Engagement and marriage are two separately defined concepts in the Scripture which are most interesting to study.
“Dates” and “Dating” and “Courtship” don’t exist. They’re made up. It’s not that these concepts are “bad” in any meaning of the word, but they can become too much of a focus making mountains of nothing, not even molehills. They can become an idol.
The “engagement” of the Church with Jesus is symbolized with the sealing of the Holy Spirit:
John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper who will be with you forever. 17 That helper is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it doesn’t see or know him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be in you.
2 Corinthians 1:21 God establishes us, together with you, in a relationship with Christ. He has also anointed us. 22 In addition, he has put his seal of ownership on us and has given us the Spirit as his guarantee.
Ephesians 1:13 In [q]Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also [r]believed, you were sealed in [s]Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is [t]given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil [s]an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with [t]one who has need. 29 Let no [u]unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification [v]according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, [w]by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven [x]you.
In our culture, a “ring” signifies engagement. Engagement rings have a long history going back to the Greeks.
Although the ancient Egyptians are sometimes credited with having invented the engagement ring, and the ancient Greeks with having adopted the tradition, the history of the engagement ring can only be reliably traced as far back as ancient Rome. In many countries, engagement rings are placed on the ring finger of the left hand. At one time it was believed that this finger contained a vein (the vena amoris) that led to the heart. This idea was popularized by Henry Swinburne in A treatise of Spousals, or Matrimonial Contracts (1686). The story seems to have its origin in the ancient Roman book Attic Nights by Aulus Gellius quoting Apion’s Aegyptiacorum, where the alleged vein was originally a nervus (a word that can be translated either as “nerve” or “sinew”).
Indeed, throughout history beyond that point, rings were used to show wealthy, publicly advertise that a woman was taken, custom, privilege, and so on.
To Christians, pagan traditions means nothing. 1 Corinthians 8 with food sacrificed to idols and all. We are not defiled by pagan traditions. However, it can be used as a sign as Christians to signal that they are engaged, much like Jesus gives the Church the Holy Spirit. The key is not making it into an idol and having the heart in the right place to honor God.
The marriage of the lamb to his bride happens in Revelation 19 when Christ returns.
Revelation 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His [b]bride has made herself ready.” 8 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the [c]saints.
9 Then he *said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he *said to me, “These are true words of God.” 10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he *said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
Prior to this, Jesus gives the Church a warning to be faithful to him, especially in Revelation 2 and 3, and also in the gospels with parables and stories about the ten virgins and sheep and the goats.
In general, those who have “true” faith and have received the Holy Spirit will talk the talk and walk the talk through acts of righteousness, which will be the bride’s marriage clothing in her marriage to Jesus.
1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you [a]upon my departure for Macedonia, [b]remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to [c]pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering [d]the administration of God which is by faith. 5 But the goal of our [e]instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.
The period from engagement to marriage is not fulfilled with nothing.
Our transformation from lost to saved to disciple is about engaging the Church to its gifts such as evangelism, teaching, and so on, along with baptism, communion, and good works in preparation for marriage for the Church to be married.
Likewise, so too a man and woman who are engaged should prepared themselves for marriage:
- A woman must prepare herself to be a wife: to respect and obey her future husband (Eph 5, 1 Pet 3, Col 3, Tit 2), to cultivate chaste and respectful behavior and a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Pet 3), and to learn to love (philos) their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored (Tit 2).
- A man must prepare himself to be a husband: headship (Eph 5), a sacrificial love for her sanctification, not feelings — 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church [q]in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Eph 5), to treat her as he treats himself x3 (Eph 5), to nourish and cherish (Eph 5), not be embittered toward her (Col 3), and to live with her in an understanding way as someone who is weaker, and show her honor as a co-heir in Christ (1 Pet 3).
We honor God by obeying His commands, even when they are not “popular” or not “lauded” or even “despised” by the world. God’s Word does not change with the times. It is eternal, and it shows God’s design for marriage. Marriage is more fulfilling and even more successful when we follow God’s commands for it.
My reflection back on the Scriptures about engagement and marriage again is that much more fulfilling now that I am engaged to my fiancée. It is also a stark reminder that the journey is never over, either for the wife or husband, to grow more like Christ. It is only in Christ that I have full confidence knowing that the road I walk is difficult, especially in our blatantly blasphemous culture.