I got some great feedback from a young man in our church after two of my recent sermons from Matthew 5, both of which touched on aspects of marriage (the messages were "Jesus on Lust" and "Don't Break Your Marriage or Your Word.") In his mid-twenties, he kindly expressed appreciation for both messages and then went on to voice concern about how I challenged single men to "put down the X-box, grow up, pursue a wife, and glorify God in that relationship" (or words to that effect).
Let me share some of his e-mail (with his permission):
I think I understand your heart and the cultural situation that would lead you to make such a statement. I think your heart is for God to be glorified through marriage relationships and the women of the church be cared for and provided for in that way ... And the cultural situation of the USA is [that] men are passive, they prolong adolescence, and they abuse or neglect women to varying degrees...
I'm not knocking that at all. I love that heart to care for and provide for others and to above all bring glory to our Savior through our marriages. But Josh, I know very few men in the church who need to hear that exhortation.
The men in the church that I know are doing a good job of honoring God in their pursuit of marriage, not a sinless one, but an honest, genuine effort. Between me and the other single and recently married men in my small group, around 30 different relationships have been pursued over the past 5 years ...
And to hear such an exhortation ... without a corresponding encouragement to guys who are trying, can be so tempting. Pursuing relationships is ... probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. And there seems to be so little apparent reward for our efforts (of those 30 relationships that were pursued, only three went anywhere).
I am grateful this brother took time to write. I wrote back and asked his forgiveness for being too sweeping with my statement. Yes, there are men who need to be challenged. But I didn't think carefully about men like him who are seeking to pursue marriage faithfully. I should have nuanced my words more and also commended brothers who are stepping forward (and getting turned down).
To other men in a similar situation, I apologize for not being more circumspect in the way I spoke to this issue. And I encourage you from Galatians 6:9: "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."
After this brother presented his concern to me, I posted about this topic on my Facebook page and received a plethora of great comments for both single men and women. Here is a sampling of helpful observations:
A husband and father to two daughters exhorted: "Husbands, love your wives ... and the wife must respect her husband." [Ephesians 5:25,33] - Young single men, are you living lives that women can respect? ... [Consider] ask[ing] a close trusted friend or a close married couple for some honest observations.
A recently married young lady wrote:
Girls ... have good friendships with guys ... We're free in Christ to enjoy people, make memories, and trust God to fulfill His plans for us. And who knows! Someday one of those mutually enjoyable friendships might turn into romance.
A mother shared this thought:
Guys - are you pursuing God as much as you are trying to pursue ladies?
A young woman observed:
Christian women being encouraged to hold out for "the one" is a good thing, but can be out of balance because the woman's mental picture of what she is looking for in a guy is often pretty unrealistic ... Girls need to be encouraged to be willing to consider imperfect guys who are growing in the right direction.
As I read over these I was reminded of our need for the community of the local church and the wisdom and grace that flow from it.
So now I'd love your perspective. How do you think churches can grow in encouraging men and women toward marriage? Is there too much pressure already? Or is marriage being unnecessarily delayed by the people around you? Are girls too quick to say no? What would you say to a guy who's getting weary of trying?