Ask Steve: Dating and Courtship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I have been a Christian for a year, and I noticed that Christians practice dating differently than the secular world. It seems to be a lot more sanitized. Can you explain to me the difference between the Christian’s view and the world’s view of dating and why that’s relevant to issues like morality, and maybe even marriage?

Answer: Dating is a common practice in Western society, if not most of the world, for both right and wrong reasons. The right reason is to be in a purposeful courtship that would eventually lead to a lifelong marriage. The wrong reason for dating is to pursue a person in order to satisfy a sexual craving without any real desire for marital commitment, which is sin according to the Bible (Matt 5:27; 1 Cor 6:9). There is a real difference between biblical courtship that leads to marriage and the secular idea of a relationship that could potentially lead to nowhere.

Before we discuss the difference between the biblical and secular notion of dating/courtship, we must analyze what the purpose of a male and female relationship is. Scripture always states that the only time a male and a female can engage in any sexual and romantic activity is in the covenant of marriage (Song of Solomon; Prov 5:19). Anything outside of that is considered lust, which Jesus considered adultery (breaking the Seventh Commandment) according to Matthew 5:27. Therefore, it takes great discernment and self-control when entering that area in between singleness and marriage so as not to fall into sin and temptation. And that area is where dating/relationships fall.

If that is the case, then where does that leave dating according to biblical ethics? It’s interesting to note that dating was never a cultural practice during biblical times, or even in much of the world until the 20th century. In other words, dating is a recent phenomenon. Before that, a majority of people got married through either courtship or arranged marriages via parental guidance. Much of this, of course, was culturally conditioned, but there was a sense that this was also done to safeguard both sides before marriage. In courtship, there was no kissing or intimate caressing, and parents were usually present as the man and the woman sought to know each other in a general sense without the pressures of physical intimacy. In essence, people would be courting for the purpose of seeing if it would lead to marriage. It certainly was not a medium to get sexual pleasure out of a partner.

This is essentially the difference between secular dating and Christian dating. Pop culture dating is highly influenced by the sex driven immorality of the 21st century. This is not a careless attempt to broad brush all adherents into one category, but it is, nonetheless, an observable movement that has swept the times. Secular dating looks deceptively like courtship, but it is actually marriage without the covenant commitment. In other words, couples who date, whether casually or seriously, do things in their “courtship” that they are not suppose to be doing according to God’s law, such as lustfully kissing each other, touching each other inappropriately, cohabiting, having sex, and at times, having children out of wedlock. Scripture commands a male and female to remain pure before marriage, which means keeping appropriate boundaries in manners of action, thoughts, and speech (1 Cor 6:18-20). We are not to defile our bodies by having premarital sex (1 Cor 6:9; 2 Tim 2:22). Doing so would not only be sinning against God (1 Cor 6:18; 1 Thess 4:3), but it would be taking away something that rightfully belongs to our future spouse, and vice versa.

The tragedy of modern dating is not only the immoral nature of such method of courtship, but the lack of commitment and purpose of such dating. It’s common to hear stories in social circles and in celebrity news about “relationship breakups,” after the man goes through the last five or six women with no intention to really marry them, no less guard their purity for their future spouse. These are common occurrences in the dating world, where integrity for the process is no longer held in high esteem because the consciences of many have been seared due to love of sin. This happens when we become lovers of self and lovers of pleasure (2 Tim 3:4). The high number of these casual dating and breakups demonstrate that dating and relationships are no longer the means to marriage, but have actually replaced marriage itself! They are the new marriage, in which people can jump in and out of them easily because they have never made any wedding commitments to begin with, although they have done most everything in the relationship without the actual desire to sacrificially commit to each for life.

In contrast, biblical form of dating provides a wise, safe, and prosperous alternative to the immoral path of secular dating. I am not advocating that Christians return to the old fashioned form of courtship that was characteristic of the 1st-19th century. The fact is: We simply do not live in a society where this form of courtship is practical or cultural anymore. When a man pursues a woman to “date” her, he should, in the words of author Joshua Harris, “be more than friends, but less than lovers.” This means that the couple should be more than just casual friends, but not so intimate as if already married. This is the perfect analogy. Only when the two become officially married should they be labeled: friends and lovers.

I’m not dogmatic as to whether one labels it “dating” or “courtship” or how one approaches it – in terms of safeguards, boundaries, and even liberties in the dating process that is not sinful. The important thing is whether it is done biblically and to the glory of God, as 1 Corinthians 10:31 declares. If you are a Christian and are wanting to date and have a prospect in mind, then you should ask yourself these helpful questions:

1). Are you looking to get married? If not, then why are you looking to date, especially if dating this person would hold him/her up from considering another prospect?

2). Are you spiritually and emotionally mature? Are you allowing the Lord to work in you to make you teachable in preparation for your spouse?

3). Is your prospect a true, born again believer? If not, then why are you pursuing this unbeliever?

4). Have you had illegitimate divorces in the past that forbids you from pursuing further relationships/marriages? If you did, then seriously consider Jesus’ words from Matthew 19:1-19.

5). Is sexual desire/lust playing too big of a part in wanting to date a particular person? At the other extreme, do you feel virtually no sexual attraction in dating a particular person? Find the right balance in this key issue.

 

If courtship gets serious and marriage is contemplated, you will eventually want to reflect on some of these questions:

1). Is the prospect in line with you in terms of goals and major biblical issues? In other words, are you two headed in the same direction (spiritually) in life?

2). Do you both agree on the teachings of Ephesian 5:25-33 regarding male and female responsibilities? If not, then how do you plan to get along in your marriage?

3). Do you have common interests, hobbies, and inclinations to sustain joy and compatibility in the marriage?

4). If your prospect is of another ethnicity or nationality, can you handle the cultural differences for the rest of your life? Are you compatible with the language, the food, the mannerism, and the fellowship with his/her family on a constant basis?

5). Would other people support this marriage? Or would others be very hesitant? Why?

6). Are you willing to sacrificially serve and love this person for life, as Christ loves and serves the church? In other words, do you want to marry this person?

 

This is not an exhaustive list, but definitely some of the more important registry of questions that anyone can ask, not only for dating, but for marriage. Scripture states that the only requirement for marrying a person is that he/she be a believer in Christ (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14 ). Every other factor beside that are not requirements, but wise suggestions in order to make that marriage more peaceable and edifying.

The biggest challenge in our age right now, both in the church and in the secular world, is purity in the relationship before marriage. To some, it may seem like an impossibility. Even though the godless world may arrogantly declare that one is “expressing love” by kissing or having sex with another before marriage, we know from God’s truth that this is nothing but emotional puff. God’s propositional truth, which is eternal and timeless, states in 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth…”

Since true love does not seek its own and does not rejoice in unrighteousness (but in truth), this means that love cannot agree with that which is sinful. Therefore, if you are dating someone and truly love him/her, the most loving thing for you to do is to safeguard his/her purity so as not to defile her. That would not only be your supreme act of love to him/her before marriage, but your act of worship to God according to 1 Corinthians 10:31.

 

Recommended Resource: Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris