It is almost a truism today that it is best to wait until one is older to get married. I’ve heard Christian parents joke that they weren’t going to let their kids (often daughters) date until they turned 25. People are marrying later and later than they ever have and many in the church approve of the trend. The assumption is that people who marry late have grown up, learned more about life, attained financial stability and personal maturity, and are therefore more ready for marriage.
It is my belief that this reflects a fundamentally unbiblical mindset about marriage. God’s plan is not the same for everyone. Some find their mates early and others wait on the Lord for years, even decades, to find the one for them. But the idea that waiting to marry is somehow better is not, in my view, biblically justified and may have some contrary effects.
A lot has already been written on this, and I have no wish to re-plow those fields.
- The opening salvo in this discussion may have been an article by Mark Regnerus in Christianity Today, called “The Case for Early Marriage.”
- Dr. Mohler followed up with an article reviewing and expounding on the CT article. His is called, “The Case for (Early) Marriage.”
- Today, Matt Svoboda has a post up called, “Get Married Before You Turn 23” making some of the same points. While I would never put a time limit on it (believing that you should be led of God, not by any kind of specific age guideline), Matt makes some good points.
All these articles are worth reading, and I do not intend to reiterate or review those articles. You can and should read them for yourself, if you have not yet done so. I would just like to focus on a few supplementary points which come from my own experience and convictions.
1) Many, even within the church, have a very negative view of marriage, which (in part) drives the trend of late marriages.
I remember speaking to a young woman who was newly married and expecting a child. She told me something that bothered me. “I cannot believe the negative messages about marriage and parenthood that I have gotten within the church. She married young and was starting a family without much delay and had encountered much criticism and even condemnation.
Marriage as God intended is not a curse and parenting while parenting is hard and demands sacrifice, it is a great joy. Yet even in the church we have bought into the idea that marriage and procreation are destructive to the enjoyment of life and should be delayed as long as possible.
2) Young marriages among committed Christians have a great chance to be happy.
I’ve done a lot of marriages in my 32 years of full-time Christian ministry – from 18 year-olds to senior citizens. Many of these marriages have been young whippersnappers and the vast majority of them have not only lasted, but have been (seemingly) happy.
I do not have scientific research here. My evidence is wholly personal and anecdotal. But young marriages (among grounded, growing Christians) are just as successful, and perhaps even more so than marriages among those who wait until they are 25 or 30 to marry.
I believe that is true because young marriage often reflects a more biblical outlook on marriage than is seen in the “wait till you are 30” philosophy. I will spell out some of those reasons.
3) If sexual purity matters, young marriage is important.
Do we really believe that purity until marriage is important, that it leads to blessing? If so, then early marriage is of value. The longer a couple of young people delay marriage, the less likely it is that they will remain pure. My wife and I waited until marriage to have sex, but we were married between our 21st birthdays (she is 2 months older than I). Had we delayed marriage until we were 25 or 28, would we have been able to hold out? I don’t know. But the longer you wait, the less likely you are to wait!
Let’s face it, one of the reasons people are putting off marriage is because they are already sharing that act which God intended to be sacred to the marriage bed.
If purity before marriage really matters to you, then it is foolish, no, it is stupid, to tell young people to wait until 25 or 30 years old. Yes, there are people who remain virgins into their 30s, but the number of Christian young people who give in to the temptation of premarital sex gets higher every year they delay marriage.
If we believe in sexual purity, young marriage is a boon.
4) Marriage is not about “finding your soulmate” but about sharing your life with another person.
According to common belief, youth is a time to sow your wild oats (I know, a very old-fashioned term) and have some fun. Then, at some point, you magically find your “soulmate” and all desire for other women or other men fades away. That perfect person will make you happy, fulfill your dreams, and you can ride off into the sunset together to live happily ever after.
And dangerous balderdash at that. A few years down the road when the bloom is off the rose, suddenly “we fell out of love” and no longer make each other happy. The soulmate mythology is at the heart of a lot of broken dreams and broken marriages.
Marriage is about two people coming together to love God and to love one another. It is more than just romance; it is the hard work of kindness and forgiveness, of compromise and cooperation, of learning and growing together.
I am glad that I picked my wife and did not have an arranged marriage. But if two people in an arranged marriage treat one another with kindness, respect and selflessness, a love can grow between them that is deeper than the silly notions of romantic love that our world cherishes.
Yes, it is a cliche, but it is true nonetheless. Marriage is less about finding the right person than being the right person. It is about how you act, not how you feel. Young couples who are taught in the ways of God and of the Word can grow together as one.
5) (HERE’S THE BIG ONE) Marriage is about two becoming one, not two individuals sharing parts of their lives.
This is the root of it, in my humble but correct opinion. The philosophy behind the wait-to-marry movement reflects an unbiblical, worldly view of marriage – that marriage is two individuals who, while maintaining their individuality, join together to share a part of their individual lives with one another.
I noticed this in the change to a simple wedding ceremony – the unity candle. Back in the “good old days”, the couple took their candles and held them together to light the one candle, then they extinguished their individual candles. While I find the unity candle a little bit tired, it is a biblical symbol. “The two become one.” A man and wife are not two separate individuals who are roommates and lovers. They are one flesh. One life.
But that is not the modern mindset. Today, when a couple does the unity candle, they often leave the two individual candles lit. That is symbolic of this new understanding (I’ve actually seen wedding officiants make that point during the ceremony). I have my life. Jenni has her life. We have a part of our lives that we share. That is not the biblical view.
The marry-late mentality is built on the idea that two people need to find their own way, to become separate, mature, independent individuals before they join together in the limited partnership called marriage. Certainly, some people wait for marriage for noble reasons, and I am not intending to make myself anyone’s judge. But in general, the movement to marry late reflects a “I have to be my own person” mentality, which is inimical to biblical “one-flesh” concepts of marriage.
I left my parents’ home to attend college. There, God brought Jenni and I together. I was a 20-year-old college grad when we married. I have never lived on my own. I went from my parents’ home to college to an apartment with my young bride. For 35 1/2 years we have shared our lives – for good or ill. Neither of us has any sense of what a life would be like without the other. We shared a life as we grew up. We made lot of mistakes, but we made them together. We were poor together and learned how God provides. We struggled together and learned of God’s goodness. We have always had a shared bank account.
There are some very good reasons for young Christians, who love the Lord and live by his Word, to consider marrying young. The idea that Christians ought to wait until they are 25 or 30 years old to marry has no biblical support and may actually be contrary to biblical values and inimical to Christian virtues such as moral purity.