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.