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.
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.
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).
I finally saw the engagement pictures of you and your fiancee. You both look dashing if for no other reason than it is uncontrollably obvious you are both in love. I smiled as I saw the shot of you bowing the knee with ring in hand. Even through the tears, you couldn’t have looked happier.
I recently read an essay by the reformer Martin Luther and a couple of paragraphs caught my eye in light of your recent photos. He connects the gospel to marriage in a way that I had not considered before.
Luther notices that when a couple becomes one flesh, they fully give themselves to each other. The wife gives everything she has to her husband and the husband gives everything she has to the wife.
Our union with Christ is similar. Everything we have (which is sin, shame, guilt and death) becomes Christ’s and everything He has (which is purity, holiness, freedom and life) becomes ours.
“The third incomparable grace through faith is this, that is unites the soul to Christ, as the wife to the husband; by which mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul are made one flesh. Now if they are one flesh, and if a true marriage, then it follows that all they have becomes theirs in common, as well good things as evil things; so that whatsoever Christ possesses, that the believing soul may take to itself and boast of as its own, and whatever belongs to the soul, that Christ claims as His.”
This is the sweet exchange that Luther is talking about: “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine; as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am His.””
All of our sins becomes Christ`s and all of His righteousness becomes ours. Many people only think of the gospel as providing forgiveness, but the gospel also gives us the righteous state of Jesus. (2 Cor 5:23) His perfect life becomes our life and our sinful life became His on the cross. This forgiveness and righteousness is only obtained by “the wedding ring of faith.”
Your marriage will not be based on conditions of works. She will not submit a list of good deeds to you at the alter. You may pour sand into a jar, but you will not weigh scales. You will not swap resumes but you will exchange rings. She became your fiancée and wife by a simple pledge of faith.
“Thus the believing soul, by the pledge of its faith in Christ, becomes free from all sin, fearless of death, safe from hell, and endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of its husband Christ.”
Brother, as she takes your hand in faith, take the hand of Christ by faith. Pledge your life to him trusting not in your good works or good intentions but only in His perfect life and saving death.
Christ did not buy you with a mere precious metal, but with His own precious blood.
Celebrate your proposal and ponder the greater privilege of being united to Christ.
To conclude with Luther, “Who then can value enough these royal nuptuals? Who can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace?”
Don’t panic. After your last letter, I felt the icy fear freezing your feet. It almost made me want to put socks on. You are concerned about whether you should continue on the path toward marriage or bail for the single trail.
Let’s examine the series of events:
You have been studying your devotions and have spent a long time in 1 Corinthians 7.
You want to serve the Lord as best as you can and it seems Paul says singleness is the way to go.
Your friends are leaving for the missions field while you are registering for teapots and curtain rods.
Your friends are being radical and spending all day at the homeless shelter while you are spending all day licking invitation stamps.
You want to serve Jesus but now you are wondering how could you possibly be advancing the kingdom by pursuing marriage.
Pause. Grab the railing. Come let us reason together.
I think you already know the answer, but I will try to freshen the air.
The question of singleness or marriage all boils down to gifting.
Which gift do you have?
“Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” (1 Corinthians 7:6-7 ESV)
Notice that both singleness and marriage are gifts. A gift is a good thing.
Singleness is not for the folks who didn’t make the cut. Singleness is not for those who missed the wedding bus and are sulking on the sewer curb.
No, the life of singleness is for those who are zealous for God and his gospel. God has designed singleness for those who do not settle for the mediocre. If you have the gift of singleness, seize it for the glory of God. Take life by the horns, ride the bull, live or die. Launch into the heat of the battle with no restrictions or reservations. Take no prisoners and leave no farewell letters. Visit the orphan, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and preach the gospel.
How do you know if you have the gift of singleness? You are not burning with passion for a wife. You are fine without fatherhood and satisfied without sex. You are content with Jesus and yourself.
Are these questions too basic or too secular? I don’t think so. Jesus has capital on the “secular” and he is the one who made the body to burn for his glory.
But what if you do desire a wife? What if you desire to lead a family and love a woman exclusively without reserve? This might mean marriage is for you.
Marriage is not for those less spiritual or those with less gusto for the gospel. The married life is not for those just couldn’t jump far enough on to the radical boat and are left on the unspiritual dock.
No, the life of marriage is for those who are zealous for God and his gospel. God has designed marriage to display his glory in a unique way. If you have the gift of marriage, don’t bail because you feel less spiritual. Take your wife by the hand, plunge into life, until you die. Launch into the heat of love with no restrictions or reservations. Take up a job and produce little children. Adopt the orphan, feed your neighbor, heal the sick, and preach the gospel.
He who finds a wife, finds a good thing. He who lives a single life, lives a good thing. The point of 1 Corinthians 7 is to live as you are called. Live each season with God first in your heart. Advance the kingdom of Jesus according to the desires God has given you and according to the circumstances he has placed you in, even if it is not what you expected.
Brother, if your heart longs for your fiancee, it is no sin to marry. Receive it and do not reject it.
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
(1 Timothy 4:4-5 ESV)
I have belabored the point, but I am confident your burning heart will warm your cold feet.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes sex.
I am frustrated by most churches who neglect this topic and do the body of Christ great harm. Simultaneously, I am frustrated with other churches who are explicit with sex and talk about it in very unhelpful ways; nevertheless, Jesus wants Christians to think biblically about this topic. Many things could be said here but I want to focus on the attitude that should shape the way we view sex.
The gospel has no bounds and is not privy to categories of “public” or “private.” Jesus is the God of the living room and of the bed room. God will not let you be selfish in any area, including your most intimate endeavors. Our sex drive should be selfless. Your pleasure must be rooted in God and in bringing your spouse pleasure.
On your wedding night and then every night after, your mind should be that of Christ Jesus, who, although being in the form of God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2:5-7). Before lying down in bed with your wife, you must be willing to lay your life down for her. We need the grace of Jesus to do this.
The Christian must not do anything out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. The marriage bed must remain undefiled by lust and selfishness. This is why only Christians can have truly satisfying sex. Only the Christian couple can find their delight in selfless service. It is only the Christian husband or wife who can satisfy both their body and heart in the marriage bed.
Remember to love your neighbor as yourself, especially the one who will sleep next to you. Settle it in your heart now to make your marital bliss complete by being selfless. Purpose to do whatever you do, whether you eat, drink, or have sex, to do it all for the glory of God.
“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” 1 Corinthians 10:24
As my wedding approached, the amount of generosity my friends and family showed my wife and I was overwhelming. You would not believe some of the stories: A couple of my friends came over one evening to cook for me while another friend feverishly moved my fiancées possessions into our future home; other friends poured out the love of Christ by addressing wedding invitations, wrapping party favors, and compiling power points; parents shopped for us, planned for us, and provided for us all along the way. Every hole was patched and every loose end was tied by the love and affection of our neighbors. I cannot tell you of all the instances of kindness we experienced.
The climax of this relentless hospitality was during the few days before the ceremony. Over and over again the words “what can I do next?” graciously found their way to us. Some did not even ask because they had already thought of projects to tackle.
A wedding is truly a community event. Our brothers and sisters washed our feet with joyful smiles and reflected a deep love for Christ and His bride.
What is hospitality? Jeff Dalrymple often summarizes hospitality as anticipating the needs of others. This is an excellent definition. Anticipating the needs of others and joyfully meeting them for the glory of Christ. What separates secular hospitality from Christian hospitality? Genuine joy. Our wedding party exhibited a deep fountain in Jesus which overflowed into the basins where they placed our feet. Our family had their finger on our pulses to continually check our needs and meet them. Their example is a letter about hospitality that continues to be circulated.
Dear Young Engaged Man,You are one day closer to marriage and you are one day closer to the return of Jesus.There is a link between these two things: Just as you long to be with your bride in an unhindered and unrestrained way, you should long to be with your Savior free from sin and unrestrained by the flesh. Just as you have waited all these years for your wedding day and life together, I pray you have waited all of these years to behold the face of Jesus and spend eternity together. Your bride is going to walk down the aisle to meet you – the one who loves her and has longed for her. Jesus is going to descend from the sky to meet those who have loved him and awaited his return.
Many times at the beginning of engagement people asked me, “What day are you thinking about getting married?” I would respond “tomorrow” or “yesterday.” I assume you are like me and can hardly wait. Towards the end of engagement people have cheerfully asked, “Are you excited?”
This question became wonderfully foolish because the answer was so obvious. I assume the same will be for you.
Brother, I do not say this to be overly spiritual or to sound puritan. The only thing more exciting than the upcoming wedding day is the return of Jesus. I say that because Jesus has been kind to my heart and I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. His steadfast love is better than marriage.
Now you might be tempted to think, “If Jesus comes back before I am married, then will I have missed out?” Or you might be tempted to feel depressed that you did not get to experience the joy, friendship, or intimacy of marriage. Take heart. “Nothing is lost. The music of every pleasure is transposed into an infinitely higher key.” (This Momentary Marriage, pg. 15) Or to think of it visually, we would never trade a person for a photo.
Marriage is simply a picture of the person and work of Jesus Christ; marriage is only a mirror that reflects the relationship of Jesus and His bride; marriage is merely a good gift to glorify a satisfying God. Enjoy marriage, but only as it submits the the supreme pleasure of knowing God. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but soon we shall see face to face.
Here is my guess: she struggles with insecurity about her physical beauty and you struggle with dwelling too much on her physical beauty. She doesn’t think her outward appearance is enough and you have thought about it enough.
How do you help her realize she has value and how do you balance out your thoughts to think purely?
Remind her that she is beautiful because she is made in the image of God.
Before brushing over this, we must let this reality sink in. God does not make trash. If you scoff at his art, you insult him. This truth is not just a nice saying to make unattractive people feel better about themselves. God says he created man in his image and this reality is not to become trite in our minds. There is a real, holy, stunning level in which your fiancee is unwaveringly beautiful because she reflects God. Even if she is marred by third degree burns or ransacked by acne, this reality does not move. Every day her image pours forth speech of the handiwork of God. Christ has made a personal claim regarding the incredible crafting of his creation.
Remind yourself of the hidden image of God made possible in Christ.
It is good to tell your fiancee that she is pretty, but do not miss out on the thrill of praising her hidden person. Physical appearance is fleeting but there is an imperishable beauty that only gets better. If she is growing in faith, fearlessness, gentleness, holy submission, and compassion, make it a point to praise these ornaments. The fruit of the Spirit has a sweetness that will never sour. Dwell on her godly character and attach your heart to it! Ask the Lord to give you eyes to behold true beauty. Beg him to give you grace to truly appreciate the grace he has given her. Make it top priority to value, treasure, and be drawn to her godly character. Her inner heart is a gorgeous glimpse of God.
Outward beauty is wonderfully fleeting. As she gets older, every wrinkle will help accent the eternal radiance found in her heart. And the best kept secret is, the more you cultivate an attraction for her godly character, it is likely the more fruit she will produce. Do not miss out on enjoying the realities that will never perish.
Remember, remind her that she is made in the image of God and then encourage her to continue looking more like Christ in godly character.
Look hard and love her invisible pearls. They are formed perfectly by the oyster of the gospel.