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Christians believe marriage is a “’till death do us part” covenant before God and his people. For this reason, it is exceedingly important to enter into that covenant with the right person. As a pastor of 8 years and husband of 13 years, I am often asked: “What should I be looking for in a potential spouse?” The answer to that question varies depending on who is asking and why, but there are five things that apply in every situation.

1) Are they a Christian?

This one is not always so obvious.

When we have to choose between waiting for the Christian spouse who may never come, and jumping into the open arms of the wonderful non-Christian standing directly in front of us, it can be easier than we think to overlook this most obvious quality.

Yet, to do so is to make a grave mistake.

If you are a Christian, Jesus is not just someone you believe in.  He is the Lord you revolve your entire life around. Your love for Jesus and understanding of him determines how you answer every single question life presents.

What do you do with the money you have? Where do you choose to live? What do you do for a living? What will you teach your kids? How will you discipline them? How will you relate to your extended family, friends, and neighbors? What role will church community play in your life? What is the purpose of marriage? What is each spouse’s role in marriage? What will you do with your free time?

Then you get married.

And all that is yours becomes theirs, and all that is theirs becomes yours. Now these same questions must be answered by both of you – together. How can you do that if you don’t share the same Lord and the same object of worship?

You can’t.

Either you will stop revolving your life around Jesus as Lord, and build it around the marriage instead, or you will experience constant disunity with your spouse that will make your marriage the very opposite of what your Lord intends.

2) Do they love the local church?

Don’t ask if a potential spouse values the local church. Look to see if they value the local church. The easiest way to do this is by looking at their attendance, giving, and serving.

Are they attending their Sunday gatherings regularly? How about mid-week small group? If not, what are they doing instead? And what does this tell you about what they value?

Are they generous with their finances? Do they set aside a certain percentage of their income each month to support the work of the church? Are they financially available to help members of the church who have fallen on hard times? If not, what are they doing with their money? And what does that tell you about what they value?

Are they serving regularly in the church? Do they volunteer their time during the week or on Sunday to help the church fulfill its mission? Do they know their gifts and use them to bless their brothers and sisters? If not, what are they doing with their gifts and talents? And what does that tell you about what they value?

I cannot overstate the importance of this quality. If a man or woman does not love Jesus’ bride, they will not love their own spouse well.

3) Do they repent well?

After 13 years of marriage, I have learned that I am not the great catch I thought I was. I am a sinner who is capable of a whole lot of sin, which leaves the people closest to me with a whole lot of hurt.

This means I have had to repent.

A ton.

No, really.


And no matter who you marry, they will, no doubt, be a sinner.  By the very nature of marriage, they will sin against you worse than they will sin against anyone else, and you will be hurt by their sin worse than anyone else. And the only way for the two of you to continue living together in unity is if they see their sin, own it, and repent of it. Otherwise, it will never last “’till death do us part.”

Because of this, you should pay very close attention to how your potential spouse handles their sin. Are they aware of it or blind to it? Do they take ownership of it or blame others? Do they humbly confess it or pridefully conceal it? Do they take steps to turn away from it or do they allow the same patterns to persist? How they deal with their sin against others prior to marriage, is how they will deal with their sin against you in marriage.

4) Do they forgive well?

Tim Keller says, “Essential to marriage is the ability to both repent and forgive.” And he is right. Not only will whoever you marry be a sinner, but whoever you marry will marry a sinner. They will marry you. And you will sin against them worse than anyone else, and you will hurt them worse than anyone else.

This means you will have to repent.

A ton.

No, really.


You must pay close attention to how your potential spouse forgives others, for if you marry them, there will be thousands of times you will need them to forgive you. Apart from their generous and consistent forgiveness, you will never be able to live “’till death do us part.”

5) Are you willing to Ephesians 5 them?

On many lists such as these, well-meaning Christians will say, “You need to be attracted to your potential spouse.” While this may sound like wisdom, it is utter foolishness. By this logic, we Christians would never have been chosen as the Bride of Christ. We were covered in the filth of our sin and exposed as ugly whores before the entire world. Yet Jesus still chose us, pursued us, and wed us as his own. Instead of asking the question, “Am I attracted to them”, Jesus asked the question, “Am I willing to Ephesians 5 them?”

And he is.

This should be the same question we ask ourselves: Am I willing to Ephesians 5 them?

As a man, this means you must ask yourself if you are willing to lay down your life for your potential spouse, as Jesus laid down his life for you. Are you willing to lay aside your preferences for this woman? Your independence? Your dreams? Your freedoms? Your control? Your literal life?

As a woman, this means you must ask yourself if you are willing to submit to this man, as the Church submits to Christ. Are you willing to honor this man above yourself, whether he deserves it or not? To respect him above all, whether he has earned it or not; to follow him as he leads, however imperfectly he might do so?

These are the things Jesus commands you to do. If you’re not willing to do them for a potential spouse, then you dare not marry them, no matter how pretty they may be. If you are willing, then as you pursue your potential spouse, they will become far more beautiful than you ever imagined.

This is what Jesus did for you. He did not choose to love you because you were attractive; you became attractive because he chose to love you. You are now empowered to do the same.

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