The topic of dating is one that peaks virtually everybody’s interest. It’s a conversation that becomes more and more necessary as we advance in singledom, not because society places the expectation of marriage on us, but because it’s what God desires for us (with the exception of those He has called to celibacy) and we want what He wants for us [Psalm 37:4]. God has a plan and a purpose for all of His creation which is made clear in His word. In addition, He has outlined different roles in life— the roles of men and women, and in our conversation— the roles of single and married life.
Marriage is something God wants us to experience. In Genesis 2:18, God creates woman for “it is not good that man should be alone”, and in Genesis 1:28, He commands mankind to “be fruitful and multiply… to fill the earth & subdue it.” Contrary to what many teach, when Paul encourages singleness in 1 Corinthians 7, it is for the purpose of enhanced ministry; not just for the sake of being single. Men— If you are single for the sake of freedom, flexibility, a lack of responsibility, or have a worldly view of the “perfect woman” and are waiting for “the one”, then are you approaching manhood biblically? The role in being single isn’t to squander your days of complete independence, but to actually prepare yourself for married life [Titus 2:2-6].
What is your goal in dating? The world tells us that the purpose in dating is to test the waters and see if your match will last a lifetime. It also tells us that intimacy comes before commitment— that we should act married before we actually get married. God tells us otherwise. Dating the way the world tells us means we date to find the right person. Dating the way God tells us puts the focus on being the right person. In conversation about this with a friend of mine, she put it this way— “There are many people out in the world that could be fit partners for marriage, but every one of those relationships are going to take work. You have to work at it…” Instead of simply “testing the waters”, we date with one goal in mind— marriage. So if you can’t foresee yourself getting married, then you aren’t ready to date either. After all, Jesus’ model of marriage was that of sacrificing himself for His bride (the church)- not finding “the best” bride. Your choice in dating someone isn’t an immediate “I do” to marriage, but a statement of being intentional in determining whether you two should consider marriage.
What is your criteria? A drop-dead gorgeous model— blonde hair, blue eyed, petite woman? Keep on dreaming. While physical attraction is an important thing to have in your potential spouse, it shouldn’t be your primary criteria. Your spouse isn’t going to look young forever. Instead, consider those who fit the criteria found in God’s word— a follower of Jesus, exhibiting the fruit of the spirit, selfless. Women— can you see this man as the leader of your family? Men— can you see this woman as the mother of your children, willing to support you in whatever ministry you do? The bible describes these characteristics as unfading beauty. While I know it is tempting to search for a perfect match who shares your every interest, you can trust in God’s word that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
Part of the role of men means being the initiator. If you choose to follow the path of biblical manhood, which includes being head of the family, it also requires that men make the first move. For the women, this means your role is to respond. It does not mean you lead men on or even hint at being interested in him. (I’m not saying you should start giving your brothers in Christ the cold shoulder either!) It also means you either give him a yes, no, or let him know that you need some time to pray about it (and potentially seek council from those who are wise around you). If you say no, what is your reasoning behind it? This is not to say you should pretend to be interested in him, but you should evaluate if your ‘no’ is based on biblical principles or worldly desires. If you want a man who is going to lead you, don’t tempt him in his decision but let him demonstrate boldness by making the first move. This kind of boldness is going to involve rejection (and risking it all), but it’s also part of being a leader. Men need to be as clear and up-front as possible, and women need to know that if at any point they feel the need to break it off, then they can and should.
So what does it mean to actually date someone? In the context of actually dating, we shouldn’t imply something that doesn’t yet exist (ie. marriage). In dating, your goal isn’t to grow in intimacy with the other person. Intimacy will only make you more vulnerable, leaving a much larger window of opportunity for temptation, as well as a greater chance of hurt in the case where things don’t work out. That’s not to say you won’t grow in intimacy and there will be no hurt if things go awry, but this person shouldn’t immediately become your spiritual, emotional, and physical confidant. That is a role reserved for your spouse. So what are you to do? Talking about life in general, things you’re interested in, what you value, where your priorities are, and what’s going on at church are a few examples. The depths and intimacies of your heart are meant to be reserved for marriage (which is part of what makes marriage so unique). You are brother & sister in Christ before you are husband & wife. In the early stages, avoid spending 1-on-1 time together over candle-lit dinners; instead do things in groups. You can get to know a lot about a person by seeing how they interact with others, while also having accountability to avoid becoming emotionally intimate too quickly. All the while, prayerfully consider whether this person is the one you marry.
Drawing the Line
Consider both of these verses: “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” (Song of Solomon 8:4) “Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters.” (1 Timothy 5:2) Notice in 1 Timothy 5:2, we are to treat younger women as we would our own sisters with all purity. This means physical intimacy does not exist. Ok— so if you live in a culture where a kiss on the cheek is a form of greeting, then fine. But remember, this woman is your sister, and God tells us, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:14-16) If you disagree with this and are interested in how far you can go without crossing the line, then I exhort you to consider why. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15), which means we put His will above our own desires. In Romans 13:14, we are to “…clothe [y]ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”
Tying the Knot
So you’ve reached that point in your relationship and established that you are willing to sacrificially love this woman and want to marry her. (The same goes for the woman establishing she is willing to sacrificially love this man and wants to marry him.) You bought a ring and proposed to her. She said ‘Yes!’ Awesome! Guess what? You still aren’t married yet. There is now an even greater opportunity for temptation in light of what lies ahead. There is no need to begin fantasizing about your sex life either. Seek marriage counseling from your pastor and make sure you have solid and reliable accountability. Also be careful to not neglect your relationship as you determine wedding logistics. As you plan your wedding day, remember that it’s not about the ceremony and after party— it’s about God.
Much of what I have told you about is contrary to the way the world dates. When God tells us “Do not conform to the pattern of this world” in Romans 12:2, that includes all aspects of our life… even dating (this is implicitly called the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture). Is this call from God because He wants to make our lives harder? I don’t think so. But I do know that in order to experience complete fullness in Him, in order to experience the abundant life He has for us [John 10:10], we need to begin by putting Him first in all that we do— which includes seeking His counsel as we date— primarily through His word.
In the earlier section “Why Date?”, I gave some bold advice— “If you can’t foresee yourself getting married, then you aren’t ready to date either.” My justification for this is simple: The longer the time period between when you start dating and when you tie the knot will introduce greater temptation to sin. Seeing how long we are able to resist temptation instead of focusing on how we can live our lives to glorify God is foolish [Proverbs 28:26].
I know there will be many people who will disagree with the things I have written, but I encourage you to leave comments and email me your questions so I can answer them. I pray that as a body of believers, we can grow in unity, and in every way into the likeness of our Lord and savior, Jesus.