What is God’s perfect will about choosing a life partner?

Q. What is God’s standard and perfect will about choosing a life partner?

Thank you for your question. It is one that I was asked many times, in one form or another, during my 25 years as a pastor. Let me share some of the insights that crystallized over those years.

First, we cannot automatically assume that God has a life partner for us. The New Testament is clear that for followers of Jesus, advancing the kingdom of God is primary, and everything else, including marriage, is secondary. So God will have a life partner for you if you will be able advance the kingdom better if married, but not if you can advance the kingdom better if single.

As Paul put it to the Corinthians after describing how being single gave him advantages for his own work for the kingdom, “I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another” (meaning either singleness or marriage). In other words, marriage is not the default, and singleness the exception, as some communities implicitly suggest, nor is singleness (celibacy) a higher state that more spiritual people should aspire to, as other communities seem to believe. Rather, both marriage and singleness are “special gifts” that God gives to each person as He sovereignly chooses.

The Greek word is actually charisma, “spiritual gift.” So our first task in seeking God’s perfect will is to become yielded and willing to live either as married or as single, as God should decide. God promises blessings to people in both states: “Whoever finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord”; “I want you to be free from worry; a man who is not married is busy with the Lord’s work, he is trying to please the Lord.”

Now it may be that, all things considered, you feel that God would want you to be married. As far as you can tell, you would be able to advance the kingdom of God better that way. In that case, I would still advise you not to go looking for someone to marry. Instead, work on becoming the kind of person that the kind of person you would want to marry would want to marry. And then trust God to bring the right life partner along in His own time and in His own way. It’s not up to you to find them. It’s up to you to be ready when God brings them into your life. You want them to be able to recognize you as the right life partner for them!

I have heard of cases where people felt they had spent sufficient time “becoming” like this and it was now time for God to bring a partner into their life. These people felt led into extraordinary seasons of prayer, sometimes with fasting. And in unexpected ways, many of them were connected with people who did become excellent life partners. So if you eventually feel that you have reached this point, then rely on prayer (perhaps with fasting) as your essential means of seeking God in the matter.

But another thing I’d say is that we need to be open to the unexpected. I’ve known people who very much wanted to be married, but no partner ever came into their lives, and over time they accepted the disappointment and bravely began to explore how they could serve God effectively as a single person. On the other hand, I have known people who were quite content being single and who felt that they had an effective ministry for God that way. But unexpectedly God brought someone into their life who they recognized would be an excellent life partner and give them an even greater ministry, in ways they couldn’t have thought of themselves. We have to leave it up to God to decide, and we need to trust that God knows best.

One clear standard in the New Testament is, “Only in the Lord.” (While these words are spoken specifically to widows about the question of remarriage, in the wider context of the New Testament they certainly apply to all believers.) In other words, anyone a follower of Jesus marries must also be a committed follower of Jesus. No one who is not a follower of Jesus can help you have a greater ministry for the kingdom of God than you would have without them.

In trying to recognize whether a person who has come into our lives is indeed the life partner God intends, we can rely, for one thing, on what is often described as “ordinary guidance.” That means the convergence of factors such as the teaching of Scripture, the advice of trusted counselors, the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, what the circumstances permit, the God-given desires of our hearts, etc. I personally have found that our parents (if they are still living, or otherwise people who have become like parents to us in their stead) are given special insight into whether a given person would be a good life partner for us. My late wife and I had each resolved, before we became serious about one another, that we would not marry anyone without our parents’ blessing. I feel that this resolution served us very well. (Obviously we did receive the blessing of both sets of parents, or we wouldn’t have gotten married!) I also have to say that unfortunately I have seen people marry against their parents’ wishes and suffer greatly for it afterwards.

But beyond this “ordinary” guidance, I have noticed over the years that very many times people receive “extraordinary” guidance about who to marry. That form of guidance is a direct communication from God, so that you just know, perhaps without knowing how you know. I have seen this happen so frequently, in fact, that I have come to believe that God will often give such guidance precisely because the decision about who to marry is so important and has such a great impact on our entire life and future.

I hope these reflections are helpful to you. And may God direct you into His perfect will in this matter for your life.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

9 thoughts on “What is God’s perfect will about choosing a life partner?”

  1. What do you do when it feels like God is pointing you to someone you don’t like in that sense of marriage. Yet the signs keep coming with so much confirmations but your heart becomes deeply troubled and distressed whenever you consider it. The person by the way is a commited believer and appears to be genuine.

    1. I personally believe that we receive guidance from God, in most cases, through the convergence of a number of factors. One of these factors is the teaching of the word of God, and marrying the person you describe would be consistent with the teaching of the word of God, since this person is a committed, genuine believer, and I trust that you are as well. Another factor is the circumstances, and you seem to feel that there are signs in your circumstances pointing towards marriage. However, there are other factors to consider as well. One of them is the desire of your heart. When we are walking closely with the Lord, we will feel light and gladness when we consider his will for us, and heaviness when we consider something that is not his will. So I would advise you to take those troubled, distressed feelings very seriously. Simply stated, if the prospect of marrying someone does not fill your heart with joy and gladness, then do not marry that person! At least not until you have been able to sort through the feelings, understand why they are there, and recognize their implications. Maybe it is not the right time, for you or for the other person. Or maybe this is simply the wrong person, despite their sincere faith. May God guide you and direct you into his perfect will.

    2. May i ask, what do we make of Numbers 36 verse 6-9 where God says to the daughters of Zelophehad, Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within the family of their father’s tribe’ (nkjv). And 1st Corinthians 7 verse 39 where Paul says, A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord (nlt)
      Both these verses seem to suggest free will in terms of choosing a spouse but of course our restriction is that we choose within the Christian community. I’m asking because a lot of Christians believe that God chooses a spouse for us and i find no verse in scripture to support that but i find two verses where God says “let them marry whom they wish”, he seems to allow us to choose who we want to marry. Because of these Bible verses, and Bible verses where God informs us about what to look for in a godly man/woman and how to be a godly woman/wife or man/husband, I thought that God gives us guidance through those verse when it comes to choosing a spouse and lets us use that guidance in the choices we make.
      Have I taken those verses out of context ?

      1. I agree that God does give us guidance through the Scriptures about what kind of person to marry. But I also believe that God gives us personal guidance along the way as we seek to apply the Scriptures to our own lives as we make important choices. I describe within this post what I believe that guidance looks like in the case of getting married. Even if God does not choose a spouse for us, God certainly is very active in helping us recognize who a suitable spouse would be.

  2. I have a strong feeling that I’ve seen my Life partner but the signs are not yet visible even when I’ve prayed to God for his confirmation I see no signs, but then I still strongly believe that this person is the one. What do I do?

    1. As I’ve said in other places on this blog, I believe that generally we receive guidance from God through a convergence of factors. One is the teaching of the word of God, which says that believers must marry “only in the Lord.” So this person would need to be a believer in Jesus if you are. Another factor is the counsel of trusted, godly advisors. I hope you have such people in your life, and I would encourage you to ask them about this. Another factor is prayer. If you do not have assurance in answer to your prayers, then you need to wait until you do have assurance. Another factor is the circumstances. If they would not permit a marriage, then this is not God’s will. (For example, someone who is already married to someone else is not God’s choice for you.) Another factor is the desire of our hearts. That seems to be present here. But yet another factor is the inner peace that we get when we consider a course of action that is God’s will. Perhaps your strong belief is an expression of a settled conviction that is like this inner peace. And maybe the best thing for you to do would be to speak to this person you have the strong feeling about, if that would be appropriate and allowable in your culture. I wouldn’t recommend starting out by saying, “I think you could be the life partner God has for me.” But maybe you could start out by saying, “I’d like to get to know you better.” If your culture would not permit you to take such an initiative, perhaps someone could arrange an introduction for you. You could get to know this person better, and if a deeper relationship developed, then the two of you could explore together what God might have in mind. May God guide you and direct you as you consider how to proceed.

  3. What about this part of the verse that you leave out:

    “ 12To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.

    14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.”

    You mention that the other verse only applies to widows but that it can assumed that it can be applied to everyone, but just further up in the verse it seems to contradict that. Also why can’t we be here to lift up the other person towards God and get closer to God through other relationships.

    1. The portion of Scripture you are quoting here was written during the first generation of Christianity. It is addressing people who were already married when they became Christians, whose husbands or wives did not become Christian. It is not giving advice to people who were Christian but went ahead and married people who were not Christian. So it does not contradict the advice to widows, to marry “only in the Lord.” A person should not say, “I will marry this person who is not a believer and try to lift them up towards God.” God intends a believer to marry someone who is already another believer. That shared faith is required as the foundation for a Christian marriage.

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