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.
Perhaps you are reading through an Advent devotional this Christmas season or focusing on the Gospel accounts of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke. The Bible never ceases to amaze and there are always new insights to discover in old stories.
This year I was struck by a small unexpected sentence in Matthew 1:24-25. It reads:
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Mat 1:24-25 ESV)
This text teaches that Joseph obeyed God by marrying Mary (even though the child within her was not his offspring) but he did not have sex with her until after she gave birth to Jesus. The ESV uses the language of “but knew her not” as a euphemism for sex. There are other translations that read:
NAS Matthew 1:25 and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Mat 1:25 NAS)
NLT Matthew 1:25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus. (Mat 1:25 NLT)
There are several things to point out from these couple of verses.
First, this is a unique situation in redemptive history. The main point of this verse is not to communicate that you should avoid sex after your wedding. There are several factors that make this situation unique – not the least of which is that the Holy Spirit conceived a baby in the womb of a virgin. There are also other Scriptures that command regular sexual activity for married couples. (1 Corinthians 7:5)
Second, the Bible (and Joseph) wanted it to be crystal clear that Jesus was not the offspring of an earthly father. Jesus is God in the flesh. His birth was miraculous. Joseph and Mary had a wedding but did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was not conceived by human relations. This was a divine act.
Third, this verse also teaches that Joseph and Mary had sex after Jesus was born. Mary was not a perpetual virgin. Joseph didn’t have sex with her until after she gave birth. There are also verses in the book of Matthew that talk about Jesus’ brothers and sisters. (See also Mark 6:3)
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Mat 13:55-56 ESV)
These are all important things to point out from these verses, yet these were not the things that struck me this Christmas. What caught my attention was the self-control of Joseph.
Think about it. Joseph was a righteous man who followed the law (Matthew 1:19). He was presumably chaste and had no blemish on his record. He had waited his entire life to have sex until the proper context. He had been self-controlled because he wanted to obey God and follow the Old Testament law.
Then it comes out that Mary is pregnant with a baby that does not belong to him. He is told in a dream by an angel of the Lord that he should remain committed to Mary and take her as his wife. Joseph marries Mary… but still remains self-controlled.
He could have had sex with her and we have no indication that it would have been sinful. Yet, he chose to wait until after the birth of Jesus in order that it would be crystal clear that Jesus was not of earthly descent. Since he had a character of a righteous man and knew this was a unique divine circumstance, I conclude that he wanted to answer any possible claim that he was the earthly father of Jesus.
Joseph lived with Mary. He loved her. He saw her naked. He took care of her. He traveled with her to Bethlehem. And yet, he waited to have intercourse with her until after he helped her give birth to a child that was not his own.
Would you have been as self-controlled as Joseph? Would you have complained? Would you have grumbled? Would you have been bitter?
I don’t want to read more into the text than need be. Nor amy I trying to advocate for anything bizarre. I’m not advocating using Joseph as an example to refrain from intercourse within marriage. If you have followed my other blogs, you know I believe married couples should enjoy sex on a very regular basis.
I am saying that Joseph exerted a lot of self-control and truly loved well in a difficult and unprecedented situation.
Perhaps you need the grace of Jesus this Christmas to grow in the area of self-control. Are you single and struggling with pornography? Are you dating or engaged and struggling with purity? Are you married and having difficulty remaining sexually committed to your spouse? Use this Advent to ask God for the gift of control. Only the Holy Spirit who conceived Jesus can give us this spiritual fruit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:1 ESV)
The Holy Spirit did a miracle in the womb of Mary. The Holy Spirit did a miracle in the heart of Joseph. And I am more than confident that the Holy Spirit can do a miracle in our lives and enable us to replace any sinful desires with steadfast love.
Sean is the Chief of Staff at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and the author of Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017)
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.
Girls can be placed in an awkward position when they are asked out.
How should a girl turn down a guy? Can a woman serve her brother in Christ who goes out on a limb to ask her out on a date? The apostle Paul tells us that whether we eat or drink, we should do everything to the glory of God. This does not exclude the moment when a girl is faced with the decision to say no to a pursuer. Thankfully, there is a biblical way to turn a guy down for the glory of God. Christ can help us even in the most uncomfortable of moments.
Compassion: Decline as you would want to be declined
One biblical truth to apply to this situation is “love your neighbor as yourself.”
I believe it is the biblical role of the man to pursue the woman. Women should not be asking out guys on dates. Ladies, if a guy doesn’t have the courage to ask you out in person, he is not worth your time. But reverse the roles in your head for just a moment and ask: “how would I want to be rejected?”
If you were nervous and your voice was cracking in the moment you asked out the person of your dreams, how would you want to be turned down? Graciously? Harshly? Flippantly?
If you are in the position to be asked out, it is likely because the guy found you attractive and enjoyable to be around. This is an honor! With the power of Christ, you can reject a romantic offer in a way that is gracious, kind, and shows that you are truly flattered that he would ask you on a date.
Declining a date doesn’t have to involve only pain. It can also be an opportunity to build one another up. There is a way to build up your brother when you decline his date. Even if he totally caught you off guard when asking you out, let him know that you appreciate the offer and are thankful for him.
Clear Intentions and a Concise Response
Many girls feel badly they are saying “no” to a guy. In order to lessen the blow, they will often leave the door open for the future. I know of some very kind girls who unintentionally offered hope that romance might be kindled in the future even though they had zero interest in a future relationship.
Even though it is hard, it is loving to seal the door shut if you are not interested in the guy romantically. When declining a romantic relationship, it is important to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:25-29).
If you are really not interested, then do not give a hint of a future possibility. Be clear with your intentions state that friendship is the only thing you are interested in. If you are tempted to keep talking in order to break the awkwardness of the moment, talk about something else besides romance. God is kind to give us wisdom and grace to be slow to speak.
Being clear and concise is like ripping a band-aid off quickly – it may hurt but it is only for a few seconds and doesn’t leave any gooey residue. You don’t want to an awkward saga that drags on for weeks when it could have been handled in a few seconds.
Ask for grace from God to be honest in your communication. It is important not to hide behind an excuse that really isn’t truthful.
“It is not God’s will for me right now” – While this statement may have good intentions, it actually places the blame on God and dodges ownership. It is more helpful to be upfront and say that you are not interested in romance and friendship is the only option on the table.
“It is not the right time” – Only say this if you want to be asked out again next month by the same guy. It would be more helpful to say that you are grateful but it is not going to work out.
“I’m not ready to date anyone yet” – If this is true, then it is good to be humble and admit this. However, this can also leave a kernel of hope for the guy to nurse on for the next several months. If you truly are not ready to date yet and also happen to know that you would never date the guy who asked you out, you should be upfront and not use this as an alibi. It is better to tell him you are not interested in a relationship with him.
What if they ask for a reason?
This is inevitably going to happen: A guys asks you out and catches you a little off-guard. You agree with everything I just said above and try to say something that is compassionate, clear and concise.
You say: “I am thankful for your offer. That is very kind that you would ask me. I am going to say no, but I am thankful for you as my brother.”
There is an awkward silence and then the guy asks for a reason. He wants to know why you are turning him down. What should you do?
There is a time to speak and there is a time not to speak. It depends upon what would be most loving to tell him and what would serve him long term.
Depending upon the situation and the nature of the friendship, we can image a scenario when it is loving to explain why you are not interested. Perhaps he is immature in a particular area spiritually and could really benefit from hearing a compassionate reason why you are not interested in him romantically. You will need to exercise wisdom before responding. Does the guy have a soft heart and ears to hear? Would he benefit from knowing about a particular area so that he can grow and be helped? If so, this may require an extra measure of boldness, but you can treat him as your brother in Christ.
Let’s say the issue is that he is undisciplined and doesn’t manage his time well. If he is asking for clarification, you could say something like: “I am honored you would ask me out, but I have actually noticed there is a particular area in your life that gives me pause. I have noticed that you devote a lot of time to recreation and I wonder if you are neglecting responsibilities at work or in your spiritual life. From my perspective, this is an area that needs attention before a relationship can be considered. I say this not as a superior, but as your sister in Christ. You should also know that I am not sharing this reason with others, but only tell you this because you asked for clarification.”
There are other times when it would simply be more loving to remain clear and concise without offering the specific reason.
One example might be: If you think he is ugly, then you don’t need to share that information with him. It would be obviously unloving to say, “Well I just think you look like the hunchback of Notre-dame.” Instead, you can stand your ground and simple say, “Thank you again for asking, but I am not interested in a romantic relationship together. I am thankful to be your friend, but that is all that is available.” If you shower him with kindness and repeat yourself again, it is likely he will get the point and conclude that it is best for him not to know the reason.
No one wants to be turned down, but everyone wants to be treated with compassion and truthfulness. If you are going to turn a guy down, God will give you grace to do so in a way that glorifies Christ. Ask the Lord for help during those uncomfortable moments and seek to honor your brother. They will appreciate your kindness and value you all the more as their sister in Christ. Whether you eat, or drink, or decline a date – do it all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
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.
A playful smirk can be hard to shirk – no matter who it comes from. A “harmless” smile from a handsome guy can often be memorable – regardless of whether he is a believer or not.
In your last letter you mentioned to me a romantic interest who is becoming hard to resist in your mind. All the right factors seem to be in place – cute charm, dreamy looks, social suave, a pleasant appeal and even conservative convictions. The only thing missing is… Jesus.
They don’t necessarily oppose Jesus, he just isn’t present. There is not a hostility towards God, the Bible, church, or even moral living. It just is not something they talk about much or “get into.”
There even seems to be a remaining shell of religion from times past. Perhaps dating a Christian is just what they need? They are so close to the truth and they love so many good things the Bible supports, surely they would be compelled to follow Christ fully if they were enticed by a godly companion.
I am glad you are wanting to reach out with the gospel, but I am not convinced this is the way to go about evangelizing. I don’t think the way to share Christ is through candle lit dinners and gushy love notes. The way of the great commission isn’t “flirt to convert.” Dating an unbeliever is actually one of the most unloving acts we can do towards them. I believe there is a better way to display the love of Christ and serve the lost.
Here are three truths I would like for you to consider:
True love is soul deep.
What do you find romantically attractive in someone who is not a believer? It would be unbiblical and frankly ridiculous if I were to say that all unbelievers are repulsive. Every human is made in the image of God and bears his beautiful thumbprint. Unbelievers can be kind, generous, endearing, and attractive. This is not the issue. The issue is: do you understand true love? If the Scripture is true that God is love, then how can someone truly understand love apart from knowing Christ intimately? (1 John 4:8)
Take a good look at them. What makes them tick? What consumes them? Is it a red-hot love for Christ and his Scripture? Do the pages of the Bible leap out to them with joy and delight? Are they moved to tears by the mercy and wonder of God?
Do you catch them washing the feet of those who can never repay them this side of heaven? Do you find them praying for you and have you seen God answer their prayers? Are they willing to be spit-upon and laughed at for the sake of the cross? Are they willing to stand for the oppressed even when it is not popular? Has the glory of God set their heart ablaze with passion to see Christ reign over every human heart?
True love is soul deep. You want the kind of love that still stirs at old wrinkles. You want to clasp hands in the nursing home with a committed believer who has lived vigorously for the glory of God. An unbeliever doesn’t have what it takes to keep cultivating long term attraction to their wrinkles. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is fleeting, but a man or woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Dating isn’t the place for darkness.
God is the author of romance and to be in a romantic relationship is to involved in how God created this world. God is the fiercest lover of all and his love is the purest we can possible imagine. Romance is one of the most intimate pursuits we can know as humans. Since it is so deeply personal and life altering, there should be no room for darkness in our dating life. What do light and darkness have in common? Nothing. Light is designed to put away darkness. (2 Corinthians 6:14)
We are called to be lights to the world, but we are not called to let darkness into our lives – particularly in the areas in which we covenant together. To date an unbeliever is to invite darkness into a room in which only light is meant to dwell.
It is one thing to share a meal with an unbelieving friend, but it is a completely different matter to contemplate swapping vows of marriage together. The believer has nothing in common with the unbeliever regarding the most important reality in the universe. Dating an unbeliever brings shadows and dimness where there should be brightness and clarity. This leads to the final point to consider.
Romance isn’t offensive
Flirting to convert ultimately fails because it is not offensive enough. The Apostle Paul says the cross is offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). The cross is gruesome because it calls the world to forsake all and treasure God first and foremost. The cross requires repentance on our part – this is offensive to our selfish desires.
But Holding hands is not hideous. Red roses are not repulsive. Whispering “sweet nothings” is not offensive.
Dating an unbeliever is actually one of the most unloving acts we can do towards them. It is actually the opposite of evangelism. It says, I value you more than I value what Christ says. It brings confusion where there should be a clear call to repentance. I am not saying that God cannot use romance to bring about the salvation of a soul. Our God is in the heaven and he does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3). But for every person who is saved through an intentional dating relationship, it is in spite of it and not because of it.
Evangelistic dating is dangerous because it can exalt the gift over the Giver. Who wouldn’t want to convert in order to marry the person they are crazy about? Who wouldn’t want to say “yes” to Jesus in order for their significant other to say “yes” to them?
God doesn’t want to be a carrot on a stick. He wants people to come and die at his feet in order to find life. (Luke 14:26)
What should you do if you are in a relationship with an unbeliever?
I highly recommend seeking advice from your local church in how to best end the relationship. The call of the hour is to speak the truth in love to the one you care about (Ephesians 4:15). The call of repentance must be clear and you must not be the prize if they turn from sin. You will need to spend time explaining the gospel and pointing out the deep chasm of worldviews between the two of you. They need to know how different you think on the most important issues in life and why it is a deal breaker. Ending a relationship does not mean ending a friendship, but it does mean ending all romance. It will serve them best to point them to Christ instead of continuing to kindle feelings for each other.
Who knows? This obedience to God may be the means Christ uses to revolutionize their life for the gospel. If so, praise God and don’t immediately move back into the romantic relationship. Growth requires time and baby trees need more than one night to bear fruit.
That is all I can write for now, I look forward to hearing more from you soon.
The content for this post has been updated and expanded in Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing.
“I am not attractive.” “I am not godly enough.” “I only deserve bad relationships.”
Perhaps you have had these thoughts? The Serpent can bite after a breakup. Satan is the serpent of slander and he often whispers lies and deceit. Self deprecation is a real temptation for many who have been broken up with. Perhaps this describes your current experience. You might blame yourself and have spent hours cross-examining every conversation from your previous relationship.
You may think you are not godly enough for the relationship to have continued. You may wonder if he or she ended the relationship because you are not physically attractive. You might even think you only deserve trashy relationships and this one was “just too good to be true.”
The call of the hour is for the Spirit to align all our thinking into conformity with the Scriptures.
I didn’t deserve to be with him anyway
The reality is that everyone deserves eternal damnation and no one deserves to date a godly person. But the greater reality of the gospel is that God grants eternal life in Christ and that he can always satisfy the broken heart. Those who have been dumped need to realize they are not trash in God’s eyes. The good news is that Jesus never forsakes his children and he never has the final “we need to talk” conversation. The steadfast love of the Lord never fails and it can be trusted the moment before a relationship begins and the moment after a relationship ends.
Take comfort in the truth that God withholds no good thing from his people. God never gives bad gifts to his people. Period. He has given us his Son and we can be sure that he will graciously give us all things to conform us into his image (Romans 8:32).
If had been more godly and this would not have happened
The Scriptures tell us to have an honest assessment of our lives and that we should not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. There will always be areas in our walk with God that we should be growing. Perhaps someone says they broke up with you because of a character flaw or an area that needed maturing. The Bible wants us to learn from hard conversations and to grow in godliness. We should examine all criticism in light of the Scriptures and align ourselves with the revealed word of God. If there an area of our character needs attention, the proper response is to ask Christ for grace and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). It is true that we reap what we sow, but for the Christian this falls under the category of discipline and not punishment. We must be sober minded and realize that God does not punish his children. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). God never punishes his elect in this life or in the life to come. God is only for his people (Romans 8:28). The condemning lies of Satan must be combated with the believer’s spotless identity in Christ.
Breakups are a time for honest examination and then a total affirmation of the righteousness found in Christ. If there is room for spiritual growth after a relationship has ended, don’t despair! Christ will give more grace. If sin was not involved, don’t blame yourself. You have been saved by grace. But we must beware of assuming every breakup is because of sin. Job’s suffering was not a result of sin and not every breakups should be equated with bad living.
I must not be attractive
This is perhaps the sneakiest of all the slanderous accusations of Satan. This lie snares many. The most damaging part of this lie is how people respond to it. If a someone feels unattractive, he or she may seek fleshly solutions. Once this apple is bitten, it is often followed by depression and then sexual immorality of some kind. Or it may result in sinful eating habits or an obsession with exercise. The ripple effect of this lie can leave a wake of misery.
The good news is that Jesus provides a glorious solution to this slander. Jesus takes this one head on and offers truth which brings lasting joy.
Paul tells us not to let our adorning be external but to put on imperishable beauty. A gentle tone glistens more than a golden gem. And a quiet spirit sparkles more than a smooth sapphire. In God’s sight, the inner person is very precious. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that beholder is the Creator. We should have a category for keeping up physical appearances, but this should be in the back of our briefcase. As Christians, the inner person of our heart should be our business card.
Next time Satan tempts you to dwell upon your eternal appearance, remind him that you are created in the image of God and you are being conformed into the glorious image of Christ. Remind yourself that you are pursuing holiness and this is very precious in the sight of the Lord. If you are tempted to despair in this area, remind yourself of the true standard of beauty. The true standard of beauty stands upright from the grave with open arms that welcome you. Run toward Christ and his righteousness. Spend your days at his feet instead of the mirror. As you continue to look into Christ’s radiant face, your face will glow in his glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The content for this post has been updated and expanded in Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing.
Today is the day of my wedding. And I am not marrying the girl of my dreams.
If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos, a history in drugs, alcohol, and attending heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike. My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.
You see, it wasn’t my dream to marry a girl that was complicated. I never dreamed that I would sit on a couch with my future wife in pre-marital counseling listening to her cry and tell stories of drunken nights, listing the drugs she used, confessing mistakes made in past relationships.
This isn’t my dream – it’s better.
Many people wouldn’t put Taylor and I together. In high school, we probably would not have been friends. She probably would have thought that I was a nice, boring, judgmental Christian kid; I probably would have thought that she was a nice, lost, party-scene girl that guys like me are supposed to stay away from. People like us, with our backgrounds and histories are not supposed to meet, fall in love, and covenant their lives to each other.
But everything changes when people meet Jesus. Jesus takes people like rebellious teenage partiers, and goody-two-shoe homeschoolers and puts them together in marriage to put something on display much bigger than their own hand-crafted, perfectly planned love-story.
Right in the middle of the mess of life, Taylor met Jesus, and he planted his flag in her life, and she believed in him and he transformed her. The Taylor who spent her life living from one pleasure to the next died, and a new person was born. A new person with new desires, and a new heart that longed to please God, serve people, and treasured Jesus Christ above all other pleasure.
And this is how I see Taylor. She is completely new, completely transformed, and completely clean. This is not because she became a part of a helpful program, or because she really “pulled herself together.” It’s because God, in his incredible, infinite kindness, took Taylor’s dark, crimson life, and made her as white as a snow. He took all of her sins on placed them on his Son, and then gave her Jesus’ righteousness to wear like a perfect white wedding dress.
In reality, Taylor’s story is my story as well. As Taylor walks towards me today, I will be reminded of how much I do not deserve the precious gift she is to me. I have spent much of my life singing a self-centered siren song. Nothing about my life cries for blessings; it calls for curses forever. Yet, God has dressed me in white, put my sin upon his Son, and given me a heart that loves him.
I love Taylor with all that I am. She is gentle, kind, patient, joyful, beautiful, and loving. I don’t deserve to marry someone like her. I didn’t plan for this, but I’m so glad I am not getting what I planned for.
So, today when she walks down the aisle to me, I will be reminded of the beautiful reality that God exchanges that sin of our past in exchange for the perfect righteousness of his Son. Contrary to popular opinion, our wedding day is not our wedding day; it is the display of the most stunning reality in the universe: that God sent his Son to die to redeem a people for Himself made clean the blood of his Son.
God’s ultimate plan in putting Taylor and I together is that he wants to uniquely put his grace on display so that other people will praise him (Ephesians 1:5-6). That’s his purpose for our marriage, and that’s his purpose in the world at large, and Taylor and I are taking part in that, and hope you will too.
How should a Christian think about another Christian when it comes to a potential romance? Perhaps you are considering pursuing someone or allowing someone to pursue you. Although these categories are probably not exhaustive, they may be helpful as you think about a potential mate.
Four Chemicals for Christian Chemistry:
It need not go without saying. When it comes to marriage, godly character is not just a deal breaker; it is what the game is all about. This is first on the list because without it nothing else matters. This is the sun all planets orbit around. The rings of Saturn don’t matter without Saturn. Without a deep love for Jesus, marriage will be miserable. The potential wife should be maturing into a Proverbs 31 woman and the potential husband should be a Psalm 112 man. It also should be noted that there is a difference between potential godliness and actual godliness. A wise man pointed out to me that potential godliness does not exist. It is simply “potential.” The person you are considering for marriage must have real visible godly character in order to qualify for the picking.
If you are a woman, you need a husband who is maturing in the faith in order to lead you closer to Jesus. Perfection is not required, but pursuit of holiness is mandatory. If you are a man, you should be seeking a woman who is already exhibiting love, compassion, wisdom and gentleness. Look for the girl who is already serving in your church and washing the feet of the saints. She will be a keeper. Questions to ask include the following: Do I want this man to teach my children the Scriptures? Do I want this woman to raise my children to love the Lord? Is this man a role model I want to follow? Is this lady someone who can show me more of God’s heart and push me closer to Christ?
Not everyone is meant to get along all the time. It is a sin to have ungodly character (1 Timothy 3) but it is not a sin to be socially incompatible. Perhaps you are an extrovert and can’t help but be the life of the party. You may or may not mesh with the introvert who loves to study instead of playing Quelf. If wakeboarding gives you a high and you are the president of the local rock climbing club, you might jump off a cliff if you marry someone who is content to never see sunlight. Then again, that kind of thing just might stoke your fire. To each his own. The point is that you need to marry someone you can have a happy conversation with and that enjoys at least some of the things you do. Not all the pistons need to fire, but you at least have to have a motor that runs. Marriage is not meant to be miserable. You should marry someone who compliments your personality. The best way to figure out if your personalities mesh well together is to spend time together in as many appropriate settings as possible.
It is not just enough to be godly and personable. You need to be on the same tarmac. The man needs to have a plan. What will you be doing in the next 5 – 10 years? You need to be seeking the Lord and know the direction you are traveling. How are you going to turn the world upside down with the message of the gospel? How are you going to bring glory to Jesus with the days he has given you? This does not have to be anything spectacular – it can actually be rather simple. But it needs to be there. And it needs to be going some where.
A woman should not marry a man who is simply blowing in the wind. As a woman, do you want to follow the man you are interested in? Do you want to submit to his leadership and pursue magnifying Jesus together? If he wants to be a construction worker that shares the gospel while on a forklift, are you okay with raising his hard hat family? If he wants to be a missionary to Alaska, are you kosher with seal blubber boots?
If a potential wife wants to be a CEO of Google and a potential husband wants to make farm in Pennsylvania, these lovers need to chat before sailing off into the romantic sunset. These are conversations that need to be had and they can be determinative. Do your visions of life align with each other? (Philippians 1:17)
Your future spouse will be your best friend on the planet. But they need to be more than this. If you come home from work and only want to play checkers together, we have a problem. The Bible commands spouses to delight sexually in each other and this requires a level of physical attraction (Proverbs 5:18-19).
Notice that attraction is last on this list. I place it last because attraction can be automatic or it can be cultivated. You may be interested in someone simply because they caught your eye. No problem here necessarily. However, don’t underestimated the reality that physical attraction can also be cultivated. Its funny how this works. Attraction can blind people to ungodly character, yet godly character can open eyes to see beauty. That beauty can spill over into physical interest. You may not be swooning over someone the first time you see them, but after you notice their character, personality and trajectory in life… you might be surprised to find yourself growing in affection for them. Perhaps they are a rare gem in the rocks that need a closer examination to see its value. Perhaps we all need to die to self and acknowledge true beauty.
You may be wondering how these things practically work themselves out. How can you actually use these four criteria? The church is essential. To quote one of my good friends:
Dating is a team sport. It is hard to determine this for yourself. The heart is deceitful above all things. And there’s hormones. And emotions. And social pressure to get married. Or at least date. When you get to be older, people start wondering if there’s extra marshmallows in your lucky charms if you’re not dating anyone.
Courtship is a community event. Invite your church into your life and don’t be afraid to ask them whether or not you are concocting the right chemicals in your Christian chemistry.