) doesn’t NEED to work? And what should a wife do who is also a nationally known figure whose earning power far exceeds her husband’s? Does she crawl into a hole and disappear?

        You can cite Titus and anything else, but context, culture, and “conditions on the ground”, as we say, might modify your conclusions. Paul also says a woman needs to cover her head while praying in church. How many hats do you see on a Sunday morning? Does you wife wear one in the service? I’m guessing…no.

        Touche?

        • acha648

          Of course there are exceptions read the article….
          But the wife earning more is not an exception
          Just cause the wife earns more the bible does not apply?
          Where does Paul say follow God’s rules of marriage only if the wife earns less?
          By your logic , women should be elders because many women are better leaders than men, women should teach men as many women are better teachers…
          A man is commanded to work regardless of whether he is wealthy or not
          Just because he is wealthy he is not to abandon his role as leader and be a homemaker?

          As for head coverings, men and women are still required to dress differently

          And a woman choosing to put her home first because she wants to please God is not being quiet etc… And we are commanded to have a quiet Spiro spirit not proud

          If you think men and women can be swapped you should be fine with gay marriage as it is built on that idea…
          Touche?!

        • acha648

          all over the place? you are the guys inviting a woman what endorses a feminist organisation that demands that women break out of their roles and try an be like men…

        • acha648

          with due respect if you think a woman can disobey Titus 2 and Ephesians 5 and stop being a support to her husband and reverse roles just because she is famous or rich, I’d urge you to revise your understanding of scripture , the poor are not the only one’s required to submit to God!

          again this idea that men have to be homemakers and support the female desire to be a man ( protector, provider etc) is not biblical, your continual support of feminist marriages would make one question whether you truly love the Bible and thus God…

          sad christian men like you nowadays are more concerned about trying to weaken and justify weak men…
          and then Christians wonder why their children dislike God?!

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  • acha648

    this gets better the more research I do

    the author has invited this woman to teach

    http://immanuelbible.net/women/success

    who endorses propel woman and makes content for them

    https://www.facebook.com/CarolynCMcCulley/posts/890819694316176

    an organisation that wants to eliminate Gender roles

    http://religiondispatches.org/conservative-evangelicalisms-gender-role-rift-whither-women/

    and is lead by Christine Caine…

    right,
    he just preached on Gender Confusion, yet he thinks it is totally fine to teach the women in his congregation to aspire to be men ( provider, protector,leader) …

    very consistent…

    • acha648

      the bigger concern is his endorsement of a woman who seems to agree with he “God told me” ideology of Christine Caine…

    • This is like extreme fundamentalism, only lazy. (you can’t associate with x, because she associated with y, who used to speak for z, who is now endorsed by a heretic). I deleted much of your comments below just because they were not clear, nor were they even about the blog post above. I’m leaving this one here, just so you (and others) dontthink I was deleting it over the content of it.

      • acha648

        I was explaining her logic of supporting these organisations…
        it is Carolyn who says roles in the home do not matter, men are equally commanded to be homemakers as women are…
        she gives women an example of planning using her friend who wants her husband to be the helpmeet as opposed to her ( page 142)
        and this is not X,Y,Z
        she directly does work for the Heretic…

        if Gender roles in the home collapse just because a woman earns more
        do Gender roles in church collapse because many women are better leaders/preachers/teachers?!!

  • acha648

    having read the book. she even suggests a model where the wife works while the husband takes care of the kids and does the homemaking is biblically sound…

  • Hanna Oh

    Thank you for this great advice Pastor Jesse! Gives a good perspective on how we should approach and continue in our engagement.

  • Chidoh Kootlole

    this is a wonderful post Pastor Jesse Johnson. thank you very much for sharing

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  • Paul Russomanno

    Michael Coughlin said to have a short engagment…i would disagree…many young couples that are christian never focus on the dynamics of the relationship and think marriage will make things better…marriage only makes things harder and complicated…take your time with engagement and be real about your expectations as a married couple and go to some real counseling