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.
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.
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.
My heart is broken after reading your last letter. I am thankful that you have told me of your struggle and several steps must be taken immediately.
You probably have fears that abound in this season. What if someone finds out? What will my fiancée think? What will my pastor do? How will this affect my marriage? What if I can never be free?
If you are serious about your engagement and your relationship with the Lord, then serious action must be taken. You do not want to turn over in bed next to your bride and search for porn on your iPhone. Nor do you want to shrug off this sin and then turn over in the flames of Hell. Hands must be cut off and eyes must be gouged out. Pornography is not a pet to stroke, but a snake to crush. Realizing the severity of this sin is life or death. Yet there is a greater reality we must realize.
Brothers, many men do not realize the power they have been granted to fight even the darkest desires. When Christ screamed in agony on the wooden tree, He did not scream in vain. The strength that surged through the veins of Jesus now surges through the Spirit in you. Christ has come to set you free and you can be free indeed. There is no porn pit too deep that the light of Christ cannot reach. Christ is risen from the dead and He gives immeasurable power to those who believe (Eph 1:19) Come into the light and believe there is power in the precious blood of the Lamb.
Should you break off your engagement due to your addiction to porn?
This is a complex question, but it is one that must be answered. The first order of business is to bring in a wise counselor. Although we have corresponded for quite some time, I am not involved enough in your daily life to give hand-tailored advice. You will need someone who can speak directly into your life, assess the scenario, examine your fruit and help you make the call. You need a referee on the field rather than a commentator from the stands.
But from my aerial viewpoint, here is what I have noticed. There are two kinds of people who struggle with pornography. Those who are slaves to Jesus and those who are slaves to Satan. Those who have the Holy Spirit in them and those who do not. You must examine yourself and take inventory of your soul. Are you enslaved to pornography and making little to no progress? Or are you struggling but growing in grace and gaining victory? If you are consumed with porn and know it, breaking off the engagement is on the table – or – at least postponing it until you are able to get adequate help. For the man who is enslaved to porn, marriage is not the answer – Jesus is.
However, if you struggle hard but fall occasionally, breaking off the engagement might not be the best counsel. Marriage is not the solution to porn, but it certainly can help. If you burn with passion, it is good to marry (1 Cor 7:9). But in order for you to qualify for marriage, you must be fighting this sin vigorously and see Jesus giving you victory in battle. The marriage bed is to be undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).
Discovering a tumor and excising it is painful and frightening. Yet everyone would trade the short pain of surgery for a cancer free body. Sin thrives in secret. Mold, bacteria, fungus and all manner of porn fester in the dark. True confession may be a brief pain, but it brings sweet relief. Every broken porn addict who comes to Christ will never be turned away. He creates a clean heart and renews a right spirit (Psalm 51:10). Confess your sin to God and then confess your sin to a strong Christian leader in your life. God has given us pastors and mentors to help us grow in godliness. They will welcome you with open arms and then hopefully strengthen you in the faith.
The difficult part comes when it is time to talk with your fiancée. You cannot spring such a thing upon her the day you return from your honeymoon. To be quite frank, this should have come up before engagement. But since the question has already been popped, you must bring this up quickly. Great care and wisdom must be exercised when you tell her. Pray for the next available opportunity. Inform her that you are relying upon Jesus and fighting this temptation with all His might. Talk about how you hate sin and how Jesus is helping you overcome it. Make sure that you are clear, but not overly detailed. Do not tell her all the grit and grim of your struggle. Even if she wants to know, it will not build her up in her most holy faith to talk about what you watched and how long you stared at other women. State the struggle, show that you are serious about bearing good fruit, and ask for prayer and grace.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to sorrow and your joy to gloom. Humble yourself before the Lord and He will exalt you.” (James 4:7-10)
Shrivel your sin in the light, cut off all temptation, and run to the risen Savior.
Brother, I have watched as pornography has ravished the minds of dear friends, leaving them lonely and cold. I don’t want that for you. I am confident in the Lord that you can put this to death. Christ has overcome the grave and pornography is no match for our resurrected Lord. Take hope in His power which can cut any chain (John 8:34-36).
It seems people are concerned because you are a young engaged man. You just turned twenty and people wonder if you can even shave, let alone lead a family. The murmurs of relatives rumble and friends begin to prophesy your doom.
And it might just be that their concerns are warranted. After all, divorce rates are high, and they don’t want you to join them. I’ve always wondered if those stats included teenagers getting married. If so, they must be recent polls because if they included everyone’s grandparents, surely that would tip the scales a different direction. I think my grandparents got married at 19 and 21, and last year celebrated their 72nd anniversary.
Regardless, their concerns might be 100% valid if you were a lust driven high school grad who now eats Cheetos while playing Xbox into the wee hours of the night. If that were the case, we should all bar the chapel doors.
So the question must be asked: What does qualify you to get married at such an early age?
Here are some guidelines to think about.
Spiritually: Is your walk with Jesus thriving and growing? Proverbs says that the Word makes you wiser than all your teachers. (Psalm 119:99) God is not a respecter of age. His Spirit often quickens the young and at times matures them at lightning speed. The Scriptures do not card you before they give you bottles of strong wisdom.
As you pursue Christ, ask yourself: do you feel comfortable standing before God being held responsible for the spiritual direction of your wife? Adam was responsible for the spiritual direction of Eve. Let us not think that God will let us slide by easy. Leading a woman is a serious calling, and we should be prepared and sober-minded before we answer.
Financially: Are you able to support a family? You must literally count the cost before you get married. It is not sexy to buy your new bride chocolates with food stamps. Plan and present your budget to your parents. Save money and secure a job. If you cannot provide for your wife, you are worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)
Having said those things, we must wake up from the American dream. You can actually live off of less than what most Americans think it takes. You don’t have to have thousands of dollars in the bank beforehand; you don’t have to eat out twice a week; you don’t have to live in prime real-estate; you don’t even have to have brand new furniture or two well-tuned cars. You need food for energy and clothing for when you leave your apartment.
Directionally: You need to have a God-honoring trajectory. You need to be gripped by the gospel and be driven for the glory of God. You don’t have to have all the details worked out, but you do need a direction. Before you get hitched, you should have an idea about what the next five to ten years will look like. Will you finish college? If so, how will this happen? Will you be living in a new location? Will you be pursuing a particular ministry? Will she be in school? When do you want children? These are not soft ball questions to hit around in the backyard. Wise counsel must be loaded into these conversations and the cannon must be prepared for firing. You must find your pulsating passion in life that surges for the glory of God. Life is too precious and God is too glorious for us to waste our lives. There are souls at stake and disciples to make.
John Piper says it well,
You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, perhaps just one, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing. If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on into eternity, you don’t need to have a high IQ. You don’t have to have good looks or riches or come from a fine family or a fine school. Instead you have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things-or one great all-embracing thing-and be set on fire by them. (Don’t Waste Your Life, Chapter 3)
Should you get married young?
Not if you are unprepared spiritually, financially, or directionally. But I do not think marriage should be postponed because of a numerical number. The Scripture says to rejoice in the wife of your “youth” (Proverbs 5:8) and that to desire a wife is a good gift. (1 Corinthians 7:7) And God gave us passions so that we can pursue them in Biblically mature, God-honoring ways.
So young engaged man, do not let anyone look down upon you because you are young. As long as you are setting the standard in faith, life, love, and purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
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.