Perhaps you are in a romantic relationship and things are getting serious. You are excited about your relationship, but you or your partner have a sexual past. How should you think about this topic as a couple?
Here are some questions that are discussed in this podcast:
What if I am not a virgin? What if my boyfriend or girlfriend is not a virgin? Should I tell them?
When is a good time to talk about sexual history?
Is your relationship ready for this conversation?
How should you approach this conversation?
How does the gospel of Jesus Christ impact this discussion?
What practical advice should I know before discussing this?
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.
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.
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.
There are a great line of men and women who have gone before us. Godly relationships, beautiful marriages, and stories dripping with a sweet fragrance to God. Yet every sweeping romance story must come to an end. Some stories carry on throughout the years and pass away peacefully on a bedside. Others are jarred unexpectedly and brought to a screeching halt.
To be honest, I feel totally inadequate to write to you on such a topic as the death of a loved one. I cannot imagine losing the wife of my youth. The thought of Jennifer dying is something I cannot yet fathom and something for which I barely know how to prepare.
While pursuing Jennifer, my dear friend Rob Coleman would often remind me about the brevity of life. Hold the things of this world loosely Sean, do not cling to them too tightly. Don’t make Jennifer an idol. Christ is sufficient and soon everything else shall pass away.
This world is fading and along with it even the most precious gifts. There will come a time when the brown eyes of my bride will grow dim and her soft hands will go limp. Thoughts of this future moisten my eyes and press against my heart. And if I am not careful, my world will become as dark as the inside of her casket.
The only thing that brings me hope in the midst of such thoughts is the gospel of Jesus. This world is not my home. Nor is it the home of my bride. Marriage is a wonderful thing, but it is not the most beautiful thing. You see, you will soon lock your arms with a fellow Pilgrim. You will soon whisper sweet nothings into the ear of a sojourner. Do not fight death, for Christ has already conquered it. Live this life holding loosely to the hand of your bride, ready and willing to offer her hand back to Jesus.
Jesus has prepared a place for her to dwell. If it were not so, he would have told you. Honor Him and “live your married life as if you were not married.” “Love your wife by hating her.” Such odd sayings of Jesus and Paul aren’t they? Yet they stick in the mind and guard the soul from clinging too closely to this world.
It is a joy and unexpected gift from God to be engaged. It is a joy and cherished delight to walk through life hand in hand with your best friend. Do not fear death or let it rob you of the thrill of glorifying God today. Glorify God by enjoying Him in all things and above all things. Both are possible and the Bible commands such happiness in our lives. Glorify God by enjoying the moments he has given you and the gifts he has bestowed upon you.
Laugh with your fiancée, flirt to the appropriate fullness and buy her beautiful flowers. But be satisfied in God above all these moments. Dig your joy deep into what cannot be taken away. Dip your bucket into the eternal pleasures of God and drink from His fountain that never dries.
There will come a day for us when time will stand still and her grave will be occupied. And we will mourn like we have never mourned before. But we will not despair like the world does. We have a loving Father who grants eternal hope and raises our dead. On that Day, we will be grateful he gave us the grace to enjoy precious moments on earth and to ground our hope in Him above all.
So for now, enjoy Him in all things and above all things.
Or to say it a different way, squeeze her hand tightly but hold it loosely.
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.
Opinions are like armpits, most stink and everyone has two of them. And sometimes the odor can be suffocating.
One of the trends I began to notice while being engaged was everyone has a story. Every couple has an experience to tell or a word to give. You may be noticing that every person who has ever thought about being married has something to help you prepare for the rough days ahead.
Most of the advice you will receive is good, but some of it is not. From your last letter, it sounds like you are drowning in “advice”. Friends, family and even strangers have taken it upon themselves to tell you everything someone else told them. Horror honeymoon tales, scary identity crisis catastrophes, and terrible toothpaste/toilet seat fiascos.
The multitude of voices you are hearing are not inside your head. You may be right; they may actually be the crazy ones.
To be frank, I heard some of the worst advice as a young engaged man. Well-meaning, good people practically paralyzed my fiancee with their overcooked nuggets of wisdom. One person told us to beware of the second week of marriage, “The first week is great, but just you wait… week number two gets awful.” Another person said the second week was fine, but we had better watch out for that second month. Then things get really wooly.
We figured we should start ignoring these people when another couple warned us of the dreaded six month mark. Thats when the wildebeests come out and devour all the happy marriages of the world.
I’ve only mentioned the tip of the iceberg. I would be ashamed to write to you some of the counsel we were given; nevertheless, I must also tell you that I received some of the best advice as a young engaged man. Some of the most precious counsel I have recieved was in pre-marriage counseling. I received wonderful encouragement from particular people that almost brings me to tears when I think about them.
So how can you tell the difference between bad counsel and good counsel? My main suggestion is to know the source. Know the well from which you are seeking water and don’t drink from every running brook.
It is true that “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22. Take note when the Scripture says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14
We should be people who seek the safety of many ropes. However, let us be careful not to be strangled among them. The Proverbs also say, “Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly.” Proverbs 16:22
For there to be safety among counselors, there must be sturdy ropes. Unraveling ropes will not help but only harm. It is possible to unwittingly surround yourself with fools.
I suggest the best place to find counselors is in the local church. Particularly pick the brains of your pastors. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Hebrews 13:17
The Author of Wisdom can only be found in one place – the Bible. Take heed to those who spend their lives in the Scriptures. Value their opinions and compare what they say to what you read in the Bible. Starting this habit now will create a great pattern for your future marriage. Prepare now for a lifetime of seeking the Scriptures and rappelling with those who know them well.
May the Scriptures tune our ears to receive good counsel. Whether we receive advice from our parents, pastors, or peers, let us make sure we have ears to hear.
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.