When a couple that has been watching their relationship grow for awhile starts asking about their potential for marriage, there are lots of models they can consider for compatibility: personality types, birth order, shared interests, etc.
Eric Holzle, founder of ScientificMatch.com, takes the whole chemistry of compatibility thing seriously and uses DNA to match potential romantic partners. When you pay $1,995.95 for a lifetime membership, you get a DNA collection kit with cotton swabs to rub inside your cheeks that you then return to the ScientificMatch.com lab and await recommendations for your perfect scientific match.
Couples who have been following Christ, however, know their faith in Him should be a factor as well. If they are both believers, they can check off the compatibility factor related to being equally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14), but what else can guide their decision about being a good fit together? Some would say it’s important to have shared theological views and similar worship styles. Those factors are important to consider in terms of a couple growing in oneness together, but there is another faith factor that’s key to determining marriage potential, and it’s how your relationship together affects your personal relationship with God.
In his article “Stop Test-Driving Your Girlfriend,” Michael Lawrence asks it this way: “Generally speaking, will you be able to serve God better together than apart?” I’ve heard some singles express a similar desire in the context of only wanting to marry someone if their marriage would bring greater glory to God.
These are bold desires that go beyond simple faith compatibility, but they need detail in order to be more helpful for a couple seeking counsel. A man and woman asking if they could “serve God better together” and “bring Him greater glory” may believe that if they don’t rise to the level of a Billy and Ruth Graham or a Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, that they should keep looking for someone else.
What detail can further guide this standard? Michael Lawrence offers a little more in other questions he asks: “Does this relationship spur you on in your Christian discipleship, or does it dull and distract your interest in the Lord and His people? Are you more or less eager to study God’s Word and pray and give yourself in service as a result of time spent together?”
I think there’s a way of asking some of these same things that has the benefit of being tangible: “Can you be more fruitful together?”
Fruitfulness is one of the most consistent themes throughout the Bible. Between God’s first words to Adam and Eve in the garden, “Be fruitful,” to the description of the heavenly fruit on the tree of life at the end of Revelation, there are close to 200 references to fruit and fruitfulness.
Why so much talk about fruit? Most likely because people get fruit (especially people in Bible times who were more likely to grow their own). Seeing fruit growing around them, Bible readers can think practically, Oh, we’re supposed to be like that — producing and growing, as opposed to consuming and stagnant.
The most common fruitfulness theme in the Old Testament has to do with the fruit of the womb. It’s repeated often throughout the Pentateuch, in the garden, after the flood, to the patriarchs and to the Israelites going into the Promised Land. The theme of fruitfulness (in different words) is repeated again in Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:5–8) and also in Malachi’s words to unfaithful Judah (Malachi 2:15).
The account of biological fruitfulness by God’s people in the Old Testament bridged their glory days with their dark days and culminated in the arrival of the Messiah (Matthew 1:1–17). That natural order remains as a rhythm of life for our design. In his book, God, Marriage and Family, Dr. Andreas Kostenberger puts it this way: “Except for those who are called by God to a life of singleness, God’s ideal is that of a monogamous, lifelong marriage crowned with the gift of children.” It’s why the Anglican Book of Common Prayer wedding ceremony describes marriage as being first “ordained for the procreation of children.”
A couple’s openness to children in marriage, therefore, is an initial indication of their ability to be fruitful together. When Jesus begins speaking in the New Testament, however, His words have a distinctly spiritual context: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18).
The most extensive record of Christ’s words on fruitfulness appear in the apostle John’s account of what Jesus shared with His disciples at the Last Supper:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples (John 15:5–8).
Couples wondering about their potential together can ask several clarifying questions based on this passage: Are we abiding in the vine? Are we seeking to do life in our own strength and understanding instead of depending on God? Are God’s words remaining in us? Are we seeking God’s glory in bearing fruit together?
The next few verses from John bring further clarification:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other (John 15:9–17).
You may love each other based on fondness and strong affection, but are you ready to lay your life down for each other? This is the theme that sets the basis for the model of marital love described in Ephesians 5:1 and then 5:22–33.
Ultimately, fruit in a believer’s life is the evidence of the Spirit’s control over him or her. One of the most clarifying passages for a couple gauging their fruitfulness comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:16–24).
Beyond your confessions of faith, regularity of church attendance and other measures of religious devotion, what fruit is most evident in your lives — fruit consistent with a sinful nature or with a life led by the Spirit?
Single or married, we are called to be fruitful. Whether your relationship has the potential to produce a fruitful marriage is the most important compatibility decision you should consider.
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