It’s a conversation that’s all too familiar. I’m making the rounds at church or my small group, doing my best to make small talk and get to know people just a little bit better than I did last week, when it inevitably happens. Finding out I’m single, some well-meaning person will pull me aside with excitement in their voice: “I know just the right person for you!”
Maybe you can relate to that scenario. Maybe not. But it brings up an important question: What should we be looking for in a potential spouse? Though the Bible does not give us a single list of qualities to look for, it does tell us what the right type of relationship will look like and how to make wise choices in this area.
God to Adam: “I Know Just the Right Person for You!”
If ever there were a perfect matchmaker, it would have to be God. He knew Adam more intimately than Adam knew himself, and He knew just what Adam needed in a spouse. So when God surveyed creation and saw that it was “not good” for Adam to be alone, He created a spouse that would perfectly complement him.
Genesis doesn’t give us much of a personality profile for either Adam or Eve, so it’s impossible to discern the factors God considered when creating this match. All we have is Adam’s poetic response to his first glimpse of Eve in Genesis 2:23:
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
The other word used to describe Eve—“helper”—in our English Bibles has been the source of much confusion and grief. I don’t normally think about my future wife as a helper. That might be the term I’d use if were looking for an assistant, but not a wife. But there’s much more in the Bible’s description of Eve as “helper” than most of us realize. Underlying this Hebrew word is a common Old Testament reference to God. Knowing that, we should suspect that the role in view for Eve and her progeny is much more than that of an assistant. In fact, the word really conveys the idea of filling up what is lacking.
We see Adam and Eve’s harmony in the fact that Eve was fashioned from part of Adam’s body. They begin as one flesh, then separated and then in marriage “became one flesh” once again (Genesis 2:24). God created them uniquely to fit together. There is nothing in the Hebrew text to suggest that Eve is inferior to Adam. Rather, she is his equal. But she’s not just an equal. She’s a friend and companion to come alongside Adam, as he comes alongside her, making each other what God intended them each to be—good.
In the world of the Old Testament, the idea that a man and woman should complement each other—in a companionship or friendship—was unheard of. And the concept is almost as foreign today, but for different reasons. Friendship may be a nice idea, but our culture tends to see it as an added bonus, tacked onto sexual appeal and financial security. It’s hardly the number-one item on our list of non-negotiables.
The “Why” of Marriage
All that is implied in the Genesis wedding scene is made explicit in the New Testament. In Ephesians 5, we read that the relationship between a husband and wife is a picture of Christ and His Church. Wives are to submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ, and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. The husband and wife are to serve each other as equal partners, though their roles and acts of service are different. Just as before, we see that husbands and wives were designed to complement one another.
For many of us, this is a very familiar and also controversial passage (up there with Eve being called a “helper”). We can easily lose sight of the fact that Paul gives us a reason for the kind of relationship he’s describing. It’s the same reason Christ died for the church: “That he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27, ESV).
Timothy Keller, in his book The Meaning of Marriage, asserts that the main purpose of marriage is for two people to help each other grow into their sanctified and future glorified states. “That is why putting a Christian friendship at the heart of a marriage relationship can lift it to a level that no other vision for marriage approaches,” he writes.
Marriage is a means to make us more like Christ. A spouse will not “fix” you (remember, when you get married, he or she will be broken too), but God can still use that relationship to make you more like Him.
Today, we tend to think of friendship and romantic love as separate categories. When we no longer want to date someone, we might say, “Let’s just be friends,” implying that friendship is a downgrade. But in actuality, friendship enhances a couple’s romantic relationship; the two belong together.
In the book of Genesis, we read about the relationship between Isaac and Rebekah. They had, perhaps, the only love-at-first-sight encounter in the Bible (see Genesis 24:62-67), but even more beautiful is what we read about their marriage some years later.
Isaac and Rebekah had settled in the land of Gerar among the Philistine people, and Isaac worried that the men of the area might see Rebekah’s beauty, kill him and take her as their own. So like his father Abraham in Egypt did before him, he told the locals that Rebekah was merely his sister—nothing more. (Ladies, before you condemn Isaac for being a total creep, think about what an amazing compliment that was—“Honey, you’re so incredibly attractive that I’m afraid for my life!”)
Isaac and Rebekah’s ruse lasted a while, but eventually they were found out. We read, “Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife. So Abimelech called Isaac and said, ‘Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, “She is my sister”?’” (Genesis 26:8-9, ESV).
Kindled by a strong foundation of friendship, there was such a romantic spark between Isaac and Rebekah that it was impossible for them to hide their love, even when they had their entire community convinced they were nothing more than siblings.
That’s the kind of relationship I want to have when I get married—not the kind where we pretend to be brother and sister, of course, but the kind where the simple act of enjoying each other’s company, of laughing together, is enough to tell the world that we belong to one another.