As I’ve said recently (here and here), the American church often has difficulty incorporating single adults into the life of the church. So much of the church’s language toward single people implies that the only task they have is to prepare for marriage. And that’s true, but not in the sense that most people think.

Single Christians are preparing for marriage—but marriage to God, not to another person. Seen from this perspective, in fact, we’re all preparing for marriage. Some of us won’t experience marriage on this earth. But that doesn’t mean singles miss marriage completely. No, they will simply skip the shadow of earthly marriage and go straight to the substance of the heavenly marriage with Jesus Christ.

The ironic thing about preparing for marriage to Christ is that if and when you do find your spouse, you’ll be ready for them. Far too often we obsess about finding the right person, when Scripture counsels us to become the right person. As Andy Stanley says it, “Are you the person that the person you’re looking for…is looking for?”

Practically speaking, what does this kind of “ultimate marriage preparation” look like?

1. Break bad habits (and start good ones).

Don’t think that on your wedding day you’ll suddenly be able to promise your way into a host of new habits. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. As I’ve heard it said, promises are no substitute for preparation.

So let Christ break you of your bad habits now. Stop looking at porn. Quit obsessing about your image. Decide that you aren’t going to go further into debt—and start paying that debt off.

And let Christ cultivate new, godly habits. Start serving in the church. Learn to be a giver. Pick your Bible up off the shelf and actually read it, consistently. Find out where your church is involved in missions and join in. You want this to characterize your life. So start today.

2. Get into real community.

Join the church and get involved with a small group. And don’t just use the church as a potential dating pool. Look to the church for real community. It’s good to find a spouse, but it’s better to find true friends, people who can join with you as you engage in God’s mission together. Friendship matters far more than we realize: both because you were made for it, and because it makes you.

(If you’re in the Raleigh-Durham area, one of many ways you can get involved in this sort of community is through Christ-Centered Fellowship, a single adult fellowship for those in their 30s and 40s. They host fellowship events—dinners, game nights, ski trips—and also meet together for times of Bible-based teaching and discussion. Best of all, CCF brings together singles from multiple churches in the Triangle. So you can connect with other single adults while helping to strengthen the connection between gospel-centered churches in our community.)

3. Establish your career and your ministry.

When I was in high school, I read Proverbs 24:27 in my quiet time: “Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” I went to my dad and asked what that meant. His response? “It means, ‘Get a job. Then girls will find you attractive.’”

He was right. Guys, you’ve got to get your act together before you invite someone else into your mess. If you don’t have a job and you still live in your parents’ basement, you’ve got no business dating. But more than that, you should be pursuing God’s will for your life now, instead of hoping that you’ll figure it out eventually. It doesn’t much matter if you say you can provide and you say you’d like to know God’s will for your life. It matters if you’re acting on that.

4. Decide now the kind of person you are going to date.

It’s far too late in the game to wait until a dating opportunity arises to ask what kind of person you would or would not date. So decide in advance that you will wait for the man or woman that is God’s gift to you. This means, at the very least, that if you are a Christian, you should not date a non-Christian, unless your faith—and the faith of your kids—doesn’t really matter to you.

And don’t try to justify it by saying (as I’ve heard so many times), “Well, he is a Christian; he’s just fallen out of church.” Can I tell you what is going to happen? The person you’re dating will start coming to church, and you’ll think that things are really changing. But they’re just trying to win you over, and when the dating stage is over, they’ll stop. I’ve seen it more times than I can count, and it would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. Let me be blunt: you would be better off dating an honest pagan than a hypocritical Christian.

5. Cultivate gospel character.

I often chuckle when I go to weddings and hear them read the “classic love passage,” 1 Corinthians 13. What Paul has to say about love, of course, is extremely relevant in marriage. But the context of that chapter isn’t romance: it’s the local church. He’s talking about virtues that we all need to master and live out in the church—your ultimate, forever family.

Love is patient and kind. Gospel-centered love puts other people first, anticipating their needs and serving them, even when they disappoint you. Love keeps no record of wrongs, meaning we forgive quickly and refuse to hold grudges. Love doesn’t boast and isn’t proud, which means we approach others with humility instead of assuming life is about us. And love never gives up. This sounds sweet, but it’s not easy. When people fail us and hurt us, we want to shut them out. But love endures.

None of this is possible on our own power. Thankfully, we aren’t left alone. 1 Corinthians 13 gospel love isn’t an abstraction; it’s a Person. And as we grow closer to that person, to Christ our Bridegroom, we’ll grow in our love for one another.

 

For more, be sure to listen to the entire message here.