The “way of a man with a maid” was one of the things which Agur the son of Jakeh found too wonderful for him. It is one of the mysteries of creation that there is an impulse which brings together a man and a woman in the relationship of love and tender confidence which we call courtship. What it is that awakens love between two people we do not know. A man may like and admire many women and yet remain emotionally unmoved by them. Then will come into his life a woman who releases within him a desire to make his life one with hers. Though it happens so often we never cease to wonder at the manner of it. This love may grow out of a deepening friendship, or it may be called into being on the instant. Though it may be outside our own experience we should not scoff at love at first sight; there are Biblical examples of happy marriages which began in this way.
In all this we recognize the working of the divine purpose for mankind: the joining together of man and woman in life-long union and the procreation of children. A clear understanding of this divine ideal is a prerequisite to satisfactory preparation for marriage. This is not to say that a marriage is not fulfilled unless children are born. Human beings are higher in the scale of life than animals and a happy and creative union may be experienced by a couple to whom children are denied.
Courtship is an increasingly intimate friendship between a man and a woman who contemplate marriage. In beginning to share each other’s lives their experience is enlarged. They tell each other about themselves, about their earlier lives and backgrounds and their aims and hopes for the future. They seek to know each other better all the time and have no reserves between themselves. Going about together and engaging in mutual activities should increase their awareness and sensitivity, both towards one another and to the world around them. They will discuss and investigate all kinds of things and each will have something to give to the other.
Like many other things in life, a good marriage requires preparation if it is to be achieved. There must be a responsible and disciplined outlook. Too many people today appear to be ready to enter into relationships where the sexual aspect is predominant without any serious contemplation of marriage. Such an attitude is to be condemned, both because it undermines the divine intention of marriage as an irrevocable and life-long committal of a man to a woman, and for its disrupting effects upon the individuals concerned and ultimately upon society as a whole. Physical attraction plays an important part in most courtships, and we make a mistake if we belittle it, but the only enduring foundations for marriage are love, loyalty and mutual respect. Let it be recognized that our sexual impulses are so strong that they need to be restrained and in the absence of restraint damage is frequently caused to another person. For a man the struggle for control may be particularly intense, but the effort is infinitely worthwhile.
In almost any courtship disagreements will arise. These may relate to minor matters which further discussion will easily resolve, but they may reveal fundamental differences of outlook. This should give cause for serious reflection. It is unwise to try to find an easy way out by playing down the disagreements. Far better to be made aware of them before those concerned are committed too deeply and if necessary put aside all intention of marriage. Although a couple may live through the early period of marriage without any serious conflict between them arising, when the upbringing of children is commenced the hidden differences may become only too obvious.
The possibility that a child may be born to a couple within a year of their marriage should again serve to emphasize the need for a responsible approach to marriage during the period of courtship. A girl may think of marriage in terms of security, with a home and children; a man may think, not primarily of these things, but of the opportunity to express his physical impulses. Thus only too easily a conflict of aims may arise. Let both recognize that marriage is far more than the fulfilment of a biological function; it is a sharing of the whole of life and ideally, a seeking together for the path to the kingdom of God. The responsibilities of parenthood will then be welcome as a creative experience and there will be no feeling of irksome restriction but one of joy and intense satisfaction.
In our society a period of courtship is generally followed by a formal engagement in recognition that a man and woman have pledged themselves to each other, though not irrevocably at this stage. The period of engagement may produce a sense of strain between a couple. Inevitably there is self-questioning in a desire to know whether the marriage will be a success. Where genuine love and mutual respect are present the doubts and difficulties will be kept in perspective and in most cases successfully resolved.
Some engaged couples are so certain of the commitment to each other that they anticipate the marriage ceremony and come together in physical intimacy. The principles upon which Scripture judges such an act to be sinful have been sufficiently stated in the previous leaflet in this series, and it is unnecessary to repeat them. This is the ultimate sanction to which we should have regard and it leaves no room for any couples who, allowing themselves to be carried away on the wave of passion, attempt to justify their action by asserting that their committal to each other need not wait upon a formal marriage ceremony.
The satisfaction of our sexual impulses in physical intimacy has a profound effect on personality. Almost inevitably sexual indulgence outside marriage will produce in one or both of the participants some feeling of regret, perhaps of disgust and even fear, especially where a child results. Even where no child is born there is often something furtive and clandestine about such an act because those concerned are not living the kind of life which only marriage makes possible. The aspect of self-giving in marriage may reach its climax in intimacy, but the background of a home, with the economic responsibility involved, should all be part of that unity. Marriage involves vows of life-long loyalty and a life so organized that those vows may be honoured.
If we are to achieve the greatest degree of unity in married life, it is essential that we observe the principle that our partner should be one of our own faith. This is the only sound and enduring basis for marriage, not only because it fulfils a Scriptural injunction, but also from a practical point of view. It is doubtless true that men and women of different faiths contrive to live together happily and contentedly but invariably there will be some sacrifice of principle on the part of one or both partners. Surely we shall recognize the desirability of fundamental unity in the most important thing in life and control our friendships with those outside so that we avoid the danger of finding ourselves deeply committed to another before we had realized it. To break off a relationship when powerful emotions have been kindled may sometimes be necessary but will frequently be the cause of pain to others as well as to ourselves. We should be wise to draw back before that stage is reached.
Practical difficulties so often arise to place obstacles in the way of a serene and happy marriage between those of diverse faiths. Perhaps the most common is the inability to attend the meetings regularly. Occasional attendence on a Sunday morning will often be tolerated and sometimes assisted but rarely can a brother or sister in this position make regular attendances at other ecclesial meetings and activities. It is hard indeed to play a full part in the ecclesial life because there is always tension and a pull in another direction. The training of children is rendered more difficult and it is hardly ideal for them to grow up to the realization that their parents are not at one in their outlook on life.
All brethren and sisters have a part to play in helping and guiding our young people to achieve happy and fruitful relationships. If we are wise we shall avoid contriving to bring together those who evince no desire for association, and at the same time refrain from placing obstacles in the way of those who do. However well-intentioned, attempts to interfere in the lives and relationships of others are likely to be unsuccessful and may be harmful. The greatest encouragement we can offer to young people entering upon the joyous and happy period of courtship is the example of creative and harmonious marriages between those who seek to serve their Lord and uphold his teaching in all aspects of their lives.
Source: The Christadelphian : Volume 99 pp. 545-547.

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