I (Sean) sat down one night in the Harmon home to have an informal conversation about dating, courtship, and the Bible. We recorded several podcasts in Spencer’s upstairs loft. This conversation was impromptu and unscripted.
This 10 minute podcast includes questions such as:
What does the Bible have to do with dating?
Are you against courtship?
Should couples feel pressure when dating?
What should a first date look like?
Where did you and Taylor go on your first date?
We plan on releasing several more of these conversations in the months ahead. You can subscribe to the new “Unspokenblog” podcast on iTunes or listen via SoundCloud. As always, if you have any questions you want us to discuss, we would love to hear them.
We have been working on a project together over the past two years. We have been writing two books that are expanded versions of our Letters to a Young Engaged Man blog series. These books are being published by P&R and will release simultaneously in the Fall of this year.
The book On Dating begins with topics related to singleness and then covers a wide range of topics such as breaking up, physical affection, early marriage, and discussing sexual history. Some chapter titles include:
Marriage vs. Singleness
Should We Be in a Relationship?
Do We Have a Bad Relationship?
What if I am not a Virgin?
Should I Guard My Heart?
The book On Engagement walks couples from the time right before a proposal all the way to their wedding night. Some chapter titles include:
The Length of Engagement
Till Death Do Us Part
Loving Your New Parents
Should We Elope?
On Birth Control
The chapters are designed to be short and can be read individually or together as a couple. Even though we don’t know the specifics of your situation, we have made a concerted effort to make each chapter as practical as possible. It is our prayer that this content feels immediately helpful and comes from a refreshing peer-like voice. Our wives have also contributed to many of the letters and provided their own warm touches throughout the books.
Our prayer is that your plans for dating and engagement would begin aligning with God’s plans to glorify his Son in the world. We pray that these letters will tune your ears to hear God’s voice in his Word and that these letters will provoke many conversations between you, your partner, and godly mentors in your life.
We are not relational gurus. Quite the opposite. We would be the first to admit to you that when we follow our own wisdom… we get lost. We are sinners who are desperately in need of God’s illuminating Word in every facet of our lives. We have simply tasted the goodness of God’s shepherding voice in our romances, and we want you to taste it too. We pray that you fall in love with hearing his voice in the Bible so that it guides you in singleness, dating, and engagement – and every other season after that.
In the meantime you can check out the recent Truth in Love podcast with Dr. Heath Lambert and Sean on the topic of Physical Boundaries Before Marriagethat discusses a controversial portion of the dating book.
As we continue to write to you, we always want to hear your letters. Don’t hesitate to send us your feedback and share your story with us.
On a personal note, I don’t need to remind you that there is very little reason for my wife to be thrilled about me. I’m not all that and a bag of chips. Yet to my wife, my smallest accomplishments earn the same applause as if I was awarded a nobel peace prize. If I fix a bolt on an old piece of furniture, I’m MacGyver. If I make a layup on the court while competing against the 9 year olds we babysit, I’m Michael Jordan. If I demolish a wasp nest, I surpass Tom Cruise. She bubbles over with enthusiasm for whatever my hand finds to do.
But she is more than a cheerleader. She is an essential part of my life and ministry. Jenny is my sister in Christ just as much as she is my wife. There have been many wonderful times when her gentle rebuke has set me back on course. I can’t tell you how many times she has encouraged me in the faith and held up my weary hands.
And if that wasn’t enough, she blossoms beautifully in submission. If I tell Jenny we are going to move to another state and start a ministry from the ground up, she will be in-it-to-win-it. She will have questions, she will want to know what our pastors think, but she will submit to my leadership. She is a helper extraordinaire.
Why do I say all this? Because my wife rejoices in her God given role as my wife. She is not oppressed. Jenny loves being a woman. She is thrilled to be a helpmate. She is humble, submissive, gentle, compassionate, and lives in obedience to God. The reason she thinks I’m awesome is not because I am. She thinks I’m the best husband in the world because she is the best wife in the world. If you looking for me to explain this in theological terms, my wife is a complementarian to the core and she couldn’t be happier.
Mansions to Decorate
God has given men and women different roles in marriage. We are both equal and beautiful in God’s image and yet we have different functions. The man is called to lead, guide, and protect his wife. The woman is called the honor, submit, and follow her husband.
The roles God designed for us are not prisons to escape from, but mansions to decorate. God’s roles for men and women are not putrid veggies to swallow; they are the choicest meats to feast upon. God created us to flourish and thrive in the gender role he sovereignly bestowed upon us.
The husband is not to be a dictator or tyrant. Men are called to be like Jesus – and Jesus is a shepherd (Psalm 23:1). Shepherds don’t beat their sheep. They protect them from wolves and clean them from the thistles. Shepherds care for their flocks and lead them beside still waters. Husbands are to wash their wives through the water of the Word and pursue them with goodness and mercy all the days of their life (Ephesians 5:26).
Biblical headship is a weighty responsibility. In Ephesians 5:25, a husband is called to love like Christ. This tall order should cause husbands to humbly tremble before the holy God of the gospel. Husbands are called to lay down their lives, their preferences, their wishes, and their selfish ambitions for their bride. Jesus lived out this love and proved John 15:13 true. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
How can this look practically?
A husband and wife will discuss and dialogue about all kinds of decisions during a typical week. Most of the decisions we make on a daily basis are preference choices. In these types of choices, Christians are called to consider others above themselves (Philippians 2:3). If your spouse wants to eat at home this week, why not? If they want to watch a movie instead of read a book, why not? If they want to take the interstate instead of the back roads, why not? Our preferences are not the precepts of the Lord. The goal is to outdo one another in kindness. Love leads with sacrifice and this produces a joyful home.
There are also significant decisions that shape the course of a family such as jobs, churches, family crisis, etc. The husband is to lead by listening. It is important for the husband to truly understand his wife and consider any disagreements she may have. The channels of conversation and prayer must be open and cleared of any sin. “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7)
After all the issues are lovingly addressed, the husband has the final call in the matter. The wife is called to submit to the leadership of her husband and trust that God has given him the authority and wisdom of the home. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submitin everything to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5:24)
Biblical submission is a relieving reality for a wife. A wife must believe that God has given her husband authority to lead the home and she can submit to him. She can experience relief and safety as she submits in faith. The pressure is off. This is a mysterious experience that causes the world to gasp and look at the glorious picture of Christ and his bride.
Being a complementarian couple affects everything you do in life. When Jenny and I were engaged, our counselors wisely encouraged us to go ahead and determine which of us would typically be responsible for everyday life tasks. Who is going to do the dishes in the home? Who is going to take out the trash? Who is going to cut the yard? Who is going to catalogue the finances? Who is going to make dinner?
A husband and wife are each other’s highest compliment, but don’t wait until marriage to begin cultivating these characteristics. Learn to lead and submit in the season of engagement.
Future husbands, gently protect your future bride from all the unnecessary demands and expectations placed on her during this busy season. Give up any silly preferences you have for the wedding and honeymoon. Seek to serve and don’t be detached from the planning. Leaders are engaged and selfless. Ask yourself, where can you tenderly lead?
Future wives, humbly allow your groom to take the lead in decision making. Voice your opinions in a way that respects him and speaks the truth in love. Trust his judgement and free yourself from the pressure of making the final call. Ask yourself, where can you lovingly submit?
My wife was complementarian before we got married. She was blooming beautifully then and is flourishing now. I can’t get enough of her. It is my prayer, as a couple, your headship and submission would stir your affections for each other and attract people to the God of this glorious gospel.
Are you ready to rejoice in your gender for God’s glory? Do you complement each other?
The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing.
Dating is a complicated dance. Especially when you are trying to avoid sin.
For Christians, dating pulls you in two opposite directions. First, you experience the tug of your affection for your significant other. You spend more time together, and your heart swells with warmth and care. You rejoice in the presence of your significant other, and, naturally, you want to express that joy. In addition, because God created you as an embodied person you usually expresses your emotions physically: You hug the people you love, you cry over losses, you eat the food you want, and sometimes you even jump with joy. You have a body. You were made for this.
Enter the second (and opposite) tug.
Although your heart swells with love and you desire to show your love physically, you also feel the tug of biblical truth. Even though God gave you a body, he wants you to control it (1 Thessalonians 4:4), he didn’t make it for sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:13), he wants you to flee immorality at all costs (1 Corinthians 6:18), and he wants you to keep the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). Although you feel the pull of the desire to express your affection physically, you are pulled in the opposite direction by God’s word.
Many single Christians live within the tension of these seemingly opposing desires. To add to the confusion, when Christians talk about affection during dating, we typically talk about it in negative terms. “Don’t be alone in the car”, “Don’t kiss each other”, “Don’t touch her there” Although these specificprohibitions are important , they are not the full story.
Outside of knowing what not to do, is there a way forward? How do you kindle appropriate affection in your relationship while honoring God with your body?
Transform How You Think About Boundaries
The temptation of the serpent in the Garden succeeded by blurring the purpose of boundaries. Why are you not allowed to eat of the tree in the Garden? Because God doesn’t want you to grow in your knowledge, and he’s holding things back from you (Genesis 3:5). The first couple were convinced by the serpent that their God given boundaries were not given to them for life (Genesis 2:17) and so they broke them. This insidious lie took root in their hearts, and the curse pulsated through the world.
How do God’s righteous boundaries sit in your heart? Are they a pointless burden meant to keep you in line? Or are they lamps that light the path to life? But even more specifically, how are you thinking about the boundaries of your relationship? Do you think of them as a burdensome prerequisite class of purity before the elective of marital intimacy? This is that ancient lie of the serpent that plunged our race into the dark waters of the curse.
The best way to combat the lie of the serpent, is to renew your mind with God’s good purposes for your relationship. When you discuss your boundaries with your significant other, talk about them as a means to store up pleasure, rather than a temporary misery that must be endured. Not: “We can’t do this together because the Bible says we can’t”; but: “We choose to save this to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage”
To be sure, the call to purity will be difficult. However, comfort and joy are found when we view our difficulties through the lens of God’s good purposes and promises for us as his children. This starts in your heart. Meditate on the goodness of God’s purpose behind your boundaries. You’re storing up pleasure for later. Very soon, you will experience God’s good gifts in God’s good time under God’s good smile. Transform your thinking.
Patterns Become Permanent
Although intimacy is a vital part of marriage, it is a relatively small part when compared to the various aspects of your relationship with your spouse. So much of marriage happens outside of the marriage bed. So during this time, when this fruit of marriage is forbidden, explore the other trees in the garden. The memories you make now, the habits you are cultivating, the relationships you pursue – all of them are patterns that will affect the fragrance of your marriage.
Some couples miss the wonderful “yes’s” of their current season because they are so focused on the “no’s” of their relationship. When we are convinced that the only way to show affection is through physical intimacy we never see the potential for love in the other areas of life: Long walks, road trips, serving saints in your church, eating with friends, adventuring through your city, asking questions. These habits of pursuing one another outside the marriage bed will become patterns in your relationship. Furthermore, they will serve to bind your hearts together through shared experiences and memories. Make patterns now while you wait for intimacy.
Trust The Divine Sequence
In fact, the patterns you create while waiting for intimacy will actually improve your marital intimacy. The joy of the bride and groom in the Song of Solomon is a symphony of emotional, physical, and relational delight. They experience the security of belonging (Song 6:3), the joy of friendship (Song 5:16), and the intensity of physical intimacy (Song 4). The poem is composed of all these elements. This is the divine sequence.
It makes more sense to touch each others’ hearts before you touch each others’ bodies. The sweetness of the wedding night – the reason why they call it consummation – is found when it is the rightful climax to a million shared moments, memories, joys, sorrows, conversations, experiences, and adventures. And when you do finally touch each other, you will find that you are participating in a divine sequence – one that compounds your joy and intensifies your pleasure.
In this season of pursuing the heart rather than touching the body you are nurturing deep roots. If God blesses your relationship with marriage you will discover that your friendship and intimacy are weaved together. The cultivation of friendship solidifies the foundation of your marriage. So, don’t lose sight of the beauty of the garden because you are obsessed with the forbidden tree. Explore, cultivate, and adventure in the current stage you are in. Soon you will find that the exploration never ends.
The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing.
The turmoil caused by dating still makes my stomach churn. Man was not made to be alone, and so God created woman so that they could be together (Genesis 2:18). But it was the in-between phase – the phase where I was trying to figure out who to be together with – that made me queasy. The restlessness brought by yearning for a companion; the self-inflicted duress fueled by the advice of older married peers; the sheer confusion of figuring out if that person is the person (and how do I know for sure?).
For me, the tension was in maintaining the balance. How do I balance physical attraction and inward beauty? How do I balance finding someone who is different enough to complement me and yet also ensuring we are compatible? How do I balance the encouragement from a couple I respect and also ensure that I’m not dictated by the advice of others? How do I know for sure?
To add to the confusion, the Bible doesn’t give detailed instructions on how to navigate every nuance of dating. Although the Bible has much to say about purity, marriage, and relationships, the Bible isn’t a dating guide. The Bible does not work like your GPS on your phone when it comes to dating. Instead, the Bible gives us categories that we must think deeply about and apply to our lives. God has given Christians categories through which we can process our most complex issues – even the issue of whether or not you should marry someone.
Perhaps you are in a relationship, and you feel your stomach churning, too. You care deeply about the person you are with, but you know how serious marriage is, and the commitment makes your head turn. What was once an exhilarating adventure of learning about someone else, has become a tangled knot of responsibility and decision-making. Now, you are seeking to make the decision of whether you should run into or out of this relationship. Or maybe your stomach is not churning at all, and you aren’t concerned about running at all. You are coasting with no direction, and you need to get going. You need to decide which direction to run or at least to begin running. Before you make this decision, consider these three categories:
Foundation: Fear or Faith?
Faith is the beating heart of the Christian. By it we are brought into the family of God (Romans 3:28), and without it we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6). It is the posture of the heart that has been made right with God, and the lifeblood that animates our lives.
God loves faith, and throughout our life he is always putting us in situations where it must be exercised. Prayer, suffering, persecution, and leadership are just a few areas God calls his people to practice faith. When we bleed faith in a hard circumstance we show the world that God is a rock that is a worthy place to build our lives (1 Peter 3:14-16).
As you consider your next steps in your relationship, look down at your feet and examine whether you stand on the rock of faith or the sand of fear. Remember that fear or faith can motivate you towards or away from a relationship. You may know that your relationship needs to end, but you won’t end it because you fear what your mutual friends may think. But instead of fearing man, God would call you to break up by faith – trusting that God will care for your cares and those of your significant other (1 Peter 5:6-8). Or, you may need to move your relationship towards engagement, but you are paralyzed by the fear of commitment and the unknown terrain of marriage. But instead of fearing the unknown, God would call you towards engagement by faith – trusting that the promise of his presence with you through the unknown will sustain you (Isaiah 41:10).
Fear kills relationships. We will never experience full and lasting relationships if they are in the death-grip of fear. The God who knows all things and orchestrates them for the good of his people is calling you to build your relationship by faith in his goodness.
Vision: Man’s World or God’s World?
Christian couples are pilgrims traveling through Babylon as citizens of the New Jerusalem (Philippians 3:20). There are obvious dangers to avoid: impurity, idolatry, neglecting community. These are the sins that derail and end relationships.
But before we discuss the pitfalls along the road, we must ensure we are reading the right map. The temptation for many of us is far more subtle. The temptation is to let our vision of dating be informed by man’s world rather than God’s world. This is significant because our vision of dating creates our expectations for dating. If our expectations are informed by a system in rebellion against God (1 John 5:19), our relationships will be stained with upside-down values – prioritizing short-term, second rate things that will leave you bitter, disappointed, and impossible to please.
As you consider whether or not you should move forward, ask yourself this question: are my thoughts and concerns about our future informed and motivated by God’s Word of man’s world? Perhaps you value the way her body looks more than you value the inward person of her heart (Proverbs 31:30); perhaps you care more about his charisma than his character (1 Peter 3:7); perhaps you care more about pleasing the person in front of you rather the the Person who is always with you (Isaiah 2:22). These are the disproportionate values are of Babylon – the world in rebellion against God. Is your mind being transformed from these values or conformed to these values?
The most radical thing a Christian couple can do for one another is to prioritize the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) rather than the fruits of the serpent. Consider which fruit your heart is cultivating before you take the next step.
Expectation: Comparison or Contentment?
Comparison is poison that will eventually affect every part of your relationship. This poison will infuse your relationship with unrealistic expectations for your significant other, and will cloud your thinking from seeing them for who they really are. Comparison has an utopian expectation for relationships that God never promised in a fallen world, and it compels us to run when we should stay.
The problem with comparison is that it will never have enough. Even if you were to end your relationship because you believe there may be something better, you won’t find it. If you are seeking to find heaven with your spouse, you are trying to find the voice in an echo, the ocean in a stream, the city in a signpost.
Comparison ultimately dishonors God by limiting God’s creativity to your own box of preferences. God’s creation of your significant other is unique, and not meant to be limited by our sinful expectations. Our expectations must be expanded by a breathe of God’s fresh air from his Word. Experience God’s creative pleasure in letting contentment inform your relationships. God intends for you to experience joy in your significant other through the differences, and sanctifying you through living with another person in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7). But you will only experience those differences by growing in your contentment in who God has made others to be, and not giving advice to God in who he should have made your future spouse to be.
Growth Through the Churning
Believe it or not, the churning in your stomach is a vehicle of growth. God means to grow you through all different types of trials (James 1:2-4). God also grows us through taking a step of trust in him even when we don’t feel it, but are acting in faith (James 1:25). Check your foundation, adjust your vision, and inform your expectations, and make your move in faith. And know that God promises his presence with you, through this decision, and every other one after that.
For many twenty-somethings, we live in the awkward space between college kid and adult. We journey through college, a manifold experience of uncertainty and discovery, and slowly wake up to the world. For some, this is devastating – realizing that their ambitions won’t pay their bills. For others, this is invigorating – discovering gifts and abilities they never knew they had. These are the extremes of the pendulum, and many of us find ourselves in the gap inside the gamut.
There is, however, a common discovery for many of us on the dawn of adulthood. We realize that they were right.
Those ever-present voices of reason throughout your formative years when you thought you knew everything. And even for those whose parents were absent, or who might as well have been, most of us have a they group. And we realize they were not so unacquainted with “how things really work” in the world. Whether we like it or not, many of us see our reality beginning to align with those parents, mentors, or that older lady that had you over for lunch every Sunday.
Growing older has a humbling effect. This comes when new responsibilities and those old voices of reason combine in an important moment of clarity and surrender. We make the startling realization: I need help.
As we navigate through the new roads of adulthood, we need the voices of older saints to guide us.
The gravity of adulthood compels most of us into two opposite ends of surrender. Some surrender their responsibilities by avoiding situations that would stretch them. This is a safe place, and functions as a padded room of pride. It’s safe, but lonely, and you’ll never know what is outside those four walls of your comfort zone. Others, however, surrender their pride by admitting their limits and inexperience and recruiting help to understand their world and their place in it. This is not a safe place; it is a marathon of humility – there are cramps, and aches, and course corrections – but discovery is along this road, and you’ll find your endurance builds as you go.
If you haven’t surrendered yet, you will. Circumstance may crush you, a relationship will take a complex turn, a responsibility will lead you into uncharted territory. Which surrender will you choose?
You need them. The stable voice of a parent, the watchful eye of a mentor, the seasoned view of a counselor. Although our young ambition is good, it’s often a mile wide and an inch deep. Our limitations are not meant to cripple us, they are meant to compel us towards becoming life-long learners at the feet of God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s saints found in the local church.
This will be uncomfortable. These voices will poke, and prod, and press, and sometimes you will want to run. Stay put. These older voices force us out of the echo chambers of our peer groups, and enlarge our categories to match the bigness of God’s world. The avenue of awakening is sometimes awkward. But awkwardness never killed anything, except our pride, and maybe our pride needs to die anyway. Let your soul steep outside its comfort zone, and you’ll find the sweet taste of sanctification.
But this is not a one way road. Parents, teachers, mentors, counselors: we need you. You might feel irrelevant – you’re not. Your fermented life produces the sweet wine of wisdom. And we need wisdom to navigate these roads that grow increasingly treacherous as we live. Your small words – and more importantly your invested time – might have eternal reverberations through our lives.
Let the words of the older generation of saints line the way of your path through life. Let their testimonies of God’s work, their experiences of God’s world, and their stories of God’s grace spur you towards a deeper and wiser life. And let the seasoned seeds of the older generation yield its fruit.