“That takes all the fun out of dating.”
This was one bit of feedback we had on the book God’s Way for Romance by Stuart Burgess suggested in our 2018 Reading Challenge.
This leads to a whole load of questions…
Is it ok to date? Is Christian dating different? Is dating supposed to be fun? How far can we go?
It’s hard to fully summarise a book in a couple of sentences, but the basic idea is that the modern approach to relationships is not aligned with Biblical principles and therefore Christians need to look at things differently.
It may be a generalisation, but modern dating can be summarised as the ‘hook-up culture’, assisted by apps like Tinder whereby many so-called relationships are just for short term pleasure. There is a relaxed attitude
So, how can we be counter-cultural in our approach to dating and relationships?
To begin with, the word ‘marriage’ should always be at the back (front!) of our minds. Right at the beginning of time, God instigated marriage as the context for intimate human relationships and the basis for stable family life. In his wisdom and love, God knew that Adam needed company, so he gave him Eve as his wife (Genesis 2:18). Marriage, the union of one man and one woman forever, is so completely opposite to the cultural norm of casual relationships, experimenting, playing the field and even unfaithfulness.
When I say intimate relationships, I don’t just mean the physical aspects. When a man and a woman come together in marriage, they are becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24) but they also now share everything, spiritual and emotional as well as physical. In a sense, they are both now extremely vulnerable, in a position to deeply hurt one another so the relationship must be built on trust.
All this is the context for dating.
In our culture, it would be hard for a couple to get to know one another without going out or dating. In his book, Stuart Burgess is not denying this. He is just warning against bringing worldly practices into our Christian relationships – he suggests that getting away from the word ‘dating’ is a first step, which is why he recommends using the more old fashioned word ‘courting’.
So, to answer the first question, is it ok to date? Yes, however, it should be done carefully, prayerfully and with the right motives.
It’s not for short term pleasure, or for physical intimacy (even if not sleeping together). It’s not about having a boyfriend/girlfriend – your ‘relationship status’ is not that important. It’s not just because you find someone attractive. It’s not because you are lonely or feel left out. A relationship should never be casual, and if it is mainly for any of these reasons, it’s not honouring to God.
Dating or courting should be about finding out whether someone is the right person for you to spend the rest of your life with. Can you commit to them? Can you trust them? Are you compatible? Do you share the same values? And yes, it should be fun – do you enjoy doing similar things, do you make each other laugh? Also, for Christians, it’s essential to be able to talk together about your faith and to share spiritual things like Bible reading and prayer.
To emphasise a point, it isn’t about the physical side of things. For many teenagers, sex is the ultimate end goal. Biblically, marriage is the end goal, and sexual intimacy is a special gift to be shared by two people who have made this lifelong commitment to one another. Think ahead to a time when maybe you are newly married, wouldn’t it be better to approach physical intimacy with a husband/wife who is as wholly inexperienced as you are?
So, dating or courting is about commitment, long-term relationships and of course ultimately getting married. It’s not about hooking up, short term pleasure, your status with your friends or anything like that.
So, if you are thinking about dating someone, examine your motives.
To summarise some practical points:
- Dating is about preparing for marriage. If you don’t think you could marry someone, don’t start dating them. If you realise that you couldn’t marry someone you are dating it should end (gently and respectfully). Being unable to get married in the near future because of your life situation may also be a reason not to start dating.
- Christians should not date non-Christians. And remember, just because someone goes to church/chapel every Sunday does not make them a Christian.
- Focus on purity. Leave the physical side of a relationship until you are married – this is God’s way. Keep clear boundaries like not spending time together alone late at night.
- Pray together about your relationships – what it means (preparing for marriage), about keeping pure and building self-control. Pray also that you will help each other spiritually and that you can find ways to honour and serve God together.
- Ask older and wiser people (such as your parents) for advice – it may seem hard, but you’ll probably find it is worth it.
Finally, keep in mind that God uses marriage as a picture of the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:31-32). It’s about love, faithfulness, sacrifice and being together forever. In your relationships, don’t do anything to spoil that beautiful picture.[A00104 – 01/03/2019]