Few things will have a more major influence on a believers life than the person whom they marry. This means that the period of courtship is of tremendous consequence and so deserves serious and prayerful consideration. Solomon said, "Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing" (Prov 18.22), and courtship is a vital part of that search for a suitable spouse. While Solomon no doubt had his own son in mind, the principle is equally valid for our young sisters. This is a matter which demands prayerful exercise on the part of the sister as well as the brother.
Courtship should not be regarded as a runway down which the couple are propelled with ever increasing speed towards the "take-off" of marriage. Nor should it be regarded as some sort of long delightsome picnic in which each successive course is consumed with no regard to the long-term results. It should rather be viewed as a sea journey in which attention is given to the sky (prayer), and the chart (the Scriptures), as well as consideration of every wave and storm with a view to the priority of the calm of being in His will. There will be two hands on the tiller and if either is minded to take a different course then it would be best if the journey were abandoned as early as possible.
Courtship will bring to light differences of opinion about various things. However, if there is no agreement on the issues such as the priorities in life, assembly matters, family, etc. then it is unlikely to be the basis for a happy marriage. Amos asks the question, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (3.3). For this reason, the hours of courtship should be spent in discussing these issues and not merely spent in the pursuit of activities which give mutual enjoyment. Thus it would be appropriate that very early in courtship stories of conversion would be shared and convictions regarding the assembly explored. Paul reminds us, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" (2 Cor 6.14). Sadly, it cannot be assumed that assembly fellowship gives any guarantee of an acceptance of Bible teaching or even of the reality of conversion. Furthermore, the discussion of basic Bible doctrines (including headship) will help to confirm if there is a spiritual basis for a happy marriage.
It would be important to establish during courtship those habits which will be continued after marriage - e.g. reading the Scriptures together, praying together, attending meetings etc. Comments made in relation to suggestions about such activities should not be ignored but rather taken as a valuable barometer of spiritual interest. Signs of a low priority for such spiritual exercises should raise concerns because the responsibilities of marriage and a family will further highlight any lack of commitment.
But are spiritual things all that matter in view of marriage? Most definitely not! Due to culture, family background, and also personality, courtship will bring out some but not all of the differences in behaviour between two individuals. You can be sure that if these differences are irksome during courtship then they will become much bigger issues in marriage. It should also be borne in mind that courtship is a kind of utopia. Both individuals will be especially considerate of one another and will usually be meeting in situations where stress and other difficulties will be minimal. Thus, if in the face of any adversity or difficulty a response is observed which raises concern, then this should not be overlooked. It is most likely that such a response would be altogether more unpleasant in the "real world" of married life. A willingness to forgive and to say sorry should be looked for as marks of true character. James tells us, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another" (5.16), while in Ephesians we read of "forgiving one another, even as God for Christs sake hath forgiven you" (4.32). During courtship it would be appropriate to pray that God would order the circumstances so as to manifest those characteristics which would give assurances (either positive or negative) as to the suitability of the relationship.
It is assumed that before commencing courtship there will have been exercise in prayer regarding such an important step. However, it should be a matter for continued prayer that God would reveal during courtship His will in relation to marriage. We need to keep in our minds the fact that marriage is much more than a casual companionship: it is a committed relationship. This is contrary to the thinking of the world, but Malachi says, "Let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away" (2.15-16). It will be apparent from the above that situations are envisaged where courtship will not result in marriage. If such an outcome is the case then ending of the courtship should be handled with sensitivity. It should be done in the spirit found in Ephesians: "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted" (4.32). There will inevitably be pain in the parting, for even in the early stages of courtship there is significant emotional involvement. Nevertheless, the potential pain should never be a reason to postpone the termination of a courtship which is not marked by an inner peace on the part of both individuals.
What then of those courtships which appear to proceed with calm and the goal of marriage seems assured? In such a situation it is important to remember that Satan will do what he can to mar what has been in accordance with Gods will. How will he do it? He will use every opportunity to tempt such a couple to impurity. His master plan is to spoil our usefulness by sin which not only grieves the Holy Spirit but also results in believers being put away from assembly fellowship. We are at our most vulnerable when temptation and opportunity coincide. In relation to this, it is important for sisters to remember that if they dress in revealing clothes then they are putting temptation in the way of the brethren. If this combines with the affection of courtship as well as the opportunity of seclusion there is the real possibility that the sad blot of impurity will be left upon the lives of such a couple. While a brother is tempted by what he sees, a sister responds to touch. For this reason restraint must be exercised in showing affection so as to avoid arousing desires which must be reserved for marriage. In relation to such temptations, it would be appropriate for couples during courtship to pray, "Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust" (Ps 16.1). Nevertheless, such a prayer needs to be accompanied by becoming behaviour if such a couple are to be preserved.
The subject of Christian courtship would not be complete without considering the impact that results on single brethren, and especially sisters, when many of their peers appear to have found their match while they themselves have not. Any spiritual sister will recognize that the principle of headship makes it inappropriate for her to make the first approach to the brother in whom she would have a genuine interest. Also, there are brethren who would like to be married, yet so far have not found a sister who they would be assured is in Gods purpose for them. In addition, the repeated hints of other believers can be quite trying for those who are genuinely exercised regarding the matter. Such single believers should rest in the confidence that Gods will is always best and, no matter what suggestions others may make, it is far better to remain single than to marry the wrong person. Finding Gods will in these matters is often difficult and there can be painful experiences along the way - and this is often the case for those who are especially exercised regarding Divine guidance. However, even in the delays when we cannot see the way clear, God has a purpose, and perhaps the most difficult thing for us all is just to wait His time. We need to remember that while marriage is divinely ordained for the blessing of humanity, yet remaining single has some advantages which can help certain believers in their service for the Lord. In this context Paul reminds us that "every man hath his proper gift of God" (1 Cor 7.7). Thus the priority for each of us should be to ascertain Gods will as to whether we should marry, whom we should marry, and when we should marry. The assurance that we are in His will is a tremendous comfort when we face the inevitable trials that are the portion of every believer.
May God preserve our young people in relation to courtship and marriage, not only for their happiness, but also for their usefulness in their own sphere according to the will of God.