man leaving familyThose of us of a certain vintage will remember that in our college years, we were told that in the matter of choosing a life partner, we must follow this rule: mission before mate.

In other words we had to be first clear as to what God wanted us to do with our lives. Then we had some handle in choosing a life partner because the right life partner would be one who would be committed to a similar vocation and thereby able to assist us in pursuing that mission.

In those days, if you were a guy you assumed that the lady would be taking care of the house and raising the kids, to free you to do your thing. And then you discovered that not all the ladies interpreted the life partner rule quite in the same way.

In any case, mission before mate was a tough rule to follow because few of us at 19 knew what our life mission was. (Unless you were in the Navigators in which case you knew your mission was to make disciples. And you also had help because the senior Navs were probably trying to pair you off with potential life partners of the same spiritual calibre.)

But the rest of us had no clue as to what God wanted us to do with our lives. Meanwhile our hormones were raging. And then there were those hunks/babes.

Well, with the hindsight of age fifty, more marital adventures than I had ever counted on, and a fresh reading of Genesis 1 and 2, I have to say, what do you know, those speakers at our College fellowships were right. It is mission before mate.

In the Genesis Chapter 2 account of the creation of man for example, we see that three things define Adam’s life:

1. Vocation — He is to work the garden and care for it. (V.15)

2. Provision — God generously provides for all Adam’s needs. He can eat from all the trees of the garden except one. (V.16)

3. Prohibition — God gives Adam a clear warning. There is one tree from which Adam must not eat. (V.17)

It is in this context of Vocation, Provision and Prohibition that God announces that it is not good for man to be alone. (V.18)

You may ask why does God wait until this point to point out that Adam needs a Eve. Why didn’t He just make them man and woman from the word go. I like Bruce Waltke’s explanation. He believes that Adam must discover for himself his incompleteness:

“Adam must realize that it is not good to be alone. Rather than squandering his most precious gift on one who is unappreciative, God waits until Adam is prepared to appreciate the gift of the woman.” (GENESIS, 89)

However it is also clear that the woman is to be an equal partner that enters into the man’s experience of vocation, provision, and prohibition. Together, the man-woman partnership is to carry out God’s task of caring for creation, enjoying God’s generosity, and resisting sin.

“the ‘helper’ is an indispensable ‘partner’ (REB) required to achieve the divine commission.” (Kenneth A. Matthews, GENESIS 1 – 11:26, 214)

I have heard many sermons on marriage from Genesis Chapters 1 and 2. Most focus on the companionship dimension of marriage, on the ‘wow” of Chapter 2 v.23. I believe that the book of The Song of Songs shows that God endorses romantic and sexual love.

But still, the “wow” has a context, the context of vocation, provision, and prohibition.

Therefore when one is considering a potential life partner, it would make sense to ask:

1. Is this person committed to God and His purposes? Can I forge a partnership with him/her to do God’s work, however that is defined for us?

2. Does this person understand the faithful provision of God? Can we go through life in faith and trust, pointing out to each other the generous care of God? Can we go through life with hearts of gratitude?

3. Is this person committed to a life of holiness? Can we be used by God to help one another resist the assaults of Satan, the world and the flesh?

Of course the prior thing to do is to check if we ourselves are people like that. Am I committed to God and His purposes? Am I aware of God’s faithful care and have a grateful heart? Am I actively resisting sin in my life?

You may say, boy it is tough enough to find a potential life partner. If you throw in all these qualifications, I’ll never find a warm body to share my life!

What to do? This is God’s Word. Do you trust Him enough to supply a life partner if it is His will?

Besides what are the alternatives? The many unhappy marriages you see around you? The ever-increasing number of broken marriages? I often wonder how many of those marriages could have been saved if there had been greater sensitivity to the issues of vocation, provision and prohibition.

Some of us are married already and like many, entered into marriage with little spiritual education. Nobody told us the biblical teaching on marriage. What should we do now?

Start building the marriage according to God’s purposes! Start structuring your marriage around vocation, provision, and prohibition. You may discover a real revival in your marriage and even a return of the “wow”!

What about those who are single? We must believe that God loves us more than we love ourselves and that if it is in His will for us to be married He will bring the right person at the right time.

In the meantime, we can continue to build our lives around the themes of vocation, provision, and prohibition. We do need significant others in our lives. We seek out good friends, soul mates, brothers and sisters who are also committed to walking the path of vocation, gratitude, and holiness.

We live in a fallen world. Even marriages entered into with the best of intentions, may fall apart. When such tragedies happen we need to come alongside people to help them rebuild their lives.

But we should also seek out ways to help people experience marriage as it was meant to be. And I do believe the manufacturer’s instructions talks about marriage as a partnership for doing God’s work, enjoying God’s blessings, and obeying God’s Word. So yes, boys and girls, it is mission before mate.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan