Before anyone misunderstands me—let me say that this post is not about pre-marital instructions for children, at least not explicitly. Neither is this post about arranged marriages! No, this post is about friendship and its connection to marriage. In Tim Keller’s excellent book, The Meaning of Marriage, he draws out the importance of friendship in marriage. I believe Keller has made an important observation, both for those interested in becoming married and for parents seeking to train their children to live for God. Christians are not to think or act as the world does. We are to be transformed, not conformed, in our thinking. We are to take thoughts captive, not be taken captive! But that’s a bit tricky, isn’t it? How can we recognize the difference between the world’s ways and God’s ways?
One way Christians have been conformed to the world’s thinking is that we have been led to believe that the most important aspect of marriage is romance. While romance has a vital, significant, and essential role to play, it is not the foundation of marriage. That role belongs to friendship (or companionship, cf. Prov. 2:17; Mal. 2:14).
Notice carefully the wording of Genesis 2:18:
“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
The problem for Adam was not lack of romance; the problem was loneliness. Remember, Genesis chapter 2 occurs before the Fall. Verse 18 is the first time we hear that something in the creation order was not good. Previous to this point, all of God’s statements indicated that everything was good—very good! But after Adam had named the animals, God said that something was not good. He said that it was not good for man to be alone. Then God creates Eve, and Adam responds with a sense of completeness and satisfaction! He now has a companion. Romance followed, to be sure, but that first marriage was rooted in companionship.
Here is a quote from Keller’s book about the importance of friendship in marriage. Notice how radically different his perspective is from that of the modern culture.
Most of us know that there is some truth in the stereotype that men overvalue beauty and that women overvalue wealth in a potential mate. But if you marry someone more for these things than for friendship, you are not only setting yourself up for future failure – wealth may decrease and sexual appeal will decrease – but you are also setting yourself up for loneliness. For what Adam needed in the garden was not just a sexual partner but a companion, bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh.
If singles accepted this principle, it would drastically change the way people seek a marriage partner in our day. It is typical for a single person to walk into a room and see a number of people of the opposite sex and immediately being to screen them, not for companionship but for attractiveness. Let’s say three out of ten look appealing. The next step is to approach those three to see what rapport there may be. If one of them will agree to go out on a date, and you get romantically involved, perhaps you will see if you can turn that person into a friend as well. This problem is many of your best prospects for friendship were likely among those you ruled out because they were too tall or too short, too fat or too skinny.
We think of a prospective spouse as primarily a lover (or a provider), and if he or she can be a friend on top of that, well isn’t that nice! We should be going at it the other way round. Screen first for friendship. Look for someone who understands you better than you do yourself, who makes you a better person just by being around them. And then explore whether that friendship could become a romance and a marriage. Tim Keller, Meaning of Marriage, 125-126.
Do you see why it is so very important to teach your children how to be good friends? Do you see why you must teach them to recognize those who will be good friends? I would not recommend instructing your eight-year-old in the ways of romance. That could get rather dicey. But you can teach them at any age about friendship. The world wants people, including Christians, to see romance as the foundation of marriage. Christians must become transformed in their thinking, so that they see friendship is the foundation. This transformed thinking is needed because romance is volatile by nature. The fact that romance tends to run hot then cold, and then hot again, is even one of the worldly attractions of romance. This may be a great attraction for Hollywood and the social elite scene, but for marriage, not so much! Thus, friendship that flows from romance will be as up and down as romance and romantic feelings tend to be. This is not solid ground for marriage.
One thing that marriage cannot hide is sin. The closer you become to someone, the more you become aware his or her sin. It is easy to change the wording of a biblical truth to fit comfortably with the world’s thinking. I Peter 4 says that love covers a multitude of sins. However, romance does not have a good track record in this regard. Romance will only effectively cover sin for a short time. Then the flames of romance can be quickly extinguished. Biblical, true love is not something than can be overcome by sin or by romantic mood swings.
Please, please let me be clear—I am not anti-romance. Far from it! However, the issue of romance and friendship is one of order. If friendship comes first, as Tim Keller proposes, then romance can be built on a solid, lasting foundation . With this perspective, romance itself can become stable and grow in warmth and excitement. This is the biblical view of romance. If romance is first, then we have merely conformed to the world’s way of thinking.
Romance that flows from friendship will have a sure foundation. This may not make for exciting headlines, but it will make for love that can withstand the storms of life and our sin.
This, then, provides yet another reason why we should teach our children about biblical friendship and then lead them in that way.
I am sure this may have stirred some thoughts – let me know what they are.
Two excellent resources for marriage: