The purpose in dating has changed dramatically in recent memory and has given rise to a minefield of potential problem areas if not navigated cautiously. The rules of engagement when it pertains to dating have also become lacking in clarity. Where one would have to go to the person of their affection’s home to state their intentions and ask for permission has now been replaced by the swiping through of images on dating apps based on basic, superficial indicators. Additionally, the rise of casual sex and the hookup culture present additional hurdles in the consideration of the dating relationship. This brave new world of dating presents Christians with a plethora of obstacles and dangers to navigate as they step into the season of relationships. What is the purpose of dating and how what does it reveal about God’s character and blessing?
I, as I have previously made clear, have never dated. I’ve been single my whole life, which is absolutely fine by me. I bring this up for transparency’s sake. I do not claim to be an expert on the topic nor do I have any experience in this area. However, I have learned under both great authors and Biblical thinkers as well as gained insight from mentors and friends as they have gone through this season. Thus, while I stand on the shoulders of people like Ben Stuart, Solomon, and other pastors, I hope to present an accurate summation of this season of life from the perspective of the Christian life. Furthermore, this is also not a guide to how to date or how to get a date. I don’t know how to get a date… Soooooooooo… if you will allow me, let us begin Y’all.
When we think of dating in the Christian culture, one of a few scenarios come to mind:
The Forever Alone,
Waiting to Find the Equally Yoked Phase:
The Forms of Christian Dating:
Memes asides, Christian dating may be a slightly awkward stage to be in. Thankfully scripture gives us some valuable wisdom when it comes to our relationships, romantic or not. However, before determining the purpose of dating within the Christian life we must first examine the human nature. We are selfish, sinful creatures. Period. We have a need to fill that bottomless, God-sized hole in our lives which we will turn to a myriad of things to temporarily fill. As Ben Stuart made emphatically clear “where there is scarcity, desperation will set in.” Stuart’s point is that when we are without a source of life, we will use whatever we can get our sense of fulfill out of to temporarily sate our desires. Be it sex, drugs, money, things, people, etc. If we lack a source of life, we will, in desperation, find our fulfillment wherever we can get it. This extends to our approach to dating. If we approach it in the wrong state of mind, we will use and exploit people to fill our selfish desires. So let’s get one thing absolutely clear, Y’all. There is no single person who can ever fill the God-sized hole in your life. Period. Apart from Jesus, nobody will give you everything you are lacking. If you place that expectation on your friends, the person you are dating, or the person you’re looking to marry, then you are placing a weight upon that person that they cannot even attempt to carry! So let us be absolutely clear, no singular person will ever meet your every need, so do not place that sort of expectation on your relationships. When this occurs, then your relationships are set forth on a path of destruction and injury.
So what purpose does dating serve within the Christian life? Evaluation. Who is him or her? Does he or she love Jesus? Does their life reflect the change evident of someone who has given their live over to God? Do they serve others? Do they honor their parents? Do they encourage others? Who are they? That is the purpose in dating, to evaluate whether or not this person is someone with whom you are willing to join in a covenantal relationship before God with. Song of Songs (Solomon) gives use a fairly clear understanding of what this looks like. Song of Songs begins with the initial attraction between King Solomon and his beloved and moves through their evaluation of one another and ends in their marriage. Throughout the poetic language used throughout the book are tidbits of information that reveal a bit about culture and relationships. So let us imagine that you are interested in someone, you’re curiosity has been peeked. Is this person someone who wanders in search of things to fill their live with a sense of meaning, or do they wait upon God to give them what they need? Are they a wanderer or a waiter? Song of Songs gives us some insight into what this looks like.
“Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who veils herself beside the flocks of your companions?” -Song of Songs 1:7 ESV
Timothy Ateek (T.A.), former director of Vertical Ministries at Baylor University and current director of Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M, makes note that historically at the time that Song of Songs was written that prostitutes would veil themselves and go out and wander around waiting for a man to give her an invitation (Vertical Ministries Podcast). The woman in Song of Songs asks why should she be like those who wander around looking for the attention and affection for other men? She understands the value of waiting for Solomon instead of seeking out the approval of these other men. For Christians, we want our prospective significant others to wait for the Lord to tell them when to move. This is important as it reveals a willingness to be patient given whatever situation is before them. Why? Because when we wander and seek out our own ends it reveals our doubt in God’s ability to address the matter. If we are unwilling to be patient as the Lord sets a path before us, we reveal that our trust resides in our own abilities.
We also see that she wants to be where Solomon is, the attraction between the two is mutual. Matt Chandler highlights in his book The Mingling of Souls, “She wants to hang out in a more meaningful way. And of course, it’s quite natural for a relationship to grow in this way. We can call this the dating stage.” She wants to get to know Solomon better and see where this relationship is headed. We get to see how Solomon responds:
“If you do not know, O most beautiful among women, follow in the tracks of the flock, and pasture your young goats beside the shepherds’ tents. I compare you, my love, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots. Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.” -Song of Songs 1:8-10 ESV
Solomon tells her where she may find him and also affirms her through his compliment to her. This reveals to us the clear communication between the two. While they are not playing games with one another. He is not hiding from her to tease her, nor is he flirting meaninglessly. He affirms his attraction for her as well! We ought to be clear in our intentions and our communication with one another. This has the benefit of, first, keeping our actions from being questioned, and, secondly, from leaving room for misunderstanding. One of the issues with dating today is the vague nature in which we talk to potential dates. Do we call them? Do we text them? When we do ask them out do we call it a date? Do we just ask them to hang out? What does it all mean? Men, do not beat around the bush when stating your intentions. If you’re looking to ask a girl out, be a man and call it what it is. A date. Why? Because you do not leave her on a wire to guess what the purpose and intention you have. Is she getting ready to hang out with you and your friends or are y’all about to go to dinner and a movie? Does she need to call her best friends over to help her get ready for you, or does she need to show up casually? This extends even further after you do have a date. If you had a good time, then make sure to tell her and if you’re interested in a second date be sure to make it known before the date is over. Proverbs offers some wisdom in this:
“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” -Proverbs 15:28 ESV
Communicating clearly has great benefit to us in keeping us free from presenting ourselves falsely. Therefore we must think about how we’re going to talk to not only the person we’re pursuing but also those whom we come into contact with. No matter the circumstances or situation, our words must be carefully chosen so that we may not be taken out of context and may be free from distortion. This also applied when things are no going well. If it is clear that you and your date are not in the same vein then it is vital that it is communicated.
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” -Proverbs 27:5 ESV
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” -Proverbs 16:24 ESV
Even when things are not ideal and we must make the hard choice to break things off, we are capable of speaking in love and affirming one another. Even when a relationship comes to an end, we as believers are capable and ought to build up one another. Unfortunately, as can be seen in Hollywood films which play up the drama, breakups can be quite the ordeal. When we mingle together and give parts of ourselves away before we should which results in a period of hurt from separation. Not unlike the feelings of withdrawal experienced when we remove caffeine or sugar from our diets. The last thing we as believers want is to give our hearts out in pieces. While we are healed, redeemed, and made new through the blood and sacrifice of Christ Jesus the pains of giving away of our hearts to those who do not deserve it can be lingering. Amanda Cook and Steffany Gretzinger of Bethel Music have a hauntingly moving song called Pieces which details the differences and shortcomings of human love versus God’s faithful, pure love for us.
I am keenly aware of the means by which they describe the relationships we experience between one another, particularly in a romantic sense. Phrases like love not being shy hints at people who closet their relationships and minimize the nature of their relationships. Stanzas of love being afraid to be seen with the significant other allude to hurts experienced at the hands of someone else. Then someone hiding themselves away to tease the recipient of someone’s affections makes it clear that there have been questions in the intentions of that person who ghosted them. Unfortunately, this is not a problem exclusive to any one sex.
As we pursue dating, we must have boundaries and expectations set and agreed upon to keep one another away from anything that would hurt or call one another’s character into question. In all honesty, by setting boundaries and keeping one another above reproach, you may effectively evaluate the potential in the relationship moving forward without placing one another in compromising situations. This is not to suggest that there will not be temptations or trials, especially as the relationship moves to be more and more serious. Fortunately, by doing so we are respecting the integrity and wellbeing of the other person. In the process of dating the result, whether moving toward marriage or in separating, ought to be glorifying to God and respecting the inherent priceless value His creation. This is what Paul asserts when he writes to Timothy giving instruction to the church at Ephesus:
Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.
-1 Timothy 5:1-2 ESV
Why ought we treat women as mothers and sisters? Because they are made in the image of God and He has given them a value beyond what we could ever pay. I am not suggesting that women have monetary value, but rather the God has imbued value because they are His creation. Who are we to disrespect God’s creation? Who are we not to treat the people around us with dignity and respect especially in the pursuit of dating? We, as followers of Jesus, have a prerogative to assure that our romantic endeavors are honoring of God and that we are not compromising in character. We have no room to have a reputation of compromise. This is not the kind of compromise where we’re reaching common ground in a argument or in the decision of where to eat lunch. This kind of compromise is the kind that calls ours or their characters into question. We must live lives that are above reproach.
See, dating is not entirely about evaluating the person you’re looking to pursue, but a large portion of dating is self-evaluation. Are you tendering to your own garden? Are you allow God to prune away what is not necessary or dead? Your life is your garden, and while you’re not going to have a perfectly tendered garden are you allowing Jesus to come in an work in it? Are you willing to let the one who died for your sins to come in are show you where you’re falling short? We are very capable of looking at other people’s lives and making judgements upon them. We can look and compare our gardens to one another’s but that does not mean that because theirs is in a less well kept state that your’s is superior. By tending to our own gardens and faithfully allowing God to work within us, we may be able to be above reproach and evaluate where we stand. So where do you stand? Is your garden a mess? Does it need to be weeded so that what is beneficial may breathe and grow? Let me make note of this now while we are on this topic: You may of the mindset that you need to wait until your life is in perfect order before you should start dating. You may think that it is best to start dating once you’ve gotten your degree, gotten that adult job, gotten a house, and are financially stable. The issue is the false sense of security that comes with the appearance of having things in order. Let me caution y’all that nothing is ever guaranteed apart from the salvation that is found in Jesus. Life can flip in an instant and everything that you have put stock into like a job, a degree, a house, and so forth can disappear without warning. So I would not suggest that you make worldly milestones as your gauge as to when to pursue a relationship. Rather I recommend leaning upon God to tell you when the time is right. Even now, implying that you are single as I am, ask God to partner with you in this endeavor! Ask God to walk with you as you move from singleness into dating and then ask God to partner with you in your relationship! If we’re going to step into a season of life where two broken people are looking to move to becoming one, what better step is there to take than one with God?
For Christians, I believe that there is immense wisdom in asking God to partner with us in all of our relationships both romantic or plutonic. Let us not forget that God was the one who first made relationship with Adam and then relationship between Adam and Eve. Who knows more than God who is in constant relationship with Himself? Meaning that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (The Trinity) are in relationship with one another. Always in communication with each office and working with one another. You may have trouble wrapping your mind around that one and the theological implications thereof, but know that God is in relationship with Himself just as you are with your friends and family. Additionally, in keeping ourselves above reproach and accountable, surround yourself with friends who know you well enough to be invested in your relationships! Friends who are not afraid to confront you when you are in the wrong or in a relationship that is going no where. Friend who live out what we see in Proverbs 27:5 (seen above). Surround yourself with people who know you intimately enough to know when you are slipping and be willing to listen when they come to you with concerns. You may be surprised when they come to you in total support of your relationship! A sign that you are moving in the right direction!
This is what dating is for, to evaluate yourself and the person you’re looking to engage with. Are they following Jesus? Does their life reflect the change that comes from surrendering your life to Jesus? Does your life reflect Jesus? Are you pursuing God? Are you growing deeper? Are you standing idle? I do not know where you stand, but I know that we must first evaluate where we stand with God before we even consider a relationship beyond that with God. Why? Because we must first get our relationship with God right before we will ever get relationships with others right. This is abundantly clear when John expounds in 1 John 4:
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. -1 John 4:13-21 ESV
We can only know what love is because God loved us first. God did not blindly create us, He crafted us. The act of forming us within our mother’s wombs is in itself an act of love! God sending His son, Jesus, to live among us, to be made flesh, and reveal to us what God has done and to die on the cross for the sins of all, is an act of love! Only through God can we know love and only through God can we know how to love others! We love because God first loved us. A simple statement bursting with encouragement for the follower of Christ. God is so, so good, Y’all! Do y’all know that? Do y’all believe that? Do you trust that God loves you? This is why it is vital that we get our relationship with God right before considering any other relationship! Because apart from God we are nothing. We are dead in sin set on a path of self destructiveness. As Ben Stuart illustrated to be a source of life, you must have a source of life. To be a source of life every relationship you find yourself in, you must first have a source of life found in God.
Having said all of this, I once again make clear that I have not dated before. I have no experience in this area. I stand on the shoulders of scripture and great theological minds and pastors who have made an effort to address the heartbreak that stems from romantic relationships that have gone wrong and to affirm the perfect love that comes from God. Despite my inexperience, I know what I look for when considering a relationship, and I’d like to present a few of them here. Why? Because they’re important questions to have raised and they also reflect back on myself. So if I’ve going to consider pursuing somebody’s heart I must consider a few of these things.
Firstly, does she love Jesus? Is she submitting to the authority of God and living a life that reveals Christ to others? As I stated, these questions also apply to myself. Do I love Jesus? Am I submitting to the authority of God and conducting my life so that others see Christ through me?
Secondly, who is she around her friends? Who is she around authority figures? Who is she when she thinks nobody is looking? Who is she when times are going well? When times are going poorly? Is there consistency? Does her character waiver from different scenarios or is she consistent throughout? Does she rely upon God when things are difficult? Does she worship when things are beyond what was expected? Am I the same around my friends as I am around my mentors? Am I the same when life is tough as when life is easy? Do I rely upon God when things are poor and do I give thanks and worship God for the blessing He pours out on me?
Thirdly, is she encouraging to others? Does she build other’s up? Do I seek out to build up others and encourage them in their walks with Christ?
Fourth, how does she handle gossip? Does she put an end to it? Does she stand up for what’s right? Do I reject gossip and seek to defend whomever the gossip is about?
Fifth, is she patient? Does she wait for God or does she wander? Where does jump to conclusions or wait until she has an understanding before acting? How do I handle patience? Do I flee to what will provide instant gratification or do I wait for God to reward my faithfulness? Do I wait while God puts things in order and am I faithful to follow when God says to move?
Sixth, is she hospitable? Does she reach out to others? Does she go out of her way to meet people where they are at and make an effort to include them? Does she serve others? Do I meet people where they are at? Do I make an effort to make them feel welcome and included? Am I willing to serve them?
These are just a few things that yield very important implications when evaluating not only a prospective date but ourselves. Why? Because they reveal character. They reveal where we are with God. Are we faithful followers who are consistent throughout every season of life or are we wandering freely and changing as quickly as the seasons do. If it is the former, then there is evidence of the work of Christ in them. If it is the later, then there is evidence of something lacking. Why is this important? Because consistency now gives evidence of how they will be should you get married. Let’s think about the traditional wedding vows. For better or worse. Are you and this person going to be consistent when life is tough and unbearable as when life is going well and prosperous? In sickness and in health. Are you and this person going to be consistent when time goes by and illness sets in as when you’re free from disease? For richer or poorer. Are you and this person going to be consistent when there is some monetary security as when there is none? To love and cherish. Are you and this person going to be consistent in loving one another when the effects of age and gravity have taken hold and the outward appearance moves away from its youthfulness? Are you going to cherish them for who they are when the physical aspects are no longer what they were. Till death do us part. Are you going to commit yourselves to consistency in the commitment to one another? This last one is the biggest question that lingers beyond vow exchanged in a wedding ceremony. It is a question that needs to be answered near the time of engagement. Why? Because the vow being made here at the end till death do us part is a commitment of bonding together until death separates us. Not life, not money, not sickness, not beauty, not strength will separate us. Only death. This is the convenient of marriage. A union that bonds two people into one in the eyes of God. This is why when we are dating, we must be evaluating who we are and who the other person is. That is the purpose in dating. Not for a good time. Not for companionship. Not for exploitation. Not for satisfaction. To evaluate the prospects of a lifelong commitment.
Grace and Peace,