Questions From Readers
● Is it proper for a Christian who is engaged to be married to break off that engagement?—A. H., U.S.A.
Marriage is a gift from God that can bring happiness and fulfillment to an individual; yet it also brings serious responsibilities, so it should not be taken lightly. While in some places parents still arrange the betrothal of their offspring, in many societies a single adult is allowed the freedom to select a mate. If two Christians in this latter situation agree or promise to marry, they can be expected, under normal circumstances, to keep their word.
Before a person agrees to a thing, he should give it the forethought the matter demands. Then when he gives his word, he can follow Jesus’ advice to “let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No.” (Matt. 5:37) Special solemn oaths are not needed by Christians in order to make their words believable. When one says something, he should mean it.
So when two Christians have reached an agreement that they are going to marry, their word should stand. No special public statement or act is usually needed, though often such is made. In discussing “Breach of Promise of Marriage,” American Jurisprudence, Volume 8, pages 849 and 850, said: “No particular form of words is necessary to give rise to the [betrothal]; it is sufficient that the minds of the parties have met and that the engagement is mutually agreed upon.”
Of course, it is not an engagement when a proposal only has been made, but not accepted. The same legal book said: “The promise by one party without a corresponding promise to him is only an offer of marriage and not a contract [engagement].” (Page 849) Thus when we speak of an engagement, we mean a mutual agreement involving the honest word of both parties.
Engagement was considered so serious among the Hebrews that a betrothed woman was spoken of as the man’s wife, though, of course, he could not have relations with her until they actually were married. (Gen. 29:21; Matt. 1:18, 19) The engaged woman had a legal standing different from an unengaged virgin. (Ex. 22:16, 17; Deut. 22:23-29) This highlights the importance of the engaged state.
Are there, though, any things that would justify the one-sided breaking of an engagement? It would be a very rare situation that would justify a mature Christian’s one-sidedly doing so. Fraud or concealment of vital facts might justify ending an engagement. Let us give two examples: A woman deliberately concealed the fact that she was not Scripturally free to marry, and she accepted the proposal of a man who had made limited inquiry about her marital state. If later he learned that she was not yet in position to marry, he would be justified in canceling the engagement. In fact, he would be Scripturally obliged to do so. (Matt. 5:32) Or if a man willfully lied to cover facts so that a woman would accept his proposal, her learning of the facts and of his lying might lead her to end the engagement. (Col. 3:9) In these cases, the spiritually older men responsible to guard the moral purity of the Christian congregation would want to know of such dishonesty so steps could be taken to protect other Christians.
In other cases, where a valid reason does not exist, the one-sided breaking of an engagement would indicate instability and immaturity. Obviously, that sort of person could not be put before the congregation as an example of Christian maturity. If a male in the Christian congregation did this, he would not qualify for responsibilities in the congregation. Overseers and ministerial servants are to be “free from accusation,” and this one would hardly be that. (1 Tim. 3:10) If he does not know his own mind and cannot honor his word in regard to marriage, will he be able to do so in other matters? He needs to grow to maturity.
However, a word of caution is in order relative to those not personally involved in courtships. While it is fine to be interested in the happiness of two Christians who are courting, the details of their courtship are quite personal, involving those two and their families. Others, men and women, need not pry as to what progress their courtship is making. (1 Pet. 4:15) If the couple has some announcement to make, inviting others to share their happiness, that is time enough to learn about it. Or, if the brothers responsible for directing the congregation think that the course of an engaged male is calling into question his spiritual maturity, they can look into the matter. It is not something that has to come up for public discussion and comment.
All of this should emphasize the importance of recognizing a proposal to marry, engagement and marriage itself as serious matters. By demonstrating spiritual maturity and wisdom concerning these things, Christians can do what is proper, in accord with the Scriptures and in their best interests.
● My husband and I both do secular work. Since I earn some of the money, would it not be proper for me to say how it will be used?—U.S.A.
The question of who will decide how and when money that a wife earns will be used is a difficult one. This can be seen in that laws covering this matter vary greatly from place to place. In some areas all that a wife earns is, in actuality, her husband’s, to be used as he sees fit. In other places this extreme position is moderated, and the law recognizes that the wife is an adult with certain rights, just as the husband has legal rights. Thus there is diversity of laws on this matter.
We must say that it would be a sad thing if two persons united in wedlock and who probably vowed to love and cherish each other had to start considering each other as opponents at law. According to God’s Word, a man and wife “are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Matt. 19:6) They are to be working together, unitedly striving to have a happy and successful marriage through their cooperative efforts. Jehovah has outlined in his Word principles that, if followed by the husband and wife, each in that one’s respective place in the marriage arrangement, can lessen or eliminate marriage problems such as this one. And good results can often be obtained even when only one mate is a believer or Christian.
The Scriptures counsel: “A husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation . . . Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation.” (Eph. 5:23, 25) But what does this mean when applied to family finances?
First, it means that the husband bears the principal responsibility for making decisions about how the family’s money will be used. The loving husband would probably want to discuss such matters with his wife to get her feelings and suggestions, but, especially on major matters, he is the one to make the final decisions. Depending on the time, abilities and preferences of those involved, he may delegate certain everyday decisions to his wife, such as the purchase of food and some clothing as well as the caring for some bills and regular expenses. Of course, if he expects this, he will have to provide her with funds to do so. Also, in some places the law recognizes the wife’s right to certain “pin money,” or money for personal articles and other uses, such as in connection with her worship. Wise husbands will not be unnecessarily strict with their wives in such matters, but will “continue dwelling in like manner with them according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.” (1 Pet. 3:7) So each couple can reach a personal understanding on such things.
But continuing on this matter of headship: The husband’s position does not give him oversight of the family’s finances without a corresponding obligation. Rather, he also bears the principal responsibility to provide for the family’s support. Under normal circumstances, it is not his wife who is expected to hold a job and earn a living for the family—he is! He should feel the primary weight of the Biblical principle: “If anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.”—1 Tim. 5:8.
What, though, if the wife does hold a secular job and so earns money? Does this affect things? Well, let us examine just why a Christian wife would be in such a position.
Surely a mature Christian wife would not be holding a secular job because of the glamour of it, or out of independence and so as to compete with her husband, or to escape her primary responsibilities, or because of a desire for excessive possessions. Women in the world who do not really need to hold a secular job, but who do so because of such reasons, have often wound up with emotional problems and severe difficulties in their marriages. How wise, then, is the Bible’s counsel that a married woman concentrate on the vital role of caring for the home and family. (Proverbs chap. 31; 1 Tim. 5:14) Also, this will probably allow the wife more time to devote to spiritual interests. So in many ways she will be able to make a valuable contribution to the happiness of the entire family.—Prov. 6:20-22.
Possibly, though, the husband, because of some adversity, is not able to earn enough to cover the family’s basic needs (not desires) in life. After discussing the matter, it might be decided that the wife will take on secular employment for a time. Does the fact that she will be earning money change the husband’s position in regard to family finances? No! In fact, if both husband and wife needed to hold secular jobs, it should be obvious what the money they earn is for—food, clothing and shelter. As a submissive Christian wife she should recognize her husband’s Scriptural obligation to direct the family in regard to such things, even though she might be contributing some of the money.
It is unnecessary for us to try to establish rules in regard to the handling of family finances. We can encourage husbands and wives to strive to shoulder their respective responsibilities relative to the family and its support. Marriage calls for loving cooperation on the part of husband and wife. So when a couple strive to cooperate on this financial aspect of life also, it will allow them to keep it in its proper place and will prevent it from overshadowing the more important spiritual aspects of their marriage.